Roots of American Christian Zionism, Part 2
During the nineteenth century there came into being two quintessentially American religious movements: Mormonism and Seventh Day Adventism (aka Millerism). One of the things that really stands out about Mormonism, especially within the context of Judeocentric prophecy interpretation, is that the first Mormons (Joseph Smith, Orson Hyde, et al.) strongly believed that there were two “Chosen People”: the Jews and the Americans (or the “Second Israelites”). Likewise, according to Mormonism’s founder and life-long freemason Joseph Smith (1805-1844), there are two Jerusalems as well: the original biblical Jerusalem located in Palestine, and a New Jerusalem which would someday be established in North America. According to Smith, each city would house one of God’s two Chosen Peoples; the Jews would receive the old Jerusalem and the Americans would inherit the new. The Jews would be granted the earthly kingdom of God in Palestine, and the Christians (i.e. Protestants, and more specifically Mormons) would inherit the spiritual kingdom. Thus it was with the Mormons and their distinct brand of Protestant theology that there really began to evolve a well-articulated theological division between Jews and Americans, in contradistinction to the prior millennialist division between Jews and Christians.
As mentioned above, the other quintessentially “American” religious movement is Seventh Day Adventism founded by William Miller (1782-1849). Miller was someone who was incredibly interested in Judeocentric prophecy interpretation, and he actually “borrowed” the work of a number of English writers – and even the calendar system of the Karaite Jews – in order to advance his religious views and, specifically, to determine the precise date of the Second Coming which would then usher in the millennial reign of Christ on earth. He especially incorporated many of the writings of the renowned “Father of Classical Physics” Sir Isaac Newton, who himself expended a prodigious amount of intellectual energy into examining and interpreting biblical prophecies so as to determine the exact date of the “end of the world.”
According to Miller, the return of Christ would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844 – sometime in that one year period between the spring equinoxes. When the cut-off date came and went, as it inevitably did, Miller gave the excuse that he had made a mistake in his “calculations.” And so, he recalculated and came up with a new date: October 22, 1844. Of course, that date came and went and nothing happened – but it was really quite sad for his loyal followers, because, in preparation for the “big event,” they had sold off all of their earthly possessions and properties to the point where they had become penniless. This naturally caused Miller’s followers to go into a deep depression, which came to be known historically as the Great Disappointment.
In any event, it is important to note that the way in which William Miller differs from nearly all other Protestant religious leaders is that he was not Judeocentric at all. Instead he was a “supersessionist,” meaning he believed that the covenant which the Jews had once held with God was now held by Christians, i.e. the true Christian Church. Therefore, according to supersessionist belief, God no longer owed the Jews anything. As Miller himself once stated, “the Jew has had his day.” So again, Miller was not at all Judeocentric. And because he held a more negative opinion about Jews, Miller was harshly criticized and even condemned by many of America’s leading Protestant figures.
Now we come to the person who is regarded as the father of Evangelicalism: John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Originally, Darby was an Anglican priest in Ireland who was staunchly against the Catholic Church and very interested in eschatology and prophecy interpretation. Eventually Darby came to repudiate the Anglican Church of Ireland and all churches everywhere. Darby then began advising his followers to cut themselves off from the world (or “worldly affairs”) – to neither participate in politics nor church life, and to fully prepare themselves for the return of Christ. Like the Mormons, Darby drew a sharp distinction between true Christians (i.e. Protestants), whom he collectively considered to be the “spiritual bride of Christ,” and Jews who comprised the “earthly bride.” Darby promoted the idea that Jews would receive an earthly inheritance (Israel) and Christians would be raptured up into heaven to be with Christ. All those who remained on earth would have to suffer greatly under the Antichrist due to all of the chaos and destruction generated through him.
Of course the most famous idea in all of Darby’s work is this idea of the “rapture” – a theological concept which is certainly very popular today among evangelicals in the United States. However, unlike many of his contemporaries and predecessors, Darby did not believe that the Jews would have to be converted to Protestantism in order to usher in the apocalypse. In other words, Darby was a convinced premillennialist; he believed that when the appointed time came, Christ would simply return. Then, upon his return, Christ would rapture up the elect (the spiritual bride) and they would disappear from the face of the earth. The Jews (the earthly bride) would then return to Palestine to exterminate all the Muslims and thus inherit the Holy Land. Then the Antichrist would emerge to usher in the Tribulation – a time of great terror and destruction, where all of the people remaining on earth would be greatly punished. According to Darby, this punishment would be meted out by God to non-Christians in general, but more specifically to Jews for their responsibility, as he saw it, for the crucifixion of Christ.
Thus Darby is often described as an anti-supersessionist (unlike the Seventh Day Adventists) because he, in some sense, does believe that the Jews are still the people of God. Even so, this is only a kind of ornamental anti-supersessionism, as Darby still believed that Jews would have to suffer during the Tribulation (like everyone else who remained on earth) and that only true Christians would escape the sheer horror of the apocalypse. It should further be known that Darby was actually quite harsh in his remarks on Jews and, indeed, he taught his followers to have this same contemptible attitude toward them (in striking contrast to modern-day Christian Zionists). In Darby’s view the Jewish people were nothing more than elements in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; Jews were not people in themselves but only chess pieces in the fulfillment of a grand cosmic drama.
As already mentioned, John Nelson Darby was strongly anti-political. He quite openly stated (referring to himself and his followers), “We do not mix in politics; we are not of the world: we do not vote.” This is yet another way in which Darby’s evangelicals differ from their modern politically mobilized counterparts in America. And speaking of America, Darby did visit the country a number of times, and he had quite a lot of influence on various American preachers, especially one by the name of Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899). It was essentially Moody that began spreading Darby’s doctrine throughout the United States – a unique strain of biblical interpretation called “dispensationalism,” because both Darby and Moody believed that the Word of God comes forth and is revealed to humanity in special installments or “dispensations.”
And although John Nelson Darby’s anti-political message did resonate to an extent among some nineteenth century American evangelicals, ultimately it was a message that failed. This is because Americans have a long tradition of civil millenarianism (of mixing their religion in politics), which is fundamentally rooted in the New England Puritan idea that Americans are the New Chosen People and America is the New Israel. So, as one can discern from a number of his comments on America, Darby was quite dismayed at what he observed among those Americans who claimed to follow his ideas. It is important to point this out because, again, modern Christian Zionism is extremely political or “worldly.” Darbyite theology, on the other hand, advocated for a complete withdrawal from the world, not only from politics but from organized churches as well – and of course this latter position of Darby’s earned him a great deal of contempt and criticism from many of his contemporaries.
Perhaps the most important historical figure who laid the groundwork for modern Christian Zionism, which is to say the one person who was instrumental in adding a powerful political dimension to Christian Zionism, was William E. Blackstone (1841-1935). Blackstone was a businessman who found success early in life. Sometime after making his fortune, Blackstone decided to remove himself from the business world and dedicated himself to religious matters, specifically to Judeocentric prophecy interpretation. Here, he believed (unlike Darby) in active political involvement with the explicit mission of assisting Jews (yes Jews, not Christians) as much as possible. Blackstone published his first book on this subject in 1878 entitled Jesus Is Coming. In it he highlighted various “signs” which, he thought, conclusively demonstrated that the end of the age was near. It is important to note that, at this time in world history, the publishing of Blackstone’s work roughly coincided with the emergence of political Zionism among Jews in Europe.
As far as prophetic “signs” go, William Blackstone viewed Zionism as a sign which was very encouraging, and he did everything he possibly could to assist the likes of Theodor Herzl and other influential members of the World Zionist Congress. And indeed, Blackstone was a major friend to the Zionists. So much so that from the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth, Blackstone would write to one U.S. president after another, petitioning them to bring as many eastern European Jews into the country as possible and to assist in helping Zionist leaders create a Jewish state in Palestine. This was largely due to the news stories Blackstone read of the various anti-Jewish pogroms which were allegedly occurring in Russia at the time. And so, Blackstone wrote first to President Harrison on this issue, advocating for millions of eastern European Jews to come to America. Needless to say, his appeals were not successful immediately. But Blackstone was a dogged political activist. He would continue writing to other presidents and politicians on the Jewish issue and was especially successful in getting through to Woodrow Wilson. His letters to President Wilson were quite interesting because he would repeatedly drive home the point that if Wilson would assist the Jews and the Zionist effort to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, then Wilson would himself go down in history as one of the greatest world leaders of all time, along the lines of Cyrus the Great. It is very well known to historians that over the course of his political career Wilson had developed a deep-seated messiah complex, so Blackstone’s “tact” in dealing with Wilson (i.e. in comparing him to one of history’s great kings) was very shrewd indeed, and it yielded great results.
It should be mentioned that there is quite a bit of irony in William Blackstone’s career as a political activist, because despite the fact that he was someone who wanted to evict millions of Arabs from their ancestral lands in the Middle East, and despite the fact that he is considered a “founding father” of extreme right-wing Christian Zionism, Blackstone really was a progressive/left-wing “social gospel” Christian. For example, one of the institutions he was responsible for helping to establish was the International Court of Justice. And without question this is one of many “humanitarian” world bodies which today’s Christian Zionists regularly deride due to the fact that the ICJ happens also to condemn Israel on a regular basis. So it is certainly ironic that this man (Blackstone), whom Christian Zionists can trace their philosophical lineage to, was a strong supporter of the International Court of Justice.
When, during the early years of the twentieth century, the United States was witnessing the political formation of the burgeoning Jewish state via the Balfour Declaration of 1917, there again sprouted a distinct millenarian ethos. Evangelical leaders became more and more vocal in their support for the Jewish people to conquer Palestine and to dispossess and even exterminate all Muslims because, they maintained, the Jews are God’s “Chosen People.” Comparisons were easily made (as more and more Jewish “settlers” immigrated to Palestine) between what the Jews were doing to the Arabs and what the American settlers had already done to North America’s indigenous population. This is to say that there was a conscious effort – among religious, cultural and political elites – to associate the ongoing Jewish conquest of Palestine with the “heroic” idea of American Manifest Destiny. The utter extermination of Palestinians was viewed in a positive light, not only by Christian Zionist leaders but by major American media outlets as well. Americans and Jews were portrayed as having come together, as God’s People, in order to carry out their God-given mission to expand Judeo-Christian civilization as far afield as possible.
One must also understand that as Zionism was gaining influence politically, during the late nineteenth century, the imperialist mentality was also emerging in America. The cataclysmic War Between the States (1861-1865), in which nearly 1 million Americans lost their lives, was still a recent memory for most, and the vast majority wanted to somehow forget all the many pains which were caused by that especially cruel internecine war. Both Northerners and Southerners desperately craved some semblance of patriotic unity. The Spanish-American War would provide such a display of patriotism and national unity.
The 20 year period between the Spanish-American War (1898) and the end of World War I (1918) witnessed a profound resurgence of American patriotism which galvanized the nation like never before. It just so happens that these two pivotal decades also witnessed the influx of millions of Jewish immigrants (the largest influx of Jews in American history). In addition, the Federal Reserve System was also established during this era (via the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913), and for the first time in history Jewish political and economic power really began to consolidate itself in North America. So, all of these factors began to coalesce. It is by no means accidental that the Puritanical belief that Americans are God’s Chosen People was then projected on to the Zionists. Indeed, more and more Americans came to consider the Jews as a special kindred people – as being like themselves. It is therefore easy to see how it is an integral part of American culture to be pro-Jewish – this has been true, historically, since the earliest days of colonial settlement, long before the official establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Today, it is even highly doubtful whether a genuine American identity could exist without there being a firm pro-Jewish ethos in place, despite what the ever-dwindling numbers of paleoconservatives have to say. It all goes back to the civil millenarian tradition which arose out of a Puritanical religious source in the 17th century and then mixed with a late 19th century imperialist worldview.
Hence the fanatical support for Israel among evangelicals (aka Christian Zionists) in the United States. The evangelical belief in the rapture and Judeocentric prophecy interpretation, in addition to the central role which the Jews and the state of Israel play in the evangelicals’ overall belief system – all these fundamental pillars of the Christian Zionist worldview translate to mean that evangelicals (and Christian Zionists in general) have to support Israel and the Jewish lobby in America. It is quite literally a part of their religion – and I dare say the number one tenet of their entire Weltanschauung – to be pro-Israel. Their support for Israel is so important, in fact, that if Israel ever ceased to exist, their religion would be proven wrong. So the evangelicals/Christian Zionists must do whatever they can to support Israel in any way possible.
Now, in addition to the Christian Zionists, there is one other group of people that one can definitely say is an inheritor of the pro-Jewish/pro-Israel tradition – and that group is the neoconservative faction. If neocons are not modern-day millenarians, then I (the author) don’t know who is! Just take a look at Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History (1992). In this (his most famous) work, Fukuyama states that, with the fall of the Soviet Union, liberal democracy has essentially triumphed over all other political systems worldwide. And like many other neocons, Fukuyama believes that America has the right and the moral duty to go forth and spread its special brand of “freedom and democracy” throughout the world. So again, one sees this Puritanical idea of America being a Second Israel favored by God – the same great “bastion of freedom” which the Puritans believed in from the time of their initial landing at Plymouth Rock all the way to the Revolutionary era. And of course this ties into the millenarian aspect as well – the idea of the democratic millennium, that democracy has conquered the world and dictatorship is gone forever. If Fukuyama’s book is not an overtly millenarian work, then (again, in the author’s opinion) nothing is! Then there are groups of neocons like the one which rabidly pushed for the Iraq War – the Project for the New American Century. I have a feeling that the only reason they did not call themselves the “Project for a New American Millennium” was because that title would sound too grandiose, and perhaps also blow their cover!
What is ironic about neoconservative historians is that they tend to downplay the effect of religion on American culture and on the founding of the United States. They claim that the founders were all secularists and that the religious nationalism of the Puritans was not an influential force in the country’s founding. This premise is of course 100 percent wrong. Nevertheless, the neocons are definitely a group which has inherited the millenarian tradition, and this fact explains quite well why neocons tend to agree on so many points with Christian evangelicals, especially with regard to their shared support for the state of Israel and the American Jewish lobby.
Indeed, the pro-Israel lobby in the United States is very influential, however were it not for the long tradition of forming American identity around Judeocentric and millenarian lines, it is highly dubious to suggest that the Israel lobby would have any power in the United States whatsoever. As already mentioned, it is simply a part of American culture to be pro-Jewish. This fact is what ultimately empowers the Israel lobby and it is the ultimate source of American support for the state of Israel, despite the fact that Israel offers no strategic benefit to the U.S. government, and despite the fact that Israel does not share any alleged “democratic values” with the United States or the broader West.
In his book Knowing Too Much (2012), American Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein predicts that American support for Israel will eventually end as the knowledge of Israel’s atrocities spreads throughout the news media and as American Jews learn more and more about the true nature of Israeli aggression (given how cerebral and literate they tend to be). American Jews will therefore come to the conclusion that supporting Israel conflicts with their own predominantly liberal beliefs. And so, over time, as this tension becomes stronger and stronger, American Jews will cease supporting Israel as fervently as they once had, and this will lead to the eventual end of American support for Israel in general. This is Finkelstein’s claim, and it is ultimately flawed. Because, make no mistake: American support for Israel will not end.
Even if American Jews stop supporting Israel tomorrow, there are still many tens of millions of evangelicals supporting the Jewish state. There is still an entire cultural context of pro-Jewishness being a part of American identity and the belief (dating back to the time of the Puritans) that Americans are the New Israelites. This deep-seated pro-Jewish ethos (ingrained in the psyche of tens of millions of Americans) is something that would be much more difficult to uproot and eliminate than the pro-Israel views of the American Jewish minority (who are themselves split on the issue).
If we consider the evangelicals, support for Israel is the central tenet of their religion – it is not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit, and it is certainly not any of the teachings of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Support for Israel is the most fundamental idea behind evangelical Christianity or what could also be called Christian Zionism. And evangelicals will continue their support for Israel no matter what heinous atrocities that that illegal terrorist state continues to perpetrate against the indigenous non-Jewish peoples of the region. Evangelicals and Christian Zionists in general simply do not care. They evaluate the righteousness or unrighteousness of someone by the degree to which that person supports Israel. That kind of fanatical support is not going to vanish any time soon. So this problem is much more serious than Finkelstein realizes, and (for that matter) it is much more serious than that despicable Jew-baiter David Duke realizes – a man who is committed to blaming Jews and Jews alone for all the many evils in this world. Make no mistake about it: the Zionist problem does not ultimately stem from American Jewish support for Israel. Rather, it is entirely rooted in the pro-Jewish culture, history, politics, identity and religious traditions of Gentile Americans – a religious, cultural, political and national bloc which constitutes the primary support for Israel’s dastardly deeds, and without which the Zionist state of Israel would have never come into being.