John McCain was shocked, shocked to know that there were horrid thoughts going on around Rev. Hagee’s brain about the positive side of the Holocaust. These comments, from a sermon on how God used Hitler to get the Jews to return to their land, in case you missed the news all weekend, include:
“How is God going to bring them back to the land? The answer is fishers and hunters,” Mr. Hagee said, referring to how Jews ended up in the modern state of Israel. “A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and forces you. Hitler was a hunter.”
As we know, McCain actively pursued Hagee’s endorsement. As the NY Times notes,
At a speech last year before Mr. Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, he thanked Mr. Hagee for his “spiritual guidance to politicians like me” and said, “It’s hard to do the Lord’s work in the city of Satan.”
Hagee has every effort to make his views public via every media available. His comments expressing empathy for Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin appeared in a book that became a bestseller in its market. The same book looks forward to an apocalypse in which enough blood is shed on Israeli soil to create a river of blood 200 miles long. One of the scholars who introduced me to this literature correctly spoke of the “pornographic violence” of the visions of the end promoted by Hagee and others of his school. The battles, as in every other tract of this sort, are followed by the Jews accepting Jesus.
Hagee is a prominent promoter of the theology known as dispensational premillennialism. It’s the same set of beliefs pushed in the Left Behind novels about the End, which sold in tens of millions of copies, the same beliefs preached by Endtimes populizer Hal Lindsey, by televangelist Jack Van Impe and radio preacher Chuck Missler. All push a “future history,” supposedly based on a literal reading of the Bible, that includes great suffering for all who do not accept their beliefs – but particularly, starkly, overwhelmingly for the Jews. In Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series , a critical development is a world dictator’s orders:
“I will sanction, condone, support, and reward the death of any Jew anywhere in the world,” he says. “Imprison them. Torture them. Humiliate them. Shame them. Blaspheme their god. Plunder everything they own. Nothing is more important.”
The dictator is a demonic character, the Antichrist, but his action is an essential step toward the Second Coming. The scenario, purportedly based on Scripture, allows the believer both to hope for the event and absolve himself, or herself, of responsibility. It’s the same guilt-free glorying in genocide that Hagee justified in his riff on the Holocaust:
That will be offensive to some people. Well, dear heart, be offended: I didn’t write it. Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth.
Regularly, such preachers talk about how they really love the Jews, even as they look forward to a second Holocaust. As Missler said in one lecture, claiming to interpret New Testament verses:
And those words echo in our ears as we think of Auschwitz, Dachau, the horrors of Europe in the 30s and 40s, and realize that what Jesus is saying is it’s going to be worse next time around, that that was just a prelude…
(For more on LaHaye’s vision and its political implications, see my article at the American Prospect. For more on the ideology of dispensationalists and their supposed support of Israel, see my book, The End of Days:Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount .)
If Sen. McCain really didn’t know about any of this before he pursued Hagee’s endorsement, at the very least it shows absolutely abysmal staff work and research. Utter incompetence is the most charitable interpretation one can give. A more reasonable explanation is that McCain was demonstrating the audacity of cynicism.
Ever since Hagee and his fellow travelers started forging links with Jewish groups, some Jews have dismissed their apocalyptic views. Their attitude has been, “We don’t believe this will happen, so what do we care? Right now they’re helping us.” But when people hope for the end of history, they are saying the world is broken and must be fixed. Their vision of how it will be fixed tells you what they think is broken. In the dispensationalist vision of a repaired world, Jews will die or convert. That is, the continued existence of Jews who do not accept Jesus is an unbearable flaw in our world as it is.
At the same time, their reading of the Bible tells them that Jews must return to their homeland and gain independence before Jesus can return. So they support Israel. Hagee’s twist in the sermon that just came to light is that he also justified the real, historical Holocaust – not some imagined future genocide – as serving God’s purpose of returning the Jews to their land so that the End can come.
I should note that the theology implies that all Jews should be ‘ingathered.’ In his 1996 book, “Beginning of the End,” Hagee wrote: “Jeremiah declared that the Jews must return to Israel before Messiah comes.”
So: What methods for encouraging American Jews to return to their land would Rev. Hagee justify as God’s will? Just asking. What he’s already said shows how thin, how blurred, the line is between theological philo-semitism and old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism.
I would suggest that the problem of what Hagee believes about Jews, and what he’s willing to justify, should be raised again and again to Jews who have been willing to build alliances with him: Joe Lieberman , AIPAC , Malcolm Hoenlein (the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations).
In fact, much as I hate to admit it, Jews do owe John McCain thanks: By seeking and getting Hagee’s endorsement, the good senator has finally forced a spotlight on what the pastor thinks, and may have set off a needed debate on the alliance with him and others of his school.