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WASHINGTON -- These are rich times for conspiracy theorists, and the mother lode these days may be found in the fevered minds of anti-Christianists.
Among paranoiacs who see a Jerry Falwell or a John Hagee in every burning bush, U.S. support for Israel isn't about protecting the only healthy democracy in the Middle East, but about advancing Armageddon and, yes, the Second Coming.
At last, we'll get to know what Jesus would drive. Most likely, he'd drive out the conspiracy theorists on both sides of this imagined apocalypse.
For those who do not spend their days pulling imaginary bugs out of their eye sockets, "Christianist'' is a relatively new term that roughly refers to a virulent strain of right-wing political Christianity that, supposedly, parallels Islamist lunacy.
Although both groups may be "true believers,'' those who try to connect the dots of Christian belief, specifically evangelical Christianity, to Islamism seem willing to overlook the fact that Islamists praise Allah and fly airplanes into buildings while Christianists praise Jesus and pass the mustard.
And though both groups of people may use scripture to shape their approach to the public square, Islamist interpretation of doctrine permits religious expression through suicide-murder, beheadings, public stonings (preferably of women) and Jew-hating, while Christianist doctrine deals in such wimpy notions as forgiveness, tolerance, redemption and cheek-turning. Weirdos.
A slew of new books have emerged with titles like "American Theocracy,'' and "Kingdom Coming,'' that tackle the perceived emerging Christocracy, while op-ed-ists opine that right-wing evangelicals are directing foreign policy through the White House. Words like "theocrats'' and "American Taliban'' have become commonplace in describing those who fill televangelism's La-Z-Boys.
Certainly, there's an element among some Christians who believe that Armageddon and the Second Coming are related to current events in the Middle East. For instance, John Hagee, televangelist and pastor of an 18,000-member mega-church in San Antonio specifically believes that Israel has to strike Iran's nuclear facilities in order to move things along toward Jesus' new millennial reign.
And though life may get messy for a time, all's well that ends well. Once Jesus gets back on board, Russia and China will have been dealt with, the Garden of Eden will reopen for business, and the righteous will rule the nations of the Earth. ACLU, beware.
Doubtless Hagee holds his audiences in thrall, but that audience does not happen to include George W. Bush or even (cue thunderclouds) Karl Rove. Nor millions of other Christians. Despite what the anti-Christianists seem to believe, the evangelical movement is not monolithic on such issues and Hagee doesn't have an office in the State Department.
In fact, at one White House meeting with about 35 evangelical leaders, one participant told me Hagee said nary a word. Even if he had, no one in the Bush administration is listening.
"You can be sure that Condi Rice is not reading Tim LaHaye books,'' says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of its Evangelicals in Civic Life program. LaHaye is author of the best-selling apocalyptic "Left Behind'' series.
The Armageddonists, meanwhile, are suffering from what Cromartie calls "overheated eschatological expectations.''
"That means, they're always looking through world events for some signs of the End Times. ... If they want to spend their time worrying about that, fine. I'm pretty content to sit here and wait it out.''
At least part of what's behind the anti-Christianist movement, of course, is dislike of Bush, who happens to be a born-again Christian, combined with angry opposition to the war in Iraq, as well as contempt for the anti-intellectualism of some on the Christian right -- a perfect storm of secular disgust.
What's missing, however, is a basic understanding of reality: the fact that those who preach an End Times scenario also voted for Bush does not necessarily mean that they have Bush's ear. When someone like Hagee sends a smoke signal to the White House about Israel and Armageddon, the attitude at Pennsylvania Avenue is, "Oh yeah, John, we're aware of that, thank you.''
In other words, pro-Israel policy decisions are based on our long-standing support of America's democratic ally in the Middle East, not some theological imperative as divined through an eschatological grid. Or even an "8'' ball.
Nevertheless, Republicans are happy to get votes where they can. Which is to say: If Hagee were urging his congregation to tithe money to fight global warming based on some apocalyptic interpretation of Scripture, does anyone really think that Al Gore would decline the check?