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                                             God's Politics

The Middle East Crisis and the Problems With Biblical Belief

Many Christian writers have written essays on the current crisis in the Middle East. While interesting, the one point that has been missed is that the current war between Israel and Hamas as well as the anti-Semitism that has followed from it both have their origin in silly and very dangerous biblical beliefs.

In Genesis 17: 1-8, we learn that God got into the real estate business and gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. I learned some interesting specifics about this gift from a trip to the Holy Land Lyn and I took five years ago. On our visit to the Temple Mount in the old city of Jerusalem, our guide pointed out the sites where God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. I wondered where the site of Eve's first sin was located which gave birth to the toxic myth of original sin, but I was a good boy and never asked that question. I also remained silent when our guide told us that it was within the sacred grounds of the Temple Mount where God declared Jerusalem to be the eternal capital of Israel. I was wondering if God made such declarations and, if he did, why it took so long for him to deliver on his promise. From the end of Solomon's rule in the tenth century BCE until 1967, close to 3,000 years, Israel has controlled an undivided Jerusalem for less than 200 years.

We were next led to the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in the Muslim world. While we were not allowed to enter either site, we learned all about them. Muslims refer to the Temple Mount as Haram esh-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad embarked on his famous night journey on the back of Buraq, a winged-horse, sometime around 621 CE. When he landed in Jerusalem at the Temple Mount, he led Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayer. He then took off again and flew with the angel Gabriel to heaven where he met with God who he was able to convince to reduce required Muslim prayer from fifty times a day to five. Following the meeting, he returned to earth. This trip to heaven proved to Muslims that Muhammad had a unique status among all of God's prophets.

Our last stop was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site for Christians in the world. Two sites in particular are revered: the chapel which marks where Jesus was crucified and the chapel commemorating where he was buried and from where the resurrection took place. In sum, it was an interesting tour from which I learned that many years ago God was in the real estate business, that prophets can fly, and that 2,000 years ago a man physically rose from the dead. It was never explained where that resurrected body ended up. I guess most would answer heaven wherever that may be.

The problem with sacred beliefs is that they become firmly embedded in the identities of those who hold them with makes compromise on disagreements almost impossible to achieve. The result is distrust, hatred, and war. 

How do such dangerous ideas persist over time? I got an insight on this problem following our tour of the old city in Jerusalem. After visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we were taken to lunch at a hotel in the new section of the city. That gave me a chance to corner the guide in private. I asked him if he was familiar with what many historians say about Roman policy toward crucifixions. Killing fields were set up outside of a city with crosses already in place. These fields were surrounded by Roman troops whose mission was to prevent family members from removing a dead body from a cross for burial. These bodies were left on crosses for animals to devour. The policy was designed to make crucifixions so horrible they would serve as a deterrent for potential political troublemakers. This policy made it likely Jesus was crucified outside of the city without burial, thus negating the story we learned at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

"Yes, I am familiar with that history," the guide responded, "and I'm glad you didn't raise these issues during the tour. Christians on tour want confirmation of New Testament claims. My tip jar would be empty if I suggested it was possible the body of Jesus was left to be consumed by animals."

Not long after the Hamas' terrorist attack on October 7th, significant increases in anti-Semitic incidences were reported within the United Sates and throughout the world. Again, the scourge of anti-Semitism has biblical origins. The problem began with the evangelists spinning the Passion Narrative in such a way as to make "the Jews" responsible for the death of Jesus. The goal was to escape Roman persecution by convincing Roman authorities that Christians were harmless, that Pilate was not responsible for the death of Jesus, that Rome had nothing to fear from this new religion. Read the story of Jesus before Pilate in John 18: 28 through 19: 16. It didn't matter that crucifixion was a Roman punishment, that if the Jews had wanted to kill Jesus, stoning was their method. The Bible puts all the blame on "the Jews" for killing Jesus. James Carroll in Constantine's Sword makes a convincing case that this belief has been responsible for 2,000 years of anti-Semitism.

Sadly, biblical beliefs have played a major role in fueling additional societal problems. The writings of Paul in Romans (1: 26-28) have been behind much of the discrimination against homosexuals and the LGBTQ community generally. Literal belief in the two creation stories in the first three chapters of Genesis have cause considerable delay and made it difficult to pass legislation relating to the climate crisis. Many evangelical Christians believe only God can cause global temperatures to rise. The writings of several New Testament letters concerning the role of women in the church has led to significant discrimination against women which persists today in most evangelical congregations.

The Christian Bible is a human book with many values and teachings that have no relevance to problems in the twenty-first century. The time has come for Christians to look for other sources of guidance when making decisions about how to apply their religion to politics. My suggestion is for them to learn to listen for and then to act upon the whispers that come from God.

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