The Middle East in Bible prophecy .. not just some Muslims who have strange ideas about the future

Jul 24th, 2006 | By | Category: Key Current Issues

The cold, cruel reality of the troubled global village that dampened the holiday mood in northern North America last summer was the terrorist bombing of the London subway system (on July 7, 2005). This year it’s the Israeli-Hezbollah mini-war in Lebanon (which began on July 12, 2006).The mini-war itself seems to open up very sobering vistas of wider conflict in the Middle East. And you don’t have to ponder such things for too long, before you bump into the bizarre prospect that the Armageddon foretold in the Christian Book of Revelation is at hand – which gives this summer an extra neurotic edge that last summer didn’t have.

Latest hard news …

As for just what “northern North America” means here, take your pick – north of the Rio Grande (a..k.a. Ro Bravo del Norte), and/or north of the 49th Parallel, etc. In the end it doesn’t seem to matter all that much nowadays.

Canada, e.g., probably still is something of an aspiring blue-state country, even under the federal minority government of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party. But its mass media are still being swamped by the same Middle East obsession as the (maybe) somewhat more red-state USA today – and by the latest disturbing gurglings in a crisis that has been going on for many years.

Over the July 2223 weekend the website of the Toronto Globe and Mail told how “Israeli airstrikes continue” and “UN denounces Israeli airstrikes.” The Toronto Star reported on “Calls for end to bombing.” The Vancouver Sun told how “Civilian deaths mount in Middle East.” And Le Devoir explained: “L’arme isralienne masse la frontire …Isral envisagerait une offensive terrestre; la crise humanitaire s’aggrave au Liban.”

(Compare with: “Israeli forces push deeper in Lebanon,” in the New York Times. Or the Los Angeles Times’ Fleeing Lebanese caught in Israeli airstrike.” Or, leaning on the concept of “the Anglosphere” that the Harper government has begun to propagate in Canada, “Protests in UK at Israeli action” on the BBC News website; and “Israel agrees to NATO peacekeepers” in The Age from Melbourne. Though there are more immediate worries in more exotic parts of the global anglophone community today: e.g., “Mumbai blasts: three more detained” in the Times of India.)

More on Canada’s special ties to Lebanon …

Canadians have reasons to be especially interested in Lebanon right now. When the current conflict began on July 12, there were apparently twice as many Canadians there as Americans. The Globe and Mail has covered this side of the story over this past weekend with “Canadian evacuation progressing more smoothly” and “Evacuation becomes routine.”

At the same time, The Age in Melbourne, in a piece dated “July 24, 2006 – 9:27AM” (Australian time, which, like everything else about Australia, is always a bit different) goes on to offer some provocative comparative intelligence:

“A number of Australians trapped in southern Lebanon will be able to leave the war-torn country today on board a German ship, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says … Mr Downer said around 3,700 Australians have so far been able to leave Lebanon …

“About 250 Australians reached the Turkish port city of Mersin on a ferry boat early today. Mr Downer said the government expects by late tonight to move up to 6,000 citizens out of Lebanon, with about 25,000 dual Australian-Lebanese citizens believed to be living in Lebanon.”

This means that there were about as many Australians as Americans in Lebanon when the current conflict started – an interesting point for Canadians in its own right.

But The Age also goes on to explain that “Canadian officials said they evacuated 2,480 people Sunday aboard five government-chartered ships, three to Cyprus and two to Turkey … Canadians comprise Lebanon’s largest foreign community, estimated at 50,000, and some 30,000 of them were expected to evacuate. About 6,700 have left so far.”

The Middle East in Bible Prophecy …

The quiet and only intermittent real-world Middle East chatter at backyard parties I attended this weekend, in my northern North American local urbane village, did not dwell on the facts and figures. It alluded to the bizarre talk in some quarters about “A Day some End-timers will love.”

It may seem close to insane that there are North Americans today who watch the latest TV news from Lebanon and think to themselves: “I can’t help the way I feel. For the first time in my Christian walk, I have no doubts that the day of the Lord’s appearing is upon us … I have a joy that bubbles up every time I think of him …For those of us who await his arrival know, somehow we just know it won’t be long now … .”

Yet the raw political fact is that some among us do believe the current Middle East conflict is about to unleash the Armageddon prophesied in the Christian Book of Revelation – “the happy hunting ground for many a religious crackpot, from the Millerites who were convinced that the world would end in 1844 to the Branch Davidians whose leader, David Koresh, believed that he had been chosen to open the seven seals of the Apocalypse and launch God’s judgment on the world … a book of unspeakable violence in the name of God which chills the blood of those who want religion to offer a haven of safety and peace.”

It can’t really be that President George W. Bush (to say nothing of Prime Ministers Harper, Howard, or Blair) is among these true believers. But there have been moments over the past few years when he has sounded a bit this way himself on TV. And there is something vaguely reminiscent of President Bush in the views of some almost reasonable-sounding Christian preachers today, who urge, e.g., that the Book of Revelation at the end of the Bible “forces us out of our routine ways of thinking and asks us to discover reality through the imagination rather than the intellect.” Even for seasoned political cynics and realists it can all be a bit unsettling.

It of course helps to remember that in a genuinely free and democratic society there will always be significant enough numbers of people who believe all manner of strange things. A 2002 ABC News poll asked the question: “There have been rumors and stories about whether or not Elvis Presley is really dead. How do you feel about this? Do you think there is any possibility that these rumors are true and that Elvis Presley is still alive, or don’t you think so?” As many as 7% of Americans surveyed answered “Rumors may be true.” And another 5% replied “Not sure.” (And Canadians who might want to get smug about this should note that: “There is an official Elvis Sighting Society which is based at the Newport Restaurant in … Ottawa, Ontario.”)

It is reassuring as well to discover that a “Prophecy and End Times Package” is currently available on the Internet – for the bargain price of $100.00 (US), marked down from $379.90. And then Li Zhan on the Pure Insight website argues that: “Many people mistakenly think that the events described in the Book of Revelation are taking place or will take place in Middle East and have ignored major events that are truly shaping the future of humankind. This article explores a few passages from the Book of Revelation in the hope that … governments and people from all over the world will gain a correct understanding of the many events that are currently taking place in China … and position themselves correctly.”

Can democracy in North America co-exist with itself?

All this at least helps clarify another point that is probably worth bearing in mind. In this past weekend’s Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson had an interesting enough piece entitled “Can Islam co-exist with itself?

The most important battle going on in the Middle East (and elsewhere) today, Mr. Simpson suggested, is “the battle within Islam” – “about interpreting the faith, applying it to government, directing how Muslim communities should relate to others,’ projecting hope for those without much of it, explaining the sorrows of the present by reference to a golden past, rationalizing lying and violence.” And, chances are, this great internal battle within Islam “will define our world for a very long time indeed.”

One of Mr. Simpson’s readers from Vancouver was “sad to say” that his piece here was “frighteningly close to the recent ravings from Newt Gingrich.” But even if this judgment is a little over the top, those in the historically Christian West who do somehow still feel that the current Middle East crisis has something to do with the Armageddon prophecy in the Book of Revelation dramatize how it is not just Islam that is battling within itself nowadays.

Meanwhile, as just another case in point: “Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday pointed to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah as fresh evidence of the ongoing battle against terrorism that underscores the need to keep President Bush’s Republican allies in control of Congress … This conflict is a long way from over,’ Cheney said at a fundraising appearance for a GOP congressional candidate. It’s going to be a battle that will last for a very long time. It is absolutely essential that we stay the course.'”

Maybe if NASA could just put all those from both sides who, for various theological and other reasons, really do want a cleansing duel to the death under the desert sun, into some giant rocket and send them to the moon, the prospects for peace on earth would improve significantly. (And this might even qualify as a “rapture” for those Christians in the crowd who actually are seriously hoping for that.)

Alas, it seems that our human technology is just not quite up to this challenge at the moment. For the time being, we the 88% of the people who do not believe that Elvis Presley is still alive will just have to keep hoping and praying that nothing in the Middle East gets too far out of hand between now and next summer. (Including of course the War in Iraq and whatever it is that’s supposed to be going on in Afghanistan these days. They are part of the current great Middle East muddle too, no doubt – along with the Shia Muslims of Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran.)

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