As the Obama administration debates intervention in Syria, the prospect of another foray into the Middle East has ignited fevered speculation among conspiracy theorists in the Religious Right.
Mainstream observers debate the humanitarian cost of conflict. But for the Religious Right, the real debate has nothing to do with humanitarianism and everything to do with apocalyptic biblical prophecies.
Writing for the Religion News Service, Faheem Younus criticizes these End Times fantasies.
“For these Christians and Muslims, the civil war in Syria heralds nothing less than the Second Coming of Jesus Christ,” he wrote.
In the U.S., we’re not strangers to this apocalyptic rhetoric. We typically see it from fundamentalist Christians. September 11th kicked End Times worries into high gear, and nearly 12 years later, the belief that the return of Christ is imminent is still held by many.
All of this would, of course, be totally irrelevant to church and state separation—if End Times proponents didn’t have influence with certain elected officials. But since they do, it’s worth another look.
In his piece, Younus references a series of Bible verses that, taken literally, could indicate the eventual annihilation of Damascus. One verse that’s especially popular among End Times believers is Isaiah 17: 1, which says, “Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins.”
Isaiah never indicates when exactly this tragedy is meant to occur, but the statement begins a chapter rife with apocalyptic imagery. To those who take it literally, it predicts the Second Coming of Christ. And if you believe that certain catastrophes have to occur in order for Christ to return, this obviously influences your approach to foreign policy.
Younus demands that these perspectives be divorced from U.S. foreign policy. Given our track record, he’s right to be concerned. The same conspiracy theorists who believe that destroying Damascus fulfills prophecy also believed that the American invasion of Iraq met similar criteria.
President George W. Bush didn’t publicly articulate his apocalyptic tendencies at the time, but his international colleagues later revealed their influence.
In an infamous phone call to former French President Jacques Chirac, Bush is said to have informed him that “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East...The Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled...This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”
For context: Gog and Magog appear in the Book of Revelation. To the Left Behind crowd, they’re malevolent world powers whose political maneuvering brings about Armageddon. It’s all very creative, but it shouldn’t influence our foreign policy.
Unfortunately, these fantasies aren’t unique to Bush. U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) has similar views and although her time in Congress is coming to an end, she retains some cultural pull within the Religious Right. Texas Governor Rick Perry called for a strike on Iran based on his own literalist interpretation of Revelation.
Much of this influence is due to the efforts of ministers like Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel and a strong proponent of end times theology. Hagee built a ministry empire based on his literalist approach to the Book of Revelation, and he’s successfully translated this into real political power via his ties to the Republican Party. This year’s roster for Christians United for Israel’s annual conference was a who’s who of prominent right-wing politicians. Speakers included House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.),U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Americans United doesn’t take a stand on the Syrian situation. But we do know this: Complex situations demand nuanced responses from our government. Biblical prophecies just aren’t relevant, and the Religious Right’s obsession with the end of the world (perhaps even helping it along) is a dangerous distraction.
End Times theology is just one more way the Religious Right seeks to influence government. For that reason, we echo Younus’ demand that these beliefs stay out of all foreign policy debates.