Fiery Hell on Earth, Pt. 4
"GOD TOLD ME TO STRIKE"
In this series (see Rachel's #792, #793, #794), I am trying to
discover reasons why the U.S. is pursuing contradictory and
seemingly self-destructive nuclear policies, including:
(1) President Bush stresses again and again that the two
greatest dangers facing the U.S. are the spread of nuclear
materials and know-how into the hands of (a) terrorists and (b)
erratic and belligerent countries.
(2) Meanwhile Vice-President Cheney and the Commerce Department
are promoting the sale of nuclear power plants around the world
even though it is widely acknowledged that nuclear power
provides a sure path to nuclear weapons for any country so
inclined. Witness the recent experience of India, Pakistan,
North Korea and Iran.
(3) President Bush has initiated a "second nuclear age,"
ordering up a new generation of small atomic bombs which are
needed because they are "more usable" than older, larger
A-bombs. And Mr. Bush has announced provocative new war
policies, including the threat of pre-emptive nuclear strikes
against America's enemies, even enemies without nuclear arms.
(4) Meanwhile the U.S. is deliberately dragging its feet in
efforts to secure thousands of loose nuclear weapons in
countries of the former Soviet Union, and is failing to
retrieve tons of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium that were
given or lent to 40 or more countries under the "atoms for
peace" program begun by President Eisenhower.
It's as if U.S. leaders -- or the political supporters to whom
they are beholden -- believe that the rogue detonation of a
nuclear device in some key city like Jerusalem or even New York
is inevitable and can't be stopped, or perhaps might even be
beneficial in some way and therefore should be enabled.
In Rachel's #794, we examined half a dozen hypotheses that
might explain the deep inconsistencies in U.S. policies toward
rogue nuclear detonations. I don't think we can rule out any of
these hypotheses. To one degree or another, all of them may be
affecting President Bush's nuclear policies.
However, to me the most compelling hypothesis, the one with the
broadest explanatory power, is this: certain fundamentalist
Christian leaders within the U.S. say they believe that World
War III is inevitable (some even say desirable) because it is
part of God's plan, and those same Christian leaders control
the political agenda of the Republican Party, which in turn
controls the Congress and the Executive Branch.
These fundamentalist Christian leaders are, therefore, in the
best position to promote the spread of nuclear technologies
abroad, and to slow U.S. efforts to retrieve and secure
weapons-grade nuclear materials. Many of them also preach that
a fiery conflagration is required to defeat the armies of the
Antichrist and thus usher in Christ's thousand-year reign of
peace. This hypothesis, and its attendant theology, also may
clarify some of President Bush's other policies, such as those
on taxation, science, education, women's issues, Middle East
policy, and the environment.
This is a complicated story and I must emphasize at the outset
that it is not a story about Christianity or about
fundamentalist Christians or about Republicans. This is a story
about a few fundamentalist Christian leaders who decided 20
years ago to take "working control" of the Republican Party,
and a few Republican political strategists who sought the
support of fundamentalist Christians to increase the numerical
strength of the Republican Party.
By 1994, both groups had succeeded -- fundamentalist Christians
had gained working control of the Republican Party, and the
Republican Party had achieved electoral majorities that would
have been impossible without the organized support of Christian
fundamentalists and their evangelical followers.
Christian fundamentalists first appeared on the national
political scene when the Reverend Jerry Falwell and the
Reverend Tim LaHaye organized the Moral Majority in 1979-80.
Ten years later the Reverend Pat Robertson formed the Christian
Coalition for the purpose of influencing state and national
elections. In 1992, he told the Denver Post, "We want as soon
as possible to see a majority of the Republican Party in the
hands of pro-family Christians." By 1994, the Coalition had
The Christian Coalition rates members of Congress according to
their votes on issues, giving us a way to measure the influence
of conservative Christians within the Republican Party. Here
are the ratings of the 10 most powerful Republicans in the U.S.
House of Representatives. (Following each person's Christian
Coalition [CC] rating, I have added the person's rating by the
League of Conservation Voters [LCV] to show how Republican
Christian leaders vote on environmental matters.)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.): CC: 100%, LCV: no data;
Majority Leader Tom Delay (Tex.): CC: 100%, LCV: 0%; Majority
Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.): CC: 92%, LCV: 0%; Chief Deputy Whip Eric
Cantor (Va.): CC: 100%, LCV: 0%; Republican Conference Chair
Deborah Price (Ohio) CC: 58%, LCV: 4%; Republican Conference
Vice-Chair Jack Kingston (Ga.): CC: 100%, LCV: 0%; Republican
Conference Secretary John Doolittle (Calif.): CC: 100%, LCV:
0%; Republican Policy Committee Chair Christopher Cox (Calif.):
CC: 100%, LCV: 14%; National Republican Congressional Committee
Tom Reynolds (N.Y.): CC: 92%, LCV: 18%; Chairman of the
Republican National Leadership Rob Portman (Ohio): CC: 100%,
And here are the Christian Coalition (CC) and League of
Conservation Voters (LCV) ratings for the 7 most powerful
Republicans in the U.S. Senate: Majority Leader Bill Frist
(Tenn.): CC: 100%, LCV: 0%; Assistant Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell (Ky.): CC: 100%, LCV: 4%; Republican Conference Chair
Rick Santorum (Pa.): CC: 100%, LCV: 4%; Republican Conference
Vice Chair Kay Hutchinson (Tex.): CC: 100%, LCV: 4%; Republican
Policy Committee Jon Kyl (Ariz.): CC: 100%, LCV: 4%; National
Republican Senatorial Committee George Allen (Va.): CC: 100%,
This tally clearly reveals the power of fundamentalist
Christians to control the agenda of the Republican Party, and
their consistent hostility to environmental protection.
President Bush is now entirely beholden to evangelical
Christian leaders because evangelicals provided about 40% of
the votes cast for Mr. Bush in 2000, according to the New York
Times. As Newsweek said in 2003, evangelical Christians now
"form the core of the Republican Party.... Bible-believing
Christians are Bush's strongest backers and turning them out in
even greater numbers is the top priority of the president's
political adviser Karl Rove."
The Republican Party, and the Bush family, discovered the
importance of the evangelical vote in 1988 when George H.W.
Bush (father of current President Bush) was running for
president. According to Doug Weed, political advisor to both
father and son, in the 1988 presidential election, "We lost as
we always do the Jewish vote, the Hispanic vote and all those
folks. We lost the Catholic vote. We were the first modern
presidency to win an election -- and it was a landslide -- and
not win the Catholic vote." Mr. Weed goes on, "[In 1988] the
message did come home -- by God, you could win the White House
with nothing but evangelicals, if you could get enough of 'em,
if you could get 'em all."
George W. Bush and the Republican Party have been wooing,
relying on, and taking direction from, evangelical leaders ever
The mass media tend to use the label "evangelical" when
referring to all fundamentalist Christians, as if all
evangelicals were fundamentalists. They are not. Furthermore,
the media assume that all evangelicals share one set of
political and theological beliefs. This is another serious
error. There is a very broad spectrum of political and
theological beliefs among evangelicals -- at least 10% are
liberals. An estimated 15% of evangelicals are
African-Americans and, of those, 75% are staunch Democrats.
However, among the fundamentalist Christians who have taken
working control of the Republican Party, the spectrum of
beliefs is much, much narrower and definitely not liberal.
What is fundamentalism?
Religious historian George W. Marsden begins his book,
Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, this way: "A
fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about
something." The Reverend Jerry Falwell has on occasion used
Marsden's definition to describe himself and his millions of
followers. Fundamentalists are pugnacious evangelicals who are
willing to take a stand and fight against liberal theology,
changing cultural values, and secular humanism. Fundamentalists
are very clear about their goals. They see themselves as
Christian soldiers engaged in a "culture war," a crusade
against the dominant liberal culture, which they consider evil.
Their stated goal is to win the culture war and to impose what
they believe are Christian standards of behavior on
everyone, in sum, a theocracy.
In sum, the goal of fundamentalist Christian leaders is to take
dominion over American society -- a goal that the Reverend Pat
Robertson stated explicitly as early as 1984.
Christian fundamentalist leaders are much further along toward
their goal of dominion than most people realize. They control
the Congress and the White House, and they are now working
methodically to take over the courts. Perhaps because religious
beliefs are considered to be a private matter in the U.S., the
mass media have largely ignored this, the most important
political story of our time.
Evangelicals tend to hold a common set of core beliefs,
(1) the Bible is the infallible ("inerrant") word of God;
(2) the salvation of lost and sinful people (which includes all
humans at birth) is only possible through regeneration by the
Holy Spirit -- a deeply personal experience of being "saved"
that many liken to being "born again" at the moment when they
accept Christ into their hearts;
(3) all who do not accept Christ as their personal savior
(including Muslims, Jews, atheists and agnostics, Hindus,
Buddhists, and all other non-Christians) will be resurrected
into damnation when they die and will spend eternity suffering
unspeakable agonies in the fires of hell;
(4) Because the stakes are so high, those who have been saved
by accepting Christ into their hearts have an obligation to try
to persuade others to accept Christ by spreading the "gospel,"
which is also called the "good news." (The word
"evangelicalism" comes from the Greek word evangelion, meaning
"the good news.")
(5) Christ will eventually return to Earth in power and glory.
Within the group of all evangelicals, there is a somewhat
smaller group called "premillenial dispensationalists" or more
commonly, "rapture Christians." They accept the five basic
tenets described above, and more.
What Do Dispensationalist Leaders Believe?
Dispensationalist leaders believe that before Christ returns to
Earth he will physically transport to heaven ("rapture") all
those who have been saved, whether they be dead or still
living. As the Reverend Billy Graham wrote in 1984, "The day is
fast approaching when Jesus Christ will come back to 'snatch
away' His followers from all the graveyards of the world, and
those of us who are alive and remain will join them in the
The rapture entered U.S. evangelical theology in the 1860s and
has been widely accepted since then. Today
dispensationalist views are taught at over 200 institutions of
higher learning, such as the Dallas Theological Seminary, the
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Moody Bible
Institute. Dispensationalist views are also reflected in the
notes accompanying popular study Bibles, such as the Schofield
Reference Bible and the Ryrie Study Bible.
The vast majority (perhaps all) of the evangelical leaders
visible on the political scene now are dispensationalists. The
Reverend Jerry Falwell boasts that he can mobilize 70 million
dispensationalists (36% of all U.S. adults); others say the
true number of dispensationalists is no more than 40 million
(20% of all adults). Either number is politically
significant because only 50.99 million people voted for Al Gore
in 2000 and even fewer voted for George W. Bush.
Dispensationalist leaders believe the rapture will be followed
by a seven-year period of "tribulation" during which those who
are "left behind" (not raptured) will be afflicted with
terrible calamities including earthquakes, locusts, scorpions
and boils. During the tribulation, everyone left behind will
have another chance to accept Jesus into their hearts.
Dispensational leaders believe the tribulation years will see
mounting chaos, crime, blasphemy, adultery, homosexuality and
other evidence of moral decay. During this period, the
Antichrist, a diabolical dictator, will appear, offering
solutions to all the world's problems. The Antichrist will try
to organize a one-world government something like the United
Nations or perhaps the World Trade Organization.
At the end of the seven-year tribulation, Christ will lead his
armies of compassion against the Antichrist's armies of
evil-doers in the cataclysmic battle of Armageddon, after which
Christ will reign over the Earth during a thousand years of
peace (the millenium).
Based on their reading of the Book of Revelation in the Bible,
dispensationalist leaders believe that the "end times," leading
to the millenium, must unfold in a particular sequence.
First, the Jews must return to, and take control of, the
"covenant lands" -- lands given by God to the children of
Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 15:18. Then a temple must be
built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which happens to be
occupied today by the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a shrine that Muslims
believe is among the two or three most sacred spots on
earth.[16, pg. 109] After the Mosque is removed, the temple
will be built and animals will be sacrificed within it. Then
the rest of the "end times" can unfold -- the rapture, the
tribulation, the Antichrist, Armageddon, and the thousand years
of peace.[17, pgs. 88-116]
Many dispensationalist leaders believe that the end times were
set in motion by the creation of Israel in 1948 and were
accelerated by the six-day Arab-Israeli war of 1967 in which
Israel doubled the territory it controls by occupying
Palestinian lands known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
However, according to Genesis, the "covenant lands" stretch
from the Euphrates River (in central Iraq) eastward to "The
River of Egypt" which dispensational leaders interpret to mean
the Nile. If you look at a map, you can see that the existing
state of Israel -- even if you include the occupied territories
of the West Bank and Gaza -- does not presently encompass
anywhere near all the "covenant lands." So some Christian
fundamentalist leaders, such as Tom DeLay, the Republican
majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, insist
that Arabs and others should be forcibly removed from those
lands to make way for Christ's return. A year ago, when
President Bush proposed his "road map" plan that could
eventually create an independent Palestinian state on a portion
of the covenant lands, Mr. DeLay made a special trip to Israel
to stir up opposition to the "road map." Mr. Bush
subsequently stopped promoting his peace plan.
Israeli occupation of the "covenant lands" is exceedingly
important to Christian dispensationalist leaders. For example,
the 1967 Arab-Israeli war was a turning point in the life of
the Reverend Jerry Falwell. According to his biographers, prior
to 1967 Mr. Falwell said he believed preachers had no business
in politics. But Mr. Falwell saw the rapid victory of the
Israelis in the "six day war" of 1967 war as clear evidence of
"the intervention of God Almighty."[17, pg. 72] Mr. Falwell
soon visited Israel to meet Menachim Begin, then leader of the
convervative Likud Party, and subsequently energized a powerful
political movement in the U.S. known as "Christian Zionism" --
Christians eager to help Israel take and maintain control over
the convenant lands, as a necessary step toward the second
coming of Christ.
The Reverend Mr. Falwell is on record saying that Israel should
seize portions of present-day Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan, plus all of Lebanon, Jordan and
Kuwait.[17, pg. 141] An effort to forcibly remove tens of
millions of Muslims from their homelands would almost certainly
lead to World War III but there are many in the U.S. who might
say, "Bring it on." Shortly after 9/11, neoconservative
polemicist Ann Coulter wrote in the National Review, "We should
invade their countries, kill their leaders and Christianize
them." The Reverend Mr. Falwell himself asserts that God
favors war: "God is pro-war," he reportedly said earlier this
year. Other fundamentalist Christian leaders agree. The
Reverend Charles Stanley, a former president of the Southern
Baptist Convention -- the largest Christian sect in America,
with 16 million members -- reportedly said last year, "God
favors war for divine reasons and sometimes uses it to
accomplish His will."
For people holding such views, the present U.S. invasion of
Iraq may hold special meaning because it can be seen as an
essential step toward the second coming of Christ. Indeed,
President Bush describes his own role in the Iraq war in deeply
religious terms. When the President visited the Middle East a
year ago, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which is owned by the
New York Times, reported that the President said, "God told me
to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed
me to strike at Saddam, which I did...."
[To be continued.]
 I am indebted to Joan Bokaer, director of Theocracy Watch
(a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy
(CRESP) at Cornell University) whose work helped me make sense
out of an amazingly large number of threads that make up the
complex tapestry of this story. Her 20-web-page document, The
Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party, is
essential reading for anyone who wants to really understand the
influence of the religious right on American culture and
politics. See http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=411
. I am also indebted to
Sr. Miriam McGillis, a member of the Dominican Sisters in
Caldwell, N.J., who introduced me to Ms. Bokaer's work.
 Quoted in Joan Bokaer, "The Rise of the Religous Right in
the Republican Party -- Introduction," available at
 Data from Joan Bokaer, "The Rise of the Religous Right in
the Republican Party -- Government," available at
 Elizabeth Bumiller, "Evangelicals Sway White House on Human
Rights Issues Abroad," New York Times Oct. 26, 2003.
 Howard Fineman, "Bush and God," Newsweek, March 10, 2003.
Available at http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=419
 Doug Weed appeared on the Frontline program, "The Jesus
Factor" broadcast nationwide on PBS April 29, 2004. Available
 See, for example, Alan Cooperman, "Churchgoers Get
Direction from Bush Campaign," Washington Post July 1, 2004.
Available at http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=420
And David D. Kirkpatrick, "Party Appeal to Churches for Help
Raises Doubts," New York Times July 2, 2004. Available at
 Don Wagner, "Beyond Armageddon," The Link Vol. 25, No. 4
(Oct.-Nov., 1992). Available at
 Stanley B. Greenberg and others, "Evangelicals, Born
Agains, and Fundamentalist Christians in Election 2004," May
26, 2004. Available at
"America's Evangelicals; Key Survey Findings," Religion and
Ethics Newsweekly, May, 2004, available at
 George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and
Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eeerdmans
Publishing Co., 1992). ISBN 0802805396. And see George M.
Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1980). ISBN 0195030834. And see Nancy Tatom
Ammerman, Bible Believers (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers
University Press, 1987). ISBN 081351231X.
 Michelle Cottle, "Team Bush is on a Crusade," New Republic
June 4, 2004. And see David Gates, "Religion: The Pop
Prophets," Newsweek Mar 24, 2004. And, David D. Kirkpatrick,
"The Return of the Warrior Jesus," New York Times April 4,
2004, Week in Review section. See especially Note 19, below.
 The Reverend Mr. Robertson quoted in Joan Bokaer, "The
Rise of the Religous Right in the Republican Party --
Introduction," available at
. And see
Robert Kuttner, "America as a One-Party State," American
Prospect Vol. 15, No. 2 (Feb. 1, 2004). Available at
 Billy Graham, Peace with God (Nashville, Tenn.: W
Publishing Group, 1953; revised edition, 1984), pg. 256. ISBN
 Larry Eskridge, "Defining Evangelicalism," (undated)
Accessed June 16, 2004.
 Jeremy Leaming, "Religious Right Leaders Press For Passage
Of U.S. Rep. Jones' Church Electioneering Bill," Church and
State magazine Feb. 2004. Available at
 Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids,
Mich: Zondervan, 1970); ISBN 031027771X.
 Grace Halsell, Prophecy and Politics; Militant Evangelists
on the Road to Nuclear War (Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill &
Co., 1986). ISBN 0-88208-210-8.
 David Firestone, "DeLay Is to Carry Dissenting Message On
a Mideast Tour," New York Times July 25, 2003. Available at
 Ann Coulter, "This is War," National Review Sept. 13,
2001. Available at
 John F. Sugg, "America The Theocracy," Weekly Planet
(Tampa, Fla.) March 2004, quoting the Reverend Mr. Falwell and
the Reverend Mr. Stanley. This is a clear explanation of
the goals of Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. It is
available at http://www.weeklyplanet.com/2004-03-25/cover.html
and at http://www.rachel.org/library/getfile.cfm?ID=418
 Arnon Regular, "'Road map is a life saver for us,' PM
Abbas tells Hamas," Haaretz June 24, 2003. Original is
?itemNo=310788, and a PDF version is available at