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Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel (McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion) [Paperback]

Paul Charles Merkley
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 May 2007 McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion
To most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, loyalty to Israel is a second patriotism, nurtured by the conviction that Israel's restoration is a part of God's plan for history. Mainstream Protestantism, however, champions Palestinian nationalism and, drawing on the rhetoric of the Middle East Council of Churches, does not hesitate to portray Israel as an oppressor. Paul Merkley argues that Christian attitudes towards Israel reflect fundamental theological attitudes that must be studied against the long historical background of Christian attitudes towards Judaism and Islam. He draws on a wide range of research and literature published by Christian organizations and on interviews with key figures within the government of Israel, spokespeople for the Palestine Authority, and leaders of all the major pro and anti-Zionist Christian organizations to demonstrate that Christian attitudes towards Israel remain remarkably polarized.

Product details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press; New Ed edition (25 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0773532552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0773532557
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.8 x 21.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,753,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"One cannot read this superb book and fail to be impressed with the volatile mix of theology, politics, and antisemitism in the range of Christian attitudes displayed unfortunately even today toward Israel." Choice "Most helpful in debunking a wide range of stereotypes about evangelical Christians. It also provides an often incisive critique of the presumptions of liberal Protestantism." First Things "Marshals its arguments with a wealth of well-researched and lucidly presented material that includes interesting analyses of the influence of the Eastern Churches on contemporary Protestantism, the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church, and the relationship between Christian anti-Zionism and contemporary Islam." University of Toronto Quarterly

About the Author

Paul Charles Merkley is professor emeritus, history, Carleton University, and the author of The Politics of Christian Zionism, 1891-1948.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Children of Ruth and children of Haman 8 Jan 2008
By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This absorbing work follows on from Merkley's 1998 masterpiece The Politics of Christian Zionism. He believes Christian attitudes to Israel derive from deeply held theological persuasions that ought to be considered in the historical context of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The first part reviews the historical elements that have always been present in Christian attitudes towards Judaism whilst the main body reveals the wide variety of Christian voices worldwide and particularly in the Middle East. Finally, he examines different Christian institutions and their theological and political relations to the Middle East. His arguments derive from verifiable facts and evidence based on the official literature of churches and organizations as well as interviews with spokespeople of the aforementioned and of the State of Israel and the Palestinian authority. Merkley engages boldly and wittily with this arsenal of fact and opinion, unafraid to take a stand, speak his mind and make a case for Israel.

He chronicles the development of the attitudes of different strands of Christianity, including the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches on the one hand versus Evangelicals on the other, whilst acknowledging that significant numbers of individuals in the first two groups hold personal convictions that correspond more closely with the second. Approved by the United Nations, the establishment of Israel in 1948 occurred in an environment of worldwide approval but even then there were opposing voices. These came from Protestant missionary groups in the Middle East as well as anti-Zionist Jewish organizations in the USA.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good course of info 25 Mar 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Biased towards Israel in many places, although affects academic neutrality
But even though opinions and slant are clearly pro-Israel, he makes many good points eg on threat of Islam in the region and to Christianity

Good source of info on historic and current situation
Recommended for students of the current Middle East situation
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stripping off the veneer 17 Feb 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Paul Merkley is an academic historian, with a keen theological interest. He politely and disppassionately cuts through much of the smoke of official church statements and pronouncements. His strongest criticisms are often his generous use of [sic]!

Merkley gives us penetrating insights into the main church groupings' attitudes towards Zionism and Israel. He documents the visceral hatred of Israel in the Middle East Council of Churches and how they managed, for example, to pursuade the WCC to sacrifice Coptic protests about persecution on the altar of Palestinian nationalism. He shows how when unity has been jeopardised in the WCC, anti-Semitic anti-Zionism has often stepped in to hold the carriage together.

He describes the gradual decline of almost all liberal Protestantism, from headier days of remorse and amazement at Nazi atrocities, into a swamp of post-imperialist, anti-colonialist handwringing for the down trodden, which in the case of the Palestinians ignores their greatest needs, perpetuates their tragedy, bolsters their worst oppressors and remorselessly turns its fire on Israel.

He sympathetically portrays the Vatican's modest ascent from actively inciting and participating in anti-Semitism, through its tortuous and frosty antagonism to Israel after the Holocaust, its amazingly late recognition of the state in 1994, to the bland and general apologies of John Paul 2 for past crimes.

He reserves much of his warmth, though clearly not his theological agreement, for evangelical Christian Zionists, a movement he helpfully defines. He also documents the beginning of the Lausanne conference's neo-evangelical anti-Zionism and its heirs. My main criticism here is the lack of comment on pre-19th century Christian tradition.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An illuminating work 23 Oct 2004
By Jill Malter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a Pagan, I find it puzzling to see the beginnings of alliances between many Christian fundamentalists and Jewish liberals. And I find it even more puzzling to see the beginnings of alliances between many Muslim fundamentalists and Christian liberals. What's up with that? This book helps explain it.

First, the Christian fundamentalists and the Jewish liberals. Traditionally, Jewish liberals have been suspicious of Christian fundamentalists for many reasons: the most vocal Christians have generally defamed Jews, encouraged anti-Jewish violence, and engaged in missionary work that Jews have reacted very negatively to. In addition, views on social issues such as abortion, school prayer, and gay rights have generally been very different among these two groups. And Christian fundamentalists have been suspicious of Jewish liberals for some of the same reasons: differences on social issues as well as the hostility that they see on the Jewish side.

Why is it becoming different now? The author explains that it is because both sides see a need to defend Israel. I think that explains part of it. But I think he overlooked something even more important: both the Christians and Jews are siding with Israel for the same reasons. That is, the constant Arab lies, the United Nations and European Union support for Arab terror, and the dishonesty of many in the media have angered both groups in the same way. And even upon further reflection, they both still see all these problems as serious threats to society as a whole.

That's the easy part.

The tough question, which Merkley answers superbly, is why we're seeing an alliance between Christian liberals and Muslim fundamentalists. Merkley shows that it goes far beyond any need to attack Israel.

The two groups are strange bedfellows indeed. They have different religions, and their attitudes towards religion are very different. One group has mostly liberal values while the other is reactionary and intolerant. Historically, they have the legacy of Muslim invasions of Europe, the Crusades, and European colonialism. Why would liberal Christians support those who favor slavery, terrorism, totalitarianism, irredentism, mistreatment of Women, and intolerance of the rights of others in general? Why would fundamentalist Muslims even seek or accept such support?

It certainly isn't any rational need to oppose Israeli behavior. As the author points out, "Israel's offence follows from the nature of Islam." This alliance is the result of three factors: Muslim offence at the existence of Jewish rights in Israel, Muslim pressure on the Christians of the Middle East, and long-standing contempt of Judaism by more than a few Western Christians.

Merkley shows that the effect of all this has been devastating to the Christians of the Middle East. The majority have fled the area. Most of those who have stayed have done so either because they supported Muslim terror against the Jews or because they were pressured into tolerating it. This has poisoned their relations with the Israeli Jews while not raising their esteem in the eyes of Arab Muslims.

Merkley is at his best when he documents the reactions of all sorts of diverse Christian groups to the State of Israel. I strongly recommend this book. And if you want more, read Bat Ye'or's book on Islam and Dhimmitude next.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well written, honest, thorough 12 May 2007
By westwind - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I can't say enough good things about this book. In fact, I am going to buy several copies to give to friends, both Christian and Jewish. I'd like to give it to liberal Protestant friends, but sadly, having read the book I am older and wiser about the deep roots of liberal Protestant hostility to Israel (and Jews).

I found the background on the World Council of Churches, the Vatican, and the Evangelicals really fascinating. Merkley is wonderfully frank and honest about difficult topics. I found him a trustworthy reporter. At times his exasperation shows, but on the whole he shows an admirable restraint.

This book helped me understand some unpleasant interchanges I've had with people in my own community, for example the Presbyterian minister and the socially elite lady who works with Protestant missions in "Palestine." I have been deeply disturbed by their moral indifference to Jewish life (the minister) and outright anti-semitic slurs (the rich mission lady.) It is always helpful to be able to put personal experiences like this in a larger political/historical context and understand them at a deeper level.

On a happier note, Merkley gave me information I did not know about the theology and policies of the main Evangelical groups. I was especially interested to learn that the often repeated comment they are only helping Israel so that all the Jews will be killed in Armageddon is actually a lie promulgated by anti-Israeli Christians eager to alienate Jews from their one group of dependable support (Merkley says this in a much more measured way, but that's the nub). I have to say this also fits my personal experience - the several evangelicals I have talked to in my community have only quoted Bible about 'those that bless you shall be blessed, those that curse you shall be cursed' in explaining why they think supporting Israel is a good idea (in both senses of the word 'good.')

I feel very grateful to Merkley for this book and I only wish it were more widely read.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Children of Ruth and children of Haman 8 Jan 2008
By Pieter Uys - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This absorbing work follows on from Merkley's 1998 masterpiece The Politics of Christian Zionism 1891-1948. He believes Christian attitudes to Israel derive from deeply held theological persuasions that ought to be considered in the historical context of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The first part reviews the historical elements that have always been present in Christian attitudes towards Judaism whilst the main body reveals the wide variety of Christian voices worldwide and particularly in the Middle East. Finally, he examines different Christian institutions and their theological and political relations to the Middle East. His arguments derive from verifiable facts and evidence based on the official literature of churches and organizations as well as interviews with spokespeople of the aforementioned and of the State of Israel and the Palestinian authority. Merkley engages boldly and wittily with this arsenal of fact and opinion, unafraid to take a stand, speak his mind and make a case for Israel.

He chronicles the development of the attitudes of different strands of Christianity, including the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches on the one hand versus Evangelicals on the other, whilst acknowledging that significant numbers of individuals in the first two groups hold personal convictions that correspond more closely with the second. Approved by the United Nations, the establishment of Israel in 1948 occurred in an environment of worldwide approval but even then there were opposing voices. These came from Protestant missionary groups in the Middle East as well as anti-Zionist Jewish organizations in the USA. Soon after the rebirth, the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches started to shift to a critical stance. Formed a few weeks after this historic event, the World Council of Churches has a long history of enmity to the Jewish state. As the war clouds were gathering in 1967, the WCC remained quiet about the Arab World's bellicose rhetoric and threats of genocide. But immediately after Israel's resounding victory, it pounced with a sanctimonious condemnation of violence.

Since then, the WCC has become notorious for parroting Arab and UN propaganda, culminating in its participation in the hate-fest at the 2001 UN Conference on Racism in Durban. Merkley lucidly exposes the reptile tongue of the WCC and the mass media, demonstrating the similarities with the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazis. He argues that the leaders of the WCC are a militant ecumenical elite far removed from the essence of theology and fully committed to political causes. He contends that Christian anti-Zionism is not just a form of generic anti-Zionism but that it draws from the same theological roots as the medieval European blood libels. In this regard, see also The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism by Bernard Harrison. The Christian Left seeks to appease radical Muslim opinion about the existence of Israel, as liberal churches have allied themselves with a movement with which they have nothing in common. Merkley does not pretend to believe in either the meme of the religion of peace or the willingness of Israel's neighbors to live in peace with it. See Peace: The Arabian Caricature of Anti-Semitic Imagery to understand why.

As anti-Zionism gained momentum in the 1970s, more individuals with different convictions started leaving those churches as is evident from the declining membership of the mainstream denominations. And Christians Zionists became actively involved in the support of Israel and her people in the Diaspora. Those of a theologically more conservative disposition have shown themselves to be steadfast and loyal friends of the Jewish State. Organizations like the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, Bridges for Peace, Christian Friends of Israel, the International Christian Zionist Center and CUFI are devoted to the welfare of the country by means of practical and political assistance. Chapter seven provides interesting information on the institutional variety of and theologies of Christian Zionism. Please note that most of them avoid proselytizing. Standing With Israel by David Brog is an informative read on the history and current composition of the movement whilst In Defense of Israel by John Hagee and Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged by Barry Horner explain the theological motivation.

Merkley is uncertain whether the mainstream churches will move further in the direction of what he calls neo-Marcionism (See Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman for an explanation) in order to appeal to secular liberals, Islam and the Eastern churches or whether it will attempt Jewish-Christian reconciliation. On the Protestant side the signs are not promising with their divestment attempts, while things look more ambiguous in the Roman church in view of the militant rhetoric of Michel Sabbah, Archbishop of Jerusalem. Besides obvious reasons for standing with Israel like its adherence to the rule of law, commendable record of respecting the holy places of all religions, astonishing cultural and technological accomplishments and uninterrupted record of democracy, there is another reason why Christian Zionists are loyal to the Jewish state. It is, like the attitude of the other churches, rooted in theology, but quite overtly based on scripture. To its Christian friends, the rebirth of Israel represents the major miracle of the 20th century. It is a requirement of faith to seek the blessing of Israel above all other considerations; the existence of Israel is considered crucial to the survival of our Judeo-Christian civilization.

Among the valuable contributions of this illuminating work is the refutation of myths, false perceptions and stereotypes fabricated by the mass media. As already mentioned, many Christian Zionist organizations have a strict policy of not seeking converts. They are not all fundamentalists or biblical literalists nor do they profess to know the sequence of events that will lead to the return of Messiah, and least of all do they want the Jewish people to suffer any more than they already have. Merkley provides abundant evidence that anti-Zionism flourishes on the Christian Left today, but further proof is available in The New Anti-Semitism by Chesler and The Deadliest Lies by Foxman. I highly recommend Christian Attitudes toward the State of Israel to all who wish to understand what is happening in this world of lengthening shadows. The book includes notes, a bibliography, references and an index.
4.0 out of 5 stars Stripping off the veneer 17 Feb 2010
By Charles Soper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Paul Merkley is an academic historian, with a keen theological interest. He politely and disppassionately cuts through much of the smoke of official church statements and pronouncements. His strongest criticisms are often his generous use of [sic]!

Merkley gives us penetrating insights into the main church groupings' attitudes towards Zionism and Israel. He documents the visceral hatred of Israel in the Middle East Council of Churches and how they managed, for example, to pursuade the WCC to sacrifice Coptic protests about persecution on the altar of Palestinian nationalism. He shows how when unity has been jeopardised in the WCC, anti-Semitic anti-Zionism has often stepped in to hold the carriage together.

He describes the gradual decline of almost all liberal Protestantism, from headier days of remorse and amazement at Nazi atrocities, into a swamp of post-imperialist, anti-colonialist handwringing for the down trodden, which in the case of the Palestinians ignores their greatest needs, perpetuates their tragedy, bolsters their worst oppressors and remorselessly turns its fire on Israel.

He sympathetically portrays the Vatican's modest ascent from actively inciting and participating in anti-Semitism, through its tortuous and frosty antagonism to Israel after the Holocaust, its amazingly late recognition of the state in 1994, to the bland and general apologies of John Paul 2 for past crimes.

He reserves much of his warmth, though clearly not his theological agreement, for evangelical Christian Zionists, a movement he helpfully defines. He also documents the beginning of the Lausanne conference's neo-evangelical anti-Zionism and its heirs. My main criticism here is the lack of comment on pre-19th century Christian tradition. Historic evangelical expectation of Israel's return dates well back to the C16th and earlier, it is the anti-Zionists who have innovated.

A fascinating and illuminating read for any student of Jewish, Christian and Christian-Israeli relations.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read 21 April 2008
By Dexter Van Zile - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book documents how liberal Protestants in the U.S. who have reworked their theology regarding the Jewish people have allowed the prophetic voices of their churches to be hi-jacked by groups like Sabeel and the Middle East Council of Churches and other church institutions that have embraced what can be politely described as a Judeophobic agenda. These institutions have portrayed Israel's efforts to defend itself against enemies intent on destroying it as a Jewish assault on Christian sensibilities and the mainline churches cooperate in broadcasting this narrative. Merkley offers enormously valuable background and history to the conflict. It also provides insight into how putatively progressive Christians have remained silent about the the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East. A hugely important book that has not gotten enough attention. A must read for this interested in understanding Christian anti-Zionism.
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