Religion, Politics, and War

Religion, Politics, and War

Rex Murphy is trying to work out how much religion is involved in conflicts in the world, given the rising tensions in the middle east. I am completely confused by all of this, the events blur together for me. There is always violence, and I have a hard time remember whose side I’m supposed to be on.

I am very sympathetic toward Israel. Israel is the tragic hero of a beautiful story: gathered together and freed by God, settled with a growing series of rituals for communicating with God, the long, slow process from nomadic to settled; the history of relations with other nations, deciding on what is and is not problematic for them, their God, their lives. Their very literary decisions about justice; when the Levites lost their land, they were given, in return, the sole right to be religious men. Landownership for religious priviledge. The constant tension between the tribes, their political movements, siding with Judah, siding with Israel. Israel’s ability to sway smaller tribes, the debate about the golden calf. They have this beautiful unity and complete multiplicity, growing from roots unrelated to place and the present, yet always shifting in the tides of current events and very basic needs.

The destruction of the temple, the fall of Israel, the fall of Judah. The shocking disappearance of the contents of the Temple, the silence of the documents. (What did they do with the ten commandments? Did they break them, burn them, dance on them? Did they secret them away, bury them? Grind them down into nothing, use them to make mortar? slip them into the walls of a whorehouse?) The dispersion, the inability of these people to gather themselves back together. The tragedy of that loss: when you believe that the Temple is the seat of God, that the temple is your ear horn, through which you can just barely hear your beloved, and when your enemy arrives and destroys it, you can never find another, there is no other. You cannot hear your beloved anymore, and you are blind. You can only observe one another, sliently, without touching, just hoping that you are both still there, both still waiting. A Muslim dome is built over the site of the holy of holies, the single most sacred spot for Jews, a place that no one was allowed to see.

Another thousand years of persecution.Jews were not allowed to own property in Europe, and were expected to take care of morally problematic elements of society, in particular, money. (Money, banking, and charging interest is highly problematic in Catholicism.) When the plague hit one town in Italy, the government’s first response was to kill all the Jews, assuming they were poisoning the wells. They were driven out of most European countries at one time or another; they were constantly pressured to convert, and when they did they would still be forced to wear a plackard that said ‘I am a dirty Jew’ and walk through the streets. There was the Holocaust, which was just another atrocity. Throughout the whole time, the Jews mantained communities, languages, and a sense of self-identity.

I am sympathetic to the Jews, but I realize that the modern state of Israel has not behaved well. They have made a conscious effort to rewrite history; they have evicted Palestinians from entire villages and then set it up as a ‘recreated Jewish village’ and charged admission from tourists. They have made laws about historical Jewish buildings while demolishing Christian and Muslim holy sites. They want to purge their territory of peoplpe who do not allow them to recreate a long-forgotten Jewish state. Israel is far from innocent.

I know very little about these recent events, but they frighten me. Rex Murphy is talking on the radio right now about separating religion and politics and I can’t see it through. I don’t know how to understand the state of Israel without religion. I can’t imagine what the answer is to all of this drama.

People call in and say, “can’t we all just get along?”

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