09 August 2009

Gog, Magog, and Bush

I've been laying off of blogging, particularly political musings, for a while now, as I'm trying to work on a larger project. Of course, that's getting nowhere fast, and one astute observer has suggested that I ought to at least throw in a few smaller projects to keep my musing and writing skills at some level of competence. I had been uninspired about this possibility until very recently.

So what was it that drew me out of my slumber? Was it outrage over the insanity of the far-right belligerence about health insurance reform (quoting Charles Blow of NYT, “Belligerence is the currency of the intellectually bankrupt.”), or the shameless funding of politicians on both sides of the aisle by pharmaceutical and other corporate players in the health care realm? No, but at least I got in a quick shout-out on those points.

In fact, it's the revelation, not altogether recent but only now getting significant airplay Stateside, about President George W. Bush and the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. You remember Bush, the seemingly uncomplicated guy who made decisions of national and international import based on his gut rather than his head, and trusted in the leadings of his perception of God through Jesus Christ to guide his footsteps. Apparently we never realized just how much he was consulting the Good Book for foreign policy guidance.

According to several published reports, President Bush called French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 to seek his support for invading Iraq. According to Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne who claims that French officials turned to him for help in decoding Bush's cryptic Biblical references, Bush cited a prophecy from the book of the prophet Ezekiel (later cited in Revelation) about Gog and Magog, two warrior nations whose movements in the Middle East would foreshadow the Rapture and coming Apocalypse. According to Romer, Bush said to Chirac:

Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This may seem simply an odd, offbeat, obscure bit of Biblical end-times ranting (if it had come from anyone other than the leader of the free world and the Commander-in-Chief of the greatest military power the world has ever known), but I can assure you from my days in the evangelical camp that it's standard eschatological fare, popularized by such very well-known authors as Hal Lindsey and championed by the likes of Pat Robertson.

I remember sitting in a lovely Stockholm cafe in the summer of 2006 enjoying a great dinner with a couple of my spouse's Swedish relatives, trying to explain to them the reasons behind America's foreign policy in the Middle East. As I described American evangelicals' obsession with eschatological prophecies and their resultant unquestioning support for Israel and concomitant opposition to Islam, and the expectation that Jesus would return to Earth and gather all of his followers up into heaven once the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem, my Swedish relatives began snickering. When I told them that I had read estimates that fully one-quarter to one-third of all Americans actually believed in this one particular literalist interpretation of Biblical prophecies, they openly guffawed. But when I told them that our President and Commander-in-Chief was one of those believers, they fell silent. At the time I was only speculating that this insane religious worldview was part of President Bush's foreign policy motivation. Now, unfortunately, I find my speculations confirmed. If anything could encourage me to believe in a benevolent deity, the fact that the world survived eight years of the Bush Administration might be it.

References and links – check these out:

You can read the original report by French journalist Jacques Sterchi of La Liberté here (original is in French; use Google Translator if your French comprehension, like mine, is a bit rusty). An article by visiting Yale professor Clive Hamilton, in which he draws in the connection of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's practice of embellishing military memos with quotes from Scripture (presumably to help persuade Bush), can be found here. The original cover sheets of the Worldwide Intelligence Updates produced by the Secretary of Defense's office are available here – view these only when you're prepared to be thoroughly appalled.


Dennis Rice said...

What a frightening bit of history!

Having spent the past two weeks reviewing the Jesus Seminar's attempt to debunk the apocalyptic Jesus in the 1990s, I think their time would have been better spent by educating the public on the real meaning of eschatology and apocalypse. Apparently their efforts had no effect on Bush's religious thinking.

As John Dominic Crossan explains, no person in the first century could envision the complete destruction of the world and no Christian or Jew from that era could believe that God would voluntarily bring the world to an end. It is only in the Twentieth Century that we actually had the power to do the unthinkable. Unfortunately, for eight frightening years that power lay in the hands of a twentieth century man with a first century mindset.

Pam said...

I must admit, I was skeptical upon reading your note. Seems weird that GQ published these first.. and the graphic design on those cover sheets is absolutely atrocious. You'd think the DoD would have hired someone with a good eye for design to create those cover pages. And, I still want to believe that W had a little bit more sense and compassion than most of us give him credit for. That he was just surrounded by devils.. I do certainly have a softer view of W than of say, the evil emperor himself, Dick Cheney.
However, after a little bit of googling, I am now pretty convinced and horrified at the same time. I don't know that we will actually ever survive the effects of the Bush administration.

On a lesser note, I am offended that you assume all of your readers have some level of French comprehension. Je ne parle pas Fracais!

Kirsten said...

Ah, but he didn't assume French comprehension of his readers because he suggested the use of Google translator.

Jan said...

I have had a criticism of the Gog and Magog post and have had a devil of a time articulating it. How could someone not agree with the criticism of this craziness?

It has something to do not with what we think but the way we think, the way being that "our" side/group/movement/religious views are right, we are the "elect," and "they" are outrageous/crazy/sinful/will be the death of us, and must be stopped.

Well, isn't that right in this case? But what if "they" could paint an equal but opposite picture, say, with Ahmadinejad's finger on the button instead of W's. Now "they" are the "elect" who must reveal the impending nuclear holocaust. Couldn't they make their picture just as compelling and right-on to their adherents as Gog and Magog is to us?

Although I want to keep everybody's finger off that doomsday button, I believe that as long as people are mutually fearing, reviling, and insulting each other, we will actually be closer to that doomsday. There are a lot of people who are tending to one side or the other but not at the crazy extremes. Those are the ones to speak to, but if their views, hopes, and fears are portrayed in as crazy a way as possible, they are pushed closer to those extremes. The result: increased polarization.

Way out? In this case, probably not to be silent. Maybe make mention of the other side too. There is no one elect with all the wisdom and goodness. Maybe their piece of the truth will prove to be one missing piece of the puzzle.

Other answers?

--Jan Rice