It’s hard to keep up with everything that’s going on in our country and around the world since our colorful new chief executive moved into the White House. I feel like for the first time I understand why the old saying “may you live in interesting times” is considered to be a curse.
One headline that did stand out for me recently was a reference to how some of the more conservative Jews in Israel are suggesting that Donald Trump’s election might “usher in the Messianic Age.” I had to know more about this one.
Many Jews believe that a messiah, a descendant of King David who will become a charismatic political and military leader and lead Israel to unprecedented strength and success as a nation, will appear on the scene when certain conditions are met in their country. Among the necessary conditions that are considered to be precursors of his appearance are Jerusalem being recognized around the world as the nation’s capital and the ancient temple being rebuilt there on its original site.
The fact that Trump seems intent on moving the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and supports the continued building of new Jewish settlements in disputed Israeli-Palestinian territories is apparently all that fervent right-wing Jews needed to view him as an agent of God helping to pave the way for the messiah.
Given the shared affinity for violent confrontation on both sides, should we assume that a religion-fueled World War III is just a matter of time?
And these conservative Jewish beliefs share some common elements with the beliefs of some conservative Christians. Although Christians believe that the messiah foretold in their Old Testament has already appeared in the form of Jesus, some believe that certain events in Israel will foretell his return to our physical plane. One of the big ones is the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and they see reason to be optimistic that Trump is helping to bring that about for the same reasons that conservative Jews do.
So there are a significant number of Christians and Jews who think that Trump, the money-loving, serial adulterer who has said that he has never in his life felt the need to ask forgiveness for anything he’s done, is in fact doing God’s work and ushering in either the initial appearance or long-awaited return of the most important person to ever live. Clearly some very strange ideas can emerge when you merge religious fundamentalism and isolationist/nationalist politics.
Of course since this world is such a wicked place we can’t have the messiah come (or return) without some good old-fashioned violence going down first, and both Christian and Jewish theology leave room for some world-rending violence to go down before things get all warm and fuzzy. Violent Islamic jihadists make the perfect villain in this narrative, and a large-scale conflict between the Islamic world and the Judeo-Christian world is pretty much considered an inevitability amongst today’s end times enthusiasts, some of whom are serving in very close advisory roles to our president.
As it happens, the violent jihadists who founded ISIS have a similar apocalyptic outlook on how events are unfolding in the world, but in their version of the story Muslims are the heroes doing God’s work and Jews and Christians are allied to do Satan’s dirty work. The founding of the “caliphate” in war-torn Syria and Iraq is a step toward their version of the apocalypse, and Trump’s anti-Islamic demeanor is only stoking their desire for violent confrontation with America and Israel.
Given the shared affinity for violent confrontation on both sides, should we assume that a religion-fueled World War III is just a matter of time? I don’t think so. It’s important to remember that there are lots of people in the world who don’t belong to the big three Western religions and not everyone who does belong to those religions accepts the apocalyptic interpretation of scripture that inflames the more conservative elements of each of them.
I’m no theologian, but my personal belief is that anytime you think you are doing God’s will by killing people who believe different things about him than you do you’ve strayed from the right path. I don’t know a lot about Judaism or Islam, but if you’ve read the New Testament and you think the message there is a call to violence and world domination you must have read a very different translation than the ones I’ve seen.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.