An Apocalyptic Foreign Policy
April 30, 2002
days ago I expressed my gratitude to the general good nature of American Protestants. I received
a response that only confirmed my lifelong feeling about these decent,
lovable people. Catholics and Jews also wrote to express their warm
Today, alas, I must write in a
different vein. The unhappy fact is that these nice Protestants, for all
their virtues, include a dangerous minority.
Ive never been one to attack
the Christian Right. On many questions I heartily agree with it. But it
exerts a powerful influence within the Republican Party, and at the
moment this is not entirely to the good.
Much of the Christian Right demands
all-out U.S. support for Israel, not for reasons of national interest, but for
allegedly Biblical reasons: they hope the battle of Armageddon, forecast in
the Book of Revelation, will soon erupt in the Middle East, and they want
the U.S. Government to help bring it about by backing Israeli aggression.
Of course they dont consider
anything Israel does, however violent, aggression. They contend that the
Holy Land belongs to the Jews by divine right, and they approve of any
claims Israel makes and any measures it takes to enforce its claims.
Let me lay my cards on the table. I
believe in the Book of Revelation too we Catholics call it the
Apocalypse of St. John but I distrust anyone who thinks he can
decode its mysterious prophecies, especially for the purpose of deciding
U.S. foreign policy in the explosive Middle East. And I think most devout
Protestants would agree.
Nobody knows when the end of the
world will come, and since the year 1000 many people, imagining that
they have solved the enigmas of Revelation, have made the foolish mistake
of predicting it prematurely. Various sects have not only confidently
announced the date of the Apocalypse, but flourished even after they were
proved wildly wrong. Like economists and sportswriters, theologians
rarely pay for their erroneous predictions.
God will bring
about the worlds end in his own good time, probably without the
prodding of the U.S. Government. We must await the fulfillment of his plan
in humble patience, without treating the Scriptures like astrological
Meanwhile, the duties of Christians
remain what they always are: to act in justice and mercy, and especially
to love one another. But the Christian Right, while cheering Sharon on,
evinces little concern for its Christian brethren in the Middle East
a scandalous fact, immensely distressing and baffling to the defenseless
and suffering Arab Christians who cry for help, only to be ignored.
This is not to suggest that religion
has no pertinence to politics. On the contrary, Christians should always
apply their faith to worldly affairs. The question is how this is to be done.
We must beware of facile and fanatical interpretations that wind up
putting us at odds with the plainest of the Beatitudes: Blessed are
the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
Recently President Bush has looked
like a weakling, unable to stand up to Sharon. But a more frightening
possibility is that he secretly shares Sharons vision of an
expansionist Israel, for the same dubiously Biblical reasons much of the
Christian Right does. His father, the former President Bush, at least
resisted pressure from the Israel government and its American lobby; his
insistence on American secular interests (as he understood them) may
have cost him the 1992 election. But the current President Bush has either
less courage or different convictions.
Surely Bush knows that most
Americans dont want to see U.S. policy in the Middle East guided by
what they regard as an eccentric reading of the Book of Revelation. He has
never said and would be unlikely to avow that he agrees
with such a reading. But he is under fierce pressure from people who do,
and his gestures of moderation, if they are sincere, are notably
We are seeing the emergence of an odd
alliance: a new Judaeo-Christian coalition of zealots who,
for their different reasons, converge in support of a warlike Israel. Far
from dreading war, they look forward to it. Unlike the conservatives of the
America First era, they put Israel first. Let us pray that they will not lead
us into a terrible disaster.