BFP Volume 4

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Columnists:

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Jim Reed


Classic BFP

Armageddon

Summer 2004

When the president claimed that he was chosen by God to run for office was he implying that there’s a divine hand behind destiny or that he is some sort of ambassador for Christ? If the latter is the case then his opponents must stand, like Lucifer, in opposition to God. This would explain why the Bush adminisration panders shamelessly to the religious right. It’s seems as though many of our political leaders subscribe to a midieval worldview that by any objective measure is at least misguided.

Almost all American presidents have been Christians. The devout Jimmy Carter is often derided by the religious-right because his brand of Christianity doesn’t conform to the nationalistic, Republican interpretation that has recently usurped America’s largest religion. Christianity’s long and diverse history is for the most part ignored by many Evangelicals who prefer to believe that the fleeting political debates of the day have always defined the history of man. Here lies the problem.

Many Evangelicals believe in an apocalyptic worldview set in motion by John Darby in the mid 19th century called premillennial dispensationalism. These ideas are the basis for such best sellers as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series. In a nutshell pre-millennial dispensationalism claims that the end of the world as we know it is at hand and will begin when the Saints (always understood to be the interpreter’s friends and allies) are taken to heaven during the Rapture. This is followed by the Great Tribulation, the rise of the Antichrist and the battle of Armageddon where all of the world comes against Israel. Then Christ returns to vanquish his enemies and establish a thousand year reign of peace and righteousness. Finally comes the Last Judgment where everyone who accepts Christ goes to heaven and those that don’t get tossed into the Lake of Fire. This is all derived from the book of Revelation which, if read at face value, is about blowing horns and talking with animals.

Darby’s interpretation of the book of Revelation is assumed accurate by many powerful political forces in America. But this is only one of many ways to understand the last book of the New Testament and stands at odds not only with contemporary biblical scholarship but also with traditional Christian beliefs. Though by no means is there a consensus among biblical scholars, almost all agree that the book of Revelation deals with the first century and not our own. It is one among many examples of apocalyptic writing and only made it into the canon after much opposition. Martin Luther was in favor of removing it from the Protestant New Testament just as he did the Apocrypha.

Years ago premillennial dis-pensationalism stopped being a creative force and started to feed upon itself. Most of its predictions from the mid-20th century have proven erroneous. The Rapture was to have occurred within a generation of Israel becoming a country. The Soviet Union had long been thought to be the power behind the Antichrist, then for a brief period it was China, now it’s Islam. A rereading of Late Great Planet Earth will give anyone a clear example of just how off the mark the adherents of this belief system are. This book from the early 70s should be an embarrassment as none of it’s predictions have come true yet Hal Lindsey now has a fake news program on TBN where all current events are heralded as more evidence of the end-times. And let’s not forget Y2K.

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Despite its dubious nature premillennial dispensationalism is a driving force in U.S. foreign policy. While Bush often comes across as a liberal Christian, accepting Western values like tolerance and freedom, he claims to be an Evangelical. Many of his right-wing political advisers and cabinet members are actively campaigning to bring about the second coming of Christ. Unfortunately, first has to come the devastating battle of Armageddon. Cool heads support Israel because it’s supposed to be the only free Democracy in the Middle East. Others support it because they are vigorously seeking a war that will bring about the end of civilization as we know it.

The Council for National Politics (CNP) is a right-wing think tank that was started in 1981 by Tim LaHaye and other like-minded Evangelicals and members of the John Birch Society. The CNP’s goal is to promote conservative ideas like Christian heritage, traditional values and military expansion. They funnel tremendous amounts of money to likeminded organizations and political candidates and are responsible for dirty tricks like the circulation of the outrageous videotape The Clinton Chronicles, linking the former president to a number of imaginary crimes including murder. Members of the CNP include such infamous characters as D. James Kennedy, who bankrolled Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments monument, extremists Phyllis Schlafly, John Ashcroft, Oliver North and Henry Morris, godfather of the “creation science” movement.

Without a doubt powerful forces are desperately trying to bring about the apocalypse by getting sympathetic people in positions of power. If the White House is a party to this the planet is in serious danger

by Stephen Smith


Don’t Credit Reagan for Ending the Cold War

by Stephen Zune

Perhaps the most dangerous myth regarding the legacy of the late President Ronald Reagan is that he was somehow responsible for the end of the Cold War.

Soviet-style communism was doomed in part because it fell victim to the pro-democracy movement that was also then sweeping Latin America and parts of Africa and Asia during this same period. No credit can be given to the Reagan Administration, which was a strong supporter of many of these right-wing dictatorial regimes, such as the Marcos regime in the Philippines.

The Soviet Union and its communist allies in Eastern Europe collapsed primarily because their governments and economies rested upon an inherently unworkable system that would have fallen apart anyway. A centralized command economy can have its advantages at a certain phase of industrialization, when large “smokestack industries”—from machine tools to tanks—dominate manufacturing. Such a system could, for a time, make the Soviets a formidable military power, but was totally incapable of satisfying consumer demand. Thus, the old joke that the Soviets were working on an atomic bomb that could fit inside a suitcase: they had perfected the bomb, but they were still working on the suitcase.

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s famous line in the late 1950s that “we will bury you” was not a threat of war, but a reflection that—over the past few decades up to that time—the Soviet economy was growing faster than its Western capitalist counterparts and was projected to surpass that of the West within a couple of decades.

However, as the new wave of industrialization based upon information technologies took off, the economy of the Soviet Union stagnated. Totalitarian systems cannot survive without being able to control access to information. Cracks in the system were becoming apparent as early as the 1970s. North Korea remains the most centralized communist country in both political and economic terms and it has even taken some small steps to liberalize its economy. The other nominally communist governments are China, Vietnam, and Laos, whose economies have largely gone capitalist, and Cuba, which has decentralized and democratized segments of its economy.
In a December 2003 interview, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said the fall of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with the arms race. “When it became clear to us that the one-party model was mistaken, we rejected that model,” he said. “A new generation of more educated people started to be active. Then society required freedom, society demanded freedom.”

It was not Reagan’s military buildup or bellicose threats against the Soviets and their allies that brought down the system. Instead, such threats possibly allowed these regimes to hold on to power even longer as people rallied to support the government in the face of the perceived American threat.

High Soviet military spending, in part as a reaction to the U.S. military buildup that began in the latter half of the Carter administration, certainly hurt the Soviet economy—as it did (and is still doing to) ours. This


 

was, however, only a minor factor.
Then, as has become typical of presidential addresses since the U.S. invasion, there is the rewriting of history:

The reality is that it was the people themselves who brought down the system.

The most significant case was Poland, where—even before Reagan became president—the communist regime was forced to recognize the independent trade-union movement, Solidarity. This helped expose the lie that the communist governments were “workers’ states.” Despite the Polish regime’s decision to ban Solidarity at the end of 1981, pro-democracy Poles continued to organize, as did dissidents in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, the Baltic states and elsewhere. Many of these democratic leaders were openly skeptical of Reagan administration policies. Dissident Czech playwright and later president Vaclav Havel, when asked about Western influences on his movement, replied that he had been more inspired by John Lennon and Frank Zappa than by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
President Reagan’s verbal support for democracy had little credibility in many of these countries. For example, while he denounced Poland’s martial law regime, he was a strong supporter of the more repressive martial law regime then in power in Turkey, a NATO ally. In challenging left-wing governments in the Third World, Reagan backed insurgents with ties to U.S.-backed dictatorships, and, in the case of Afghanistan, even Islamic fundamentalists.

While Ronald Reagan was certainly capable of inspirational leadership, idealism, and personal charm, the myth that he is responsible for the downfall of communism and the end of the Cold War does a disservice to the millions of Eastern Europeans and others who faced the tanks and struggled against great odds for their freedom. It was not American militarism, but massive nonviolent action—including strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, and other forms of ingenious non-cooperation—that finally brought down these communist regimes.

Stephen Zunes, Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus, is a professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He is the principal editor of Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective (Blackwell Publishers, 1999).