Book review

Prophecy and Politics

Reviewed by Edward Johnson

In the coming maelstrom that lies ahead, in the coming judgment that's going to burst in cyclonic fury over this world, and this planet, America's only hope — listen to me, White House, listen to me, State Department, listen to me, Pentagon, listen to me, Mr. President — America's only hope is not GNP, it's not scientific achievement, it's not an education at Harvard or Yale, but it's America holding on to that little, tiny state of Israel and saying, “We will stand with you,” because God said, “They that bless Israel I will bless, and they that curse Israel, I will curse.”

-- Rev. Jimmy Lee Swaggart
March, 1985 TV homily.

Elite intellectual opinion in the West continues to regard the electronic sermons of Rev. Swaggart and other fleecers of the telecitizenry (Falwell, Bakker, Robertson, etc.) as morally outrageous and politically idiotic. Interestingly, the intelligentsia have continued to connect the phenomenon of TV evangelism and its Scofield Dispensationalist dogma with the extreme right and anti-Semitism. The unspoken assumption is that anything as stupid as a Jimmy Lee Swaggart sermon must be anti-Jewish.

The intelligentsia traffic in stereotypes which reinforce the liberal-Marxist view that history is essentially progressive and Zionism synonymous with progress; thus opposition to these hallowed forces arises from the camp of ignorant reaction, always atavistic and anti-Jewish.

Grace Halsell, whose liberal credentials as a former “Black like me” Southern civil rights worker (she once dyed her skin to experience the tribulations of minorities) are unassailable, has written a troubling book which neatly undercuts this stereotype. Contrary to the coverup, the most powerful movement of jingoists and “nuke 'em 'till they glow” fanatics is in Israel's camp.

The source of their zealotry lies in the Scofield Reference Bible, a heavily annotated King James Bible whose marginalia, penned by the 19th-century hermeneuticist C.I. Scofield, is often given the weight of Scripture itself by enthusiasts. His disciples' view of the modern era (or dispensation) is apocalyptic: Armageddon is inevitable, Jews are God's Herrenvolk, Mesech (Moscow) and Gomer (Europe) are the enemy, and righteous Christians will be “raptured” off the planet before the final, radioactive curtain.

True believers in Scofield Dispensationalism regard the nuclear annihilation of the world as imminent. Thus all attempts at making peace with one's foes, or even balancing Reagan's leviathan-sized national budget, are futile.

As a result of their pious vision of Zionists as God's chosen realtors in the Middle East, the TV preachers have received a kind of de facto license to remain on the airwaves and promote a traditional, conservative, Christian social agenda. Hence the rift among Zionism's powers that be: such Jewish leaders as Norman Lear feel that influential Jews should quickly pull the plug on Swaggart and Company because of their anti-abortionist, homophobic, anti-feminist, media-bashing platforms.

Other powerful Jews, for instance the neo-conservative Norman Podhoretz, feel that the preachers' social prescriptions must be tolerated for the sake of preserving their high profile philo-Zionism. New York intellectual Irving Kristol has tallied up this balance sheet with considerable acuity. Halsell writes:

If one had informed American Jews 15 years ago that there was to be a powerful revival of Protestant fundamentalism as a political as well as a religious force, they would surely have been alarmed, since they would have assumed that any such revival might tend to be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. But the Moral Majority is neither … Kristol urges Jews to ask themselves the question: How significant would it be for American Jews if the Moral Majority were anti-Israel? “The answer is easy and inescapable: it would be of major significance. Indeed, it would generally be regarded by Jews as a very alarming matter.”

True, Kristol writes, the Moral Majority is committed to a set of social issues — school prayer, anti-abortion, the relation of church and state in general — that tend to evoke a hostile reaction among most (though not all) American Jews. To balance the pros and cons of the matter, Kristol says that “the social issues of the Moral Majority are meeting with practically no success, whereas anti-Israel sentiment has been distinctly on the rise, and the support of the Moral Majority could, in the near future, turn out to be decisive for the very existence of the Jewish state. This is the way that the Israeli government has struck its own balance vis-à-vis the Moral Majority, and it is hard to see why American Iews should come up with a different bottom line.” (pp.155-156)

In other words, for the government of Israel and its dual-loyalist followers in the United States, the “bottom line” is that no matter how many pro-Zionist TV preachers have visions of a 900-foot Lassie instructing them to build a multi-million dollar crystal dog house, or engage in any of the other buck-hustling buffoonery Twain, Mencken and. Bierce satirized with their devastating barbs, the fundamentalists will remain on the airwaves. That all-encompassing ecclesiastical fiat, “If it's good for Israel, it's good,” applies as effectively to Christian fundamentalists as it does to grossly inflated American military budgets, senatorial candidates or any other facet of contemporary realpolitik.

Halsell's book moves quickly and reads easily because it combines scholarship with the author's anecdotes about her experiences as a member of a Jerry Falwell-sponsored tour of Israel. On her tour bus she conversed with mostly successful American businessmen and entrepreneurs like Marvin, who told her, “Every war the Jewish soldiers fight is a battle directed by God himself.”

Marvin liked the biblical texts that quoted a God opting for extreme violence as divine policy. He once quoted to me Psalm 110 that speaks of Yahweh crushing the heads and filling the earth with the corpses of non-believers, and Psalm 137 that expresses the wish for vengeance by taking little Babylonian children and dashing them against the rocks. (p. 168)

Another Falwellite was Brad, a financial manager who resembled the “quintessential southern male.” Brad told Halsell, “I just wish I had been born a Jew!,” explaining that “when God made the universe, He gave His special blessing to the Jews.” As a result, “Jews were 'different and better' than non-Jews.”

Jews are in fact so far superior to their Christian admirers that the temples, battle sites, and ceremonies of Judaism and state Zionism are apparently the only attractions of interest to the folks on the Falwell tour. Halsell was astounded to discover thal. no one on her bus evinced the least interest in visiting Nazareth, the home of what's His name, but went wild in anticipation of a meeting with an Israeli general. Ironically, the Falwell tour did make a stop in Jesus's home town after all, when their bus driver decided it would be a convenient place for the Christian Zionists to use the restroom facilities.

Halsell hints that the Christian Zionists have a believer in the White House and that the President is not pursuing peace because:

"There'll be no peace until Jesus comes. Any preaching of peace prior to this return is heresy; it's against the word of God; it's Anti-Christ,” says TV evangelist Jim Robison, who was invited by President Reagan to deliver the opening prayer at the 1984 Republican National Convention. (p. 16)

Politician and president-maker Jerry Falwell, a close confidant of Reagan, is the only non-Jew ever to have received the coveted Jabotinsky medal for services rendered to the state of Israel. The prize, named in honor of the arch-terrorist Vladimir Jabotinsky, was personally bestowed upon Rev. Falwell by Jabotinsky's most ardent disciple, Menachem Begin, at a gala 1980 dinner in New York.

According to Halsell, the view of the fundamentalists surrounding Reagan, as well as 1980 Presidential candidates Bush and Kemp, is that,

… one need not work to eliminate pollution in our cities, or starvation … One need not concern oneself with nuclear proliferation. One need not attempt to prevent an Arab-Israeli war. Rather — pray for it to explode and engulf the world, since this is part of the divine scheme. (p. 39)

At a 1971 dinner, Reagan told California legislator James Mills that “everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.” The President has permitted Jerry Falwell to attend National Security Council briefings and author and Armageddon-advocate Hal Lindsey to give a talk on nuclear war with Russia to top Pentagon strategists.

If Mills, Halsell and other observers of the presidency are correct, Reagan's personal belief in the Dispensationalist scenario explains the mystery of the seeming fatalism of so many of his military, domestic and monetary policies. According to Mills, Reagan's attitude can be summed up as, “There's no reason to get wrought up about the national debt, if God is soon going to foreclose on the whole world.”

Leading an electronic propaganda drive with some 60 million estimated adherents, an enthusiast in the White House, upcoming Republican presidential candidates infiuenced by, and in debt to, fundamentalism (and one candidate, Marion G. “Pat” Robertson, who sees himself as “an anointed prophet of God” and confirmed advocate of Israel and Armageddon), one would think some sort of alarm would be sweeping America.

One would expect that the “no nukes” ecology movement and the anti-racism groups, as well as anyone who gives a fig for the future of his children would, by now, have launched a sustained campaign to oppose the fundamentalists on the specific grounds of their seeking after nuclear war in the Middle East. Yet no such movement has come forth. Mesmerized by Holocaust propaganda centered on World War II, millions of Americans are oblivious to the hoped-for atomic holocaust openly advocated by Christian Zionists who claim to have God on their side and who utilize the vast persuasion-power of television.

This recipe for World War III, the cowing of the collective conscience of Americans who know better, the resultant mass apathy, the vacant stares and smirking grins of clergymen who lead constituencies which regard their leaders as infallible mystics, has a final, perverse twist to its core-belief.

In the theology of the cult of Scofield Dispensationalism, these horrors these “Christians” actually pray for at 24-hour vigil sites in the nation's capital, attended by government officials and lawmakers, will not be shared by them or their children. Instead, a form of Star Trek-like “dematerialization” will occur. This event, called the “rapture,” will waft Christian airline pilots out of their cockpits (leaving a planeload of the unsaved to tailspin to fiery destruction), Christian surgeons out of their operating rooms (while patients bleed to death), and tens of thousands of others directly to heaven, where they will observe from a cozy celestial cloud the flaming cinder of planet Earth.

This bizarre belief in a deus-ex-machina rescue from an atomic holocaust to be provoked by their blind support of state Zionism is most dramatically evoked by Jimmy Lee Swaggart, a spellbinding orator who has used television to showcase his speaking ability to maximum effect:

I'm not lookin' for a hole in the ground. I'm lookin' for a hole in the sky. I'm not lookin' for the undertaker, I'm lookin' for the Up Taker. I'm not lookin' for some missile. I'm lookin' for the coming king — Jesus Christ — to gather us and take us away! Rapture! Rapture! Rapture!… After the Rapture, the world will be plunged into tribulation. It will be a time so horrible and hideous that words cannot describe it. Jesus called it “Great Tribulation” such as the world has never seen before… a time of such agony, a time of such horrifying hell that will burst in cataclysmic destruction… And for the first time, in the Day of Grace, He (God) pulls off the gloves. He is going to pour out destruction onto this planet, upon evil and upon sin and upon wickedness and upon evil-doers such as minds cannot imagine, contemplate or comprehend…it will affect the whole world… (From a transcript of a Swaggart sermon of March 3,1985.)

Rev. Swaggart's words would be no more than a colorful bit of gothic, Southern Americana were he delivering them in a dimly lit tent on a steamy August night in some backwater hamlet. But Swaggart's “tent” was a midwestem auditorium holding 20,000 people in a major metropolian area. Moreover, he was nationally televised to an audience in the millions.

When Swaggart poured forth his searing nihilistic hatred for all life on earth he was not laughed out of town, booed, or tarred and feathered. He was cheered wildly, with the frenzied abandon and up-lifted arms not seen since the fabled days of Hitlerian Germany.

Odd, is it not, that amid the oceans of newsprint and months of broadcast time devoted to hammering home, with an unprecedented monotony, the perils of a fanatical demagogue and an irrational following which arose in National Socialist Germany, Swaggart, Robertson, Bakker and the rest proceed apace with little notice or protest?

What protest there is scrupulously skirts the taboo issue of the relationship between the likelihood of nuclear war and the preacher's idolatry of war-Zionism, delicately limiting the protests to concern over the fundamentalist's promotion of anti-abortion laws and censorship of pornography. These are interesting topics but their urgency pales in comparison to the atomic hell-fire the fundamentalists are promoting by every means available.

Perhaps these “men of God” are correct. Maybe America does have some weird death wish, having grown world-weary and full of resentment for life in the process Nietzsche accused Judeo-Christians of fomenting. If a thanatos cult as virulent as Scofield Dispensationalism can find allegiance among so many millions of our fellow citizens, while other millions idle away their hours in apathy, maybe the self fulfilling prophecies are coming true.

Surely some culpability descends upon all of us for helping to create the throw-away fundamentalist world Halsell documents. Ultimately, the evangelists have given any who choose to follow them a license to escalate the industrial pollution and nuclear arms buildup threatening all life on earth.

In this current manifestation of a long-festering disease we have an eschatology of the extreme taken to its farthest and most unnatural conclusion. This is nowhere revealed, in all its bitterest consequences, more aptly than in the contrast between the traditional question asked by native peoples in the past — “How will any of our actions affect the next seven generations?” - and the mindset of Rev. Jerry Falwell, who, when confronted with the horrors his philosophy may produce, commentated, “You know why I'm not worried? I ain't gonna be here.”