Are End-Days Christian Apocalytics Good for the Jews?

If you have, like me, wondered whether those Bible-thumping, end-of-days-awaiting, Israel-loving Christians are after all really good for the Jews, then have I got a book for you! In fact, I haven't read the book yet. But have I got a review of a book for you!

In this review you'll find the thesis that mainline Protestants are bad for the Jews. "Moderate Christians are soon-to-be-ex-Christians, which is to say that they are proselyte neo-pagans. Like most pagans, they hate the Jews. The collapse of the mainline denominations and the corresponding growth of the evangelicals is the best thing that has happened to the Jews in a very long time."

I'm referring to tomorrow's BOOK REVIEW from the Asia Times by an anonymous intellectual -- You don't need to be apocalyptic, but it helps: Standing with Israel by David Brog, Reviewed by Spengler. It begins:
'You don't need to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps,' went the Israeli national joke of another era. By the same token, you don't need to be apocalyptic to manage US policy in the Middle East - but it also helps.

The importance of Christian eschatology in shaping US attitudes toward Israel disturbs enlightened world opinion, and David Brog's new book will inflame these concerns. At the heart of Christian support for Israel in particular and the Jews in general are Dispensationalists, who support Israel with more passion than do American Jews themselves. Their preoccupation with End Times has entered American popular culture through Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of bestsellers.

Standing with Israel has many virtues, but one big flaw, namely the author's failure to ask, let alone to answer, the obvious question: How is it possible that an idiosyncratic current in non-conforming Christianity, deeply concerned with End Times prophecy and until recently quite obscure, has taken on the decisive role in the great events of the day, as Brog reports?

Nonetheless, critics as well as supporters of US Middle East policy will find Brog's report of great use. A Jew and a partisan of Israel, Brog served as chief of staff to US Senator Arlen Specter and staff director of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, with the opportunity to observe the politics of foreign policy at first hand. He leaves no doubt that philo-Semitism is bred in the marrow of evangelical Christianity. America's alliance with Israel stems not from the machinations of powerful Jews, nor from America's imperial ambitions, but rather from an impassioned surge of religious feeling at the grassroots of US politics. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans may be characterized as "religious right", Brog observes, making them "the largest single voting bloc in the party".

This is all the more disturbing to enlightened world opinion because End Times prophecy, the Rapture of the faithful, and the Second Coming of Jesus figure prominently in Dispensationalist thinking. There is a bit of mad mysticism about the Christian Right, but the same could be said about the 17th century's master spy and diplomat, the "Gray Eminence" Father Joseph du Tremblay. No one but a mystic could have the stomach for a full-dress religious war, and that is precisely what we have gotten into.

Belief in the Rapture followed by seven years of tribulation does not quite qualify as strategic realism, but it might be a more practical guide to foreign policy than, say, belief in the Balance of Power or in the democratization of the Middle East. I do not believe in a coming Rapture, but I do not think it any less likely than the success of democracy in that region. In fact, Apocalyptic inclinations provide a better sort of mental preparation for Middle Eastern politics than the pap dished out by the political scientists. Sadly, there are no solutions to the problems that bedevil the region (Crisis of faith in the Muslim world, November 1, 2005).
What Spengler fails to develop is that our American Christians are only partially apocalyptic. (See my theoretical summary.) They buy into the story of the end-times. They relish the conflicts that will hasten its approach. But they do so out of a sense of destiny, not out of a feeling of marginality. That is what sets the Yankee apocalyptic apart from the more common garden varieties.

Is this good for the Jews? Publicity for the book asserts that Brog "makes persuasive appeals to Christians to embrace Israel and to Jews to overcome their fears of Christian Zionists." Spengler appears to agree, but adds some more nuance to the analysis of where this dynamic comes from:
Americans know that they are on their way, but do not know quite where they are going, or how they will know when they get there. The end of the American journey only can be conceived in apocalyptic terms...

The State of Israel exists, Brog recounts, because a Bible-believing provincial stumbled into the US presidency in 1945. As Brog quotes Harry Truman's adviser Clark Clifford, "He was a student and believer in the Bible since his youth. From his reading of the Old Testament he felt the Jews derived a legitimate historical right to Palestine." Truman overrode the unanimous opinion of his cabinet to cast America's vote behind the founding of the State of Israel in 1947.

Appreciative as he may be for the ministrations of Christian Zionists, Brog tries to apologize for their eschatological views. That not only condescends to American evangelicals but, even worse, it betrays a misunderstanding of what inspires Christian passion. Christians identify with Israel precisely because Israel's living history provides the beacons for their own journey to redemption, a journey whose end implies the change in the foundations of the Earth. Prophecy does not concern me, but I know something about shaky foundations. Not only chance, but also Providence favors the prepared mind.
I'm not quite sure of Brog's account of Truman's apocalyptic religious motives or of the unanimity of the opposition in his cabinet. But it's worth considering his thesis and Spengler's elucidation thereof.

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