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Mohawk: Why some American fundamentalists embrace Israel

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The world has been changed by peculiarities of the American political culture which created an Electoral College to give unequal weight to voters in smaller rural states and which, in 2000, overturned the popular vote to place a man with strong fundamentalist religious support and instincts in the White House. George W. Bush is probably the most radical president ever to occupy the Oval Office. On election night 2000, the political map was projected on millions of television screens. It showed states for Gore in the industrialized north and Great Lakes, and on the west coast. States that voted for Bush were in the south and the west.

Broadly speaking, the states that voted for Bush were culturally distinct from those that voted for Gore. Although in some instances these differences were very slight, generally it can be said the Bush states were part of the Old South, and that Bush represents the ascendancy of the Old South. The Old South has a different demographic from the industrialized north and west. The South once fought a war to separate itself from the North because it wanted to sell its cotton to England. They were opposed by the northeastern industrialists who were building textile factories of their own and who didn't want England's factories to get cheap cotton and an edge in competition. The war was about other things too. The South was dominated by a mostly-rural oligarchy. Its economy was agricultural and it gloried in a caste system founded on the backs of black slaves.

Throughout the history of the American Republic, the South has been the center of American militarism. A higher percentage of the American military comes from there than from other parts of the country. It has a long and proud military tradition. It has been more in favor of every war the United States ever entered - even unjust wars like that fought against Mexico - than the rest of the country. The South has little use for foreigners, alliances with foreigners, treaties with foreigners, or any obligations to same. Its culture is largely xenophobic, pro-gun, pro-war, anti-environmentalist, anti-intellectual, and latently racist. It cheered the theft of land from Mexico and the Indians and saw its white population as a privileged group in a world of lesser peoples. This view is strongly reflected in the religions of the South that are largely Protestant and fundamentalist. They differ from other mainstream religions, especially Catholicism. Catholicism is hierarchical, visible, and aware of its human origins. Fundamentalism is informal, invisible, and since it owes no authority to anything but the divine authority of the Bible, has no authority at all.

Throughout most of the 19th century, most of the South remained rural, agricultural, and largely illiterate. Beginning in the 1830s, a great revolution in education swept across Europe with discoveries in science and engineering - which brought into focus contradictions between the words of the Bible and the new information. This crisis in faith, brought to an apex with the implications of the work of Charles Darwin, was not experienced in large areas of the South where even people in universities remained in denial of the implications of the new discoveries of science. This Southern Protestant fundamentalism remained isolated and static. It is more like 17th century Protestant movements in England than it is like other Christian Protestant religions. This is the culture which spawned George W. Bush and which has left many people in Europe both exasperated and astonished.

At the beginning of the century, most fundamentalist preachers leaned toward anti-Semitism. (Even quite recently, George W. Bush offered in an interview that he believed Jews would not be permitted in Heaven.) Even the ones who were not outright hostile to Jews believed, and said, that Hitler's persecution of Jews was God's judgment (punishment) for their failure to embrace Christianity and they favored a hands-off policy regarding the fate of the Jews during World War II.

Many Southern fundamentalist Protestants believe in the Rapture. Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but lots of people would rather do it without the inconvenience or discomfort of dying, and the Rapture takes care of this nicely. Christianity began with the expectation that there would be established a Kingdom of God and the first Christians died waiting for it to happen. Seventeenth century Scottish Presbyterians brought to America, especially the American South, their belief that in the final days God will convert the Jews to Christianity. Just prior to the establishment of this Kingdom, Jews will suffer a persecution called the Great Tribulation but that Jesus will come to the clouds and will resurrect the dead true believer Christians and will snatch up born-again living Christians and transport them bodily into the sky. This is the Rapture. Some folks figure they'll get to take their worldly possessions with them and that they and their custom Chevy Suburbans with the smoked windows and the multi-disc CD player will all be plucked from earth (Rapture comes from the Latin - to pluck) to a union with the Lord in the sky.

The Jews came back into the picture in 1948 with the establishment of the modern state of Israel. Before that, the last words of Christ about the Jews, found in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, predicted Israel's demise and was long thought to have been carried out by the Romans at the end of the Romano-Jewish War. But with the establishment of Israel, some Southern fundamentalist Protestants (and others as well) thought it possible that this prophesy could be fulfilled in the future. There is a prophesy in Zachariah (13:8,9) that they interpret to mean two-thirds of the Jews must die in order for the Christians to escape physical death. That seems little enough to pay (unless you're Jewish), although fundamentalists rarely mention this part. The main institution which promotes this belief system is the Dallas Theological Seminary. No surprise that it's in Texas.

Within this story is the remarkable explanation of how an American religion which began the 20th century as largely anti-Semitic now desperately supports the continued protection of Israel by the United States at all costs. Should Israel fall, the Christians' escape to Heaven will be indefinitely delayed. Of course, the contradiction is the Jews must be saved precisely because in order for the born-again Christians to go to Heaven the Jews must survive to go through the Great Tribulation and die for the Christian cause. There are Jews who embrace these fundamentalists as their best friends and allies even though they know the story. They are proof positive that cynical realists have no honor.

John C. Mohawk, Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an author and professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University of New York at Buffalo.