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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Friday, July 20, 2012

A Review Of Redeeming The Promised Land

Since I just returned from handing out literature at the Christians United For Israel (CUFI) conference in Washington, D.C., I thought that I would focus the next couple of posts on Israel-Palestine.

Perhaps one of the best articles I have ever read on Israel-Palestine comes from a good friend and fellow activist, Rita Corriel. This article ( see article here ) was written in 2003 and it consists of an impassioned plea from one Jew to a nation of Jews. Tragically, the plea has fallen on deaf ears despite the fact that this article is a must-read. The concern expressed by Corriel concerns much more than legalism of who owns what land. Rather, Corriel points to a broader picture. What she objects to is the making of the Promised Land into an idol, a god, and by so doing some Israelis not only devalue Palestinians, the ones who must pay the immediate price for this Promised Land, they start down their own path to spiritual suicide.

By worshipping the Promised Land, they have, according to Corriel, elevated what is "finite, transient, and soulless," to that which is infinite. And though Corriel is simply observing what Paul has written about in Romans 1 regarding worshiping the creature rather than the creator, she does not mean it in the same way. When Paul talks about people practicing idolatry, he is talking about the personal God who sent His son to die for our sins. These are particulars about which Corriel has no interest. Corriel is concerned about the minimizing of the personal in favor of the impersonal. Nonetheless, she has a very valid point.

Corriel believes the problem rests with a literal interpretation of the Promised Land. Rather than emphasizing the literal, Corriel says that the Promised Land is a "symbol for an ideal state of Being." Though, at this point, Conservative Christians would automatically discount all she has to say, that would be a mistake because she is not far off the mark. For when we think about the description of the land of Israel as being a land of milk and honey, a land of abundance, we are reminded of the Garden of Eden. The garden was where Adam and Eve were to dwell while they communed with God. So for the Jews to just focus solely on the Land would be the same as if Adam enjoyed all of the allowable fruit of the Garden while hiding from God, They did eventually hide but that was only after they had sinned. At this point Corriel is more correct than all of the literalists combined in understanding the purpose of the Promised Land. The Land was not the end for the Jews, it was an illustration. And if anyone wanted to know if those in Israel are seeking to converse with and feel close to God while living in the Promised Land, all one has to do is to ask how are they treating the Palestinians who are fellow imagae-bearers of God.

As good as Corriel is at making the above point, she is at her best when she challenges her fellow Jews on the lessons of the Holocaust. And we should note that this challenge must apply to non-Jews as well.

Why haven't you learned from your own historically tragic experience, that when we dehumanize the 'other' we dehumanize ourselves? When we pretend that 'others' do not have hearts and souls; when we make our 'enemies' into two dimensional cartoon characters, we defile and degrade ourselves as well. I grew up feeling the pathos expressed in the declaration, "Never again!" However, you must understand that this not an exclusive directive. When it is not applied to *all* human beings it rings a hollow tone. You appear to have learned far more from the behavior of your oppressors, than from the experience of being oppressed. Yet you continue to see yourselves as victims. I see a nation that behaves as dangerously as any fanatical survivalist cult, rather than a rational, wise and just society. Realize now, that survival without meaning is not living.

Let's count the points. First, what we do to others, we do to our own soul. Second, "Never Again!" must be applied to all from every group. Third, to not apply "Never Again!" to all is to simply choose to become a link in a historical chain of abuse. And finally, that life is merely an illusion if survival is the end. Here, we are talking about a quality of life issue. When survival becomes the only concern rather than just one of several essential concerns, we sacrifice what it means to be alive because of our willingness to sacrifice others. Here, Corriel's article is saying that our quality of life depends on how we regard others outside of our own group.

Near the end of the article, Corriel then talks about animosity against Israel. This animosity is not because there is a natural hatred of Israel; rather, it is because Israel shows a disregard for the rest of the world by how it treats the Palestinians. She goes on to challenge the notion of being chosen because from this spawns the willingness to "dehumanize" others. Indeed, this idea of being chosen spawns a sense of righteous entitlement that results in righteous indignation against those who stand, however passively, in the way.

Corriel writes that creativity and reliance on God can remedy the situation. Then Corriel finishes with the following question:

Do you really believe that G-d would create a world in which Human Beings need to break G-d's own Law, in order to survive?

Here Corriel is challenging her fellow Jews to depend on God and His law to find real solutions. In the end, Corriel does a wonderful job showing the problems with devaluing others in order to get what one wants. She shows both the moral and personal bankruptcy involved with what is happening now. But those who agree with her, like myself, must be aware that the sins that Israel is practicing against the Palestinians are universal. That any of us could devalue somebody else or some other group. History shows us that the Jews were the recipients of horrible atrocities for centuries by a Christian Western Civilization. So before we let our call to repentance turn into a self-righteous call for vengeance or justice, we need to meditate on Jesus' parable of the two men praying(Luke 18: 9-14) while reading history.

I have used Corriel's article along with five others, all written by Jews, to introduce multiple Jewish perspectives of the Israel's Occupation of Palestine. Three of the writings support the Israeli government and the occupation while the other three, including Corriel's article, oppose it. What was very telling in the last class I taught was that the articles based on morals were called "idealistic," a luxury rather than a necessity.  We might not see the significance of this criticism until we understand what morals are. Morals are self-restraints we voluntary submit to in deference to our regard and respect for others. Now just think how the world will soon be if everybody looked at self-restraint as a luxury rather than a necessity. Just think of living in a world where there was no regard for any person outside of one's own group.

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