Messianic Imperialism - 
From the Euphrates to Armageddon
by Eric de Bear

Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, in frustration about the first bombs on Baghdad points to a widely ignored cause for the unilateralist campaign to "liberate" the Iraqi people from its brutal dictator. "This war", he writes, "is about messianic militarism. Bush views himself as world liberator and deliverer from evil. He believes, with God on his shoulder and a B-2 bomber with angel wings in the skies, he can set right the wrongs of mankind. Such is the height of his self-delusion". (Matthew Rothschild, Bush's Shameful War, in: The Progressive, 20.3.03)

If this war is about "messianic militarism" as Rothschild indicates then what about oil, world dominance, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the like? Neither the US-junta nor the peace activists are completely convincing in their arguments:

  • The junta can't show us any WMDs, the inspectors didn't find any, Blair and Powell presented fake evidence, and most experts agree there can't be much left in Iraq. Better look into Ft. Detrick.
  • Oil? The French method certainly would be cheaper: Instead of conquering the claims purchase them. 
  • World dominance? The junta is losing it by going to war. The Kuweitis are the only people supporting the war other than the USA and Israel. 
  • Terrorism? No link between Iraq and Al-Qaeida could yet be established, not even by Richard Perle. Even the gassing of Kurds in Halabja turns out being a fraud.

Adventurers and greedy particular interest groups don't care about costs they don't have to pay for. In the age of Enron, WorldCom and the like you grab what you can get and then let the public clean up the mess. Of course, you need a cover up. You create a "culture of fears" (Barry Glassner), you take refuge into ideologies, into religion, and if you can show that you are a good believer in Jesus Christ and/or God your audience will believe you. Tell your people that you are fighting for freedom, democracy, and religion, for free enterprise and free markets. That's the way to avoid a viable opposition. Dissenters will be seen as unpatriotic or as wimps. The more you believe in all of this yourself the more convincing you are. 

In short this is what we have: an ex-alcoholic drug addict born-again Christian as a "leader" and a bunch of guys closely linked to Halliburton, Carlysle, Big Oil etc., who were financed to conquer the highest office by, you name it, Enron, WorldCom, Halliburton, Carlysle, Big Oil etc. George W. Bush, according to the theologian and psycho-analyst Eugen Drevermann, is obsessed by fundamentalist mania ("Gotteswahn"). He and his junta know what they are doing, they exploit the beliefs of their ordinary fellow believers:

  • According to a poll by Time magazine, 59% of Americans think the Book of Revelation will come true. 
  • Almost a quarter believe the Bible predicted the attacks of September 11th.
  • "Among born-again Christians, Bush’s popularity stands at 74%. For all others, it is 50%" (George Bush and Providence, Andrew Austin,18 March 03, publiceye.org) 
  • "46 percent of Americans described themselves in a Gallup poll in December as evangelical or born-again Christians and 
  • Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago argues that America is now experiencing a fourth Great Awakening, like the religious revivals that have periodically swept America in the last 300 years. President Bush has said that he doesn't believe in evolution (he thinks the jury is still out). President Ronald Reagan felt the same way, and such views are typically American. 
  • A new Gallup poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe in creationism, and only 28 percent in evolution (most of the rest aren't sure or lean toward creationism). 
  • According to recent Gallup Tuesday briefings, Americans are more than twice as likely to believe in the devil (68 percent) as in evolution". (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, God, Satan and the Media, NYT, 4 March 03). 
  • 72.5% of all born-again Christians believe the current war on terrorism including the war against Iraq is the beginning of the war leading to the Antichrist and to Armageddon (Hal Lindsay, cited in "In göttlicher Mission. Krieg aus Nächstenliebe", Der Spiegel 08/2003).

When Mr. Bush talks about “the axis of evil”, Christians take his phrase literally—and he knows it. For many decades Americans have been the most religious people of all western nations, as measured by

  • their weekly attendance at worship services (about 46 percent, triple that of Europe); 

  • belief in God and an afterlife (four times that of Europe); and 

  • their stressing the importance of religion in their lives. 

  • The congregations on the margins of mainstream Christianity are growing vigorously: Jehovah's Witnesses by 162 percent; and the Pentecostal Assemblies of God by 267 percent (Vincent Parrillo, Strangers to These Shores 7th ed., Allyn & Bacon, 2003, pp.475-476 and pp. 510-511; more statistics in: Der Spiegel 08/2003). 

Is there any explanation why Americans are so much more religious than Europeans?

It seems as if the rigidity of an individualistic, competitive society has to provide a surrogate for solidarity and collectivity. In a 1985 book, Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and associates identified a prevalent American concern about a "loss of community". "Many felt most of their relationships were segmented and superficial, growing out of their lifestyle enclaves or work settings. They felt "a great emptiness", a need to "belong" (Parrillo, op. cit., pp. 510-511). In an atomistic environment derived out of a religious past people look for help from above and they find it in new and old spirituality. A special strait of spirituality is the belief in prophecies. Interest in prophecy increases at times of great instability, said Mark Hitchcock, author of several books on prophecy and pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmonton, Okla. "People want to know what's going to happen, that there's an end (to the turmoil), that someone's in control."  This sentiment can lead to doomsday theories or practices, and to the acceptance of authoritarian leadership in churches and  society. 

The president of the Lutheran church in Hesse, Peter Steinacker, points out that the founding of the USA was seen by its protagonists as divine. Thomas Jefferson dreamt of an "Empire of Freedom".  Alexis de Tocqueville described the extraordinary role of religion in US politics. Americans see themselves as the chosen people willing to spread their ideals around the world. They see the millennium of John's apocalypse as the "historical-theological order" in a mission to  fight evil and to promote freedom and progress, leading to seek hegemony. The Manichaean concepts of presidents like Reagan or the Bushes however can't be derived out of the Bible. They originate in the East (Middle East, Asia minor, Greece), spreading throughout the later Roman empire: the so called "gnosis" (knowledge). Gnosis means to understand the principles that rule the world, mainly the fight between good and evil. If the believer is able to discriminate good from evil he or she can distinctively join the forces of goodness without any reservations, thus rising to a level beyond moral restrictions. Steinacker sees Bush trying to translate this basically non-Christian tradition into day to day politics. The war against Iraq has its roots right there. The Gnostic approach is according to Martin Luther contrary to Christian beliefs. For Luther the just man is "simul iustus et peccator", just and sinner at the same time.

These facts may explain the success of conservatism in the USA, but the question remains what impact it has on foreign policies. NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF of the NYT provides us with a hint: 

"Evangelicals have moved from the fringe to the mainstream, and that is particularly evident in this administration. It's impossible to understand President Bush without acknowledging the centrality of his faith. Indeed, there may be an element of messianic vision in the plan to invade Iraq and "remake" the Middle East."

The catchword is messianic vision. JACKSON LEARS of the NYT tries to get it by stressing that Bush's war plans are risky, but he knows Bush is no gambler: 

"In fact", Lears writes, "Bush denies the very existence of chance. «Events aren't moved by blind change and chance», he has said, but by «the hand of a just and faithful God». From the outset he has been convinced that his presidency is part of a divine plan, even telling a friend while he was governor of Texas, «I believe God wants me to run for president»". 

"This conviction that he is doing God's will has surfaced more openly since 9/11. In his State of the Union addresses and other public forums, he has presented himself as the leader of a global war against evil. As for a war in Iraq, «we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them». God is at work in world affairs, he says, calling for the United States to lead a liberating crusade in the Middle East, and «this call of history has come to the right country». The belief that one is carrying out divine purpose can serve legitimate needs and sustain opposition to injustice, but it can also promote dangerous simplifications — especially if the believer has virtually unlimited power, as Mr. Bush does. The slide into self-righteousness is a constant threat"

For Lears Bush is not the first one with providentialist views. He continues:.

"Too often, though, American politicians and moralists have reduced faith in Providence to a religious sanction for raw power. In the 1840's, with the emergence of the idea that the United States had a manifest destiny to expand to the Pacific, the hand of God was no longer mysterious (as in traditional Christian doctrine) but «manifest» in American expansion. As for the natives who unproductively occupied the Great Plains, Horace Greeley, the journalist, said in 1859: «These people must die out — there is no help for them. God has given this earth to those who will subdue and cultivate it, and it is vain to struggle against his righteous decree». By the end of the century, Senator Albert Beveridge and other imperialists had made Manifest Destiny a global project, insisting that God had «marked» the American people to lead in «the redemption of the world».

"To be sure, the cold war fitfully revived the nationalist uses of Providence, at least among true believers like Secretary of State John Foster Dulles — not to mention Ronald Reagan, whose rhetoric arrayed the «city on a hill» against the Soviet «evil empire» But for most Americans, the failed crusade in Vietnam eviscerated the delusion that we had a sacred duty to export American ways — by force if necessary — to a recalcitrant world."

"Until now. The proposed war against and rebuilding of Iraq has brought the sentimental, self-satisfied sense of Providence back into fashion. One might have supposed that an attack on our country would have rendered utopian agendas unnecessary — as it did for most Americans during World War II. But while a war on terrorism may not need Providence to justify it, a war to transform the Middle East requires a rhetoric as grandiose as its aims. The providentialist outlook fills the bill: it promotes tunnel vision, discourages debate and reduces diplomacy to arm-twisting" (JACKSON LEARS, How a War Became a Crusade, NYT 11 March 03).

So far we can conclude that arm-twisting in the case of the war against Iraq was not very successful. The "coalition of the willing" remained rather small. The junta can't even name all of its members. The good ally Turkey refused even the multi-billion dollar bribe. Unfortunately, though, the tunnel vision prevailed. Only the catastrophic results predicted by the opponents of the war could hopefully lead to a broader view.

A further element has to be introduced. Michelle Goldberg (Salon) describes the Christian Right (Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson etc.) as getting their vision out of the Old Testament. They support Zionism as a movement to gather all Jews in the Holy Land in order to clear the way for the Second Coming of the Messiah. Once He is back Jews will have to decide either to convert or to be annihilated. Its core belief is called dispensationalism (of seven epochs), a term  articulated as a distinct theology by John Nelson Darby about 1830, leading through "raptures" (Jesus will raise deceased Christians – and only Christians – from the dead) and "tribulations" (time of persecution) to Armageddon and finally to the thousand years (millennium) governed by Jesus. As cruel as this vision may be, for the moment it serves as a basis for a tight alliance between fundamentalist Christians and Zionist Jews ignoring the dangerous implications (Donald Wagner, Evangelicals and Israel: Theological Roots of a Political Alliance).

The Economist, London, describes it jokingly: "There used to be bumper stickers in north Florida warning, “In case of Rapture, this car will be driverless.” The Rapture is an apocalyptic event: at some point, Christ will swoop to earth and beam all true believers up to heaven. People will vanish, as the first book of Corinthians has it, in the twinkling of an eye, leaving everything else behind—the clothes they are wearing, their wedding rings, false teeth—and, of course, unbelievers. So if a car is being driven by a born-again Christian, it will careen off the road and crash into something. You have been warned". The Economist concludes: "Millenarianism is becoming a force on the right in American politics. Millenarianism—the belief in the thousand-year reign of King Jesus—is starting to spill out over its narrow banks and is flooding towards the mainstream. Conservative radio stations across the sunbelt have been full of this stuff since September 11th. For the Millenarians the establishment of the state of Israel is intimately bound up with the Second Coming and the end of the world. The City of God is impossible without the state of Israel. This is a big reason why evangelical Christians are among Israel's most vociferous supporters in America."

Michelle Goldberg explains: "Chip Berlet, an analyst with the progressive think tank Political Research Associates, argues, "The current administration in the United States is packed with people who are literal Bible believers and who see in Israel a specific role in the end times." The most visible believers, says Berlet, are Attorney General John Ashcroft, Dick Armey and Tom Delay. "My argument is that you don't have to say, 'I am a dispensationalist' to be a person influenced by these apocalyptic metaphors. The more you're embedded in a Christian fundamentalist culture, the more you're going to be influenced by these ideas even if you claim you aren't" (Goldberg, Antichrist Politics).

Berlet forgot to include the boss: "Bush-biographer David Frum is quite open about the importance of fundamentalism in the Bush Administration. The first words he says he ever heard in the White House from George Bush were: "Missed you at Bible study." Frum writes, "Bush came from and spoke for a very different culture from that of the individualistic Ronald Reagan: the culture of modern Evangelicalism. To understand the Bush White House, you must understand its predominant creed." (The Progressive, Bush's Messiah Complex, February 2003). Influential French pundit Alain Duhamel agrees. For him George W. Bush is on a messianic mission ("mission messianique") and he continues: "George W. Bush is a crusader, a religious fundamentalist, who is certain that God is with him providing him a sword" (Libération, 8 mars 03). Or in the words of German President Johannes Rau, himself a dedicated religious man: "It's a grandiose misunderstanding to speak of a divine mission with regard to pushing for this war. That's a one-sided message of George W. Bush. I don't believe that one nation ever gets a divine hint to liberate another. Their is nothing in the bible calling for crusades. The US-President can't speak for other Christians. Pope John Paul II. is more representative for all of mankind when he  warns against this war" (Spiegel-online, 2.4.03).

Religious beliefs are translated into US foreign policies: "Building on the Biblical foundations for an apocalyptic showdown in the Middle East, the Christian Right has fully supported the neo-conservative agenda on U.S.-Israel relations" (Jim Lobe and Tom Barry, The Men Who Stole the Show, in: Foreign Policy in Focus, November 4, 2002). It was a two way relationship. When Likud's Menachim Begin replaced the secular Labor Party in 1977 evangelicals welcomed the Likud leaders and endorsed their political and religious agendas. The West Bank was furthermore only referred to as "Judea and Samaria" and the settlers' movement was massively encouraged. A religious argument was employed to justify Israel's confiscation of Arab land for settlements: since God gave the land exclusively to Jews, they have a divine right to settle anywhere in "Eretz Israel". The evangelical leaders signed a pledge expressing the hope that "America never; never desert Israel." . In their view Palestinians have "no historic claims" to the land they're on now and should move to an Arab country outside Israel's dominion. "Since Menachem Begin, all Israeli leaders have seen American fundamentalists as important shapers of American foreign policy toward Israel", concludes Mark Wingfield in his piece Evangelical theology drives American attitudes toward Israel & Middle East. The implications of the double loyalty of Richard Perle and others of the neoconservative think tanks to both Israel and the US has been put into question lately. The libertarian conservatives see this link as an important reason for the decision to go to war against Iraq (Justin Raimondo, Commissar Frum; SEYMOUR M. HERSH, LUNCH WITH THE CHAIRMAN, The Newyorker 10 March 03; The Misplaced Patriotism of Richard Perle by Christopher Deliso March 25, 2003)

The link between Israel and Iraq is clearly seen by many believers who see evidence of Iraq's significance in end-time scenarios in key passages of the apocalyptic book of Revelation. Chapter 16, which includes the only mention of Armageddon in the Bible, carries a direct reference to the Euphrates River, which runs through modern-day Iraq. In recent weeks,  prophetic interpreters have been citing a new reason they believe the end is coming: the impending U.S. war with Iraq

BILL BROADWAY of the Washington Post sums up: Iraq war considered by some to be fulfillment of prophecyHe writes: 

"One of the greatest indicators of the interest in end-time scenarios has been the phenomenal success of the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Since 1995, when their first book appeared, LaHaye and Jenkins have sold more than 38 million copies of 10 novels set during the end-time period known as the Great Tribulation. The 11th novel, to be released April 8, is titled Armageddon and set partly in Baghdad. The Left Behind story is based on the Rapture, the Antichrist's rise to power and the seven years of "hell on Earth," Armageddon, and the return of Jesus in the Glorious Appearing -- all occurring before Jesus' 1,000-year reign on earth. Believers think an invasion of Iraq will be a catalyst for end-time events. "Once the U.S. gets Saddam out of the way," sanctions will be lifted, oil wells will flow again at full capacity and Iraq (Babylon) will regain its power, allowing the Antichrist to mount an army for an assault on Israel, one believer said. The stage is thus set for the Rapture, Armageddon, the Glorious Appearing and the other stages."

In the language of Richard Perle (aka "Darth Vader", the "Prince of Darkness"), the Rumsfeld advisor: "This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq... this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war... our children will sing great songs about us years from now."  He said that in an  interview with John Pilger, who reports on a pre 9-11 study contemplating about the need of a new Pearl Harbour and who concludes: "The extremes of American fundamentalism that we now face have been staring at us for too long for those of good heart and sense not to recognize them". According to famous British writer Martin Amis there is no hope Bush will resort to reason any time soon: "All US presidents -- and all US presidential candidates -- have to be religious or have to pretend to be religious. More specifically, they have to subscribe to "born again" Christianity. Why, in our current delirium of faith and fear, would Bush want things to become more theological rather than less theological ? The answer is clear enough, in human terms: to put it crudely, it makes him feel easier about being intellectually null. He wants geopolitics to be less about intellect and more about gut-instincts and beliefs -- because he knows he's got them. Whatever else happens, we can infallibly expect Bush to get more religious, more theological" ("Palace of the End", Guardian, 4 March 03, "Bush contre Saddam: le choc de délires",  Le Monde 7 mars 03).

The growth of fundamentalist Christianity in the USA is not unique. For example the number of African Christians, many Pentacostalists among them, has soared over the last century to 360 million from 10 million. But it's quite different. African fundamentalists don't have the means for crusades, Americans do and they are using them on their road to a New Rome (Chalmers Johnson, Blowback).

22 March 2003

PS: As if to confirm this analysis Thomas L. Friedman, the moderate columnist of the NYT, writes in February 2004 that "Mr. Sharon has the two main players in the Arab-Israeli drama under house arrest". He explains how:

"That is, Mr. Sharon has the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat under house arrest in his office in Ramallah, and he's had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office. Mr. Sharon has Mr. Arafat surrounded by tanks, and Mr. Bush surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israel lobbyists, by a vice president, Dick Cheney, who's ready to do whatever Mr. Sharon dictates, and by political handlers telling the president not to put any pressure on Israel in an election year — all conspiring to make sure the president does nothing". (NYT, 2.5.04)

Mr. Friedman predicts in this column the establishment of two Islamist states, one in Palestine with Hamas being the driving force, and the other one in Iraq.