In Righteous Gentiles: Religion, Identity, and Myth in John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, Sean Durbin offers a critical analysis of America’s largest Pro-Israel organization, Christians United for Israel, along with its critics and collaborators. Although many observers focus Christian Zionism’s influence on American foreign policy, or whether or not Christian Zionism is ‘truly’ religious, Righteous Gentiles takes a different approach.
Through his creative and critical analysis of Christian Zionists’ rhetoric and mythmaking strategies, Durbin demonstrates how they represent their identities and political activities as authentically religious. At the same time, Durbin examines the role that Jews and the state of Israel have as vehicles or empty signifiers through which Christian Zionist truth claims are represented as manifestly real.
This volume is not your father’s ‘take down’ of Christian Zionism and its lust to bring about the end of the world by Armageddon. Instead, it is a reasoned, and nearly sympathetic (though not quite) examination of exactly what it is that makes Christian Zionism in general and the Christian Zionism of John Hagee in particular tick.
The table of Contents are available for your perusal here.
This book originated as a PhD thesis, which I began in late 2009 at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia (p. viii).
Furthermore, segments of chapters 3-7 have all appeared in various form in a variety of journals.
The author describes the theory at work thusly:
I use the term Christian Zionism in a way that firstly emphasizes the contingent, historical, and human origins of self-identified Christians’ support for Israel. Second, what makes this form of Zionism ‘Christian’ is the way that material or symbolic support for Israel is then coupled with rhetoric that claims transcendence and thus shifts its origins from the human or historical, toward providence as a representation of ‘true’ or authentic Christianity. As a result, Christian Zionism is represented as ‘authentically Christian’ for insiders, therefore elevating their claims to the realm of piety and making support for Israel and an affinity for ‘the Jewish people’ as much a part of these Christians’ identity as something as routine as baptism or being ‘born-again,’ while also encouraging others to share this view (p. 5).
Accordingly, the investigation involves deeply thinking about the structure and substance of Christian Zionism. So rather than viewing it as simply a tool of Israeli society intending to co-opt American citizens, it is examined more profoundly. To wit-
… rather than thinking about how Falwell and others might have been ‘used,’ it would be more fruitful, in my estimation, to consider what it is that made Falwell, and even more so Christian Zionists today, actively engaged and willing participants in all matters dealing with Israel. A sceptic could similarly latch on the origin stories of cufi that attribute Netanyahu’s request to Hagee to establish cufi as another episode of Israeli government officials ‘using’ Christians for their own ends. While this may be true, it is also worth asking why it is important for cufi officials to cite Netanyahu’s request when discussing the formation of cufi (p. 64).
Indeed, later on we read
It is not so much about ‘hastening Armageddon’ or the end times, precisely because, at least for the Christian leaders of cufi, those times are upon us. Rather it is about acting as God’s instruments and blocking activities that might impede God’s plans for the world. And this is the way that we might consider how apocalyptic beliefs relate to political action (p. 115).
And the core of the volume is this observation:
By representing themselves as the bearers of privileged knowledge about this enemy that is out to destroy Christians, Jews, and Western civilization, Christian Zionists’ discourse empties militant expressions of Islam of any history or nuance and instead transforms their characterizations of it as simply what it is by its very nature. One of the effects of these representations is that it renders the conflicts in the Middle East and around the world, and especially the issue of Israel’s borders, as cosmological; they become part of the realm of religion, and thus ahistorical, rather than disparate, contingent events that are the products of different historical and political circumstances (p. 138).
American support for and protection of Israel is rhetorically equated with the protection and flourishing of America, and in this sense their critique can be understood as a modern jeremiad (p. 174).
Christian Zionism is, at its barest, Americanism. Israel serves, at the end of the day, to provide an opportunity for American Christians to gain favor with God – with the aim of protecting and expanding American power. Israel is a means to an end; not to Armageddon or the end, but the expansion of American power. This is the takeaway the present reader obtains from a careful reading of this book.
Or, to put it as the author does-
In this discursive construction, without Israel, America cannot survive. Yet it seems, at the same time, without America, nor can Israel, because in the eyes of many Christian Zionists, to be an American is to be an Israeli (p. 201).
What struck me about these assertions, and others like them, was their attribution of the unequivocal return of personal ‘blessings’ that individuals are said to receive in return for blessing Israel (p. 203).
Christian Zionism is self serving. And that is why it is popular among Hagee and other proponents of the prosperity Gospel (because, at least it seems to me, Christian Zionism and the prosperity gospel are planted firmly in the same people).
Zionism is, thus, fetishized by the Christian Zionists:
Through a logic that can be characterized as divine trickle-down economics, this claim is another example of the way Israel and its Jewish inhabitants are ascribed a fetishized mediating capacity, endowed with the ability to provide the conditions for all peoples to receive the blessings that Christian Zionists claim flow through them (p. 238).
Christian Zionism, as described in the present volume, is a phenomenon which betrays deeply disturbing political roots intermingled with dispensationalist theology and pseudo-Christian personal prosperity.
Read this book. It is superb and supremely fair.