Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel (CUFI) announced the “registration of their millionth member” on 18 March 2012. This organization, founded in 2006, with the goal of “realizing the political potential of tens of millions of evangelical Americans who support Israel” can also be said to have the goal of destroying, in the name of God no less, the legitimate political aspiration of Palestinian statehood. And, the CUFI now has as much influence with our Republican Congress as does the Zionist lobby, AIPAC.
Why should the devout Mr. Hagee and his one million followers be so enamored of Israel? Actually, they have no rational reasons to offer. However, they do have a number of non-rational ones. For example, “We support Israel because all other nations were created by an act of man, but Israel was created by an act of God.”
Hagee and his followers do not know that this is so. They just ardently believe it is so. Yet there is a difference between demonstrable fact and belief. As to subject, ardent belief, or what might be called faith, is widely variable and changes over time. Thus, for a considerably longer period of time than the life of Hagee’s particular brand of Christianity (in fact for thousands of years) vast numbers of people ardently believed in the reality of the Olympian Gods. For almost 1200 years, countless individuals, every bit as assured of their faith as Pastor Hagee, came to the shrine at Delphi to prey to Apollo and, through his oracle, the Sibyl, petition for the God’s advice and favor.
There is no more hard evidence for Hagee’s faith than for that of the Sibyl. Think of the lottery. Despite people’s belief in their “lucky numbers,” every number has an equal probability of turning up. In the same way, when John Hagee dies he has an equal chance of finding himself on the shore of the River Styx as he does at the gates of heaven or hell. Of course, this comparison is not completely accurate. Here there is also the equal chance that no number turns up at all, and Mr Hagee simply dissolves into worm food.
Just so there is no hard evidence for the claim that Israel was created “by an act of God.” (As to modern Israel, there is no historical doubt that the deed was done by a combination of Jewish militias, the British Empire, and the General Assembly of the United Nations.) The Bible stories are just that, stories, and quoting them as if they constituted evidence beyond the realm of faith just won’t do.
No one credits the stories told in Hesiod’s Theogony (the story of the origin of the Olympian Gods) as proof positive of the existence of the Zeus and Apollo. Pastor Hagee would counter that the Theogony was “created by an act of man”while the Bible is, allegedly, the divinely inspired words of God. And, indeed, it appears that up to one-third of the adults in the United States agree with him. Unfortunately, it is quite possible that as many people now believe in the literal, divine truth of the Bible (and therefore the divine origin of Israel) as people once believed in the reality of Zeus and his Olympian clan.
However, it bears repeating that belief no matter how ardently held, does not make something true. And, it does not matter if it is the belief of one person or a million. The situation is the same. Faith is not the same as fact.
Unfortunately, this does not put an end to our subject. Faith may not move mountains but it can move the masses. It can move Hagee’s million and many others as well to actions that are very real indeed. It can move people to empty their wallets in an effort to financially support their alleged certainties. Worse yet, it can move them to take up arms and slaughter their neighbors–or at least cheer on others who do so.
I have a strong suspicion that if the Israelis some day evict every last Palestinian from Pastor Hagee’s “Holy Land,” killing thousands in the process, the pastor will shout “Hallelujah” and salivate in anticipation of the second coming of Christ. It is just a personal opinion, mind you, but if you believe so strongly that you are willing to underwrite murder and mayhem, you constitute a real danger to world peace. As such you should be preaching your defense before the International Criminal Court rather than spurring on the multitude.
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester PA.