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June 22, 2003 Opinion

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Church and State (God Told Me To Hate You)

From the mathematician Stephen Roberts - "I contend that we are both atheists.  I just believe in one fewer god than you do.  When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
Spinoza - "If a triangle could speak, it would say . . . that God is eminently triangular."
Cal Thomas (Washington Post columnist) - "The right has been looking for an enemy to replace communism since 1990.  And maybe Islam is it."
And at this site - http://www.cafeshops.com/cp/store.aspx?s=godtoldme -- you can order shirts, coffee mugs, hats, aprons, license plate frames and lots of things displaying the words "GOD TOLD ME TO HATE YOU" in many styles and colors.  It's a joke, right?


The Los Angeles Times lands with a thunk outside my door each morning.  The cat jumps.  The Times is, of course, much better at covering "lifestyle" than news and opinion, this being Los Angeles, and my edition covering the Westside and Hollywood.  But sometimes there is something cool on the editorial page, and last Wednesday it was a review of how the "Christian Evangelical Right" in this country is using the Bible to explain to themselves, and to the rest of the world, just how things should go in the middle-east and what US policy should be.

The research was done by one Darrell L. Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary and a "professor of spiritual development and culture" - but I'm not sure what that is.

Perhaps current events had me in the mood for considering the apocalypse.  Glancing up the hill that morning I saw no pale rider anywhere near Laurel Canyon.  If I had gone down to the beach a few miles away I doubt I'd have seen Bergman's knight playing chess with that Death fellow with the scythe, if you remember that film -- I think it was "The Seventh Seal."  Such things may happen on Scandinavian beaches, but not in Santa Monica.  But I'll keep an eye out for such things and let you all know.

In any event, Bock explained the rationale, chapter and verse, literally, for why Israel should have all the land, and why it shouldn't - until the Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah of course.  He explained why the Christian right supports Sharon as one more fellow hastening the end of days and the rapture and all that - all part of what is in the Book of Daniel about bringing on Armageddon.  It seems that is to be desired.  Indeed.

That got me down. 

To explain, after I left teaching English and music and before I became a senior systems manager herding programmer-analysts running large financial and manufacturing systems, I taught leadership and supervision seminars for a large aerospace company.

One of my most difficult moments teaching supervisory skills at Hughes-Raytheon back in the early eighties was when, in a small workshop discussing leadership and motivating employees, one line manager said to us all he didn't want to read any management books or take the training course.  All he needed to know was in the Bible, and Jesus was the ultimate business manager.  And there was no questioning this.  The Buddhist Vietnamese fellow in the class stiffened.  The Japanese engineering supervisor, who was Shinto, just grinned.  I didn't have any Muslims that day.  Sigh.  I don't remember how I responded.  But I suppose I said something diplomatic.

Our president is one of these "born-again" folks.  Bush does remind me of that line manager from long ago.  I find that a little creepy.  When Bush was forty-three he claims he was born again - he stopped drinking heavily, actually entirely, and stopped doing cocaine - and he became a new man.  He gave himself to Jesus.  It's all there.  Not hidden at all.  He always knows he's doing the right thing.  There's quote after quote one can find where he says he is humbled that he was chosen by God to lead us through these times.

Well, perhaps this is harmless enough, but there seems to be a lot in the air these days about the coming apocalypse and the rapture where the "saved" ascend to heaven as the world ends.

In the article I found in my morning Times there was little reference to the Left Behind novels that are so popular in the US these day - where the world ends and the good guys rise.  Bock instead went to the Bible and did his "chapter and verse," so to speak, because, as he points out,

"In recent years, conservative Christians across the country have grown increasingly involved in the Mideast peace process.  Even though the conflict in the region is nominally one between Jews and Muslims - in which Christians appear to have less of a stake - conservative Christians have been drawn in for a variety of reasons, both biblical and practical."

Genesis 12:1-3 makes a promise of land to the seed of Abraham that became the Jewish people. And Muslims believe they are descended from the very same Abraham -- a difficulty.  But God promised in this same passage that those who blessed Israel would be blessed and those who cursed Israel would be cursed.

Then he cites Romans 11; Acts 3:18-22 where God's commitment to Israel means that the Jewish nation has a God-given right to the land and adds,

"The Bible predicted that one day, the nation of Israel would be reestablished in the land.  When Israel declared independence in 1948, many interpreted the event to mean the beginning of the "last days" prophecy, even though many of those same Christians believe that the bulk of biblical prophecy will not be fulfilled until all or most Jews accept Jesus as the messiah.

"The logic goes that if God has given the land to Israel, then asking Israel to give away that land for peace is going against the Bible. Hence, these believers oppose any effort to give land to the Palestinians."

Of course some on the Christian Evangelical Right believe that if the "road map" peace plan which is currently being discussed is in fact the treaty mentioned in Daniel 9:27, then there will be peace for three and a half years before there is a major war - Armageddon - for another three and a half years.   This prophecy is known as Daniel's Seventy Weeks, wherein each week equals seven years, and we are in Daniel's last week.

Oh great.

Bock is fair of course, as he points out others believe that Israel has the right to the land, but that it also has a responsibility to treat the foreigner with justice (Exodus 23:9).  So it is important to play nice, I guess.  And he adds, "Still other conservative Christians do not believe that the state of Israel still has a right to the land because the Jews have not accepted Jesus as the messiah, and hence Israel has forfeited God's promises." 

Then there are the radical Muslim fellows who believe that mere Jewish presence defiles the Holy Land - and thus Israel as the Jewish state must be removed and the Palestinians liberated.

This is all greatly depressing.

That Bush has a core constituency of votes he must court on the Christian Evangelical Right, a large bloc in the Republican Party, and that he identifies himself as saved, born again and chosen by God, has implications for what we do now and how we justify it.  And it doesn't bode well for getting along well with the Islamic world.  Their "right wing" is just as... adamant?  I guess that word will do.

And on the practical day-to-day level, what are we to do with Franklin Graham, Billy's son, who seems to want approval to go to Iraq and convert these heathens from what he calls their "evil religion?"  Bush has several times offended Graham and his friends by saying Islam is a "religion of peace" that has been hijacked, or misappropriated or something, by fanatics. 

But then on Good Friday Rumsfeld had Franklin Graham lead the Christian service at the Pentagon.  We pissed off a lot of American Muslims that day.  Why did it have to be Franklin Graham?  There are tens of thousands of articulate Christian leaders.  Why him?  Must have had to do with keeping a core constituency happy.  Oh well.

We live in interesting times. 

It might be better if we had leaders, around the world, who left their religion at home when then went to work each morning.  But just as in the Islamic world where that is considered impossible, since religion cannot be separated from the rest of life, so we seem to be moving in the same direction. 

Perhaps the wall between Church and State was all along just a pretty fiction.


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22 June 2003