September 2011


Pastor Nadarkhani was convicted of apostasy in Iran, despite the fact that he has never been a practicing Muslim (he converted to Christianity when he was a teenager). He is now under sentence of death, a sentence that may be carried out as early as this week. Please be praying for the Iranians to listen to those voices that have been pleading for his life, and for courage for him in the face of barbarity.

You can write to the Iranian Embassy in Washington at this link. (Thanks to Viviana Duque.)

I want to say I envy the Catholic priest, because when they have someone in confession it’s all kept secret. When I have somebody asking me for advice, it spreads worldwide and it’s misunderstood.

Pat Robertson, referring to his remarks on marriage and Alzheimer’s, apparently lamenting the fact that anyone watches the 700 Club (he’s not alone in that)

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court made an enormous mistake in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez when it declared that public universities may deny recognition to student groups based on the latter’s refusal to knuckle under to academic orthodoxy. I said at the time that we’d soon see the bitter fruit of this mistake. Vanderbilt University, an erstwhile Methodist institution, is determined to make me look like a prophet. According to Fox News:

Is Vanderbilt University flirting with the suppression of religion? Yes, according to Carol Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt’s Law School.

Specifically, Swain is referring to four Christian student groups being placed on “provisional status” after a university review found them to be in non-compliance with the school’s nondiscrimination policy.

Vanderbilt says the student organizations cannot require that leaders share the group’s beliefs, goals and values. Carried to its full extent, it means an atheist could lead a Christian group, a man a woman’s group, a Jew a Muslim group or vice versa.

If they remain in non-compliance, the student organizations risk being shut down.

Among the groups that is so threatened is–surprise!–the Christian Legal Society:

Among the groups threatened with shut down is the Christian Legal Society. It ran afoul with this language from its constitution. “Each officer is expected to lead Bible studies, prayer and worship at chapter meetings.” CLS President Justin Gunter told me, “We come together to do things that Christians do together. Pray, and have Bible studies.”

To that, Rev. Gretchen Person – interim director of the Office of Religious Life at Vanderbilt – responded “Vanderbilt policies do not allow this expectation/qualification for officers.” Gunter has been negotiating with the university and has taken some language out of the CLS constitution – including the requirement that Student Coordinators “should strive to exemplify Christ-like qualities.” But he says he has to draw the line at the requirement regarding Bible studies, prayer and worship.

This is, to put it bluntly, insane, unless the Vanderbilt’s purpose is specifically to suppress any dissent from reigning academic orthodoxy. The CLS doesn’t mandate that one must be a Christian in order to be a member, take part in activities, or benefit from the group. Instead, it does when any organization, of whatever ideology, theology, purpose, or intent does–it requires that the individuals leading the group actually adhere to whatever is the underlying purpose of the group.

When the Rev. Person (ELCA, in case you’re wondering) is saying here, in essence, is that the CLS may not function as a Christian organization as long as it is connected in any way with Vanderbilt University. At that point, she may as well resign her position, because she is decreeing that the university has no need for, and no desire to in any way accommodate, religion on its campus, unless said religions give up any requirements for its leaders that might actually suggest that they are, you know, religious.

Vanderbilt officials refused to be interviewed [what a surprise--DSF], and instead released a statement saying in part “We are committed to making our campus a welcoming environment for all of our students.” In regard to the offending student organizations, officials said they “continue to work with them to achieve compliance.”

In fact, they are doing just the opposite. They are seeking to make the university a place where those who dissent from the reigning orthodoxy–above all, on the subject of homosexuality, but in truth for those who take their faith seriously–are outcasts, unwelcome to so much as express their doubts that the reigning orthodoxy is correct. That last phrase (“continue to work with them to achieve compliance.”) tells you all you need to know. The CLS and other religious organizations will  bend the knee to Baal, or they will be cast out.

I hope the Supremes are happy with what they have wrought.

The PCUSA’s Israel Palestine Mission Network has put an astonishing post on their Facebook page that strengthens my contention that the leadership, at least, of the IPMN is essentially anti-Semitic. It links to an article at Occupied Palestine (a site that itself links to anti-Semitic sites and propaganda) by Gilad Atzmon, a quintessential anti-Semitic Jew who has trafficked with Jew haters across the world.

In an article that first appeared at the anti-Semitic cesspool Veterans Today, Atzmon describes a controversy that has broken out between Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and University of Chicago professor John Mersheimer, whose book with Harvard prof Stephen Walt called The Israel Lobby has become a touchstone for anti-Israel conspiracy paranoids everywhere. The controversy surrounds Mersheimer’s endorsement of Atzmon’s new book, The Wandering Who, which is significant considering the extent to which both secular and religious left anti-Israel activists rely on Mersheimer and Walt (who has also endorsed Atzmon)–the IPMN’s Facebook post, in fact, says, “A new book endorsed by John Mersheimer,” so presumably its membership should read it.

Atzmon’s book is, as you might expect, apparently a weird conglomeration of extremist ideology, factual nonsense, Israel hatred, and Jewish self-loathing which contends, among other things:

In his book, [Israeli historian Shlomo] Sand posits a serious doubt that the Jewish people ever existed as a nation or race, ever shared a common origin. Instead, they are a colourful mix of groups that, at various stages throughout history, adopted the Jewish religion. So when were the Jewish people “invented”? Sand’s answer: “At a certain stage in the 19th century, intellectuals of Jewish origin in Germany, influenced by the folk character of German nationalism, took upon themselves the task of inventing a people “retrospectively,” out of a thirst to create a modern Jewish people.”

Accordingly, the “Jewish people” is a made-up notion, with very little to back it up forensically, historically, or textually. Furthermore, Sand, who elaborated on early source from antiquity, comes to the conclusion that Jewish exile is a myth, and that the present-day Palestinians are far more likely to be the descendants of the ancient Semitic people in Judea/Canaan than the current, predominantly Khazarian-origin Ashkenazi crowd….

The lack of ethnic origin doesn’t stop people from feeling ethnic or national belonging. The fact that Jews are far from being what one can label a “people”, and that the Bible has very little historical truth in it, doesn’t really stop generations of Israelis and/or Jews from identifying themselves as the sons and daughters of King David or Samson. (pp. 135, 137)

Despite Sand’s academic credentials, his thesis is utter nonsense that Atzmon puts to use to bolster his contention that, since there is no Jewish people, Jews have no right to a state in the Holy Land, or presumably anywhere else.

I refuse to contribute to Atzmon’s ability to spew his bile, but Veterans Today contributor Paul Balles, in a review at the far left Pacific Free Press, conveniently offers the following highlights:

Israel is the Jewish state and Jewishness is an ethno-centric ideology driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination toward segregation.

Jewish lobbies in the USA and Britain openly advocate for the extension of the “War Against Terror” against Iran, Islam and beyond. I would never claim that this type of warmongering is inherent to Jews as a people, yet, unfortunately, it is rather symptomatic of Jewish political thinking – left, right and centre.

Robbery and hatred is imbued in Jewish modern political ideology on both the left and the right.

“The Israeli” robs in the name of “home-coming”, the progressive Jew in the name of “Marx”, and the moral interventionist murders in the name of “democracy”.

Jews do not have a common origin, that their Semitic origins are a myth. Jews have no origin in Palestine whatsoever, and therefore their act of so-called ‘return’ must be realised as pretext for a tribal expansionist invasion.

The dismissal of factuality or lack of commitment to truthfulness are actually symptomatic of contemporary Jewish collective ideology and identity politic.

In the Jewish intellectual insular world, one first decides what the historic moral is, then one invents “a past” to fit.

It seems I didn’t learn the necessary lesson because when we studied the middle age blood libels, I again wondered out loud how the teacher could know that these accusations of Jews making Matzo out of young Goyim’s blood were indeed empty or groundless.

I think you get the point. Atzmon is a slime who thinks that “In some respects, Israel is far worse than Nazi Germany.” His book has essentially been recommended to Presbyterians by IPMN. Draw your own conclusions.

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am both Jewish and Christian. As a result, I take an interest in theological developments in both camps. The Washington Post had a story by Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service on Friday that I’ve been thinking about all weekend. It’s about a sad but growing reality: Jewish atheism. She begins with an example:

For an atheist, Maxim Schrogin talks about God a lot.

Over lunch at a Jewish deli, he ponders the impulse to believe — does it come from within or without? Why does God permit suffering? Finally, he pulls out a flowchart he made showing degrees of belief, which ranges from unquestioning faith to absolute atheism. He stabs the paper with his pen.

“This is where I fall,” he said. “Zero.”

Still, Schrogin, 64, is a dues-paying member of Congregation Beth El, a Reform synagogue here in Berkeley. He is among its most active members, attending Torah study, and, for a time, heading its social action committee. He organizes its community service projects and works with leaders of other congregations to help the poor.

His two children were bar and bat mitzvahed. On Friday nights, he and his wife light Shabbat candles and recite Hebrew prayers. There is one song, sung by the congregation in Hebrew, that can bring him to tears.

Reform Judaism, along with the Reconstruction movement, has been undermining Jewish faith in the God of Israel for many years. I appreciate Schrogin’s participation in synagogue and community service, and his desire to be connected to Jewish life. Why he prays or studies the Torah is something only he can answer–I’m sure I don’t see the point. But the disconnect here is between Judaism and Jewishness. How does one keep those together if one rejects Him who is at the heart of Judaism?

“Atheism and Judaism are not contradictory, so to have an atheist in a Jewish congregation isn’t an issue or a challenge or a problem,” Shrogin said. “It is par for the course. That is what Judaism is. It is our tradition to question God from top to bottom.”

This is what I find so confusing. Schrogin and other Jewish atheists aren’t questioning God–how could they, when He isn’t real? And of course atheism and Judaism are contradictory, though atheism and Jewishness are not.

What’s being confused here is Judaism and Jewishness. To be Jewish is to be part of the community of people who trace their heritage back to ancient Israel. It doesn’t matter if one can do that genealogically–the vast majority of Jews can’t, for obvious reasons. The synagogue is tied up with that community, and I have no problem with Jewish atheists being part of the former in order to express their solidarity with the latter. But Judaism is the faith of Israel–trust that the God who brought our forefathers out of slavery in Egypt is still real and active in the world. I understand how hard it is for some Jews to believe that, post-Holocaust. But millions have, because they’ve recognized that the sin of humanity doesn’t translate into the death of God. If Jewish atheists can’t buy that, fine, but don’t commit the category error of confusing Jewishness and Judaism as if they are the same thing.

Shaul Magid, a professor of modern Judaism at Indiana University, said atheists may join synagogues because American Judaism lacks “a vibrant secular Jewish movement.”

“They go because they want some kind of ethnic identity,” Magid said. “They don’t care about the prayers. It allows them to feel a sense of Jewishness, but has little to do with religion.”

Exactly.

Children are what brought Schrogin to Beth El, but he has stayed for the sense of purpose organizing its community service projects has instilled.

“My rabbi said, ‘You know Maxim, God doesn’t care whether you believe in him or not. All that he cares is that you do the right thing.’ Our action in the world is much more important.”

There’s something very sad in this. Has liberal Judaism really lost all sense of relationship with God? How can you read the Psalms, for instance, and blow off the idea that God’s people are called to be in relationship with Him, to struggle with Him, to rejoice in Him, to praise Him for His goodness, to rail at Him for His absence, to cry out to Him for help in times of trouble? Is morality–by which at least some mean politics, though not all by any means–really all there is left?

Carl Medearis is described by CNN (the religion blog of which he contributes today) as “international expert in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations and is author of the book Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.” Unfortunately, he’s not writing about those things. Instead, he’s looking deep into the hearts of those who support Israel, and finding the evil therein:

This week at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to ask for recognition of a Palestinian state. If he does, the United States will veto. Why?

Largely because of something we’ll call Christian Zionism, an American theological movement that preaches a Christian obligation to help Jews reclaim the biblical Promised Land.

Um, no, that’s incorrect, but thanks for playing. The Obama administration is made up of people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room as “Christian Zionists” (the publicly prominent of which are almost all conservative Republicans with zero influence in the executive branch, where the decision about the veto was made).

As the Palestinians press ahead in their bid for statehood, prepare to hear from this crowd. These Christians number in the tens of millions and they go into a state of frenzy every time a politician so much as winks at the idea of Israel giving up a few settlements or withdrawing to pre-1967 borders.

They’ll tell you their concern has nothing to do with their particular interpretation of the Bible and everything to do with America and Israel’s national security interests.

Don’t believe a word of it.

When it comes to U.S. policy on Israel and the Middle East, Christian Zionism is the elephant in the room.

Christian Zionism may be the elephant inside Medearis’s head, but nowhere else. I know there are all kinds of people on the political left and some on the far right who are convinced that Israel and its demonic child AIPAC (the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee) runs America, that “Christian Zionists” (read: dispensationalists) are using Israel to try to bring about the end of the world, and that neocons are behind both, rubbing their hands together greedily like the Elders of Zion (of Protocols fame) and contemplating their imminent world takeover. (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes all this, too, speaking of the Protocols). Hey, I read Veterans Today, James Wall, Mondoweiss, etc.; believe me, I know my conspiracy theories. What neither Medearis nor any of the others ever demonstrate is that the “Christian Zionist” movement gets any hearing whatsoever in the current administration.

Television evangelists like Pat Robertson and John Hagee mobilize millions of Christians every year to write to their congressmen demanding that Israel be allowed to expand settlements indefinitely. They seem to oppose every peace deal that comes to the table.

There’s a reason for this. In their minds, the modern Israeli state is not only a fulfillment of biblical prophesy. In a bizarre twist that leaves most outsiders dumbfounded, Christian Zionists say the Bible predicts that Jews and Palestinians will forever be at war until Jesus returns.

Except for the “millions of Christians” who supposedly robotically write to Congress every year on orders from Robertson and Hagee (this is simply a fantasy; Congress doesn’t hear from millions of Americans of whatever religious background on any single issue in the course of a year), this is probably a fair statement of what many–maybe most–dispensationalists think about biblical prophecy and modern Israel, though some evidence might be nice. They are, of course, seriously misguided in trying to connect specific modern events and entities to biblical prophecy, and should be denounced for the effort at all times. It’s also a fair statement of what Robertson and Hagee think about Israeli settlements and potential peace agreements. I think they are misguided about these as well, though those are matters of prudential political judgment. But here’s the real point: what do Hagee and Robertson have to do with the U.S. veto at the United Nations?

When you hear some Christian politicians say, “The land belongs to Israel”, what they’re really saying is if America blesses Israel – that is, if it gives uncritical support to the Jewish state – God will bless America. If America curses Israel, God will curse America.

When it comes to Israel and her neighbors, many Christian Zionists believe that peacemaking is the devil’s work.

Note the pattern: extravagant charges that involve a certain amount of mind-reading about the intentions of those with whom Medearis disagrees, vague references to “some” and “many,” and a complete lack of evidence that anyone in particular believes what Medearis attributes to “Christian Zionists” as a whole.

One of the reasons Jesus was crucified was because of his refusal to embrace a nationalist agenda. But Christian Zionism blesses military action by the modern state of Israel, under the banner of “national security,” including the demolition of Palestinian homes to pave the way for new settlements.

One has to wonder what these two things have to do with one another. Are Israeli Jews supposed to refuse to defend themselves because Jesus was crucified? Does Israel forfeit the right of self-defense, and the right to be supported by Christians on just war grounds, because of Jesus’s refusal to become entangled in first century Jewish nationalism? I’m not suggesting that Christians should support Israel uncritically (on the matter of home demolitions, for instance, or settlements). But Medearis seems to be casting doubt on the validity of Israeli military operations per se, which would make it the only nation in the world where self-defense is not part of the government portfolio.

So how would Jesus vote this week if he had a seat at the U.N.?

Surely love, compassion, justice and peace-making would top his lists of concerns for all involved. Maybe he would give a new parable – the Parable of the Good Palestinian – offending all who would hear.

Ignore that last as a non sequitur. The rest might sound good–certainly Christians are called to live by the virtues of “love, compassion, justice and peace-making.” But Medearis seems to think that there’s a simple one-to-one relationship between those virtues as characteristics of Christian life, and the operations of international relations. Given that we live in a fallen, God-defying world where self-interest rules the ways of nations, that is just nonsense. It’s especially nonsensical to think of that in terms of the United Nations–you know, the people who run the Durban Conference on racism, racial discrimination, and xenophobia, a forum for various totalitarians and authoritarian regimes to unleash their inner anti-Semite–or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which neither side can be said to operate according to Christian principles, nor should they be (what other country does?). My suspicion is that Jesus would, if asked, decline a seat at the U.N., and instead stand outside the building at Turtle Bay with a sign saying, “Repent!”

Rather than allowing obscure Old Testament promises to dictate our foreign policy, what if we stuck to the clear commands of God – love your neighbor, your enemy and the foreigner in your midst – which appear in Exodus, Leviticus and three of the four gospels.

I agree that Old Testament promises should have nothing to do with American foreign policy. I question, however, the theological basis for suggesting that the foreign policy of a secular republic that has multiple religions within its citizenry should be based on biblical ethical commands that are meant for individuals who are numbered among the people of God.

Many Christians in America think of Jews and Christians as “us” and anything that sounds Muslim or Arab as “the other.” But the call of Jesus is to be more loving towards the “other” than towards the people we think of as “us.”

This command works both ways. When I’ve had audiences with leaders in the Hezbollah or Hamas, I tell them the same thing: That Jesus said to love your enemies. Who are your enemies? Israel.

You’ve got to tip your hat to a guy with that kind of nerve. Why he thinks that Muslim terrorists who embody the principle that it is OK to hate (in fact, to kill) your enemies, who see themselves as carrying out the command of the Koran (Sura 5:33, 9:73, as well as many verses of the hadith) would care about the [mistranslated and interpolated] words of Jesus in the gospels, I have no idea. But it’s still got to take a very real kind of courage to speak that way to Hamas and Hezbollah.

It also has nothing to do with whether the Palestinians request for recognition as a state should be vetoed by the United States. But that can be said of much if not all of this column.

According to the Layman Online, there’s a congregation in California considering leaving the PCUSA. No, it’s not what you think:

A California church is considering leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a denomination largely considered to be more liberal.

As far back as July, the congregation of West Hollywood Presbyterian Church (WHPC) has engaged in dialogue about the possibility of transferring to the United Church of Christ (UCC).

Unlike most churches that have recently considered or completed dismissal from the PCUSA, WHPC doesn’t appear to be making the move in theological opposition to the denomination’s recent deletion of explicit chastity and fidelity ordination standards from its constitution.

In the case of WHPC, the church is “intentionally inclusive of gender, race, ability, age, sexual orientation, economic condition and theological background,” according to its statement of beliefs.

“We are a church in the process of transforming and changing ‘first century language, metaphors and beliefs’ about God and ourselves into ones that are contemporary and relevant to our time and place in history,” the statement further reads. “We are committed to using language for God and for the entire human family that celebrates God as fully inclusive of … people of … all sexual orientations.”

They sound like a great match for the United Church of Nothing in Particular (Except Liberal Politics and Sexual Everything). I’m sure the UCNPELPSE will be glad to have them. There’s only one question that comes to mind:

When does Louisville sic the lawyers on them?

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