Sunday 19 November 2023

Christians and Israel

Some folk are mystified by the unconditional support for Israel from some Christians. (I don’t mean governments in Christian-majority countries — there’s enough out there to explain that — and I don’t even mean the suckers who fall for the scams of the very rich people behind the megachurches. I mean ordinary Christians with seemingly sound principles and solid family values and all that.)

I am, as I have said often here, devoutly agnostic and the opposite of a fan of religion, and deeply suspicious of organised religion. But I grew up in a Christian family, was a believer myself, went to Christian-run schools and colleges, lived in Christian neighbourhoods half my life, and though I began walking away in my teens, I can tell you that that upbringing does condition one to think of things in certain ways. Add to all this that most of what I read was by British or USAian authors, and ditto with what little television and cinema I was exposed to. I am of very mixed heritage, but I grew up as pretty much a white Christian under a brown skin.

And from that kind of upbringing, what one subconsciously imbibes is that the whole Israel enterprise is not just right but divinely ordained. Remember that the Bible’s Old Testament is pretty much the story of the Jewish people — the ‘chosen’ people, the ‘promised land’ — and that Christian and Jewish (and the Islamic, but that’s not germane to this topic) texts only diverge on the matter of whether Jesus was the messiah promised by the prophets.

With the more modern stories in comics and books and the very limited television and cinema I was exposed to, I continued to hear the same kind of story, of the plucky Jews fighting the heathens to claim the holy land. And of course the atrocity that was the holocaust could make any reasonably sane and vaguely human person feel sympathy for the followers of Judaism.

Now, add to this the acts of terror committed by a few batshit extremists who were technically followers of Islam which got far more media exposure and public discourse than similar acts committed by folk who claim other religious affiliations, and the very little exposure that Israel’s acts of discrimination, violence and colonialism got.

Of course the precise mix will differ from person to person, and my hybrid experience will not hold true for all. But I can tell you that as a result of the way I grew up, it took the Israeli attacks of 2014 — you recall the visuals of Israelis cheering from their deckchairs while they watched bombs land in Palestinian areas? the defiant foot-stamping dance of young Palestinians while black smoke billowed behind them? — for me to begin to question my conditioning and read more history.

I must also mention here that one thing that had begun to propel me on to this path was a piece by Sundeep Waslekar in my then-workplace, Forbes India, in 2011 about the ‘business plan of terror.’ I worked on our covers then, and so I was also privy to the conversations that happened before the story came out, and it was a major reorientation for me to learn about how terrorism took root in different parts of the world. (The piece, and the podcast episode that accompanied that issue.)

If you know me, you know I’m a fairly liberal person, someone who tries to understand other points of view, reasonably eager to learn. But it took this much for, to use a, hehe, biblical phrase, the scales to drop from my eyes.