Back in high school I remember hearing numerous people in different churches who talked about their belief that Jesus would come back to Earth in their lifetimes. They saw the signs and fulfillment from prophecy everywhere, but how much of this prophecy is self fulfilled from vague interpretations of scripture? Why are some Bible texts interpreted literally and others metaphorically? Why are some Christians so desperate to see the end of the world and to what ends does that affect the actions of fundamentalists in political office?
In the political spectrum it is important to note that Christians voting in mass unilaterally is a recent phenomenon. There were millions of Christians during the 1970’s in America, but many protestant pastors either didn’t concern themselves with how members voted or told their congregations explicitly not to vote. The verse in Matthew 22:21 where Jesus tells his followers to “Render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s” in reference to paying taxes was often extended and interpreted as Jesus telling his followers not to engage in the political turmoil of a corrupt world.
However by the end of the 70’s and into the 80’s, many neo-conservative politicians realized the potential voting base that could be tapped in the Christian culture. Politicians made alliances with prominent Christian preachers so that they would in-turn, tell their congregations to become involved in politics1.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals and the perverts and the liberals and the leftists and the communists coming out of the closet. It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet, out of the churches and change American. We must do it.” -James Robison. (Fundamentalist Preacher. 1980. Sermon)
More recently, Senator John McCain chose Sarah Palin, a woman with a highly suspected fundamentalist background, to be his running mate. There have been stories from uncorroborated sources stating that she believes in the young earth theory, however the sources proved to be unreliable hearsay. A know video shows her speaking to a group about the war in Iraq where she said:
“…that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure what we are praying for that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan…” -Sarah Palin’s Speech to the Wasilla Assembly of God.
Even this statement may simply be a plea to God that the leaders are following God’s plan and to change direction if they are not, and not necessarily and endorsement that God has issued the decree for war. However in the same speech, she does relate God’s will to early things, such as building a gas pipeline:
“…God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get this gas line built…” -Palin. Wasilla Assembly of God.
Although her statements are highly suspect that her position may blur the distinction between religious belief and pragmatic political reality, no one in the limited interviews she has had so far have asked crucial questions. When Palin makes Iran into a black and white issue repeatedly saying we can not second guess Israel, Charlie Gibson could have asked if her views were motivated by her religious beliefs in prophecy, but he didn’t. Katie Couric could have asked if Palin believed Russia and its interaction with Israel was part of an end time prophecy, but she didn’t2.
The fear is not of religious beliefs or religion itself because religion in and of itself can be a very helpful force. Spirituality helps people to deal with loss and gives many hope for their lives, provides a sense of peace and provides a vessel for exploring the human self and humanity’s place in the world.
However with so much emphasis put on an end time scenario combined with a belief that a messiah will come back to rapture all the believers in the last days, there is a real impact on the psyche of believer, so much so that many of these vaguely interrupted prophecies are imposed on modern events to the point that we drive and even crave for them to happen.
“…society has … a vested interest in considerable losses and catastrophes. These wars, famines, floods and quakes meet well-defined needs. Man wants chaos. In fact, he’s gotta have it. Depression, strife, riots, murder, all this dread. We’re irresistibly drawn to that almost orgiastic state created out of death and destruction. It’s in all of us. We revel in it. Sure, the media tries to put a sad face on these things, painting them up as great human tragedies. But we all know the function of the media has never been to eliminate the evils of the world, no. Their job is to persuade us to accept those evils and get used to living with them…” -Waking Life (Film 2001)
Recently there has been serious talk about implantable RFID chips that could be used to help identify an individual in the case of a fire or catastrophic accident leaving an individual disfigured. Some have voluntarily been implanted with such chips made by VeriChip and privacy fears have even led to California, Wisconsin and North Dakota passing laws banning forced implants3. Privacy concerns aside, many people, including non-fundamentalist, have referred to this as “The Sign of the Beast,” a reference to Revelation 13:18.
But really this is simply just another case of vague interpretations of religious writings inventing itself into self-fulfilled prophecy. There have been many “marks” that have been visible on massive amounts of citizens of the population. There were the badges Hitler made the Jews wear to identify them as such, or the boils from the Bubonic plague which led to the well known “Ring around the Rosy” nursery rhyme or the Polio vaccine which leaves a permanent star-shaped mark on the injection point. Any of these could have been interrupted as this mythical “Sign of the Beast.”
Literal and strict interruption of the Bible on everything from young earth theory to the end of days prophecies have always existed in various forms, but today they are pervasive in many dominant sects of Christianity. The US founding fathers were deist who saw God as impersonal and the universe as a great machine God set in motion. They, along with modern preachers such as Martin Luther King and even the Catholic church, viewed such stories as metaphorical; with the apocalypse more of a time of universal peace when humanity learns to live together and necessary truths are revealed2.
“…and don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of police man of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment and it seems that I can hear god saying to American: ‘you are too arrogant’ …” -Martin Luther King. Sermon on Vietnam.
The fear today is misguided. The western world fears the Islamic extremists, terrorism, a lack of security both physically and economically, inflation, depression and the Russians. Many fear the loss of a high paying job over that of death when really death is the only reality we are assured of. Meanwhile many hope for a messianic figure to save us from our own iniquities, to the point where society loses sight of the reality of the hear and now.
“In the tradition of non-theism, however, it is very direct that the case histories are not particularly important. What is important is here and now. Now is definitely now. We try to experience what is available there, on the spot. There is no point in thinking that a past did exist that we could have now. This is now, this very moment, nothing mystical, just now, very simple, straight forward. And from that nowness, however, arises a sense of intelligence, always, that you are constantly interacting with the reality one by one, spot by spot, constantly. We actually experience fantastic precision always. But we are threatened by the now so we jump to the past or the future. Paying attention to the materials that exist in our life, such rich life that we lead, all these choices take place all the time, but none of them are regarded as bad or good, per se, everything that we experience are unconditional experience. They don’t come along with a label by saying that this is regarded as bad, this is good, but we experience them but we don t really pay heed to them properly, we don’t actually regard that we are going somewhere, regard that it is a hassle, waiting to be dead. That’s the problem. That is not trusting the nowness properly but what is actually experienced now possesses a lot of powerful things. It is so powerful that we can t face it. Therefore we have to borrow from the past, invite future, all the time. Maybe that’s why we seek religion, maybe that s why we march in the street, maybe that’s why we complain to society, maybe that’s why we vote for the presidents. It’s quite ironical, and very funny indeed…” -Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
What was once the abstract world of spiritual beliefs, solemnly believed by many and fodder for offensive caricatures by cynical satirists, has evolved into its own right where science is applied to theology in an attempt to rationalize what was always intended to be taken by faith. Creation researchers claim they have scientific evidence that dinosaurs walked along man and that the planet is less than 10,000 years old.
And as that belief crosses over into a system of leaders which must make rational decisions for millions of people all over the globe; to ensure a society that is progressive, sustainable and working towards goals of peace, the believe in an end-of-the-world scenario can lead to catastrophic consequences when imposed universally onto current events. Biblical prophecies in the hands of true believers with political power have the potential to lead to policies consistent with prophecy to bring about the rapture, including the possibility of nuclear strikes and world government.
The Bible verse Romans 8:15 tells the believer he or she is not a slave to fear but a child of God. Yet everyday we are bombarded with the fears of economic collapse and personal security. We see these fears as reality and hope for an ending while we forget that Jesus told his followers to care everyone. “…whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me…(Matthew 25:45)”
We should not declare war on the Muslim or encourage violence in order to bring about a world God promised in his own time. We are not slaves to fear, and to a hope of a new world that has no time or place of promise. True men of faith have brought peace to this world. Gandhi was so loved by his people that violence stopped when he fasted. Dr. King’s followers showed non-violence could change the laws and mentality of generations of oppression. Mandela became a beacon of light against apartheid government. Bhutto was the first woman elected in a Muslim state and fought for peace and democracy. All these people believed in standing against fear of death to promote a better society for everyone.
If we are slaves to security or slaves to our wealth or slaves to money, than we sacrifice what we should never give up to gain what can easily be lost. But if we are a slave to fear, fear of the end of the world, and we elect leaders who believe so desperately in the realization of those fears: that fear turns into a hope wrought in violence and there will be no freedom or prosperity or even rational thought. But if we free ourselves from that fear and teach ourselves to not be afraid of peace and to not be afraid of love and to not fear the Muslim or the Hindu or the Christian or the Atheist or the Jew, there is no limit to what humanity can accomplish when we seek the freedom of peace.
1 The Power of Nightmares: Part 1. Curtis. (Film 2004)
2 Palin’s Apocalypse Hanbury. American News Project. October 01, 2008.
3 California Law Outlaws RFID Implant Mandate Barco. NPR. January 1, 2008