Reframing the Israel-Palestine Conflict

This is a link to an awesome video that discusses the way the Western media frames the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Essentially, this unquestioned narrative states that Israel is always innocent and is merely “responding” to Palestinian “terrorist” attacks. Within this narrative the deaths of Palestinian civilians is considered collateral damage done in the name of “counter-terrorism.”

Reality check:

  • Rockets fired from Gaza into Israel are fired for a reason. Nothing happens in a vacuum. There is a long history between these two people groups that must be incorporated into our narratives. 
  • Dropping bombs or firing rockets on civilians is never OK. Even if Israel is the one dropping the bombs or firing the rockets (or the US for that matter).
  • From a Palestinian perspective (or a non-American one, for that matter) Israel is the aggressor. 

We must stop telling only half of the story.


A Few Reasons Why I’m (Still) A Christian

I made it clear in my last post that I think what one believes is less important than how one believes. Such an understanding about beliefs has allowed me to affirm a number of various worldviews, not least the ones explicated in the world’s major religious traditions. I think within many of the world’s major religions there are innumerable resources available when it comes to making us more compassionate people.

So why Christianity?

The simple answer is that I am a Christian because I was raised by parents who are Christians in a society that is saturated with Christian language and ideas and that many of my closest friends growing up were Christians. Christianity was simply the water that I swam in as I matured. By the time I was in middle school, youth group and other church functions made up most of my social life. In high school I worked at the church as an intern. In college I found myself at a Bible school. From this perspective, it’s no wonder that I identify as a Christian.

Of course, this is an unsatisfactory answer. No one wants to believe that their worldview is simply a matter of geographical location or social conditioning. Such an explanation seems far too simplistic and reductionist.

I would say that although my claiming the Jesus tradition as my own is not less than a matter of social conditioning, it is certainly more. Growing up for me has been a journey of (and pardon the cliche) “making my faith my own.” Primarily, I identify as a Christian because at the center of this tradition I find the person of Jesus who continues to push me, challenge me, encourage me, and call me towards a life of deeper love.

What else attracts me to Christianity?

  1. The scriptures of the Christian tradition are self-critiquing. Whereas many choose to read the Bible as if it spoke with one coherent and logical voice, I have come to see the Bible as a book containing many voices that speak against and critique one another. The neat and tidy view of Proverbs (If you’re good then good things will happen to you) is critiqued by Job which says that sometimes bad things happen to really good people. Some psalms say that Israel went into exile because God had abandoned his people. Others say that Jerusalem’s destruction was the result of Israel’s sin. At the beginning of the New Testament we have 4 different accounts of Jesus that are less than harmonious. The fact that the Bible is multi-voiced and self-critiquing encourages the reader towards humility. There is no one ideology that can be left unchallenged.*** Thus, as we read the Bible and develop our personal conception of God we join a dialogue that has been underway since the canon was developed. I’ve come to believe that the dialogue that emerges as we read the scriptures is what is sacred rather than one particular “biblical” perspective (I don’t even think this exists). When I read the Bible and communicate what I’ve come to believe about the divine and you do the same, even in the act of disagreement, we encounter God. This is one reason why I love the Christian tradition.
  2. One of the major themes of the Christian story is the welcoming of the stranger. The Christian narrative can no doubt be read with an exclusivist slant. Much of the Old Testament, for example, is a polemic against non-Jewish conceptions of the divine. However, throughout the narrative there are glimpses of radical inclusivity that subvert the exclusivist reading. Boaz marries Ruth the Moabite. Balaam the foreigner becomes a prophet as he foretells the prospering of Israel. Rahab the prostitute is welcomed into the fold despite her non-Jewish descent. Of course, this theme comes into sharpest focus during the ministry of Jesus who reserved his harshest words for the religious, those who believed themselves to already be “in.” When speaking to the religious folk of his day Jesus said: “The tax collectors and the prostitutes will inherit the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). The God of the Christian narrative has always been on the side of the marginalized which means that any reading of the Christian story that intends to exclude the other must be called into question.
  3. The God revealed in the Christian tradition is a suffering God who is wholly committed to the flourishing of the earth and its inhabitants. Many would take issue with the idea that God could suffer but for me this has become central to my faith. If Christ is taken seriously as the fullest revelation of God then it seems to me near impossible to deny the reality of God’s suffering. A suffering God for and with a suffering world: this is why I self-identify as a Christian.

This is in no way an exhaustive list. These are but a few of the reasons why I identify as a follower of Christ.

It is also for these reasons that I find it worth inviting others to join the cause of Christ. This serves as a qualification of a statement I made in my last post: I invite others to join the journey that is Christian discipleship because I believe this journey helps to arouse a sense of compassion in the believer. This has most definitely been my experience. The Christian tradition has been for me a deep well to draw from in my pursuit of being a more compassionate person. My motivation, then, for inviting others along on this journey is no longer a fear of hell but the hope for a better global community. That being said, I do not find it appropriate to invite all to the join the Christian community. As I stated earlier, the Buddhist ought to remain a Buddhist if compassion is the result. Attempting to get an eastern individual to accept a western concept of the divine can, I believe, cause more harm than good especially if that individual is unable to translate those western concepts into her or his own eastern context. There are eastern modes of thought that yield compassion and peace in eastern contexts. Thus, it makes sense to me to encourage the other to adopt whatever worldview that best translates to a more just society in their particular context. Of course, a “just society” looks like will change depending on the worldview adopted and at this point I believe that humble dialogue among the world religions is necessary. As we dialogue we become creatively transformed by one another. Where our tradition lacks perhaps another provides and vice versa.

*** It is this element of the Christian tradition that offers the best response to the postmodern critique of meta-narratives which says that all grand stories inevitable lead to oppression and authoritarianism. Because the Christian story is always self-critiquing I believe it is less prone to oppression especially because it is the oppressive readings that are most strongly critiqued in the narrative.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

With the close of the semester I’ve been able to find more time to do things that are fun…like read. I’m currently in the middle of J. Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh’s Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be: Biblical Faith in A Postmodern Age. It’s been a great read so far. Here are some thoughts:

Middleton and Walsh quote Jean-Francois Lyotard’s famous statement in order to define postmodernity: “…incredulity towards all metanarratives.” Essentially, this has come in response to modernism’s grand narrative of progress which has basically turned out to be bankrupt and nothing more than  a cheap power grab by those who propagate the story. Anyone who has not adhered to the grand narrative of modernism has found themselves on the margins and often in places of oppression. For example, the Native Americans could be viewed as victims of the of modern story of Manifest Destiny and expansion. Because they do not adhere to the story, they are demonized and oppressed. They are, according to the myth of modernism, the enemy for the simple reason that they don’t fit into or are found opposing the overall thrust of the narrative. Women could be placed in the same category. Ultimately they are victims of a story that has historically favored men.

The response of postmodernism is, I would say, twofold. First, it attempts to give voice to the other. The rise of feminism makes sense in light of the postmodern critique of modernism’s suppression of female voices. Secondly, it opposes any story or myth that is universal in scope because, according to the postmodern critique, totalizing or universal stories will always become oppressive towards those who do not adhere to the story. The problem is that as humans we lack the ability to properly navigate life without some sort of overarching narrative: “Right and wrong can…only be discerned from within a particular tradition. Ethical action is dependent on indwelling a socially embodied narrative, on membership in a concrete community oriented to a distinctive perspective, heritage and vision of life” (Middleton and Walsh 68). In short, we all tell a story in order to know how to function. We can’t know how to act before discerning which story we fit into. Due to this reality, postmodernity would typically have us favor local, less universal or totalizing narratives in order to avoid the oppression that usually results from grand stories.

The problem is, as Middleton and Walsh rightly point out, that local narratives have the ability to lead to just as much oppression and violence as metanarratives do. Incidents of tribal violence in places like Rwanda in the 90s or even the constant struggle between Israel and Palestine could be cited as examples.

Thus, it seems that narratives, whether local or universal, are not the problem. Indeed, even if it were the problem it would be impossible to avoid the telling of some sort of story. We must discern, then, which metanarratives are inherently violent and which, on the other hand, subvert the human tendency towards violence and oppression. It is Middleton and Walsh’s contention that the Biblical metanarrative is not inherently violent despite the violence that it has caused in the past. Their reading of the Scriptural narrative undermines any attempt to legitimate oppression or demonization of the other.

Discussion of their reading of the Scriptural narrative will have to wait for another post. Until then, think about the story that you tell about the world.  Who are we as a people? Where are we? What’s the problem? What’s the solution to this problem?

Narratival neutrality is impossible. In other words, we all tell a story. What is yours? Continue reading