Category Archives: apocalyptic

Four Dimensional Jews, Two Dimensional Muslims: Fisking Rabbi Daniel Landes

I do the following fisking with some reluctance. Daniel Landes is a cousin and friend, whom I love and deeply admire. But this piece illustrates too many of the fundamental errors of a “liberal” Judaism attempting to solve problems that are clearly beyond its ken. So, alas, the following.

End the conflict – a Jewish imperative

We must not allow the messianisms of the religious right to cloud the call from our greatest religious authorities to return the territories, for the sake of saving life.

By Rabbi Daniel Landes | 17:52 07.04.14 |  1

For the religious Zionist Jew who wishes to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational way, the hardest act is to shake off the messianisms that envelop his society – ranging from overt and imminent “end-time” scenarios, to the hazy metaphor of the “beginning of the dawn of our salvation.”

Of course, it also behooves anyone trying to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational [sic] way, to become aware of the messianisms that envelop Israel’s enemies. Anyone who has not read at least one of the following, has no business discussing the conflict between Israel and its “neighbors” in terms of messianic tendencies.

Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (New York: Praeger, 2005)

Laurent Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad (New York: Oxford, 2006);

David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008);

Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (NY: Oxford University Press), chap. 14;

Jean Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011).

This of course doesn’t even begin to get at the literature on groups like Hamas, who are “near” enemies, and whose apocalyptic delirium places them at the heart of the most dangerous form of apocalyptic belief: active cataclysmic (i.e., we are the agents of the catastrophic destruction that must cleanse the world of evil). That form of apocalyptic belief has, in the past, caused mega-deaths on the scale of tens of millions (Heaven on Earth, chaps 7 (Taiping, ca. 35 million), chap. 11 (Bolshevik, ca. 50 million), chap. 12 (Nazism, ca. 40 million), not to mention Maoism (ca. 70 million).

I think that any comparison of Jewish and Islamic messianism (I prefer the term millennialism), makes it clear that Jews have a far more extensive fire-wall against apocalyptic outbreaks, especially violent ones, than do the current generation of Muslims. It’s almost grotesque to blame our current impasse on Jewish messianists. Like so many people motivated by a belief that the solution to this conflict is somehow “in our hands,” Rabbi Landes is willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace (or even just to save lives). The tragedy here is that the only thing standing between the awful situation of “occupation” and the vastly more horrible situation of Jihadi civil war (à la Syria), is Israel’s continued control of the the West Bank. Painful sacrifices for peace is one thing, painful sacrifices that empower the worst kind of war, is quite another.

What they share and engender is an optimistic feeling of ultimate victory and security. We are assured that the Jews’ political failure and physical catastrophe is as finished as the Galut (Exile). But in the actual psyche of the religious Zionist, the persistently suppressed horror of that past repeating itself propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled to a secular rightwing ideology promising salvation by standing ‘strong’ and ‘proud’, that is confirmed by our increasing isolation.

Of course, we have left-wing variants of this misplaced messianic hope and confidence, expressed, for example, in J-Street and everything to its left (Olive Tree Initiative, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc.), who think that the genocidal threat against Jews is over, and all we have to do to appease the Arab/Muslim hatred of Jews is to give back the “territories” and then we’ll have Peace. This vision of a post-modern world in which we’ve all left behind the madness and superstition of the pre-modern world propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled with a secular left-wing ideology promising salvation by being ‘generous’ and ‘peace-loving’ and ‘accommodating’. You know, “tikkun olam” in support of BDS.

9-11 and the dysfunctional “aughts”

This is the longer version of a blogpost at the Telegraph.

9-11 and the dysfunctional “aughts”

In the years before 2000, as the director of the ephemeral Center for Millennial Studies, I scanned the global horizon for signs of apocalyptic activity, that is, for movements of people who believed that now was the time of a total global transformation. As I did so, I became aware of such currents of belief among Muslims, some specifically linked to the year 2000, all predominantly expressing the most dangerous of all apocalyptic beliefs – active cataclysmic that is the belief that this transition from evil to good demands massive destruction, and that we true believers are the agents of that destruction, warriors of God, Mujahidin. Death cults, cults of martyrdom and mass murder… destroying the world to save it.

Nor were these beliefs magical, like the far better known Christian, but largely passive-cataclysmic, Rapture scenarios where one must await God’s intervention. They had practical means and goals. In the same year 1989, that Bin Laden drove the Russians from Afghanistan, Khoumeini issued a global fatwah against Rushdie, and the West trembled. Iran and Afghanistan, however, like so many utopias born of such death cults, proved terrifyingly dystopic – acid in the faces of unveiled women. But these bitter new heavens on earth also showed remarkable staying power… and spreading power. So when Bin Laden struck with such spectacular force on 9-11, he took his Jihad, already declared in 1998 against America (the “Second ‘Ad”), to the next level. He put deeds to words.

We, in the West, were taken totally by surprise. Who are these people? Why haven’t we heard about them before? (NB: the blogosphere, which first “took off” in the early “aughts” is largely the product of a vast number of people turning to cyberspace for information that their mainstream news media had conspicuously failed to deliver.)

What was the logic of such a monstrously cruel attack that targeted civilians? A warning shot to pay attention and address grievances? Or the opening shot in a battle for world domination? Was this primarily an act of retribution for wrongs suffered, i.e., somewhat rational? Or global revenge at global humiliation, i.e., a bottomless pit of grievance?

Some of us said, “What can they possibly believe to make them hate so?” Others, “What did we do to make them hate us so?” And while both are legitimate questions, over the last decade, the “aughts” (‘00s), we have split into two camps, each of which will not allow the other question’s consideration.

On the Tenth Anniversary of 9-11: Roland, Suicide Martyr

[NB: I wrote this shortly after 9-11. Here it is again, lightly revised, primarily for clarity.]

I reread the Song of Roland with my medieval history class last week, for maybe the tenth time.  After 9-11, it had a new resonance.  From my first reading in graduate school I had noted the simplistic religiosity it expressed, but had not realized how much a close reading can help us understand the world of religious terrorists.

The Song, one of the earliest poems composed in (Old) French sometime around 1100, recounts the tale [non-fictions in italic] of Roland, Charlemagne’s nephew whom 400,000 Muslims (a band of Basques) attacked through the treacherous machinations of his step-father, Ganelon, in the passes of the Pyrenees while he commanded the rear guard (baggage train) of Charlemagne’s withdrawing army.  Instead of blowing his horn to warn Charlemagne and the main body of the army to come help him, he preferred to take on the enemy with his band of 20,000 men, among whom were the “twelve peers”, the greatest fighting men in the kingdom.  Although he succeeded in routing the enemy, his entire band of lusty Frankish warriors, including the noble archbishop Turpio, all died in the process.

Roland, too great to fall even to a massive barrage of spears and arrows, died from bursting his veins in blowing the horn too loud when he finally realized all was lost.  Charlemagne, upon learning of this terrible loss, returned and, with the help of God who stops the sun to enable his pursuit, wiped out the enemy, taking their main city and converting the surviving population to Christianity.

Roland and his men, and the story tellers and their audiences show no interest in their enemies (except perhaps as valiant warriors whose greatness serves to enhance the glory of the Christian victory) and know virtually nothing about them.  Muslims worship Apollo and Mohammed and idols. (This, of course, stands in striking contrast with the reality that the Christians faced a culture that was considerably more monotheistic and aniconic than the dominant religiosity in Latin Christendom, with its trinitarian and dualist debates, and its relic-stuffed statues to which both masses and elites bowed down.)  The Muslims of Spain, in the composer’s view, had the same primitive political structures as the West, a rural monarchy whose army derived from a system of mini-kings (lords) and their vassals exercising direct control over commoner populations (peasantry).  These Franks, apparently had neither knowledge of, nor interest in Muslims: for them this cultural “other” was pure and crude projection, a shadow self – everything bad, degraded, abominable. As a child might put it, they are “stupid and bad.”

But such simple vision works well with a world in which those who fight evil are, by definition good. Roland’s Christianity in the song is prominent and simple. “The pagans are wrong, the Christians are right,” he shouts as they enter battle with Muslims (1015).  The archbishop, who kills as lustily as the rest, assures the warriors, “One thing I can act as guarantor: Holy paradise is open to you; you will take your seat amongst the Innocents (1521-3).”  When the enemy dies “His soul is carried off by Satan (1268).”  Roland and his band die “martyrs” surrounded by the hundreds of corpses of his slain enemies.  “Since the apostles had there was never such a prophet [as Roland] for maintaining the faith and winning men over (2255-6).”

How aware is the composer of the irony he presents?  Does he show any awareness of the incongruity of Jesus and his disciples, martyred without resistance because they turned the other cheek, alongside this zealot, dead from excess pride and love of glory, surrounded by a final body count that puts Sylvester Stallone to shame? Almost none.

We may see a glimmer of it in the victory scene, when Charlemagne gives the conquered population its choice between conversion or death, and many die and still more convert, “true Christians all.”  To this scene of crude power-politics, the composer adds that the major babe of the story, the wife of the conquered king, will be brought to Aachen so that she can convert “out of love.”  (Women so often do bring out the anomalies.) One might read this as a highly sarcastic discourse about Christianity, one that despises the crude barbarity of these thick-skulled warriors (they wear helmets) with their ludicrous idea that true Christianity spreads by such violence; that martyrs die drenched in the blood of their victims, dead because they are not “the last man standing.”

But whatever the ironic layers a literate composer might fold into this tale, the audience for this blockbuster action-flick overwhelming saw no problem here. The aristocracy of the 12th century relished this tale, the first full epic text in French. They resonated effortlessly with the world of plundering elites, who annually go to war for booty and dominion, a world where the unquestioned rule of interaction is the dominating imperative: “rule or be ruled.”  In their world, might makes right: “Strike barons, do not delay. Charles is in the right against these men… God has allowed us to administer His judgment” (3366-8).  Even Ganelon, the evil traitor, can escape if he can prevail in trial by combat.

Nor should we see this belief in God as “mere ornament.” God’s role, so prominent in both their angel-inspired and divinely-assisted battle, is to chose sides. The Christian invocations in the text are passionate. These men really believe that God is Christian and on our side – “Gott mit uns.”  Indeed, the epic makes most sense as the crusader tale told countless times on the way to Jerusalem between 1096-99, a paroxysm of sacred violence, murderous suicide martyrdoms, and religious massacres. Through the Crusade, whose cry was “God wants it!”, a religion of peace had sanctified violence, making crusading at once an act of salvific destruction and love – Destroying the world to save it.

No matter how powerful, if grossly crude, the religion of the text, something else moves these warriors and their audience far more pervasively than even this violent piety – honor.  For honor Roland will not blow his horn: “God forbid that any man alive should say that pagans made me blow the horn (1073-5)”  And this honor shows the same egotistical orientation as the religion.  Oliver speaks of the honor that feels obliged to others – it is not honorable but foolish to fail one’s lord – but he cannot sway Roland whose overwhelming concern is his name.

And behind such narcissistic honor lies an equally powerful fear of shame. Facing impossible odds with reckless abandon Roland cries “My desire becomes all the greater [to enter the fray without calling for help].  May it never please the Lord God and his angels that France should ever lose its fame because of me.  I prefer to die than to suffer such shame (1088-91).”  As we listen to the conversations these action-heroes have with each other, we listen in on a world where all is shame and honor, where passionate “loves” vie with equally powerful hatreds, where anger and ferocity serve the [divine] cause of vengeance. Wounded fatally, Oliver realizes that “never will he have his fill of vengeance now (1966).”  For these warriors, the greatest act – one that will bring you straight to heaven – is taking people down to the grave with you… the more, the better.

As for more “reasoned,” positive-sum sentiments, they carry no weight in the calculus of action. The possibility that Roland will bring calamity on his own men by his pride, carries no weight with him. Everyone and everything exists to bring him and his fellow warriors greater glory. Even in his final death scene, Roland thinks only of glory. He does not for a moment say even a word about his fiancée. She, in turn, dies at the news of his death, claiming “May it not please God or his saints or his angels that I live on after Roland’s death (3718-9).”

This utterly narcissistic obsession with honor, with its accompanying patriarchal beliefs in which women should die for the honor of their men, illuminates the accompanying religiosity.  These men live in a world of violent dominion, revenge, and overweening pride; they have hijacked Christianity, whose basic spirituality they cannot even begin to glimpse. As Clovis allegedly said, when hearing of the crucifixion of Jesus: “If me and my men had been there, we’d have avenged his death.”

The obvious parallels to Bin-Laden’s warriors are painful and suggestive:

  • The notion that in killing as many enemies as possible before dying one is guaranteed a place in heaven, while the enemies go straight to hell.
  • The incapacity to see the cultural “other” in any but the crudest projections of one’s own shadow.
  • The accompanying absence of self criticism.
  • The utter self-centeredness of the “hero” for whom the lives of his own, much less his enemies, mean little.
  • The idea that violence can best serve to spread one’s “true” religion, that an orgy of violence can be salvific.
  • The terrible importance of honor, the unbearable nature of shame.
  • The total subordination of women to the demands of men’s honor.

Kenneth Minogue’s Review of Heaven on Earth in WSJ

Apocalypse Now And Then
It’s easy to sneer at the mad crowing of wild prophets. But they can affect the course of world history—for good or ill.

By KENNETH MINOGUE

When the Rapture failed to happen on May 21, defying the prediction of a California-based radio evangelist, he and his followers no doubt felt a certain disappointment: Christ had not returned, after all, to deliver the Last Judgment. For others, though, the day’s uneventfulness was an occasion for the usual mockery and condescension. “What is quite remarkable,” wrote a blogger at the Huffington Post, “is that the ‘rapture mentality’ and the end-of-days industry should still be thriving in 2011.”

Richard Landes is not so quick to dismiss the “rapture mentality” and its kindred impulses. In “Heaven on Earth,” he argues that our civilization lacks a whole dimension of experience because it has failed to recognize the importance of apocalyptic predications and millennial aspirations. He does not deny, of course, that every prediction of grand, world-transforming woe or bliss has failed yet to arrive—as did the evangelist’s promised Rapture. But what fails, Mr. Landes insists, is by no means inconsequential.

On the contrary, the Christian religion “comes into existence at the height of apocalyptic expectation,” Mr. Landes writes, “from John the Baptist and Jesus’ millennial hopes for the imminent arrival of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ on earth.” The three monotheistic religions that we are most familiar with specialize in apocalyptic revelation.

Instead of recognizing the importance of apocalyptic thinking, Mr. Landes argues, we prefer to posit a common-sense world in which grand flights of imagination are construed as outbursts of misguided enthusiasm. Most historians, he says, make the same mistake. They view apocalyptic prophecy as a kind of falsified madness that leaves little of importance behind.

In fact, Mr. Landes says, the whole texture of our lives is deeply affected by our response to both past apocalyptic beliefs and current millennial aspirations. Nor is apocalyptic frenzy limited to the religious sphere. It also underlies the secular world of seemingly common-sense understanding.

View Full Image

Heaven on Earth

By Richard Landes
(Oxford, 499 pages, $35)

We had a dose of apocalyptic anxiety not so long ago in the Y2K fear of Internet chaos. Today climate change and terrorist jihadism provoke end-of-the-world imaginings. We should not forget, of course, that during the bloodiest decades of the 20th century large areas of the world were governed by people deeply invested in Marxist or Nazi millennialism. The communist future has gone the way of most political utopias, as has the Thousand Year Reich, but social justice and sustainable living are (as one might say) alive and kicking.

Mr. Landes has written a large and impressive book that shows a vast learning. (One chapter begins: “Let us return to a series of questions posed about the aftermath of Thiota’s brief tenure as magistra of Mainz circa 848.”) And yet he also has an engagingly associative mind that lightens the burden of erudition. He does not neglect, for instance, to tell the story of Chicken Little, who thinks the sky was falling in. From this Mr. Landes generates an allegorical terminology in which “roosters” crow about new dawns, and their crowing is dismissed by “owls” who insist that reality is the dark in which we are still living. Later we are told about turkeys—Mr. Landes’s name for the millennial historians who “stand in the barnyard as roosters crow and observe their electrifying impact on the other animals.”

Since the apocalyptic roosters turn out to get things wrong, you might well expect the owls to get all the best tunes, but Mr. Landes is hesitant to condemn. The roosters play a valuable part in stimulating human endeavor, he believes, while he marks the owls down as lacking imagination. Indeed, it is the worldview of the owls that Mr. Landes aims to contest, since they are the custodians of our misleading belief in a normality only briefly interrupted by the mad crowing of the wild prophets.

According to Mr. Landes’s terminology, Jesus is a rooster, but so is Hitler with his Reich. Unusual and sometimes offensive juxtapositions cannot be avoided in such an overarching scheme. Mr. Landes says that our current belief that Nazism is the gold standard of evil is one of the reasons that we find it difficult to understand that the Nazi project was a typically apocalyptic one. One of his purposes in “Heaven on Earth” is to insist that other civilizations than our own are no less affected by the irruptions of the apocalyptic.

What Mr. Landes calls “tribal millennialism” is observable, he claims, in the case of the Xhosa in Africa, who in 1856 were persuaded by a young prophetic girl that their ancestors were returning to save them from the white man and to restore their cattle and crops to the great times of the past. To bring about this happy result, the Xhosa had merely to give up witchcraft, kill their present cattle and cease to plant crops. Successive failures of the prophecy were put down to the Xhosa’s failure to carry through the whole program.

What Mr. Landes classifies as “agrarian millennialism” is illustrated by the Taiping in China in the mid-19th century. The prophet Hong Xiuquan construed himself as the younger brother of Jesus. When the dust had settled on this millennial adventure and the imperial response to it, an estimated 20 million Chinese had been killed. Apocalyptic thinking does not always entail such a grim reckoning, Mr. Landes makes clear, but it does come freighted with history and meriting more serious consideration than many are willing to concede.

Mr. Minogue, a professor emeritus of political science at the London School of Economics, is the author, most recently, of “The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life” (Encounter).

Glenn Beck’s Rallies in Israel: Pro-Israel or Pro-Apocalypse?

Glenn Beck presents himself to Israel as a dedicated and whole-hearted friend. In the context of the last decade’s dramatic developments (2000-2010), that puts Beck in a special category. Because lately, very few people are as nice to Israel as he is.

When the second (phase of the) Intifada exploded with particular violence in October 2000, the “left” – progressives who want peace in the world – split into two opposing currents. On the one hand, some Israeli observers in particular, argued that the enemy they wanted to make peace with had no desire for peace, that the Palestinian leadership – Fatah or Hamas – viewed Israeli concessions as a sign of weakness, and responded with violence. On the other hand, other observers blamed Israel for the failure, and called for her to make still more concessions. In a highly vocal and most extreme form, this “peace-camp” assault on Israel involves disturbingly vindictive rhetoric (Israel is the new Nazi).

In Israel where the confrontation with Jihad was deadly daily, the majority turned to the first school (electoral drop for “left”; widespread support for the separation barrier). In the diaspora, defenders of Israel found themselves increasingly beleaguered, silent, embarrassed in the public sphere, while radical prophets of “self-criticism” – most of them identifying “as a Jew” – relentlessly assailed Israel.

One can understand the solitary dilemmas of a liberal Jew in Israel when faced with this inexplicable assault. We know that Israel sets exceptionally high standards for itself, and in failing to meet them, still perform at the highest standards (C- to A- absolute; A+ on a curve). We understand, alas, that our enemy openly embraces those very desires we deny ourselves (massive revenge, genocidal hatreds, religious violence). So why on earth would the progressive left, the peace camp, turn against us, and not against the Palestinians?

Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that Zionists would listen gladly to a voice that said: “We’re with you, guy. We understand what a terrible enemy you have. We identify with you because you uphold the same values that we do: freedom, independence, the sacredness of human life. You are not alone. We recognize your efforts to adhere to civilized values, and admire you for your courage and your successes against all odds… “remain faithful to your ideals, and strong in your struggle.” This expresses a Philo-Judaic Christian Zionism that many fundamentalists enthusiastically voice.

It’s tempting then to respond favorably when someone like Glenn Beck, an emotional, charismatic, articulate man, who openly expresses his love for Israel, comes with his arms open in embrace. Apparently some Israelis open up their arms in response. MKs Danny Danon (Likud) and Nissim Ze’ev (Shas), recently hosted him in the Knesset. Beck is especially music to the ears of those who believe with him that “Jews have a right to live in all parts of the Land of Israel, and that while Arabs have a right to live here, the do not have a right to sovereignty.”

The problem, of course, is: what strain of Philo-Judaic Christian Zionism does Glenn Beck represent? At one end of the spectrum that goes from Dual Covenant to Supersessionism, we have simple-hearted love: “I admire you; I want your friendship; I extend my hand in an act of mutual respect.” Those who feel this way are, I suspect, many; and their feelings are both good and true. They embrace “those who bless you will be blessed” without envy. They engage Jews without wanting to convert them.

But there is another end of this spectrum of Philo-Judaism, one significantly less open and simple. On the contrary, this form of Christian Zionism views the Jews as their Messiah’s donkey, as the vehicle for bringing about a triumphalist Christian apocalypse in which all the evil – including those Jews who refuse to convert to Christianity – will be exterminated by the armies of the Lord. According to this apocalyptic scenario, the Battle of Armageddon and the return of Christ (the Parousia) would not happen until the Jews had reassembled in the land. Hence, their ardent Zionism has a significant ulterior motive linked to both conversion and war. For the latest block-buster rendering of this scenario, see Jerusalem Countdown coming to a theater near you this Fall.

Update: Heaven on Earth, the Beginning is Near

According to my publisher, the hardcopy of my book is off the press and on its way to me.

Please (if you are so inclined)

a) order the book here;

b) go to facebook and “like” the book here (so far I only have nine “friends” and I need twenty for it to achieve some kind of status);

c) spread the word.

Thank you.

Richard Landes

Save this date: May 21, 2011

Just interviewed by NECN about the Rapture date. Another interview this afternoon. Lots of hullabaloo about this. There isn’t enough real news?

I’m not complaining, mind you, with my book coming out shortly.

The Supernova of 1006: Chinese vs. Monotheist responses

I just gave a lecture here at the Internationale Kolleg für Geisteswissenschaftliche Forschungen (IKGF) in Erlangen. The scholars here are a wonderful combination of Sinologist (primarily Chinese religion) and Western medievalists.

In preparing my talk on the year 1000, I went back to an astronomical incident seen round the world, which had an enormous impact on Arab Islam and Christendom, and, with the help of my Sinologist colleagues here, found the contrast with how it affected China quite instructive — the Supernova of May 1006.

Put briefly, the spectacular celestial phenomenon triggered feverish apocalyptic expectation – what, in my book, I call an “apocalyptic moment” – both among Muslims and Christians, while in China, a wisely advised emperor managed to calm his people.

Let’s begin with the incident, starting with a definition of a supernova.

A supernova (plural supernovae) is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months. During this short interval a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span. The explosion expels much or all of a star’s material at a velocity of up to 30,000 km/s (10% of the speed of light), driving a shock wave into the surrounding interstellar medium. This shock wave sweeps up an expanding shell of gas and dust called a supernova remnant.

In May of 1006, the most spectacular Supernova ever to be visible from earth occurred 2,700 light years away from earth. It was the brightest apparent magnitude stellar event in recorded history, reaching an estimated -7.5 visual magnitude. A thousand years later, the Hubble Telescope photographed the still-expanding shock-wave created by this explosion.

This picture represents the shock-wave of gases emanating from the explosion in all directions, 1000 years after the explosion.

When Madness Strikes a Civilization: Norman Cohn on millennialism

There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history.

Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide: the Myth of the Jewish World-Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, p. 18

As applied to now, see the brilliant reflections of Edwin Bennatan, “World Gone Mad” (HT/TB)

Death Wish: Why Are We So In Love with the Apocalypse? Kalder’s Interview with me

I recently posted the article that Daniel Kalder wrote about apocalyptic in the Spectator. Now he’s published the interview he had with me at Breitbart’s Big Journalism.

Death Wish: Why Are We So In Love with the Apocalypse?
Posted by Daniel Kalder
Jan 24th 2010 at 3:38 pm
Christianity, End Times, History, Iran, Islam | Comments (45)

It’s impossible to avoid the apocalypse these days. Whether we encounter the End in the form of news reports on Global Warming, or fears of Iran getting bomb, or plague panics such as H1N1, we seem to be living in a high point of apocalyptic anxiety, with horrible Doomsdays lurking round every corner.

And yet, the End has never been so much fun. Roland Emmerich released his latest apocalyptic blockbuster 2012 in November, and since then we have enjoyed Zombieland, The Road, The Book of Eli, Legion and even Al Gore’s dreadful poem read aloud on morning TV in the presence of a fawning sycophant. Much more is to come, and this is to say nothing of video games, books, comics, or half the output of the History Channel.

What lies behind this fascination with the End? Dr. Richard Landes, professor of mediaeval history at Boston University, is a renowned scholar of apocalyptic movements who has been thinking about Doomsday for forty years. He is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and author of the upcoming Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experience. Landes is an exceptionally interesting thinker who applies his knowledge of past apocalypses to our present fears, an analysis which frequently informs the articles he publishes at his website The Augean Stables.

Recently I phoned him from my base in Texas, to chat about mankind’s enduring love affair with the apocalypse. I caught him in Tel Aviv airport at 2 a.m, and it was then, against a backdrop of deepest night, that we spent two hours discussing the end of the world:

With all these apocalyptic films coming out, and fears of Global Warming, plague and nuclear proliferation running rampant, do you think that we are living through an era of heightened apocalyptic anxiety?

You know, that’s almost a precise paraphrase of what journalists were asking me in the 90s, while looking ahead to the year 2000. That was when we had all those movies about planet-destroying comets, and fears of the Y2K bug… There’s always an apocalyptic undercurrent in our culture, but sometimes it comes to the fore.

Why is the pull of apocalyptic belief so strong?

Our love for the apocalypse is connected with our sense of our own importance. To live in apocalyptic expectation means that you are the chosen generation; that in your time the puzzle of existence will be solved. It appeals to our- by which I mean humanity’s- megalomania: we all want to believe we’re special, that God has given us a front row seat for the most important events in history.

But where does it come from?

Apocalypse Again? Daniel Kalder on current trends with an assist from RL

With 2012 (the movie) out, I’ve been getting lots of phone calls from journalists dusting off their rollodexes from the 1990s. Among them, Kalder asked the most interesting questions, and has written the most interesting piece (that I know of). It’s published in the Spectator, but not at their site. This is from his.

THE END OF THE WORLD IS HERE (AGAIN)

Daniel Kalder

Last weekend Roland Emmerich’s wrathful CGI God was at it again, killing billions in the name of the Holy Box Office in the film 2012. Having already caused carnage with aliens, an ice age and Godzilla, this time Emmerich took his cue from the Ancient Mayans, whose ‘long calendar’ purportedly stops in 2012. But not only is the End nigh, it’s hugely profitable- 2012 raked in $225 million globally in three days. With numbers like that it’s no surprise that a multitude of apocalypses are in the pipeline: whether humorous (Woody Harrelson battles the undead in Zombieland) or depressing (father and son trek across a post-apocalyptic wasteland in The Road) it’s boom time for doom time.

It is surely no coincidence that imaginary catastrophes are flooding our cinema screens at a time when the news itself seems exceptionally apocalyptic. Secular prophets armed with statistics and graphs warn us daily of a new Deluge, coming as punishment for our crimes against the planet. The President of Iran leaves a chair vacant at cabinet meetings for the Hidden Imam, chases the bomb and threatens to wipe nuclear-armed Israel off the map. And speaking of nukes, only a few months ago Taliban forces advanced very close to Pakistan’s own atomic arsenal. Then there’s the plague: H1N1 is spreading across the globe, making a lot of people a bit ill, and leaving a very small minority dead. But if H1N1 doesn’t get us, perhaps economic meltdown or- better yet- overpopulation will, as a scramble for resources sets off apocalyptic wars. And while governments seek solutions, some declare that our situation is hopeless. Interviewed in the Spectator this February, James Lovelock, doyen of the Green movement said: ‘If there were 100 million of us on the earth, we could do almost anything we liked without harm. At seven billion I doubt if anything is possible or will significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption; by significantly I mean enough to halt global warming.’

So: are we doomed? And if so- why are so many people so excited about it?

PoMo Unpeeled: David Thompson talks with Stephen Hicks

The issue of post-modernism has arisen a number of times at the blog (most recently here), and since I’ve been meaning to put up David Thompson’s conversation with PoMo critic Stephen Hicks for some time, I decided now might be propitious. For the sake of introduction (and since I find some valuable items in the post-modern paradigm), let me lay out the major claims — and strengths — of post-modernism. My criticism will accompany the rather ample discussion of Thompson and Hicks.

Post-modernism, as I understand it, represents at once a disillusionment with the failure of the “modern” project — science, technology, the superiority of the modern West — especially in the wake of World War II. No more optimism that the scientific method will produce the solutions to all our problems. At the same time, pomo was a declaration of independence from the demands of the modern, scientific epistemologies, from the demands normally made on exegetical specialists whose job, in every culture, is to interpret the world all about. This meant, above all, probing and, if necessary, stabbing texts in order to “deconstruct” them, to identify their silences and bring out what discourses the text deliberately concealed.

Derrida’s notion of différance, which is a double-pun (differ and defer) and a play on the discontinuity of oral and written media (you can’t hear the difference with “difference”) has much to offer here, especially the notion that a text’s meaning is constantly deferred into an unending future, that the passage of time inevitably reveals new facets of the text’s import. Given that Western culture is profoundly marked by apocalyptic hopes, prophecies, and “readings”, and that time consistently strikes them down and raises them up, the discovery of such a notion in Western culture may not be so surprising. But it is valuable in injecting a little modesty in the otherwise all-too frequent tendency of exegetes to insist they have the meaning.

The rejection of the “objective” is a reasonable linguistic move: language cannot possibly be transparent on reality, especially the reality of human experiences. Even if something “really did happen,” there’s no way to reduce it to verbal formulae, no way for verbal formulae to somehow lock on to the objective reality at which it points. Epistemologically, it’s possible to push it all the way to radical doubt — we can’t know what we can’t know.

One of the more interesting directions pomo thought takes this axiomatic relativism, is the rejection of the “Grand” or “Meta-Narrative,” the all-encompassing, totalistic narrative that includes, gives order and priority in meaning to the multiplicity of “little narratives” that emerge from any event. Pomos have declared the “death” of the Meta-narrative, apparently feeling that having slain the reigning Meta-Narrative (modern, scientific objectivity), they would not allow a new one to gain hegemony.

All of these ideas are interesting and potentially enormously fruitful. The danger I find most pervasive though, is in the lack of understanding and appreciation that post-modernists have for their exegetical freedom. Not realizing that in most societies in most parts of the world for most of history no one, not even the most privileged figures had anything remotely resembling their freedom to interpret and criticize and even reinvent the meaning of the culture’s major texts. As a result, they tend to abuse their freedom, decoupling the key pair of freedom and discipline for an extraordinarily self-indulgent display of solepsistic “creations.”

Indeed, in their eagerness to flaunt their freedom, the unconsciously replicate the ancestors they thought they had slain, those Meta-Narrative driven figures like Hegel and Vico, who saw in history the inexorable march of freedom. And yet, unlike earlier heroes in the heroic narrative — Washington’s refusal to become king comes to mind — they fail to appreciate either the gift they’ve inherited, or the audience to which they, as the culture’s interpreters, are responsible. Alas for us.

And now to Thompson and Hicks…

UPDATE: Shrinkwrapped has an interesting (and approving!) read of this post. The Modern Left: A Marriage of Post-Modernism and Narcissism, Part I and II

Postmodernism Unpeeled

A discussion with Stephen Hicks.
March 22, 2009

“In politicized forms, then, postmodernists will behave like the stereotypical unscrupulous lawyer trying to win the case: truth and justice aren’t the point; instead using any rhetorical tool or trick that works is the point. Sometimes contradictory lines of argument work. Sometimes your audience’s desire to belong to the in-group can be played upon. Sometimes appearing absolutely authoritative works to camouflage a weak case. Sometimes condescension works.”

Dr Stephen Hicks is Professor of Philosophy and Executive Director of the Centre for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford College, Illinois. He is co-editor with David Kelley of Readings for Logical Analysis (W. W. Norton, 1998), and has published in academic journals as well as The Wall Street Journal, The Baltimore Sun, and Reader’s Digest. His book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault was published in 2004 by Scholargy Publishing and is now in its eighth printing. He is the author and narrator of a DVD documentary entitled Nietzsche and the Nazis, which was published in 2006 by Ockham’s Razor Publishing.

DT: In an exchange with Ophelia Benson, I mentioned Explaining Postmodernism and suggested one of the book’s main themes is that postmodernism marks a crisis of faith and a retreat from reality among the academic left. Is that a fair, if crude, summary?

SH: It is striking that the major postmodernists – Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Richard Rorty – are of the far left politically. And it is striking that all four are Philosophy Ph.D.s who reached deeply skeptical conclusions about our ability to come to know reality. So one of my four theses about postmodernism is that it develops from a double crisis – a crisis within philosophy about knowledge and a crisis within left politics about socialism.

In millennial studies jargon that’s cogntive dissonance at recognizing (and denying) the failure of one’s outrageously hopeful expectations, at the horror of witnessing the God that failed.

Here, rather than acknowledge that the failure of expectations was due to a misreading of human nature, we have people throwing out the very effort to accurately read the world of humans.

Say it ain’t so, RL: Is the West doomed?

In a post on the hypocrisy of the “self-”critical left, Diane left a note on the ominous signs that the West was committing suicide. I didn’t answer it at the time, but I’d like to address it now.

I just started Ibn Warraq’s “Defending the West” last night. It promises to be a slow but highly rewarding read. And a couple of days ago I finished Shelby Steele’s “White Guilt.” Is it my imagination, or are there increasing numbers of books out there by serious and credible people challenging the “progressive” anti-Western, anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Zionist orthodoxies?

Or am I allowing myself to be lulled into a false sense of security/hope by completely tuning out the MSM?

oao would have us think the end is near. Say it ain’t so, RL. You’re the milleniallism scholar. The end is never near, right?

You may think — as do I — that Ibn Warraq and Shelby Steele are “serious and credible people,” but, like Khaled abu Toameh, these folks tend to be dismissed by the progressive camp. On the other hand, unlike oao, with whose analysis in detail I often agree, but with whose overall conclusions about the utter collapse of Western educational systems and the doomed state of the West I disagree, I think the future remains undetermined, and in fact, we still have great power and resources if only we’d use them. (And that’s not military power, I’m talking about.)

On the contrary, this battle is far from over. And although every day and week that we delay in dealing with it (e.g., Iranian nuclear power) seriously, the eventual costs are all the higher. I don’t think that Europe, for example, will start fighting back until some significant area — a city like Malmo or Rotterdam — gets turned into a toxic Sharia-zone.

On the other hand, I think that events like the debacle of Durban II are hopeful signs, not only the defection of so many key Western nations, but the walk-out of Ahmadinejad’s rant, to the accompanying cheers of the peanut gallery. On the other hand, having a schizophrenic president, who takes away with one hand what he gives with the other, doesn’t help.

While it’s true that “the end” has yet to happen, immense catastrophes have — like the collapse of the Roman Empire, or the “apocalyptic” World War II (which made the unimaginable World War I look like small potatoes, and which the Germans would have won had the US not entered). So I take no comfort in the fact that the apocalypse hasn’t yet happen.

Indeed, unlike in the past, where only God could bring about the end, now — even as we no longer believe in God — we now have the power to destroy human life on earth. So especially for atheists, who think that the reason the End hasn’t come has nothing to do with God’s involvement, the present offers the first serious threat of annihilation.

On the other hand, I have a perhaps irrationally optimistic sense of the resilience of the West. In particular I don’t think that most “liberals” are intentionally suicidal (unlike the radicals), and I do think they can and will wake up.

The issue is still how long it will take and how high the eventual cost. But we can wake up too late. At least a new dark age will reduce our carbon footprint.

Scruton stumbles through explaining how the West should deal with Islam’s challenge.

A number of commenters have discussed Roger Scruton’s essay in Azure, “Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation.” Some find it excellent even while others find the conclusion on “forgiveness” confusing if not troubling. I read it with increasing dismay and the results are the fisking below. It’s, alas, a good example of how (even mild) Christian supersessionism, makes it so hard for even sophisticated and (appropriately) politically incorrect thinkers to grapple with what confronts us from Islam.

Azure Winter 5769 / 2009, no. 35
Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation
By Roger Scruton

What it is about our civilization that causes such resentment, and why we must defend it.

The West today is involved in a protracted and violent struggle with the forces of radical Islam. This conflict is intensely difficult, both because of our enemy’s dedication to his cause, and also, perhaps most of all, because of the enormous cultural shift that has occurred in Europe and America since the end of the Vietnam War. Put simply, the citizens of Western states have lost their appetite for foreign wars; they have lost the hope of scoring any but temporary victories; and they have lost confidence in their way of life. Indeed, they are no longer sure what that way of life requires of them.

That’s an interesting formula, since it is quasi-religious, in the sense that religion does answer the question “what life requires” of the adherent. Having translated religious morality into a secular idiom (e.g., Kant), having dismissed religions as so much hocus-pocus, modern secular people who care about morality don’t know what to do but push the “most moral” elements to the extreme. As a result we get a “progressive left” that is at once scornful of religion (especially of the “white” variety, Judaism and Christianity) even as it pushes a “turn the other cheek, love your enemies as yourself” morality in international relations. “Wildly inappropriate” comes to mind.

Of course, the kind of wisdom expressed in a biblical text like, “nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute,” could not penetrate the mentality that, for example, supports the “poor Palestinians” no matter how badly they behave. Religiously deracinated “ethics” can be as dangerous a phenomenon as religious zealotry. (Or is that moral equivalence?)

At the same time, they have been confronted with a new opponent, one who believes that the Western way of life is profoundly flawed, and perhaps even an offense against God. In a “fit of absence of mind,” Western societies have allowed this opponent to gather in their midst; sometimes, as in France, Britain, and the Netherlands, in ghettos which bear only tenuous and largely antagonistic relations to the surrounding political order.

I like the expression “fit of absence of mind,” because it was a fit, a blood-libel induced fit that led “progressives” to adopt Jihadi hatreds, and walk out on anyone who dared to criticize Muslims (a fortiori Palestinians) because that made their third-world colleagues in the fight for justice and truth “uncomfortable.”

And in both America and Europe there has been a growing desire for appeasement: a habit of public contrition; an acceptance, though with heavy heart, of the censorious edicts of the mullahs; and a further escalation in the official repudiation of our cultural and religious inheritance. Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the archbishop of Canterbury would give a public lecture advocating the incorporation of Islamic religious law (shari’ah) into the English legal system. Today, however, many people consider this to be an arguable point, and perhaps the next step on the way to peaceful compromise.

It’s even worse. Twenty — even ten — years ago, it would have been inconceivable… now he says it’s inevitable.

Did Daniel Pearl die in vain? On the shape of the first decade of the third millennium

Daniel Pearl’s father, Judea, reflects on the world seven years after his son’s death. Not a pretty picture. In so doing he raises some critical issues about the vulnerability/stupidity of the Western world when faced with the remorseless hatreds that (among many other deeds) killed his son with such deliberate brutality. My comments attempt to bring out some of the issues he merely raises in order to stay within his word-limit for an op-ed.

OPINIONFEBRUARY 3, 2009
Daniel Pearl and the Normalization of Evil
When will our luminaries stop making excuses for terror?

By JUDEA PEARL

This week marks the seventh anniversary of the murder of our son, former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. My wife Ruth and I wonder: Would Danny have believed that today’s world emerged after his tragedy?

The answer does not come easily. Danny was an optimist, a true believer in the goodness of mankind. Yet he was also a realist, and would not let idealism bend the harshness of facts.

Neither he, nor the millions who were shocked by his murder, could have possibly predicted that seven years later his abductor, Omar Saeed Sheikh, according to several South Asian reports, would be planning terror acts from the safety of a Pakistani jail. Or that his murderer, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now in Guantanamo, would proudly boast of his murder in a military tribunal in March 2007 to the cheers of sympathetic jihadi supporters.

I’ve found references to the trial, but not to the cheers of jihadi supporters. Anyone have a link?

Or that this ideology of barbarism would be celebrated in European and American universities, fueling rally after rally for Hamas, Hezbollah and other heroes of “the resistance.” Or that another kidnapped young man, Israeli Gilad Shalit, would spend his 950th day of captivity with no Red Cross visitation while world leaders seriously debate whether his kidnappers deserve international recognition.

No. Those around the world who mourned for Danny in 2002 genuinely hoped that Danny’s murder would be a turning point in the history of man’s inhumanity to man, and that the targeting of innocents to transmit political messages would quickly become, like slavery and human sacrifice, an embarrassing relic of a bygone era.

Although Pearl does not go into it, his son’s murder was the first “beheading video” to get put up on the internet. That grotesque snuff film has spawned a whole industry, and the posted films get millions of downloads in days. One of the less salubrious impacts of the new communications technology of cyberspace.

The larger issue, however, concerns the trends at work in 2002. Pearl may not have begun to catch on seriously until after the death of his son. Indeed he may have shared his son’s optimistic (if “realistic”) world view — that we can work out, talk out, negotiate out of any conlfict.

But for those of us who understood why the Oslo Process had blown up in our faces, who understood the Jihadi vision that lay behind the Intifada, who understood how massive an intellectual and moral failure had occurred, starting in late 2000, when, inspired by the wrenching image of poor little Muhammad al Durah, the European “street” and the activist “Left” turned against Israel and embraced the “Palestinian” cause, for those of us who had been watching in dismay at the spread of a new wave of anti-Semitism thinly disguised as delirious anti-Zionism spread unopposed by the liberal and progressive authorities… for us, Daniel’s death was just one more roadsign on the path to the present.

Hamas in their own words

One of the more appalling aspects of the news coverage of this conflict is the pervasive cover-up of Hamas’ true nature. In their interviews with Arab/Muslim specialists (like Reza Aslan) who misrepresent Hamas without challenge, in their questions to Israelis, in their own characterizations of the matter, Hamas comes off as perhaps an extremist and difficult group, but nonetheless a legitimate player, someone that Israel needs to negotiate with.

The climax of this attitude is Annie Lennox’s startling and impassioned response when asked about Hamas’ desire to destroy Israel: “people need to sit down and have a dialogue…” And Jimmy Carter’s “they were defensive tunnels…”

The difference in coverage that might ensue from a serious understanding of the nature of the apocalyptic enemy would, I think, be massive. Towards that end, MEMRI has put out a collection of some of the stuff Hamas says in Arabic (not in English to Yimmy).

Apocalyptic Revivals? The Press is interested

Newsweek recently ran an article on whether Obama is [seen as] the Antichrist by some which quotes me. So now I’m getting missives from the media about apocalyptic issues again. Below is a set of questions one reporter sent me with my answers.

• There have been many “revivals” recently among the charismatic Christian groups (such as the Lakeland, FL revival) claiming that we are in the “end times.” What is the difference between these new apocalyptic groups versus the millennialists?

Millennial and apocalyptic are two different aspects of the same phenomenon. Millennial refers to the belief in a coming period (a thousand years, mille anni) of collective salvation, peace on earth, justice, plenty, fraternity. It is above all “this worldly,” a kind of social mysticism.

Apocalyptic refers to the sense that the transformation from this world, filled as it is with evil, to that perfect world, is imminent. Apocalyptic scenarios differ, some are cataclysmic, others transformative; some call for action, others for waiting for God’s intervention.

The current Lakeland Revival looks like many movements that Ronald Knox called examples of “enthusiasm.” A cursory look at their site suggests that they emphasize healing (a few “resurrection” claims which do tend to announce the end, but not necessarily). Pentecostal Christianity need not be explicitly apocalyptic, i.e. imminentist, indeed it should probably best be understood as a response to disappointment, just as the original Pentecost (descent of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the crucifixion) was a response to disappointment that Jesus had not returned to earth to “finish the (millennial) job.” (the movement started at 2am January 1, 1901, hours into the new century).

Their website has nothing immediately about the end of time; their prophecy page stops dating prophecy fulfilled in 1967. If they are apocalyptic, they are not working off of specific dates (understandable after 2000), but off of high energy. They clearly want to be a new spiritual capital, and they envision their spark (“Ignited Church” – what a name) catching fire throughout the land and the world.
But my guess is that this may be in interesting variation of previous such movements. The iconography is biblical, they’re clearly philo-Judaic, having spent time in Israel (they refer to Jerusalem as Yerushalayim which suggests animated conversations in that city), they use Kabbalistic ideas and terminology (Shekinah). They seem resolutely transformational, although the reports of Todd Bentley roughing up people when heals them suggests an opening for violence. (hopefully that will door will be closed.)

For an example of a preacher who was accused of similar things, see an account from the late 6th century in Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks bk 9, ch 3 or 4: (from a chapter of an as-yet unpublished book)

    The pattern of Gregory’s narrative on this score seems remarkably consistent. Popular charismatic prophets come in the wake of signs, wonders, and prodigies, not to mention catastrophes, like mushrooms come after rain. In Book 9, chapter three reports on the “many portents [that] appeared at this time.” The following chapter tells of “imposters and soothsayers”:

    That same year there appeared in Tours a man called Desiderius, who gave it out that he was a very important person, pretending that he was able to work miracles. He boasted that messengers journeyed to and fro between himself and the Apostles Peter and Paul. I myself was not there, so the country folk flocked to him in crowds, bringing with them the blind and infirm… [Gregory then describes his miracle working as a kind of sadistic chiropractics where his assistants often pulled and stretched people to death]. The wretched man was so above himself, that he gave it out that Saint Martin had less power than he; for he imagined himself to be the equal of the Apostles…

    Not quite as dramatic as claims to be the Christ of the Second Coming, the case nonetheless bears all the marks of apocalyptic charismatic prophets: the healing, the crowds of commoners, the inflated ego of the leader.

This one took place around 580. Here’s another one around 591 that is quite explicit in that the healing revival leads the leader to claim to be Christ returned (can’t get more apocalyptic millennial than that).

Gregory of Tours, False Christ of Bourges, History of the Franks, X:23-25.

• Why do you think this resurgence is occurring now?

These things happen all the time. It’s when they begin to coalesce into a larger wave that apocalyptic expectations begin to play an open role in things. Here I find the apocalyptic dimension quite muted, at least in the movement’s public face. Obviously, there are Christian believers who are in a state of super-excitation – again, “Ignited Church” – and these kinds of revivals are an obvious outlet. Look at the Promise Keepers in the 1990s. If you have more evidence of a number of such phenomena, then you might be able to talk of a resurgence.

• Have you noticed any specific trends that seem to spark new apocalyptic movements?

Predicting the outbreak of apocalyptic movements and their development necessitates using Chaos theory, and will never be a science. Obviously disturbances and sudden and profound changes, as well as signs (astronomical, earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues) make people much more attentive to the message of apocalyptic “roosters” crowing that the dawn is near. I’d also factor in a) the passage of 2000, which was a disappointment, but did not put an end to the conviction of many that they lived in the endtimes (Pentecostalism as a response to disappointment makes a lot of sense here); 2) the radical instability of the world right now, and particular the existence of another apocalyptic millennial movement, global Jihad.

• Do you expect this new wave charismatic Christian apocalyptic groups to die down? Why or why not?

No I don’t. Christians have too much invested in their current reading of the apocalyptic scenario linked to Israel to go back to normal time easily. This one may not “take,” but my sense is that we’re in for many more examples. None may “take” in the apocalyptic sense (full-fledged movement of people convinced that they act on the stage of salvific history), but we might be in for another “Great Awakening” like the decades from 1720-40 and 1820-40.

• The Christian Zionists, for example, claim that the large migration of Russian Jews back to Israel is a signal pointing to the end of the world. Does that carry any legitimacy?

Legitimacy with whom? With Christian apocalyptic believers? Sure. The existence of Israel is the one concrete historical event that they can claim fulfills prophecy in our day. For both the Jewish Zionists and the Christian Zionists, 1948 was supposed to bring the return to Zion by all Jews – it didn’t; 1967 got the temple mount back so the 3rd temple could be built, but it hasn’t been yet; so the Russian migration is a way of telling themselves that, although it didn’t happen as fast as they thought, it’s still happening.

• Are there any global events that have been known to spark this “end time” thinking?

The Great depression set off lots of apocalyptic thinking, including the ugliest of all, the Nazis. Apocalyptic prophecies speak of “wars and rumors of wars”, but that fits any time. The creation of Israel is the single most important apocalyptic event of our time, and anything that happens to Israel and Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) will have a major impact on this apocalyptic mindset. In apocalyptic dynamics, “one person’s messiah is another’s Antichrist,” so the successes of global Jihad (9-11, other bombings, intimidation of Europeans, especially English, spread of an aggressive and triumphalist Islam) will also strengthen the argument that we live in the endtime.

• What is the difference between an apocalyptic cult versus, a Christian denomination that believes we are in the end times due to Biblical prophecy?

You’ve just stepped into an academic minefield. So I won’t use your vocabulary (“cult”? Horror!) but I’ll try and answer the question. A Christian community that has come to believe that the end is near, and pray and repent and await, but otherwise remain within the current traditions and continue to function within the social norms is different from an apocalyptic movement that “burns bridges” to “normal time” and everyday demands (job, parenthood, planning), that begins to feed off its own enthusiasm and break away from other, less responsive/evolved/”true” believers (Christians, Muslims, Jews) becomes a “sect” and eventually (if it successfully re-enters normal time, which all apocalyptic movements must eventually do), either a denomination, a sect, or a new religion (Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nation of Islam).

• Are any of Biblical claims and prophetic predictions about the end of the world valid?

This is a bizarre question. Academically, we can’t know; historically for millennia people in every generation have been convinced they lived in the endtime. Both Christianity and Islam are religions born of apocalyptic origins. Both await the completion of the original prophecies about the Day of Judgment. They’ve all been wrong. (As a “bringer of the End,” God is a major underachiever.) I personally don’t think that if there is a God, he intends to intervene in history (if he didn’t in the Holocaust, then I can’t imagine when he would). But that won’t stop inspiring people to believe that. That’s what I study.

• How can you distinguish the true apocalyptic claims from false?

Only when they prove false.

• Can the Bible be considered a valid source for predicting the end of the world? Why?

Well, on the one hand, as a source for that kind of thinking it’s been inexaustable. (Even Muslims are using the Bible for their apocalyptic prophecies – much richer than the Quran.) So if we’re to judge by the traffic, it’s the all-time greatest site. But if we judge by the accuracy of the prophecies , predictions, and calculations that people have derived from their reading of that text, then it’s a dismal failure. Personally, I think the bible has much more interesting things to say about “transformational” apocalyptic, than it does about when to date the cataclysm.

• What do most end times “prophets” do once they find they incorrectly predicted the end of the earth? Is there any accountability from their followers?

This was studied by Leon Festinger in a study of a 1950s space-ship “community” led by a woman. He coined the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe the painful experience of disappointment. There are many ways to handle this c.d., including “upping the ante”, turn to coercive purity, flip from passive to active mode, or vice-versa, redate and proselytize some more (the delay was so the believers could spread the word), flee the world. What mixture any group eventually blends in this period of “apocalyptic jazz” is as “chaotic” a process as when such a group gets going.

• Although these groups have a bad track record when it comes to predicting the end of the earth, is it acceptable to ignore their claims all together? Why?

The other major law of apocalyptic dynamics is that “wrong does not mean inconsequential.” The Nazis were wrong about beginning a “tausendjäriger Reich” (millennial kingdom), but they sure left their mark on history; the Zionists were wrong that by establishing a state, they would put an end to anti-Semitism, but Israel is a major player in the global scene, both practically and in the global imagination. I think we ignore them at our peril, especially the “active cataclysmic” ones who believe that God wants them to be his agent in carrying out massive devastation of this “evil” world.

• What is your personal opinion on the end of the earth? Do you think it is possible to predict an end?

There’s a difference between “end of the world” – eschatology – and the end of “this world” and the beginning of the messianic age – millennium – on earth, in history. I’m personally hoping that this world continues to struggle in every generation to find just ways to settle disputes and productive ways to interact with both the earth and each other. Even if Augustine was probably right that there will never be perfection “in the saeculum” (time-space continuum, world of the flesh, history), we can surely make that world a better place. Eliminate suffering and aggression? No. Bridle it, reduce its gratuitous presence, yes. Even in the messianic age, there will be disputes, dishonesty, cheating, and injustice. The question is, “how do we deal with it.” If that’s a “liberal’s” imperfect (processual) millennium, so be it. But I am very wary of the folk who say, the only way to perfect world is violence and destruction… “don’t you know that you can count me out…”

• Do you believe that there will be any events to signal that we are entering into the end?

Hopefully when the sun novas in several billion years.

• What (if you believe there will be an end) do you think will happen during the end of the earth?

I have great respect for the passion of apocalyptic believers, but not much for their common sense; nor can I adhere to scenarios (like the Book of Revelation) that anticipate the death of millions if not (under current global demographic conditions) of billions. Not something I find it spiritually uplifting to look forward to. I am fairly immune to the lure of apocalyptic prophecy – perils of the profession – even though I can admire and respect some of the spirituality that sincere apocalyptic beliefs can inspire. (It does great things for your modesty, integrity, and appreciation of others to spend a some intense moments imagining yourself before an omniscient and just judge.)

The Apocalyptic Dimensions of the 08 Election

A friend of mine asked me to comment on a list-serv he was creating about the apocalyptic dimensions of this election. Here’s my response. I’d welcome any corrections and links readers might have to suggest.

Richard, I can’t help but think that we may be heading for a world calamity with the potential election of the McCain/Palin ticket. After all McCain is well known for his hair trigger temper (“bomb, bomb, bomb!”), and Palin is a far right wing, religious fanatic.

So as someone who’s familiar with Apocalyptic Writings, I’d be interested in your thoughts and if you’d be interested in posting them.

Apocalyptic Dimensions of the 2008 Election

The first clear apocalyptic elements in the race arose with the charismatic personality of Barack Obama. Many of us got our first taste of it with the release of the video “Yes we can…” which, esp to those who are culturally literate in todays youth scene, was a very powerful statement that appealed to a messianic yearning. “Yes, this will bring that transformation we all yearn for.”

The issue of Obama’s messianism is complicated. He has neither denied nor discouraged it, indeed he played with tropes like “we are the hope we’ve been waiting for.” His world tour played on that hope, and the Europeans loved it. It has gotten him in trouble with a public that doesn’t like pretension, even as it’s got him a highly committed base.

In an ironic way, Sarah Palin might be in the process of taking the prophetic mantle from him. Obama made it clear that Americans yearn for some kind of a savior — someone they can get enthused about, someone they can pin outrageous hopes on; but they may still be in the market. Obama didn’t close the deal, and she stole the ball. And we don’t even know who she is.

Now there are religious issues as well as personality ones in this apocalyptic brew. Palin is a member of a Pentecostalist (they talk in tongues/babble) evangelical church that adheres to the doctrine of Christian premillennial dispensationalism — the apocalyptic scenario whereby the return of the Jews to Israel will set in motion the final events — terrible tribulations that will only cease with the return of Jesus… at which point all the surviving Jews will convert.

It’s a troubling source of piety for Christian Zionism, and many Jews, especially on the left, have warned against it in no uncertain terms. For intellectuals, Palin’s piety, with its fundamentalist positions on abortion and creationism, with its demons, speaking in tongues and cell-phone annointing strikes us as the height of regressive folly. and for some, the threat goes all the way to ambitions to make the US into a Christian theocracy.

Would that we were offered a choice between this kind of apocalyptic weirdness and grounded sanity. But Obama’s issues with religion raise similar if not more dangerous problems. Reverend Wright is a key to Obama’s religiosity, and it’s not pretty (Obama’s protestations that he wasn’t there/didn’t hear those sermons, are like Clinton saying he didn’t inhale).

Wright is paranoid (US Govt invented AIDS to kill black people), he’s deeply anti-American, he’s more than a bit of a racist. And his theology is also millennialist, just instead of apple pie pre-millennial dispensationalism (in which the Lord has to intervene in order to set off the destruction), it’s a roll-your-own blend of Marxist, racist, post-millennialism (ie, we bring about the messianic age ourselves by destroying the system and imposing equality).

Nor is this the only problem. The proponents of this kind of neo-marxist, revolutionary, post-colonialism — America (and Israel) is the source of all evil — (Chomsky is the intellectual version), have an informal but broad alliance with Jihadis, in common cause against the West which is responsible for the world’s woes.

Now jihadis are apocalyptic, and the worst kind. active, cataclysmic: the passage from this world (where infidels are the most powerful and admired people on the planet) to the next, perfected world (global Dar al Islam) is one of immense destruction which we are Allah’s servants in bringing about. Making an alliance with them is insane (as the Iranian communists learned to their woe in 1979).

i’m not saying Obama has the slightest notion of this — indeed that’s the problem. with his pleasant youthful experiences with Islam and his adult life in an aggressive liberation church, he’s a prime candidate for manipulation by jihadis masquerading as “human rights” advocates. protect my right to teach hatred; protect my right not to be insulted by people who criticize me. i.e., Obama’s a perfect dupe for demopaths.

McCain is at least understands the Muslim threat better (as does Lieberman, who is apparently teaching Palin intl affairs). Obama is part of the world whose primary response to the collapse of the “Oslo Peace Process” and 9-11 is to ask what did “we” do to make “them” hate us so, and what can we do to make them love us enough to stop trying to kill us any chance they get?

As Amir Taheri puts it, Obama’s 9-10, McCain is 9-11; or as a French woman remarked to me back in 2003: “There are two kinds of people in the world after 9-11, those who understand that we’re at war, and those who don’t.” And it’s not a matter of whether you’re a war-monger or a peace-lover. It’s not a war we declared, and pretending it doesn’t exist does promote peace.

So i’d say, we’re between Scylla and Charybdis. Both candidates are, from the perspective of an “apocalyptic” analysis, carriers of dangerous tendencies. We have to figure out which is less dangerous.

In my universe of priorities, the threat from Islam is greater than that from Christianity which, even in very “fundamentalist” or evangelical circles, is far more committed to democratic culture. And right now, the folly of the left strikes me as far more dangerous and entrenched in its way of thinking than the folly of the right.

Failed Jihad 1948: The Real Naqba

Benny Morris has a new book out on 1948. In the course of researching it he discovered how intense the religious dimension of the conflict that year. Such an observation is on the one hand, quite ordinary and empirical, on the other, a violation of the principles of cognitive egocentrism whereby the Arab objection to Jewish independence must be formulated and presented to the public as a “rational” objection, as a “nationalist” argument. Negotitations according to the PC Paradigm will only work if the dispute is about territories and rational national narratives that can come to a mutual understanding (2-state solution). But if it is profoundly zero-sum and religious in nature, then all the pacific bromides about war not being the answer fall by the wayside.

Here Morris discusses the religious dimension of 1948 and chides the modern historian for not taking it seriously.

Historians Should Take the Jihadi Rhetoric of 1948 Seriously

By Benny Morris

Mr. Morris is a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University and the author of 1948 (Yale University Press), from which this article is excerpted.

Historians have tended to ignore or dismiss, as so much hot air, the jihadi rhetoric and flourishes that accompanied the two-stage assault on the Yishuv [the Jewish residents of Palestine before the founding of Israel] and the constant references in the prevailing Arab discourse to that earlier bout of Islamic battle for the Holy Land, against the Crusaders. This is a mistake. The 1948 War, from the Arabs’ perspective, was a war of religion as much as, if not more than, a nationalist war over territory. Put another way, the territory was sacred: its violation by infidels was sufficient grounds for launching a holy war and its conquest or reconquest, a divinely ordained necessity. In the months before the invasion of 15 May 1948, King Abdullah, the most moderate of the coalition leaders, repeatedly spoke of “saving” the holy places. As the day of invasion approached, his focus on Jerusalem, according to Alec Kirkbride, grew increasingly obsessive. “In our souls,” wrote the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, “Palestine occupies a spiritual holy place which is above abstract feelings. In it we have the blessed breeze of Jerusalem and the blessings of the Prophets and their disciples.”

The evidence is abundant and clear that many, if not most, in the Arab world viewed the war essentially as a holy war. To fight for Palestine was the “inescapable obligation on every Muslim,” declared the Muslim Brotherhood in 1938.

The Muslim Brotherhood gained great strength from their anti-Zionist activities particularly during this period of the “Arab Revolt” of 1936-39, launching, according to Matthias Küntzel, their first “fanatical solidarity campaign in which the idea of Jihad was linked to the policies in Palestine,” and going from 800 to 200,000 years from 1936-38 (p. 21).

Indeed, the battle was of such an order of holiness that in 1948 one Islamic jurist ruled that believers should forego the hajj and spend the money thus saved on the jihad in Palestine. In April 1948, the mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Muhammad Mahawif, issued a fatwa positing jihad in Palestine as the duty of all Muslims. The Jews, he said, intended “to take over … all the lands of Islam.” Martyrdom for Palestine conjured up, for Muslim Brothers, “the memories of the Battle of Badr … as well as the early Islamic jihad for spreading Islam and Salah al-Din’s [Saladin's] liberation of Palestine” from the Crusaders. Jihad for Palestine was seen in prophetic-apocalyptic terms, as embodied in the following hadith periodically quoted at the time: “The day of resurrection does not come until Muslims fight against Jews, until the Jews hide behind trees and stones and until the trees and stones shout out: ‘O Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ “

Of quote not only marks the Jihad as apocalyptic, but also, alas, genocidal.

The jihadi impulse underscored both popular and governmental responses in the Arab world to the UN partition resolution and was central to the mobilization of the “street” and the governments for the successive onslaughts of November-December 1947 and May-June 1948. The mosques, mullahs, and ulema all played a pivotal role in the process. Even Christian Arabs appear to have adopted the jihadi discourse. Matiel Mughannam, the Lebanese-born Christian who headed the AHC-affiliated Arab Women’s Organization in Palestine, told an interviewer early in the civil war: “The UN decision has united all Arabs, as they have never been united before, not even against the Crusaders …. [A Jewish state] has no chance to survive now that the ‘holy war’ has been declared. All the Jews will eventually be massacred.” The Islamic fervor stoked by the hostilities seems to have encompassed all or almost all Arabs: “No Moslem can contemplate the holy places falling into Jewish hands,” reported Kirkbride from Amman. “Even the Prime Minister [Tawfiq Abul Huda] … who is by far the steadiest and most sensible Arab here, gets excited on the subject. “

Note that even the Christian Arab is swept up in the mood of collective empowerment. One cannot understand either the decisions of the Arab leadership in 1947-49, or the catastrophic scale of the defeat, if one does not understand the omnipotent inebriation they felt about their cause.

Nor did this impulse evaporate with the Arab defeat. On the contrary. On 12 December 1948 the ulema of Al-Azhar reissued their call for jihad, specifically addressing “the Arab Kings, Presidents of Arab Republics, . . . and leaders of public opinion.” It was, ruled the council, “necessary to liberate Palestine from the Zionist bands … and to return the inhabitants driven from their homes.” The Arab armies had “fought victoriously” (sic) “in the conviction that they were fulfilling a sacred religious duty.” The ulema condemned King Abdullah for sowing discord in Arab ranks: “Damnation would be the lot of those who, after warning, did not follow the way of the believers,” concluded the ulema.

The Naqba was not the terrible tragedy that befell the Palestinian refugees. They were collateral damage, soon to be turned into sacrificial victims by imprisonment in the camps. The real Naqba was the catastrophe of Jewish sovereignty in Dar al Islam — a humiliation to the Arabs, a blasphemy to Muslims.

War is not the Answer? Depends on the Question.

While on the Cape last week, I saw a number of signs that read “War is not the Answer.” I had only recently brought up this bumper sticker with my students in order to illustrate the problems of liberal cognitive egocentrism: No culture has ever proposed such an idea, with the exception of some messianic groups. Those that have (and survive), live in exile (Jews after Bar Kochba, Tibetans). Indeed, it’s hard not to savor the irony of these well-intentioned folks, living peacefully on the land of the Wampanoags whose plague-decimated numbers were finally reduced to some 400, and completely subjugated by “King Phillip’s War.”

A visit to the sponsoring site of this pacifist sign reveals that it is, indeed, a messianic pacifist group, the Quakers, who arose out of the messianic crucible of the 17th century English Civil War. They address the obvious question: “If war is not the answer, what is?

The practical instruments of negotiation, aid, and development assistance, the psychological instrument of respect for human dignity and equality, and the political instruments of human, juridical, and civil rights provide a more effective, just, and moral answer.

I agree with all of those “instruments” when they are practicable. But in the (hopefully rare) situation where they do not work, applying them actually backfires. Remember Gandhi’s famous non-violent resistance (suicidal) advice to the Jews when dealing with the Nazis — which, alas, too many instinctively followed. Such techniques only work when dealing with people who have a liberal conscience (like the British in India). When dealing with political cultures that seek dominion at any cost, such kindness registers as weakness and triggers aggression, not reconciliation.

Later today I will be on a committee examining a thesis on the failures of the US Intelligence Community in dealing with the “civilizational Jihad” of the Muslim Brotherhood against the United States. It is a staggering tale of political correctness that renders us dupes to demopaths who have learned to use every principle we treasure in order to dupe us into allowing them to flourish.

CAIR’s mission statement sought “to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” This sounds wonderful, but is not the true intent of the organization. The reality is that this is another organization within the [Muslim] Brotherhood running a deception campaign. The Brothers’ real objectives are to use CAIR as an instrument to influence the United States by mounting a public relations campaign under the guise of a civil rights campaign. The Brothers know how to use words and issues in ways that Americans want to hear. In one of the documents there [in the material entered in evidence at the "Holy Land Foundation" trial] is reference to a dictionary of terms that will placate the American public.

If they ever need any help, going to the “Friends’” site will give them all the buzz-words they need.

While meditating on these issues, I ran across the following piece in the Jerusalem Post by Caleb ben-David, one of their more reflective writers. It illustrates the problems of “peace advocacy” in prime-divider cultures where violence — male violence, to be redundant — is a norm.

Apr 24, 2008 12:23 | Updated Apr 25, 2008 1:39
Snap Judgment: The last journey of Pippa Bacca
By CALEV BEN-DAVID

The killing earlier of this month of Giuseppina Pasqualino di Marineo, “Pippa Bacca,” has received little media comment outside the country of her birth, Italy, and that of her death, Turkey.

It should, though; Bacca was apparently a very special kind of “performance artist,” who saw her life, or at least the way she chose to live it, as her “brush,” and the whole world as her canvas. Tragically, the end of that life turned out not in the way she intended – nor left behind exactly the message that she had hoped it would convey.

Bacca, 33, set off from Milan last March together with fellow artist Silvia Moro on what they dubbed a “Brides on Tour” journey, with both wearing white wedding dresses and taking separate routes from Italy through southern Europe and the Middle East, with the intention of meeting up together at the end here in Jerusalem sometime this month.

The central point was to promote peace and faith in one’s fellow man, in part by doing the entire trip via hitchhiking. Although to many the idea of a single woman thumbing rides through some of the most conflict-ridden regions of the globe sounds more than a little naïve and dangerous, this apparently was the very point. The Web site they created for the “Brides on Tour” project declares: “Hitchhiking is choosing to have faith in other human beings, and man, like a small god, rewards those who have faith in him.”

Alas, on the way Bacca met a man who had a very different outlook, and in early April her corpse was discovered near the Turkish town of Gebze, southeast of Istanbul. Traced through his use of her cellphone, a local man was later arrested and confessed to her rape and murder shortly after he picked her up.

“We cannot blame all Turks for this incident,” Bacca’s mother told the Turkish press. “No one could have predicted my daughter would encounter such a maniac.”

Of course not – though a Western woman hitchhiking alone through the Turkish hinterlands surely must be aware of a very real element of risk.

I would be a little less understated in responding to this poor mother’s comment: “What are you talking about? Anyone with any knowledge of honor-shame, alpha-male behavior and its enormous power in cultures like that of Turkey could have predicted precisely this.” Of course, her sister, quoted in the NYT, anticipated my comment and refuted it:

    “Just read any newspaper — people get killed for playing music too loudly, and women get raped in the subway; there are fiends everywhere,” Ms. Pasqualino said. “This was not a question of Turkey or of religion.”

Not surprisingly, the comment was echoed by Turkish and Italian officials. And it may be true in some sense, although I do think the odds vary depending on the culture.

Bacca’s murder generated widespread revulsion in Turkey, sparking demonstrations by local women wearing placards declaring, “We are Pippa,” and demanding the government take greater steps to ensure that unaccompanied women in the streets are free from harassment.

This gets to an interesting tension within these cultures of male-dominance. Women generally live lives of quiet desperation. If Bacca’s murder were to give them voice, it would not have been in vain. But for that to happen, not only would these women need to speak up, but the international press would have to cover this story in its details and thereby shame Turkish officials into taking real measures.

Bacca’s artistic collaborator Moro, who cut short her own trip after her friend’s murder, told The New York Times she “still hoped to take to the road to finish the performance. Otherwise it would be a failure, and I don’t want the message to fail.”

“I am not disowning the project,” she added firmly. “This tragedy only highlights how difficult peaceful relations are and how much work there is still to do.”

This is classic messianic behavior in a state of cognitive dissonance. When your premise has been disproved, keep pursuing the goal, which is more important than reality testing.

INDEED. I sincerely hope Moro does carry on (with greater precaution) her and Bacca’s project, even the performance they were planning to stage in Tel Aviv at its end, when they were planning to ceremonially wash their wedding dresses.

Their journey, said Moro, was intended to show that “by overcoming differences and lowering the level of conflict individuals and cultures could come together… Meeting people was the key.”

But if their project is to retain its artistic integrity, it should honestly take into account Bacca’s tragic fate, and incorporate it into the work and the meaning it seeks to convey. And surely that message is that sometimes faith in fellow man and a desire for peace is not enough in this world; often it is wise, if not essential, to combine those elements with strong doses of hardheaded – and hearted – caution and concern, pragmatism and patience. If not, the end result may turn out to be not only failure, but violent failure that ends up defeating the very message of trust and peace the original effort was meant to convey.

Precisely. In other words, when one pursues peace only through negotiations when dealing with a bloody-minded foe, one ends up strengthening the very forces one hopes to overcome. PCP strengthens Jihad.

Strangely enough, I thought of Pippa Bacca this week while attending a press conference in Jerusalem featuring former US president Jimmy Carter discussing his own recent travels and encounters in the region, with the likes of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.

This was performance art of its own kind – “ex-president on tour” – that was also all about promoting peace in the region. Again, meeting people was key, as was giving them the benefit of the doubt and taking them at their word, even when in contradiction to good sense. Fortunately for Carter, the conditions under which he traveled virtually guaranteed a safe final arrival in Jerusalem to close his trip.

If I am inclined under these circumstances to be far more generous to Bacca’s wanderings, it is in the certainty that at least in her case there is no doubt her motives were entirely good-hearted, and that the only possible harmful outcome of her trip was to herself, which regrettably did come to pass.

Pippa Bacca was a dreamer – and yes, perhaps so is Jimmy Carter. Peace, of course, is always worth dreaming about. But the longer I live in this country, and this region, the more convinced I become that peace is not made by the dreamers, but the realists, especially weary and wary old warriors such as Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak.

Peace is not made by simply choosing to have faith in other people – which one should – but by taking reasonable precautions that if that faith is not rewarded, the end results will not be cruelly catastrophic. Though I appreciate her idealism, this to me is the real meaning of Pippa Bacca’s final journey.