What’s obligatory for the Muslim goose is evidently optional for the Evangelical gander. While pundits endlessly sound the alarm about "Islamofascism" and demand an end to what they dub a "culture of jihad", it turns out that the Pentagon has been shipping Christian "jihadi" materials to soldiers in Iraq! Not to mention working unusually closely (even by the Beltway’s own incestuous standards) with a group that is dedicated to converting Iraqis to Christianity (read the rest of the article).
The Los Angeles ran an opinion piece by Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan entitled "Not so fast, Christian soldiers" that observes:
Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering "freedom packages" to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended. What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which "soldiers for Christ" hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.
If you’re not aware of how intolerant and violent the faux-biblical worldview of the bestselling "Left Behind" novels is, take a look at the eye-opening controversy over the gleeful slaying of infidels in the "Left Behind" video games and my previous posts on the strain of Christian Jihadism that runs through Evangelical political thought and theology today (Post #1, Post #2). It seems to me that Muslims aren’t the only ones with issues in the religious coexistence department.
A CBS report on Jerry Falwell from a few years back that mentions how the worldview of the novels makes many Jews feel:
But he’s [i.e., Falwell] not the only one. Countless millions of Americans are reading a series of novels called “Left Behind.” These novels are topping bestseller lists all over the country and they’re being made into movies. They chronicle apocalyptic times, and the setting is the 21st century, complete with war planes and TV correspondents.
However, the plot is ripped from the pages of the Bible, so it all winds up here in Israel where, according to the Book of Revelations, the final battle in the history of the future will be fought on an ancient battlefield in northern Israel called Armageddon. It will follow seven years of tribulation during which the earth will be shaken by such disasters that previous human history will seem like a day in the country. The blood will rise as high as a horse’s bridle at Armageddon, before Christ triumphs to begin his 1,000-year rule. [Imagine for a moment what would happen if American Muslims were churning out novels and movies piously and cheerfully portraying the slaughter of millions upon millions of infidels at the hands of God’s faithful.]
And the Jews? Well, two-thirds of them will have been wiped out by now. But the survivors will accept Jesus at last.
“The Jews die or convert. As a Jew, I can’t feel very comfortable with the affections of somebody who looks forward to that scenario,” says Gershom Gorenberg, who knows that scenario well.
Gorenberg is the author of the “End of Days,” a book about those Christian evangelicals who choose to read the Bible literally. “They don’t love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story, in their play, and that’s not who we are, and we never auditioned for that part, and the play is not one that ends up good for us.”
“If you listen to the drama they’re describing, essentially it’s a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act.”
Regarding the books, from what I hear from Christian colleagues in the biz, these novels are highly simplistic and completely out of touch with the nuanced way that the Book of Revelations is understood by most contemporary church scholars and leaders–within Catholicism, Orthodoxy, mainline Protestantism and even some fellow Evangelical denominations–and projecting onto it dubious modern doomsday theories about a "Rapture" that were unknown to Christendom until the 18th century. It has even been criticized by fellow Evangelicals, like "Bible Answerman" Hank Hanegraaff.
See Brian Schwertley’s "Is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical?" for an example of how many Christian scholars contend that this eschatological position–popular though it may be in our confused day when people can’t tell Jacob from Job–is as depressing and divisive as it is ahistorical and simplistic. The article is very erudite and thus perhaps not accessible to all, so here’s a particularly incisive comment from a reader that I think sums the issue up brilliantly:
Dispensational Pre-Millenialism is an eschatology of pessimism that undermines the cultural mandate of the Church. This doctrine of immanency (i.e., that Christ could return "at any moment") neither coerces believers into developing a long-term plan for their life & ministry, nor does it foster a commitment to impact society for the glory of our beloved King. [Hence the Far Right’s support for unending war in the Middle East, perhaps? – Svend] Escapism, fatalism, and a tendency to disregard the Church’s call to prayer, fasting, and wholeheartedness in our pursuit of intimate fellowship with the Godhead are the most common (and most dangerous) fruits of this confused theology being preached in western pulpits.
The modernist disease of kneejerk literalism raises its ugly head again, it seems. I find the methodological and epistemic affinities between hardline American Evangelicals and their modernist ideological cousins among Salafi Muslims and kindred spirits endlessly fascinating. There really are so many parallels.
Except that most of the large Christian denominations today permit open debate on these prophecies. Would that this kind of hermeneutical roboticism were limited among Muslims to Salafis and the like. How many Muslims today are comfortable discussing ahadith concerning the Last Days with the profundity and nuance brought to bear on Christian eschatology in the article linked to above? The point about how ultimately fatalistic and contrary to a spiritual life this escapism is reminded me of many popular discussions of the Mahdi. I also find the way some Evangelicals have made debatable doctrines like the Rapture into a litmus test of orthodoxy reminiscent of how many Muslims treat their equally questionable interpretations about the Dajjal, etc. as indisputable principles of Islamic faith.
But that’s the stuff of another post.
Update: Added the quote from the CBS report