Lots of people in East Tennesseeincluding me, when youngerhave heard such prophecy from the pulpit. To gauge the currency of such beliefs nationwide, consider more than 50 million copies of the Left Behind books in circulation. Or consult polls, which show that nearly half of all Americans believe the End Times are near and that many believe the anti-Christ has already been born. Now, while you ponder my first question, Ill ask a couple more:
Do you believe--as the Apostle Paul apparently did in his day--that Jesus is coming again within your own lifetime to judge the living and the dead?
Do you take it as an article of faith that an apocalyptic battle is raging in the Middle East even now for the heart and the soul of the world, and that the immortal soul of every human being hangs in the balance? Do you believe that once Biblical prophecy is fulfilled--by the Jews regaining all of the Holy Land and rebuilding Solomons temple, among other predictions--that Jesus will then return and many millions if not billions of sinnersincluding Palestinians, fellow Americans and some of the Jewish folks who helped fulfill the scriptureswill be cast into a lake of eternal fire and damnation for rejecting Christ? Do you believe the war in Iraq is the beginning of the ultimate conflagration?
In case you missed it, she asked: Do you believe this--that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of Apocalypse?
First the president laughed, but it was not a belly laugh. It was a stall-for-time laugh. In the befuddled expression that covered his face next you could see the mental gears grinding. He didnt want to appear irrational, yet he didnt want to alienate his religious base. Maybe he honestly didnt want to offend God.
The president owes us a straight answer. After all, hes worked hard to turn the religious right into a mighty political force, going back to his fathers first successful run at the presidency. And he once named Jesus as his favorite philosopher, something he and I share in common. Bush has benefited more than most from turning deeply held Christian values into votes. Furthermore, hes been quoted as saying he receives direct counsel from God, and esteemed reporters have suggested he believes God told him to invade Iraq.
So, the Ohio ladys query is more than fair. Its profound, incisive and freighted with consequence. I say that because, if the presidents policy toward, say, the environment, turns out to be driven by his own religious dogma or that of his religious basewhich he owes big timethat could explain a lot. His destructive policies and appointments regarding nuclear weapons, Iraq, international treaties, separation of church and state, energy policy, the environment and more would begin to seem, well, practical, given such beliefs. And thats a problem for those in the reality-based community.
Our Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan was James Watt. He couldnt be bothered about the fate of vast wilderness lands entrusted to him. See, Watt was a practical fellow. He also believed Jesus was coming just any day. Environmentalists widely regard Watt as the worst Secretary of the Interior ever.
People like Watt worry those of us who dont believe end-time dogma in a literal sense. We believe those who do should show humility and err on the side of caution, realizing they could be as mistaken about Gods schedule as the Apostle Paul, who proselytized with one eye on the sky, so to speak, nearly 2000 years ago. A lot of damage may be done in 2000 years--or in three--by one who truly believes the end is nearor by one whos sold his political soul to those who do.