Commentary

Crackpot Theology Makes Bad Foreign Policy

This article was distributed by Copley News Service on June 4, 2002.

With the Mideast in flames, administration policy is in disarray. It is hard to fight terrorism and conquer Iraq without Arab allies. But any attempt to win Arab support by pressuring Israel might lose evangelical Christian votes. Interest groups have long influenced American foreign policy. Rarely, however, has foreign policy rested on theology. Even the vast majority of American Jews who support Israel do so more on ethnic than on religious grounds. But now some Christians are attempting to turn the U.S. government into an arm of the church. Sympathy toward Israel is understandable: there is no excuse for murderous suicide bombings. Yet Washington needs to develop a Mideast policy that advances the interests of America, not one that advances a peculiar interpretation of Christian theology.

Georgia’s Republican state chairman, Ralph Reed, recently wrote: “There is an undeniable and powerful spiritual connection between Israel and the Christian faith. It is where Jesus was born and where he conducted his ministry.”

So? This has nothing to do with the formulation of foreign policy for the secular nation of America, which represents non-Christians as well as Christians.

Onetime Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer goes further: “The Bible is pretty clear that the land is what is called covenant land, that God made a covenant with the Jews that that would be their land forever.”

Yet the premise of Christianity is that that covenant was voided by disobedience, and thus now runs to the body of Christian believers.

Moreover, why assume that nonreligious Jews who established a secular state in the Mideast are entitled to the same land once held by religious Jews following in the line of Moses? As Marvin Olasky, editor of World Magazine, notes, “A biblical case can certainly be made that Israelis who are atheists have tossed away their inheritance just as Esau did.”

And if the land was to belong to Jews forever, why did they lose control of it? Surely God does not require America’s assistance to give it back.

Finally, to how much are Jews entitled? A generous reading of Genesis suggests ownership of Jordan and chunks of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Another group of Christians, primarily Protestants, cite their dispensationalist eschatology, or end times theology. Never mind the complicated details of this minority interpretation. Backing whoever happens to be Israel’s Prime Minister is supposed to accelerate Christ’s return.

Of course, there is no way to prove what God actually intends. But the dispensationalist case is particularly strained. For instance, candidates for the Antichrist include the Pope, European Union President Roman Prodi and England’s Prince Charles.

In fact, the book of Revelation is best understood in the context of the Roman Empire, when it was written. It foreshadows an apocalyptic end of mankind; it does not provide an exact time line of events.

This argument also arrogantly assumes that the God who reconciled mankind through the sacrifice of his son requires Washington’s help to get the end right. Interestingly, some Orthodox Jews are hostile to Zionism precisely because they view it as hubris for man to try to supplant God’s timing.

Another argument is that only by supporting Israel will America prosper. For example, activist Ed McAteer cites the promise that “I will bless them who bless you and curse them who curse you.” Two decades ago, the Rev. Jerry Falwell declared that God had been kind to America only because “America has been kind to the Jews.”

Curiously, there’s no verse explaining that to bless the Jewish people or to be kind to them means doing whatever the secular government of a largely nonreligious people wants several thousand years later. This is junk theology at its worst. Or almost worst. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a speech last March: “One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them.”

Wow. God is punishing the American people because their government, which has long supported Israel more firmly than any other, is insufficiently pro-Israel.

Speaking for the creator of the universe is a dicey proposition and I won’t try. But presuming that a biblical injunction to “bless” the Jewish people requires a secular state run by nominal Christians to offer a blank check to a secular state run by ethnic Jews is simply bizarre.

There are lots of sensible policy arguments for supporting Israel. But conflicting interests must still be balanced. Crackpot theology is no substitute for intelligent analysis.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.