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January 12, 2006

Their Armageddonites,
and Ours


Iran's president and Pat Robertson more alike than you think

by Jon Basil Utley

Pat Robertson and 20 million American fundamentalists are not alone.

The new president of Iran also believes that the end of the world is nigh and "believers" can help speed it up. His government has now allocated millions of dollars for the Jamkaran mosque to help believers prepare for the event. It is staffed by the Bright Future Institute, which fields inquiries and prepares Iranians for the end of this world and eternal life in the next. Among Muslims, especially Shias, much attention is given to this coming battle between good and evil: some 20 percent of the population in Iran is reported to believe in an Armageddon-type scenario – except the roles are reversed, with America representing evil. The ascetic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lives so modestly that his only declared assets include a 30-year-old car and a small house, and no money in a bank account.

Muslims also believe in Jesus Christ, called Issa or the Maseeh (Messiah), and the Second Coming. It is indeed a foreboding confluence of interests. For our American Armageddonites, the major belief is that the founding of Israel and the return of most Jews to the Holy Land is a precondition for the end of the world, when all the billions of human beings who are not "born again," including Jews who don't convert, will be killed. Born-again Christians (and children under 12 who are innocent of sexual sins) will be "Raptured" to heaven to live happily ever after. (Incidentally, though Muslim and Christian fundamentalists are both known for their sexual puritanism, Muslims dream of a heaven with sex, while evangelicals long for a heaven without it.) Many evangelicals are trying to hurry up the process by collecting millions in their churches to subsidize settlements on the West Bank and to pay for more Russian Jews to go to Israel.

For Shi'ite Muslims, their "victory" will bring a new world order of eternal justice and peace, and the triumph of the Shi'ite order, which will last for a millennium. The apparently hopeless military weakness of the Muslims compared to America is waved aside thusly:

"If we delve in the history of mankind it becomes apparent that Allah's wars are always an exercise in inequality. The forces of evil are always mighty and strong. The truth is represented by the frail and weak, who appear inconsequential in the eyes of the enemy. Hazrat Musa (Moses) and Pharaoh, Hazrat Daud (David) and Jalut (Goliath), Hazrat Issa (Jesus) with his bare feet and patched clothes and countless other are a testimony to this Sunnah of Allah. Today we are again fighting Allah's war. The bells have started to toll signaling the count down [sic] to the bloodiest battles ever witnessed by mankind – the Armageddon – prophesized [sic] in the Bible and Torah as well. The mightiest nation on earth is pitted against the weakest – a most glaring mismatch. For the Muslims it is a time for intense prayers and supplications to the Almighty Lord to forgive us our sins and to bless us with the presence of Hazrat Imam Mahdi, so that the events leading to the annihilation of the evil empire may start to unfold."

One could say that they take the long view of "victory," but this strategy is well recognized by experts in Fourth Generation Warfare. Their kind of certitude leaves little room for compromise, and it complements the attitude of American fundamentalists, who also see the war as one between good and evil, as enunciated by President Bush. The born-again Bush has not openly confessed his views on end-times prophecy, but many of his speeches use Armageddon terminology. Other Armageddonites, such as Tom DeLay, also have strong influence in the U.S. government.

An interesting chart describes the major similarities and differences in the eschatological prophecies of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The Christian and Muslim preconditions are fairly general, for example, bloodshed and war, celestial and volcanic disturbances, decrease in religious knowledge, while the Jewish are more precise and worldly. A major sign for Muslims is that of defeating Jews in battle, which seems hardly imminent.

Both fundamentalist Christians and Muslims believe that in Heaven each man (and woman) regains the prime of life with an age of 33, the age of Christ when he died. For born-again Christians, the Rapture means that they go straight to Heaven with no judgment day (nor are good works necessary), but they must be alive at the time of the Rapture. One can understand the appeal for old men like Pat Robertson to try to hurry events along. For Muslims, it is the same for those who die in battle: they too go straight to Heaven, no questions asked.

Interestingly, there is no mention in the Koran about a coming "Mahdi," just as the born again have also distorted biblical prophecies. For the great majority of Christians, their forecasts are not recognized. Professor Leonard Liggio, who teaches the history of law at George Mason University, describes how nearly all other Christians view the end-times scenarios:

"Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutheran, Methodism, and some Calvinists do not hold to that stuff. I can speak best about Catholicism: many early Christians thought that Christ would return soon, but with the fall of the Temple in 70 A.D. to the Romans, they interpreted the sayings as referring to that happening. Catholics/Orthodox rely on the Church Fathers, who did not expect the Second Coming for a long time. The fall of Rome in 410 A.D. to the Vandals was considered by St. Augustine maybe to be an end time, but there was no Second Coming. Some people thought the year 1000 might be an occasion. Most Christians do not hold to fundamentalism, including that Jews must return to Palestine to bring the Greatest World War or for Jesus to return."

A very interesting article by Michael Ortiz Hill points out that the “Book of Revelation in the Bible was only made scripture three centuries after the death of Christ. … Martin Luther found the vindictive God of Revelation incompatible with the gospels and relegated it to the appendix of his German translation of the New Testament instead of the body of scripture. All the Protestant reformers except Calvin regarded apocalyptic millenialism to be heresy.” Muslim scholars point out that Jews, Christians, and Sabians (assumed to be Zoroastrians) who believe in God and do good deeds can still get to Heaven. Fundamentalist Muslims, however, do believe that in the end times all nations will be destroyed except Muslim ones.

Historically, such views make it easy to understand how the European religious wars during the 17th century were among the bloodiest in history, and were a major reason for the secular structure established by America's founding fathers. Compromise means betraying God, or, as one born-again cleric put it, Christ said to forgive one's enemies, but he didn't say not to kill God's enemies. Armageddonites of all religions want to escape from this world and, indeed, expedite the end for everyone else.

It is indeed an irony that today, at the beginning of the 21st century, America, Iran, and Israel all have governments heavily influenced by fanatical religious fundamentalists. The rest of the world should be aware and wary.

 


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  • Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative and Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. A former correspondent for Knight Ridder in South America, Utley has written for the Harvard Business Review on foreign nationalism and was for 17 years a commentator on the Voice of America. He is director of Americans Against World Empire.

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