EEFFECTS OF CHRISTIAN ZIONISM
ON RELIGION, CHRISTIAN LOCAL CHURCHES
AND PEACE RESEARCH
Fr Rafiq Khoury
Christian Zionism is a mixture of religious fundamentalism, apocalyptic visions, messianic interpretations, political ideology and societal projects, which have always existed in history in different forms, religious or secular, carrying with them blind fanaticism and resulting often in horrible massacres and human sufferings. The roots of Christian Zionism reach far back in history, going back to the sixteenth century where we find the first elements of such a trend, as many scholars have already pointed out, but the phenomenon was partly marginal and espoused only by a minority. This is no more the case today. What characterizes Christian Zionism today is:
- Firstly, that it has become an effective force, not perhaps in itself, but because of its alliance with similar political and ideological forces.
- Secondly, these political ideologies are not only intellectual trends, but they are in a position of power and active, mainly in the United States of America.
- Thirdly, and because of that alliance, it is in possession of huge means of action (economic, political, media and even military) which makes it a real danger today.
- Fourthly, it presents itself in a Western style, that means with alleged rationality and ethic grounds, which makes of it more acceptable and attractive.
All these elements make Christian Zionism very dangerous and, at the same time, very difficult to confront. I hope that this conference will contribute to deconstruct and dismantle this ideology in order to reveal its contradictions and fallacious interpretations.
In this paper, we try, briefly and without much elaboration, to depict some of the effects of Christian Zionism on different levels. These levels include the three monotheistic religions, the Christians of the Arab World and the search for peace in the Middle East in general and in the Holy Land in particular. I am sorry for presenting this contribution in a rather polemical and therefore may be reductive way. The Palestinian Christians are under such a psychological pressure that a certain distance from what is happening on the ground in the Holy Land is quite difficult, if not impossible.
1. On the three monotheistic religions
On religion in general
We know that similar religious ideologies, which can be found and identified in all existing religions, have played a negative role in human history, carrying with them fanaticism, blindness, massacres, injustices etc
The path of human history is filled with innocent victims caused by such ideologies in their different forms. That is the dark side of the history of religions.
Actually, and in this turning point of our history, the different religions try to overcome these sad side effects of religions, developing a concept of religion, which truly honors God. They try to put the transcendent principles at the service of humankind and formulate aspirations for reconciliation, peace, togetherness, development and comprehensive progress (material, human, ethical, spiritual
). The different religions are trying to get back to their very deep and positive roots in order to offer to humankind an alternative to destruction and death.
Christian Zionism and all connected and allied religious and secular ideologies endanger this religious effort, presenting religion as an ideology working against the human being and contributing in presenting religion as a disastrous element in human history. Instead of doing the will of God, these ideologies tend to implement their own will. As a French intellectual puts it, with some irony: les fondamentalistes veulent faire la volonté de Dieu, que Dieu le veuille ou pas (fundamentalists want to do the will of God whether God wants it or not). Fundamentalism, and Christian Zionism as a form of it, deforms the very essence of religion.
In this paragraph, I am not discussing Jewish Zionism as a whole. We know that many trends exist within Jewish Zionism, both secular and religious, in Israel and in the Diaspora. We deal here with that form of Jewish Zionism, both secular and religious, which is extremist and which is actually in power in the Jewish state.
Because of its narrow minded religious interpretations and its alliances with the fundamentalist trends in the religious arena of Judaism and with the most extremist trends among the political ideologies in Israel and in the Diaspora, Christian Zionism is harming Judaism. Christian Zionism presents Judaism as an oppressive power and as a cause of injustices and violence. Many enlightened Jews are confused, deeply worried and dismayed about this corruption of the true tradition of the Jewish people and of Judaism. Many prominent religious figures since the 67 war, such as Leibowits and Marc Ellis among others, warned about this seduction of power. The Judaism of the Torah and of the Prophets does not deserve such an unfortunate service. By connecting Judaism with political power, with all its ambiguities and injustices, Christian Zionism is endangering Judaism, the Jewish people and the highly spiritual Jewish heritage.
Here must be emphasized the deep ambiguities of this alliance of Christian Zionism with extremist elements of Jewish society. Each have in the background contradictory and even excluding positions, and they know it. But all is useful for the good of the cause. Each party is profiting from the other for different and contradictory purposes. Christian Zionism finds indirect support for its apocalyptic views, and Jewish extremism profits from it for its own political purposes.
Contributing to the corruption of Judaism, Christian Zionism is mainly corrupting Christianity. In the last centuries, Christian theologians and the Christian Churches have undertaken many efforts to liberate Christianity from the different political ideologies, which harmed it so much in the past. Christianity is not a political ideology at the service of a political power, which happens to be mostly oppressive power. Christianity is not even an ideology at all, but Good News for humanity.
Christian Zionism brings us back to the starting point transforming Christian faith into a political ideology, based on badly digested messianic and apocalyptic ideas. In that case, Christianity becomes a blind ideology, which confines realities to narrow religious categories in a mythological way. This ideology is founded on an interpretation of the Word of God considered as letter more than spirit and separated from any textual and historical criticism. Like any form of fundamentalism, it considers salvation history as static without the dynamic and the vitality that characterizes the Word of God. Zealots have always been and still are a blight in the Christian body, which the Church condemned after having suffered from it.
One of the constants of Christian Zionism and its allies is their fierce and rancorous attack on Islam. According to an apocalyptic mentality, this sort of ideology always needs an enemy, an Antichrist. It is an essential part of their mental categories. At a certain time, this antichrist was Judaism; at other times it was Communism. Now the Antichrist is Islam and the Muslims.
It has to be emphasized, that this visceral animosity against Islam is a sort of anti-Semitism. In the past, this anti-Semitism was directed against the Jews and Judaism. Today, the target is Islam. It could be very interesting to review the literature of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews in the last centuries with what is said about Islam today to discover a strange parallelism between these two discourses. In fact, it is not strange because we are in face of the same pathological system. The anti-Muslims of today can very well be the anti-Jews of tomorrow.
It could also be investigated to what extent the repeated slogan in the West today concerning our Jewish-Christian origins has to be put in that framework. In the past, the slogan was our Greek-Roman origins (and we know to what disasters that led); today it is this new slogan. The background is to exclude Islam from the human heritage, preparing the ground for clashes between the cultures, religions and peoples (as it is the case actually in some parts of the world). It is strange enough and very amusing to know that this slogan is actually common, even among many secularist intellectuals. History is sometimes comic.
2. On the Christians of the Arab world
As we know, Christian minorities live in the Arab world. These Christians have a long tradition and a rich heritage, with their Churches, theology, spirituality, liturgy, way of life, social organizations etc
These Christians are integrated in their societies and constitute a part of them, sharing their difficulties, their problems and their aspirations, and contributing to the welfare of their societies and trying to witness to the values of the Gospel despite all difficulties. These Churches are not only among Muslims, but also for Muslims, in that sense that they are witnessing before God regarding their sufferings and aspirations and asking God to embrace them in His mercy and love.
Christian Zionism has tragic effects on these Christians and their Churches. The common people is not always able to distinguish between these sectarian groups and Christianity. At the very least, they are embarrassing the Christian Churches, especially in the Holy Land. It is known that these people organize arrogant, triumphalistic and provocative manifestations in the Old City of Jerusalem on the occasion of Succot (Feast of Tabernacles) and other Jewish festivities under the protection of the Israeli police and soldiers. They march before the powerless, revolted eyes of the Arab population, Christians and Muslims alike. It is true that the Christian Churches condemned Christian Zionism and revealed its sectarian and perverted Christian character. But who hears the voices of the Christian Christians, who are included by these sects in their attack on Islam and the Muslims?
Christian Zionism has a strong proselytizing movement within the Christian community in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Arab world through different sects coming mostly from the United States of America to win adepts to their mentality and ideology. These sects, in addition to their huge financial and material means, enjoy the protection of certain influential American organizations under the pretext of religious freedom and human rights. In this way, they are fragmenting the Christian community, already very fragmented, and thus limiting the credibility of its witness. Christian Zionism, through these sects, is also approaching Muslims in an arrogant and aggressive way, without any respect of their sensibilities. This provokes the dismay and the anger of the Muslims, and which also has a negative effect on their attitude toward the local Christians and a negative effect on the Christian witness of the Christians in their milieu.
We can notice, that this proselytizing discourse is also directed to the Arab Christians of the Diaspora. The limited success they have is enough to win some people who are then presented to the mass-media as representatives of the Christians communities in the Arab World, provoking intentional confusion and embarrassment.
3. On the search for a just peace
I avoid the common terminology of peace process and peace negotiations as they are actually conducted. Despite our initial enthusiasm for this peace process and the peace negotiations, it is clear to us now that all that has become a farce, a low level comedy, which convinces nobody anymore. It is a process of dictating the terms of a stronger partner to a weak one. And when this weak partner does not accept these terms, he is labeled a terrorist, and consequently a candidate to be killed. I prefer to use the term search for peace, because this search remains a noble priority of many people of good will in the world.
As far as Christian Zionism is concerned, we have to say that this ideology is not merely an ideology of a limited sector in the world. It has become indeed a major force in the contemporary international arena. In addition to their growing number (they count, according to the letter of invitation to this conference, one hundred million people in the United States of America, which is not a small number), Christian Zionism benefits from the alliance with many large groups, such as the evangelicals, the new right wing in the United States and many extremist Zionist organizations. These groups are not only lobbying groups, but they are in a position of political power, as mentioned above. They are a fundamental part of the American administration actually in power in the White House, which makes these groups a danger for peace in the world in general and in the Holy Land in particular. It has to be said that all these groups have a large, sophisticated and hermetic net of mass-media, which are on watch to counterattack in a fierce and sometimes immoral way all the different views that are presented to the public opinion. Edward Said tells us, in one of his latest books (The end of the peace process) about all the troubles he encountered in this propaganda net, which tried to silence this courageous voice.
On the international level, Christian Zionism and its allies are endangering peace in the world. This ideology consists in building up certain categories, such as international terrorism, through which they deal, with a mixture of lies and military force, with very important and real problems in our world, according to their own agenda. On the other hand, in their confrontation with this terrorism, they are often using its same mentality and even its same terminology and discourse. In that way, they find themselves as the two extremes of the same phenomenon. They are enemies who, in reality, are brothers. Here also, a parallelism can be investigated between these two extremist ideologies to find that they are similar, both being on the extremes. In the meantime, the tenets of this ideology involve conducting wars here and there, disseminating confusion and death in different parts of the world. In this way, two wars already took place at the beginning of this new millenium and we don't know were we are going with this system.
On the local level in the Holy Land, Christian Zionism, in the logic of its system, is a strong ally of the most extremist wings in the Israeli society, which makes peace impossible to achieve. To this extremism, they are offering strong media support with their powerful propagandistic media, obstructing any way to peace. This propagandistic machine is represented in the Holy Land by the so called the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, which is neither Christian nor an embassy, and which organizes regular provocative manifestations, mainly in the Old City of Jerusalem.
To this propagandistic and political support, they add their financial support to building new settlements in the Palestinian Territories, as is the case, to give only an example, with a settlement south of Jerusalem, built up with the financing of these Christian Zionists in Holland.
4. How to deal with the Christian Zionism?
Christian Zionism is a real challenge to us all. We have to conjugate all efforts to deal this ideology at all levels, international, regional and local:
- International level: Before all else, an intellectual effort has to be undertaken in order to unveil the theological, biblical, political, ideological background and interpretations, through conferences, forums, meetings, research etc
However this intellectual effort is not enough. It has to be sustained by a plan of action to counter this ideology on its own turf. This plan of action can take a form like the campaign against the Vietnam war in the seventies or the form of the campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Both campaigns were very successful in winning over public opinion to their views. Edward Said, in the above-mentioned book, calls to address public opinion in the United States, especially the common people who are well intentioned but badly informed and who are truly sensible to the human rights issues. This campaign should be undertaken by specially trained people who understand the language of the American public.
- Regional and local levels: On the regional level, the different Churches in the Arab World and its various organizations (such as the Middle East Council of Churches) have a special task. Every Church has its own international connection, which represents a field of action. But also common action by these Churches is needed, which addresses the different Churches of the World, sharing with them their concerns and fears.
On the local level, we have to say that the different Christian Churches in the Holy Land are the most directly implicated in that action. Here I fully agree with the five suggestions presented by Fr David Neuhaus, sj, in preparation for this conference, which are:
- Presentation of the common Christian experience in the Holy Land (Christian identity, Christian life, and Christian witness) as an antidote to Christian Zionist ideology.
- The common work on the integral reading and interpretation of the Bible with the wealth of methods of reading the Bible, both traditional and modern.
- The common promotion of a real and fruitful dialogue between the three monotheistic religions of the Holy Land. This dialogue between the three components of the Holy Land is a response to the partial dialogue undertaken in different parts of the world within a political perspective.
- The collaboration of the different Churches with the different forces in the three religions which are concerned with a real, lasting and just peace in the Holy Land.
- Renewal of the Churches of the Holy Land, intellectually, theologically, spiritually, pastorally and ecumenically to deal with the different challenges they are facing, the Christian Zionism being one of them.
These views are of extreme importance. The challenge we are facing invites us to be truly Christians and to be Christians together. I would like to add that a special task is waiting the theologians of the different Churches of the Holy Land. They have to work together in order to take part of this effort of the Churches of the Holy Land. This task is not only an individual one, but a common effort undertaken through the different centers, such as Al-Sabeel Center, Al-Liqa Center, the International Forum and other similar organizations, and also in collaboration with other Palestinian organizations, such as Passia and others. This work has to be conducted with as little emotion as possible. I know from my own experience that it is not easy, because of the frustrations and humiliations that we experience. In Arabic we say: Those who are being beaten by sticks are not like those who are counting them. But this distance from our emotions is necessary in order to develop an objective and fruitful work. I hope that this suggestion will be taken seriously.
We are grateful to Al-Sabeel Center for organizing this international conference to confront the intellectual side of the ideology of Christian Zionism and its practices. It is true that this ideology is in possession of huge means of action, but that does not mean that we must remain inactive and powerless and give up our efforts. We have to act, but more importantly to develop and present an alternative to this ideology. Otherwise, these ideologies will lead us to hell. The challenge is great; greater should be our determination.
Al-Sabeel International Conference, on April the 15th, 2004.
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