The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Bad Theology from Three World Religions

The mainstream media has tried everything to ignore the obvious: the Israel-Palestine conflict is religious more than it is political. At least one commentator has been willing to point this out:

Please tell me—in light of these passages [from the Old Testament and the Quran/Hadith] written centuries and millennia before the creation of Israel or the occupation—how can anyone conclude that religion isn’t at the root of this, or at least a key driving factor? You may roll your eyes at these verses, but they are taken very seriously by many of the players in this conflict, on both sides. Shouldn’t they be acknowledged and addressed? When is the last time you heard a good rational, secular argument supporting settlement expansion in the West Bank?

Denying religion’s role seems to be a way to be able to criticize the politics while remaining apologetically “respectful” of people’s beliefs for fear of “offending” them. But is this apologism and “respect” for inhuman ideas worth the deaths of human beings?

There just isn’t any merely political explanation for the Israel-Palestine conflict. But there is one religious player that is consistently left out of this discussion: American Christian fundamentalism. I believe the Israel-Palestine conflict would not even exist outside of the extremely disruptive role the United States has played in it. And, again, I think it is naïve to dismiss the fact that our role in this conflict has also been directed by (bad) theology.

The Israel-Palestine conflict rests on at least three pieces of bad theology. They could be filed under three headings: Islam’s doctrine of jihad, Judaism’s racist Zionism, and Christian fundamentalism’s view of the end times and the restoration of Israel.

Firstly, Hamas is operating under the extremely wrong-headed Islamic doctrine of jihad. Given the fact that Islam’s holy city was conquered by Muhammad’s military force, it makes sense that orthodox Muslims should also embrace violence to further their goals.

But there are many voices in the Islamic community that condemn the killing of innocent civilians. Unfortunately, they don’t have much “scriptural” backing for these condemnations, and many Muslims continue to uphold the bloody doctrine of Islamic holy war, especially when it comes to “repelling” the allied forces of Christianity and Judaism.

I call jihad bad theology not because it actually contradicts the Quran but because it is wrong, simply put. I would similarly criticize the military aspect of the “Holy” Roman Empire. Using force to spread religion strikes at the very heart of religion. If true belief is about the heart, then a person converted under threat of force is not actually a believer. If Islam accepts the “faith” professions of a vanquished enemy trying to bargain for his own life, then Islam is not really a religion at that point. It is merely a political tyranny trying to legitimize itself with a religious varnish.

It is imperative that Muslims reject jihad. In the long run, jihadism will destroy Islam. Islam has to offer the world other reasons to believe than fear. If it does not (or can not), it will vanish. Threat of force cannot compel a people forever.

The second piece of bad theology is Judaism’s racist Zionism. It may be true that Zionism is a revival of a more orthodox Judaism, but this Judaism is based on a misreading of the Old Testament. Race was never the foremost aspect of being a “son of Israel.” Consider that 70 lineal sons of Abraham were in Egypt at the time of Joseph (Exodus 1:5). About two hundred or so years later, 600,000 men (along with a “mixed multitude”) left Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Exodus 12:37). These 600,000 men were also called “sons of Israel.” But were they actually blood relatives of Abraham? Probably not.

For seventy men to become six hundred thousand men (excluding wives and children) would be basically impossible—especially considering that one of the Pharaoh’s oppressions of the Jews was killing their male children. Just to put this in perspective, this would require all the women of Israel to have at least eight children, all of whom survived into adulthood, and all the women of which also had eight children. And to sustain this for 215 years even under forced labor and infanticide. It amounts to a little more than 4% population growth, about four times the current global average.

What is much more likely is that thousands of Egyptians converted to Judaism before, during, and after the plagues. Further, the “mixed multitude” was likely also made up of unconverted Egyptians who recognized the value of being near the prosperous and protected Israelites. There is no sign that Moses attempted to expel them from the midst of the Israelites simply because they were uncircumcised.

Judaism was never intended to be a racially monolithic religion. Conversion was a typical feature of it all the way back to the Abrahamic covenant. God told Abraham that “all the nations would be blessed” through Abraham. That Abraham would be the “father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). Though being a blood descendant of Abraham nearly guaranteed that you would be circumcised (the sign of your inclusion in the promises God made to Abraham), anyone who believed in God’s word could be circumcised into that same covenant, and even the uncircumcised had protections in the Hebrew law. Most of the laws having to do with the “foreigners in your midst” provided more strict protections than those uncircumcised foreigners would have enjoyed even in their own countries. Which is why so many of them decided to live in Israel. Judaism was not an elitist, exclusive, divisive religion in its inception.

But it has become racial, elitist, and exclusive. It had already become very racist even as far back as Jesus’ day. It was actually one of Jesus’ major criticisms of it. The Pharisees were so obsessed with being literal “sons of Abraham” that they had utterly rejected the nature of God’s original covenant. They acted like spoiled, entitled children. They hated the “half-breed” Samaritans, they had ejected the Gentiles from the outer court of the temple (which God had reserved for the Gentiles to witness Israelite worship), and they regularly created hierarchies among themselves based on the purity of their lineal connection to Abraham.

Modern Judaism is doing the same thing. And this Jewish racism has been extremely destructive.

But, taking all of that into account, I think the most destructive piece of bad theology that has created the Israel-Palestine conflict comes from the United States herself—more destructive than jihadism and Zionism.

It’s the Christian fundamentalist doctrine that the physical, literal nation of Israel is still the favored nation of God and that God will eventually restore Israel as His favored race and nation—that the current church age is just an ellipsis in God’s plan. Christian fundamentalists here in the States helped to create the modern nation of Israel in 1948. And they have supported that modern state, come what may, ever since. And for one simple reason—Christian fundamentalists think that the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and that God has it in his apocalyptic end game to re-establish Israel as the center of the religious world.

This view of Israel is, simply, wrong. Very, very wrong. And it has created the modern Israel-Palestine conflict. Think about it. The United Nations, at our behest, carved a piece of land out of many peaceful jurisdictions in what was, formerly, the ancient nation of Israel. Jews from all over the Arab world flocked to Israel and kicked out the Arabs who were living there largely without any major beefs.

The Arabs who had once lived in what is now Israel had no homes. And they hated the people who had kicked them out, naturally. Other Arabs already hated the Jews for religious reasons and now added political reasons and envy to that mix. Violence ensued. And it hasn’t stopped since.

Our alliance with Israel in the first place created much of this mess. And our alliance is based almost entirely on a misreading of Bible prophecy. On bad theology. It would take quite some time to hash out in exhaustive detail why the Christian fundamentalist view of the nation of Israel is unbiblical, but here are some ideas for your further perusal:

First: Israel was never intended to be racially exclusive. I’ve already discussed this, but it is worth re-iterating that Christian fundamentalists have made the same mistake concerning Israel that Israel herself has made. Christians think that being an Israelite by blood gives you some special connection to God. This is just not biblical. As I discussed concerning the Exodus population numbers and God’s promises to Abraham, the Old Testament already emphasized that the nature of being a “son of Israel” was a bond of faith. Family had a lot to do with it, because family was (and is) the normal mode for transmitting faith. But the faith was not dependent on blood. Many people in the Old Testament were circumcised and became “sons of Israel” through conversion.

But the testimony in the New Testament (you know, the book that all Christians are supposed to use to interpret and understand the Old Testament) is far more explicit on this point. Paul outright tells Christians who the sons of Abraham were and are:

Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3:6–9)

Abraham’s sons are those who believe God’s word. They are born of faith, not blood lines. They could be from any race. The current lineal descendants of Abraham (whose pedigrees are rather dubious anyway, mind you) have no more right to the land of Israel than Arabs. Israel was given by God to those who believed His word like Abraham.

And the Jews were expelled from the Holy Land. Why? Because they ceased to believe God’s word, that’s why. In spite of his many warnings through all of the prophets and then finally through Jesus, the Judaizers refused to believe God’s testimony. They did not believe even God’s own Son. So God kicked them out. They were not and still are not sons of Abraham. So they really have no right to the land of Palestine any more than the Arabs who lived there peacefully before 1948.

I’m sorry if that makes a lot of you angry. But that is the clear testimony of the Scriptures. Further, the idea that God will restore Israel as the center of world religion (including the rebuilding of the physical Temple and animal sacrifice and the rest) is absolute madness from a biblical standpoint. It completely misrepresents the whole point of God’s expanding covenant. His plan was to include all people and nations in His promises,not just Jews. And God was making good on that plan from the beginning.

This isn’t a rejection of the Jews. It’s an invitation to them to return to their original pre-Zionist roots in the Abrahamic covenant. They too can have the faith of Abraham. It was theirs first and it is still available to them. But now, it is even more available to all the people of the world, thanks to the work of Jesus.

Why would God go through all of that trouble to expand his covenant worldwide, if his final end game was to return his covenant to an insular, isolated, exclusive system of animal sacrifice and Temple worship in literal Jerusalem? That is insane. And I can’t believe that most Christians in the United States actually believe it.

But it is that belief that creates this violent and unilateral support of Israel here in the States. Fundamentalists and conservatives act like she is still God’s chosen race. And of course, Jews here and abroad are not going to contradict that. It suits their purposes to have the US as a powerful ally.

And if this were merely a political alliance, I wouldn’t have any issue with it. But it never has been merely political. Why carve a nation for Israel out of the “Promised Land”? If they needed a land to call their own, why not carve out another piece, a nicer piece, somewhere where the Arabs wouldn’t all want to kill them? And why do we continue to support their continued expansions—with aggressive occupation strategies and “colonies” to expand their borders to “biblical” proportions.

No. This is religious. Three religions have made a huge mess of this. And those three religions need to work to resolve it. It’s not complicated, but it will be difficult. Muslims need to stop using jihad as a way to further their political and international goals. Jews need to stop being racist, and recognize this—if even Moses could allow for the uncircumcised mixed multitudes to enjoy Israel’s protection and prosperity in peace, so can they. And Christian fundamentalists need to stop trying to be an instrument of what they erroneously think is God’s plan.

End times “scholars” have actually never been right. Not one time. No prediction made by these charlatans has ever come true. Harold Camping? Wrong every time. Hal Lindsey? Wrong every time. There’s a whole long line of snake oil salesmen I could add to that list. All wrong. Every time. Why does America continue to listen to them? Modern-day Israel is not a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. She’s just a dangerous ally in an extraordinarily troubled part of the world. Our involvement in that part of the world has done almost nothing but harm. It’s time we consider this outside of the constraints of bad theology. We shouldn’t endorse Israel. Or Hamas. They have both done wrong and been wronged. But it really isn’t any of our business, is it?