Preachers like Pat Robertson can't stop making everything about Israel, even the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here's why.
Unable to watch another global conflict unfold without making it about his own team, televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson popped his head in again last week to comment on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. To the surprise of no one, he informed his followers that this is the sign of the apocalypse that they’ve all been waiting for.
Another rerun. Where’s the remote?
Evangelical Christians like Robertson have been anticipating the demise of the late great planet Earth for a long, long time. It doesn’t matter how many times their predictions fail to materialize, it never seems to diminish their faith in…well, their faith.
They believe they have inside information on world events, and no news story is too small or irrelevant to serve as confirmation.
You would latch onto breaking news as hard as they do if you based your whole life on a story you can’t know for sure is true until the moment after you die. Talk about a gamble. That also explains their compulsion to feel persecuted by the world wherever they look. If the world doesn’t hate them the way it hated Jesus, they will have precious little remaining to connect them to their titular figure. They certainly didn’t internalize his emphasis on helping the poor.
Robertson believes all international conflict is ultimately about Israel somehow because that’s what his apocalyptic framework dictates. This, too, is unsurprising since the Christian faith originally began with a wholesale appropriation of the Jewish identity, repackaging it and marketing it to a broader audience. Now anybody can be a child of Abraham.
Perhaps you thought circumcision was an identity marker for the ancient Hebrews, but the apostle Paul explains that was just an object lesson to teach future Christians about themselves. The same goes for Passover and Yom Kippur. Both were meant from the beginning to signify something important to Christians later on, and now Jews can share in that as well—provided they come to their senses and join the right team.
Evangelicals remain emotionally invested in the fate of modern Israel because seeing it attacked would prove once and for all that the church knew what would happen before anyone else. Finally.
They look forward to the world falling apart because they believe it’s destined for divine retribution. In fact, Jesus was supposed to come back a long time ago, fully armed this time and out for blood. The longer he tarries, the more foolish it makes them look.
But Christians are of two minds about their much-anticipated end of the world.
They have been taught to see themselves as temporary visitors just passing through, an alien colony destined to leave behind a world that never properly recognized them as the true protagonists of the universe. So on the one hand, they want to see the world burn. The Bible tells them to expect it. When God has finally had enough, he’s supposed to come down here and wipe everything out for good.
They want the world to end, just not their world. They want it to end for everyone else—everyone who isn’t one of them.
Much like their ambivalence toward the promised afterlife, in their “heart of hearts” they don’t really want their lives to end, nor do they want to see their communities or their livelihoods impacted by Armageddon. What would happen to their 401k?
Fortunately for Christians in Robertson’s wheelhouse, they believe they’ll get to skip it either partially or entirely. One day when Jesus returns, everyone will see that they were right all along. He will beam them up Star Trek-style as the rest of the world gets left behind. Sucks to be them, I guess.
The final boss
But first, the Bogeyman has to appear, the final boss whom Jesus has to defeat—a persistent idea they gleaned from badly misreading apocalyptic literature.
In reality, the book of Revelation is a circular letter that was written to a handful of churches in Asia Minor to encourage them to remain strong in the face of state-sponsored persecution. They weren’t fortunate enough to live in a representative democracy run primarily by people from their team, so they wrote to each other in a kind of literary code that was familiar to the faithful and obscured from everyone else.
Related: “Deconstructing the End of the World”
But Christians today believe this book is really about them. Preachers like Robertson spend a great deal of time combing through the daily news in search of the next sign of the End Times, clearly assuming that few will remember how he incorrectly predicted Doomsday would arrive in 1982 and then again in 2007.
Worst of all, in so doing they end up validating the sort of violence that Vladimir Putin is perpetrating against neighboring states in order to expand his territory and claim its resources for himself. God made him do it, Robertson assures his viewers, which means that ultimately there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. It’s all part of the ineffable plan, so you might as well learn to accept it.
They said the same thing when Covid hit, upending our lives and killing millions around the world. God sent plagues all the time in the days of the Bible, and there was nothing they could do to escape it, either. The ultimate conspiracy theorists, Christians see a single intelligence behind everything that happens, wars and diseases included.
“Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”–Amos 3:6
Why resist something you believe God himself has sent in his infinite wisdom? You can’t outsmart God, can you? Attempting to do so only shows how little faith you have.
In my personal life, I take pains to avoid undermining the faith of those around me. If they sleep better at night because they believe a benevolent Supreme Being is watching over them, then who am I to try to take that away from them? I should be happy for them.
But I also see their faith producing an unwise sense of acceptance, a learned helplessness that absolves them of any responsibility for what happens to the world around them. They believe they’re supposed to leave the world, not save it, and they cannot be made to think otherwise. Love not the world, they’ve been warned, nor the things that are in the world.
This is the enduring problem I have with the Christian faith. Well, it’s one of them anyway, right behind the way it perpetually lowers your view of yourself. It teaches you to see your self-worth as derivative, based entirely on what someone else has done for you. No wonder they’re so willing to play follow the leader.
But their learned helplessness indirectly impacts the whole world. As Captain Cassidy argues, it breeds complacency toward the suffering of others and it apparently does nothing to teach them to recognize punching down when they see it.
Because their religion grew up around a martyrdom, they’ve learned to internalize victimhood, woven as it is into their core narrative. They identify with David even when they’re Goliath, so it’s next to impossible for them to recognize real persecution when it occurs.
As the protagonists of the universe, they believe they deserve differential treatment, so anything less than favoritism does them an injustice. When you’re accustomed to privilege, they say, equality feels like oppression.
This is why Robertson and his ilk will keep on predicting the second coming of Jesus, urging eager listeners to buy their books and tune in next week for another alarmist news report given with just a little too much joy over the suffering of others. It’s all good news for them because it makes them feel like they’re right about something.
I doubt they’ll be cashing in early on that 401k, though.