2007-08-10

Christian Zionism: assumptions and a humanist’s critique

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Christian Zionists are Christians who believe that the Bible prophesies and validates the migration of Jews to Palestine as a sign of the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ. They support the establishment of the Jewish state in the Middle East today, and their claim to the whole land of Biblical Israel, and accordingly deny Palestinian rights.

Gary Burge contributed “Theological and Biblical Assumptions of Christian Zionism” (originally as a conference paper) for Challenging Christian Zionism : Theology, Politics and the Israel-Palestine Conflict (2005). He discerns six steps by which Christian Zionist theology is developed (pp.51-53):

1. Biblical Israel and Modern Israel

God’s covenant with Biblical Israel was eternal and unconditional, and thus applicable to modern Jews and Judaism today. The modern Israeli state is therefore the direct heir to the promise made to Abraham, and the resumption of the ancient state of Israel.

2. The Territory of Eretz Israel

God’s promise of the land of Palestine to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was unconditional and eternal. It is not contingent upon obedience. Thus the land occupied by Israel today is theirs by God’s promise, and must be held on to by Jews at all costs.

3. The Modern Application of Prophecy

The prophetic books of the Bible foretell events today and are not exclusively related to their own times. Having the right keys to understanding unlocks an true interpretation of these modern end-time prophecies. The critical prophetic event was the establishment of modern Israel in 1948. From this time on the world should expect the unravelling of civilization and order as the Second Coming draws near. Modern political alliances — in favour of modern Israel or opposed to this state — indicate which side nations will be on in the final battle of Armageddon.

4. Blessing Modern Israel

Believing Christians are obliged to bless and favour Israel at every turn. They take Genesis 12:3 personally as a divine command to bless Israel. To bless and pray for Israel means they will be blessed by God and to curse or speak against Israel means they will be cursed by God. This does not mean that they necessarily approve all of Israel’s policies, but it does mean that any public criticism will be muted.

5. The Church

There are currently two covenants of God in action. God’s original covenant was with the Jews, and when they rejected Christ the Church was born (almost as an afterthought) while the Times of the Gentiles took over. At the end the Church will be raptured away leaving God to work once again through his primary covenant people, Israel. So the covenant given through Moses will once again assume priority over the one given through Christ.

6. An Ongoing Program for Judaism

Christian Zionists are divided on how the future of the Jews will play out. A minority read Romans 9-11 as indicating that Israel will be saved as Jews, not Christians; the majority believe that Israel will convert to Christianity “at the endtime”.

Critique

Gary Burge critiques each of these assumptions, and their further implications, with a combination of logical argument and biblical rejoinder. I won’t repeat those here but will look at the assumptions from another perspective.

Edward Said wrote the influential and controversial Orientalism in which, despite its many weaknesses, he makes the interesting observation that modern anti-semitism has largely bifurcated since the Holocaust into two strands:

  1. A transfer of demonization of the Semitic race from the Jews to their Arab brothers;
  2. A kind of reverse racism towards the Jews giving them a status of special justification that is denied to others.

If true, the second point may perhaps be a guilt reaction among Western nations over their treatment of the Jews during the Second World War and the years preceding that. Germans were not the only guilty party, since many Jews attempting to seek refuge in Western countries from as early as the later 1930’s were denied entry.

The six assumptions of Christian Zionism, and their consequences in the real world, are a classic illustration of both strands of such a model of bifurcated anti-semitism.

People — even real people in the real world — in the minds of Christian Zionists become characters in a literary and theological drama. Characters in literature are characters in our minds, our imaginations. We flesh them out mentally with the thrilling words of the literary drama. This biblical drama is the primary focus of the Christian Zionist. And it is this drama that is imposed on the reports they read in newspapers and see on television.

This is no surprise. If Christian Zionism is related to religious fundamentalism then those who take the Bible seriously in that way will also come to understand themselves as actors in the great cosmic drama. Their view of themselves and others will be decided by the teachings of the Book. That means most will see themselves as:

  1. sinners in need of continual mercy, being obliged to constantly suppress or deny their basic nature by demonizing “sinful” impulses and thoughts;
  2. it will also mean they will see themselves having a special status in God’s plan.

There is the same bifurcation that is imposed on the two races in the bible’s end time play: demonization and elect “angelization”. By “angelization” I am thinking of the original sense of the word meaning a specially chosen envoy of God. Dare we also think of psychological projection?

The main point is that Jews and Arabs (particularly Palestinian Arabs) are both dehumanized by Christian Zionism.

The Arabs are dehumanized by not being viewed as fellow-humans who have the same feelings about their land and heritage and families and societies as any people does, but by being seen as the biblical enemies of God’s chosen people, as any of the biblical races destined for genocide (Canaanites or Amalekites etc). So their violence is viewed as criminally incorrigible.

The Jews are dehumanized by not being viewed as fellow-humans who are entitled to the same accusations of weaknesses and foibles and less desirable human traits with which we can fault ourselves, but as somehow their chosen status redeems them from the same level of guilt and culpability. So their violence is viewed as measured defensive response.

Both are seen as little more than actors of a script, and the Christian Zionists see themselves watching a play, cheering when the heroes do well and booing when the villains strike.

Would that the play were a Shakespearean drama and not the black and white simplistic dehumanizing plot of the Bible story. At least if they knew Shakespeare as much as their Bibles they would have a chance of seeing all characters as a complex mix of all that goes into making us human, and be capable of engaging in an honest and realistic debate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.