Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Bill Moyers on Theology and Iraq

Thanks to Brian Leiter for linking to this brilliant speech by Bill Moyers of PBS. It’s a wide ranging speech covering a lot of ground and Brian is posting excerpts from it. This passage particularly caught my eye and it may well explain a lot of the motivation for what is going on right now.


How do we explain the possibility that a close election in November could turn on several million good and decent citizens who believe in the Rapture Index? That’s what I said–the Rapture Index; Google it and you will understand why the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of the “Left Behind” series that have earned multi-millions of dollars for their co-authors, who, earlier this year, completed a triumphant tour of the Bible Belt whose buckle holds in place George W. Bush’s armor of the Lord. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the l9th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative millions of people believe to be literally true.

According to this narrative, Jesus will return to earth only when certain conditions are met: when Israel has been established as a state; when Israel then occupies the rest of its “biblical lands;” when the third temple has been rebuilt on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques; and, then, when legions of the Antichrist attack Israel. This will trigger a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon during which all the Jews who have not converted will be burned. Then the Messiah returns to earth. The Rapture occurs once the big battle begins. True believers “will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation which follow.”

I’m not making this up. We’re reported on these people for our weekly broadcast on PBS, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you that they feel called to help bring the Rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That’s why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It’s why they have staged confrontations at the old temple site in Jerusalem. It’s why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the 9th chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels “which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released “to slay the third part of men.’ As the British writer George Monbiot has pointed out, for these people, the Middle East is not a foreign policy issue, it’s a biblical scenario, a matter of personal belief. A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed; if there’s a conflagration there, they come out winners on the far side of tribulation, inside the pearly gates, in celestial splendor, supping on ambrosia to the accompaniment of harps plucked by angels.

One estimate puts these people at about 15 percent of the electorate. Most are likely to vote Republican; they are part of the core of George W. Bush’s base support. He knows who they are and what they want. When the president asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, more than one hundred thousand angry Christian fundamentalists barraged the White House with e-mails, and Mr. Bush never mentioned the matter again. Not coincidentally, the administration recently put itself solidly behind Ariel Sharon’s expansions of settlements on the West Banks. In George Monbiot’s analysis, the president stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli expansion into the West Bank than he stands to lose by restraining it. “He would be mad to listen to these people, but he would also be mad not to.” No wonder Karl Rove walks around the West Wing whistling “Onward Christian Soldiers.” He knows how many votes he is likely to get from these pious folk who believe that the Rapture Index now stands at 144–just one point below the critical threshold at which point the prophecy is fulfilled, the whole thing blows, the sky is filled with floating naked bodies, and the true believers wind up at the right hand of God. With no regret for those left behind.

And if that doesn’t scare the hell out of you, nothing will.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave S.
    September 29, 2004

    Yep, there’s nothing more scary than someone who knows they have The Truth.

    Unless it’s someone who forces their vision of The Truth on others.

  2. #2 mist
    September 29, 2004

    15% of the Electorate? I have lived for the last 5 years in arguably one of the most bible biased regions of the country (SC), and it has not been my experience that such a high number of people are into this.

    Of course, I make no bones about how much I hate christianity, so maybe those people just avoid me!

    But, either way, there is no question that Bush loves to tout his ‘religious foundation’ and that it does give him a lot of votes from the south.

  3. #3 Aaron M
    September 29, 2004

    mist: Living in southeastern MO, I absolutely believe it; I’m surrounded by them. I’d estimate about 30% here, but that may just be because they’re very vocal.

  4. #4 Lynn
    September 29, 2004

    I am indeed a Christian and as Ed knows I do not read the book of Revelations nor do I believe it. I have the right to choose what I wish to read and believe in the Bible.
    Jesus said when asked about the 2nd coming, “none knoweth but the Lord.”
    I believe that no one can hurry the coming of the rapture (if it is even coming at all.)

    As for mist hating Christianity, that is what is wrong with this world today, too much hatred.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    September 29, 2004

    I can certainly believe that it’s 15% of the population, having grown up in West Michigan, a heavily Calvinist area. Most of them, I think, don’t get all fired up over the details, but they are swayed by the notion that these are the end times and that things are building to the rapture soon.

  6. #6 RBH
    September 29, 2004

    Makes me want to exercise my Second Amendment right. Again. In a larger caliber.

    RBH

  7. #7 386sx
    September 29, 2004

    Jesus said when asked about the 2nd coming, “none knoweth but the Lord.”

    Yeah, but two verses previous to that one he (supposedly) said: Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

    Draw your own conclusions folks!

  8. #8 Lynn
    September 29, 2004

    Taken from the Saint James Verison of the Bible, Matt. 32-36

    Christ’s words when speaking to his disciples:

    32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:

    33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.

    34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

    35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

    36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

    Yes 385sx as you said 2 verses above that He did say exactly that. But He doesn’t say that HE (Christ) even knew the time of the rapture.
    So these folks are crazy who think they can help speed up the rapture.

    For centuries people have thought the end was near.

    Personally I don’t believe a word of it.

  9. #9 386sx
    September 30, 2004

    Personally I don’t believe a word of it.

    I don’t either, but sometimes I do
    wonder, though.

    (Via Raving Atheist.)

    :^)

  10. #10 mist
    September 30, 2004

    A few years ago I wouldn’t have used the term ‘hate’ nearly as quickly. I previously lived in Germany and the UK, both of which are very liberal when it comes to religious beliefs. Even though I did not believe in religion then, I was very tolerant of those who did because they did not attack me for my beliefs.

    But after living in the south, I have been thoroughly inundated by people who want to convert me, who make fun of evolution as if they even understood it, and who time and again attempt to undermine my personal freedom to believe what I want.

    As for what is wrong with the world today, I believe religious intolerance is the biggest problem. In this case, I would single out Islam before Christianity although I find major fault with both.

  11. #11 Macht
    September 30, 2004

    “I can certainly believe that it’s 15% of the population, having grown up in West Michigan, a heavily Calvinist area. Most of them, I think, don’t get all fired up over the details, but they are swayed by the notion that these are the end times and that things are building to the rapture soon.”

    Calvinists in that area of Michigan do not believe in the rapture as you’ve described. What you’ve described is dispensational eschatology and you would be hard pressed to find many Calvinists in that area that accept it at all. Most of them would hold to amillenialism or postmillenialism. So, no, most of them aren’t swayed by that notion.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    September 30, 2004

    Calvinists in that area of Michigan do not believe in the rapture as you’ve described. What you’ve described is dispensational eschatology and you would be hard pressed to find many Calvinists in that area that accept it at all. Most of them would hold to amillenialism or postmillenialism. So, no, most of them aren’t swayed by that notion.

    This is a good point and I was too loose in the way I phrased that. Calvinists are postmils, not premils. They tend to have similar political views and support the same kinds of legislation, but not because they’re trying to speed up the rapture. I shouldn’t have said Calvinists specifically, as West Michigan is home to a lot of non-Calvinist evangelicals as well and that’s who I was really referring to. Thanks for catching my goof.

  13. #13 Lynn
    September 30, 2004

    Mist,
    There are many of us who are Christian and believe in evolution. I have no conflict in believing in both. Hating is a strong word and accomplishes nothing.

    I have lived as far north as Indiana, as far south as Atlanta and Florida, as far west as Arizona and find people pretty much the same all over.

    We bring our biased attitudes with us when we change locations.

  14. #14 mist
    September 30, 2004

    Lynn,

    Probably you are right, so I will retract ‘hate’ and replace it with ‘strong dislike’. And my only point about the change in location, was that when I moved to the south, invariably I would be asked what my religion was, and I continually made the same mistake of being honest and saying I didn’t believe in religion which always led down the path of ‘ooh conversion opportunity’. But I do apologise, a public forum isn’t really the place to go about saying you hate something that the vast majority of people in the country are.

    But, I do want to stress that it was christianity I was speaking of specifically, and not christians in general. Certainly, many important people in my life are firm believers in that religion, and it would be rather dishonest to say my dislike of their chosen religion extended to them directly.