Beware the self-fulfilling prophesies of millenarians
By Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri
May 18, 2004
By the time Sayyid Qotb, the intellectual grandfather of radical
Islam and, according to some, the forbearer of Al-Qaeda, sailed
into New York harbor in 1948 as an envoy of Egypt's Public Instruction
Ministry, he had already formed an opinion about the corruption
and godlessness of the West. Qotb witnessed what he regarded as
licentiousness among his European and American shipmates, and further
observations in America seemed to confirm those initial impressions.
He returned to Egypt convinced that irreligion lay at the root
of Western decadence.
In passing judgment, however, Qotb behaved like one of the fumbling
visitors in the Rumi fable: Touching the limb of an elephant in
a dark chamber, he wrongly presumed to know the shape of the whole
In fact, under a coating of secularism and pluralism, America
has always been a religious nation. The propaganda of Islamists
the problem with how the United States conducts its foreign policy
today is not too little, but too much religion. The behavior of
the US is better understood by its zealous religiosity rather than
by its constitutional secularism.
The American colonies were first settled by religious devotees,
or "pilgrims," who found 17th-century Britain too godless
for their taste. They set out to establish a "New Jerusalem" in
the new continent. Ever since, the will to fashion the US in the
image of a Christian "shining city on the hill" and to
carry out the will of God in the world have been present in the
political DNA of the country.
The remnants of an old utopian Christianity
survive among such groups as the Amish, the Hutterites and the
Mennonites, and entirely new Christian sects, such as the Mormons,
the Southern Baptists and the Jehovah's Witnesses, were founded
in the US. These sects believe in the pivotal role of America
in God's plan for the salvation of the world.
It is not only the eccentric fringe but also the mainstream of
American society that continues to profess religious faith.
Sociological surveys portray the US as the second most religious
the world. Christian fundamentalism was conceived there in
the three decades before Sayyid Qotb set foot on its shores.
Scandalized by the laxity of the Christian liberal theology of
their time, a group of Baptists chose five basic tenets as the "fundamentals" of
Christianity and identified those who did not share them as "non-Christian." Millenarian
and utopian in nature, "fundamentalism" quickly grew.
Having suffered temporary defeat in the famous 1925 "Monkey
Trial" (when John Scopes, a Tennessee biology teacher, was
charged with illegally teaching what was considered the un-Christian
Darwinian theory of evolution), fundamentalists regrouped in "nondenominational" evangelical
organizations, making a visible comeback in the last quarter of
the 20th century.
It is estimated that there are 17 million die-hard fundamentalist
Christians in the United States and another 70 million closely
affiliated with Christian neo-orthodoxy. The core believers are
highly motivated and organized. Ever since the days of former presidents
Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, evangelical political Christianity's
influence on government has been discernable. However, it was with
the election of George W. Bush that adherents of Protestant neo-orthodoxy
openly claimed to have installed one of their own in the Oval Office.
Today, fundamentalist Christianity appears in the guise of highly
organized and lavishly funded political pro-Israel formations,
which are described as "Christian Zionist." They attract
senior officials, such as Attorney General John Ashcroft, to their
conventions, and their electoral clout is such that the US government
heeds their political agenda in the Middle East and kowtows to
their wishes in implementing such policies as the "global
gag rule" that denies funding to many family planning agencies
of the United Nations.
Nor has the US invasion of Iraq been absolutely free from fundamentalist
influences. When asked by an interviewer if he had consulted with
his father about the invasion of Iraq, Bush responded: "I
consulted with a higher father."
An important aspect of fundamentalist resurgence in America is
its belief in divine deliverance at the hands of an avenging messiah.
A set of beliefs, known as "Bible prophecies," based
on a relatively recent interpretation of the New Testament's Book
of Revelations, predicts a chain of events leading to a bloody
end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ. To gauge
the reach of this creed one need only note that the works of two
of its advocates, Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, enjoy a staggering
circulation of more than 20 million copies in the US.
Why should the rest of us care about religious views of a few
million Christians in America? Because Bible prophecy may very
self-fulfilling prophecy. Religious predictions of the end of the
world are not exclusive to Christianity; nor are they always self-fulfilling
- or else we wouldn't be here to question them. Only under certain
conditions are such beliefs likely to affect the actual course
The danger is that those conditions obtain in the case of American
millenarians. Millions of politically organized and single-minded
believers have come to expect that the world will end in a devastating
global war within their lifetime. They do not merely attempt to
read political developments around the world as signs of the fulfillment
of their end-of-time scenario. They also try to stir these events
in the direction of their chiliastic scenario of an impending Armageddon
using their considerable political influence in US. Hence there
is cause to fear that eager and resourceful "end-of-timers" may,
indeed, "will" worldwide strife into existence.
without saying that these biblical interpretations of world events
are utterly unverifiable or, in the words of philosopher
Karl Popper, "unfalsifiable." Whenever a prophecy fails
to match the unfolding reality, it is either shelved or amended.
Twice in the last 25 years, these prophecies have failed, with
no apparent ill effect on their believers. Famous televangelists
hailed the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the early
1980s as the final realization of biblical predictions. Understandably,
they chose not to cover the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in
Similarly, the role of the former USSR and its satellites, initially
determined by the champions of Bible prophecy to be the main
opponents of Israel in the battle of Armageddon, were quietly recast
the collapse of the communist bloc. In the updated version, Muslims
appear as the devil's minions confronting the army of God in
that crucial battle. The part of the antichrist has been rewritten
End-of-timers, millenarians and fundamentalists envision a bleak
and bloody future for humanity. Deeming a global catastrophe
inevitable for their rapture and salvation, they work to bring
it about. Nowadays
they have the ears and hearts of a powerful elite in the world's
formidable superpower. The sooner we perceive their menace,
the better we can expose and isolate them among a majority of American
Christians, who peacefully adhere to their faith. What Bush
said of Islam is also true of the faith he professes: Christianity
is a religion of peace.
Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri are brothers. Mahmoud is Associate
Professor of Sociology at Texas Women's University. He has a
doctorate in sociology from New York's New School for Social
Research (See Features . See Homepage). Ahmad Sadri
is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology and
at Lake Forest
College, IL, USA. See
May is Mamnoon
Support your favorite site