Whether we realize it or not, history determines how we frame current events. Take, for example, two recent incidents that represent legacies from millennia past.
Donald Trump, as the most politically powerful person on the planet, officially declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced plans to move the U.S. embassy from the city of Tel Aviv – the site of all other nation’s embassies in Israel.
By taking these actions, the President of the United States confirmed what most Orthodox Jewish leaders have asserted for literally thousands of years that the entire ancient land of Israel, “The Promised Land,” this “Land of Milk and Honey,” was guaranteed by almighty G*d to the Jewish people as it is said in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) in Genesis 15:18-21, 26:3, 28:13, and other biblical passages. The city of Jerusalem appears 669 times in the Jewish Bible.
The text most quoted to justify Jerusalem as the Jewish “Eternal City” is found in 2 Chronicles 6:5-6, where King Solomon quotes G*d as saying, in part: “…I [your G*d] have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.”
But then again, according to many Orthodox Christian leaders for the past two thousand years, though God may have given Jerusalem and the ancient land of Israel to the Jews, the Holy City holds immense importance to the Christian people not only because Jesus died and was risen there, but also since this is the very place of “the end of days” where “the Christ,” according to Christian prophesy, will return and reign forever and ever.
After the Muslim Seljuk Turks conquered Jerusalem and much of the Holy Land and closed it to all Jewish and Christian pilgrims, Pope Urban II commenced the First Crusade (1096-1102), and others followed until 1291 to recapture the territory for Christians.
While Mecca (in the current nation of Saudi Arabia) is the most sacred of all Muslim places, Jerusalem is important religiously as the site where the Islamic prophet Muhammad took his Night Journey to heaven ((isra’), and where the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque rests. In political terms, the Palestinian people claim East Jerusalem as the capital of any eventual Palestinian nation.
The problem seems that God has promised the same parcel of land to three peoples of three Abrahamic religions. How different is this “God-given” right from the justification used by European-heritage people in its colonial expansion in “the Americas”?
For example, the doctrine of “manifest destiny” embraced a belief in American Anglo-Saxon superiority. “This continent,” a congressman declared, “was intended by Providence as a vast theatre on which to work out the grand experiment of Republican government, under the auspices of the Anglo-Saxon race.”
Another current event where the past reared its not-so invisible head was in the U.S. senate race in Alabama with the candidacy of Judge Roy Moore. Moore rose to prominence (infamy) with his extreme Christian biblical interpretations that directly contradict the United States Constitution that he swore to protect and defend.
Moore rationalized breaking his oath as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on religious grounds by invoking Biblical texts when he imposed a large stone slab of the Ten Commandments on the publicly-owned courthouse grounds, and when he urged all Alabama judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to ensure marriage equality for same-sex couples. He has also asserted that Muslims do not have a right to serve in Congress.
Moore ironically justified his opposition to marriage equality by allegedly defending children from “an inherent evil” by calling for the seizure of the children of gay and lesbian people and sending the parents to prison. He argued that children must not be “raised in unnatural families that contradict the created order.”
On issues of race, he referred to Native Americans and Asian Americans as “reds” and “yellows,” and when asked by an African-American to state a time when America was great, Moore responded, “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
Nine women, some who were underage at the time, charged this supposedly highly religious Christian man with sexual harassment and assault, which Moore denied. Many of his staunch supporters invoked religion in his defense. For example, Jim Ziegler, Alabama state auditor, stated, “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
And Jerry Moore, Roy’s brother proclaimed, “The allegations against Roy Moore are not true, not true at all….[My brother is being persecuted] like Jesus Christ was.”
The lighted billboard sign standing outside The Living Way Ministries Church in Opelika, Alabama, a tax-exempt religious institution, announced “THEY FALSELY ACCUSED JESUS! VOTE ROY MOORE”
Religion and its perversely distorted interpretations by individuals, groups, denominations, and nations throughout the ages have devoted themselves to justifying the most unimaginable and egregious forms of oppression against other human beings and against the environment.
Individuals and organizations have employed “religion” to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, oppression, theft, and murder of entire groups of people based on their social identities.
During various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.
Monocultural theocratic ethno-states and denominations justify the very worst in the human psyche. How much more division, though, and how many more deaths will it take for people to come to understand that religion, if one chooses to believe, should be used to establish a connection on the personal level with a force outside oneself, and not as weaponized ammunition to aim at those who believe otherwise?
So let’s just continue marginalizing, attacking, robbing, and killing one another over beliefs we can never prove. That makes a lot of sense. Or does it?