Religion in America II

in imperial watch| purple people

[sepoy notes: On the inerrancy of text, see Holy Writ in the latest Economist (thanks, moacir). The piece focuses on Christian and Muslim traditions and has some excellent quotes and nice overview of the tension between textual literalists and textual critics. On the end times in Muslim eschatology, I briefly touched on this here and, depending on where farangi takes us, will have more to say.]

Pro-Semitic Anti-Semitism

American culture, specifically in its fundamentalist flavor, views the absurd categorical concept of “Jewishness” along a broad spectrum spanning from proxied loathing to unabashed enthusiasm – sometimes at once. Its posture is, quite literally, passive-aggressive1. Average American fundamentalists, by some accounts 60 million strong generally do not live in areas with a high Jewish population, and do not have much opportunity to meet modern Judaism where it breathes. They do, however, have a fine and frequent opportunity to meet “Jews”2 living between 4004 BCE and 9X CE.

From this stance, they tend to make assumptions about this world based upon the Bible’s portrayal of that one. For fundamentalist Christians in America, history began, quite literally, with God’s speaking light into existence in 4004 BCE, and ends, for all practical dating purposes, at the Resurrection, circa 33 CE. From there, it went on 1900 year hiatus that ended in 1948, when the Mogen David was raised in Tel Aviv. That day, the clock counting back to the world’s end began to tick – so long as Israel exists, fundamentalists hold hope that the Temple Mount can be razed of Muslim holy sites and the all-important “Third Temple” might be rebuilt on the Haram al-Sharif3. This is the queer source of fundamentalist support for the modern State of Israel, which they believe and teach to be synonymous and historically contiguous with the tiny Hebrew city-state of the Old Testament, 3500 years gone.

Cynical leaders of every stripe and faith exploit this absurdity РAIPAC for contributions, Republicans for votes, Israel itself for tourism, televangelists for donations. Yet one worries about a day of reckoning if it should happen that Jesus does not soon physically establish his beachhead on the Mount of Olives. Christians have been waiting for this event for 2000 years. What to do if the end times donít come?

The Jews of the average fundamentalist’s world are either secular, or faithful. These designations are half-baked, essentially, and do not take into account the complexity of human beings, much less human cultures. That alone would be offensive, but not dangerous, except for this: it is taken as given is the inevitability that every Jew will return to Israel before or during the Great Tribulation4, and once there, will either convert to Christianity (only 144,000 do) or be massacred.5

Consider it. A sizeable minority of Americans believe with faith that would shame the most ardent Marxist that it is an historical inevitability for every Jew in the world to return to Israel and convert to Christianity or die. Our president believes this, as do many in Congress. And our policies reflect it. This uneasy alliance may be fine for now, but anyone with a clue about history, religion and human nature must admit this relationship makes all the sense of a†turkey helping hungry Pilgrims prepare dinner.

Most fundamentalists already hate America’s Jews, though for now they’re unaware of it. Be it in the secular liberal media, through disdain for the ACLU, or “Hollywood elites”, or “America’s out-of-touch secular Universities”, or a secular establishment, things these days, or they, the fundamentalist narrative has a full lexicon of shell words which describe, for now, straw men. Closer examination will show that in almost every example, these codes refer to organizations, entities or concepts owing their orientation, founding or success in some measure to‚ historical contributions of outstanding individual Jews.

Neil Gabler, a Fox News contributor, noticed this, and recently on December 2004’s last Fox News Watch, called it: “There’s something disturbing going in the manner with which the media describe legal issues surrounding Holiday season church-state challenges,” he said.6. Then he read examples from print media linking the ACLU or an identifiably Jewish surname to hostile-to-Christmas quotes. Gabler mused, with perhaps a pinch too great of drama, that December 2004 might have been a turning point in American interfaith dialogue similar to the burning of the Reichstag. The other panelists, to this writer’s knowledge non-Jewish all, were overtly dismissive.

But his co-panelists were representative of American Christian intellectuals, who relate to Jews in large part through education, vocation or affinity. In many cases, the Jews those intellectuals meet are either non-religious in their outlooks or, if involved in a faith community, are from reform temples. Those from conservative or orthodox congregations are less common but certainly present. The strictures of so-called ultra-Orthodox life means American intellectuals engage very devout Jews on a far less regular basis, though some are well-acquainted with Orthodox Judaism as an abstraction, through reading, study or formal contact.

In this way, nominally Christian or unorthodox Christian intellectuals meet generally positive progressive Jewish representations, often in formative school years, which is why most cannot fathom expressing the sentiments mouthed by open anti-Semites. In my opinion, this explains their ambiguous discomfort with the code of shell-words currently in place, blaming the modern liberal nation state and its progressive values on influences, which are not yet overtly linked in popular polite discourse to Jewish culture, thought and values. They know something is wrong with the argument, but have‚ perhaps not heard enough vile anti-Semites in action to spot the tropes, or are as yet too uncomfortable -held as they are by otherwise respectable thinkers -to call them what they are.

It’s a situation of tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum: fundamentalists have fantasies about an unfulfilled pre-Christian Judaism that may never have existed (and wrong notions about Jewish enthusiasm for the inevitable “convert or die” pitch), while their more sophisticated counterparts know more and enough of Judaism to know better, but too little about fundamentalism to do the narrative crisis any damn good. Anti-Semitism survives under cloak: the old, internally enforced taboo against Jew-baiting in polite bourgeois society won’t catch it. So it waits, grows, mutates on talk-radio and conservative television, and hangs there, ripe for rhetorical picking. I do not care to speculate on the time or circumstance, but two dots so easy to exploit by men of ill-will are unlikely to remain unconnected for long.

Fundamentalists are likely to continue their obsession with Israel, and their dated assumptions about Jews, until the end-times narrative is filled or rendered moot. Let’s hope the state of biblical and religious literacy in America, and the world, improves. Dogma that could morph into a mega-Holocaust, nevertheless held dear by otherwise goodhearted people as sacrosanct beliefs, ought to be described plainly, shown to be evil, false or downright stupid, and banned from the menu of ideas considered legitimate in civil society.

Sadly, such an appeal to reason is unlikely to work, due to a 500 year old flaw in Protestant thinking that began as a needed correction to Episcopal excesses in Catholicism, but soon became an article of the Dissenting creed that is as important as the rejection of Romeís authority.

[to be continued]

—–

[1] DSM IV (1994): indicated by four (or more) of the following: passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks; complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others; is sullen and argumentative; unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority; expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate; voices exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune; alternates between hostile defiance and contrition. (It should be noted that the author exhibits all these traits pretty much constantly.)

[2] Emphasis added because people of those eras likely would not have known themselves as Jews in the same manner as many Jews regard themselves today; i.e., with religious identities affected strongly by regional or national origin (Sephardic v. Ashkenazi), synagogue and scholarly traditions, diasporic orientation, and the Holocaust.

[3] The “Third Temple” is the setting for “The Abomination of Desolation” in the Holy of Holies, which involves the Anti-Christ performing some sort of unnamable sacrilege on the Altar. For two millennia, this was impossible, because there were few Jews in Syria to build a temple, and fewer willing to attempt demolition the Mosque complex on the Temple Mount. 1948 meant hope, and an apparent legitimization of St. John’s hallucinogenesque prophecies.

[4] 7 year period of intense suffering, death and disease marking the end of the End.

[5] “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” Rev. 7:2-5

[6] Good-faith paraphrase.

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