Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Intolerance" at the Air Force Academy?

What's the real question going on over the question of religious "intolerance" at the US Air Force Academy?

A report was released yesterday (6/22/05) from a task force commissioned to investigate the issue. I tried to locate a copy of that report, and couldn't find it on the net, so I wrote to the Academy, seeing if they could send me a copy. I was told that it hadn't been released to the public yet, but would be available soon. So I write without having seen the report itself, and stand subject to correction when I do.

However, what intrigues me is that the thrust of the complaints seem to be 2: first, that some "evangelical Christians" (student and staff) are said to be over-zealous in their faith, and secondly, that there is anti-semitism there at the Academy.

What is not being noted is that the 2 charges are opposed to each other on their face.

Anyone who argues that "evangelical Christians" are anti-semitic knows nothing about evangelical Christianity. Nothing.

Before I became a Lutheran, I was an "evangelical Christian," and, in fact, graduated from Chicago's Moody Bible Institute. I was a student there in the mid 1970s, and graduated in 1976. If anything, evangelical Christians will generally bend over backwards to try to put a good face on Judaism. Students there, for example, would excuse almost any atrocity committed by the state of Israel. Anti-semitism was and is harshly condemned by evangelical Christians, and evangelical Christians are known by the state of Israel to be among the most reliable supporters of Israel, and can be counted on to vote for candidates who support Israel.

What I suspect is the problem at the Academy is witnessing and attempting to convert Jewish students to Christianity. Such attempts are not -- by any stretch -- anti-semitism, any more than attempts to convert Buddhists is "anti-Buddhism." Or whatever.

Students in a school such as the USAF Academy should not, of course, be subjected to religious pressure from professors or staff. And it's a matter of simple courtesy that if someone says, "I'm not interested in discussing religion," the subject should be dropped.

However, I'm troubled by the idea that simple discussions of religious faith constitute a climate of intolerance, and more particularly with the idea that attempts at conversion are somehow anti-semitic.

A related issue is that of how a college atmosphere should operate. Part of learning is a sometimes robust give and take of ideas, and adults 18-22 (the likely range of age for 99% of students at the Academy) should be able to deal with those with whom they disagree. Dealing with those of differing religious ideas is a skill that should especially be cultivated among those who will be military officers, and who will have to work with such differences on a regular basis.

America is a very religious country: Christians here tend to take their faith seriously, but so do many Jews, Muslims, or whatever. Secularists who pretend otherwise are deluding themselves. A school such as the Academy which draws from a wide-range of American geography will find this played out there at the school. The free exchange of ideas about faith should be encouraged, rather than stifled.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Why is the Virgin Mary is like an Old Testament Assassin?

Judges 4, which recounts the story of the fall of Israel after the death of the judge Ehud, provides some interesting parallels with Luke 2.

In Judges 3, Ehud assassinates Eglon, the king of Moab. Following in Judges 4, we have another assassination story, in which Jael kills the captain of Jabin's army.

Judges 4 is one of those accounts in which Israel is in terrible shape, and conditions are very bad. The prophetess Deborah is judging the nation at that time, and Barak is the chief of her armies. He is nevertheless fearful, and will not go up to the battle without Deborah's presence. She in turn warns him (vs. 9): "I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman."

Barak apparently thinks that the woman in question is Deborah. It is not.

In one of those interesting twists, we read that "the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet." (vs. 15) After fleeing on foot, he comes to the tent of Jael. She in turn invites him in, encouraging him to "fear not." (vs. 18)

One of the implications of the text seems to be that Jael was acting as though she was a prostitute. I can't say that for sure, but several reasons make me think this. First, vs. 9's statement that Sisera would be "sold" into the hands of a woman. Secondly, Jael's hospitality is unusual, because as a woman alone, it seems unlikely that she would have invited this general into her tent without her husband present. Third, Sisera seems to have no compunction about entering her tent; an unlikely event without the subterfuge of her playing a prostitute.

(Prostitution is an old subterfuge in warfare and espionage. A large example, of course, is that of Rahab, who hid the Israelite spies. A whorehouse is a spot where strange men entering would not be thought unusual, and that's very likely the reason why the spies stayed there. A prissiness that wants to make Rahab an "inn-keeper" is avoiding the point of the text).

Jael, however, goes from being a prostitute to being a mother: when Sisera requests water, she instead brings "milk," very possibly a buttermilk-like substance, but still an obvious way of calling attention to herself as a mother. She continues a nurturing behavior by covering Sisera (vs. 18) and protecting him (vs. 20).

But after he's asleep, she performs the act prophesied by Deborah: she takes a tent-peg, and hammers it through his head. Judges 5.26 seems to further indicate that she may have decapitated Sisera as well.

What is interesting about this courageous woman is the words used to describe her by Deborah in Judges 5.24: "Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent."

A very similar wording is used in describing the Virgin Mary in Luke 1. The angel Gabriel spoke to her (vs. 28): "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."

Later in the same chapter, Elisabeth "was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. " (vss. 41b and 42)