Astronomy and Christian Superstition: A Review of John Hagee’s “Four Blood Moons”
“. . . to attempt to interpret [the Bible] so that it becomes a plan for the entire future of humanity is a deceptive snare for the unwary. It is always presumptuous of us to read our own times into earlier documents, which express other political, religious, or social interests, or to believe that what is happening now or is about to happen was previsioned long ago by some ancient prophet.”
~ Paul Kurtz, The Transcendental Temptation (1986)
Astronomical science has predicted the occurrence of four total lunar eclipses, resulting in four “blood moons” within the next 18 months (one of which has already taken place, on April 15, 2014). And some Christian doomsday preachers are making crazy claims about these blood moons. Washington Post reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey opens her recent article about this apocalyptic fervor with a question: “Could a series of ‘blood moon’ events be connected to Jesus’ return? Some Christians think so.”
The “events” referred to by Bailey are barely worthy of that name. Blood moon “events” occur when certain astronomical bodies, in the course of following their physically-predictable movements, move into certain interesting but completely natural configurations. These movements have happened repeatedly throughout history and with not-so-alarming regularity. Bailey’s article continues:
In the wee hours of Tuesday (April 15) morning, the moon slid into Earth’s shadow, casting a reddish hue on the moon. There are about two lunar eclipses per year, according to NASA, but what’s unusual this time around is that there will be four blood moons within 18 months — astronomers call that a tetrad — and all of them occur during Jewish holidays.
“Unusual” does not necessarily equal “rare.” Tetrads may be unusual, but they are not as rare as a handful of Christian end-times preachers are asserting them to be. Bailey notes in her article that NASA has stated that a total of eight tetrads will occur before the beginning of the next century.
Furthermore, I fail to see the significance of Jewish holidays corresponding with the appearance of four blood moons. There are a total of 12 Jewish holidays each year, and so it is not difficult to find some that speciously corresponds to any series of unconnected happenings. Furthermore, not one of the yearly Jewish holidays is designed to precisely commemorate the upcoming lunar eclipses. In fact, none of them have anything whatsoever to do with the moon. The basic theme of all the Jewish holidays can be summed up in the following words, popularly attributed to Jewish comedian Alan King: “They tried to kill us. We Won. Let’s eat.”
John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, wrote a whole book about the coming tetrad of blood moons and their imagined connections to biblical prophecy. In this book, titled Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013), Hagee poaches the findings of astronomical science to make it appear as if he is a genuine prophet. I glean a profound sense of satisfaction whenever “prophecy experts” commit their predictions to print, because we then have a record of their failed predictions which may lead the writer’s followers to become disillusioned and adjust their worldview. However, the subtitle of Hagee’s book is disappointing in this regard. The statement “Something is About to Change” is so vague and imprecise that Hagee probably sleeps well knowing he can get away with it long-term. He is also sleeping on a bed made of money. As Bailey goes on to report in WaPo:
Hagee’s book is drawing the most attention [among other recent Christian prophecy books attempting to capitalize on the blood moon tetrad], with his book now No. 4 on The New York Times best-seller list in the advice/how to section, and No. 80 on USA Today’s best-seller list. The book by the controversial 74-year-old founder of San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church has also spent 152 days in Amazon’s top 100 books.
Fearmongering is a very good way to sell one’s product, and preachers, prophets and psychics have known this for a long time.
A Waste of a Vivid Imagination
In his book, Hagee uses a great deal of imagination to connect the tetrad of four blood moons to the full fantastical saga of the end-times theology to which he subscribes. He devotes eight whole chapters to developing this eschatology, which he summarizes as follows:
. . . I believe Jesus Christ will come for His church in an event called the Rapture before the seven years of the Great Tribulation, led by the Antichrist.
Following the Great Tribulation will be the second coming of Christ according to Revelation 19:11-16. Christ will return to this earth followed by the armies that are in heaven. He will destroy the enemies of Israel that have come against them in the Battle of Armageddon. He will return to the Mount of Olives, then cross the Kidron Valley and enter the Eastern Gate of the city of Jerusalem, where He will set up His eternal kingdom on the Temple Mount, and of His kingdom there shall be no end (pp. 66-67).
Of course, the deluded belief system represented here by Hagee is nothing new. What is new is Hagee’s wildly-imaginative but silly attempt to connect this apocalyptic theology to entirely natural, non-miraculous astronomical phenomena that scientists – not Bible preachers – have predicted. Hagee is skilled at combining the rhetoric of fearmongering with a highly theatrical writing style, of which the following passages are representative:
If you are deceived into believing there is no Rapture, prepare to stand in line to get your personal tattoo from the Antichrist. If you refuse his marking, he will cut off your head! Are you interested in hearing about the Rapture now? (p. 79)
I ask those of you who are of sound mind, do you want to escape these horrors that John the Revelator so graphically described? I do! I really do! I am going to escape, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump! [. . .]
You will either now before the Antichrist or bow before Jesus Christ. It’s not a matter of if you will bow; it’s just a matter of when you will bow (p. 93).
Hagee is nothing if not an opportunist. The timing of the publication of Hagee’s book is calculated to correspond to the appearance of the lunar eclipses and thus to sell copies. His morbidly-gleeful anticipation of his Armageddon is outmatched only by his anticipation of spending the money he collects from his book sales.
This being the case, Jewish holidays are not Hagee’s primary concern or interest. He has just latched on to the coincidence of four Jewish holidays occurring at the same time as the four blood moons, and he just happens to view the latter as prophetic omens. If these four blood moons did not correspond to Jewish holidays, Hagee would have found some other series of important dates to connect to the lunar eclipses. This is something I can do easily. The only difference between me and Hagee is that I’m not the one getting rich by using the sharpshooter fallacy with reckless and sickeningly pious abandon.
Not Even Wrong
As intimated above, Hagee’s book contains not a single specific prediction of something that is to take place in the future. The following excerpt is representative of the many vague and non-risky “predictions” that occur throughout the book:
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars. . . . When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:25, 28). [. . .]
[The prophecies in Matthew 24:29-30] all involve specific signs in the heavens preceding coming global events! Does God use the sun, moon, and stars to communicate with us? Does He use the heavens as His own personal, high-definition billboard to announce things to come? (pp. 19, 20)
Hagee answers this question in the affirmative, thereby placing his claims firmly in the camp of astrology. Hagee insists early in the book that his claims are not based on astrology, but this insistence on his part is unconvincing.
The closest Hagee ever comes in his book to making anything approaching a risky prediction is found in his suggestion that a major cataclysm of some kind will transpire on or around September 28, 2015, the date of the fourth and final lunar eclipse of the tetrad. He places much emphasis on the fact that the year 2015 is a Shemittah, or period of Sabbath rest lasting one year. This observance, instituted by ancient Hebrew law in Leviticus 25:4, occurs every seventh year. In Hagee’s prophetic scheme, a major cataclysm must occur every Shemittah year. “While observing Shemittah guarantees abundant produce, neglecting it leads to judgment,” he asserts (p. 49).
Hagee goes on to commit the sharpshooter fallacy once again by citing the terrorist attacks in American on September 11, 2001 and the collapse of the American stock market on September 29, 2008 as examples of major disasters that occurred in those previous Shemittah years. From this he infers that some major crisis or disaster will transpire in September 2015:
The next Shemittah year occurs in 2014-15, which takes place within the series of the next Four Blood Moons.
God always sends a nation warning before He sends judgment; are we listening?
Will America be at war? Will America’s mountain of debt come crashing down, destroying the dollar? Will global terrorists attack our nation again with a force that will make 9/11 pale by comparison?
The next Tetrad will end in September 2015, which will include the Year of Shemittah. Will a crisis happen as before? What earthshaking event will it be?
This we know: things are about to change forever! (p. 51).
We will have to wait until after September 2015 has passed to see what isolated crisis or disaster Hagee will choose to retrofit into his prophetic scheme. Surely he will be able to find something when that time comes with which to satisfy his gullible flock. His “prophecies” are not specific, and that is how he and many other preachers like him get away with their bullshit. Making vague and ambiguous predictions that contain plenty of wiggle room for post-hoc interpretation is the modus operandi of self-proclaimed prophecy experts like Hagee. This is, in large part, the reason the John Hagees and Hal Lindseys of the world have not become the laughingstock they deserve to be in the wider culture. Preachers and evangelists who do make specific and time-sensitive predictions about future end-times events are made notable by the media because of their rarity. For example, the late evangelist and Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping is remembered only for his bold and failed prediction that the Rapture of the Church and Judgment Day would occur on May 21, 2011.
The popularity of books like John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons among Christians desperate for a sign from the physical universe that their beliefs are more than just a pipe dream is symptomatic of a failure on the part of the True Believers to come to grips with reality. The cold, hard fact is that our redemption is not near. No divine entity or superhuman force is going to rescue us from ourselves, and there may well be no happy ending to the story of humanity. If there is a happy ending, we humans must create it on our own. We can only help ourselves by outgrowing our primitive tendency to read our own destiny into ultimately mundane physical phenomena and not living in constant fear of the judgments of a non-existent dictator in the sky. And as long as religion thrives, this primitive tendency and its accompanying fear will persist.