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Is it the end of the world?

End of the World

Is this the moment we all have been waiting for?

This is a brief look into the end-of-the-world theology, its oral history, and a few thoughts along the way.

Another round of end-of-the-world scenarios are in vogue throughout the world. This time the date is set for September 20th, or September 23rd, 2017, depending on who you listen to.

Christians have been anticipating and hoping for the end-of-the-world for over two-thousand years. Each generation believes they are the last. A Wikipedia page is devoted to listing predictions made by a variety of Christians and sects throughout history. This list is by no means exhaustive but shows that the human psyche is fixated on this theme.

Why people get excited about this theory

Jesus warned that the end-of-the-world was near. He stated that the signs can be found in the increase of wars, even just rumors of them, famines, social unrest, lies, delusions, political instability, and earthquakes. He unequivocally stated that these were necessary precursors before He returned.

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.(1)Matthew 24: 4-8

St. Paul suggested an immediate return of Christ during our near his lifetime.(2)This topic remains a debate among theologians and historians. See Ben Witherington’s Jesus Paul and the End of the World for more info. He likely would have found Jesus’ return two-thousand years or more in the waiting highly inconceivable.

The Biblical texts allude in metaphorical language about the end-of-the-world. Readers and ardent religious followers have been challenged to unlock these metaphors into actual dates using a variety of methods. None have succeeded to unlock these literary devices into actual dates.

The advent of the internet has brought abundant information about climatic, environmental, agricultural, historical, social, political, and warring conditions throughout the world. This information has made us more aware of world instability — a heightened sense of how fragile our network of communities and the earth are.

End times doctrine is not a deal breaker

There are ardent Christians who associate acceptance of a certain end-time system as a mark of a true Christian. One may hear theological buzzwords such as pre-, post-, or a-millennial, tribulation, or rapture. However, the end-times doctrine carries no weight in the grand scheme of the christian religious life. No one who enters the pearly gates is going to get graded on their theological view of the end times.

The closest times we came to the end of the world

There are five occasions that came close to the end of the world. These conclusions are mainly based on a Western Civilization view of history that align with the biblical narratives. There are two more possibilities that only modernity could supply.

  1. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Vespasian and Titus.

    This event was likely the closest symbolizing the end of the world. Jesus predicted the destruction and warned people to flee when this event was to unfold. The first-century historian Josephus chronicled this devastation in his book, Wars of the Jews.

    No early christian writing specifically acknowledges or details the impact of this destruction. This absence has always been puzzling.

  2. The Bubonic Plague in the 1300s.

    This plague was a human tragedy of epic proportions. It is estimated that 25 to 60 percent of the European population was wiped out with this epidemic. The death toll may even be higher if one includes China and its neighboring countries. There is no real estimate of the worldwide loss except that it was massive. Agnolo di Tura survived the plague and narrated his experience in detail. Here is a quote from his Plague in Siena:

    There was no one who wept for any death, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed that it was the end of the world.(3)Plague in Siena by Agnolo di Tura (translator unknown)

  3. World War I and its child, World War II.

    These wars created casualties not just from war, but famine and disease. The high death toll plus the conversion of the military from hand to hand into technological warfare had almost brought the end-of-the-world clock to its final position.

  4. The volcanic eruption of Mt. Tombora in 1816.

    Rated as one of the greatest eruptions ever, this Indonesian volcanoe caused the the year without summer. The ash in the atmosphere impeded sunlight reaching the earth. It was responsible for over 100,000 deaths in Europe.(4)Mt. Tambora The eruption happened while the world lacked the scientific know how nor the communication systems to educate about the origin of this year without summer. It must have scared a lot of people.

The devil doesn’t need to directly intervene in order to achieve his evil objectives with the next two. He can just sit back and watch. Mankind can do this without outside assistance.

  • The present nuclear age.

    The nuclear arsenal around the world is enough to destroy the majority of humankind and destabilize the planet. The earth could potentially fall into a perpetual darkness called a nuclear winter for many years.

    If a nuclear war began, would that bring on the end? I don’t know.

  • Toxic Waste

    Polluting our air and oceans, deforestation, mining, fracking, oil drilling and so many more activities are highly destructive. The earth may not be able to sustain or replenish life at the current progress that it is being gutted and altered. When that point comes, if ever, I don’t know.

God by very nature is not restricted by time as we humans. He doesn’t work by a timeclock at all. The end could be tomorrow, or it could be another 2000 years. His reasons are beyond time. Neither is our intellectual capacity able to grasp such big things. We cannot play God on this issue.

The ability to kill on such a large scale would mean that there would be no humanity, and in a worst-case scenario, no habitable earth left to direct under the devil’s control. Perhaps, even the devil is restrained from encouraging these destructive capabilities.

Traditional Jewish perception of the end

Some sects of Judaism emphasize that the end of the world will occur when the last soul is born. They believe when God created the world, He created all the souls at the same time. Once that supply is finished, the end will come.

the Messiah, son of David, will not come until all the souls of the body have been finished – Yebamot 62a

The manufacturing of the end of the world

A commonly held perception among some circles of Judaism and Christianity (especially the Protestant sects of Fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics) is the establishment of the nation of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. These are thought to be the surest signs of the end-times.

The formation of Israel in 1948 was greatly advanced by political leaders in Britain and the United States who were personally influenced by the biblical narrative regarding Israel.

For more information on the topic of Christians and the formation on modern Israel, see the following:

The fervor associated with the re-establishment of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple has allowed for Arabs to be second class citizens. Protestant Christians have especially turned a blind eye to the humanitarian and legal rights of Arabs in doing so.

This blind zealousness teaches a lesson that the manufacturing of end times is dangerous. The culmination of the end is God’s job, not ours. Anyone who facilitates such an agenda that allows for the building up of arms, denial of rights, disrespect, and war, has failed in the primary objective of Christians to love their neighbors.

The AntiChrist

Jesus predicted many future leaders would arise that would either claim to be Him or an ardent follower of Him. He cautioned that many would do this to achieve their own personal agendas. The term for these type of leaders is called the antichrist.

The Popes and the Romish Church are historically the most popular names of being called the antichrist. The Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther entrenched this theme in the early protestant identity.

Evangelical and fundamentalist christian tradition generally believes the antichrist is yet to come. This figure rivals in the power and glory of Christ. He will be a powerful dictator with authority that encompasses all the nations. This one world rule is when the ultimate battle between good and evil occurs.(5)https://www.britannica.com/topic/Antichrist

The rise of technology which allows people of diverse languages and backgrounds to work together has created suspicions within pockets of these communities. There is a sense that it only a matter of time now that the antichrist will rise and rule over the earth.

A tongue-in-cheek historical review of 14 people being named the antichrist is found at Rose Publishing. There is a special emphasis connecting the numbers 666 to their identities. Although this is a playful article, it does show how numerology is an important aspect of building end-of-the-world theories. Numerology in this scenario is about converting letters and words into numerical symbols and then applying a mathematical calculation. The results are intended to predict future events.

How can we prepare for the end of the world?

The Biblical texts on a number of occasions speak of the end occurring like a thief in the night.(6)I Thessalonians 5:2; Matthew 24:43; Revelation 16:15 In other words, the event will come as a total surprise. Judging by the long wait of over 2000 years since this idiom was given, every generation has a small chance of witnessing the end of the world.

The Canadian Government recommends that everyone should have an emergency kit that is good for up to 72 hours. Whether it is a house fire, an environmental disaster, a major storm, or other dire fortunes that can possibly surprise us, we have to be ready. Perhaps the end of the world or the apocalypse should be added to the list for emergency preparedness.

References   [ + ]

Book Review: The Great War for Civilisation

greatwar

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by the seasoned author and journalist, Robert Fisk is a compilation of his over 30 years of on-field experiences in the various war zones around the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The result is comprehensive portrait that makes this book a definitive work.

It is a very long book and contains over a thousand pages of small print. It takes a seriously committed reader to complete such a long and difficult task. One cannot read this in one, or even two sittings. Nor can it be read for great lengths of time because the dark corners of humanity are ever present in this book. Such imagery requires one to pause repeatedly and escape from such realities.

It is purposely over-detailed and over-documented. There is no other choice for the author to do this as detractors, especially those of government, military and enforcement institutions, would like to refute such findings and discredit him personally. The greatest strength of his book is the documentation that takes it out of the realm of his personal opinion and into the place of factual history. It is a work that has been sorely lacking in this genre.

This is not a book for those who like clichés or black and white answers. Fisk avoids both which causes the reader to wonder initially if one ever will arrive at a some conclusion amid the vast amount of information he uncovers. He seldom takes enough time to reflect or philosophize about the lessons learned from all these experiences. It is a constant barrage of facts with few references connecting these behaviors into a larger narrative. The lack in this area may be why he has succeeded in fact finding so long. Trying to figure it out would invite cynicism, and throwing in the white towel.

The book has a liberal dose of history throughout but is not history for the sake of history. It is the necessary building of a plot to explain the present.

The following quote is one of his few philosophical moments in the book:

Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death has been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we could talk about ‘target-rich environments’ and ‘collateral damage’ – that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crime of killing – and report the victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the importance of peace.

Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, ‘them’ and ‘us’, victory or defeat. However, war is primarily not about victory or defeat but death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit. [Pg. XIX]

Humanity and inhumanity is the core of his observations and message. He finds inhumanity everywhere in the vestibules of power that he has observed. It is found in the semantics where ‘collateral damage’ is replaced for the killing of innocent civilians. It is in attaching the word ‘terrorist’ to enemies of a state which strips them of human status and consequently these people can be tortured, abused, neglected and discarded without any rights.[Pg. 464] Over and over again, Fisk brings names to those who have been or are key characters in the conflict. He constantly refers to the regular person off the street who suffered or died as a result of the inhumanities involuntarily forced upon them. He does not restrict this analysis to a few despots or exceptions; it is found in almost every political entity involved in the Middle East.

He has a strong criticism towards Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who sees Palestinians a people who cannot manage their affairs and in need of an overseer such as Israel. [Pg. 535] He is highly critical of George Bush’s war on terror, and even harsher tones for Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld; who at one time was on good terms with Saddam Hussein. He derided President Clinton for using Iraq as a prop to deflect the Monica Lewinsky affair, and Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, also falls under his critical scrutiny. Saddam Hussein painted as an evil despot, and Yasser Arafat, as a defeated warrior who made too many compromises at the Oslo accords. No government leader, opposition, or foreign policy comes out looking right under his critical microscope. The only signs of mercy shown are his portraits of everyday people.

The overarching narrative is rarely directly addressed. It leaves readers to fill in the blanks. What do his experiences about all these conflicts have in common? Fisk would likely say it started with Western European colonialism that improperly sliced-up the Ottoman Empire.

A narrative begins to appear a third of the way in the book when he covers the massive detainment, torture, executions and rapings of Algerians sponsored by the Algerian government in the early 1990s. A conflict that was a tit-for-tat tussle between government and reactionist forces, prompting an unending cycle of provocation and retribution resulting in the loss of untold innocent civilian lives. This cycle of provocation is a thesis throughout the book applied to almost every other conflict. These governments or despots have appeased their American sponsors and avoided world scrutiny by terming their behavior as a war on ‘terrorism’. Terrorism is an arbitrary word at the best of times and often left for the lowest members of police or security forces to define.

Torture and execution become a staple diet within the confines of the book because of this.

He demonstrates the double-sided American policy with the Armenian Genocide. An event where the U.S. government has agreed to call the slaughter of a complete ethnic group by the Turks as a dispute rather than genocide to secure good relations with Turkey. Fisk displays here the U.S. government putting political aims more important than truth.

He firmly believes one of the greatest errors of the United States foreign policy is ignoring the United Nations resolution 242. A text that calls for the nation of Israel to return to their pre-1967 borders. The resolution allows forced-out Palestinians back to their land; a land that was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. A matter no longer referenced as occupied territory by the United States, but as ‘territories in dispute’. A semantic which gives Israel more credence for ownership.[Pg. 539] Fisk believes that Israel’s acceptance of 242 would be a strong step for peace in the Middle East but finds it unattainable in the Israeli psyche. It is so far from the Israeli mindset that when he conversed with a young Israeli immigration officer she did not even know that the resolution existed.[Pg. 550]

The 1991 liberation of Kuwait, and the 2003 war on Iraq move strengthens his thesis. The United States singular desire to take down Saddam Hussein at the expense of the civilian population paid a hefty future price of disrespect. The severe sanctions against any imported items into Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait was an act of inhumanity according to Fisk. He details the problem of much needed medical supplies for hospitals badly required for treating the higher than the average number of children acquiring leukemia. A condition that is much greater than world standards and arguably through contact with depleted uranium shells used by the American and British forces. The American administration would not allow for import of these medicines for fear that they convert them for weapons of mass destruction. Fisk himself performed a donation drive in Britain, convincing both the Americans and Iraqi Government to the rightness of his cause, and personally delivered medical supplies to these children in several Iraqi hospitals.

The semantics is found in the words collateral damage. Fisk documents the cluster bombs being thrust on civilian populations and indiscriminate bombings of civilian homes to which the American Government never apologized. The U.S. simply stated that this was collateral damage. A term that dehumanized and ignored the innocent victims. This arrogant behavior intensified the anger within the Iraqi populace. He puts the reader into a paradox. If the United States was only interested in taking down Saddam and his regime why were the average citizens of Iraq being punished? The Iraqis felt like the overthrow of one regime was simply supplanted by another foreign one that didn’t care about their welfare at all. Worst of all, a non-Muslim one. These sanctions fostered a negative reaction to the West. Fisk chose to quote Margaret Hassan, a British woman married to an Iraqi, and who also who ran the CARE office in Baghdad, on how negative the sentiment was;

They think that we will be so broken, so shattered by this suffering that we will do anything – even give our lives – to get rid of Saddam. The uprising against the Baath party failed in 1991, so now they are using cruder methods. But they are wrong. These people have been reduced to penury. They live in shit. And you have no money and no food, you don’t worry about democracy or who your leaders are.[Pg. 867]

There are some references to religious conflict between Muslim and Christians, Muslim vs. Muslim, and Muslim vs. secular Muslim, but this is mostly tertiary according to Fisk. He believes these are internal and foreign government policy failures expressed in the brutality, executions, and torture. These have fomented a great part of the current Middle-Eastern scenario today. This leads the reader to think that the failure of government and international communities to bring about justice and root out brutality has led many civilians and organizations to turn to Islam as a better alternative.

Fisk does not believe religion is the most important catalyst in these conflicts. There are two exceptions to this which are traced to the U.S. and Britain’s participation in the liberation of Kuwait. The first one relates to the military staging area of Saudi Arabia which contains the two holiest places of the Muslim religion; Mecca and Medina. The Americans and the British, perceived as Christian nations, underestimated the religious backlash of militarily building up a strong presence in Saudi Arabia. Fisk quoted Ali Mahmoud, the Associated Press chief in Bahrain, to explain this repercussion which now appears prophetic, “The fact that the theocratic and nationalist regimes have invited the United States to the Middle East will long be resented and never will be condoned. When the crisis is over, [Iraq’s invasion into Kuwait] the worst is yet to come.” [Pg. 725] The Western Christian forces should never have assembled in Saudi Arabia.

The second one was in promoting an insurrection in Iraq during the 1991 war. George Bush authorized the broadcast and air-dropping of millions of leaflets in Iraq, encouraging the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam and his regime. An act that prompted the Shia Muslim minority in the south, and the Kurds in the north, to rebel. It was a strategy that ended in a bloody response by the Iraqi Republican Guard while the U.S. stood aside and did nothing to protect them. Both these groups, especially the Shiite Muslims felt betrayed.

These injustices to the Arab peoples throughout the Middle East were expressed in the destruction in the World Trade Centers in New York which Fisk believed, “represented not just a terrible crime but a terrible failure, the collapse of decades of maimed, hopeless, selfish policies in the Middle East, which we would at last recognize – if we were wise – or which, more likely, we would now bury beneath the rubble of New York, an undiscussible subject whose mere mention would indicate support for America’s enemies”, [Pg. 1027] and then further added, “No, Israel was not blame for what happened on September 11th, 2001. The culprit were Arabs, not Israelis. But America’s failure to act with honour in the Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those who use them against civilians, its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children under sanctions of which Washington was the principal supporter – all these were intimately related to the society that produced Arabs who plunged New York into an apocalypse of fire.”[Pg. 1037]

After reading the book, and spending a considerable amount of time reviewing his videos, he does not have a political agenda. His purpose follows the historical pillars of journalism. He believes that the role of a journalist is to “challenge authority – all authority – especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die.” [Pg. XXIII] His task is to uncover truth, and convey it to the public – a truth that is often purposely obscured, misappropriated, or spun by those who possess such power to tell.

Fisk is sprinting to get this message out about Arab injustice and how to rectify it. It may also be a form of catharsis for him.

I haven’t read a historical account that takes in such a comprehensive listing of forces, influences, corruption, power and revolt since Josephus’ War on the Jews written almost 2000 years ago. The geographic location is almost the same, with Rome being replaced by the United States. It is a repeat of a similar story.

This book answers for me one of the most difficult questions that I have asked for almost thirty years, who are the Arabs, and why are they so angry?

This work explains the Middle Eastern psyche for the Western reader without spin from either a religious or government perspective. Such coverage is a rarity.

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk, answers that question in great detail, and much more. The book has an incredible amount of information about the Arab world, its psyche, and their place in the Middle East. He also focuses on the universal problems of war, corruption, lies, betrayal, and deceits. His historical record is fresh and is not the same as the typical Western accounts eschewed by Governments and pundits. In fact, he expansively wrote to rewrite history properly without the spin that is considerably different.

One thing he leaves out entirely, and maybe purposely is the role of corruption in this whole process. A factor that may be too subjective that cannot be so easily documented or proven, except on petty levels with taxis or lower government agents.

There is so much more that I would write about Fisk’s book, but it overruns the limit for standard book reviews.

If anyone wants to think about or understand the Middle East, this should be one of the primary source books for the Western reader. It is mandatory reading for anyone interested in this genre.

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For further reading see :

Book Review: My Promised Land

My Promised Land Cover

My Promised Land is a controversial, thought provoking and important read for those wanting to understand the Middle East from an Israeli perspective.

The well known Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit, weaves a delicate story of the ever changing doctrine of Zionism from its utopian non-sectarian, communist vision of the early 1900s to its current identity of self-preservation. He shows a modern Israel stripped of its stereotypes and what it really is — a country mired in an identity crisis. A place that is part-libertarian, hedonist, Orthodox, Western European, Middle Eastern, and everything inbetween. These competing forces along with the ominous threat of a much larger Arab community around them leads Shavit to be cynical of Israel’s future.

The story of the forced expulsion of the Arabs from the city of Lydda is the shocking highlight of this book. This may be the most controversial as well. Shavit claims that Israeli based soldiers massacred Arabs and caused further deaths during the forced exodus of the residents. The homes, cars, businesses and all that the Arab residents owned were confiscated and pillaged by the Israeli conquerors. The people of Lydda were never allowed to return. Martin Kramer refutes this in an article entitled, What Happened at Lydda for the Jewish based Mosaic. However, Kramer omits any recognition on the death march or expulsion of the Arabs from their community, nor address that they were never allowed to return.

Lydda is just one example among many others shown in his book. Shavit offers these historical travesties unapologetically. He doesn’t like this history but never goes beyond being trite. He takes the role of an intimate narrator and offers little solutions or apologies. This attitude can be understood later on in his works when he outlines the Israeli mantra of self-preservation. This appears central to the Israeli psyche even if it is often irrational.

My Promised Land is a story of the oppressed turned to oppressor. It is puzzling how this reversal occurred. Shavit often touches on this, and teases the reader, but does not adequately tie this part of the plot together.

The book begins to lose momentum after the historical portrayal of Zionism and shifts into contemporary observations. This is the same problem found in Michael B. Oren’s bestseller, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present, whose factual accounts and writing style were very engaging until he reached the history relating to the formation of Israel from 1948 until the present.

The romantic stereotype of the modern Israeli and their Masada mentality is also broken by Sharit. It is not the religious symbolism, or the prophetic voice that has integrated Masada into the Israeli psyche, as most Evangelicals or Christian Zionists are led to believe, but an alternate identity based on the recent past, not the historic religious one. Zionism is charting its own identity regardless of external stereotypes or expectations and seeks to define itself on its own terms. Shmaryahu Gutman, according to Sharit, observed in the early 1940s that Zionism was losing its mission and needed to redefine itself. Masada was the answer Gutman was looking for.

”He knows that Zionism is on the brink and need a poignant symbol that will be a substitute for church and theology and mythology. In Masada he finds this symbol that will unite and Inspire Zionism’s followers. He finds a pillar for Zionist identity that is at once concrete, mythic, and sublime. In Masada, Gutman finds both the narrative and the image that will give the young Hebrews the depth they lack.”

Gutman succeeded in instilling this image within the Israeli soul — a perception that many non-Jewish readers may easily overlook. My Promised Land fortunately covers this important aspect in a comprehensive and modern way.

Hope is not found in this book, rather it is one of skepticism. The current roadmap to him is more war, not negotiation — not that he entirely subscribes to this, he simply believes it is inevitable. The rise of Iran’s nuclear program is one of his greatest fears for the future of Israel.

He neither makes any moral call for repatriation of the Arabs forced out of their homes by gunpoint, nor of compensation to their losses, or dismantling illegal settlements.

It is also a tale told from an isolationist perspective. When Shavit outlines the Israeli nightlife along with its sexual and hedonistic offerings, he thinks it an internal reaction to the problems Israel faces rather than recognizing the external forces that have molded the modern Israeli identity. Neither does he recognize the historical political and religious effect of Evangelical belief that played an integral part of Zionist dreams. Unlike Sharit’s caricature, it wasn’t Jewish Zionism or hardiness alone that succeeded in their settlement of Israel. It was cooperative effort that included a variety of foreign sources that made it happen.

This self-determination that Shavit describes may be the source of the Israeli success over such great odds, and can easily be titled modern miracles, but this can also be a serious weakness. This is something that the author failed to take a close look at.

He also believes that the introduction of Hebrew as the primary language in Israel has significance in stripping Jewish immigrants of their past identity and forcing the formation of a new Israeli based one.

My Promised Land slightly picks up some momentum towards the end but much of the second half of this book could have been significantly reduced in length.

This book is especially recommended for the Evangelical reader who has many default stereotypes about Israel and its people. This book will help build a proper modern understanding.

The Alliance between Israel and Evangelicals.

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