John McCain had plenty of good reasons to unload the Rev. John C. Hagee from his bandwagon Thursday. At the top of the list were quotations from the Texas preacher expressing his belief that the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust were part of God's plan to hasten the creation of Israel. "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Rev. Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well," McCain said in a statement. But of the beliefs that McCain could take issue with, Hagee's views on the Shoah are probably among the less disturbing.
The press played the Hagee sermon as an expression of anti-Semitism, and that may account for McCain's disavowal of him. But Hagee cannot easily be tarred as a classic Jew hater—on the contrary, he is one of the country's leading Christian Zionists, has raised millions of dollars for Israel, and has been slathered with praise by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. When Hagee endorsed McCain in April, the Arizonan expressed his great gratitude to the spiritual leader of the San Antonio, Texas, megachurch Cornerstone for his "commitments around the world, including to the independence and freedom of the state of Israel." Hagee may have a strange relationship with the Jews, but he is more philo-Semite than anti-Semite.
So, why the uproar? In the videotaped sermon from the 1990s that sparked the controversy, Hagee argues that God caused the slaughter of the Jews to prompt the creation of the state of Israel. Citing Jeremiah, who was speaking of the restoration of the Jews to Israel after their defeat and exile to Babylonia in 586 B.C., Hagee focuses on the sentence, "Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters and they the hunters shall hunt them." Hagee interprets this as suggesting that these hunters are the Nazis, driving the Jews forward to the death camps but also to a new historical era.
One can understand McCain's response—"Well, I just think that the statement is crazy and unacceptable." Indeed, for most people, it is hard not to cringe at the idea of a God who would visit unspeakable suffering on his people, even as a means to an end that has something redemptive about it. McCain takes Hagee's remarks to mean that God had a good reason for presiding over the murder of 6 million people, an implication that he finds repellent.
But if you believe in a personal God who directs history—and you're sure that plan can be discerned by human beings, a touchstone of religious fundamentalism—that is probably the least appalling explanation of the Holocaust you can come up with. McCain could not have given us a better demonstration of how out of sync he is with the evangelicals he courts. (When asked by CNN about how the offloading of Hagee would play among conservative Christians, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council lowballed, saying, "Anderson, this doesn't help.")
This is not just a problem for Christians. The paradoxical—the word hardly suffices—connection between the Holocaust and the establishment of the Jewish state, which in many synagogues is referred to in Saturday prayers as "the first sign of our redemption," is not lost on anyone who has thought about it. There are countless discussions in Jewish scripture about the reasons why God allowed the destruction of two Temples and two long exiles, one 2,000 years long. Understandably, though, most Jewish authorities, including many Orthodox ones, have thrown up their hands on the notion of a reason for the Holocaust, taking the position that God does have a historical plan but that it is beyond the ability of our reason to comprehend the Shoah.