From a reader:
First of all I would like to thank you for writing your book Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? I confess I have not read it yet, but I will soon! As a obedient Catholic, I am very concerned about the present day activity in the Middle East. From what I have read, the Bush administration is following the rapture myth to a proverbial 'T'. I do not want to bore you with the materials that I have accumulated on what some members of the Congress and the White House administration regarding their significant embrace of the rapture myth. However, if what I understand is correct, their resulting actions may start WW3, with our Muslim friends.
I would like to leave you with one audio clip, from Vatican Radio, originally aired on April 27, 2004.
In closing, besides prayer, and relating the truth to my misguided evangelical friends, what can I do to help reverse the fever-pitched tide that seems to be overarching the White House in dictating the rapture mythology?
First, there is no denying that the foreign policy of the U.S. has been influenced for many decades—since the late 1800s, really—by dispensationalism, or the "left behind" theology. And there is not denying that many Evangelicals (but certainly not all) continue to help shape national perceptions of the Middle East, Palestinians, and Israel. (It can also be said that the mainstream media shapes it far more than does any particular Evangelical group.)
However, to say that "the Bush administration is following the rapture myth to a proverbial 'T'" is, I think, both simplistic and largely, even completely, untrue. From what I have seen, this idea is mostly being presented by political opponents of President Bush who think that his Christian faith and support of the Israeli state must equal adherence to premillennial dispensationalist beliefs.
That is an unconvincing argument/claim for a number of reasons, of which I'll mention a couple.
First, President Bush is a Methodist, and the Methodist Church has never adhered to dispensationalist theology, although individual Methodists has certainly accepted that theology from time to time. However, I've never heard Bush use any language reflecting dispensationalist thinking or premises, which tend to be very pessimistic and even fatalistic. And he definitely does not talk like a man who expects to be Raptured at any moment, considering that many of his policies might not see any real fruit until many years from now.
On the contrary, President Bush has often been accused by critics of being too optimistic about establishing democracy in countries such as Iraq. And while he has supported Israel—often quite strongly—he has also talked quite a bit about establishing a legitimate Palestinian state, which is not something a "Christian Zionist" would do. This fact is noted by Dr. Timothy Weber, president of Memphis Theological Seminary, in his excellent book, The Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend (Baker, 2004), in which he explains (correctly, I think) that although Bush is very popular among Evangelicals, it's not a given that they support his policy towards the Middle East. And, in fact, many do not. [Read an excerpt from Weber's book over at Beliefnet.com.]
On a related note, it should be said that criticizing terrorist activities by certain Palestinian groups and supporting the right of Israel to protect herself does not automatically make a person a "Christian Zionist," no matter what those who are on the left side of the political spectrum might say. To say so is to engage in a crude and unconvincing form of political polemics.
As for "starting WWIII," it should be kept in mind that the current war on terror began when men holding to radical Islamic beliefs attacked the U.S. on 9/11 (actually it goes back to earlier attacks, but that's another matter). Also, while dispensationalists believe that WWIII is fast-approaching and cannot be stopped, the vast majority of them are not looking to start it themselves. The caricature of Fundamentalists as wild-eyed war-mongers is just that: a caricature. Frankly, most leaders of mainline denominations, especially those with theologically liberal inclinations, simply don't understand Fundamentalists or their worldview, and they usually resort of simplistic, condescending criticisms that play well with the mainstream media, but don't always reflect the true nature of things.
There is a place for legitimate, thoughtful criticism of U.S. foreign policy and the specific actions of the Bush administration. But I think that it is both grossly simplistic and quite false to believe that dispensationalist beliefs are driving current U.S policy in the Middle East. There is much evidence to the contrary, regardless of what folks at the Vatican Radio might think.
Finally, I should perhaps note that I have voted for President Bush and have supported many of his decisions in the war against terror. So am I a Fundamentalist and a Christian Zionist? I don't think so, especially since I wrote a 400+ book severely criticizing dispensationalist theology, Fundamentalist culture, and Zionist beliefs.
If you've not yet read my book, I hope you will. I think it will give you a very good understanding of the thinking and attitudes behind dispensationalism. I would also recommend Dr. Weber's excellent book.
For more about dispensationalism, see a page of my articles on the topic over at www.carl-olson.com.