Sunday, May 22, 2011

Shouldn't we be more concerned about the end of Israel than the end of the world?

Back online, catching up with the news.

I cannot believe that so much attention is being paid to an obscure American radio preacher when he announces a date for the end of the world, having failed in his one previous attempt. Why has the media run with this story?
Perhaps the devil is in it all, eager to distract God's people from another alarming feature of the news of the last week. President Obama, wowed by his success in neutering Osama bin Laden, seems to think he can create a run of further success by neutering Israel. How naive is this man? A weak Israel is a dead Israel.

Shouldn't we Christians have been more concerned in the past few days about the real news? Not the prattling of an obscure preacher but the musings of the most famous American today. One portended mass humour. The other portends massacre. Shouldn't we pay attention to the latter and not the former? (Some Christian bloggers and e-news are attentive. Thankfully).


James said...

Thanks for calling our attention to this odd phenomenon of so many billions of words (mostly of the "nudge-nudge, wink wink" variety) expended on this odd man - already having mis-predicted "the rapture" once before - when there are much more pressing cultural issues.

And why not study this odd phenomenon itself? It's as if the world press is collectively slowing down, gazing upon road kill - and creating a glut of insignificant noise in the pipes of our communication, beckoning us to join them in the cacophony of sarcasm.

What took me aback was the manner in which Christians eagerly jumped aboard this snark fest. It made me realize the extent to which we are collaborators in a very unhealthy, boring, and numbing form of irony - with roots in the early nineteenth century, which - due to its numbing of the sensibilities and tendency toward polarizing discourse - was perhaps a contributing factor in the rise of the NDSAP. Rapturous Indulgences: Let's think while we chuckle.

For Christians - Frank Kermode is an interesting literary figure and scholar whose imagination turns time and time again to the nature of the apocalyptic, and even concretely to such "rapture prediction" phenomena. Primarily known as one of the most prominent literary critics and theorists of the last century, he's also been an important contributor in the intersection between literary theory and Biblical criticism, and narrative theology. Though his work is often dense and difficult, he's more than a natural "go-to guy" for this phenomenon if we're actually wondering about what popular imagination around "the rapture" might say about our culture at large. But of course ... we seem to be content with simply chuckling, instead acknowledging rather lame attempts of ironizing as "thinking."

Paul Powers said...

I think what charmed a lot of people here is the notion of an orderly rolling rapture that was to start at the International Date Line and move west through all the various time zones so that all the elect would be taken up at 6 p.m. in their time zone. How was it supposed to work in those parts of Australia and India that are a half-hour off from their neighbors? How would it account for those countries that have and have not gone to daylight savings time? How was it going to work in Arizona, where the state as a whole doesn't follow DST, but the Navajo reservation does?

By the way, when I drove home from church this morning, I noticed that the parking lot at a nearby Baptist church was almost empty. Is it possible that there really was a rapture, but we just didn't notice it at the time?

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for commenting thoughtfully, Paul and James.

I think that Anglicans are prone to misunderstanding the possibility that God is more Baptist than Anglican. The thing which seemed to please him more than anything about Jesus' growing up was his adult baptism :)

Father Ron Smith said...

Sadly, Peter, this is precisely what you call the prattling of an obscure preacher often produces. Fundamental- ism of any sort is likely to produce confusion. The world of Christians is not immune to this problem.

Some of the greatest offenders in this area - of which you are speaking - may be those evangelical 'Jews for Jesus'.

Brother David said...

Camps message the first time he made a prediction barely made it outside the confines of his homebase in the San Francisco Bay area.

This time he owns a multi-million dollar radio and TV network that spans the globe. And he and his followers erected bill boards on most of the continents and organized in teams to spread the word.

BTW, US Pres Obama did not propose neutering Israel. What he proposed was to take Israel's pre-1967 War boundaries and use them as a starting point from which to negotiate land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve workable borders for two States to co-exist.

Anonymous said...

Why has the media run with this story?

To discredit religion in general, and christianity in particular.


Andrew Reid said...

Peter, please tell me how trying to achieve a just solution for both Israelis and Palestinians is "neutering Israel"? Israel could take on the whole Arab League at one time and still win. Their military superiority is unquestioned. Withdrawing from the West Bank is hardly going to change that.

Let's remember that the West Bank is illegally occupied territory - Israel has no business being there. Let's remember too that Israel has been illegally building settlements for its own citizens in that territory. Let's remember too that Israel has dispossessed Palestinians from their land, destroyed their economy, and despite its democratic credentials, refuses to allow its Arab citizens full citizenship rights.

Are there security threats to Israel from among the Palestinians? Absolutely, and it should have the right to defend itself and expect the Palestinians to control those elements. Do all Palestinians support those groups? Absolutely not. The overwhelming majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peaceful co-existence.

Surely your theology of Israel is a bit deeper than "Whatever Israel does is ok because they're the chosen poeople"? Is oppression, humiliation, discrimination, and murder ok for Israel and not for other countries? The Jewish people (not the modern state of Israel) do have a treasured place among God's people as Paul outlines in Romans 9-11, but our focus as Christians now ought to be on the heavenly Jerusalem rather than the earthly one.

It's all very nice for people living in the West to be pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian. When you live a few hundred km down the road and see the convoys of aid heading to Gaza running the gauntlet of the blockade, see the trickle of Palestinians allowed to enter Egypt to receive urgent medical treatment, have seen the humiliation and degradation of Palestinians at security checkpoints as they try to go about their daily business, maybe you might have a slightly different perspective about them.

This stereotyping and racism against Palestinians by followers of the Lord Jesus has to stop. Are you including your Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters in your assessment of them as liable to massacre Israelis?

There are so few honest brokers in this issue, I would like to see Christians working towards justice and security for both groups, rather than taking the default, pro-Israel stance that results from poor theology and poor history.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
I hope you might understand that I am a man of few words. In this case less words than ideal!

I entirely agree with you that justice in the territory jointly desired by Palestinians and Israelis and variously named Palestine, Israel, the Promised Land, should be justice for all, justice for both Israel and for Palestine, and a justice which means true, and lasting peace. In raising a concern that President Obama's speech may imply a weakening of the state of the State of Israel I did omit to show parallel concern for Palestine.

I accept that President Obama himself does not think his speech is implicitly troubling to Israel, but I take seriously the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is quite disturbed by it.

Nothing is at all easy in this situation - you in your sitz im leben known that only too well. Since living in Egypt myself, and having the privilege of hearing firsthand from Colin Chapman, I have always taken seriously the need to espouse the cause of Palestine and not to swallow hook line and sinker the case that Israel's biblical destiny is being fulfilled by the modern State of Israel.

Nevertheless I take seriously the plight of the Jews in a world which less than a century ago was a world in which the Holocaust took place. I would not want to see another Holocaust. Unfortunately some elements within the leadership of the Palestinians, and other elements in the leadership of Iranian supporters will not refrain from expressing the wish that they could drive the Israelis into the sea. I wonder if Obama takes those threats seriously?

Kurt said...

On this issue, anyway, I am in complete agreement with Andrew Reid. It’s time that Israel faced reality, and started seriously negotiating with the Palestinians.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Which Palestinians, Kurt, are willing to negotiate? Which Palestinians, having negotiated, will deliver the settlement reached?

Kurt said...

Well, Peter, they had better find some partners for peace--and fast. Most people I know here(left, right and center) have just about "had it" with Israel. If an independent Palestine state is announced by UN vote this fall, don't assume the USA will veto it.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Paul Powers said...

The idea of going back to the pre-1967 boundaries with adjustments (or "swaps," as Obama put it) isn't new. It has more or less been U.S. policy for the past 3 admninistrations. Obama just spelled it out more explicitly than his predecessors did. Of course, the pre-1967 boundaries were unacceptable to the Arabs back then, so there is good reason for Israel to question whether it's really acceptable to them now.

The establishment of Palestinian state in all or part of the West Bank and Gaza makes sense only as part of an overall peace treaty. As Peter has indicated, one of the big problems here is determining who can serve as an interlocateur valable for the Palestinians. It's questionable whether the Palestinian Authority is (especially in Gaza). Hamas isn't interested. So who's left? And I don't agree with Kurt's assertion that it's up to Israel to find one for the Palestinians.

In the meantime, in addition to the geopolitical issues like the border between Israel and a new Palestinian state (as well as the status of Jerusalem), there are human rights issues that need to be addressed. These include the human rights of all people in the area: Jews and Palestinians alike. Who cannot be moved by the suffering of people in Gaza because the blockade has caused a dire shortage of medical supplies? Who doesn't understand the frustration of a Palestinian worker who spends several hours every morning and every evening trying to get through a checkpoint?

On the other hand, who isn't also moved by the family of an Israeli teenager who is killed by a suicide bomber at a pizzaria?

Perhaps it would be more fruitful to concentrate on the human rights issues so that both sides may start to trust each other enough to sit down and work out the geopolitical ones.

Peter Carrell said...

In the end, someone in the Middle East is going to have to forgive someone else if a chain reaction is going to start which melts down the hatred. Then peace might really have a chance!