As I explain in my book And God Said, “Billy!“, exclusionary religion — in other words all religions that identify people as “saved” or “lost,” or of the right tribe or race, or that demand the holding of correct doctrinal beliefs — is a killer. Religious faith needs to be put back in the category of personal subjective experience where it belongs. Religion that claims to be “The Truth” (a la Billy Graham delusional evangelical-type thinking) is an exercise in exclusion, in dividing the human race into “us” and “them.” It leads to the Tea Party mentality. It must end.
The world will not find peace until people wanting to build a Jewish synagogue in Mecca, or a Unitarian church in Medina and/or a porn shop in Riyadh may do so as easily as they could do these things in Chicago. The world will never be safe, until a gay couple may kiss openly and without fear on any street in Tulsa, Islamabad, Lagos or Kansas City. America won’t find sanity until Utah and South Carolina are no more defined by evangelical religion than Paris is by Catholicism. And Americans will keep dying for nothing in far off places for really stupid theology until the very idea of a “Christian country,” “Islamic republic” or a “Jewish state” is about as credible as a flat-earth theory.
Hold the emails! The State of Israel has every bit as much or as little a right to exist as countries like the United States, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, where the land was also (relatively recently) forcibly taken from the previous occupants by white European colonists. But Australia, south Africa and New Zealand and the USA (even with our Puritan roots and today’s theology of American exceptionalism) no longer define themselves as exclusionary religious/ethnic enclaves the way Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel do with their “everyone is equal but some of us are more equal than others” style of religious/ethnic tribal apartheid. Try opening a church in Mecca. Try returning to Palestine to the land your grandfather lost if you’re a Palestinian and not a Jew.
No wonder American Evangelicals have an affinity for religion-based states. No wonder G W Bush loved those Saudi kings. They had oil and the same idea of God he did. A bedrock article of faith among American Evangelicals is that America had “Christian origins,” and that today America must be “restored” to our “Christian heritage.” This was what drove bin Laden to try and purify Saudi Arabia too. Only he did it for Islam and our evangelicals want to “restore America” for Christianity. The “Puritan heritage” of America is constantly cited as evidence for our need to “return” to our “biblical roots.” The real ideal here is to become more like Iran than we’d be American.
Puritans believed that they were carrying “authentic Christianity” to America, especially as written in the Old Testament. They said that they were on a divine mission, even called themselves “the New Israel” and a “city set upon a hill.” John Winthrop (governor of Massachusetts Bay) transferred the idea of “nationhood” in biblical Israel to the Massachusetts Bay Company. Puritans even said the Bible confirmed their status as the New Israel!
Old Testament law was the base of law in New England. The Massachusetts “Body of Liberties” (1641) said that “if any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the Lord God, he shall be put to death.” Death was the sentence for witchcraft, blasphemy, sodomy, homosexuality and adultery.
Since the Puritans claimed they were God’s “chosen people,” they said that they had the right to grab land from the “heathen.” These were the American Indians whom the Puritans thought of as the “new Canaanites,” to be slaughtered with God’s blessing. While trying to justify the horrific burning to death of the Pequot tribe in the multiple Puritan massacres (1637), Captain John Mason wrote: “God laughed his Enemies and the Enemies of his People to Scorn, making them as a fiery Oven … Thus did the Lord judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies.”
It is no coincidence that the most self-consciously religious states of the Middle East– Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran are in perpetual conflict with other equally religion-based countries like America. And it’s no coincidence that America has paid dearly in blood and treasure in one Middle Eastern-incited entanglement after another because of our theology-based relationship with the State of Israel as well as our meddling in the affairs of the Islamic states like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. What would you expect but conflict when modernity tangles with Bronze Age tribalism that’s been given a biblical evangelical “End Times” twist?!
Now Billy Graham, supported by the evangelical establishment is predicting the end of the world. Once again he and his son Franklin and their dependent money raising God sellers like the editors of Christianity Today magazine are hyping this “prophecy” for fundraising and political purposes. No one really believes this nonsense, but it keep the Fox news crowd hyped up because under this latest wave of doom saying, is an anti-Obama agenda that the Graham family have been pushing along with other white Southern evangelicals since the day he got elected. Why else would Sarah Palin have become a favored Graham groupie and why else would the Grahams have taken Mitt Romney off the list as a “heretic” when he was running for president and all of a sudden the Grahams decided that Mormons are just good evangelicals after all?
Billy Graham at his 95th birthday bash meeting with FOX news owner Rupert Murdoch discussing what?: Murdoch’s naked women tabloid UK press? How to get rid of Obama? The return of Christ? … In which case why spend tens of thousands on a birthday party to entertain Sarah Palin and Donald Trump?
Some of the most outlandish American religious leaders today (and in the past) have latched on to one form or another of Christian Zionism rooted in End Times predictions… none of which ever come true. For instance, besides the Graham family, Reverend John Hagee (pastor of a mega church with thousands of members in Houston) is a leading Far Right evangelical and ardent fan of Israeli expansion into the disputed West Bank. And the bestselling books of the Left Behind series of novels have fed the Evangelicals’ fixation on End-Times prophecy and the “imminent” return of Christ. To put it mildly, the Evangelical biblical “reasons” for rooting for an ethnic/religious-based Israel have deformed U.S. policy and made America act against its self-interest. This has also harmed the State of Israel.
Evangelical hardliners have a “prophetic” agenda when pushing Israel to keep all of the West Bank and to be “tough on the Palestinians” that has nothing to do with what might bring peace (let alone justice) to the actual Jews and actual Arabs who are fated to be neighbors. Gleeful war mongering in the name of Jesus – from a safe distance, say from Houston or Ashville NC! — has everything to do with Evangelicals’ ideas about what will hasten the “return of Christ” and nothing to do with what is actually good for the Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs. And of course the Graham family anti-Obama far right agenda which is all part of their end-of-the-world claim (times are bad there’s a black man in the White House!) is also a fundraising opportunity.
Conflict, Armageddon and the “End Times” is the Christian-Zionist agenda–not helping a child in Gaza live happily, have a normal life and walk to school safely. The evangelicals who “love” the State of Israel wouldn’t mind seeing an innocent Jewish or Palestinian child blown up in a rocket attack, as long as the “Promised Land” is “fully reclaimed” to fulfill their harebrained ideas of biblical prophecy. With “friends” like the Christian Zionists and the doomsayers like Graham, Israel needs no enemies. With “citizens” like the evangelicals rooting for Armageddon, America needs no traitors.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book — And God Said, “Billy!“ exploring the roots of American religious delusion, and offering another way to approach true spirituality, is on Kindle, iBook and NOOK for $3.99, and in paperback.