The Manchurian Clergyman

In the 1920s, explaining the growing phenomenon of religious fundamentalism and how it battened Prohibition upon a suffering nation, H.L. Mencken described Southern Baptism as “a theology degraded almost to the level of voodoo.” Eighty years on, we could remark, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” but we would be wrong.

Things have not remained the same, they have deteriorated. For if there is one thing worse than Elmer Gantry, it is Elmer Gantry with a foreign policy. Not content with polluting the fields of evolutionary biology and stem-cell research with Stone Age dogmas, these zealots have now tried their hand at statecraft.

The latest specimen in Barnum’s traveling museum of oddities is John Hagee, director of Christians United for Israel. As profiled in The Wall Street Journal [1], this dervish from the West Texas wastes seemingly lives, breathes, and excretes but one obsession: his love of Israel, above and beyond anything else, including, apparently, the country of which he is nominally a citizen.

We will not provide a comprehensive summary of the article other than to note that he and his followers are particularly active in cheering on the carnage in Lebanon. To that end, he was in the imperial capital of Washington last week to hound Congressmen about their duty of fealty to Israel ­ as if those gunsels of AIPAC needed any instruction. Apparently, the bigger and bloodier the war, the closer the day of Armageddon looms. And the end of the world is what he seeks. [2]

Two revealing details stand out. The first is that the President of the United States actually sent a message of congratulations to Hagee’s Washington clambake. Paradoxically, the chief executive stated that Hagee and his acolytes are “spreading the hope of God’s love . . .” This statement is somewhat difficult to square with the fact that Hagee, who held one of his previous séances in an Israeli Air Force hangar, seems to positively lust for bloodshed. He is not only a strong supporter of the Iraq fiasco and the leveling of apartment blocks in Beirut, but has also written a book fomenting readers to put political pressure on their government to attack Iran.

This is a new development in the annals of American politics. While the head magistrate is expected to belong to an organized religion and show ceremonial piety when the occasion demands it, it is unprecedented for a president to take such public interest in a fringe cult. It is doubtful whether the genial, (bootleg) whiskey-drinking Warren Gamaliel Harding ever sent a congratulatory telegram to the spirit-rappings of Aimee Semple McPherson. Nor can we picture Silent Cal bestowing his best wishes on a congregation of snake-handlers in the hollows of the Cumberland Ridge. But, as we have observed, these are different times.

The second interesting detail was the fact that Hagee’s convention had a Democratic speaker: Rep. Eliot Engel of New York. Nominally a liberal (with an ADA rating of 90), Engel instructed the multitude of Armageddon cultists that Israel’s enemies “do the work of Satan.” Just the right words to inflame halfwits; who says the American political system is rigged?

The Zionist “Christian” phenomenon has three interesting aspects, psychological, religious, and political. It is taught in most curricula that man is a mammal, and, that like all others of his phyla, indeed all living things, his most basic instinct is for survival, an instinct that trumps even his incurable vanity. Yet these specimens that we have described evidently welcome physical extinction, indeed, they devote much of their emotional energy to it, as the rest of us look forward to food, or sex, or taking a day off work with an iron-clad and phony excuse. What accounts for this?

To Hagee’s motives we may apply a discount. As the Journal article describes, Hagee’s IRS filings have been subject to some revision, and he is most assuredly not poor. Which leads to the question: if Armageddon lies at hand, why does he accumulate such earthly dross as mere shekels (to use his preferred unit of currency)? Can the process of Rapture, whereby the saved one is drawn up into the ether, allow him to bring his treasure chest along? Or is he merely a figure squarely in the Gantry tradition, along with his colleagues Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? The reader will have to draw his own conclusion.

His followers are a more difficult case. They make no material profit from their peculiar obsession; rather, one would wager it is a net expenditure on their financial balance sheets. Why do they do it?

It is certain that being a propane retailer in Plano, Texas, is a transcendently horrible experience. Perhaps such miserable creatures long for the soaring narrative of blood and fire, satanic beasts, and climactic battles, purely to dispel the pointless quotidian grind. But why Armageddon, rather than, say, a Shriner’s banquet? Eight decades ago, the burghers of Sinclair Lewis’s Saulk City became Elks or Rotarians, rather than Wahabbites devoted to a foreign power. We leave it to psychohistorians to divine why these times are different.

The religious aspect also intrigues us. Zionist “Christianity” dates to no earlier than the 1830s, when the English scam artist John Darby inflicted his dispensation upon the world. The word “rapture,” needless to say, exists nowhere in the King James Bible. The bloodlust of our End Times fanatics is the polar opposite of the Sermon on the Mount, the summa of Jesus’ earthly teachings, an element of the Scripture which fundamentalists seem oddly reluctant to proclaim.

What they profess to believe is a measurably anti-human theology. While Buddhists claim to deny the importance of sensory reality, these anchorites go further, actively welcoming destruction and mayhem. A more accurate comparison might be to the death cult of the Aztecs.

Finally, there are the political ramifications. The crucial plot device (even more significant than brainwashing) in John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate is the identity of the traitors. Those who would subvert the government were able to place themselves strategically to do so by wrapping themselves in the flag and playing the hyperpatriot.

Hagee’s mummery is similar, with one important difference. He lauds every disastrous policy of a self-styled patriotic and conservative administration, and plays the yahoo cultural hick on the home front, a sure sign of 100 percent Americanism. Yet unlike Angela Lansbury, the villainess of the Frankenheimer epic, he takes no pains to conceal his real loyalty. It is perhaps a measure of the difference between 40 years ago and now that someone can declare his obeisance to a foreign power and lobby openly on Capitol Hill. But it is downright troubling that such a person should receive encouragement from the President.

When the definitive psychopathology of the American experiment is written, “the Rev.” John Hagee may well merit a lengthy footnote.

WERTHER is the pen name of a Northern Virginia-based defense analyst.

[1] “A Texas Preacher Leads Campaign to Let Israel Fight,” The Wall Street Journal, 27 July 2006, p. A1.

[2] Some choice quotes by rapturists enthusing over the war can be found in a recent column by Ken Silverstein of Harper’s.



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