This article has a rather curious history. Although very clearly a defence of the Circassians against the unlikely accusation of their being the "people of the Antichrist", I received about a dozen messages of protest from Circassians who understood the opposite: that I was actually promoting the thesis launched by the "Goodnews Christian Ministries." The issue was made especially difficult because the website of the Ministry had changed in the meantime, so it was not easy to check out my statements. I have updated the URL: any reader who wishes to check my statements out personally should however use a "Find" command since the article I review here is quite long and the part on Circassians is not near the beginning. I hope this makes matters clear once and for all, and I thank those Circassians who checked out the matter and apologized for their mistake. I fully understand - and share - their indignation.
"Goodnews Christian Ministry"of Torrance, California, is one of countless thousands of United States enterprises summoning people to the Bible and, of course, to the End of the World.
are an ancient and little known people, originally from the Caucasus and
now spread throughout the Near East, after being nearly destroyed by the
Russians in a long war in the mid-19th century. In the Islamic
world, they have become legendary for the warlike spirit of their men and
the unique beauty of their women. Circassian culture is a blend between
two extremes: a primeval world of hunters and poets reminiscent perhaps
of the ancient Kelts, and the highly refined world of the Ottoman empire;
and their very peculiar and free brand of Islam reflects this basic duality.
The illustrations for this article give a slight idea of their culture.
The managers of "Goodnews Christian Ministry" of course have never come across a Circassian in all their lives. However, they have decided to warn the Internet community that this mysterious people might be about to furnish the world with the Antichrist himself. If the Jews are God's chosen people, the Circassians are definitely Satan's chosen people, the most dangerous community on earth.
"Could a reborn Circassia be the home state of the eighth head of the beast, the miniscule [sic] and fledgling new nation at the very end of time which is prophesied by the Bible to appear and give birth to the Bible's 'madman'?"
The "seventh head" was Adolf Hitler ("the Beast of Berlin"), the eighth will be nastier.
Goodnews folk provide us with this stunning bit of information on the basis of the Bible. Of course the Bible never mentions the Circassians, and in any case it is not difficult to make anything out of the enormous collection of different texts, Jewish and Christian, which people today call "the" Bible. Everything from the Papacy to extraterrestrial nuclear bombing has been read into it. Evidently, the problem lies not the Bible, but in its readers.
To understand why the Circassians should suddenly have been singled out as the most evil people in the world, it is necessary to understand the background of an organisation like "Goodnews Christian Ministry."
US society tends towards a single ideology which expresses itself through many churches (parallel to a society with a single type of economy which expresses itself through countless private enterprises). Like many daring and brilliant thinkers, Harold Bloom probably exaggerated, yet had a very valid intuition when he spoke of a single "American religion" (with connotations of patriotism, free market values, promises of personal experience and healing, etc.) which is shared by most (though of course not all) Christians, Jews, and - in recent years - Muslims as well as by most of the "new religions".
What is the basic ideological pattern of the American Religion?
A first important point is that the USA has had much to do with the Bible, but little with Plato, Thomas Aquinas, al-Ghazali or Voltaire. Truth tends to be seen, not the product of reasoning, but as "what works." In the field of religion this basically means, it makes something that makes one feel good or achieves visible results of some kind. There is a surprising affinity here between two worlds which are apparently at violent odds with each other: Christian fundamentalism and the New Age. Both certainly "feel good", provide "inner experience" and make very definite promises, which may include anything from miraculous healing to success in business. Of course, in order to feel good or to enjoy the miracles, one must "believe": according to the Christians in Jesus, according to the New Age people in one's own divinity, but the final result is not so different. People "discover Jesus" in very much the same way they discover a new kind of psychotherapy; and since "belief" in both cases is fundamental, failure is not due to the quality of the product, but to the lack of "belief" in the consumer.
A second point of the American Religion is its entrepreneurial nature.
It has little to do with the solemn institutions of the old world, with
their reassuring connection to tradition, although of course staid, "mainstream"
churches do exist. As in business, the religious entrepreneur must swim
or die. He must create the emotions that make people "feel good",
he must make the lame at least think they can walk, otherwise his church,
not supported by any government funds, will be deserted for more interesting
places. The extraordinary vulgarity of Jimmy Swaggart or Jack Van Impe
is shocking to Christians from other cultures, but necessary in its context.
And it does, alas, work.
A third point is the political use of the Bible. It is a commonplace in other countries to say that the US is a "new country" with "no history". Actually, the history of the USA is largely biblical. If other countries look back to the Kelts and the Etruscans, the Americans look back to the ancient Israelites; David's wars are their wars too. And of course, American society is future-oriented: the "book" must say something about this too.
These three factors - religion which must "deliver the goods", the fact that religion easily becomes show business, and the use of the Bible as history - all merge together in the great "end-of-the-world" fantasy of Dispensationalism. This is basically a system which says, Armageddon is around the corner. This notion implies an absolutely concrete promise: the "Kingdom" is coming, and will be a time of physical well being, when Christians will rule the world and all others will be subject to them. This Kingdom is coming soon, a crucial factor in any delivery. The Kingdom however will come after a highly dramatic period, something far more thrilling than any film - the good will prevail, but only after total war with intrinsically evil races, who will nearly win.
Tim LaHaye is a very well-known creationist, Christian Zionist and prominent political leader of the New Right. He is currently finishing publishing the sixth volume of an apocalyptic fiction series, entitled Left Behind. His advertisement for this coming volume, in Pre-Trib Perspectives, July 1999, says everything. This is how he asks his readers to "donate" him $25.00 dollars "or more" apiece:
The letter I received last week tops them all. It came from a young man on death row in a Texas prison. Since being imprisoned he has accepted Christ and his life has been transformed. Someone gave him our entire series of five novels including Apollyon, which has been on the NY Times best-seller list for thirteen consecutive weeks, bringing the whole series into the secular book market.
What moved me from this prisoner's letter was this comment: "I am really hooked on your series and would like to read the sixth book, Assassins, but I noticed that it will not be available until the fifth of August, and my execution day is set for August 3rd. Would it be possible to read a pre-publication copy?"
How could I refuse? Fortunately I had a copy and sent it to him that very day."
The "Goodnews" is not only our personal salvation, but also the atrocious death and eternal punishment of our enemies. You think it's hot here??? God, speaking from an enormous billboard on a Florida highway, asks the sweat-drenched driver, hinting at how much hotter hell will be.
The Armageddon story is a story of tremendous ethnic wars, with good peoples fighting against evil peoples. The vague and long extinct nationalities the book of Daniel mentions act as a Rohrschach blot: whomever we decide to identify as "Tubal" for example, this will say a lot more about our own collective psychology than about that enigmatic tribe.
Most countries have hostile neighbours: Russians and Poles, Turks and
Greeks are typical examples. However, the US has none. Mexicans have patiently
suffered under US domination. Since it has no enemies, the US is free to
find its enemies anywhere. They may be the Russians, the Vietnamese,
the Cubans, the Japanese, the Iranians, the Palestinians, the Serbs or
of course the Circassians… after all, the latter are no more unlikely than
any of the others.
The identification of the Circassians as the evil race seems to be a peculiarity of "Goodnews". Every apocalyptic has his own theories, but all identify entire human groups with various unpleasant tribes, races or even animals that appear in the Bible begging to be genocided off for their evil ways.
Verbal violence against such peoples can reach extraordinary levels: Dispensationalist hate literature against Arabs is no more pleasant than the worst ravings of the Ku Klux Klan against Blacks. Nor is such hatred purely abstract: Dispensationalist hatred for Russia or love for Israel have both had important effects on US foreign policy.
This hatred of course is possible, insofar as none of these enemies are truly human. They first appear in encyclopaedias, then in newspaper items and end up as almost invisible target points on a videogame screen. We don't even get to see the depleted uranium bullet sinking into the target.
It is important to realise that religions are deeply associated with cultures, lifestyles and social systems. Although we are looking here at a rather extreme case, it is still a highly significant one. In recent years, we have seen how the supposed neutrality of a global free market has changed the lives of millions - or billions - of people. Some for the better, some for the worse, the final outcome is never easy to determine: but the onslaught of world trade has been as overwhelming as that of large armies. A free marketplace always favours the strong against the weak: many decades ago, the US and the Philippines signed a pleasant-sounding agreement, whereby businessmen from both countries could have unlimited access to the natural resources of the other country. The treaty said nothing about who was in a position to make use of this clause...
Something similar is now taking place in the field of cultural systems: the notion of a "free marketplace of religions" implies that the illiterate native of Chiapas and the millionaire from Saint Louis, Missouri, should be equally free to spread their ideas and convert others to their belief system.
Not only is the native of Chiapas unable to compete with the native of Saint Louis; he is probably not even interested in competing - obsessive proselytism goes hand in hand with the incessantly expanding economy of a capitalist system. Even though Islam does believe in making converts, there is nothing comparable to the tremendous, industrially organised, missionary efforts of the "American religion".
Nor is "religion" an abstract entity, a free choice for our free time: religious decisions affect a large variety of factors in life. To quote a picturesque but significant example - in the Andes, converts to Baptism have to wear polished black shoes, and despise their sandal-wearing Catholic cousins. Arab Christians who convert to evangelicalism are pressured to take a "prophetically" pro-US and pro-Israel stand which can cause dramatic breaks with their family milieux and lead to unjust generalizations by their Muslim neighbours.
Apocalyptic fundamentalism has an inbuilt need for an enemy to project
its hatred upon; and this too - as we have seen in the case of the Circassian
antichrist - is by no means a politically neutral issue. Instigators of
hatred are equally responsible, whether they act in the name of a religion
or a political ideology.