Evangelicals and the End Times

In light of renewed fighting between Israel and Palestine, there have been the requisite takes on the conflict started, who is right or wrong, and the "common sense" ways to resolve it once and for all.

When it's brought up:

Homer Simpson sliding into a hedge

What does this conflict have to do with Evangelicalism? Unfortunately, support for Israel has colored U.S. foreign policy since the country's inception in 1948. I'm far from an expert on the whys of the conflict, let alone a solution but I can focus on Evangelical reasons for the support and how they relate to other theology they hold.

I've talked before about the prevailing Evangelical worldview of seeing everything as a struggle between good and evil. Israel is God's original chosen nation, according to scripture, and the United States is the new chosen nation under the banner of Christianity. The two exist in a symbiotic relationship with each other. Combine that with the Evangelical need to "save" people, it's a recipe for undying support that seeps its way into identity politics. It's one of the few bipartisan issues even though growing voices believe it's misguided.

On the surface, it makes some sense. Evangelicals preach Judaism as the spiritual precursor to Christianity. Jesus was a Jew after all and so Jewish people hold a special place in their mind. Most believe that Israel and its people will be "redeemed" and brought back into communion with God as one of the signs of the end times[1]. But Evangelicals view all other religions through the lens of their own theology, giving them a distorted view of what others find important.

The further I go in my journey the more I've come to see Evangelicalism as a death cult. I don't mean that everyone is going to drink the artificially flavored sugar water as a ritual but the core tenant is that if one dies without God they will be eternally tortured. We deserve this because we are inherently evil and can never do enough to satisfy God. It's the reason white Evangelicals justify the rejection of social justice. This life is worthless. We're "temporary" is an oft-repeated explanation and it's better for one's soul to be saved than to provide for the temporary body. Suffering encourages people to rely on God and comfort draws people away.

A believer in Evangelicalism can't fathom a religion that isn't focused on the afterlife at all. I listened to dozens of sermons growing up with the same idea. "People in other religions are trying to please God and they have no hope of doing so." The concept that most religions emphasize living well now is lost. Of course, they pay lip service to it but the book of James is rather small and relegated to the back of the Bible. The main focus is on Paul who preached extensively the idea that "salvation is through faith alone".[2]

It's worse when we start discussing Evangelical views of Judaism. I must admit I'm trying to learn from my Jewish friends but I have a long way to go to completely speak to their beliefs. I know enough to know that the predominant Evangelical idea that it's "The Bible minus Jesus" is utterly wrong. For one thing, Judaism has transformed in the intervening 2000 years. The views of people living in Jesus' time under Second Temple Judaism would be very different from Jewish traditions today. Religious leaders such as the Pharisees were not the cartoonish hypocrites they were portrayed as in the New Testament. The only Jewish people involved in Jesus' death were members of the Sanhedrin which were elites who collaborated with Rome to maintain their wealth and power. The Pharisees were more for the people and most likely Jesus himself was a Pharisee, or at the very least aligned with them.

Not to get into a complete historical view of first-century Palestine, but suffice it to say the Biblical account is written by people who were trying to convince others of a religious belief, not attempting to write history. The simple view that Christians were the one true belief and Jews were the bad guys who were out to kill them is not really the truth and has served to spark two millennia of anti-semitism that continues to this day.[3]

Evangelicals by and large don't care about Jews other than their eventual salvation to fulfill a prophecy. Extreme groups still hold that Jews are an evil to be fought against. At best support for Israel is wrapped up in the idea from the book of Revelation that Israel will be politically restored and that once it is then Jesus will return.

As I said above, Evangelicalism is wrapped up in the belief in a literal afterlife that is a paradise compared to our current mortality. There is a concerted effort to bring about the End of the World. Support for Israel is paramount because the nation must exist for Christ's return. Christ returns and, in premillennialism belief, Christians will be raptured away before all the Bad Stuff TM happens.

It's crazy the stuff that I was taught as a teenager. Certain preachers said that we were the last generation before the coming of Christ. They compared institutions like the EU or the UN to the merging of nations foretold in Revelation. They told us the anti-Christ was already born and to be ready because we didn't want to live through that. Get saved! Millions of kids were brainwashed with this stuff and it becomes easy to see why those of us who grew up in it believe the insane conspiracy theories. This was normal in a world full of spiritual warfare. A world where we hoped for death because it gave us our reward.

I don't really have much point this week. I'm saddened by war and saddened that the beliefs I held dear and zealously followed for 35 years contribute to it.

As always, if you got this far, thanks for reading my musings. It's helpful if you subscribe! It's free and helps me know that you like these sorts of things. Once I have some critical mass of readers there will be perks.

  1. Romans 11:26
  2. Interestingly it's Islam that probably has the closest view of Heaven to Christianity which tracks because there are scholars who believe Islam started as a non-Nicene branch of Christianity blended with Arabic traditional beliefs. I need to do more study on this.
  3. On the record, it is not anti-semitism to be against the actions of the Israeli government.

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Jamie Larson