In Case of Rapture, This Executive Office Will Be Vacant

By adding Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain made his presidential ticket a whole lot more attractive. (See my own endorsement: “Me Vote Pretty This Time.”) Of course, Palin’s presence is no guarantee that McCain will keep his word and appoint solid choices to the U.S. Supreme Court — any more than doting husband Al Gore, sitting in the VP’s office as chaperone, kept Bill Clinton faithful to Hillary, down the hall in his.

But the Palin pick says good things about the balance of power within the GOP. At least pro-lifers were spared the demeaning spectacle of a running mate like Sen. Joseph Lieberman — a left-wing Democrat who has voted for gay marriage and partial-birth abortion, whose only qualification for proximity to the nuclear button is his twitching trigger-finger. Had the party gone ahead and swallowed that shambling Schroeder — after a damaging floor fight, it’s pretty to think — we social conservatives would stand exposed as finally helpless, especially in the event that McCain went on to win. A Republican elected on a “balanced” pro-life and pro-death ticket would have a mandate to follow his whims in appointing justices, resulting in two or three more David Souters or Harriet Miers.

In pessimistic moments, I really suspect the GOP leadership of dark intelligence, of craftiness sufficient to calculate as follows: So long as the Supreme Court is just one or two justices away from reversing Roe v. Wade, social conservatives have no choice whom to support. Forget what they think of a candidate or a party’s other stances; how many can put aside the stark and primal evil of abortion — any more than abolitionists could have supported the Jefferson Davis administration because they liked his stance on the tariff? In fact, we barely have the option not to vote, in case the next court appointment makes the difference.

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However, the moment the Court really did overturn that damn-fool decision and throw abortion back to the states, what would happen? Once pro-life voters were suddenly free to take account of other issues in elections — like war and peace, economics, even qualifications and experience . . . Taking the ugliest, most ideological issue out of national elections would drain the fuel tanks of dogged, single-issue activists like me. (I started in politics at age eleven, collecting signatures for the New York Right to Life Party.) If the donkey caught the carrot, it might stop pulling the cart for Halliburton. So the key thing is to keep that carrot hanging in front of us. I fear it will always dangle, one justice out of reach.

The choice of Palin suggests I might be wrong, that the Republicans either aren’t a) this evil or b) this clever. (My vote is b.) So I might just turn out this November and vote for a major party candidate for the first time since 1992. And maybe this time — this time — we’ll catch the carrot. Let us pray . . .

One subject I would bring up, were we gnawing that carrot right now, is this: How wise is it to vote in politicians whose religious faith entails a simplistic fixation on Middle Eastern politics, with a preconceived outcome based not on facts, philosophy, or fairness — but peculiar readings of prophecy? Put bluntly, the views of Gov. Palin’s church are not far off from the “Christian Zionism” of John Hagee (which I parody here). This distinctly post-Woodstock biblical theory doesn’t simply teach — as any fair person should agree — that Israel has a right to exist in peace and security. That’s sissy stuff. Instead, it revives all the Old Testament promises made by God to His sanctified kingdom — providing they keep His Law. And it offers them to a secular country better known for nude beaches and legal abortion than strict adherence to Leviticus.

Those promises — including vast swathes of territory outside the country’s current borders — will be guaranteed not by God but by the United States. (I know, sometimes it’s hard to keep the distinction straight.) The United States should wield its God-given power, including nukes, to smite the unbelievers who threaten the Promised Land. Of course, this could lead to cataclysmic war with a billion Muslims — which is just fine with the Christian Zionists, since they expect to be raptured right off the planet before things get too hot, returning in the mushroom clouds with the Second Coming. Or something. It’s safe to say that wherever Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Philip Melancthon are living now, they’re a wee bit red in the face.

Now, my sympathies in the Arab/Israeli conflict are squarely with the latter. I’m a lot more frightened of Islamists breeding suicide bombers all over Christendom than I am of AIPAC lobbyists roaming the halls of Congress. The former would happily blow me and my hometown to smithereens; at worst, the latter might pull strings to get me fired. I can’t suss out the justice of all the competing claims to the blood-soaked Holy Land; if I’d my druthers, I’d probably restore the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and head it with a Habsburg. But I haven’t had many druthers granted since 1789. So I’m willing to lay aside my own theologically driven crackpot theory of how to resolve the “final status” of Israel/Palestine. All I ask is that my Protestant brethren do the same.

Facing the threat of Iran obtaining its own nuclear weapons, should U.S.-led negotiations fail, many Israelis grimly contemplate a first strike on that country. That’s Israel’s business, not America’s — and certainly not a conflict any sane theologian could call a just war if we launched it. But if the IDF wants to try a surgical strike, I say: “Knock yourselves out. Try to spare civilians.” If I lived in modern, secular Israel — which doesn’t put too much stock in the promises made to Abraham — I would feel “existentially threatened” by such an Islamic bomb. This threat would drive me first to try every peaceful means to stop such proliferation, and also to establish a viable Palestinian state — even if it meant dismantling outlaw settlements on captured Arab lands. In fact, a large plurality of Israelis favor such a negotiated resolution, seeing in it their only hope for a peaceful future.

Alas, the Christian Zionists aren’t interested in securing a peaceful future for secular Israel; instead, for them, it is scenery for Act V of a biblical Hamlet, the stage where all the bodies will pile up, before Our Lord rides in like Fortinbras. And the rest is silence.


  • Mark P. Shea

    Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

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