The New Inquisition

The recent controversy over Pastor John Hagee is about much more than one man and his "crazy" (John McCain's word) comments.  The nature of the attacks on Pastor Hagee and the rapidity with which they spread and hardened into the ugliest of conclusions revealed something far deeper and far more disturbing about our public discourse on faith in America.

What was most breathtaking about the debate over Pastor Hagee's statements on the Holocaust was the complete absence of one.  This was not a case where thoughtful arbiters discussed his words in the context of a rich Judeo-Christian tradition of theodicy.  There was no respect given to a quite common worldview.   There was no trial.  We skipped right to the auto da fe. 

Breathe in deeply and you can still smell the embers smoldering around Pastor Hagee's public persona. 

With an ever-increasing ferocity, large swaths of the media and the blogosphere are enforcing a new orthodoxy of post-modern contempt for literal religious faith.  The heresy they hunt is the belief in an omnipotent God who intervenes in history.  And the punishment they impose is public death, banishment from the public square.  Their power is sufficient to give pause to even the secular-minded among us.   

The treatment of Pastor Hagee last week demonstrates the danger.  Pastor Hagee's "offense" was to apply his belief in an omnipotent God to the greatest of tragedies:  the Holocaust.  After all, an all powerful God by definition could have prevented the Holocaust.  So why didn't he?  In the search for an answer, Pastor Hagee quoted the book of Jeremiah to suggest that God permitted the Holocaust to bring the Jewish people back to Israel. 

Far from representing anything new or shocking, this belief that God sanctions the bad as well as good has deep roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches that not even a sparrow falls from the sky unless God wills it.  If one sparrow cannot die without God's consent, then it is certainly reasonable to conclude that the same is true of six million human beings created in God's image.

The Jewish tradition likewise sees an omnipotent God behind human events.  To cite just one example, the Talmud teaches that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of the baseless hatred that the Jews had for one another at that time.  In other worlds, according to the Talmud, God sent the Romans to destroy the Temple because of the sins of the Jews. 

I am hard pressed to find a difference between Pastor Hagee's explanation for the Holocaust and the Talmud's explanation for the destruction of the Temple. 

Let's be clear:  Pastor Hagee's crime was not the specifics of his explanation for the Holocaust.  The talking heads were not outraged that he found his answer in the book of Jeremiah instead of the book of Isaiah.  His real crime was the fact that he dared to suggest any explanation for the Holocaust that involved a consenting God.  To so many arbiters poised over their keyboards, it is simply a heresy to see the hand of God in our tragedies.  If this view contradicts your faith in a sovereign God, then you've got a big problem.

Once you've been found guilty of a faith too literal, your public death will be imposed by a thousand cuts.  Your life's work will be ignored.  Your perfidy will be repeated on YouTube and in blogs where people who know nothing about you, and who've never read a complete transcript of anything you've said, will condemn you with an ever-escalating certitude.  Cymbals will ceaselessly clang. 

Who among us is safe in an environment where John Hagee can be labeled an anti-Semite?  Few Christians have done more than John Hagee to combat anti-Semitism and support the State of Israel.  But then he dared to contradict the prevailing orthodoxy.  With an absurdity that would make Stalin proud, this lifelong Zionist is now convicted of attacking the very people he has devoted his life to comforting and supporting. 

All of us who embrace or respect a more traditional Judeo-Christian worldview need to recognize that Pastor Hagee's problem is our problem.  Every Orthodox Jew, Orthodox Catholic and evangelical Christian in America has particular cause for concern.  Your views of God and how he interacts in the world are no longer acceptable in the public square.  Close the curtains and turn the television volume high before confessing your literal interpretation of the Bible.  That large whooshing sound you heard last week was a shot across your bow. 

David Brog is the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State.  He is currently writing a book on the role of faith in morality and politics to be published by Encounter Books

Related items: Rabbi Yoffie excommunicates Pastor Hagee,  Mowbray on the Hagee smear
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