The Great Awakening

The Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will hold back-to-back public conversations this Saturday, Aug. 16, with the two presumptive presidentialcandidates, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain. The conversations, on the topic of “Compassion and Leadership,” will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on CNN.

This is not a debate; it’s two civil dialogues between a Republican and a Democratic candidate for president, which will be moderated by the evangelical leader of a 23,000-member megachurch in Orange County.

But it’s also something else, something historic a victory for the good guys in the cultural wars.

That’s right: After years of watching the debate over faith and values in America play out with all the finesse of MTV’s “Celebrity Deathmatch,” we will now get to see what happens when a thoughtful adult takes over from the goofballs, windbags, con artists and media whores who have led most of the battles until now.

“Rick Warren is this new generation,” Shawn Landres, CEO and Director of Research of Jewish Jumpstart, told me. “This is not the Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson generation. This is the generation of evangelical leaders who want to engage with American political culture, who want to reach out.”

“James Dobson and Robertson and Falwell preached to their choirs,” Landres continued, “and they could move mountains when they got their choirs excited. But Warren is playing for the middle. He’s trying to recapture the center.”

(Landres, by the way, didn’t use words like windbag and con artist. Those are mine.)

Remember the center? As the Christian right alloyed itself to the Republican Party over the past two decades, the center people of faith who didn’t believe that God only attended one party’s convention got squeezed. And every debate that touched on values and morality was turned into a politically charged, zero-sum wrestling match, fueled by columnists, talk radio, TV talking heads and bloggers.

Abortion, later-term abortion, stem cell research, “The Passion of the Christ,” gay marriage the loudest voices on all these issues have been the least compromising, the ones least interested in reaching out.

But Warren is different. In one sense, he recalls the Rev. Billy Graham, who self-consciously sought to serve as “America’s Pastor.” But Graham was a product of simpler times, when being inclusive meant reaching out to white men of several Christian denominations.

Warren is bringing the discussion of faith and values into a marketplace that has grown much more heterogeneous, even as our ability to discuss these complex and delicate issues has remained stunted. Can we talk about treating the plague of HIV/AIDS in Africa without getting into a screaming match over safe sex? Can we talk about indecency as something other than seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple on television? Can we talk about Israel in terms of complex political and moral issues and not as a simplistic character in some end times fairy tale?

I think Warren can. I saw him two years ago at Sinai Temple, where he spoke to a crowd of some 1,700 people at Friday Night Live. We met in a small preshow reception. Ron Wolfson of American Jewish University, Warren’s longtime friend, introduced us. I stuck out my hand, and Warren barged past it and gave me a great big bear hug.

“Rob!” he said. “Brother!”

The warmth was genuine, and boy did it throw me off my game.

Rick Warren’s speech at Sinai Temple

I’ll be surprised if his conversations on Saturday don’t go beyond the obvious professions of faith that have become standard issue for political candidates these days. And I’ll be very disappointed if Warren doesn’t take the opportunity to throw our leading candidates off their game.

“The purpose of influence,” he said at Sinai Temple, “is to speak up for those who have none.”

If McCain says faith calls upon him to care for the poorest and weakest among us, Warren can ask him how he squares that with his shifting stance on illegal immigrants.

If Obama says, as he did in Time magazine this week, how his own Christian journey has brought him to see how “all Americans can live together in a diverse society,” Warren can ask him how he squares that with his loyalty to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose sermons were often hateful and divisive.

In challenging the candidates, Warren has a chance to reframe what has passed for a national discussion about faith.

He began that process by inviting Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton to speak at his church, despite their well-known pro-choice stands. Warren took, and continues to take, heated criticism from within his own movement for offering his pulpit to more liberal speakers. But he hasn’t backed down.

“The first thing we have to learn [from Warren],” Landres said, “is the courage to engage with people with whom we disagree for the sake of having a healthy communal discussion.”

He has also broadened the definition of overused words like “morality” and “faith.”

Inspired by his wife Kay’s work with AIDS victims in Africa, Warren has expanded his church’s mission to include development abroad and poverty relief at home. You don’t hear Warren going on about gay marriage in the press. You do hear him talk about the moral imperative to fight global warming.

That’s not to say as a pastor he has come around on those hot-button cultural issues. I’m sure he still opposes safe sex, stem cell research and showing Janet Jackson’s nipple on television. But for Warren, and an increasing number of influential evangelical voters, these are not the issues.

“I want what’s good for everybody, not just what’s good for me,” he told Time this week.

Such an outlook brings us closer to the faith of the Founding Fathers, who believed that intertwining religion and politics could only strangle both.

I, for one, am looking forward to going back.

Daniel Pipes fights the worldwide threat of Islamism — from Malibu

Pipes spoke at UC Irvine in January

The view from Daniel Pipes’ front porch in Malibu is “California Dreamin'” perfect. With the Pacific stretching beyond the horizon, the vista induces a Zen-like calm. If the scholar’s striped cotton shirt and khakis betray his Boston roots, Pipes’ barely audible voice and gentle demeanor suggest that he has gone native just weeks after his arrival as a visiting professor this semester at Pepperdine University.

But Pipes’ words are not so laid-back. The 57-year-old Harvard-educated Middle East expert is one of the most prominent scholars to have warned of the growing threat of fundamentalist Muslim terrorism to the West before the Sept. 11 attacks. He has become a lightening rod for some Muslims as well as other critics, in part because he predicts that radical Islam is a far greater threat than most people would like to imagine. The United States, he says, must gird itself for a protracted struggle against an enemy that wants nothing less than to transform this country from a beacon of democracy into a repressive Islamic state.

“You name it, radical Islam is anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-female, anti-moderate Muslim and anti anyone who disagrees with it,” said Pipes, who is Jewish. “Anyone in their way is their enemy.”

Pipes calls himself a “soldier” in the war against Islamic fundamentalism; he is founder and director of the Middle East Forum — a Philadelphia think tank that publishes Middle East Quarterly — and he has written hundreds of newspaper columns, appeared countless times on Fox News and CNN and traveled the globe, including a recent trip to England to debate London Mayor Ken Livingstone with the purpose of warning of the growing danger. He soon plans to unveil Islamist Watch, a Web site which he describes as an attempt to monitor nonviolent radical Islam in the West.

Pipes gets nearly 3 million visits annually to his Web site, making him, if not exactly a household name, then at least one of the most prominent anti-Islamists on the scene.

“It used to be that people would ask him if he was related to me,” said Pipes’ father, Richard Pipes, professor emeritus of Russian history at Harvard and a former policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan. “Now, it’s the other way around.”

Like his father, Daniel Pipes has a reputation for bluntness and a willingness to go against conventional wisdom — both in the academy and elsewhere. Whereas Richard Pipes sounded the alarm against appeasing the Soviets, Daniel Pipes preaches against working with radical Muslims, no matter how law-abiding, scholarly or open-minded they might appear.

Instead, “like David Duke and Louis Farrakhan,” Pipes said, “Islamists should be ostracized socially and politically.”

He favors the profiling of Muslims at U.S. airports.

Pipes has come to Pepperdine to teach a graduate seminar on “Islam & Politics.” During his time in Southern California, he is also speaking about the war on terror and the Arab-Israeli conflict at a number of local institutions. In late February, Pipes gave a talk at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino; on March 29, he will speak at Sinai Temple.

His supporters believe that Pipes provides an invaluable service.

“Without Daniel Pipes, we would never be able to prepare ourselves to face the enemy,” said Tashbih Sayyed, the editor in chief of Pakistan Today and Muslim World Today, weekly newspapers that oppose militant Islam. “We would be standing unprepared and unarmed, just like a sitting duck.”

Pipes, said Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times bestseller “The Truth About Muhammad,” is “one of the most heroic defenders in the United States against global jihad.”
However, Pipes’ detractors call him paranoid, prone to conspiracy theories and anti-Islamic, though Pipes has long said, “Radical Islam is the problem, and moderate Islam is the solution.”

On Jan. 31, dozens of members of the Muslim Student Union interrupted a speech he was delivering at UC Irvine before they stormed out in protest. In 2003, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group that Pipes has characterized as a Saudi-funded, pro-Hamas Islamist outfit, led efforts to block his nomination by President Bush to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

After several senators opposed Pipes, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who said that Pipes’ record “did not reflect a commitment to bridging differences and preventing conflict,” the White House made a recess appointment, which allowed Pipes to serve for 16 months.

UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, author of “The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists,” and a presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, described Pipes at the start of his career as a “promising scholar” of Islamic history, who has since lost his perspective.

“Pipes has grown … more suspicious and more alarmist,” said El Fadl, whom Pipes has called a stealth Islamist. “His whole recent work has turned to a critique of Islam based on conspiracy theory.”

Driven largely by a desire to discredit Muslim critics of Israel, Pipes is “clearly opposed to the interests of the American Muslim community and would do anything in his power, I believe, to prevent the political and social empowerment of American Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for CAIR.

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that promotes moderate Islam, said groups such as CAIR “smear” Pipes, because he exposes the dangers they pose.

Yet, Pipes’ critics have failed to derail him. With untiring zeal, he works to blunt what he sees as the threat of radical Islam wherever it crops up. A recent crusade involved a seemingly minor issue at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

For years, some Muslim cab drivers had refused to pick up passengers visibly carrying alcohol, typically in duty free bags, because of religious considerations. The situation had inherent frictions, as the cabbies who turned down the fares had to return to the back of the cab line, while the riders who had been denied service sometimes felt angry and confused as to why the drivers had bypassed them.

Editor’s Corner – Junk Science

“Both sides ought to be properly taught,” President George W. Bush told reporters in Texas Aug. 1, “so people can understand what the debate is about. Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought…. You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.”

Bush, of course, was talking about the debate over whether “intelligent design,” which is reclothed creationism, should be taught alongside the theory of evolution in biology classes. And his declaration is consistent with his past statements on this matter, which have riled his critics then and now. Those who rail, however, that Bush’s views represent a fundamentalist, right-wing takeover of reason should remember that William Jennings Bryan, the most articulate and forceful opponent of evolution in American history, was a lefty.

A really big lefty.

The man who came to embody a reactionary opposition to modern science did so out of a deep concern for the fate of all of society’s oppressed: the poor, the trade unionists and women. He ran four times for president as a populist Democrat, once on the same ticket that offered his Scopes trial nemesis, attorney Clarence Darrow, as a congressman.

Bryan’s objections to evolution will be spookily or wearily familiar to anyone who has been following the current revival of the debate. The literature of the intelligent design movement makes a totem of the eye, using its complexity on the cellular level — of which Darwin had no idea — as proof of Darwin’s blind spot. Bryan was drawn to the eye as well. The chances that an eye evolved out of “light-sensitive freckle” are so astounding, he orated, “Is it not easier to believe in a God who can make an eye?”

Bryan opposed teaching evolution not only because he believed it would undermine belief in God and the Bible, but the Great Commoner also feared that a Darwinian view of humanity “would weaken the cause of democracy and strengthen class pride and power of wealth.”

The end result would be social Darwinism by those who “worship brute ancestors” and the unrestrained use of eugenics.

What Bush and Bryan have in common, if not their political affiliations, is a faith-based understanding that science devoid of moral compass is a dangerous enterprise. And the 20th century provides plentiful examples that this is true. As wrong as Bryan was about the science of Darwin, he was prescient as to the implications. Francis Galton repackaged the science of his cousin — Charles Darwin — into junk science. In the late 19th century, he invented eugenics, and the idea held England in thrall until the 1930s. One fan across the Channel was Adolf Hitler, who wrote adulatory letters to leading eugenicists, and would use their crackpot theories to give his human experiments the patina of medical research.

The president’s partiality to intelligent design keeps with a fundamentalist religious tradition that from the beginning has viewed evolution as contradictory to the word of God as revealed in the Bible. If humans evolved from lower life forms as a result of a mechanistic biological process, where is our sense of purpose, our meaning? If we are no different than animals, what prevents us from treating others like animals?

No such contradiction need exist. Bryan famously said that where the Bible and the microscope disagree, throw out the microscope. But 700 years earlier, the Jewish scholar and physician Maimonides said that if religious teachings contradicted direct observations about the natural world, either we failed to understand the teachings or the observations. In other words, the deeper we contemplate science, the more profoundly we must understand faith. The study and acquisition of scientific knowledge, he wrote, “are preeminently important religious activities.”

Through scientific understanding, Maimonides wrote — and centuries of Jewish doctors lived to prove — we can better take care of our bodies, that we may more fully serve God.

A great wealth of Jewish tradition adheres to this view. We need science to explain how the world works. We need scripture, study and prayer to understand why it works, and to what ends. All of which suggests that, even for a religious person, intelligent design belongs in a comparative religion class — or perhaps in a design class.

Abba Hillel Silver, the great American rabbi, said it best — to Bryan no less. Silver stepped into the fray just as Bryan penned his 1925 attack on evolution, which he titled, “Is the Bible True?” Silver answered Bryan — and Bush — in a sermon at The Temple in Cleveland.

“Science or religion?” Silver said. “Which will survive? Why, both — if man is to survive. Without religion, science is a dreadful destroyer, a machine that will crush the very man who invented it; for the mind let loose in the world, unrestrained by ethical and moral consideration, uninspired by purpose, is so much dynamite in the hands of a child. Religion without science is a helpless thing, subject to all the angers of superstition, subject to constant degeneration, because with the mind atrophied and the intellect left untrained, a man remains permanently incomplete. Science and religion are friends. God created His world by wisdom, and the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.”

France’s Dangerous Cocktail

On July 18, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon festively proposed to “all the Jews of France” “to move to Israel immediately … because in France today, one of the wildest forms of anti-Semitism is spreading.”

Sharon is wrong — not in his concern about a real rise in anti-Semitism in France, but because he explains it too simplistically.

Ten percent of the French population is of Muslim origin. Most are not fundamentalists who feel solidarity with the Hamas suicide bomb campaigns.

Those who attack the Jews are a tiny minority, and that is a reassuring fact. But they are forging alliances with other anti-Semitic movements, and that is a disturbing fact.

On French campuses — as well as on other European and American campuses — leftist anti-Semitism is rife. This anti-Semitism, under the guise of anti-Zionism, turns the Palestinians into the cutting edge in the fight against imperialism, capitalism and globalization.

For the fashionable rebels, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat equals Che Guevara, and to the same extent, Sharon equals Hitler. This is the source of the increasing delegitimization of a country that allows a “Nazi” to head it.

Classical anti-Semitism, from the days of the [French] Vichy and Petain regime (1940-1945), is clandestinely lifting its head, mainly in the circles of old France. We should remember the attack of the French ambassador in London against that “s—–y little country, Israel. Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?”

The ambassador, who served as spokesman for the foreign minister under former President Francois Mitterand, was sharply attacked in the British press but made no apology. His words, as opposed to those of Sharon last month, were not considered “unacceptable.” He is concluding his career as the French ambassador to Algeria, a very desirable job.

When Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suggested including Russia, Turkey and Israel in Europe, the reply he received from the French was: Why Israel? “There is no geographic connection [that is true], no historical or cultural connection between Israel and Europe.”

This statement is the height of ignorance

There is a well-known joke: “Tomorrow we will kill the Jews and the bikers.” To which the punch line is: “Why the bikers?”

The disappearance of Israel would cause few tears in Paris.

Unfortunately, the present situation is linking the three ways of ostracizing the Jews and is thereby mixing a dangerous cocktail.

The fundamentalists are very warmly received by the good souls who oppose globalization. It seems that the politically correct protesters have found the new “deprived masses” in the intifadists — a substitute for the workers that they will never enlist.

From the extreme right to the extreme left, all of political France thundered against intervention in Iraq — rank-and-file militants, members of Parliament, trade union activists, ministers and government leaders.

“Bush, Sharon — murderers,” shouts the street. “Sharon, Bush — contempt for international law,” declare the salons.

The rise of anti-Semitism, which is far from being a simple consequence of the intifada, is the twin of the anti-American wave that has landed on Europe since Sept. 11 and has flooded it since the war in Iraq. And since political France almost unanimously judges the American and Israeli leaders as violators of the law, it is not at all surprising that the fans of Hamas are running around happy and in a good mood in France, which identifies only two major enemies: Bush and Sharon.

But Sharon should be told: Refrain from unnecessary panic. The time has not come for Frenchmen of Jewish origin to lock their suitcases “as quickly as possible” in order to flee to Israel. France is not going through Kristallnacht. It is going through a rising wave of angry and pretentious foolishness. That happens occasionally in soft democracies.

The wave is also licking at other shores, and every citizen with common sense, whether Jewish or not, has an obligation to treat this contagious mental illness in his own home.

Andre Glucksmann is a philosopher. Reprinted with permission Ha’aretz. © 2004

Finding a Kindred Spirit in a Patriarch

"The Discovery of God: Abraham and The Birth of Monotheism" by David Klinghoffer (Doubleday, $26).

David Klinghoffer’s biography of the patriarch Abraham rides on a new wave of interest in the Bible, and a growing sense of the Abrahamic heritage that Christians, Jews and Muslims share.

Many books on biblical subjects have recently been published. In addition to Kinghoffer’s "The Discovery of God," there is Norman Podhoretz’s "The Prophets" (Free Press), Bruce Feiler’s "Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths" (HarperCollins) and James Kugel’s "The God of Old" (Free Press). Also, forthcoming is Leon Kass’ "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis" (Free Press). Literary analyses of the Bible have long been with us, but undoubtedly the current trend has also been influenced by the ascendancy of the Religious Right in American politics, and the high visibility of Bible study in the White House.

Klinghoffer, however, has written his biography of Abraham out of a deeply felt personal affinity. As a convert born to a non-Jewish mother but adopted by Jewish parents — he discusses his spiritual odyssey in "The Lord Will Gather Me In: My Journey To Jewish Orthodoxy"(Free Press, 1999) — Klinghoffer sees himself as the spiritual son of Abraham in a very immediate way. He feels they both grew up in a spiritual vacuum.

"In [Abraham’s] case, it was the decaying roots of Mesopotamian paganism," Klinghoffer explains in an interview. "In my case, it was secular liberalism," which was found to be spiritually dissatisfying.

Klinghoffer had to reach out beyond his milieu as Abraham went beyond his father, Terach. Perhaps, as a consequence of his personal history, there is much in his Jewish piety that finds common ground with a Christian evangelical approach. He has no problem in depicting Abraham as an evangelist and missionary, a description that might make many Jews cringe.

At the same time, his personal history has made him particularly sensitive to the religious psyche, as he traces Abraham’s awakening to God. Abraham emerges not unlike the contemporary Klinghoffer, with a strong moral sense, as when he bargains with God for the righteous of Sodom, but he is also beset by much self-doubt.

There are no archaeological inscriptions relating to Abraham, or scientific proofs of his existence. Klinghoffer uses the shards of information about the ancient Middle East to piece together the context in which Abraham lived, advancing the theory that Abraham was born at a time of upheaval, a window of opportunity for new views to emerge. Sumerian civilization was in decline. Amorite nomads had swept over Sumer, and it is surmised that Abraham’s ancestors were among these Amorites, who were eventually integrated into Sumerian civilization.

As far as the Abraham story itself, the biblical style is very spare in the information it presents. There are also repetitions and excisions, typos and poor literary structures. Klinghoffer is hypercritical of the secular scholars who attribute this to the fact that the Bible is a composite of various texts from different times, which a redactor pieced together. He proposes instead the traditional view that the Bible was divinely given, and encoded in the Bible are interpretations of the biblical stories, later collected in what is called Midrash. They flesh out the cryptic dialogue of the Bible, and expand upon the context in which events are happening.

It is from the Midrash that we learn that Abraham faced 10 tests. Nimrod, who represents the ruling class of Mesopotamia at the time, throws him into a fiery furnace when he refuses to accept paganism — and God himself rescues Abraham. Klinghoffer explains that until that time, his recognition of God was an intellectual one. But once God saved him, Abraham’s faith becomes grounded in an actual relationship.

Sensitive to the vagaries of the religious psyche, Klinghoffer traces the relationship of Abraham and God through all its vicissitudes: Abraham’s willingness to follow God’s command to leave his homeland for the unknown territory of Canaan; God’s promise that he will create a nation from him; the influence of the Egyptian Hagar upon Abraham. The stakes are high.

According to Klinghoffer, Abraham’s pilgrimage "was all about either losing or securing the future of his monotheism."

That is why the final and tenth test, the Akedah (Binding of Isaac), answering God’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac, is so incomprehensible.

Abraham had stood up to many challenges, but according to the Midrash, he is plagued by self-doubt, that he has not sufficiently expressed his love of God. It gives lie to the view that the religious person lives in the smug certainty of his belief system.

Through the Akedah, God wants to teach Abraham about himself.

"Abraham did not know what the course of his emotions would be … his inner response," Klinghoffer writes. "To slay Isaac would mean rendering his whole life’s work absurd…. Also, it would nullify the virtue of chesed (kindness) for which he was known."

Nevertheless, the Akedah was necessary, according to Klinghoffer, to demonstrate to Abraham his dedication to God.

Klinghoffer is insistent that Abraham was a historical figure. And yet it is difficult to reconcile this assertion with his literal approach to Midrash. At times, he uses the Midrash as a springboard to a deeper understanding of Abraham and monotheism. But he often relates to Midrash as literal reality, rather than symbolic or dreamlike, the "Unconscious of the Bible," as the biblical interpreter and teacher, Dr. Aviva Zornberg has suggested.

Klinghoffer is not a fundamentalist. But he uses Midrash in a fundamentalist manner. He is a personable writer, with a large range of voices: biblical interpreter, religious psychologist, commentator on contemporary culture. A former editor of the right-wing journal, The National Review, and educational director of "Toward Tradition," an educational movement of Jews allied with Christians, he is very much aware of Abraham, not only as the founder of the Jewish people, but as the prophet of a monotheism from which Christianity and Islam emerged. Unfortunately, there has been much sibling rivalry among the heirs of Abraham, with the Jews, the original people of Abraham, particularly suffering Christian persecution. Klinghoffer feels that in recent years, this has begun to change. There is greater rapprochement, at least among Jews and Christians, as many Christians support Israel, returning to the basic biblical story.

At a time when the conflict with Islam is particularly felt, he holds out the ecumenical hope that someday all the heirs of the Abrahamic heritage, including Islam, will be able to live in peace, and the "household of Abraham can become a paradigm of mutual understanding."

Rochelle Furstenberg is a Jerusalem-based journalist and critic writing about social, cultural and religious issues. She’s a columnist for Hadassah Magazine and a regular contributor
to the Jerusalem Report.

Unorthodox Alliance

The idea is supposed to make me tingle warmly: While I sit in my home here in Jerusalem enjoying

the Friday evening calm, thousands of Christian Coalition supporters will be gathering at the Ellipse in Washington to proclaim solidarity with Israel. According to pre-rally PR, my prime minister will speak by satellite hookup, pleased to have the backing of an American constituency more hawkish than most of his Israeli voters. At least some American Jews, including leaders who once wanted nothing to do with the Christian right, may point to the rally as proof of an important new political alliance. With Israel facing a danger to its existence — so they argue — Jews should welcome the help of a group that loudly proclaims its love for the Jewish state.

I’m not tingling.

Having spent years researching the Christian right’s tie to Israel — listening to leading "Christian Zionists," reading their sermons and examining the links of some to Israeli extremists — I have to conclude that this is a strangely exploitative relationship. Accepting the embrace of conservative evangelicals poses problems of principle for Jews and Israel, in return for an illusory short-term payoff. Jews would do better to follow the Hebrew maxim, "Respect him and suspect him," maintaining a polite distance and publicly delineating their differences from the Christian right, even while at times supporting the same policy steps.

The Christian right’s view of Israel derives largely from a double-edged theological position: Following a classic anti-Jewish stance, it regards the Jewish people as spiritually blind for rejecting Jesus. Yet it says that divine promises to Jews — to bless those who bless them, to return them to their land — remain intact. Indeed, it regards Israel’s existence as proof that biblical prophecies are coming true — heralding an apocalypse in which Jews will either die or accept Jesus. Israel is loved as confirmation of fundamentalist Christian doctrine. "The most dramatic evidence for His imminent return," the Rev. Jerry Falwell has stated, is "the rebirth of the nation of Israel." Evangelist Chuck Missler once told me that Israel gets more support in America from Christian fundamentalists than from "ethnic Jews" — yet he has asserted that Auschwitz was "just a prelude" to what will happen to Jews in the approaching Last Days.

Jews who advocate working more closely with the Christian right say this is irrelevant. "These religious beliefs … speak to an unknown future," while evangelicals are providing support right now, Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman wrote recently. This answer misreads millennial belief. To long for the end is to assert that our world is deeply flawed. One whose millennial vision is, "Gonna lay down my sword and shield" says one thing about what’s wrong today. Those who look forward to the Jews’ converting or dying proclaim another, very different "flaw" in our world. It’s no accident that evangelical support for Israel often comes bundled with efforts to proselytize to the Jews.

By ignoring this theology, Jews both demean themselves and condescend to conservative evangelicals. They also risk undermining decades of dialogue with Catholics and mainstream Protestants who have undertaken the difficult task of reassessing Christianity’s attitude toward Jews. It will be hard for Jews to affirm that reassessment if prominent Jewish groups are working closely with Christian groups that negate Judaism.

Does Israel’s current crisis justify ignoring such long-term considerations in order to ensure immediate, tactical backing, as some argue? Living in Jerusalem, I don’t underestimate today’s dangers. But as frightening as Palestinian terror is, it does not threaten Israel’s existence. Palestinian demographics do threaten Israel, as long as it holds all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. Within a few years, there will be a Palestinian majority in that land, and Israel will either cease being a Jewish state or cease being a democracy. No wonder a recent poll showed a majority of Israel’s Jews favoring a Palestinian state. The Christian right’s position, on the other hand, is exemplified by Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) statement last March on the Senate floor that Israel should keep the West Bank "because God said so." Rather than support for Israel, this is support for hard-line policies that endanger Israel in the name of fundamentalist theology.

Jews have every reason to speak with conservative evangelicals — in forthright interfaith dialogue, plainly stating differences as well as points of agreement. In the political realm, however, Israeli and Jewish interests are better served by working with politicians and religious groups that champion renewed American diplomatic efforts to end bloodletting in the Holy Land. Seeing negotiators sit down again to talk peace — now that would give me a warm tingle.

Gershom Gorenberg is the author of “The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount” (Oxford University Press, 2002).

Faith and Proof

The Kurdish father living in Sweden kills his daughter because she dishonored the family when she refused the marriage he arranged for her; Andrea Yates kills her children to spare them from her fundamentalist vision of Hell; a Hindu pogrom against Muslims in India kills hundreds, including children; a mother and father in Upland, Calif., members of a fake Amish cult, refuse medical care for their son and pray over him until he dies of meningitis; in the last 20 years the Catholic Church has paid out almost $1.3 billion as hush money to settle pedophilia lawsuits; Jews and Muslims are killing each other’s children in a battle partly ignited over claims to the Temple Mount and the competition for its control, challenging each other’s title to their shrines as a lie or a fantasy.

The lonely man of some faith hides from this torment at the cost of sleep and conscience, or he sleeps and maintains the fiction of conscience at the cost of his span of attention. But if he slows down and listens, his instinct tells him that no one with a conscience can still offer religion as a haven from the chaos of the world when religion moves deeper into fundamentalism, in retreat from responsibility for the chaos. He doesn’t believe that God is dead, not at all. He believes in God and a created universe, but he’s ready to walk away from religion and let them all kill each other. Except that he really doesn’t want this sentiment of disgust heard by God as a petition that God might grant, so he tries to keep it muffled.

He believes that religion, when it stands outside of the political system, is the best defense against a bad political system, even though religion is hypocritical, because only religion demands the marriage of personal and social responsibility. Then again, he’s a well practiced hypocrite on his own, and maybe because he’s such a hypocrite he loves religion, the party of hypocrisy, for the company and the reading.

But if he could lose his faith over the expression of religion, here comes archeology to restore that faith, oh wonderful paradox, by severing the connection between sacred history and whatever actually happened. The lonely man of some faith wants a Bible that’s all fiction on every page — the more fiction, the greater the God.

Archeology presents a challenge. Religion has helped him to define, at least for himself, the pillars of fundamentalism. Those pillars are supported by anyone whose faith depends on a literal reading of a sacred text, anyone whose literal reading of that text convinces him that all the other religions are deceiving themselves.

He could interpret this anxiety as the fear that another religion might have the truth, or that no religion might have the truth, and that so much of a fundamentalist’s identity is bound to the complete structure of his religion that any weakening pulls him into free fall. But that’s a sympathetic psychological understanding, and in the spectrum of the archeologist’s headlamp, he sees at least the outline of what is common to fundamentalists when all other differences lead to war: those who believe in the literal word of their sacred texts are the most violent, and the most violent, when ready to kill each other over their different ways to God, at least agree on two points: the suppression of the free movement of women in ritual and public life and the suppression of homosexuality. He sees a theory that might be a law.

Is that what this is about, that the fundamentalist is afraid of what is in him and in terror of what is not? He won’t hold to this like the fanatics among us, even in our city, who say that nothing can change, because of the law.

But the archeologist is not always an ally. We can advance a new category of fundamentalist: any historian or scientist who thinks he disproves the validity of the religion because the historical record denies the sacred.

The archeologist, exploring the old stones, also tears down the temple and must be held to account.

To the fanatic and the barbarian, the lonely man of some faith wants to say that he knows that the books were written over a thousand years by a thousand writers, that the books are the voice of a nation speaking over time, proposing a model society of frail humans who need justice, sacrifice, joy, rest and atonemen. The books are telling the nation the truth about the difficulty of living up to its own imagination. These thousand voices, each of them broken, create a depthless unity, and this collectively created unity is sacred, and in the only leap of faith he’ll make, this collection of voices is a hint of the sound of God. He says this quietly.

If Abraham did not send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert, but we imagined it; if we had not been slaves but imagined it; if we had not been 600,000 strong at Sinai, but imagined it; if God did not let us cross into the land until a generation had died in the wilderness, but we imagined it; if David did not have Uriah killed so he could marry Bathsheba, but we imagined it; if we imagined the need for a land to create a light for the world, but understood that the land would spit us out if we failed our own vision; if all the contradiction and paradox were not dictated on Sinai in 40 days, but heard by us over those thousand years, and our errors written down and not denied or blamed on someone else, then the book is all the miracle anyone should ask for, and to read it as literal is idolatry.

And here’s the paradox about the fundamentalists: Because their faith depends on the literal word, their faith is liable to disappointment. As science advances, they spend ever more furious energy keeping the truth from destroying the structure that holds them together. So they shoot their daughter, drown their children or bring their babies to the West Bank settlements as proof of their faith. If they’re willing to do this much, then there must be a God.

Isaac is killed on his father’s altar every day. And we know exactly where that altar is. It’s on the Temple Mount.

Next year in Jerusalem.

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The Liberal Revival

What a great week this has been for liberals. If it does nothing else, Election ’98 makes it OK to use “L” word again. I love it — it is so much more descriptive of hope and dream than the neutered word “moderate.” Liberals have been abused on both the left (by multiculturalists) and right (by fundamentalists) for so long that it will take us a while to reconsider the beauty and dignity of its expression. Liberal is who we are, even if L.A. Times’ columnist Bob Scheer doesn’t fathom why, defining a liberal as one who votes against self-interest. Not true.

The vast proportion of the Jewish community — a strong 80 percent — knows itself to be liberal in the old-fashioned meaning of tolerant about the extension of rights and freedoms within American society. Jewish liberalism results from our experience in exile, our tradition of empathy for the stranger, our knowledge that all freedoms are knit together, the precious garment we all wear. A liberal worries that Social Security will survive for two decades until she retires, but still wants national health insurance for the poor. A liberal may send her child to private school, but rejects vouchers because it will kill the public schools upon which society relies. A liberal’s teenage daughter might weigh having a tongue ring while deciding to become a cantor — creative self-expression vs. tradition. All her confusions are on the surface, and they are, to my mind, healthy ones, the ambivalences that come from living in democracy.

Healthy ambivalence is a big reason why, after four years of rigid religious triumphalism, liberals are back, at least in the urban areas. Davis beats Lungren. Boxer defeats Fong. Chuck Schumer in New York bests three-term Sen. Al “Pothole” D’Amato. And now, “The Fall of Newt” reads the cover of Time magazine, and doesn’t that beat all!

Now that I’ve chortled, what does it all mean, this temporary resurgence of liberalism, and especially what does it mean to us?

The Gingrich years have dramatically changed the political dialogue in America, and that includes the Jewish community as well. They caught us divided, bereft of ideas, unable to formulate our own contract with America. And if we are to stay a politically viable community, we’ll need new ideas and new strength soon enough. Since 1994, as the Christian right dominated the national agenda, Jews have exhibited in our own community a degree of self-doubt, split thinking and vulnerability that belies our status as a people who tell themselves they are the “new WASPs.”

Time for analysis will come soon enough. For now, let’s focus on the immediate road ahead.

I spoke this week with Mark J. Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Community, which is the Reform movement’s legislative center based in Washington. I wanted to hear him chortle too, but he did not. In fact, he sounded cautious and concerned.

“Just look at what happened last week in state-wide referenda,” Pelavin told me. “The contract with America is being fought for state by state, county by county. This year we saw it in ballot propositions about affirmative action. The Jewish community has to get its act together.”

In fact, even before Nov. 3, there have been recent signs of political resurgence in the Jewish community. Activist forces in Washington worked in a strong coalition this June to defeat the infamous Istook Amendment, the so-called Religious Equality Act, which would have authorized prayer in schools.

“This was the religious right’s big push, the central focus of the Contract with America,” Pelavin said, “but we organized and we beat them well.”

But there’s no time to rest on laurels. Pelavin outlined a half-dozen issues that will need vigilant attention from our activist community as the religious right, smarting from its defeats, re-enters the fray. He predicted the right might reintroduce a Religious Equality Amendment or challenge abortion rights. Moreover, friendly Republicans, who carried the burden of defeating extreme legislation on issues like church/state relations, are now under fire in their own party.

The fact is, Newt Gingrich may be out of office, but the Contract with America is still alive. The time for liberal strength is at hand.

Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, discusses “Election ’98” with political gadfly Arianna Huffington Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center. Her e-mail address is

Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of The Jewish Journal, will host a post-election conversation with Arianna Huffington on Sunday, Nov. 15, at the Skirball Cultural Center.Her e-mail address is