Now, I'm fortunate in that most of the truly religious people I know aren't nuts. They're fascinating people to know and great people to spend time with. In a moment like this, they would believe that Mr. Lindner's family was in heaven, but they would also understand the utter agony he'd be going through, and know that platitudes would be insulting at best.
There is, however, a group of people who really does believe that "good Christians" go to heaven when they die, but that is somehow a goal - not heaven, death. And if they can help bring about the end times for all of us, they're doing God's work. They even track how close we are to Armageddon, in their twisted little minds.
I understand belief. I understand faith. But that's just mind-boggling - that they believe so strongly in this amazing afterlife that they would be happy to see this world come to an end, and all life in the universe that we've ever known, just to meet their God. Now, a decent human being, even one who believed in God and heaven, would say "Well, God created this world, and this life for me, and if I don't live it the best I can, and follow the rules he set down on how to treat other people the best I can, I'm insulting God, and that's wrong."
But these people aren't decent, not in the way they treat others. And they have a leader. Not James "Dog-kicker" Dobson. Not Jerry "Teletubby" Falwell. Their President, and sadly mine as well, George W. Bush.
From the Nieman Watchdog, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University
Bush, who says he reads the Bible daily, acknowledges his fundamentalist beliefs. Biblical and Middle East scholar Karen Armstrong writes in The Guardian, "Whatever Bush's personal beliefs, the ideology of the Christian right is both familiar and congenial to him. This strange amalgam of ideas can perhaps throw light on the behavior of a president who, it is said, believes God chose him to lead the world toward Rapture, who has little interest in social reform, and whose selective concern for life issues has now inspired him to veto important scientific research.
"It explains his unconditional support for Israel, his willingness to use 'Jewish End-Time warriors' to fulfill a vision of his own, arguably against Israel's best interest, and to see Syria and Iran...as entirely responsible for the unfolding tragedy."
As she notes, Bush and his administration not only rely on Christian fundamentalists, he espouses many of their ideals, including their belief that "the second coming of Christ is at hand" but Christ cannot return unless, "in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, the Jews are in possession of the Holy Land."
Political scientist Kevin Phillips, in his book "American Theocracy," says the Republican Party has become the "vehicle for religious policymaking and eventual erosion" of the separation of church and state. He estimates that 55 percent of Bush voters in 2004 believed in the coming of Armageddon and cheered American involvement in Iraq, one of the world's "evils," in Bush's apocalyptic view.
Writing for the Nation in May, Phillips said, "The last arena of theological influence, almost as important as sex, birth and mortality, involves American foreign policy, bringing us to the connections among the 'war on terror,' the Rapture, the end of times, Armageddon and the thinly disguised U.S. crusade against radical Islam...In the months before George W. Bush sent U.S. troops into Iraq, his inspirational reading each morning was a book of sermons by a Scottish preacher accompanying troops about to march on Jerusalem."
Think about that some more. Our national policy is being influenced by the idea that Israel needs to be in possession of the holy land so that Jesus can return? Humanitarian efforts be damned - we need to make sure that Armaggedon can arrive soon. Now, I'm not a biblical scholar, but I have read the book, and I seem to recall at least some of the teachings having to do with helping others, especially the poor and oppressed.
But why should we help poor people if the world's coming to an end? If they're good Christians, they'll go to heaven.
But why should we worry about global warming or the environment if the world's coming to an end? (Remember James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan? "After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.") These people truly believe that since the end times will come, how we treat the earth doesn't matter.
Why, indeed, should we care about human lives (Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Darfur, Stem Cells), if the world's coming to an end? Again, I'm not a biblical scholar, but I think Jesus would have an answer:
Go Jump Into A Wood Chipper, Mr. President.