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.