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The Craziness that is Christian Zionism
While it seems obvious, to anyone who is educated about the origins of the Israel-Palestine issue, that the root cause of the conflict is essentially non-religious in nature, millions of Christians (the majority of whom live in the U.S.) believe that their particular interpretation of the Bible gives them the inside scoop as to what is really going on in the Middle East. Disagreement with this position by anyone is seen as evidence of rebellion against God, or at the very least, compromising God’s word. As such they simply ignore all attempts to rationally discuss the issue from any perspective other than their own narrow Biblical interpretation. They see that the integrity of their own walk with God, if not their eternal salvation, depends on never letting the lies of Satan that contradict their view of the Bible ever get a foot hold in their minds. In fact I greatly suspect that many Christian Zionists see that their resistance to listening to views of the conflict, other than their own, as evidence of their faithfulness to God. The more virulent they are in unconditionally defending the state of Israel (despite the cries of injustice even by fellow Christians) and ignoring any other considerations outside their Biblical narrative, the more they prove to themselves that they are indeed walking with God.
This mentality makes it extremely difficult to engage Christian Zionists and I often feel that trying to convince them to even consider other views is much like trying to deprogram members of a mad religious cult like that of Jim Jones in Guyana. But my own example forces me to believe that repudiating Christian Zionist thinking is not futile. As a former “card carrying” member of the religious right, I can testify to how reason and logic can win out over the toxic doctrines of extremist Christianity.
With this in mind I want to go through a number of the main points of weakness of the Christian Zionist position from not only a Biblical (scriptural) position but from an ethical position which non-Christians can grasp as well.
Perhaps the most important claim that Christian Zionists make is that the Bible teaches that Jewish people have an absolute entitlement to the land of Palestine simply by virtue of their Jewishness alone according to the promises of God to the patriarch Abraham. Jewish people own the land and have the right to possess it regardless of the cost to any previous inhabitants and do with it whatever they please. Given this fact, Christians should unconditionally support the Israeli state according to Christian Zionist dogma.
The falsity of this claim is so plainly stated in scripture that it simply beggars belief that anyone would believe it. Two thousand years of Jewish and Christian religious tradition have affirmed the completely conditional nature of Jewish occupation of the Holy Land. Leviticus 25:23 plainly tells us that the proper understanding of the relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Palestine is that God owns the land and the Jewish people are His tenants. Tenants do not own the land they occupy regardless of the fact that they may possess a lease with no time limit. Outside of the conditions of the tenancy agreement, the Jewish people’s occupation of the land is illegitimate. Strict conditions apply to their occupation of the land. Conditions that require them to conform to the ethical and religious traditions of the Torah. Ethical conditions that demand equal treatment for non-Jews living in the land with eviction and exile being the consequences of breaking these covenantal conditions. Nowhere in scripture does God refer to the Jewish people as co-owners of the land with Himself. He owns the land. The Jewish people’s role is one of tenants, not landlords.
Nearly equal in importance to the above claim is the role and understanding of Biblical prophecy as they believe it relates to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
For many Christians, biblical prophecy is about the specific prediction of future events. The ability to accurately predict future events is seen as evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible and hence, for them, prophecy plays an important role in Christian apologetics. That is, the ability of the Bible to predict future events is an apologetic tool that can be used to help convince non-Christians of the divine inspiration of the Bible and the veracity of its message to repent, believe and be saved. Biblical understanding that views the role of the prophet as more of a social critic than a seer or a soothsayer undercut this apologetic nature of prophecy. As such, those who hold to the predictive understanding of prophecy consider the social critic view as a sell out and suspect cowardly, liberal and “godless” motives behind such a view. They suspect that those who reject the predictive future events view do so because today’s secularized society frowns upon alleged evidence of the supernatural and hence some Christians change their view because they do not want to incur the ridicule of today’s modern “scientific” worldview.
On top of this issue is the idea that those who understand the proper (predictive) interpretation of prophecy have “inside” knowledge that gives the individual a feeling of empowerment over those who are “disobedient” to God’s word in that they refuse to interpret the Bible properly. Those who interpret world events through predictive prophecy will have more insight than all the political and historical analysts put together ever will. This is an incredibly empowering view and, understandably, the average Christian finds it extremely satisfying and is unwillingly to let it go without a fight.
The unfortunate reality (for Christian Zionists) is that once again, two thousand years of Jewish and Christian religious tradition have given far more affirmation to the social critic view of prophecy than the specific future events view, and with good Biblical reason.
Another aspect of Christian Zionist understanding of prophecy has to do with how it creates ethical dilemmas for the believer which, in the end, betrays many of the prejudices of the Christian Zionist movement.
In ancient mythology, having the ability to know the future, and not being able to change it, was seen as a curse. The reason why is obvious. We can easily imagine how disturbing it would be to know that a loved one is about to die horribly when we can do nothing to stop it. Specific knowledge, particularly of negative future events, would lead to an attitude of fatalism and despair. Why try to make the world a better place if you know that it can never be? This is exactly the problem with Christian Zionism. On numerous occasions I have had Christian Zionists come up to me at protests and inform me that what I am doing is useless. The world is going to disappear down a dark void of horror and there is nothing anyone can do about it! Just preach the Gospel (i.e. terrify people with hellfire and damnation if they don’t support Israel) and leave it at that!
How they harmonise this attitude with the total lack of fatalism and despair evidenced by characters in the Bible like the Apostle Paul (Christ Himself telling us that “Blessed (rather than futile morons) be the peacemakers”) is hard to imagine. Christian Zionist attitudes encourage us to give up on the peace process in the Middle East. This ultimately entails giving up on people. A view the Bible, and Jesus, has no time for. When challenged about this negative attitude, apologists for Christian Zionism point to the reprobate nature of Arabs, and thereby descend into outright racism.
I greatly suspect that anyone who vigorously adopts and defends a theology whereby consideration of human rights and equality is trumped by the dictates of the predictions that accompany their particular interpretation of the Bible, never really had any great commitment to the concepts of equality and human rights in the first place. It is not surprising then that many conservative Christians of this type never have much to say about justice for indigenous peoples or the evils of colonialism.
Just these few points should send alarm bells to anyone considering the Christian Zionist position. Many others could be mentioned. A view of prophecy and eschatology that puts God’s care and concern for justice for all peoples on the back-burner and demonises certain groups has already put itself out of the running in the realm of Christian ideas.