Friday, November 2, 2012

In the Lands of Armageddon

In the ancient Byzantine churches, Jesus is rarely
shown suffering on the cross, he's most often shown as
a shepherd, a leader, a preacher, or a teacher. 

At the risk of repeating myself, I must say, traveling is an amazing path to get to the essence of what it is to be human. Talking to people in other cultures serves up food for thought, and by traveling slowly, there is time to chew and savor that food. In Turkey I’ve thought about the myriad forms religion takes to satisfy the deep longings of human beings. At the same time, fanaticism, stemming from the fear of not being judged faithful enough to get into heaven, sometimes motivates people to follow advice from the insane.

Recently I had a Face Book interaction with a man who’d left a comment on a friend’s post. I answered him and we got into a discussion, which I’m sure he saw as a combative argument, though I’m always very careful not to call anyone names or say that anyone is wrong.

My friend had asked this man, how, as a Christian, he could support the wars in the Middle East. The man responded that Jesus was not a pacifist, people who think that are wrong. 

His answer made it clear that somehow in his fundamentalist Christianity, the angry penalizing God of the Old Testament that destroyed entire cities at the drop of a hat, and Jesus, are one and the same. Therefore Jesus is not a pacifist. Jesus wants people who “sin” to be punished or die and burn in hell. I pointed out several things Jesus said about turning the other cheek, how he stopped an execution in progress, and told parables about God being a loving father - not the mean S.O.B. of the Old Testament. I always thought Jesus came to change people’s ideas about God, which were fundamentally incorrect. Jesus never advocated violence against our fellow men in anything he said or did. Even when he threw the money-changers out of the temple, he did it mostly with words and some ropes for a whip. Nobody got hurt.

According to that man, I had it all wrong. I mistakenly took those quotes out of context.  Jesus and God are the same entity along with the Holy Spirit, therefore it was Jesus who destroyed Jericho and turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, etc. God is a demanding God, who requires people to do exactly what he says or they will be cast into hell forever. God is still punishing whole countries and cities, using hurricanes and earthquakes to teach people lessons, and he uses powerful nations like the United States to carry out His will.  

After this Face Book interaction, some disjointed ideas cascaded into place.

I grew up in the Bible belt. Not in the “buckle” but definitely in one of the holes. Many times, I was under the impression that people expected the prophecy of Armageddon to happen soon, now that Israel had been reestablished as a country in the Middle East. Because of the belief that Jesus would return and take up the true believers, they actually wanted Armageddon to happen, and in their lifetimes! I remember hoping those people never get to a position of power, they would happily use nuclear bombs to destroy the world. Can you imagine? Billions of people burnt to a crisp based on the belief that Jesus, who advocated non-violence and love, will return to save them (and only them) from their self-full-filled prophecy!

On September 11, 2001, I thought: Oh my god, this is it, the start of Armageddon. 

Although I was against going to war in Afghanistan, I understood why we did it. However, eighteen months later, the war in Iraq was entirely fabricated with lies told about weapons of mass destruction. Even the liberals, who thought the only reason we invaded Iraq was to take over the vast and rich oil fields, may have been incorrect. Iraq is on one side of Iran, and Afghanistan is on the other. With Turkey as an ally, the US now has bases surrounding Iran, a stronghold of the Muslim religion, and greatest enemy of Israel. Back in the Cold War days, when Russia put missiles in Cuba, we considered that an act of aggression.  If our installing bases around Iran isn’t provocation I don’t know what you call it. When President George W. Bush announced he was considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Iraq my stomach clinched. It meant the weapons were already there, only the command needed to be given.

Religion can be a set of shared values, shared moral principles, and a way to keep society from plunging into chaos. It can provide a path for enlightenment to the individual, a path of right-doing so that at the end of this one life, we can look back with some pride in the good we’ve accomplished. On the other hand, when usurped by our natural tribal nature, where we band together into groups of US versus THEM, it can be used to justify heinous scenarios.

I have feared, for a long time, those scenarios. I couldn’t quite fathom how people who claimed to be followers of Jesus could be the perpetrators though, and now I know. Just as the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center believed they would be going to heaven for their deeds (based on twisted ideas from the Koran) so do the people who think God/Jesus is using the global military power of the United States to carry out His grand plan for Armageddon. Their support of the plan, in spite of the death and destruction, proves their faith, just like Abraham who had total faith in God and was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac on God’s orders. The only problem is, God changed his mind at the last minute in that story and provided a ram to use instead for the sacrifice. When nuclear bombs are launched, there is no last minute.

For those of us who see no “God” out there in the universe giving orders, who never hear voices in burning bushes nor “God’s Will” passed to us from prophets, the whole of it appears a nightmare. We need to make sense of it. The realization that many Christians believe “God and Jesus are the same”, that Jesus is not a pacifist but an active participant in the plan to destroy the world by fire as God predicted he would after the great flood, makes sense to me now. The political rhetoric of the last ten years from the Religious Right shines in a brighter light.

I saw glimpses of this irrational thinking growing up in the Texas Panhandle. But then I lived my life for thirty years without giving it much thought until 9-11. Is it too late? Can we still vote it out, excise it from our political spectrum? Can we prevent our military power from creating Armageddon?  If we don’t see it coming, we won’t be fearful enough to try to stop it. That man on Face Book gave me reason to have fear. He was filled with so much misplaced holy passion that if he could, he would personally push the button on the launch sequence.