Wednesday, May 16, 2018

This Week's Triptych: One Panel, High Times in Jerusalem; Opposite Panel, People Shot Down Like Dogs; In the Middle, White Evangelicals Jubilating

A man who would not know religion or faith if they bowled him down is permitting a dwindling minority of American citizens — white evangelicals — to drive policy that affects the entire world. He's permitting that dwindling minority to impose its peculiar, eccentric biblical ideas on the entire world, destabilizing the world and causing bloodshed because it believes that such destabilizing is a precursor to the second coming of the Prince of Peace.

America's peculiar church-state arrangement, in which right-wing white Christians are allowed to run the country even as a dwindling minority, is not a problem only for American democracy. It's a global problem with global consequences, ones we're seeing center stage in Israel right now, and in the rolling back of environmental protections — because these same people believe that environmental concern is a pagan pursuit.

People can believe that the moon is made of green cheese if they wish. They can believe that "God" is made in the image of a straight white man. They can believe in mulligans and ghoulies and ghosts and devils that leap into unsuspecting people and cause them to love someone of the same sex.

What they should not be permitted to do — not by any sane democratic society — is to impose their strange beliefs on others and control others because their "God" has told them that "He" desires such control.

Quite simply, American foreign policy — and American politics as a whole — has been shaped by the premillennial dispensationalist folklore of Rapture Christianity. That folklore — built upon earlier apocalyptic strains of Christianity, but mostly invented in the 19th century — centers an obsession with the "End Times," reinterpreting the rest of Christian teaching and scripture as a coded “prophecy” about the future. This "prophecy" provides a long check list of supposedly preordained events that will all come to pass before Jesus semi-returns to "rapture" all real, true Christians. . . . 
What does their "Bible prophecy'"say will or should happen to the millions of people now living in all of that territory — Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, and residents of Gaza and the West Bank? Well, they don’t say, exactly. But the implication is that those people will have to go
Rapture Christians don’t want to use the phrase "ethnic cleansing," but it seems to be the unavoidable implication of their "prophecy," just as it was of the "Manifest Destiny" shaping their own white Christian nationalism.

So when Donald Trump challenged President Obama’s citizenship, many of my people read between the lines of the allegations. They doubted that Obama was American too, but they took the charges a step further. If he had been born in Kenya, and if that fact had been covered up by nefarious forces, just who was responsible? 
They’d spent their lives being warned of the New World Order, and now, here was proof of a larger, global conspiracy. To make matters worse, the confusion and anger surrounding the attacks of September 11 left little doubt which side of the biblical equation Muslims were on, and many suspected Obama of secretly adhering to their faith. For a backdrop to this intrigue, the economy was in free fall and seemed destined to end in depression. They’d been taught to look for signs of impending doom in tragedies, in major changes, in times of uncertainty. They’d been taught to see everything with eyes trained for the end of the world. 
It didn't help that their fears were being stoked by media selling panic. On Fox News, they were prodded by Glenn Beck to buy gold coins they could use when society was ruined. Alex Jones hawked bunker rations and water purifiers between segments on New World Order conspiracies helmed by demonic pedophiles intent on killing or enslaving their families. 
They bought guns by the armful. 
They spent their paychecks on dried food that could survive nuclear wars. 
They prepared "bug out" bags for their escape to their bug out location. 
They watched round-the-clock news coverage that painted the world as a dangerous place in the midst of dangerous upheaval. Their Christian values were being challenged by the day. Their way of life trampled on just as their preachers and grandparents had warned them. They were ready for the end of all things. They were ready for a savior to appear and lead them into battle…. 
Blood and tumult in the Middle East are reasons to rejoice. 
They don’t see chaos as the smoke unfurls in the afternoon sky. 
They see glory.

Trump is really good at telling people exactly what they want to hear, and in 2016 what white America wanted to hear was that America — meaning white America — was innocent and good and great, and the hell with the blacks and their endless whining, and pressing one for English, and being nice to Muslims or terrorists in general, and forcing Christians to cater gay weddings, and pretending it was OK for boys to pretend to be girls, and also too the uppity kids at Oberlin demanding their safe spaces and being triggered by the cultural appropriation of Kung Pao chicken or whatever the PC outrage of the day happens to be. 
In other words they wanted the pure product, and Trump gave it to them. 
That's America today, and the sooner people stop pretending we’re "better" than that, the better. Refusing to see that Trump got elected precisely because he's a soulless monster is just another iteration of American exceptionalism, in all its endlessly parochial stupidity and pride.

The common denominator of so many of the strange and troubling cultural narratives coming our way is a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It's white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing. The history of this country has been written as their story, and the news sometimes still tells it this way—one of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides.


The United States blocked a United Nations Security Council statement drafted Monday that called for an independent investigation into Monday’s killing of at least 58 Palestinians along the Israeli-Gaza border. 

John Judis:

When I start railing about Israel's government — he's "Netanyahoo'"as far as I am concerned — some of my co-religionists chide me for singling out Israel and exempting Putin’s Russia or Xi Jinping’s China from my complaints. My usual reply is that as a Jew I feel morally complicit in what Israel’s government does; I don't feel that way about what Putin or Xi does.  
But I'd say something more now — in the wake of Israel's passionate embrace of Trump and rejection of an international Jerusalem (as decreed by the UN at Israel’s founding and with Israel's support), in the wake of continuing settlements on and theft of Palestinian land in the West Bank and of Israel’s economic strangulation of Gaza, in the wake of growing Israeli attempts to squelch any dissent to the occupation, and of the disintegration of the Labour bloc as a moral alternative to Likud, and in the wake, finally, of Israeli troops firing on and killing Palestinian demonstrators who posed no mortal threat at the same time as the Trump children frolicked on the cobblestones of old Jerusalem. I'd say that Israel has become as bad an actor, period. And that upsets me to no end…. 
[W]hat's clear today is that Israel now resembles one of those ancient kingdoms that God rained down his wrath upon.

Michelle Goldberg:

On Monday, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other leading lights of the Trumpist right gathered in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a gesture widely seen as a slap in the face to Palestinians who envision East Jerusalem as their future capital.  
The event was grotesque. It was a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don’t convert will burn forever.  
Religions like "Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism" lead people "to an eternity of separation from God in Hell," Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor, once said. He was chosen to give the opening prayer at the embassy ceremony. John Hagee, one of America's most prominent end-times preachers, once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland. He gave the closing benediction.  
This spectacle, geared toward Donald Trump's Christian American base, coincided with a massacre about 40 miles away. Since March 30, there have been mass protests at the fence separating Gaza and Israel. Gazans, facing an escalating humanitarian crisis due in large part to an Israeli blockade, are demanding the right to return to homes in Israel that their families were forced from at Israel’s founding. The demonstrators have been mostly but not entirely peaceful; Gazans have thrown rocks at Israeli soldiers and tried to fly flaming kites into Israel. The Israeli military has responded with live gunfire as well as rubber bullets and tear gas. In clashes on Monday, at least 58 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

"The access has been phenomenal," Mr. [David] Brody [chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network] said later in an interview. "I'm very appreciative to God for allowing it."

Charles Pierce:  
More than 20 people in Gaza were dead on Monday before anyone in Washington had had their breakfast. This was pitched to the awakening nation as a series of "deadly clashes," even though the deadly part only applied to one side. It was a great start to a day in which the president*, who doesn't know anything about anything, prepared to toss a lighted match into a lagoon of gasoline in the Middle East. 
The decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is more unnecessary than it is stupid and dangerous, and it’s pretty stupid and dangerous. There was no overwhelming political support—and certainly no overwhelming political pressure—in this country for such a provocative development. It was solely the desire of that odd mixture of highly conservative Judaism and American splinter Protestantism, of the prolonged slow-dance between the apocalyptic factions of two major monotheisms that very likely will incite the apocalyptic faction of the third. It is religious extremism disguised as international diplomacy. 
How do I know this? Well, Jared and Ivanka Trump already have met with a conservative rabbi who thinks black people are monkeys. The United States of America will be represented at the ceremony by Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, two completely batshit-insane TV preachers with long histories of supporting Israel because it allegedly will be largely set-decoration for the end times. Jesus needs some place to disembowel the forces of the Antichrist, after all.

As the violence continued, and dozens of Palestinians were killed, Donald Trump declared via Twitter, "Big day for Israel. Congratulations!" 
There's no shortage of questions for the White House to consider, starting with this: did Trump not know about the violence when he issued his congratulatory message, or was he fully aware of the bloodshed and decided to publish it anyway? 
Is the president prepared to rethink some of his assumptions in light of today's casualties? Does he accept any responsibility for what transpired? 
And what is Trump's message to those who lost loved ones in today’s violence?

The White House on Monday blamed Hamas for the deaths of dozens of Palestinians in clashes between protesters and the Israeli military.

In case you want to read more: 

Diana Butler Bass,  "For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics"

Tara Isabella Burton, "Pastor at US Embassy opening in Jerusalem says Trump is 'on the right side' of God 

Philip Bump, "Half of evangelicals support Israel because they believe it is important for fulfilling end-times prophecy"

Sean Illing, "This is why evangelicals love Trump's Israel policy; Hint: It has to do with burning lakes of fire"

The various bones now being thrown to the Christian right dog wagging the tail of the American body politic under the current administration will only serve further to drive young Americans from the churches. The actions taken by this administration to throw bones to white evangelicals, white Catholics under the direction of the U.S. Catholic bishops, and the Mormon community, all of whom voted in large percentages for the moral monstrosity now occupying the White House: they spell doom for the white Christian brand in the U.S.

It will be impossible for the Christian right to put the mask back on after all of this and convince anyone but a dwindling number of true believers that it has or ever has had the slightest thing to do with Jesus and the gospels.

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