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Exile and the Prophetic: Rachel Corrie rising

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. It was written before today’s verdict in the Corrie family’s civil suit. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Stormy weather continues.  More rain and wind today.  This morning the beach was deserted.  Even the regulars stayed home.  A sight to behold as I looked out over the ocean, rain blowing in my eyes, a huge cruise ship, lights on, steaming into Port Canaveral.  An omen about my future cruise lecture life?

The Rachel Corrie case is coming to a head.  Adam Horowitz, a delightfully bothersome Jew of Conscience, is keeping his eye on the Israeli justice system.  I never met Rachel but I have spoken at her alma mater, Evergreen College, on a number of occasions.  What an education the Evergreen faculty provides and their arguments about having (or not having) Jewish Studies are legendary.  Since – can you believe how far we have come – introducing a real live Jewish scholar in Jewish Studies would probably function as a break on their radical outlook on the Two-Thirds world.  And American empire.  Let alone Israel’s empire.

I’ve met parts of the Corrie family.  How delightful and committed they are.  On the Jewish side, I think of her as I do Edward Said. Part of the Jewish future, if there is one.  Or part of a future without declared Jewishness, if it has to be.  In my mystical eye I see Oscar Romero, Edward Said and Rachel Corrie rising together

Thoughts about “strategic depth”, what Jews of Conscience need to survive the corruption and the slime that surrounds us.  Years ago my teacher, Richard Rubenstein, spoke about my need for “drop-dead” money. Security when the knives came out.   Obviously I couldn’t go the money route but what he was really talking about is the ability to survive the onslaughts that come your way if you practice conscience in the Golden Age of Constantinian Judaism. 

Strategic depth – a place in the material and spiritual realms that can sustain you when you’re on the ropes.  I’m not a dualist – a strategic depth has to be material and spiritual.

The empty suits we have become.  It doesn’t matter that Alan Dershowitz has more personality– and a deeper voice – than the squeaky Ken Starr.  Or that one is a Harvard Law prof and the other, having lost his standing in the national legal community, is building a football stadium on the backs of the offspring of slaves. 

Yes, empty suits look alike on the injustice rack.  You find them in a long row, one after another, their price reduced when the buyers are few.  They’re hoping for another payday.  That’s who they serve.

Empty suits talk civilization when the check is in the mail.

Carrying the white and Jewish burden is (now) hand in hand.  Into the teeming (un)White world.   Such a difficult and demanding job isn’t for everyone.  Knowing that they’re backed by every conceivable weapons system known to man, they stand tall.  How courageous conservatives are!

“Heil,” the derivation of which an Austrian student of mine started to research.  In her village the greeting is still used, hence the curiosity.  At her first glance it seems that heil is more or less a shalom word, meaning hail fellow, all’s well, but no doubt it needs further research.  Somewhat like Goethe, whose personal relations with Jews seems not bad at all for the time, though he opposed certain public liberalization regarding Jews. 

Mixed messages from history. The norm.

Returning to Jeff Halper’s comments on the olive trees that line the settlement boulevards via my Fiji student whose people were conquered by the Bible or more specifically by the Gospels. Even if the Christian violence that overcame her people was hidden or “clean” as Richard Rubenstein asserts the Nazis preferred, clean violence being the type of violence that is regulated and logical, once the Christian missionary-industrial complex entered the scene it was more or less over. So what does she have in common with Jeff Halper whose people were never conquered by the Gospels?

Crimes of passion give way to crimes of logic. Albert Camus described this as the peculiar transposition of our time. Are both my Fiji student and Halper victims of those crimes of logic, where Christianity reigns without firing a shot and massive olive trees are uprooted so efficiently that the their replanting takes place as if the tree had always been where it is(n’t) supposed to be?

The question here is to whether my Fiji student and Halper are now on both sides of the empire divide or the same side turned upside down and around.  Her being conquered by the Gospels and he being an agent of conquering the Palestinians, both carry a colonial and imperial identity, the outward shell of which were imposed on both of them.  Or in Halper’s case, initially he didn’t understand what he was volunteering for when he left America to live in Israel. Now he recognizes the situation and is opposing his colonized position.  Does that excuse and align him with victims of colonialization?

Argued another way, is Halper in his dissident yet still empowered position in solidarity with my Fiji student? Or, because of his position and regardless of his personal choice, is Halper unable to return to a time when Jews were in an embodied solidarity with the colonized?

I ask, then, is there a way back for Jews?  Halper, who remains in Israel as a Jew of Conscience, is a Still/Former.  Is that enough?  Or is there a decolonized place where Jews cannot go regardless of their personal intentions? 

Clearly, you can’t ask of someone what he or she can’t do.  You can’t become someone you aren’t.  The defining moment of solidarity is only partly up to us.  This means that we do with that solidarity moment what is possible for us to do.

Back on the Romero Road for a comparison.  Romero did not and could not become a peasant.  In this way he could not become one with his own people.  However, I have no doubt that he did rise in the history of the Salvadoran people – as an Archbishop.  He couldn’t rise any other way.  I doubt, too, whether the people who have wanted him to rise in any other way.

We rise where we can.  Even when we rise in another people’s history, especially when we aren’t even supposed to be there, we rise as who we are.  There are Jews – Halper may be one of them – who will rise in the history of the Palestinian people.  Will Halper’s fate, like Ezekiel’s, taste sweet just like honey?

Rabbi Lynn and Jeff Halper – rising with Edward Said and Rachel Corrie? New Diaspora risings?

Rising where you aren’t at home. Rising in the history of another people.  That’s another element of exile and the prophetic.  Another (un)known territory that Jews and Palestinians are beginning to explore together.   For when Palestinians oppose certain forms of Palestinian power and are exiled, where do they rise? 

It isn’t only the fact that Israel created a Palestinian Diaspora.  Within the Palestinian Diaspora is another displacement, one that comes from within. 

I still have memories of the Oslo Accords and the return of many Palestinians to work for the new Palestine in the offing.  The frustration with Israel’s interpretation of Oslo is well documented but, as well, many Palestinians returned from their return.   They couldn’t abide the maneuverings, compromises and corruption within the Palestinian Authority.  Though unstated, once outside of Palestine, many could not return to the cultural and religious restrictions of their native homeland.  Though laid at the feet of the PA, I always thought it was more complicated.   Exile always is more complicated, isn’t it?

Once outside, forever outside, even when your people needs your energy and talent.  So when I told my Israeli student that her intellect and passion was needed to think through the situation we are in, I might have been advising her to dedicate herself to a cause she couldn’t win and probably couldn’t abide. After all, her leaving Israel wasn’t only about politics.  Nor is her inability to return only political.  Once outside Israel, she experienced the peculiar and complicated freedom of exile.  Adjusted for very different circumstances, is may not be so different for Palestinians who have the freedom to leave and remain outside Palestine.

Once out, never to return, more or less.  Statistically. Psychologically. Thus, traveling Jewish/traveling Palestine.  At some point, we have to be honest enough to say what’s in our hearts and minds.  But how can a truly honest exchange occur – even within ourselves – when the oppression continues without missing a beat?  The fact is that most Jews and Palestinians who live among others want to – live among others.  They don’t want to be compressed back into a Jewish – or Palestinian -culture/life – only.  Jews and Palestinians want to have their freedom and eat it too.

Cosmopolitan Jew. Cosmopolitan Palestinian. The Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora(s).  But first, let’s admit it, before the cosmopolitan streak, Jews and Palestinians had to cut their collective teeth on a history of violence and atrocity that came from without and from within.  If we ditch the rhetorical pride of place and tradition, within the disparity of experience, the common place we meet is outside, among others.

So, then, at a moment when everything is on hold, with the toll that continues to mount, what lessons do privileged Jews and privileged Palestinians have to offer themselves, each other and the world?

Since we may be rising together in this the evolving history of the Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora, we might as well spend a little time being honest with ourselves and each other.

Before the violence, at least on a massive scale, begins again.  Or, as importantly, within the violence that never ends.

On the Jewish side, think Shabbat, as the eschatological sign that within an unredeemed world, one day, here on earth, justice and peace will reign.  We can do it without the candle lighting or the prayers and on any day of the week.  We don’t have to mention the Jewish holy day or other holy days of any religion or nation. 

Call it Lessons Learned Day – where Jews and Palestinians ponder our collective fate.  Of exile. And the New Diaspora.

The message of Lessons Learned Days is for ourselves and each other.  Perhaps, then, a joint communique to the world?

Such a communique might begin this way:  This message from the Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora emanates from (un)Jerusalem, the (un)united (un)capital of (un)Israel, (un)Palestine.  The Jewish/Palestinian Diaspora in the making would like to communicate the following to all parties, including ourselves, on what we are learning in our individual and collective lives….

Or we could call it Lessons (un)Learned Day.  More accurate?

Rachel Corrie rising.  Her day in the court of (empire) Jewish justice has arrived.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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29 Responses

  1. Boycott Israel on Campus on August 28, 2012, 12:46 pm

    Marc,

    We are only having this discussion because Arab students have been silenced. They fear that if they speak publicly to oppose Israel, boycott Israel, abolish Israel, they will not be greeted as human rights activists, the way Dr. Martin Luther King is greeted today.

    They fear that they will be greeted as King was greeted in 1968: shunned by the national media and then gunned down.

    These fears are way overblown by Arab students. However, they are not coming out until they feel safe. That may be never.

    Too bad. Arab students have the motivation, creativity, and energy to liberate Palestine, and to wake up American campuses too.

    • annie on August 28, 2012, 1:06 pm

      bioc, silenced means they cannot speak which is not the case. while i agree there are certainly attempts to shut them up there are actually many arab students who speak out and do it quite well. many have been contributors on this very blog and i’ve met quite a few arab student activists in real life. taping ones mouth is also a form of protest symbolizing the attempts to shut them up/out..but alas, it’s not sustainable and as i mentioned, there are quite a few speaking out.

  2. Boycott Israel on Campus on August 28, 2012, 1:39 pm

    OK.

    Let’s accept the premise that there are “many Arab students who speak out and do it quite well”.

    I don’t see them in any public sphere demanding the boycott of Israel.

    This is proof that they have resigned themselves to read nice blogs like Mondoweiss, attend nice conferences, meet nice people like yourself, graduate from college, raise families, and so pass their lives under the radar.

    After many years of watching the so-called BDS community, I am afraid that is the outer limit of their aspirations.

    They want the company and safety of their friends and family.

    They do not, repeat, do not want to march for any action against Israel because they fear it will destroy their future academic and career prospects, and put them “on a list.”

    They also do not want to associate with anyone who openly demands any action against Israel, for the same reasons.

    This is the cold truth. This puts BDS in the hands of a few non-Arabs who have an extremely limited ability to mobilize anyone, and who are happy with very limited forms of BDS.

    Imagine if the entire civil rights and Black Power movement consisted of white liberals. That would be pretty weak, wouldn’t it?

    That is the current state of the BDS movement.

    • marc b. on August 29, 2012, 8:40 am

      this is an outgrowth of the monopolization of debate over matters israeli in the first instance. and, yes, many of the so-called liberal supporters of a solution to the IP crisis are happy to continue to monopolize the conversation, an emotion consistent with their colonialist sensibilities and an outsized sense of entitlement.

    • annie on August 29, 2012, 3:41 pm

      Let’s accept the premise that there are “many Arab students who speak out and do it quite well”.

      I don’t see them in any public sphere demanding the boycott of Israel.

      This is proof that they have resigned themselves to read nice blogs like Mondoweiss,

      bioc just because you do not see them does not mean they do not exist. you should get out more. perhaps youjust travel in the wrong circles. you tried to make the same claim about me the other day and i mentioned to you i had recently attended a town council/veolia appeal. well it just so happened the main presenter was an arab student. really, you’re just talking nonsense.

      plus, we have videos right here on MW demonstrating arab students demonstrating and calling for boycott in the public sphere. i’m not in the mood to look them up at the moment but one was at the university of new mexico and the other from michigan.

      i’m telling you you’re wrong. there are lots of very politically active kids, both arab and non arab.

      do you have any idea how many SJP chapters are cropping up all across america? and lots of those kids are arab. i spoke at a state university last feb, i was asked to give a presentation, and there were many many arab and muslim kids there, all very active.

    • annie on August 29, 2012, 3:46 pm

      They want the company and safety of their friends and family.

      They do not, repeat, do not want to march for any action against Israel

      iow, according to your observations they are all the same. how illuminating/not.

      am i the only person on this thread who has ever met one or two or three (or more!) arab american students who are politically active supporters of BDS? please tell me this is not true for each and every one of you.

      • Boycott Israel on Campus on August 29, 2012, 3:55 pm

        You are right – many many Arab students support the boycott of Israel, in the privacy of their own head. In the privacy of their own quiet conversations with close friends and family.

        That does not count for anything.

        You refer to videos of Michigan students marching for boycott — I wish.

        No, they had tape on their mouths and they were silently marching out of an IDF presentation.

        Nice, but it’s not BDS.

  3. W.Jones on August 28, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Professor Ellis,

    I am not sure it’s correct to say that your Fiji student’s “people were conquered by the Bible.” In my mind, conquest means a military force use violence or the threat of it to gain political control over another group. The Bible, however, was spread nonviolently by missionaries and the native ruler’s conversion, as Wikipedia’s “Religion in Fiji” says:

    Christianity came to Fiji via Tonga, who were more receptive to the European visitors. As Tongan influence grew in the Lau Group of Fiji, so did Christianity under the Tongan Prince Enele Ma’afu. Its advancement was solidified further by the conversion of the emerging Dominant chieftain of Bau, Seru Epenisa Cakobau.

    Now, granted, there were cases like South America where Christian countries conquered pagan ones and introduced Christianity. But still, since Christianity itself doesn’t say to spread itself by conquest, but rather by sending messengers to spread the good news, I am doubtful that it is correct to say that Christianity conquered those countries. Instead, it seems better to just to say that the Europeans conquered them. For example, the European conquerors taught them writing and Spanish, which the natives eventually used themselves. Yes, I feel something of a nostalgic loss that they gave up normally using native languages. But so many peoples in third world countries actually want to learn European languages to develop their countries or their own careers. I think the same could be true of native religions, although giving up Aztec sacrifice definitely seems like an excellent thing brought about by Christianity.

    But then again, maybe it is OK to speak of Christianity conquering in a metaphorical sense. Micah 5 desribes Israel conquering in the time of the Messiah:

    9. Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, and all thine enemies shall be cut off.
    10. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots:
    11. And I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strong holds:
    12 And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; and thou shalt have no more soothsayers:

    Personally, I find the idea of the Messiah conquering in a metaphorical sense by simply spreading itself among pagans and replacing native religions much preferable to the idea of a Messiah that conquers everybody else. Is there a differing image of the Messiah between Rabbinical and Christian views, where the former see him as one who spreads his rule by conquest whereas the latter sees him as one that spreads his rule through missionary work? Admittedly, Revelations has him battling the Devil’s forces and then making a Last Judgment, but I am not sure that involves him conquering earthly governments.

    What do you think?

    • Mooser on August 29, 2012, 12:28 am

      “But still, since Christianity itself doesn’t say to spread itself by conquest, but rather by sending messengers to spread the good news, I am doubtful that it is correct to say that Christianity conquered those countries. Instead, it seems better to just to say that the Europeans conquered them.”

      Oh, come on? Do you take us for idiots. I see Christianity say not to spread itself by conquest, so it must not have? Oh yeah baby, now that’s irrefutable logic! And if we just call them “Europeans” instead of Christians, problem solved!

      “For example, the European conquerors taught them writing and Spanish, which the natives eventually used themselves. Yes, I feel something of a nostalgic loss that they gave up normally using native languages. But so many peoples in third world countries actually want to learn European languages to develop their countries or their own careers. I think the same could be true of native religions, although giving up Aztec sacrifice definitely seems like an excellent thing brought about by Christianity.”

      Yup, W. Jones I can’t tell you how many times SOuth Americans being worked to death in Spanish mines, plantations, (and there were millions of them) would sit around going “You know, if I could learn a little more English, my career would really take off!”
      And “pagans” W.Jones? In 2012, “pagans”?

      What the hell is your problem? What on earth are you trying to do?

      • W.Jones on August 29, 2012, 10:06 am

        Hey Mooser.

        It seems to make sense to me that

        Christianity [Ellis was referring to “the gospels” in particular] says not to spread itself by conquest, so it must not have.

        Imagine you give your friend $5 and tell him to get milk from the store and not to do something stupid like get in fights with people at the store. Then he goes and shoplifts, and among other things brings back your milk. Would you have gotten your milk by shoplifting? Could you be held responsible for it?

        In the case of the gospels, the Spanish conquerors of South America came about 1500 years after Christianity began as a pacifist religion outlawed by the secular and religious authorities.

        You mentioned:

        I am doubtful that it is correct to say that Christianity conquered those countries. Instead, it seems better to just to say that the Europeans conquered them.”
        if we just call them “Europeans” instead of Christians, problem solved!

        Ellis wrote that Fiji’s “people were conquered… by the Gospels.” and that “Christian violence… overcame her people”.

        I am expressing my doubt that the gospels, pacifist religious books, conquered Fiji.
        (A) Fiji’s people converted to Christianity before it became a European colony.
        (B) If the gospels say don’t conquer people, then it seems incorrect to say they conquered people.
        (C) Conquest means taking political control of another group by violence or the threat of it. That being the case, it makes more sense logically to say that that Europeans- or Christians as you proposed- conquered them instead of the gospels.

        But even then, it still seems misleading to say that “Christians” conquered them. For example, it seems better to say the US army or US imperialists conquered Iraq, instead of saying democrats and humanitarians conquered Iraq. Just because Bush was a democrat [small “D”] and claimed he was invading to remove a cruel dictator doesn’t mean Democracy or humanitarianism were major motivations for him.

        So labeling the Iraq war a conquest by “democrats” seems misleading: Despite the conquerors happening to be democrats, their major motivation was not really establishing a representative form of government, although that may have been some side goal. The real goal, in my mind was for the US and its ally to dominate the region and to get oil. Likewise, the real reason for the Spanish conquest was to find goal and dominate politically, rather than to follow the methods Christianity says to use to spread itself: although in many cases the Spanish did send out missionaries as well.

        Regards.

      • ChasMarks on August 29, 2012, 11:23 am

        re

        “conquered by the Bible or more specifically by the Gospels.”

        which one? It’s not necessarily all the same, in fact, OT/Torah/Tanakh communicates a radically different message from NT/Gospels. OT sanctions plunder & killing in the name of the monotheistic god, and the concept of proselytizing is a Jewish concept. Jesus’s words have come to us through varied sources each with his own agenda, but I’m not aware of any Gospel passage in which Jesus urged his followers to carry out mass killing to spread his message.

        Most Christians have been persuaded or forced to believe that the NT MUST function in the matrix of the OT, but a few Christians did not think so, and tried to separate the two. For the most part, they functioned under disabilities similar to those Boycott Israel on Campus described, above. Thomas Jefferson was one of those who believed that the OT and NT taught radically different moral codes; he rejected the former and even filtered the latter to produce “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” upon which he based his definition of Christianity:

        I am a Christian in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other. “

        Nothing in ‘Jefferson’s Bible’ elevated mass killing to the level of a moral act that Jesus would endorse.

        Ellis mentioned Nazis.
        As it happens, Walther Grundmann, a theologian and scholar in the Nazi era, developed a theology that separated a Christian value set that was consonant with German values, from the OT matrix. His work was broadly popular in Nazi Germany. The message contained in that fact is that Germans sought to reject a bible that endorsed monotheistic killing & plunder, in favor of the universalist message of Jesus that Thomas Jefferson also endorsed.

      • W.Jones on August 29, 2012, 11:48 am

        I meant to say “the real reason for the Spanish conquest was to find gold and other resources”, although they did want to find their goal too ;p

      • Woody Tanaka on August 29, 2012, 1:05 pm

        “Likewise, the real reason for the Spanish conquest was to find goal and dominate politically, rather than to follow the methods Christianity says to use to spread itself: although in many cases the Spanish did send out missionaries as well.”

        If you don’t believe that one of the key reasons why Christian states (and Christian kings and queens) in the “age of ‘discovery'” did what they did in conquering native people across the globe was a specific and purposeful attempt to spread Christianity, you are simply fooling yourself. Such a position is so contrary to established history as to be laughable.

      • W.Jones on August 29, 2012, 3:09 pm

        Woody,

        You wrote:Such a position is so contrary to established history as to be laughable.” Well, the victors write history, and it’s to be expected that they would attribute such high virtues to their political conquests.

        However, I happen to adhere to the materialist or economic interpretation of political history. Basically, in my view, the discovery of the Americas was made to find a new spice route to India, and the Spanish and others kept making new colonies to gain new economic power and compete with the other European countries. In my mind it was visions of gold and colonies that drove the tens of thousands of settlers across the oceans, rather than a fanatical wish to enlighten the heathens. That isn’t to say this wasn’t a lesser side goal, for Jesuits and other religious groups, though.

        An example near to hand that helps us understand this from our own experience is the Iraq war and conquest of the Middle East. The official story of the victors is that it’s all about spreading democracy and removing dictators like Saddam. However, why not spreading democracy to Rwanda? Why the country with the world’s major oil reserves by a president who came from working at an oil company? But that doesn’t mean “spreading democracy” wasn’t something that was meaningless to them. It probably deluded some of the Neocons into thinking it was a big goal, while others probably thought it really wasn’t an important factor.

    • Woody Tanaka on August 29, 2012, 8:11 am

      “What do you think?”

      I think you’re being a silly religious apologist.

      “But still, since Christianity itself doesn’t say to spread itself by conquest, but rather by sending messengers to spread the good news, I am doubtful that it is correct to say that Christianity conquered those countries. ”

      Christianity as as Christians did. It’s a human-created and human-run enterprise, so its essence is what the people who make up the movement have done. And the history of Christianity is a history of spread by the sword as Christians conquered land, often with a specific idea of “saving” the native peoples by imposing this religion on them. (And it is a shame, too, that it was successful with a religion that contains many of the most truly evil ideas humans have ever devised, such as monotheism.)

      And it is amusing to see you strive so hard to deny credit to Christianity for things that happened in the name of states which were specifically and officially Christian or rulers whose titles specifically highlighted their Christianity, preferring, instead, to let that fall to merely “European” entities. This is amusing because usually the god-botherers usually go the opposite way and try to credit Christianity for truly inventive and humane secular European thinking, like ideas about political equality, democracy, Enlightenment thinking (of all things.)

      Also, what Mooser said.

      • W.Jones on August 30, 2012, 6:28 pm

        Woody,

        I think you meant to say “Christianity is as Christians did.” However, I am highly doubtful about the idea that the religious philosophy of Christianity equates the actions of what professed Christians actually did. The big difference between the two is highlighted by the fact that even in the Old Testament the Israelites, who accepted Moses’ Law, were often criticized by the prophets for failing to fulfill it. Similarly, St Paul’s letters occasionally mention mistakes made in the Christian community, and how Christians should act differently. Jesus himself gave allegories of people who promised to do what a Master wanted, but then didn’t actually do it.

        Similarly, I doubt that Christianity is a “human-created and human-run enterprise”, although it seems to me this could be one way to describe the Church, Christianity itself is a philosophy, rather than an organization. It’s somewhat like the difference between a mission statement by an ethical organization(Christianity), the organization itself(the institutional Church), and the people in the organization who actually follow the mission statement and ethics policy (perhaps they could be called the “true spiritual Church”).

        You definitely want everyone to follow a good ethics policy, but if they don’t, it doesn’t mean we should denounce the ethics policy itself.

      • Woody Tanaka on August 31, 2012, 9:05 am

        Yes I did mean to say that. Typing/proofreading (hell, spelling) are not my strong suits.

        Your objection stems from the belief that there is one objective, Platonic, philosophy and that one can, in mathematical-like fashion, judge the degree to which one abides or fails to abide by the philosophy. That is not true. (If it were, religions wouldn’t splinter like they do.) Each of these divergent actors justifies his actions from the same or near-identical sources. Thus, “Christianity,” if it means anything at all, means nothing other than the collective ideas and actions of those who profess to be Christian. Any other conclusion is to make distinctions when there is simply no basis to do so.

        And Christianity is absolutely a human-created and human-run enterprise. You want to make distinctions between the dogma, the organization and the participants. Fine. I’m talking about the whole thing, which includes these three plus more. Again, human created and human run.

      • W.Jones on August 31, 2012, 9:22 pm

        Woody,

        Assuming it was true that Christianity was “a human-created and human-run enterprise,” (and I think it’s a philosophy instead), I still highly doubt that “its essence is what the people who make up the movement have done.”

        Take for example the enterprise of an employee-owned power plant. Imagine some workers at the plant go on a vacation and while they are on vacation they beat someone up. They belong to the enterprise, but they were on vacation and not at work, so it’s not really the power plant that in essence abuses people.

        Now imagine the company had a very clear policy against beating people up, and the manager and everyone else voted that you can’t do it, and you would even get fired if you did. If a worker beat up someone else on the job, and got fired when people found out about it, it seems hard to say that the power plant in essence beat him up, especially when the worker brought his own bad attitudes to the workplace. So just because someone, say, attacks an abortion clinic doesn’t mean that the Church did it, especially when the Church opposes such attacks.

        Still, I think you are leading to a interesting issue regarding the earthly Church. Imagine if most of an organization’s leadership and its workers decided to beat someone up, even though its policies say otherwise. Plus, you had a division where some of the old leaders also claimed they were still in control. Then it’s a tough call. You have the earthly organization on paper being good, but its membership doing something bad in the organization’s name. Someone could comment “It’s not really the same organization I used to know”. And imagine if the by-laws said that in case of conflicts the organization’s leaders who follow the rules remain the real owners.

        So depending on how the organization is set up in its by-laws, it still might not in essence be what even a majority of its members do.

        But to get back to your last message, I think there can be a dividing line between what a philosophy is an what it isn’t, regardless of what professed followers may say. Just because someone, even a majority of people, thinks that a certain article in the Constitution means something doesn’t mean they are right. Or to give another example, there could be common misconceptions of what a certain philosophy means, even among its followers. And then when you actually study what the philosophy says, you could realize that in fact it is something different.

        Finally, if different people are going to understand what they are all talking about, they should have a common general idea about the distinction between a philosophy and its professed adherents. If one person refers to Marxism as the general ideas of Marx, and another person considers Marxism to be anything done by organizations that claim to follow him, there can be alot of confusion!

      • Woody Tanaka on September 2, 2012, 1:03 pm

        “Assuming it was true that Christianity was “a human-created and human-run enterprise,” (and I think it’s a philosophy instead),”

        When followers of Thomas Locke have the massive land holdings (and an actual state in the Vatican) and wealth of organized Christianity, I’ll consider Christianity merely a philosophy.

        “Imagine some workers at the plant go on a vacation and while they are on vacation they beat someone up. ”

        I believe that arguing by analogy is weak and pointless, because every analogy by definition is false. But more to the point, Christians would say that they are never on vacation from Christianity, so your analogy fails.

        Further, it fails because you posit “very clear policies” and there is no such thing in Christianity. Again, if there were, then there would not be the kinds of divisions that you see. Everyone would know what the rules “really” were and be able to follow them. In reality, the Christians can’t even decide on how many books are in the bible, let alone what they’re supposed to mean or whether there should be other sources of authority on what the religion is.

        Moreover, if we are going to use this analogy, I would say that what I’m talking about is when the majority of people who work in the plant agree that beating up someone outside the plant is sanctioned by the company policies, regardless of what they say, then, yes, the company beat the person up, because the company only exists through the beliefs and actions of the workers. The notion that the company is separate and apart from those who make it up is a legal fiction.

        “So just because someone, say, attacks an abortion clinic doesn’t mean that the Church did it, especially when the Church opposes such attacks.”

        Even in that case, you can certainly say that the Church clearly espouses ideas that will drive people to attack abortion clinics, so, in that case, Christianity bears a substantial degree of responsibility for the attack if it is a naturally foreseeable reaction to the tenets of Christianity.

        “regarding the earthly Church.”

        Well, we haven’t colonized Mars yet, so there is no other one.

        “You have the earthly organization on paper being good, but its membership doing something bad in the organization’s name”

        Who cares what it says “on paper”? That’s wholly irrelevant. Actions speak louder than words.

        “And imagine if the by-laws said that in case of conflicts the organization’s leaders who follow the rules remain the real owners. ”

        And in the case of Christianity, you don’t even have that; not in any objective sense. For example, the Catholic Church believes it was established by God and that no other Church, but those in communion with it, are legitimate or even could be legitimate.

        But this merely pushes the problem back one step. How do you determine who “follow[s] the rules”?? Each group says that they do and there is no objective basis to say that any one of them is wrong. So the only thing that a reasoned observer can say is that Christianity is that which it brings into the world. It is nothing more or less than what its followers do in its name.

        “Just because someone, even a majority of people, thinks that a certain article in the Constitution means something doesn’t mean they are right.”

        But only because there is a generally accepted objective determining factor as to the meaning of the Constitution: the Courts. There is nothing equivalent in Christianity.

        “Or to give another example, there could be common misconceptions of what a certain philosophy means, even among its followers.”

        I disagree. I think the most you could say is that it might differ with what the author intended. But what it “means” is determined by those who are receive the message. If the majority of the world’s Buddhists believed that the religion’s central tenet was, “every man for himself,” (h/t Wanda) then that would be, in a real sense, what the philosophy means.

        “Finally, if different people are going to understand what they are all talking about, they should have a common general idea about the distinction between a philosophy and its professed adherents.”

        Yes, but that is merely an issue of semantics or semiotics. There can be a functional difference between what a group espouses and what it does, but that is merely a warning for clarity, not a statement about the world.

      • W.Jones on September 2, 2012, 10:22 pm

        Dear Woody,

        Hello again. Your ideas make me think alot. And I like thinking about Christianity, as you can tell, because it is uplifting for me. Perhaps this is reminiscient of Marx’s analogy to opium. Its promises and morality make me feel better.

        But to get back to your original idea, you wrote: the history of Christianity is a history of spread by the sword… First, I doubt that it’s right to equate the “history” of an idea with its use. For example, if a kid asked me the “history” of winged unicorns [as opposed to regular unicorns which may exist :) ], I would say that they don’t have a history, because they are just an imagined idea. Likewise, someone could ask about the history of math. I could talk about the “history of the development” of ideas about unicorns or math, or the “history of people’s use of math” or “of their depictions of unicorns,” but I am not sure there is really a “history” of unicorns or math, since they are ideas.

        Perhaps you would be right that “the history of the development” of Christianity was a “spreading by the sword,” since the persecution of Christians in the Holy Land caused them to spread out across the Roman empire, where they told people what Christianity meant. And naturally the ideas spread among the empire’s slaves, who were attracted to the story of the one who overcame the power of the empire’s sword. And indeed the book of Acts, which is a major part of Christianity records Christianity spreading in this way. But then I could be wrong, since it seems the sword only indirectly caused it to spread: the Christians themselves were the ones who did the spreading. And in any case they weren’t conquering land as part of the philosophy’s development, since the creators weren’t in a position to do so and considered it to be a spiritual kingdom instead of an earthly one.

        As for the “history of the implementation” of Christianity [which I think you mean], I am doubtful that the implementation was a spreading by the sword as Christians conquered land. Imagine if you have a firefighter’s handbook that teaches someone how to use an ax to chop down a wall in case of a fire, but says that you should only use the ax in case of a fire, and certainly shouldn’t use it outside of firefighting. But then someone reads the book, takes the ax, and chops down his neighbor’s wall to steal stuff. In that case, the person would be misusing the handbook, instead of using it.

        Likewise in the case of Christianity, the teaching in the gospels is for Christians to act like messengers, spreading the word by telling people about it. Plus, they teach that the Christian kingdom is a spiritual, heavenly one, rather than an earthly one that would use earthly conquest to spread itself. This distinction was given by Jesus to Pilate to explain why he wasn’t a political threat to the Roman State. Plus, Jesus instructed Christians to forgive those who persecute them. And if the messengers were thrown out, then they should just leave, it says. And there were times Jesus left villages because of this risk, due to going against the religious leadership. All this goes against the idea that Christianity’s philosophy would teach to conquer people to spread itself.

        In any case, to get back to your last message, you have given a kind of Catch 22:
        When followers of Thomas Locke have the massive land holdings (and an actual state in the Vatican) and wealth of organized Christianity, I’ll consider Christianity merely a philosophy.
        If Locke’s followers don’t get massive land holdings, you would say Christianity isn’t a philosophy like Locke’s, because a philosophy is something without massive assets.
        And if Locke’s followers do get together and have massive assets, and even a state like Confucius’ followers, then you could say “OK, they are philosophies”, and then change your definition of “philosophies” to include things that are basically the same as societies.

        The key to understanding the difference, I think, is to answer that “Yes, societies dedicated to Christianity or another philosophy like Anarcho-communism could even get massive assets (say, to provide for their followers’ needs), but that does not mean Christianity or Anarcho-communism themselves are societies.”

        You also wrote in your last message:

        [Regarding your statement that an enterprise’s] “essence is what the people who make up the movement have done.”

        [I responded:]“Imagine some workers at the plant go on a vacation and while they are on vacation they beat someone up.”

        [You replied:]I believe that arguing by analogy is weak and pointless, because every analogy by definition is false.

        It may be true that every analogy is false, but that does not mean arguing by analogy is weak and pointless. I could provide an example, but then you could claim that’s false and weak too :) Hmm…

        Analogy is a wonderful, useful and most important form of thinking, and biology is saturated with it. Nothing is worse than a horrible mass of undigested facts, and facts are indigestible unless there is some rhyme or reason to them. -Anthony Standen

        You added: “But more to the point, Christians would say that they are never on vacation from Christianity, so your analogy fails.”
        I think that maybe just because a Christian could claim he/she is never on vacation from Christianity doesn’t mean that is true, once the analogy is understood. An employee might take off work for a week, but still admit he is an employee and agree that whenever his boss calls he will be back to work again to do his duties. Likewise, a Christian might not be in the act of performing a Christian “work”(unless belief itself is a work), but he/she would still assert that he still has a relationship to the Church, and would act when duty calls.

        Another analogy, in case that one is weak, could be the “scope of employment”. If a power plant worker decides in the middle of his shift at the plant he is going to walk down the road and beat someone up, it does not mean he is doing so in the scope of employment, so the power plant in essence wouldn’t be doing that, especially if it had rules against leaving work early.

        So just because a Christian does something, it does not mean Christianity caused it or that he was acting in the scope of Christianity.

      • Woody Tanaka on September 3, 2012, 8:24 am

        As for Christianity being spread by the sword: while it did not spread by the sword exclusively, in every place and at every time, the reason why it exists as it does through much of Europe, much of Asia, in North and South America and Australia and parts of Africa is due solely to the sword, by conquests by powers who were drive, in part, by a desire to spread the gospels. That is simply a historical fact. If you would like to pretend otherwise, you are fooling yourself. While there are areas of the world — small bits of volcanic rock here and there — which were converted solely by pacifist missionaries, the vast majority of the spread of Christianity came because Christians conquered and stole other people’s lands (which shows how seriously they took the whole “do not murder” and “do not covet” stuff…)

        For example, there are Churches in Nebraska not because missionaries converted the Native Americans on whose land those churches stand, but because Christians, having been send by other Christians, pursuant to public policy drawn up by Christians, set out with guns designed, manufactured and built by other Christians, and proceeded to attack the Native Americans, ran off the survivors and destroyed their food supply. The Christians then built churches to their “Prince of Peace” and later attacked anyone who practiced Native religions. This is how the gospel was spread almost everywhere.

        “The key to understanding the difference, I think, is to answer that “Yes, societies dedicated to Christianity or another philosophy like Anarcho-communism could even get massive assets (say, to provide for their followers’ needs), but that does not mean Christianity or Anarcho-communism themselves are societies.””

        And I would say that you are wrong. The “society” aspect of Christianity (i.e., the assets, buildings, organizations, properties, state, etc.) is so intermingled with the philosophy that it is foolish to pretend, in this day and age, that there exists a Platonic “Christianity” apart from the society aspect of it. While that may not have been the case 2000 years ago in the greater Jerusalem Metro Area, it’s true today.

        “It may be true that every analogy is false, but that does not mean arguing by analogy is weak and pointless. ”

        I disagree. Analogy has usefulness when there is a difficulty in comprehension of a premise, but reliance on it to demonstrate a conclusion is a waste of time, because the premises in that case are always or nearly always distinguishable form the one that you are actually talking about. (In your case, your constant reference to companies and company policies is clearly distinguishable. No one supposes that a company policy is a moral guide or a guide for living. Christians suppose that Christianity is. That distinction completely destroys the analogy.

        “So just because a Christian does something, it does not mean Christianity caused it or that he was acting in the scope of Christianity.”

        Not in every case, no. But where the Christian does something because of Christian teaching, then Christianity is to blame, to one degree or another (for example, bigotry against gay people in the US is in large part the fault of Christianity because of its twisted teachings on the subject). Further, it is also to blame if it knows or should know that it’s teaching in one area will spur someone to act badly, even when it would decry that bad act. (for example, Christianity is to blame when its unrelenting opposition to a woman’s right to control her body leads someone to shoot an abortion doctor; especially when opposition to that practice is almost entirely driven by religion.)

      • W.Jones on September 5, 2012, 1:59 am

        Dear Woody,

        I want to ask you how you follow up so well on comments on this website. When I click on my Commentor profile, it lists many comments I made as “5 replies”, “7 replies”, etc. and it is hard to know which ones I haven’t read already!

        Besides what I wrote earlier, that I doubt “the history of Christianity” can be the same thing as how the philosophy was spread, I think it’s misleading or an overgeneralization when you write: “the history of Christianity is a history of spread by the sword as Christians conquered land”. And by “misleading or overgeneralization” I have in mind the history of how Christianity itself was spread.

        First, if it was factually true that Christianity was simply spread across the world by expelling people, like in the Nebraska example you gave above, it seems misleading because it suggests the nonviolent philosophy said to do this. For example, it’s factually true that algebra and astronomy, etc. spread across the Americas as part of the colonial societies. Parliamentary democracy itself spread across Canada and the US in particular as part of the society that took over the land. However, that does not mean it’s inherent in algebra and astronomy to spread this way.

        Further, I think it’s an overgeneralization to say that Christianity simply spread by conquest. Christianity spread across the Roman Empire by evangelizing, spreading by teaching and word of mouth, by spreading communities within the empire. Even after Rome became Christian, Christian communities spread throughout Africa and Asia, reaching to Ethiopia, India and China, not to mention lands outside the Roman empire.

        The slavic peoples, like Russia converted to Christianity from missionaries, and weren’t conquered by the Roman empire at that time. I think part of the time Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were under Rome, but they were also fighting Rome too when they were both Christian. Russia converted without being conquered. The same goes for Germany and the Vikings. The Russians did conquer Alaska, it’s true, but even after the Russians were replaced by Americans, the natives still have continued to practice Orthodox Christianity instead of generally becoming protestant or reverting- so it wasn’t simply a matter of state power. Likewise, missionaries spread across Africa even outside the bounds of the colonial powers.

        Within the US also the Quakers did not act by conquest, although other colonies did. Furthermore, although American society probably strongly encouraged Native Americans to become Christian, I think it is not generally a requirement with people generally being forced to go to Church. So although societies that were predominantly or officially Christian in adherence conquered those places it seems misleading to suggest that within those societies Christianity also spread in a conquering way by force: although my impression is that was often true in Latin America. Still, even in Latin America stopping native practices seems to be good in cases where it meant stopping human sacrifice.

        Regards.

      • Woody Tanaka on September 5, 2012, 9:55 am

        “I want to ask you how you follow up so well on comments on this website.”

        I am going to chalk it up to a bit of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I just scan my posts and see if anyone has responded. Or I remember a particular exchange, I’ll look at that to see if there’s been any response.

        “However, that does not mean it’s inherent in algebra and astronomy to spread this way.”

        Yes, but the people who did the spreading did not state that they were motivated to spread “algebraic Civilization” or “astronomic Civilization” to the “heathen and barbarians.” They specifically went to spread “Christian Civilization.”

        As for Christianity, I want to be clear that I am not saying that Christianity’s spread has been exclusively by the sword. I am saying that it, in large part, was. And many of these “conversions” in Europe occurred when a lord or king converted on behalf of all his subjects. That’s conversion by the sword by definition. Why do you think that Christianity had such an emphasis on fighting witches and paganism, so-called?? Because in many lands “converted” to Christianity, the people in the outlying villages simply went on practicing their native nature-centered religions. But, with the application of a few witch burnings, trial by water and fire and other niceties dreamed up by the Christian rules and the Christian churches, fewer and fewer of those people survived, and more of their children adopted the new religion.

        “First, if it was factually true that Christianity was simply spread across the world by expelling people, like in the Nebraska example you gave above, it seems misleading because it suggests the nonviolent philosophy said to do this.”

        And that’s what I mean about Christianity being what Christians do. The situation in Nebraska (or the US, or the New World) were not isolated incidences which were a few bad apples acted badly. People who professed a profound believe in Christianity did this (and worse) all over the world.

        This ubiquity of Christians acting badly leads to one of two conclusions: 1) that Christianity includes sufficient “escape hatches” from the “nonviolent philosophy” so that a believing Christian can violently conquer the world for the cross and not have any problems doing it under the religion; 2) Christianity is wholly non-violent, but is so insubstantial and unpersuasive that even those who believe it disregard it. If the second were true, then the religion would not be the largest in the world.

        “[A]lthough American society probably strongly encouraged Native Americans to become Christian…”

        That’s an insane understatement. The US government pretty much declared war on the religion of the peoples of the Great Plains.

        “Still, even in Latin America stopping native practices seems to be good in cases where it meant stopping human sacrifice.”

        Fewer innocent people would have died had the native people not been introduced to Christianity.

  4. Mooser on August 29, 2012, 12:38 am

    See that, I missed the part where Ellis defined “rise”. I knew I should have paid closer attention when he defined what he means by “rise”. Now, I know that was one of (per Bugliosi) Charley Manson’s favorite words, but he got it from the Beatlers “Blackbird” : “You are only waiting for this moment to…, oh crap, “arise”. Nope that aint it. So there you are, I have no idea what he means by “rise” and now I’m lost. Well, the editors can’t even keep count of the number of pieces he’s written, so I guess not understanding one word isn’t too bad. Oy, but if I hadn’t missed it, how many things would be clear to me!

    • ChasMarks on August 29, 2012, 10:59 am

      does “The Dark Knight Rises” supply an appropriate meaning?

    • Keith on September 5, 2012, 11:34 am

      MOOSER- Could “rise” have something to do with the Middle Yeast?

  5. marc b. on August 29, 2012, 8:50 am

    mooser and woody, i don’t want to spoil the special moment of your agnostic/atheistic brothers-in-arms camaraderie, but the history of christianity and conquest is a bit more complicated than that. the debate in the catholic church over the treatment of natives/pagans in the spanish new world, and a great many catholic advocates insistence that commercial interests take a back seat to the spiritual and material needs of the natives, was in part the beginning of the end of the influence of the church.

  6. Theo on August 29, 2012, 12:24 pm

    ” I see Oscar Romero, Edward Said and Rachel Corrie rising together”.

    Please, not again!! Jesus rised, Mohammed rised, just to name two, how many must do it before we stop believing such a nonsense.
    Prof. Ellis, you are misusing Rachel for your hasbarah, she would not like it!

    • W.Jones on August 29, 2012, 2:57 pm

      ” I see Oscar Romero, Edward Said and Rachel Corrie rising together”.
      Please, not again!! Jesus rised, Mohammed rised, just to name two

      And Elijah makes three!

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