Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Just for Fun: Some Reasons (Conservative) Christians Support Jews and Israel

An issue that appears every now and then is the support of Christians (particularly on the so-called conservative side) for Jews and Israel. Permit Us to explain a few reasons why this is so and to comment, in general, on this phenomenon.

Like Muslims, many Christians believe in supersuccessionism, namely, that one group chosen by God has been replaced by another group. Muslims believe they have been chosen by God as His people in place of Christians and Jews (ostensibly, ahl al-kitaab, or "the People of the Book," in Islamic terms). Christianity, having emerged before Islam, views itself as the chosen people of God in place of the Jews, while Muslims have no argument in their favor to claim being a people of God. In other words, with the establishment of Christianity, God, through Jesus Christ, virtually transfers the covenant from the people of Israel by blood (Jews, Hebrews, the offspring of Isaac, however one wants to label them) to the new Israel, the people grafted onto the tree, as it were, by spiritual adoption.

Justifiably, many Jews are concerned about Christian support for Jews and Israel because of this belief. Why would Christians support Jews and Israel when Christians believe Jews and the land of Israel have been replaced by Christians and a spiritual communion that can be called Israel, among other terms? The answer does lie in dispensationalism - which some Christians condemn - but the root reason lies deeper.

Dispensationalism is the belief that certain rules and peoples play a role in God's work in certain periods of time. At one time, God confined His covenant interaction to a certain people (Jews) for a certain period of time (between Abraham and Jesus, essentially). Even within this period, the rules changed - the rules during Abraham's time were not the same as those in Isaac's time, while the rules changed dramatically at the Encounter at Sinai. Some dispensationalists believe that despite Christianity's claim of being God's people, despite its supersuccessionism, Jews and Israel continue to play a role, and have yet to play a role, in the end of the current and the beginning of the next dispensation; the two dispensations will be separated by the coming of Jesus. Indeed, many of these dispensationalists believe that after the ingathering of the exiles has completed, the Jews will convert to Christ, be threatened, and then will be saved by Christ.

However, other communities in Christianity, and even people who subscribe to dispensationalism, have different reasons. The root reason goes back to the beginning of Christianity: it's foundation within Judaism. Although it grew into a religion in its own right, and even though relations between Christians and Jews (not to mention between Christianity and Judaism) have been strained (to put it mildly), there's a common understanding of God, a common history, and common scriptures that both peoples share. Christians do not reject the "God of the Old Testament": indeed, they embrace Him, as they believe He came to earth in Jesus Christ. Christians continue to read, study, and interpret what they call the Old Testament. Christians and Jews share many, many stories and tales: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Job, Jonah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ruth, Esther, Moses, Isaiah. The list goes on and on. Like Jews, Christians revere the ten commandments. Indeed, various moral laws and rules in the Torah (also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Book of Moses or the Law) are still very much in force within Christianity. These factors give Judaism and Christianity a common ground that no two other religions share.

Islam claims to have evolved from Judaism and Christianity: more appropriately, Islam claims to share the same history, people, and texts with Christians and Jews. However, Islam also teaches that Christians and Jews have perverted their texts, traditions, beliefs, and rules. In reality, there is little, if any, common ground between Christians and Jews on the one hand and Muslims on the other hand. The people of one, who call God their Father (Father in Heaven, Avinu shebashamayim), share little with the people of the other, who call themselves the slaves of God (indeed, "slave" ("'abd") is a very common part of Muslim names: 'abd allaah, 'abd ar-raHmaan, 'abd ar-raHeem, 'abd ar-razzaaq, 'abd al-malik, 'abd al-'azeez, et cetera). So, when Christians are forced to support one culture against another, they will instinctively support Jews and Christians.

Furthermore, both Jews and Christians believe that Israel is holy land. Muslims believe that Jerusalem is holy, but this is exaggerated, for some reason, in Islam. The only real significance Jerusalem has for Muslims is that it is site from which Muhammad supposedly ascended to Heaven, riding a winged beast (buraq), during his Night Vision or Ascension, over which Muslims still bicker whether it was a vision or an actual physical ascension (if the former, then Jerusalem would have no major reason to be significant). It is true that Muslims used to pray towards Jerusalem, but this was only to indicate solidarity with the Jews. When the Jews refused to join the Muslims or recognize Muhammad as a prophet, Muhammad conveniently received a revelation mid-prayer that the direction of prayer has been changed to the Ka'ba in Mecca. Thereby, Muhammad ended his strategy to attract Jews to his religion and began focusing on attracting more Arabs to Islam.

Christianity and Judaism, on one hand, and Islam, on the other, also have different rules and standards. Both Christianity and Judaism began as minority and powerless religions. Even Judaism, when it established a state, was relatively introspective: the Hebrew leaders did not waste time trying to expand their empire to encompass the known world, unlike the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, and Muslims. There is no element of state-building in early Christianity. Islam has aspects of both imperialism and state-building built within itself. This is largely because unlike the "founders" of Christianity and Judaism, the founder of Islam was a successful conqueror and warrior. (Jesus, Moses, and Abraham cared more about imposing, explaining, teaching, and following God's spiritual and ritual laws than conquest, booty, and other matters of state.) Regarding Judaism, when God gave the Promised Land to His people, He explicitly established its borders. There is no such limiting in Islam.

Another element that does not exist in Islam that exists in Christianity and Judaism is an evolution of the fundamentals of the two religions. The canon of neither religion was decided and enforced in the beginning. Indeed, the canons were closed quite some time into the religions' lives. Both Christianity and Judaism have seen dramatic changes and innovations over their histories. Indeed, different communities consider each other to still belong to the religion even if they are wrong. (Extremists exist, but they are the fringe.) The Vatican does not say that Protestants are not Christians. (Indeed, most Protestant baptisms are considered valid according to Catholic law.) Jews of all major groups consider each other to be Jews despite level of observance or denominational affiliation. Such cordiality is sorely lacking in Islam, where takfeer (proclaiming another to be a non-Muslim) is often the first, rather than last, impulse when a Muslim encounters one who belongs to another tradition. Additionally, Christianity and Judaism actively try to deal with changing circumstances, integrating ancient fundamentals with modern understanding, in ways that many Muslims seem to oppose. Many Muslims would like to recreate the Islam of the salafeeyoon (early Muslims) rather than adapt Islam to modernity.

Some Christians feel that Jews, although not Christians, are related to Christians spiritually and certainly theologically. These relations exist at no level with Muslims. (If people do believe such relationships exist with Muslims, the explanation as to how this is so would be quite forced.)

These are only a few reasons why Christians support Jews, particularly when confronted with a people like Muslims or a religion/culture like Islam. This is not to say some Christians do not have ulterior motives: but the majority support Jews and Israel for theological reasons and because of a kinship that is strongly felt by Christians.

(These Christians do not support only Jews and Israel. They are also heavy supporters of conservative Jews. This raises the influence of traditional Jewish groups over secular ones; both conservative Jews and conservative Christians oppose efforts by secularists to de-religionize Israel. Both groups seek to religionize Israel, to make it truly a Jewish state, faithful to Jewish (and thus Christian) morals and values. But this is another matter all together.)

inna naHnu-l-a'lamoon.


At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Barker said...

Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus Christ was a Jewish Rabbi, God,when talking to Abraham, admonishes all people, of any religion or faith, that " I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you".

While some may support Jews and Israel out of fear of Gods curse, and some out of anticipation of His blessing, most supporting Christians will tell you they do it because of love, which is a lost word in the lexicon of times in the Middle-East and elsewhere.

At 9:20 PM, Blogger Muslihoon said...

Very well said.

It is quite interesting how even though Christianity and Judaism speak extensively about fearing God or having the fear of Heaven, both religions idealize and promote loving God over fearing God. In Islam, the focus is on fear. The God as described in the Qur'an is quite different from God as revealed in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) and the New Testament.


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