We Like Jewish People! (or, Psychosemitic)

In today’s Washington Post, there’s an article about evangelical Christians who are becoming “philo-semitic”. While some of the people demonstrate a straight-up belief that Jews are the chosen people, I’ve been a little nervous about this trend for years now.

I guess it derives from my feeling uncomfortable with any religious group that links paradise with apocalypse. There’s a manic evangelical woman in my office who used to put all sorts of “literature” in my mail slot. Since it was a pretty clean ergonomic movement from the mail slot to the trash can, it was never a huge problem.

Then she e-mailed me an excerpt from The Omega Letter, explaining how the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was God’s revenge for the U.S. support for Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. I flipped out on her, as I predicted would happen last August. All this apocalypso gives me the Heebie-Jewbies:

Julie Galambush, a former American Baptist minister who converted to Judaism 11 years ago, has seen both sides of the divide. She said many Jews suspect that evangelicals’ support for Israel is rooted in a belief that the return of Jews to the promised land will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and mass conversion.

“That hope is felt and expressed by Christians as a kind, benevolent hope,” said Galambush, author of “The Reluctant Parting,” a new book on the Jewish roots of Christianity. “But believing that someday Jews will stop being Jews and become Christians is still a form of hoping that someday there will be no more Jews.”

Anyway, what I’m saying is, some evangelicals consider support of Jews just a necessary step in the Second Coming. I’m not saying they all feel this way, because it’d be unfair to characterize everydarnbody based solely on religion. But I’m glad that some — like the profiled Rev. Mooneyham — appear to have different motives for their “charity” for the Jews.

Still, the idea of bringing Russian Jews “home” ties into this idea of prophecy and Armageddon (for me), and this centering of the Jews with history and its end:

Jacques Berlinerblau, a visiting professor of Jewish civilization at Georgetown University, said the rise of philo-Semitism in the United States has led Jewish scholars to look back at previous periods of philo-Semitism, such as in Amsterdam in the mid-17th century. He said revisionists are increasingly challenging the standard “lachrymose version” of Jewish history, questioning whether persecution has been the norm and tolerance the exception, or vice versa.

Still, some Jews think that philo-Semitism is just the flip side of anti-Semitism.

“Both are Semitisms: That is, both install the Jews at the center of history. One regards this centrality positively, the other regards it negatively. But both are forms of obsession about the Jews,” said Leon Wieseltier, a Jewish scholar and literary editor of the New Republic.

Which, of course, brings me back to basketball. Last century, people joked about the eschatological evangelical beliefs of Sacramento’s power forward, Lawrence Funderburke. See, Lawrence had been making comments about how the world was going to end after 1999, but he’d also been holding out for a long-term contract, so the sportswriters had a pretty easy time goofing on him.

So ESPN writer Frank Hughes decided to interview Funderburke about it two days before this projected apocalypse:

Why not sign a one-year deal, or a half-year deal, get everything up front, live it up like a drunken banshee for the remainder of his days and just go nuts in that final game of games, the Kings-Seattle SuperSonics tilt on Dec. 29?

Hey, I realize the globe is about to blow a gasket, and in the larger scheme basketball does not really mean a whole lot since all life on this planet is about to end, but regardless, we’ve still got a job to do. Tip-off at 7:30.

So I go in to talk with Larry after a game the other day, completely prepared to listen to his prediction of Almighty destruction with a smirk on my face.

And guess what? The guy is very well spoken, very intelligent and makes some solid arguments. And after writing the column last week about what a farce some of the aspects of religion are in this league, it was actually refreshing to listen to a man who is so devoted to his beliefs and so willing to shamelessly stand up for them in the face of ridicule and adversity.

Most of Funderburke’s comments were prophecies about Israel weakening, imminent mega-destruction, and the Jews coming to accept that Jesus is the messiah, but he also said something that I found pretty touching:

“I don’t get caught up in the millennium, and I know that it is not going to happen around then. And I think a lot of people will point at Christians and say, ‘If it doesn’t happen, then they are all false prophecies and they are predicting all these things.’ [. . .]

“I live day to day, my life. If you look at Payne Stewart, if you look at John Kennedy, no one knows when The Lord is going to come for your individual life. The main thing is to be ready, make sure you have a personal relationship with Him. I don’t worry about that. I’ve always lived my life day by day. I can’t control the future. No man can. What I try to do is give to the Church, help people out, do all I can to follow Christ’s example. A lot of people kid me, a lot of people ask me questions about Y2K . . . but I tell them I don’t know.”

Apart from the passages about impending nuclear war, his sentiments were pretty close to the those of the Dalai Lama, who contended that the true cataclysm is within the human heart, and that every day can be the millennium for someone.

Have a happy agnostic valentine.

The Rest Wing

Perhaps the need for clean public toilets will lead to an Iranian counter-revolution. As the Brooding Persian sez:

“A country, I keep telling everyone, which finds it practically impossible to keep its public restrooms clean has no business pursuing nuclear power.”

Build It Up, Tear It Down

According to this article in the Washington Post, the organized homicidal faction of the Palestinians is calling for reforms of the Palestinian Authority (an end to corruption, nepotism and graft, particularly), and wants a voice in the government.

At first, I was going to make a joke about how tough it would be to vote for candidates who always wear black ski masks, but that seemed mean-spirited. Then I thought about how the article (which I read quickly) doesn’t seem to mention a need to destroy Israel. Which made me think, “Maybe this security wall is already serving its purpose.”


Not exactly rested and ready, but at least the big issue is wrapped, in time for my family’s visit for the next 7-10 days!

To get re-started, here’s a post by The Brooding Persian, about the 4th of July in Iran.

In the Persian calendar, today is 18 Tir, which has become a day of protest for Iranians. It marks the anniversary of the 1999 Iranian students national uprising, which was flat-out massacred by the troops of the theocracy. There are protests and demonstrations going on worldwide, a guide for which can be found here. If there was one in NYC tonight/this afternoon, I’d head out for it.

Update: Here’s a little more background on the events of 18 Tir back in 1999.

Who’s Smarter?

Read this pretty neat essay on Slate last week, about the problems music reviewers have with pop music. The centerpiece is the reaction some critics had to Justin Timberlake’s solo album. I’ve never heard any of his songs, so I have no idea how valid the writer’s descriptions of the tunes are.

(I don’t cite that fact to establish that I’m hipper than people who listen to Justin Timberlake. I just don’t listen to music radio much during my morning commute, preferring to listen to Howard Stern, my iPod, or ESPN radio, where guys just ramble about sports, but don’t do it as pompously as the hosts on WFAN.)

A couple of years ago, my assistant asked me to download a song from Gerri Halliwell’s solo album for her. I did so that evening and, at work the next day, I e-mailed it over with the message, “Your musical taste now officially sucks.”

She took this badly, and sent an angry e-mail about my own bad pop music listening habits, from 15-20 years earlier. I wrote back, “At no point am I saying my musical tastes DON’t suck. I recognize that you’re only going to dig Squeeze (as a fer instance) if you were a certain age at a certain time in musical history. I happened to be around 12-13 when I first heard Pulling Mussels (from the shell), and it struck me as one of the greatest pop song of all time.” In fact, to this day, the opening words of the song continues to elicit an instant smile from me, like seeing an old friend.

So what I’m saying is, of course our musical tastes suck. Pop music is meant to be disposable, and it’s only the best of it manages to transcend its expiration date and linger in your head or heart for years.

Now, all of that said: this new Madonna commercial for The Gap flat-out sucks (which is sorta what I meant to get at a few paragraphs earlier). Changing the words to your song to sell corduroys, and playing up the yoga-contortionist thing isn’t smart. It makes you sound like the Beach Boys when they changed the words to Good Vibrations for that Sunkist commercial.

There’s no longer an issue of “artists selling out” by doing Gap ads. It’s an acceptable way for an artist to extend his or her brand identity. It’s cool. Seeing Luscious Jackson do a Gap ad a few years ago was actually pretty neat, I have to admit. But this ad borders on unintentional self-parody.

The missteps seem to be coming a little faster and more furiously for Madonna, given that she’s now credited with two of the worst flicks of all time: Swept Away and Shanghai Surprise.

But she’ll always have one thing going for her: she’s smarter than Salman Rushdie. Yeah, Rushdie may have been a cause celebre fifteen years ago by writing The Satanic Verses, a controversial novel that no one actually read. And maybe he seemed pretty cool by going on stage with Bono, and writing that Orpheus song which he later expanded into a truly terrible novel: The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

(I mean, it’s one thing to posit an alternate reality in which JFK lives, and Bollywood culture reaches a level of parity in the west. But I don’t care HOW alternate a reality you’re building: concept album rock-n-roll concerts with sets that were borrowed from Spinal Tap will NEVER catch on. It’s a major failing of novelists who want to write about rock music: they try to bring their own literary aspirations to the rock world, which expands upon the grandiosity of the music, and that leads them to the terrible idea of the concept album/theme concert.)

So, Rushdie becomes a potential Nobel winner, while Madonna’s just a pop tart who lasted long beyond her expected career span? Well, I contend that Maddie might actually have a little more going on between the ears than Salman.

Madonna’s found ways to offend Christianity (particularly her own Catholic church), Judaism (“Uh, yeah, I study Kabbalah, too.”), and Hinduism (“Those sacred mendhi tattoos are cool!”), while extending her music career and becoming an international icon of . . . something or other. I’m not clear on what she’s actually supposed to represent, which is probably the point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with representing the mutability of our age, and I’m perfectly fine with making Plastic Man my patron saint (Jews are allowed to have those, right?). Which is to say, identity ain’t what it used to be.

Anyway, despite all of these perceived offenses to various world religions, I contend Madonna remained at least one synapse smarter than Rushdie, because she never decided, “I’ve got it! I’ll make a fashion statement out of Islam!”

Now, that’d certainly be a tall order, but I bet she could sit down with Jean-Paul Gaultier, come up with some kind of burqa-inspired look, and carry it off pretty well. But she never seems to have decided to mess around with the one major religion known for its propensity for suicide bombers and assassins. After all, it’s one thing to goof on Christians, Jews or Hindus; it’s another to make fun of Islam.

It’s a pity Salman wasn’t smart enough to figure this out. I’m sure he had the best intentions when he was trying to undercut the tenets of Islam by exploring the heretical concept that some of the Koran was false (hence, verses written by Satan). Maybe he just thought it was a playful conceit, one that no one would take too seriously. After all, it was in a novel by an ostensibly highbrow writer, and who reads those?

So, this morning’s big thoughts: Madonna’s new ads smack of desperation, but she’s still smarter than Salman Rushdie.