Israel’s ambassador to the United States, writing Friday in the Wall Street Journal, said that contrary to popular thinking, Christianity is not disappearing from the Israeli portion of the Holy Land, but outside his country, in Muslim-governed lands.
In the article, “Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians,” Michael Oren writes, “As 800,000 Jews were once expelled from Arab countries, so are Christians being forced from lands they’ve inhabited for centuries. The only place in the Middle East where Christians aren’t endangered but flourishing is Israel. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, its Christian communities (including Russian and Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians and Protestants) have expanded more than 1,000 percent.”
The ambassador says that on the West Bank (of the Jordan River), where Christians until recent years were 15 percent of the population, persecution has since caused these numbers to shrink to 2 percent.
“Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, half the Christian community has fled, He writes. “Christmas decorations and public displays of crucifixes are forbidden. In a December 2010 broadcast, Hamas officials exhorted Muslims to slaughter their Christian neighbors.” Oren says that : “… in contrast to elsewhere in the Middle East where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged, Israel remains committed to its Declaration of Independence pledge to ‘ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion.’ ”
The Holy Land, of course, is where the great faiths came alive, much like the famous dry bones found in the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). But in the most Christian (nominally) nation in the world, the United States, God was pronounced dead, or at least dying, back in the 1960s, most famously on the April 8, 1966, cover of Time magazine (pictured above), which asked the question that had been whispered for the past couple of centuries in the modern Western world: “Is God Dead?”
William Hamilton, the retired theologian who became forever controversial for making that very statement — “God is dead” — himself died Feb. 29 in Portland, Ore. at age 87.
Hamilton, one of the key figures in what was then termed “radical theology,” received death threats after the Time story appeared, and he lost his endowed chair as a professor of theology at divinity school in 1967. He went on to teach religion at New College in Sarasota, Fla., and then joined the faculty at Portland State University in 1970. He taught classes in religion, literary criticism and death and dying for the next 14 years.
In an interview in 2007, Hamilton, who saw himself as a Christian who didn’t go to church and didn’t believe in an active God, said he often spoke before Christians who were struggling with the very questions he gave voice to: That the image of God as all-knowing and all-powerful couldn’t be reconciled with human suffering, especially after the Holocaust.
“I wrote out my two choices: ‘God is not behind such radical evil, therefore he cannot be what we have traditionally meant by God’ or ‘God is behind everything, including the death camps -and therefore he is a killer,’” said Hamilton in the profile published in the Oregonian newspaper.
“The death of God is a metaphor,” he said. “We needed to redefine Christianity as a possibility without the presence of God.”
The idea of God having left humanity behind, and leaving people to wander and suffer, is one that the Bible deals with throughout its pages, from the time of the Exodus from Egypt, and the wandering for 40 years until crossing the Jordan into Canaan — to the Babylonian captivity around 550 years before the time of Jesus of Nazareth, to Jesus’s death on the cross, which scattered his despairing disciples.
Human evil was then, is now, a massive intrusion on the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus termed it. Professor Hamilton, of course, knew all this, seeing through the dim mirror darkly.
I remember reading an interview during the “God is dead” era with Bob Dylan, who said he had seen the magazine cover, and then observed, “And I mean, that was—would you think that was a responsible thing to do? . . . You know I think the country’s gone downhill since that day.” Not letting the cover statement go, on another occasion, in a press conference, Dylan said, “I wonder what God thought about that?”