Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dancing With the Devil

Joe Lieberman will speak to Rev. John Hagee's conference "Christians United for Israel," calling the organization "a vital force in supporting the war against terrorism and defending our ally, Israel." Hagee, of course, is the pastor whose support was actively sought by John McCain only to be rejected when Hagee's statements became public that:

"A hunter is someone with a gun, and he forces you...Hitler was a hunter...How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, 'My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.'"
Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans....New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God...there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came.
Hagee refers to Catholics as "'The Great Whore,' an 'apostate church,' the 'anti-Christ,' and a 'false cult system.'
Lieberman responded to this by saying of Hagee, "I would describe Pastor Hagee with the words the Torah uses to describe Moses, he is an "Eesh Elo Kim," a man of God because those words fit him; and, like Moses he has become the leader of a mighty multitude in pursuit of and defense of Israel."

Lest we roll our eyes and write this off as simply an act of one lone Senator, consider the reaction to Reverend Hagee from AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). He was given a major ovation for his anti-Iranian saber rattling in 2007 and just this last week a mere mention of his name received a rousing cheer.
Speakers at the session, titled “Friends in Faith: Evangelical Christians and the Pro-Israel Movement,” included Gary Bauer, president of American Values; John Buhler, founder of Christian Advocates for Israel; and David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, the group led by Hagee.

“I want to take a moment to discuss with you a good man, evangelical pastor John Hagee,” Brog said to the audience. Before Brog could finish the sentence, the crowd broke into a lengthy round of applause, ending in a standing ovation. Among the few attendees who did not cheer at the mention of Hagee’s name was Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who has occasionally been critical of the ties between the Jewish community and Christian Zionists.
Of course, this is not just about Hagee. There has been a warm embrace of American Dominionists since Begin.

Dominionism is a radical Protestant theology which posits that Man has dominion over every living thing and that there is a demand to convert the world to Christianity. Politically, the view dictates Christian theocracy, but the narrative metaphysic, coming out of an unorthodox interpretation of the Book of Revelations holds that Jesus' return to Earth requires the existence of Israel as a Jewish nation. Upon the return, Jews would convert or be damned. There is no tolerance for the Jews as Jews, but those in Israel serve as a vehicle for the Second Coming. This is how the outward, hard anti-Semitism of the Christian right became soften and hidden beneath pro-Zionist zeal. All of this has only been deepened since American and Israeli security appear to face perils from the same Islamic fundamentalists (This, of course, is a naive oversimplification, but Islamophobia generally does not allow for the details of a complex multinational, multi-ethnic situation).

This enthusiasm for all that would maintain Israel's existence as a Jewish state was not lost on those running the nation. American Jews were one source of income, opening another spigot of cash, diversifying the portfolio seemed like a rational and profitable move.

And so began an odd relationship. The Israelis rolling their eyes at, but pocketing the cash from, these right wing anti-Semites, while the Dominionists defending, arming, and subsidizing the murderers of Jesus who would get theirs eventually, but not until they were raptured away. It is a marriage of convenience without a prenuptial agreement, keeping both partners in the marriage without love.

But a prominent strain of American Judaism has become a sort of proprietary Zionism that more closely resembles Christianity. Judaism is a tribal religion. You are a Jew by birth, not necessarily by faith, and it is intentionally made very difficult for those not born into it to become a "member of the tribe" -- a term still very much in use. Judaic theology is informed largely by the history of being a minority in other people's lands. The understanding of the world is through the eyes of the little guy, the outsider, the oppressed.

Christianity, on the other hand, is an evangelical religion. It is a religion of belief. It was a religion that began and sustained itself through conversion. Souls were things to be gotten and held onto, to be possessed by the organization. Command and control is essential to a faith-based religion starting from a small group, aiming for subsistence and then domination. It is spiritual Amway -- you need to constantly recruit and retain in order to keep the pyramid supported. Add to this, the fairly rapid adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire, turning it into a religion of the powerful and these factors combine to result in a very different ethos at the heart of the religion.

This, of course, is not to say that Jesus' own message is not infused with the Jewish ethos. Of course, it is. It is not to say that one couldn't be Christian and perceive the world from the point of view of the downtrodden. Indeed, Christian liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movements are based in exactly this way. But these are relatively small groups compared with the larger organizational structures that make up Christianity writ large and the point here is that there are theological and sociological factors which actively steer these institution-level organizations in the way that they do.

With the founding of Israel, this same sort of ethos has come to replace the traditional Jewish stance towards life. Land is substituted for souls, but the need to command and control what is deemed valuable and essential for the continuation of the group becomes primary. The perspective then shifts from the outsider trying to be treated justly to the insider, the possessor of power doing whatever is necessary to maintain the source of that power. This is a major shift that does not come without an intellectual cost.

As a result, Dominionists like Hagee who are militaristic and conservative seem much more akin to hawkish Zionists. These people are seen much more as brothers, than as mere cash cows to be exploited while they think they are exploiting the Israelis. The Zionistic fervor of hyper-Zionistic Jews have led them to look at these Christian theocrats and think to themselves "Hey, they aren't that bad looking, in fact, they're kind of cute..." Like a long-lasting arranged marriage, American Zionists are falling for these people who have no doubt -- and no problem with the belief -- that all Jews will go to hell.

Wittgenstein invokes the image of a ladder that gets thrown away once it has been climbed. This is precisely how the Dominionists see the Jews. Love 'em and leave 'em. Lieberman may think he's a real player for showing up to prom with this rich evangelical movement on his arm. But Hagee's phrase "the great whore" may come back to haunt those who choose to dance with the devil.