It is impossible to read Jewish and Christian biblical literature without bumping into not simply the messianic, but the apocalyptic. And whereas biblical writers are unequivocal in their hope to see the dawn of the messianic age, they are at best ambivalent over the age of the apocalypse, even where, as is often the case, the two are closely linked. I am reminded in this respect of both Walter Benjamin and Rosa Luxemburg, and, to a lesser extent, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who saw in their times — the civil wars of the 1920s, fascism in the 1920s and 1930s — not only “disaster triumphant,” but also “divine violence” (Benjamin) and “opportunity” (Luxemburg). There is, in any case, plenty of precedent on the left for seeing in one’s times the two sides of messianism: emancipation and terror, the dawn of God’s community and the apocalypse.
This two-fold, ambivalent, character of the apocalypse has gotten me thinking about the white nationalist, anti-Semitic, Christian Right, which is simultaneously eager to see a radical form of Zionism prevail in Israel and has embraced language about “world Jewry” that is straight from Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
There is a well-known critique of Jewish Zionism in Israel and the United States, which I do not wish to address here. Instead, although the two are related, I want to limit my thoughts to white nationalist, anti-Semitic, Christian Zionism, of the sort pushed by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump advisor Stephen Miller. And I want to focus even more narrowly less upon Kushner’s and Miller’s no doubt perverse and twisted reasons for supporting Israel than on white nationalist evangelical Christians, most of whom believe that we are living in the end times, on the eve of Armageddon, the seven year tribulation, and the millennial rule of Christ.
Socially and historically, millennialism appears during times of crisis. This is entirely understandable. Indeed, this is also the case in biblical literature. No matter how many times the gospel writers flag this error — “no one knows the day or hour” (Matthew 24:36) — the Apocalypse of Saint John appears designed to fan the apocalyptic flames; never mind that this text was written almost two millennia ago; never mind that millions of Christians, entirely disregarding Matthew’s warning, have believed themselves to be living during the end times.
It was therefore entirely predictable not only that St John would contribute to the flames, following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, but also that Benjamin, Luxemburg, Adorno, and Horkheimer would make their own contributions in the shadow of fascist terror. These are dark times.
Clearly, however, Hal Lindsey is no Walter Benjamin, Tim LaHaye is no Max Horkheimer. So, aside from the obvious, where do white nationalist, anti-Semitic Christian Zionists differ from their no less hopeful, but also profoundly more critical counterparts?
First, take the reestablishment of Israel as a quasi-monarchical Jewish theocracy. Nothing in science or history or even, truth be told, biblical literature suggests anything even remotely similar to authoritarian Likud domination as somehow “emancipatory,” least of all for Jews. And, yet, in the perverse and twisted minds of white nationalist and Zionist Christians, since the Messiah will return to a restored Temple to rule over a restored Theocratic Kingdom, clearly the secular and overwhelmingly socialist first wave of Zionists in the 1940s and 1950s proved woefully inadequate. Only the militarist, authoritarian, triumphalist Likud party fits the violent image of the Davidic Kingdom formed by white nationalist anti-Semitic Christian Zionists.
Second, white nationalist anti-Semitic Christian Zionists all know how this story ends — not with Likud in charge, but with an equally militaristic and hate-mongering Messiah rapturing all but 10,000 witnesses who serve as God’s protected witnesses through the time of the Great (seven-year) Tribulation at the end of which, Jesus Christ (not Benjamin Netanyahu) will return at the head of a huge army to defeat everyone who is not a born-again believer: yes, including all of the Jews. (Obviously, since no good Jew believes this cock-and-bull story, Likud and its far right accomplices are only all too happy to let white nationalist anti-Semitic Christian Zionists drum up support for Israel in Congress without the least fear that Jesus actually will return and defeat the Jews in a final battle.)
But, third, even though times of social, economic, and political turmoil lend themselves to both apocalyptic fears and messianic hopes, it obviously makes a huge difference how we understand “what comes next.” This could appear to be a simple matter of biblical exegesis. But it is not. Here it must be recognized that Zionism itself is a product of nineteenth century ethno-religious nationalism, not altogether different in form from the multiple ethno-religious nationalisms that sprouted all across Europe following the Napoleonic wars. Each language and race its own nation. Right? Each race its own “natural” religion. Right? Here we might simply recall that the author of one of the most influential pseudo-sociological studies at the turn of the nineteenth century, Max Nordau, author of Entartung (Degeneration), was also a fierce Zionist. Contrast this view with Theodor Adorno’s:
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity or violence, entirely from felt contact with its objects — this alone is the task of thought. It is the simplest of all things, because the situation calls imperatively for such knowledge, indeed because consummate negativity, once squarely faced, delineates the mirror image of its opposite. But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hair’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, if it shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape. The more passionately thought denies its conditionality for the sake of the unconditional, the more unconsciously, and so calamitously, it is delivered up to the world. Even its own impossibility it must at last comprehend for the sake of the possible. But beside the demand thus placed on thought, the question of the reality or unreality of redemption itself hardly matters.T Adorno, Minima Moralia, “Finale.”
For Adorno, writing in the shadow of the Holocaust, the question is not who to exclude, who to defeat, who to battle, or who will rule. For Adorno, the question is the light the messiah sheds on how we think about our world “without velleity or violence.”
It is therefore not a matter of biblical interpretation. Not a matter of exegesis. There are, after all, reams of Davidic texts that celebrate and anticipate the warrior Messiah. At the same time, it is also an established, indisputable, fact that Messianism retreats — and retreats quite dramatically — wherever individuals are well cared for, well educated, well protected, healthy, secure, and loved. Indeed, I would even surmise that one of the underlying reasons white nationalist leaders hate social democracy is that their violent Messianic outlook depends upon a violated and damaged clientele who need desperately to be saved.
From this vantage-point it is clear that while Zionism — the establishment of Theocratic Israel — is the means — the destruction of world Jewry in the final battle is the ultimate goal. But this means that white nationalist Christian Zionist anti-Semitism needs to be understood within the context of the growing fascist movement not simply in the US, but throughout South America and Europe.