2 Jul 2012
I would encourage people to read, in conjunction with (and after a certain sense in counterpoint to) Mr Hanson's essay, - first of all Tom Cahill's "The Gifts of the Jews" and then Jacques Ellul - 'The Meaning of the City' (which covers the entire sweep of the Biblical story, Tanakh and Christian scripture together), 'Politics of God, Politics of Man', and 'Money and Power' [L'Homme et L'Argent] (which explains comprehensively why abandoning the worship of what the TaNaKh identifies as Moloch, and bowing down instead to what Our Lord identifies as 'Mammon', is merely to exchange one flavour of demonic possession, for another).
And yet again, I encourage people to read David Bentley Hart, chapter two of his book 'Atheist Delusions', which chapter is entitled 'The Age of Freedom'.
I am wary of the America = [ancient or modern] Israel analogy.
I am wary of drawing parallels between the Pioneers and the Hebrew Patriarchs; between the establishment of teeny, tiny, carefully bounded eretz Israel, within a region to which the tribes of Israel were in fact a 'native people' (the Hebrew language and Hebrew genetics are clearly related to the languages and genetics of the other ancient peoples of that region) and the conquest of the vast lands of North America which involved the taking possession of the lion's share of an entire inhabited continent, by a bunch of absolute foreigners who arrived as if from outer space, across thousands of miles of ocean, with a boundless sense of entitlement, a rather disturbingly-pagan dream of 'Manifest Destiny' and an endless supply of ammunition. The analogy is false, too, in that the ancient Israelites were not overwhelmingly technologically and militarily superior to the Canaanites (as the invading Europeans were to the native Americans); rather the reverse. Nor did the Hebrews have at their back an enormous demographic explosion, providing an endless stream of reinforcements for a process of demographic swamping.
The original conquest of Canaan as represented in the Bible is a reversal of the usual Way of the World whereby Might Makes Right; it has always seemed to me from the biblical narratives that the Canaanites (and, for that matter, after them, the terrifying Philistines) were more numerous and much more powerful and better armed than the Israelites; it is as if a few ragtag tribes of native Americans had crossed the ocean and conquered 18th-century Britain. And one might add that the modern rebirth of Israel, for that matter, is not analogous to the conquest of the Americas, either; rather, it is as if the Cherokee or the Navajo who had been displaced and dispersed, were to suddenly return to their ancient lands, (reinforcing those of their people who had always stubbornly remained there), reassert sovereignty, and be reborn as an independent nation.
There is only one Israel, and it is not in the New World. Period. The original Chosen People are not Americans; the people of the TaNaKh are the Hebrews, the House of Israel. As for the church, sometimes seen as the new or 'spiritual' Israel: the Christian Scriptures make it plain that all people, from all nations, are called to be part of the Church, the gathering of those who acknowledge as their Saviour and Lord the Jew Yeshua of Nazareth; no one nation, no matter how deeply Christianised, can usurp the role of the Church Universal.
However difficult and uncomfortable that may be for Americans steeped in their national mythos to absorb, those are the historical and theological fact.
The earthly Jerusalem is in the Middle East.
The heavenly Jerusalem (which intersects with or after a manner coinheres with the earthly Jerusalem) includes people from all nations; not merely those who migrate to the American 'melting pot' and take part in the American project or experiment, but those who faithfully live out their Christian calling all over the world in their countries of origin. It includes Armenians, Copts, Ethiopians, South Koreans, Chinese, Indians; persons who through the whole of their earthly lives have inhabited in the past and mow and in the future will inhabit nations other than the USA.
The heavenly Jerusalem is not confined to or the exclusive possession of the Anglosphere, nor 'the West'.
The 'city on the hill', the 'light to the nations' was first of all the House of Israel, whether within Israel or as diaspora (the first people who heard Jesus use this language were all of them Jews living in eretz Israel), and it may be manifest, in varying degrees and 'styles', by any Christian community in any ethnic or political context, anywhere.
Each individual, family, tribe or ethnos that embraces the faith is thereafter called to manifest the light in its common life. If the USA were to cease to exist, if it were to fall, as Byzantium in all its magnificence and beauty fell, we Christians are bound as a simple matter of faith to affirm that the light of Christ will continue to shine in the world, slowly and patiently and painfully transforming individuals and nations, in different ways in each.
For Our Lord sent his followers out to 'disciple' - that is, to teach - 'the nations', to cast and demons and heal the sick and raise the dead; not to create a temporal empire. He said nothing about killing, or enslaving, or dispossessing, or driving out, and by demographic swamping overwhelming and replacing, any people who seemed on first contact to be harder to evangelise than others.
The first outlines of what we think of today as human rights doctrine were hammered out, so Bishop Michael Nazir Ali discovered in his researches, by counter-cultural Christian missionaries challenging the widespread assumption that it was alright to enslave, dispossess or even kill the tribal people of central and southern America, because they were pagans. These Christians - I cannot recall of the top of my head whether they were Dominicans, or Jesuits, or both - argued that Christians had no mandate to enslave or dispossess pagans and rob them of their homes, lands and possessions. Even while they are pagan, these people remain children of Adam, and the imago dei remains discernible in them, however damaged or disfigured. IN other words: Christianity, once one thinks through its first principles with sufficient rigour and attention, does not allow or encourage Christians to engage in what might be read as an imitation of Mohammedan Jihad.
The taking of Canaan must be viewed as a one-off event. To take it as a model valid for all time, and so to use it to excuse or to justify what was done in the Americas or for that matter in Australia was unwarranted, theologically; perhaps even heretical.
For every one among the new arrivals who refused to subscribe to the theory that 'the only good Indian (or Aborigine) is a dead one', there seem to have been many more - especially those who were already drifting away from the Faith, who would as time went on eagerly embrace 'scientific racism', social darwinism, or find eugenics and Nazism nicely to their taste - who found it awfully convenient to classify native americans (and in Australia, aborigines) as either non-human or as under a divine Ban, like the people of Jericho: irredeemable, beyond the reach of divine grace, not even worth the attempt of evangelisation, and therefore to be driven out or crushed without compunction. There were heroic exceptions, people who did try to learn the languages and translate scripture and communicate the gospel, stubbornly clinging to Jesus' orders - 'teach all nations' - and stubbornly believing that that nothing is too hard for the Lord and that therefore these strange, violent, different peoples must be no less open to divine grace than any others on the face of the planet; but they were exceptions, not the norm.
Too many of our Christian forebears seem to have forgotten that they lived under the New, not the Old, dispensation; post-resurrection. That to treat the native Americans or for that matter (I am Australian) the native Australians - who were no worse morally or politically, so far as I can see, than our own pagan tribal European ancestors, or than the (now thoroughly Christianised) head-hunting Torres Strait Islanders and South Sea Islanders- as if they were the doomed inhabitants of Jericho or Ai - was a massive theological error and a failure of faith.
25 Jul 2012
This Tea-Party sermon is interesting, revealing the endless fungiblity of biblical ideas, but it falls short on two levels. First, Abraham is not doing it by or for himself, he has the Ultimate Welfare State, a supreme being, backing and subsidzing his venture. He is as much an agent as a free agent.
Also, I weary and am wary of the American-Israelite analogy. America is not ancient Israel, it enjoys neither the prophetic endorsement or the divine obligation. The USA falls squarely into the