By Marta Ilyich
On November 14th, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer and newly crowned Republican Speaker Of The House Mike Johnson took the stage in Washington, D.C. to lend their influence to the ‘March for Israel’ rally. They were using their prestige as leaders of both chambers of the U.S. legislative branch in support of the blood-drenched ‘Israeli’ occupation of Palestine. Even as they smiled mirthlessly for their voters, the ‘Israeli’ death machine was slaughtering indigenous Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the ‘world’s largest open-air prison’. Graced with their company, notorious right wing pastor John Hagee stepped up to the microphone.
Hagee is the founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel, the largest organization among the ‘pro-Israel’ lobby. A self-described ‘Christian Zionist,’ he is a man notorious for his claim that, “God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land.” At this rally, he said, ‘`you’re either for the Jewish people or you’re not.’ Of course, the Jewish diaspora and the bloodthirsty ‘Israeli’ occupation are not one and the same, as the pro-Palestinan organization Jewish Voice for Peace and others have long pointed out but Hagee refuses to make the distinction on the far right. It may appear contradictory that a man who spun a tale of a God who anointed Adolph Hitler would also shame people into supporting ‘the Jewish people’. But in Christian evangelical theology, this makes perfect sense.
In Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx wrote,
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
It is obvious, then, why religion holds such sway over many among poor, workers, and oppressed peoples. The conditions inflicted upon the masses by capitalists are as heartless as they are horrific. The appeal of a scripture that says ‘blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth’ (Matthew 5:5) for those crushed beneath the heel of capitalism is self-evident. It’s tempting for some to believe that after the pain of this world, an eternity in paradise awaits them. Such belief can help a person to endure hard times. However, it might also keep people complacent. A person struggling for resources in a company while its CEO lives in a opulent mansion might see their suffering as a test from God. All their lives in the church, Evangelical pastors have drilled into them the idea that the greater the suffering, the greater the reward for enduring. The rich have been given their money as a blessing from God, but it is their lot to suffer to prove they deserve to be blessed after they die. What are a few scant decades of suffering next to an eternity in their mansion in Heaven?
Therefore, certain individuals who are suffering ‘soulless conditions’ are hostile to struggles that they and other poor and working people would benefit from. To many Evangelicals a fight for better conditions is a temptation to stray from the path of faith and to fail God’s test. They believe their suffering is a divinely ordained trial as in the book of Job in the Bible. This is a story wherein God torments a happy and wealthy man to prove to Satan that the man, named Job, will remain faithful. God kills his livestock, kills his many children, strips his wealth, afflicts him physically with boils all over his body but Job remains faithful and God rewards him in the end by restoring his fortunes and providing more children. An Evangelical may take from this that to reject the suffering God brings upon them would be to rob themself of their own reward. The question of suffering is common in world religions, and Christians of all stripes often point to Job for an explanation. Since in the Bible, temptation is portrayed as the role of the devil, to their minds this makes pro-worker movements the work of Satan. Liberation is not a goal to those lost in this mindset, it is a threat. Marxism is rejected not only on ideological grounds common to conservative culture, but it is also rejected on religious grounds. Because the right has a longstanding and laughable tactic of portraying Democrats as communists, claims of a link between Democrats and Satan make sense given this topsy-turvy upside-down worldview. It can be no wonder that QAnon has convinced Evangelicals that Democrats worship Satan and are abusing children in devilish rites. Evangelicals already believe that Democrats are linked to communism, communism is understood as Satanic. In a right wing media landscape where truth is attributed to the loudest voices and facts are treated as opinion, reality itself is believed to be a matter of choice and faith justifies all. There could be no more fertile ground for conspiracy theories and lies to be accepted uncritically. Because even under better conditions, the first casualty of war is truth, evangelicals accept without question fictions about Palestinians committing mass rapes or burning babies.
It’s important to note the Evangelical church represents a subset of U.S. churches and not the whole. Religiosity in the United States has long been in decline, although roughly 70% of people still claim religious affiliation. But while mainline protestant churches— Methodists, Presbyterians and the like- have been declining greatly, Evangelical church decline has been much less, and in some places has grown. The Evangelical church is ascendant in the religious landscape, having surpassed the mainline. This trend coincides with Evangelical abandonment of a policy of nonengagement from politics after the now defunct Roe v. Wade was first decided in the Supreme Court. In the wake of the Evangelical pivot into what they understand as earthly matters, they have waged an unrelenting assault on women’s and queer rights in defense of patriarchy. It may seem confusing that ‘Israel’ be supported by a strain of faith that views Jews as ‘Christ-Killers’. That they let off the hook the very empire that performed the crucifixion in the Bible… the Roman Empire… is perhaps an echo of their support for imperialism and the ‘Israel’ it props up.
Evangelicals teach and have been taught that the Bible supports the settlement of Palestine in their reading of Amos 9:14-15:
“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God.”
They read this as meaning that control of Palestine by ‘Israel’ is a fulfillment of this passage. That it says that they shall never again be ‘plucked’ out of their land leaves the door open for anyone so inclined to come to the interpretation that all Jews must return to occupied Palestine and are not to be tolerated anywhere else. Here we see reflected perfectly Hagee’s claim that Hitler was an instrument of God to force European Jews to settle Palestine. This is not from love for Jewish people. They see Jews as a mere domino in a chain to be toppled in bringing about the end times. Evangelicals agree that until the return of Jesus in the end times, the settlers must control Palestine.
The end times are what Evangelical support is all about. To get to the root of the reasoning, one must look to Christian eschatology. Eschatology, a word that refers to end times theology, is a point of strong fixation for the Evangelical church. This is possible due to their insistence of taking as literal the metaphorical. Much of what they consider ‘biblical evidence’ can be found in the Book of Revelations. This book is a work of metaphorical apocalyptic literature. A commonly invoked verse can be found here:
“This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number for a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”
The passage literally leads by asking the reader to decode the hidden meaning therein. Scholars point out that when broken down in the numerology of the culture, the name of the Roman emperor Nero becomes 666. This passage was written about a subjugating empire by someone under its thumb. Regardless, What Evangelical leaders see is a supernatural monster or their own political enemies. It can be no wonder that by stringing together a few verses and themes, Evangelical leaders construct a sort of disturbed fanfiction about the end of the world.
Another often invoked verse:
“Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”
Note the use of ‘patient endurance’ in light of the existential threat many poor and working class Evangelicals see in their own liberation. Suffering is not theirs to combat, but to endure.
But to get to the root of the individual stake they hold in their support of the occupation of Palestine, one must understand what they see in this verse:
“I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.”
From these two meager sentences, Evangelicals have extracted the idea of the rapture, where Jesus returns and faithful Christians are taken to Heaven while unbelievers are left on Earth. What happens after? According to the belief, what follows the rapture is the tribulation. This is a mighty war with the battle site being lifted from, again, Revelation:
“And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon.”
-Revelation 16:16 New Living Translation
Below on Earth, the theology holds, nonbelievers will suffer horribly in a time of tribulation and the battle of Armageddon, or Mount Megiddo, takes place. Where is Mount Megiddo?
Known today as Tel Meggido, it is in occupied Palestine, just northeast of the West Bank. A site of battle on the cusp of so-called ‘Israeli’ territory and that on which Palestinians are permitted to live for the moment. War there fits their beliefs and mindset perfectly. Indeed, war there is required before they can be raptured to Heaven and their eternal reward. Tour groups of Christians visit Tel Megiddo, and thrill to their tour guide giving lurid descriptions of the wholesale slaughter and descriptions of blood flooding the valley. Their eyes widen in excitement as they stand on the site where they’re told that the most lethal and destructive battle in human history is to be waged. As they look over the land they envision Jesus at the head of an army of the righteous leading it into battle against the forces of evil. The return of Jews to ‘Israel’ is understood as a prerequisite for the return of Jesus and the battle of Armageddon to occur. They believe mighty nations will battle for 7 years, after which Christ will chain Satan. Jesus will then rule on Earth for a thousand years. Hagee describes it thus:
“1,000 years of perfect peace, no presidential elections, no fake news, none of all of this nonsense.”
After this thousand years, they believe those who chose to follow Christ will ascend to Heaven. And they, the faithful, will not have to endure the war, because they will be taken up and given their mansions in Heaven right before.
Where will Jesus rule the world from in their beliefs? He would do so from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount on the Dome of the Rock is believed to have been the location of an ancient Jewish temple. In the first century BCE, King Herod built a new temple there. What has become of that temple today? It is the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque, the oldest standing Islamic structure and second most holy site to Muslims around the world. Jesus was born as a Jew, but Muhammad came after, and Islam is seen by right wing Christians as particularly blasphemous for having been rooted in but changed from Christianity. Jesus could never rule from a mosque, Evangelicals believe. But should that mosque be destroyed, a third temple could be built, and this too thrills them. While the occupation of Palestine is believed to be holy writ, a war, with rockets flying, might just destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. The motive by which they believe Muslims might destroy their own holy site is unexplored. Racism within Evangelical spheres doesn’t give Palestinians much credit, which is why they don’t question the ludicrous narrative that Palestinians are destroying their own hospitals in Gaza.
So what will happen to Jews in this end times vision? For a few, conversion to Christianity. For the vast majority? Mass slaughter on a scale that makes the Nazi holocaust look like a bump in the road. Either way means a complete eradication of Judaism from the face of the Earth. This is why it makes sense for Hitler-admiring Evangelicals to slander anti-zionists. This is why antisemites shame critics for not supporting Jews (by which they mean the occupation of Palestine). They don’t want Jews to thrive. They want to sit in their imagined mansions in the air as they watch the mass death of their enemies….Jews, Muslims, Catholics, mainline Protestants, secularists, abortion advocates, those who resist mandatory school prayer, queers, librarians, public educators. They thrill to the idea of watching everyone but themselves die in agony and engulfed in the flames of final war. With none but their own left, the souls of their enemies cast into a lake of fire, and on a planet turned graveyard they envision the Prince of Peace reigning. The peace they believe in is that of the grave, secured by destroying all thought but their own, all thinkers but those who agree, all people but themselves. It is a utopia built on the bones of the masses of humanity. With rockets flying and Israel slaughtering Palestinians in the Gaza strip, Evangelicals see this slaughter as their prayers answered and the fulfillment of ancient prophecy. To them, ‘glory’ is so close they can almost taste it.
It must be remembered that poor, working class, and oppressed people flock to the Evangelical church because they suffer under the material conditions of the day as do the rest of our class. To cope with their suffering they put their faith in the belief that it is temporary, and they are destined for eternal life in paradise, living in opulent splendor that puts the richest capitalists’ lifestyles to shame. As Marx described religion as the ‘opium of the people’, we have to consider that opiates derived from opium are today prescribed as painkillers. They are used when suffering is too much to endure. Poor and working class Evangelical laity have believed the fanciful stories cobbled together by wealthy thought leaders. Leaders craft these tales from their twisted faith and lust for personal power. These are stories that suppress labor’s strength and equate labor movements with the embodiment of supernatural evil. Bigotries against national and special oppressions that often go naked in evangelical circles serve the wealthy and bourgeois class. In Frankensteinian fashion, Evangelical leaders for generations have cobbled together bits and pieces of metaphorical scripture into a rampaging theological monster.
On that grim day in November, when Chuck Schumer and Mike Johnson shared a stage with John Hagee, the crowd broke out in a spontaneous chant: “no ceasefire”. It was a bloodthirsty cry for an apartheid state to commit genocide arising from within the very seat of the U.S. empire. Not all of those who chanted were Evangelicals. Support for the subjugation and murder of the indigenous people of Palestine extends far beyond Evangelicals and is baked into that government seated in D.C. Regardless of the makeup of the crowd, however, the pro-’Israel’ lobby is largely funded in the Bible Belt by organizations that take their funding and build their power on the backs of suffering workers. Some Evangelicals will fall away. Perhaps they will lose their faith, perhaps they will move to the mainline. Some may even start asking the questions posed by the Liberation Theology that was born in Latin America and sustained many of the Contra guerillas in their struggle in El Salvador. But the rich, lazy exploitative Evangelical leadership to which they give their money serve the empire and fund the slaughter of Palestinians.. The bourgeois class which profits from death and suffering must and will be overthrown by poor, working class, and oppressed people. We will usher in not the end of days but the sunrise of a new age. Capitalism and imperialism will be swept away, just another barbarity on the trash heap of history. Hazing seized control, as someone wrote a long time ago, the ‘meek’ will inherit the Earth.
Victory to Palestine! All power to the people!