This Jewish Scholar Is Giving Christians Permission To Love Their Nations Again

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Posted: Feb 18, 2019 11:00 AM
This Jewish Scholar Is Giving Christians Permission To Love Their Nations Again

Yoram Hazony, the author of The Virtue of Nationalism, is a Jerusalem-based political philosopher. A strong advocate of the views of Theodor Herzl, who supported the idea of a Jewish state, Hazony believes not just that Israel has a right to exist, but that Israel's right to exist stands as a witness that other nations also have this right. The Jewish state stands not as a critique of the alleged nationalism of the Nazi regime which tried to exterminate the Jewish people, but rather as an affirmation of nationalism against Hitler's imperial agenda.

The Jews have a right to exist. The lesson of the Shoah is that this right must be defended by the existence of a Jewish state. But the Jewish people are the exemplar which points the way for the right of all of humanity to live in peaceful independence from the others. 

Zionism, therefore, inherently stands against imperialism. Not just modern Zionism, but Biblical-era Zionism, because anti-imperialism is a key part of the political philosophy of the Bible.

My view is that the imperial model is more than just an error in political philosophy; it is an error in political theology, and even in theology proper. The God of the Bible is the only King of Kings. Of necessity, then, an emperor is trying to filch divine prerogatives.

Perhaps that's the meaning of the story of the Tower of Babel, which seems to recognize the connection between the desire to unite the world under one name and the desire to storm heaven and take one's place among the gods.

Hazony is trying to give back to Christians their Hebraic inheritance of national freedom. And it comes at the right time. Today we see a division between forms of Christianity which respect Israel's contribution to the faith and those who oppose it. The latter are often both hostile to the state of Israel and also to the nation-state model. This is not a coincidence. The Hebrew bible is deeply anti-PC and highly particularistic. Therefore, forms of Christianity which adopt universalist and progressive ideologies are hostile to it. This is true whether it's 1,000 AD and the source of order is seen as Rome or whether it is 2019 AD and the source of order this time is seen emanating from Brussels (where the EU parliament building looks shockingly similar to Peter Bruegel's painting of the unfinished Tower of Babel - perhaps the first Hebraic critique of imperial ideology) or the UN Building in New York .

For this reason, the current generation of Christians who tend to respect the Old Testament and see it as authoritative also tend to be supporters of the modern Jewish state. This mainly refers to evangelicals, but not universally, as unfortunately there are signs that the some among the next generation of evangelicals have fallen under the spell of post-modernism, and along with it have adopted a hostility to Hebraic thought. Hazony personally heard an evangelical scholar at a conference say that Jesus came to save us from….the God of the Old Testament.

But there is something else going on which is a good deal more encouraging. Hazony has had Christian leaders come to him to ask for help in teaching the Old Testament. Distilling hundreds of conversations, he describes a common plea: I know how to teach the Gospel, but even though I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God, but I don't know how to teach it.

Hazony is deeply moved by Christians going to Jerusalem to get closer to Judaism.

I would argue that anyone who does not have a thorough grounding in the Old Testament really does not have a firm understanding of the New. Jesus was (is) a Jew. That's what he learned growing up: that's how he thought. If we don't understand that, we are faced with a contextual vacuum, which we tend to fill in with alien contexts, typically either tradition or personal experience

Perhaps that's why one of the hottest tickets in NT studies is recontextualizing Jesus into Judaism. E.P. Sanders comes to mind as initiating this quest, N.T. Wright is probably the best known and effective current pursuer of it.

At the grassroots level the Pentecostal revival—the fastest growing segment of Christianity—is now highly interested in recovering Hebrew roots. But it's not just grassroots religion, it's grassroots religion meeting up with grassroots politics. Trump's strongest support group is evangelicals, who have both an attachment to the Old Testament and also an attachment to nationalism. Evangelicals are frequent targets of multi-cultural depredation of our home culture, because they stand in the way of utopian dreams of humanistic universalism.

Hazony, and I, both believe that this is happening in a subterranean way, underneath the process of logic and analysis. It is a natural resonance of religious particularism with political particularism, linked together at a gut level by the fact that the same elites oppose both. Metropolitan elites, and especially European elites, combine a contempt for Trump and Brexit with a thinly disguised (if disguised at all) disdain for the Jewish state. Each individual particular group is waking up to the fact that the gigantic cultural, religious, political Cuisinart is trying to blend them all into homogenous mush. So, each group circling the blades find themselves in sympathy with other groups which are also trying to maintain their distinctive identities apart from the mush.

This occurs at an almost metaphysical level.  In the age-old battle between the one and the many, the Platonic One had been getting the upper hand among the international relations intelligentsia.  Trump and Bolsinaro and Brexit and numerous nascent European secession movements, and formerly-eager-to-join-the-EU Eastern European nations which are now dragging their feet, and the perennially unmeltable Jewish people who stubbornly resist Plato (as they did in the Maccabean revolt) by having the continued affrontery to go on existing, all challenge the metaphysics of absorption into The One. Monism itself is melting. A preference cascade is circling the globe as unmentionable ideas become first mentionable and then irresistible.

And it started with the Hebrew Bible, so how appropriate it is that it emanates in our day from Jerusalem. The most effective weapon in the western elites' monist arsenal has been holocaust shaming. Whenever love of nation lifts its battered brow, out come the accusations - that's what led to the holocaust!

But Hazony buries that nonsense in short order in this book, putting Hitler where he belongs, on the scrap-heap of failed Emperors. If WWII Germany had actually been nationalist, it would have left other nations intact. If it believed in protecting borders, then it would have preserved the borders of its neighbors as well as its own. It is, after all, geometrically impossible to keep your borders intact and not at the same time keep your borders with your neighbors intact as well.

But that's logic, and logic isn't in charge right now. At a gut level, the proclamation that it is okay, even good, to love your nation, had to come from Israel, the first nation state in human history, and the nation state borne out of the agony of the 20th century’s two most horrible experiments in political fusion.

After the nations of the world came together on the plane of Shinar in the mists of history to 'make a name' for themselves, the Euphratean project collapsed. The next passage in the Hebrew Bible is about God's better idea, the tribe of Shem (from which we get 'Semites') whose name means 'name'. What's more particular than a name? The people who tried to make a name for themselves, have had their names forgotten - the passage about the Tower of Babel does not mention the name of the king who brought it together. But the people whose name means 'name' stand for individuation. Out of the rubble of Babel came 70 tribes which become 'the table of nations' in Genesis 11. A man named Abraham was pulled out of an empire and told by God that he will bless 'all the nations of the earth', 'all', 'nations', plural.

One of the ways that the seed of Abraham is currently blessing the nations of the earth is simply by announcing to them, that they are, indeed, allowed to be nations.