I am a religion junkie. I must be one because my Louisiana Cajun friend told me I am one, and he should know. After all, he is a psychotherapist!!!
So how am I addicted to religion? Well for a person who calls himself a secular atheist, I spend a lot of time involved with religious issues. Yes, I am Jewish but no longer observant. So why do I want to make KIDDUSH [a prayer accompanying a blessing for drinking wine] on Friday nights, and why do I insist on running or at least being present at a SEDER each Passover, and why do I want to attend synagogue services on YOM KIPPUR? I seem to have an attachment to ritual as an expression of my Jewishness. How else can I express it other than speaking Yiddish or Hebrew? And when do I get a chance to do that? I call myself an ethnic Jew but what is that? Someone who is born Jewish - and what else? The only reason there are still Jews in the world is that for thousands of years we have kept ourselves separated form the rest of humanity by subscribing to a set of rituals designed to remind us every day of who we are. But nonobservant Jews don't subscribe to the daily practice of those rituals and secular atheist Jews don't subscribe to the belief system behind those rituals. So what is left for people like me? I might say that it is nostalgia for the good memories of what it felt like to be part of a community of "true believers" but is that all there is? So why does it bother me when I hear about Jewish parents who refuse to have their sons circumcised? Why does it trouble me that in the midst of the capital of the only Jewish country in the world whose OFFICIAL state religion is Judaism there is a grandiose place of worship of another religion? Why indeed? One of the main thrusts of religion is to fix things that are not right. Judaism stresses that the job of Jews is TIKUN OLAM, fixing the world. If I don't do those few rituals which remind me that I am a Jew, I get the feeling that something is not right.
Many neurobiologists claim that human beings are wired to believe in some greater power or some greater destiny than that which we can perceive empirically. That's their THEORY but I believe it even though I don't necessarily like to believe it. I said that I am no longer an observant or Orthodox Jew. But to some people, religion is like the mafia; you can get in; leaving is next to impossible. One of the Church Fathers said that if a child is indoctrinated young enough, it belongs to the Church forever. In other words, they check in but they can't check out. Well I am out but apparently part of my brain is still in. To some degree or another the same is true of other Jews. The part of the brain that is still in is the part that often can get caught up in religious ecstasy. And if it's true for Jews, it's true for gentiles as well.
At the beginning of the 17th century, King James of England commissioned his scholars to translate the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament in English. That translation remains a grand and monumental work of religious literature. More importantly it led to the literacy of the English people and their ability to read the Bible and be moved by its words. No longer were priests needed to tell the people how to be religious. They could read for themselves what it is that God wanted from them. They read their Bibles and some of them determined that something was not right.
The Protestantism which the English created as the Church of England splintered into many new denominations, each one stressing some particularism that needed to be fixed in order to make things right. The members of one of these denominations, the Puritans, sailed across the sea and established their brand of religious enthusiasm in America. Eventually this led to America becoming the most religious country in the Western world.
In time, part of that religious enthusiasm expressed itself as premillennialism, a set of beliefs having to do with the end of human history and the beginning of messianic history. Unlike the Catholic Church which believes it is ALREADY THE KINGDOM OF GOD, enthusiastic Protestantism shares with the Jews a belief in messianism. Messianism is the idea that something is not right, has not been right from the beginning, and can never be right as long as history is in the hands of people. Therefore what is required to right things is something extraordinary, someone extraordinary who is not limited by ordinary human frailty. Judaism subscribes to messianism. Christianity and Islam, both of which are loosely based on Judaism, inherited this belief from the Jews.
Read your Bible, Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament. What do you find? It's the story of Failure! Open to any page and you will find that something is not right. God's creation of a creature in His image is flawed. Man is given one MITSVAH. Don't eat of a certain tree. Well he has to eat. One brother kills another because of the younger one's obnoxiousness. The human race has to be wiped out because it corrupts its own flesh. Man has to be knocked down when he tries to build a skyscraper that will reach up to God Himself. Eleven brothers gang up on one of their siblings and throw him into a pit t die. Slaves are redeemed by their God and given a list of things to do and things not to do and they can't stick to the script. The king acknowledged by the Jews as their greatest leader, Solomon, goes to his death worshipping the gods of his foreign wives. The Jewish kingdom breaks in two and eventually each of its halves are defeated and destroyed by a foreign superpower. Something is just not right and no one seems able to do anything about it.
Then the Jews, or their prophets, get an amazing insight, Things will never be made right by ordinary people. What is needed as I said above is a superman, a Jewish superman to be sure, who will rise above petty human insufficiencies and bring everything into perfection because he himself is perfect.
The Jews eagerly await his coming. He comes alright but not to the Jews. Once he comes to the Christians in the form of Jesus the Nazarene4 and then again to the Muslims in the form of Muhammad. Something doesn't appear to be quite right in all of this.
The Jews believed in the Kingdom of God. They said that all you have to do is follow God's TORAH and wait for the messiah and it will come about. The Christians said all you have to do is follow Jesus and it will come about. The Muslims said all we have to do is conquer the whole earth and convert everyone to Islam and it will come about.
Everyone is still waiting. Things still aren't right. You notice it mostly when things around you are REALLY bad. That's when people really get intense about their religion. During the 1950s the godless commies were going to drop atom bombs on the free world or space aliens were going to come down and do something similar. All we have to do is leave the classroom, go outside and sit down in the hall with our notebooks over our heads to protect us from the H bomb and all will be well. Oh yes, we also have to become super religious. Because if we become really religious, then the Promised One will come and bring God's Kingdom with him.
In the sixties much of the Cold War anxiety diminished and there was an age of prosperity in which people tried by means of social programs to bring about God's kingdom. But something was still not right. Radicals and hippies, who don't follow God's Biblical plan, cannot bring about God's Kingdom, and that's right even though hippie society and Biblical fundamentalism say the same thing - something is not right and we need to fix it by bringing about the new world order.
Enter the Reagan Era and religious fundamentalists finally find their political voice. America begins to move to the right. Gradually over the next decades evangelical fundamentalists take over Christianity and ultraOrthodox fundamentalists take over Judaism. These people are in a better position to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. They want to do it by pushing out rational thought and for it substituting mythology. What has given them the impetus? Fulfillment of prophecy of course.
In the 19th century, Theodore Hertzl, a Jewish writer and avowed secularist, looked around at Europe and came to the realization that as long as the
Jews lived among gentiles with no country of their own; they were going to have problems. No matter how much they integrated themselves into gentile society, something was not right. He advocated a country where the "Jewish nation" would be at home. This is interesting terminology for a European of the 19th century. It was during this time that Jews living in western countries were supposed to be citizens of these countries and members of the Jewish faith. Hertzl was not referring to his fellow Jews as a religious group but as a NATION, a nationality. And where was this nation's place? Why naturally in the land of its ancestors, the place the gentiles called Palestine. Why there? It's true that religious Jews looked forward to a time when their people would once again be living in the Land of Israel; but Hertzl was not religious. His ancestors had been though. They had checked in and Hertzl was not able to completely check out. Apparently he had attended a sufficient number of Passover SEDERs so that the phrase "Next year in Jerusalem" remained embedded in his memory. Hertzl succeeded in obtaining the permission of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to establish a Jewish community in the Land. Who inhabited this settlement? Why secular Jews of course who during their childhood in Orthodox families
had also read a HAGADDAH or two.
During the early part of the 20th century, Jews who had chosen to give up Orthodoxy celebrated their break away from religion in a most peculiar way.
Groups of them would meet at a local restaurant on YOM KIPPUR and eat pork. Isn't that interesting? They acknowledged their independence from the Jewish religion by making reference to its commands, negative reference to be sure but reference none the less. Just forgetting about observing religion was not enough. They had to address it in its mirror image. You can check in. Checking out is harder. A man by the name of David Shaltiel was one of the YOM KIPPUR pork eaters. I'll get back to him in a bit.
December 11, 1917. The Ottoman Empire is finished. Germany and Turkey are defeated in the War To End Wars. General Allenby, the British commanding general in the Middle East rides a white horse up to the gates of Jerusalem. Then he dismounts and enters the Holy City on foot. Later, when he was asked why he walked into Jerusalem rather than ride in on his horse, he explained that his lord Jesus had entered Jerusalem on foot and for him not to follow the Savior's example would have been an act of hubris. This should not come as a surprise. England now ruled the Land of Israel and the government of England wished to establish a homeland for Jews there. It was a secular expression of premillennialism, the Christian belief that in order for Christ to return, the Jewish people must return to their land and build the third Temple. As I stated above, the English, along with their colonial children in America and elsewhere in the Anglo-Saxon world, have been inspired by King James' translation of the Bible and its teachings about the Last Days.
August 15, 1929. It is TISHA B'AV and throngs of Jews are gathered at the KOTEL, the western wall remains of the Temple. They are raising the blue and white Zionist flag and singing HATIKVAH and chanting that Jews have to reclaim this Land. Most of the demonstrators are not religious. You can tell that because it's TISHA B'AV, a fast day commemorating the destruction of the Temple, a day on which religious Jews usually go barefoot or wear sneakers. These Jews are wearing regular leather shoes. These non-religious Jews have chosen a Jewish religious memorial day to demonstrate for the Land of Israel. A week later, riots break out all over the Land led by angry Arabs who shout that the Jews cannot take away Muslim land. In Jerusalem and Hebron the pogroms kill over 150 Jews. The ruling British now realize they have caused the Empire a major problem by supporting a Jewish homeland in the land they call Palestine. From this point onward they switch their support to the Arab cause for Palestine.
July 17, 1948. The Israelis have beaten back the armies of five invading Arab countries. Yet the Old City of Jerusalem, housing the Temple Mount, is in the hands of the Jordanians. A cease fire has been called by the UN. Several hours before the cease fire is to take effect, A contingent of the Israeli armed forces, led by David Shaltiel, our old YOM KIPPUR pork eating friend, intended to break out of the cease fire lines, capture the Temple Mount, and destroy the two mosques located on its top. Shaltiel brought along a lamb which he planned to sacrifice on the Mount once the mosques were destroyed. Isn't it interesting that a YOM KIPPUR pork eater wished to offer a sacrifice at the ancient place of Jewish sacrifice? It's easy to check in. Apparently harder to check out. Unfortunately Shaltiel's troops were not able to breach the Jordanian lines and so the Temple Mount remained in gentile hands for another 19 years.
May 14, 1967. Israeli Independence Day. Naomi Shemer, one of Israel's major music composers, wrote a song for the occasion, JERUSALEM OF GOLD. It laments the fact that the City is divided and that Jews are not in the Old City, at the Temple Mount. The lyrics speak about the empty market place and the deserted Temple Mount. In essence, Shemer's song describes the Old City as though, as long as there are no Jews there, no one is there; no Arabs, no one. It is simply an empty place waiting for its Jewish children to return. Several weeks later, they did return.
June 6, 1967 - Israel began its invasion of Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem. The UN called for a cease fire but unlike the war of 1948, Israel ignored the cease fire and by day's end, the Temple Mount was captured. After almost 2000 years, the gentiles no longer ruled Jerusalem. Naomi Shemer's song became a worldwide hit. Anyone who was alive that year remembers the tremendous outpouring of "religious" enthusiasm felt and expressed by Jews worldwide. Long committed secularists spoke about the "miracle" that had been accorded the Israelis. A secular friend of mine seriously asked me why the Bible could not be reopened and a new book added! It's so hard to check out.
On the day that the Old City was taken by Jews, Shlomo Goren, the army's chief rabbi, ran up to the top of the Mount. He was met by Major General Uzi Narkiss. Goren implored Narkiss to blow up the two mosques in order to begin the "purification of the mountain". Narkiss refused. Goren said to him, "I beg you, general. Today we can do it without too much repercussion from the gentiles. Tomorrow will be too late to do it." Narkiss again refused. Goren turned his back on Narkiss and walked away.
Jews were not the only ones swept away by the Israeli victory. In the United States and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians
rejoiced. This, they said, was God's final plan for humanity working out before their eyes. The Jews had returned to their Land and now the Temple
Mount was in Jewish hands. The Temple could now be rebuilt, preparing the way for Jesus to return. The REAL age of premillennialism had begun.
Why would Christians want the Temple rebuilt? For 2000 years Christians had said that Jesus' death on the cross did away with the need for a Temple.
Now certain Christians were saying that a Temple was necessary for Biblical prophecy to be fulfilled and that sacrifices offered in a newly built Temple
would remind Christians of the blood shed by Jesus; it would be an ongoing Eucharist.
If Israel had had friends among Christian Zionists before June, 1967, the number of such Christians exploded exponentially during that summer.
Israel was praised by gentiles all over the West. Israel was the hero David who had slain the Arab Goliath. But Jews and Christians are not the only
people who believe in a divine view of history and a divine plan for the end of that history. Arabs are typically Muslim and Muslims also pray to a God who guides history. Allah is the God of his people as Jehovah and Christ are the God of theirs. Twice in recent history, against overwhelming odds, Muslims had been defeated by Jews and supported by their Christian allies. Something was not right.
What was the 6 Day War really about? It was about Egypt sending its army into the Sinai desert in an aggressive move, and then blocking the Straits of Teran, locking in the city of Elat. It was about Syria and Jordan attacking Israel after the war began. That was all it was about. But not for Jews and evangelical Christians. They made it about miracles and end times. That's what religious fundamentalists do about " current events", they give it meaning, mega-meaning. Everything that happens has already been prophesied thousands of years ago and we are just lucky to be living in the era when prophecy is fulfilled, as it has been so many times before, only not to completion. But then , in prior times, Jews did not have control over the Mountain of God.
February 28, 1993. Federal agents raided the compound of the Davidians in Waco, Texas and killed everyone inside. The reason? The Davidians expected the End Time to come in 1995 and were preparing to fight the antichrist. The government were worried about the number of weapons the sect possessed, and supposedly about child abuse. The government always refers to the Davidians as a cult.
"Cult" is the term people use to delegitimize a religion. It brings up images of members being brainwashed and being held captive against their wills. The Davidians were not a cult. They were a sect of Seventh Day Adventists and their members belonged willingly. All they wanted was to fight on the side of the lord who would be returning shortly to battle the forces of Satan.
April 19, 1995. On that day, the world did end for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. What were the perpetrators motives? To avenge the government's handling of the incident at Waco. The government was on one side, God and the bombers on the other.
Within a very short time, Israel went from hero status to arch villain of the world, especially among leftist liberals. On the right, Christian
Premillenniarians became Israel staunchest allies. Eventually a bond was formed between evangelist premillenniarians and Israeli right wing groups
dedicated to restoring the Temple. The desire for encouraging God to bring the end time by building the Temple is not the only reason for fundamentalist Christian support. Of all Christian groups, evangelicals are the most deeply disturbed by the Holocaust. They realize that early Christianity bred European anti-Semitism and the European anti-Semitism bred the Holocaust. Allying with Israel is their way of doing TESHUVAH, repentance.
Defeat by Jews twice in 20 years was humiliation enough for Muslim Arabs. The linking of Jews and Christians, even fringe groups of both, created
a fear and anger among Arab Muslims; the fear that the mosques on the Temple Mount really were in danger from these two groups. Israel came to represent all Jews in the Arab Muslim mind; Christian premillenniarians came to represent all Americans. Arab Muslim rhetoric framed this alliance as a new "Crusade". One Arab writer declared that every pope of the Catholic Church was a Jew; Martin Luther was a Jew and he sent Jews to colonize America, and consequently "the Jews" came to control America and that is why America is an ally of Israel.
But Muslims also saw contemporary political and military events as a sign of the End Times. In THIER prophecies the Jews would be militarily triumphant until their MACHDI or messiah arrived to lead them to final victory. At the end of time, the focal point of Islam would move from Mecca to Jerusalem and therefore the site of the Temple Mount took on significance. After the defeat of 1967, a movement of return to religion, similar to the BAAL TESHUVAH movement among Jews came about. Before 1967 few Muslims from outside Jerusalem came to visit the Al Aqsa mosque. Since then, religious services there have been overflowing.
Arabs in control of the Temple Mount have attempted to prevent archeologists from exploring tunnels that run under and alongside the Mount. While Jews wish to unearth Jewish history in Israel, Arabs wish to bury that history, literally and figuratively
All three monotheistic religions believe that the End Time is preceded by cataclysmic, negative events. Judaism believes in the Birth Pangs of the Messiah the signs of which are an increase in wars and crime; Christianity believes in the Tribulation, wars and rumors of wars, and Armageddon; Islam believes in the Koranic prophecy that at the End Time, infidels will invade the holy soil [Arabia]. Osama binLaden believes that this prophecy has been fulfilled by the presence of American troops on the soil of Saudi Arabia. His response was to strike at the heart of the infidel Crusader on September 11.
Most people consider Israeli groups who want to destroy the mosques and build a Temple on Mount to be a "fringe". But at each meeting of these groups the number of attendees grows. If the number reaches critical mass, someone such as Boruch Goldstein or Yigal Amir
will arise and decide that there is no longer any reason to wait for direct orders from Heaven. He will take matters into his own hands just as Goldstein and Amir did.
Religious people are not politically correct. Secular people or those in political power are. President Bush can lie with a straight face and call Islam a religion of peace and tell the world that 9/11 was perpetrated by insane people who hate freedom. The truth is not as simple. Fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and Muslims are growing in numbers and in certainty that the End is Near and that the yare God's instruments to facilitate or even hurry it along. In 1966, Harvey Cox wrote a book called THE SECULAR CITY in which he predicted the end of religion as a factor in everyday life. He said the Age of Constantine was coming to an end. In 1967, events took place in the Middle East which began the Age of Apocalypse. Since that time an ever increasing number of Jews, Christians, and Muslims have discovered God or their "roots". Once they are converted, their zeal increases, and many of them become religious activists, often in the most controversial of ways. People who take up a seriously religious lifestyle rarely leave that lifestyle. I am an exception to that rule.
Sometime in the future you may be possessed by the Holy Spirit. If and when you are, you will have checked in. Then try to check out.
Go ahead. I dare you.
firstname.lastname@example.org - email King Solomon