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Friday, March 4, 2016

What He Was Really Talking About Was Democracy

Collin Hansen, a bigwig at the Gospel Coalition (click here for a bio), while recounting the end of a successful trip to Israel, captured a moment of reflection that should be treasured as he took note of a very insightful comment made by the Hebrew University professor, Moshe Halbertal. The line that caught Hansen's ear was this:
As Jews in Israel we don't know how to be a majority.

There is a given in that line that renders its intelligible. That given can be expressed by providing a conjunction. Below is one way of expressing what I think Halbertal was getting at:
As Jews who live in both Israel and a democracy we don't know how to live as a majority
Confirmation of the above modification can be found in a Hansen description of the voyage Israel is currently taking:
But now as Israel nears 70 years as a sovereign nation, Jews continue to debate how to operate a democracy.

As Hansen later reflected on what was said, he concluded the following:
if Israeli Jews don’t know how to be a majority, then American evangelicals don’t know how to be a minority

The article in which Hansen recalls all of this can be found here.  And what I would like to suggest, depending on the definition of democracy,  is that the words 'majority' and 'minority' should be interchangeable.

The basic question around which the above quotes revolve is the definition of democracy. And what Halbertal presumed with his quote was that democratic processes alone do not make a democracy. Now such must seem foreign to most Americans. But that is because, despite the many counterexamples that have existed in the world, we equate our democracy with elections. And we insist on that even though the former U.S.S.R, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and Iran had or has elections and we would  never consider any of those countries to be democracies. However, when it comes to us, we assume that because we have elections, we have a democracy.

So what is a democracy and do either Israel or the US have one?  Here we should note that elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition to being a democacy. That means that we can't be a democracy without having elections, but having elections does not make us a democacy.

What is a democracy? In terms of a state of being, a democracy exists depending on how the people of given nation share society with others. Does each of group  in a given society share that society with all the other groups as equals? That is that the nation, regardless of the demographics belongs equally to all of the groups that reside within. Jeff Halper, an Israeli activist and founder of ICAHD (click here) wrote the following in his book entitled An Israeli In Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (pg 74 of the book):
An ethonocracy is the opposite of a democracy, although it might incorporate some elements of democracy such as universal citizenship and elections. It arrives when one particular group--the Jews in Israelf, the Russians in Russia (and, more evidently, in the former Soviet Union), the Protestants in pre-1972 Northern Ireland, the whites in apartheid South Africa, the Shi'ite Muslims of Iran, the Malayin Malyasia and, if they had their way, the white Christian Fundamentalists in the US--seizes control of the government and armed forces in order to enforce a regime of exclusive privilege over other groups in what is in fact a multi-ethnic or multi-religious society.  Ethonocracy, or ethno-nationalism, privileges ethnos over demos, whereby one's ethnic affiliations, be it defined by race, descent, religion, language or national origin, take precednece over citizenship in determining to whom a country actually "belongs." Israel is referred to expllicitly by its political leaders as a "Jewish democracy."

And so the question that is being implied here either to the Jews in Israel or Christians in America is this: Are we sharing our society  and nation with all others as equals?  

If the Jews in Israel and the Christians in America are sharing society and the nation with all other groups as equals, then living as a majority in a given society or nation is same as living as a minority. The only time when living as a majority is not the same as living as a minority is when different hierarchical statuses are assigned to the different groups which thus gives the different groups different roles in society.

It should be obvious that neither a signficant portion of the Jews in Israel nor that of certain Christians in America favor democracy over ethnocracy. Why? Because each group has felt entitled to reign in various degrees over their respective society and nation. The need for a Jewish homeland, which was very urgent even before the rise of the Nazis ,enabled some Jews to believe that, in the name of security and self-protection, they had a right to maintain a privileged status in Israel over all other groups. And though such a belief is wrong, it is more than understandable independent of the Holocaust--though the Holocaust increased that urgency exponentially. We Western Christians should never forget the gross atrocities that our ancestors would constantly visit on the Jews in Europe for almost 2,000 years. And even when there were no atrocities being practiced, Jews were rarely made to feel welcomed as equal citizens of the countries in which they resided. See, today's modern Zionism started as a secular European venture. It was never a sequel to the possession of the Holy Land by the Old Testament Israelites.

The source for the Christian sense of entitlement to take possession of America started with the belief that we were God's new chosen people who were entering into our own "Canaan." It continued along an assumption of our moral superiority, and now our "democracy" has been corrupted by greed and competition so as to deceive us as to where democracy's "finish line" is located. Thus, we have thought nothing of it when we have used our democratic processes to rule over others as a dominating majority--this is the concept on which the title of Hansen's article is based. Here we should note what is more important to us. Is sharing more important to us than greed and competition? If so, the egalitarian values of democracy would corrupt our free market. Or is greed and competition more  important to us than sharing? If so, then our democracy will be looked at as providing opportunities to compete for more and more power.

Returning to Hansen's article, other points could be added especially to the approach that churches in nations like Syria and Egypt take in interacting in their nation. Hansen continues along a partially different line of thought about the first Halbertal quote than what was pursued in this blogpost. And I think that his article is well worth reading and serves as a positive indicator that the Conservative Church in America could still change constructively in how it interacts with society. At least, that is my hope. For without it changing, calls for resistance and even revolution will sorely miss a Christian influence that Liberal Christianity contributed  to the anti-war and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s.





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