Apocalypse Book Club: ‘Can America Survive?’
The perverse theology of Nikki Haley’s favorite end-times preacher
In his 2010 book of prophetic wisdom, Can America Survive? 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are the Terminal Generation, the Texas televangelist John Hagee recalls standing on a hill overlooking Megiddo in Israel, looking down into the valley, and envisioning a lake of blood 200 miles wide and as deep as a horse’s bridle.
In this and other bestselling books of prophecy, Pastor Hagee takes the book of Revelation literally and then prescribes a political program to bring about the end of human civilization as we know it. This is notable for a number of reasons, not least of which is that he has the ear of Republican presidential contender and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Like a lot of people, my ears perked up when Haley launched her campaign Feb. 15 in Charleston, South Carolina, and brought Pastor Hagee onstage to kick off the proceedings with a prayer. When Haley said, “To Pastor Hagee, I still say I want to be you when I grow up,” I nearly fell out of my chair. Like some kind of theological pervert, I went to the public library that week and borrowed every book by Hagee I could find.
I’ve been taking notes on these books and will probably write a more general synopsis at some point, but this week I want to linger on Can America Survive? It is an audacious book of geopolitical soothsaying, and it raises some questions that it would behoove political reporters to ask Haley on the campaign trail.
This book is, among other things, the most virulent Islamophobic text I have ever read. It repackages the “Eurabia” conspiracy theory for a U.S. audience, warning of an “Islamic population bomb” (p. 37) and favorably citing the British UKIP booster Melanie Phillips’ 2006 book Londonistan (p. 126). Hagee warns of secret Islamist sleeper cells throughout the heartland (p. 11) while advocating for spying on U.S. mosques and pre-emptive military strikes against Iran (p. 50). Hagee questions “radical Islam’s loyalty to America” after citing a random series of newspaper clippings about “honor killings” and claims, without evidence, that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a No. 1 bestseller in unspecified Muslim countries (p. 26).
Here is a passage from page 65 to give you a flavor:
How many thousands more will fall before our leaders snap out of this politically correct fog and admit we are at war? Will they wait until a series of nuclear dirty bombs set off at one time in seven cities send millions of Americans to their deaths? …
History in the future may call it “The Fifty-Year War” between America and radical Islam, but its final battles will be fought in the streets and cities of this nation. The jihad against America began on 9/11 … and it will not end until America defeats radical Islam or the flag of Islam flies over the White House.
The imminent attack on seven U.S. cities is a prediction Hagee makes at least four times in this book. His only source for this claim is a September 2005 article in World Net Daily by the right-wing pundit Paul L. Williams warning of an “American Hiroshima.” Hagee also claims that al-Qaeda has access to nuclear bombs and electromagnetic pulse weapons, and he even lists the seven cities they will allegedly attack.At one point he speculates that then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez might team up to smuggle dirty bombs across the Rio Grande in the care of undocumented immigrants (p. 68).
Hagee, the pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, is no stranger to presidential politics. He endorsed John McCain in 2008, but McCain distanced himself after journalists started reading Hagee’s books and watching his sermons. Most infamously, Hagee has claimed that God sent Hurricane Katrina to punish New Orleans for a gay pride parade, that the Catholic Church is the “Great Whore” mentioned in the 17th chapter of Revelation, and that Adolf Hitler was a descendant of “half-breed Jews” who was sent by God to chase Jewish people back to Israel.
Hagee fell out of favor with mainstream Republicans for a while, but his influence remained unavoidable. He is the founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), one of the largest Christian Zionist organizations in the U.S., which claims a membership of 10 million people — 100 times the size of AIPAC. When U.S. President Donald Trump admitted moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in 2020 was really a sop to evangelicals, he was probably referring to the agenda of Hagee and CUFI.
The centrality of Israel in the evangelical imagination is hard to convey if you didn’t grow up debating the Biblical accuracy of the Left Behind novels and plotting out the timing of the Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath in Bible study. One theory widely held in some evangelical circles like Hagee’s is that Jesus will return to earth once a sufficient portion of the Jewish diaspora has returned to the Promised Land. In his book, Hagee refers to the immigration of Russian Jews to Israel as “Exodus II” and writes, “Their return to their homeland is another sign that we are the terminal generation.”
When Hagee predicts that the readers of his 2010 book are members of “the terminal generation,” he means this as good news for evangelical Christians, who will be called up to heaven in the blink of an eye.For everyone else on earth, the news is not so good: He believes that either one-third (p. 7) or one-quarter (p. 204) of all remaining humans will die in a single day, the whole world will suffer famine and war, every person’s skin will erupt in festering boils, and locusts the size of horses will sting people until they beg for death.
“Every river, every stream will become as blood. Every basin in your home will run with blood,” Hagee warns on page 204. “Now I ask you, do you want to escape the coming Tribulation? I do! And I am going to escape.”
For Hagee and people who believe him, supporting Israel is not about the right of Israeli people (nor, certainly, Palestinian people) to live in peace — it is about fulfilling a particular interpretation of esoteric prophecies so that Christians can go to heaven and God can rain down plagues on everybody else.
The “10 Prophetic Signs” promised in the subtitle of the book are flimsy interpretations of world events from the early years of the Obama administration, and he hides them near the end of the book. I’ll list the 10 signs here, exactly as they are written in the subheadings of Chapter 9:
THE KNOWLEDGE EXPLOSION
THE MIDDLE EAST PLAGUE: MASSIVE RADIATION BLAST
THE REBIRTH OF ISRAEL
JERUSALEM NO LONGER UNDER GENTILE RULE
DAYS OF DECEPTION
FAMINES, PESTILENCES, AND EARTHQUAKES
AS IN THE DAYS OF NOAH
I’ve read the whole book, and I can tell you these signs are no more coherent or convincing in context. He speculates that some of the plagues mentioned in Revelation might really be nuclear strikes. One of the prophetic signs is literally just the invention of broadcast television.
“OIL,” the first sign on the list, gets a longer explanation than the rest. He is talking about petroleum.
“The billions of gallons of oil buried deeply in the bosom of the earth were planted exactly where God intended for them to be to fulfill His prophetic word millions of years before they were needed,” Hagee writes. According to Hagee’s gloss of research by a geophysicist named Robert Morgan, the largest petroleum deposits on earth are east of Israel “in the location pinpointed in the Bible as the Garden of Eden.” (He does not say where this is.)
According to Hagee, God will use these rich oil deposits as a “hook in the jaw” to drag a “Russian-Islamic coalition” into a doomed battle against Israel (p. 186).
Not to get too far into the weeds, but Hagee’s prophetic signs require some creative interpretation of scripture. He is recycling a little bit from the 1970 end-times classic The Late Great Planet Earth, which predicted a Soviet invasion of Israel as a fulfillment of the prophet Ezekiel’s “War of Gog and Magog.” Quoting Ezekiel 38:13, Hagee even manages to shoehorn England and the U.S. into ancient Hebrew prophecy:
Ezekiel’s “young lions” are the offspring of England, whose symbol is a lion; this would be the United States of America as an offspring of England. Ezekiel is describing in this verse the Russian-Islamic coalition coming to invade Israel and all that America will do is send a limp-wristed diplomatic protest. Does that sound familiar?
Can America Survive? veers randomly between prophetic warnings and regurgitation of neoconservative talking points. According to Hagee, God wants the U.S. to drill for as much oil as possible (p. 50), pre-emptively strike Iran’s nuclear facilities (p. 50), reduce the national debt and reverse trade deficits (all of Chapter 5, “Death of the Dollar”), and send a surge of troops to win the war in Afghanistan (p. 14). These are all policy prescriptions that could have been copied and pasted from a neoconservative war hawk’s campaign platform, or vice versa.
At one point Hagee claims (p. 49) that an unnamed “special source in Israel” flew all the way to see him in San Antonio and hand-deliver what he believed to be Iran’s plan of attack against the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia. “The source never tells me in advance that he’s coming; he just appears without notice, gives the message, and leaves,” Hagee writes.
Pastor Hagee’s prognostications are a laughingstock in some evangelical circles, including among those who treat end-times prophecy as literal. In the Southern Baptist and Reformed churches where I grew up, we were taught not to trust charlatans who claim to know “the day or the hour” of Jesus’ return, as Hagee does in other books like Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change (2013). The numerology, astrological pedantry, and tortured textual analysis in Hagee’s books would have been laughed out of my youth group Bible study.
But the central premise in much of Hagee’s teaching — that the U.S. should support Israel so the apocalypse can begin — is commonplace in American life. A 2017 survey of U.S. evangelicals conducted by LifeWay Research asked respondents to give reasons for their support of Israel. 52% agreed with the statement, “Israel is important for fulfilling biblical prophecy.” This is the constituency that cares deeply when a pastor like John Hagee joins a candidate on the national stage.
There is a tender moment near the end of Can America Survive? that may ring familiar for some readers. Hagee recalls sitting at the kitchen table one evening in May 1948 and hearing on the radio that the United Nations had formally recognized the State of Israel. It was a profound moment for a lot of people, not least because of the hope for a Jewish safe haven after the horrors of the Holocaust.
Hagee writes that his father was a scholar of prophecy and a man of few words. He remembers watching his dad put down the book he was reading that night at the kitchen table. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he sat in silence for a moment before saying to his son, “We have just heard the most important prophetic message that will ever be delivered until Jesus Christ returns to the earth. This is the greatest miracle of the twentieth century.” (p. 193)
Any candidate bringing John Hagee onstage in Year of Our Lord 2023 knows exactly what they’re getting into. His teachings and alarming worldview are well known. If Haley’s team wanted millenarian zeal on the campaign trail, they got it with Pastor Hagee. They’re getting a lot more in the bargain, though, and we’ll all pay the price if he gains the president’s ear again.
If you really want to read more of this stuff, I previously wrote about Hagee’s working relationship with Haley and his 2013 book Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change:
For a longer look at Haley’s track record, stretching back to her time as governor of my state, check out the South Carolinian’s Guide to Nikki Haley:
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For a progressive Jewish perspective on Hagee’s political alliance with the U.S. and Israeli right wing, I recommend checking out Benjamin Koatz’s 2017 piece for Forward, “Why I Used My Tallit to Disrupt a Christian Zionist Jubilee.”
Like the Left Behind authors, Hagee believes in a “pre-tribulation” rapture, meaning that all Christians, living or dead, will ascend into heaven before the 7 years of plagues, wars, and natural disasters known as the Tribulation. Some other Christians believe in a “post-tribulation” rapture, meaning that Christians will have to stick it out through 7 years of hell on earth with all the unbelievers.
“Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?”