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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

I have been traveling Jewish in South Korea and America.  Tomorrow I leave for Vienna.  The overall theme of my travels is simple.  Rather than continuing to mouth a moribund interfaith dialogue, we should embrace a new interfaith solidarity.

We have already experienced this solidarity.  We haven’t named it in its depth.  Is the difficulty in naming what we experience fear of permanently leaving behind what we have known?  Uncharted territory isn’t easy.  It’s the breeding ground for exile and the prophetic.

Watching the documentary Iron Wall before one of my lectures a few days ago, I thought of this.  Is there anything more likely as the breeding ground for exile and the prophetic than the factual mapping of Israel’s brutal birth and expansion?

My time at the World Council of Churches assembly in Busan, South Korea, confirmed another conundrum of interfaith solidarity.  Many of the people who greeted me at the assembly have left behind the Christianity of their youth.  They have embraced a Christianity that hasn’t existed since Christianity’s founding.  This is how they explain it.

From my perspective, the Christians I met at the WCC’s assembly embody a Christianity that has probably never existed.  Christian symbols abound but their inclusiveness and embrace of other religions is a novum in Christian history.  I see them as Aberrational Christians.  Will they survive the unbridled power – and violence – of mainstream Christian history?

Aberrational Christians are on the ropes already.  They have personally come to the end of Christian history.  I wish them the best of luck.

But, then, perhaps I have and other Jews of Conscience have embraced an Aberrational Judaism.  Fortunately, we have Jewishness to fall back on.  Within Jewishness we have a battle between empire and the prophetic that has raged for millennia.  It’s a people’s struggle rather a religious one.

Christians don’t have “Christianess” to fall back upon.  Being an empire religion, Christianity has uprooted everyone in its path, including its adherents.  Under the guise of universalism, Christians rarely have a fallback position.  This is more or less the case with Islam.  When Muslims comes to the end of Islam, as inevitably they do when they are free to vote with their feet, they have few places to land except the colonial nationality they inherit or a voracious modernity they seek shelter within.

Rooted aside, though, traveling Jewish teaches me that we are all in it together, regardless of our endings and what we can and cannot fall back upon.  That is why solidarity is so crucial.  This is also why the questions that come within that solidarity are so explosive.

False borders and boundaries drawn by others – and sometimes drawn by ourselves – cannot meet the crisis at hand.  This is obvious.  What isn’t obvious is whether the boundary-crossers of our time have the strength and rootedness to change the trajectory of our imperiled world.

Marc H. Ellis
About 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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13 Responses

  1. American
    American
    November 18, 2013, 10:44 am

    ”Fortunately, we have Jewishness to fall back on. Within Jewishness we have a battle between empire and the prophetic that has raged for millennia. It’s a people’s struggle rather a religious one.

    Christians don’t have “Christianess” to fall back upon. Being an empire religion, Christianity has uprooted everyone in its path, including its adherents”>>>>

    oh lord!… here you go again.
    You are much more acccurate and objective when you stick to your political analyzing.
    Most religions have their empir-ist, including yours, the only diffrence is some are already empires and others wanna be empires.

    • marc b.
      marc b.
      November 18, 2013, 12:21 pm

      yup. and what is ‘jewishness’ anyway? at this point I don’t see any coherent culture, never mind a religion, embraced by a majority of ‘the jews’. a settler, an Ethiopian jew and a Manhattan socialite sit down for a meal. what do they talk about, what do they have in common? I mean besides their ‘jewishness’?

    • Ellen
      Ellen
      November 18, 2013, 2:04 pm

      Ditto. I often do not understand what Professor Ellis’s posts are about, especially when his thoughts and analysis stray into that of religions, including Judaism. But maybe it is me.

      Christianity was adopted by Empire. Think Constantine. And strains of it have not looked back since. Judaism was also adopted by empire/colonialism. Think Zionism.

      But neither Christianity nor Judaism — which are closely related — are religions of empire.

      Institutions that adopt the guise and appearances and cause of religions (to perpetuate and support themselves) are not the religions.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        November 18, 2013, 5:13 pm

        I often do not understand what Professor Ellis’s posts are about

        Ellen,

        Wouldn’t you say they are a combination of anti-Zionism, Rabbinical views including on Christianity, and Liberation Theology? However I note that his writing about the Church of Scotland Document on the Holy Land was rather sympathetic although he did mention he did not agree with what he considered its “Triumphalist” theology.

        Is one of his main ideas about the continuing prophetic at odds with the rabbinic view that the gift of prophecy has ended? Or would that be a simplistic understanding of the viewpoint?

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    November 18, 2013, 1:45 pm

    In today’s news, Pope Francis has come out as anti-fracking. Maybe, of course. The Pope is a politician, whether he likes it or not.

    Assume it’s true. Well, that’s some progress. If he were strongly against the burning (and also perhaps against any other use) of fossil fuels, it’d be a stronger statement.

    This is religion coming head-to-head with the global economic juggernaut. Could be part of what Marc ellis is talking about.

    That said, I join “American” in discomfort with Ellis’s conclusory statements about other religions and their adherents.

    My own view? The great religious teachers had very important and valuable messages for all humanity. Their early adherents understood their messages only somewhat — which is one problem — and created social organizations for the propagation of the messages (as understood or misunderstood) which led to power-politics in the societies and the “capture” of the teachings by those best at exercising the power (not best at understanding the messages).

    So all the religions got a lot wrong and some right — I suppose. And there is a lot of room for religious people to move toward [1] truth, justice, and peace among men and [2] a much less destructive interaction between humankind and nature (with climate change as a most noticeable but far from only horrible consequence of human activity on earth).

  3. Chu
    Chu
    November 18, 2013, 2:41 pm

    Jewishness – the peoples struggle. Coming to a theater near you…

  4. DICKERSON3870
    DICKERSON3870
    November 18, 2013, 3:14 pm

    RE: “Watching the documentary Iron Wall before one of my lectures a few days ago…” ~ Ellis

    The Iron Wall 2006 [VIDEO, 52:08] – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFBamQ2aONA

  5. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    November 18, 2013, 4:58 pm

    They have embraced a Christianity that hasn’t existed since Christianity’s founding. This is how they explain it.

    That’s a pretty common view in Protestantism, which is also a common orientation of the WCC.

    From my perspective, the Christians I met at the WCC’s assembly embody a Christianity that has probably never existed.
    I think I know where you are going with that.

    Christian symbols abound but their inclusiveness and embrace of other religions is a novum in Christian history.
    Maybe they do not believe that other religions are equally correct, since that would be irrational if they believe the Bible predicts the Messiah would be killed before making an earthly victory when the two other main religions deny that. What you must mean is that they have tolerance for other religions. Tolerance for other religions has already existed in Christian societies, one example being the separation of Church and state at the US’s founding.

  6. RoHa
    RoHa
    November 18, 2013, 6:05 pm

    “I have been traveling Jewish …”

    How is travelling Jewish different from travelling Gentile?

  7. Mayhem
    Mayhem
    November 18, 2013, 6:43 pm

    When Muslims comes to the end of Islam, as inevitably they do when they are free to vote with their feet, they have few places to land except the colonial nationality they inherit or a voracious modernity they seek shelter within.

    What is Ellis trying to say here?
    Aberrational Judaism and aberrational Christianity but no aberrational Islam?
    I think MW should give Ellis the boot – he does nothing but bloat discussion with confusion and gobbledygook.
    As for his exhortations about interfaith dialogue, if you going to
    follow his advice and park such a delicate interchange as interfaith
    in the pro-Palestinian stable you will totally destroy the viability
    of interfaith, which already is considered by many as a complete farce anyway.

  8. SQ Debris
    SQ Debris
    November 19, 2013, 12:41 pm

    According to the prophet Vonnegut, nationalism, religion, and tribalism are all Granfalloons. “If you want to find a Granfalloon remove the skin from a toy balloon.” Kind of like invisible lines on the ground.

  9. American
    American
    November 19, 2013, 1:48 pm

    I’d like to know what marc or anyone thinks of this. Frankly I condemn these women and think it is exactly the kind of thing that does arouse anti semitism and resentment of Jews. I could be wrong but I havent heard of any Christians that have gone to the Supreme court or any court over the Jewish prayers said by Rabbis in congress’s daily prayer rotation or anyone suing over the WH hosting Jewish religious figures and hosting celebrations of Jewish religious cermonies in the people’s ‘public’ house of the nation—-much less over prayers said some small town commissioners meeting. This is the third case like this I have seen where some Jews joined with the ACLU to sue over prayers being said at town venues–one took place here in my state of NC in some small town hardly on the map. And the interesting thing also is that they are apparently choosing small towns with no big money resources to wage big legal battles with them.
    This so ridiculous I dont even know where to begin with it. First no one is forcing them to ‘join in or bow their head. They could just sit there and not partake of whatever.
    If there is a custom among some group that the majority of them practices I can respect it without taking part in it if I dont want to. I have lighted my Jewish friend’s dinner table menorrah when he was in a wheel chair and couldnt do it himself, didnt bother me the slightest. I have attended civic functions where sometimes a priest or a Methodist or Baptist was the one giving the prayer blessing—what the hell do I care if they dont represent my exact religion or prayers— I can sit or I can stand just out of politness. I dont think some petty assholes who ‘feel uncomfortable’ about Jesus is worth a supreme court law suit. Clearly this isnt about seperation of church and state principle or pubic venues or they’d be suing congress for their prayer sessions.
    If marc want to get into aberrations he should address these Jewish aberrations….falling back on their Jewishness. Maybe christians since they have no nothing to fall back on will kick the shit out of these shit stirrers with no purpose except to stir shit over their Jewish ‘feelings’. Beyond ridiculous.

    http://forward.com/articles/187476/susan-galloways-supreme-court-church-state-fight-b/

    ‘Susan Galloway’s Supreme Court Church-State Fight Began With Christmas Carols’

    As an adult living in the Rochester, N.Y., suburb of Greece, Galloway encountered a similar problem. Each town board meeting would open with a Christian prayer that mentioned Jesus. She and a friend, Linda Stephens, both became uncomfortable.
    Now the effort by Galloway and Stephens to stop it has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments were held last week in a case that could substantially redefine the scope of acceptable prayers in public venues across the country.
    “They’re asking us to bow our heads, they’re asking us to join them in the Lord’s Prayer, they’re asking us to stand — all of this is in the name of Jesus Christ,” Galloway, 51, said in an interview last week. “…..

    Read more: http://forward.com/articles/187476/susan-galloways-supreme-court-church-state-fight-b/?p=all#ixzz2kUE77Hix

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