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We all live in Ferguson now: 11-29/30-14


In Ubuntu Theology, promoted by such bright lights as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the idea is that if one of us is ill we all are ill, if one of us is broken we all are broken. A typical way of saying all of that is "I am because you are because we are."

We are, in other words, built for relationship. But those relationships cannot be whole and healthy if there is injustice, hatred or oppression affecting anyone within the relationship.

It is in that sense that I say, metaphorically, that now all Americans live in Ferguson, Mo. And until the foundational issues of race and justice and fear are resolved there and elsewhere in the nation, we will continue to be a divided nation crying out for social and political systems that are just and fair. And we will continue to seek the kind of foundational security that was lacking on the streets of Ferguson the night of the announcement that the St. Louis County grand jury had decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

The violence and looting, as everyone who is rational knows, simply worsens the situation and confirms the prejudice of many people who think of members of minority groups as thugs.

Ferguson-mo-logoPlease know that I am not saying that the 12 citizens who heard weeks and weeks of evidence made a stupid or obviously wrong decision -- even if I wish the process (or, better, a different process) had produced some other result. And even if I wish that in the long period of time leading up to the grand jury announcement there hadn't been certain public statements and promises and threats about reaction to it that seemed to be attempts to intimidate the grand jury. The grand jury, after all, was not sequestered and had every opportunity to be influenced by reports in the media and public comments by many people.

I once served as foreman of a jury in a murder trial and I came away from that experience promising myself that I would never assume I knew everything jury members in other cases know. Unless I sit through an entire trial or unless I live through a long grand jury experience I am in no position to second-guess, however much I may imagine that justice was not done. (And that's true even though now all the evidence presented to that grand jury has been made public.)

That said, I do know that the perception among many African-Americans (and other racial minorities) in the U.S. that they are second-class citizens in a system that privileges others is real and must be taken seriously, for in many instances it is not just perception but also reality. But dealing with both perception and reality is difficult, partly because whites and blacks tend to be terribly split over how they view racial matters. And I know that the black community feels it has witnessed a stark pattern of violence toward its young people, mostly males, at the hands of people who are charged to protect all citizens.

When I talk about privilege, I mean, for instance, that I personally must recognize that I won the ovarian lottery -- I was born in the U.S. in the middle of the 20th Century as a white (eventually tall) male to a middle-class family. What more could anyone have asked for in terms of a privileged start? I never worried about whether I -- or, later, my daughters -- would be racially profiled.

I also know that there simply must be better ways of handling potentially criminal situations so that they don't result in armed police officers killing unarmed teenagers. When that happens, something has gone terribly wrong, even if what went wrong was determined not to be criminal. (There can be a difference between something being a crime and something being wrong.)

The result of a teen stealing smokes from a store, in other words, should not be the death of that teen, though there are appropriate and necessary levels of punishment for such crimes. And it's pretty clear that what Michael Brown did was a crime.

But, as I say, this is about much more than Brown and Wilson and what happened on the streets of Ferguson that left Brown dead.

This is about whether, in the end, all American citizens feel the criminal justice systems we create are fair to everyone. It's about the burdens that young African-Americans feel consistently because of their skin color and residual societal prejudice related to that color -- the burden of being judged and feared, the burden of believing that no matter what the Constitution says there remain unfair obstacles to their success. (And, no, President Barack Obama's election and re-election did not undo all those obstacles. Ferguson is more evidence that we don't yet live in a post-racial society.)

Ferguson-police-badgeMany white people don't want to hear this, but what scholars and sociologists call white privilege exists and it creates many problems. Many white people also don't want to be reminded that almost 150 years after the end of the Civil War and, thus, the end of slavery, the ripple effects of slavery -- often called America's original sin -- continue to affect all of us.

As President Obama said the night of the announcement about the grand jury's decision, it would be foolish to deny that there's been racial progress in America in recent decades. But bigotry and disgusting racism still can be found not far below the surface. Look at almost any unmoderated comment section of any blog that focuses on current affairs for proof.

But the answer to all of this is not some kumbya, Rodney King naive hope that we can all just get along -- just as the answer is not to jail everyone who jaywalks, especially people of color.

The answer has more to do with recognizing our own capacity for evil and our own complicity in what is wrong and unfair in society. It has more to do with everyone of all races working to make sure that the laws are just and fair, meaning, among other things, that African-Americans and other minorities must themselves get more engaged in the political system not just as voters but also as elected officials and engaged in the criminal justice system as police officers and judges and lawyers and prosecutors. To fix the system they must be part of it.

It also means that our society must raise up the Martin Luther Kings, the Mahatma Gandhis, the Desmond Tutus, the Nelson Mandelas that we need as prophetic voices to call us to do what is right and just and fair and loving.

Every major world religion preaches respect for all people and more -- all the way to preaching love of and for all people. But we all know that sometimes those religions get subverted so that people use them as tools of division, excuses for prejudice and guarantors of special privilege. When that happens, clear-thinking adherents of those distorted religions must speak out and work to right their ships.

The afternoon before the grand jury's decision was announced, I visited an old friend, a white man who grew up in Ferguson in the 1940s and '50s. His father, he told me, was part of the problem when it came to good race relations there. My friend hasn't lived in Ferguson for decades, but he has a special place in his heart for it and prays that the current residents there can find their way to some kind of harmony and fairness.

But where is "there" now? It's not just within the legal boundaries of the municipal corporation known as Ferguson, Mo. It's anywhere we live in the U.S., for now we all live in Ferguson. I am because you are because we are.

(The photo found at the top of this page I found here.)

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On his visit to Turkey, Pope Francis spoke against "fanaticism and fundamentalism." Ah, if only words alone would counter unhealthy religion. Still, I'm glad he is saying what he's saying.

A tale of a subverted Christianity: 11-28-14

What happens when religion gets twisted, subverted, used in evil ways?

When-heaven-earthAlmost certainly that question brings to your mind the ways in which Islamist terrorists have hijacked Islam and used it to justify violence and other forms of extremism.

And you'd be right. But that's not what I'm thinking about today. Rather, I'm thinking about how self-described Christian white evangelicals in the American South subverted their faith first to support the malevolent institution of slavery and then to oppose nearly all aspects of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and onward.

That's the subject of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, a new book by Alan Cross, pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala.

Cross examines his own shock when he learned about the vicious ways in which Southern white people who called themselves Christians subverted their religion to work against racial equality.

"The segregated South," he writes, "was a culture built on lies -- lies about what life was all about, lies about what God desired of his people, and lies about how people different from one another were to be treated. Identity was based on characteristics like the color of one's skin, instead of matters of the heart and the content of a man's character and the state of a man's soul before God."

His purpose here is to understand "the struggle involving racism and segregation that has been largely ignored," including "the collusion between white evangelicals and the structures of Jim Crow in the segregated South." What happened, he says, is that "a cultural/civil religion developed, which ultimately undermined their biblical witness both during those events and on to the present day."

It's a sad, disturbing story of religion that became so focused on individual piety and salvation that its adherents ignored the deeper, broader call for justice and mercy and redemption of the whole society.

Cross wisely points out how similar subversion of Christianity happened in various ways at various times in history, from the era of so-called Christendom, when the faith was in cahoots with government, to the Crusades, when promises of easy access to heaven drove Christians to slaughter Jews and Muslims in an effort to recapture the Holy Land, to the Spanish Inquisition and to the many ways the church in Nazi Germany betrayed itself and supported (or stood silent in the face of) even Hitler's most audacious evil, the Holocaust.

This long, sad history does not discount the reality that even while such subversion was happening, Christians also were doing acts of mercy and kindness. But it is, nonetheless, a stark history full of warnings about failing to stand for the mandates of love and sacrifice and sacramental living to which the faith at its core calls its followers. Instead, white evangelicals in the South, Cross argues, "concerned most notably with personal morality, order in society, and social sins related to alcohol and sex were not able to see the larger evil that was emerging in the culture."

He wrote those words about Baptists who visited Berlin in 1934 and had words of praise and support for Hitler. But they also apply to Baptists and others in the South in the Civil Rights era and sometimes even today.

This is a necessary book by a man steeped in the white evangelical tradition but willing to expose what went wrong there. It would be easy for Christians in a different tradition to call down shame on those white Southerners for their failures, but every tradition has its own failures that need this kind of intense scrutiny so they don't continue into the future.

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Once again, what appears to be a mental disorder issues in religiously bizarre behavior -- this time by a hair transplant surgeon who says he's Jesus Christ. And once again we're left wondering why mentally off-balance people so often drift into religious strangeness. I can't explain it.

The language of gratitude: 11-27-14



Or, as they say in Portuguese: Obrigado.

Or in Swedish: Tack.

Or in French: Merci.

Or German: Danke.

Or Hindi: धन्यवाद।

Or Russian: Спасибо.

Or Afrikaans: Dankie.

Or Arabic: شكر.

Or (traditional) Chinese: 謝謝。

Or Esperanto: Dankon.

Or Hebrew: תודה.

Or Japanese: ありがとうございます。

Or Spanish: Gracias.

Or Greek: Ευχαριστώ.

Or Hmong: Ua tsaug.

Or Italian: Grazie.

Or Korean: 감사합니다.

Or Latin: Deo gratias. (But, given that Latin is a dead language, say that only to dead people.)

Or Welsh: Diolch.

Which covers only a few of the roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world -- each one representing a people who know they need, sometimes, a word to express gratitude. What a concept. Pass it on.

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And if you're looking for a feel-good Thanksgiving story about someone willing to give to others, I've got you covered right here. After you read it, go and do something likewise.

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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online here.

Prayer to explode your head: 11-26-14

Is there anything more mysterious, more presumptive or even more arrogant than prayer?

Book-uncommonWhat makes us imagine that the Creator of the cosmos, the Divine Conductor, the Intelligent Designer, the Original Impulse of Love wants to hear from us or has anything to say to us if we shut up and really, really, really listen?

And yet every day all over the planet you can find people engaging in sincere or rote or 9-1-1 or thankful prayer. Even people who would describe themselves as agnostic or atheist sometimes whisper a "Please, God," prayer, whether it's for the cure of some viscious disease or simply for an open parking space to show up like grace.

But in my experience, the prayer life of most people is pretty limited, pretty staid -- rarely flying off into imaginative realms or drilling down to the simplest of subjects.

It's exactly those kinds of uncommon prayers that you will find in Brian Doyle's delicious new book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary.

These are rich, dark-chocolate prayers. But also light, airy, drive-by prayers. Both at once sometimes. And what they mostly reveal is Doyle's Catholic ability to adopt the Buddhist admonition to notice, to pay attention, to be mindful.

If I were to paraphrase one of these prayers here it would be like trying to describe a mystical spiritual moment. Any words I would use would fail. So, instead, I will simply offer you one of my favorites from this collection -- one that, from a Christian perspective, reflects spot-on theology of the kind Pope Francis has been seeking to reawaken the church to since his election in early 2013.

The prayer is called (the titles sometimes are as good as the prayers themselves): "Furious Prayer for the Church I Love and Have Always Loved but Which Drives Me Insane with Its Fussy Fidgety Prim Tin-Eared Thirst for Control and Rules and Power and Money Rather Than the One Simple Thing the Founder Insisted On." And it goes like this:

Granted, it's a tough assignment, the original assignment. I get that. Love -- Lord help us, could we not have been assigned something easier, like astrophysics or quantum mechanics? But no -- love those you cannot love. Love those who are poor and broken and fouled and dirty and sick with sores. Love those who wish to strike you on both cheeks. Love the blowhard, the pompous ass, the arrogant liar. Find the Christ in each heart, even those. Preach the Gospel and only if necessary talk about it. Be the Word. It is easy to advise and pronounce and counsel and suggest and lecture; it is not so easy to do what must be done without sometimes shrieking. Bring love like a bright weapon against the dark. The Rabbi did not say build churches, or retreat houses, or secure a fleet of cars for general use, or convene conferences, or issue position papers. He was pretty blunt about the hungry and the naked and the sick. He was not reasonable; we forget this. The Church is not a reasonable idea. The Church should be a verb. When it is only a noun it is not what the Founder asked of us. Let us pray that we are ever after dissolving the formal officious arrogant thing that wants to rise, and ever fomenting the contradictory revolutionary counter-cultural thing that could change life on this planet. It could, you know. Let's try again today. And so: amen.

Could I argue with Doyle about whether Jesus really was the "Founder" of Christianity? Yes, but it would be a tedious argument with both of us dancing with angels on pinheads while being ourselves pinheads for not focusing instead on what is important, so let it go.

There are dozens and dozens of prayers in the book like the one I just gave you here. If you try to digest them in one sitting, you will perish, almost certainly. But if you are careful, you can get a refreshing drink from this firehose of prayer.

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Even in the midst of sadness and angst in Jerusalem over the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, a small light of hope appears as an Arab delegation comes to pay respects for the dead. There are, despite much evidence to the contrary, good human beings almost everywhere. Maybe there's even hope somewhere in Ferguson, Mo.

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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online here.

Big business CEOs and faith: 11-25-14

In the interest of complicating your thinking and punching some holes in stereotypes, today I'm sharing with you this article about seven big business CEOs and their religious affiliations.

WorldReligions-1In this list, you've got your Hindu, your Southern Baptist, your United Methodist, your Buddhist and more.

And, as I say, we're talking some huge corporations here, including PepsiCo, Tyson Foods and Aflac. (The disappointment is that we don't learn of any religious affiliation of the Aflac duck. Maybe it's a Birdhist -- or some wing of that tradition.)

Many top executives don't say much in public about their religious affiliation -- and sometimes when they do (I'm thinking of David Green, son of an Assemblies of God pastor and founder of Hobby Lobby) it leads to lots of controversy.

As a business professor quoted in the Time article to which I've linked you says, “They specifically hide their religious faith, precisely because they fear people making a big deal out of their religious views.”

In the end, I'm not sure it matters much what religion CEOs of this or that company are, but in a time of growing religious diversity in the U.S., perhaps stories like that remind us not to make assumptions about the faith of anyone, CEO or worker bee.

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Christianity and Islam actively recruit converts to those religions. Judaism not so much. Here, however, is an interesting argument from an Orthodox rabbi (twice a convert to Judaism) that Judaism should be much more open and welcoming of converts. I find him persuasive.

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P.S.: The decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of teenager Michael Brown is too complicated for me to make sense of immediately after it was announced last night. But I expect to take up the matter -- including what people of faith are to make of all of this -- later in the week. Sometimes snap opinions are wrong. I'd rather think about it a bit. Thanks for your patience.

Churches that succeed despite the odds: 11-24-14

Most faith communities these days are trying to figure out how to connect with their neighbors, many of whom seem not to want to have much to do with religion.

ChurchesThe religious landscape of the country has been changing significantly, as more immigrants come to the U.S. and as more people self-identify as religiously unaffiliated.

What are churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship to do?

Well, some of them are figuring out what should have been painfully obvious to them all along: They need to understand their own context and the needs of their neighbors.

This is especially true of newer congregations locating in the heart of urban centers, whether they would identify themselves as part of the Emergent Church Movement within Christianity or some other development in another faith.

Kansas City's alternative newspaper, The Pitch, recently did this excellent story that takes a look at the ways new or spin-off Christian churches are having an effect in the Downtown and surrounding areas of KC -- often to the surprise of people who live there.

The key to success? They didn't just come in with ready-made answers. Instead, they paid attention to what was happening in the area and to what the people there perceived as needs, particularly as they relate to arts and the culture. Then they went about trying to meet those needs.

A former art student who now pastors a relatively new Midtown church, Dylan Mortimer, is quoted in the piece this way: "I think, more and more, you see the city — and artists in the city — eager and open to engage in dialogue with churches and Christians. . ."

A faith community that doesn't recognize how the world around it is changing and, thus, keeps doing things in the same old way is a community bound for collapse.

The Pitch piece is quite long but it's well worth a read, whether you're from KC or not. What churches written about there are learning won't work everywhere, but the attitude that is open to exploring new ways of delivering the church's core message of loving God and loving neighbor can work everywhere.

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How do governments of countries handle religion within their borders? It's a complicated question with answers that vary widely. But it's the question now being raised in the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, as it seems to be moving toward a more open, democratic way of living. This is a story we'll all want to follow closely to see whether violent extremists begin to try to undermine the government's strategy and whether, in turn, the government caves in.

Help understanding the Bible: 11-22/23-14

In recent years the number of worthwhile -- often excellent -- books about the Bible seems to have exploded.

How-Read-BibleThese are books by scholars and pastors that try to help readers understand that reading and understanding scripture is no simple task.

Serious Bible reading requires that the reader know a lot, including something about how the Bible came to be and how its first readers (or, more likely, hearers) would have understood it. It requires a recognition that something often gets lost in translations from Hebrew and Greek (plus a bit of Aramaic) to English.

And it requires a sense of humility as readers seek to hear what Jews and Christians often call God's word to them.

The latest among these valuable guides to Bible reading is How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind, by Kent Blevins, a professor at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina.

It's a thoughtful, careful book that understands this reality: You can take the Bible seriously or you can take it literally but you can't do both.

I was especially taken by Blevins' discussion of what it means to say that the Bible is inspired writing:

To say that the Bible is inspired is not to make any unique claim for the Bible. If inspiration, from a theological perspective, refers to the activity of God's spirit in the world, that activity is not limited to the pages of the Bible.

That is not to deny that the Bible is inspired but it is to say that so are other works of art, other actions, other events. Good reminder.

Blevins also devotes considerable space to figuring out how this ancient collection of writings, compiled over a long period of time and written by many people, can be used to help us respond to issues today. His section on how to understand what the Bible says (or, more to the point, doesn't say) about homosexuality is especially helpful.

This new book stands now beside several others that in recent years have helped to educate people about the Bible. Among them I would recommend these:

* Making Sense of the Bible, by Adam Hamilton. I reviewed it here.

* Bible Babel, by Kristin Swenson. I wrote about it and several other Bible-themed books here.

* Two books by the same name: How to Read the Bible, by James L. Kugel (which focuses on the Hebrew Bible and which I wrote about here) and How to Read the Bible, by Steven L. McKenzie.

* Short Stories by Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine. I reviewed that here.

* And I wrote about several more Bible-related books here.

There is less and less excuse for being biblically illiterate or for imagining that the Bible is some kind of magic guide book that contains nothing but historically accurate stories.

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There's a new book out that contains the Ten Commandments for atheists and others of that non-belief status. It's an interesting list, though the fifth one on the list, "There is no God," doesn't sound much like a commandment but more like a statement of faith.

That no-gay couples decision: 11-21-14

For several days I've been thinking about the decision, reported in this Kansas City Star story, by a local rescue mission not to allow legally married same-sex couples to stay in the shelter together as couples.

CUM_90thThe more I've thought about it the sadder it makes me. Sadder and angrier.

The folks who run City Union Mission have helped homeless and otherwise needy people for most of 100 years. Kansas City has been blessed to have this ministry to fill in gaps not met by other private and public agencies. And let's be clear that a privately funded, faith-based group is perfectly free to set its own rules and hold to its own theology.

But the decision to forbid same-sex couples from having shelter there is based on a reading of the Bible that no longer stands the test of careful exegetical investigation -- and, in fact, never did. Those who read the Bible to say that homosexuality and homosexual acts are always and everywhere sinful are misreading and misusing scripture. For my essay on the subject, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.

Yes, I know that many, many Christians for a long time have held this anti-gay view and based their prejudice on a cherry-picking, literalistic reading of the Bible. But serious Bible scholars have been moving away from that build-walls approach for years now. Most people who rely on the Bible to defend their views about homosexuality and sin do not -- unlike some previous generations -- believe the Bible justifies slavery or believe it justifies misogynous attitudes. And yet they cling to an interpretation that allows bigotry against the LGBTQ community.

I am confident that given enough time that attitude will change, as it already has changed for many people and faith communities, including mine. In the meantime, however, City Union Mission will post its "Unwelcome" sign to certain people on the basis of their sexual orientation and legal marital status. Thank goodness other providers of shelter for the homeless in the city are not following suit.

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Does your Bible need an upgrade? This New Yorker piece of lovely satire has all the fixes you need -- and then some. It takes you from version 1.0 to version 6.12. What a trip from one to the other.

'Sing it this way -- or else': 11-20-14


I love hymns and even write some myself.

So whenever I'm in a house of worship other than my own, I pick up the hymnal or song book and have a look.

Which is what I did this past weekend at Trinity United Methodist Church in Kansas City when I went there to see the 10th anniversary production of the play "The Hindu and the Cowboy."

Just a page or two into the United Methodist Hymnal, published in 1989, I found a page devoted to John Wesley's 1761 advice on how to sing hymns. Because Wesley founded the Wesleyan tradition (read Methodism), Methodists tend to pay attention to what he had to say about various subjects.

I took a picture of the page of his directions for singing, which you see above here today. So you can read it and enjoy its oddities (and good advice) as much as I did on Sunday.

I especially liked his suggestion -- or, more accurately, order -- that if you have learned to sing some of the hymns in the book in a way different from the way Wesley would have you sing them, you should "unlearn" that old way.

You may also know that John Wesley's younger brother, Charles, wrote some 6,000 hymns in his life. I'm about 5,996 behind him. I best stop carrying on here about the Wesley brothers now and get busy.

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Another embarrassing day to be a Missourian. The state this week carried out its ninth execution this year. Capital punishment is a failed, immoral system that reduces to state to the level of criminals who commit heinous offenses. Besides that, it's way, way more expensive to maintain than a system that would sentence such criminals to life without parole.

Zionism's long roots: 11-19-14


One of the half-truths (well, more like quarter-truths) about the modern Jewish state of Israel is that it was created as a safe haven for Jews because of the Holocaust.

Herzl-visionYou especially hear this nowadays from Holocaust deniers as a way of delegitimizing Israel as the deniers call for the abolition of that country.

What this bogus narrative ignores is that the Zionist movement that eventually resulted in Israel's creation in May 1948 finds its modern origin in the late 1800s, especially in the fertile mind of Theodor Herzl.

Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has captured the heart and soul of Herzl and his dream of a modern Jewish state in his new book, Herzl's Vision: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State.

It's a compelling look inside the mind of a man who called himself "an impecunious Jewish journalist," but one who was clever and wise enough to put the possibility of modern Israel on the radar screens of world leaders.

One of the things I especially appreciated about the book was the care the author took in creating a good picture of the context of Europe and its Jews in the 1800s and early 1900s. What this picture includes is the rise of modern antisemitism, which had roots in historic anti-Judaism long preached from Christian pulpits, but was not theological in nature. Rather, it was rooted in terrible racial and economic theories.

Here's a taste of how Avineri handles all of that:

. . .the more successfully the Jews integrated into Europe's culture and economy, the more they were condemned for being different. This was particularly the case in Germany, where openness to the Jews reached its peak following German unification in 1871. In 1879, Wilhelm Marr, a journalist and political activist from Hamburg, pubished his pamphlet The Way for the Victory of Germanism over Judaism. Like (composer Richard) Wagner, Marr was at the start of his career a radical of anarchist leanings and took part in the 1848 uprisings. In this diatribe he coined the term 'anti-Semitism' to designate the new kind of anti-Judaism -- not the traditional Christian critique of the Jewish religion, but a concept to rally Europe against the menace of the Jewish nation and race. This was the beginning of modern racial Jew-hatred, which claimed that the Jews' nefarious nature was a matter of scientific fact, solidly based in biology and anthropology.

(For my own essay on anti-Judaism in Christian history, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)

The author relies heavily on Herzl's extensive diaries and notes that in the writings of other historians, those diaries "have been underutilized in describing how complex, and far from per-determined, were Herzl's efforts."

Theodor Herzl died in 1904 at the age of 44 without having seen his dream of modern Israel become a reality. But it's hard to imagine that Israel would have been created when it was -- if it had been created at all -- without the modern Zionist movement that found its seeds in Herzl's thinking and work.

It's interesting that the index of this book lists only one entry for the Holocaust. That mention is found near the end of the book: 

Through Herzl's diplomatic efforts, unsuccessful as they were, Europe's educated elite, its royal courts, its Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers came to know of the existence of the Zionist movement. Consequently, when the right constellation did eventually appear upon the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and then again in 1947, after World War II and the Holocaust, the Zionist movement was able to establish its national home and Jewish state on the iedological, organizational, and diplomatic foundation that Herzl had laid. . .

Even opponents of Zionism and Israel -- and they are legion -- would do well to give this book a read to understand in more detail what motivated Herzl and his many disciples and how he managed to leave the realistic idea of a Jewish state as a legacy when he died. As Avineri notes, Herzl "harnessed the power of the word to his goals as no other statesman before him had done."

(The top photo, which I took at Israel's Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, shows the room in which the documents were signed that created Israel in 1948. On the wall you can see a picture of Herzl. By the way, the very name Tel Aviv comes from the Hebrew title its translator used for Herzl's utopian novel, Altneuland [Old-New Land]. Tel Aviv, as Avineri explains, literally means "Mound of Spring," which he says is a "conjunction of old and new used in the Bible by the prophet Ezekiel.)

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Just when you think there might be at least the possibility for peace in the Holy Land, terrorist thugs attack a synagogue in western Jerusalem, killing four rabbis (one of whom grew up in the Kansas City area and one of whom has a nephew here who also is a rabbi), before being killed themselves by authorities. It makes me wonder what Herzl would think about how safe Jews are today in their own nation and what he would think of the state of Israel's problematic handling of its conflict with Palestinians.