Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Future belongs to the Optimists

Uri Avnery                                       Gush Shalom                                     13 August 2016

FOR SOME weeks now, I have felt like a boy who has thrown a stone into a pool. Rings of water created by the splash get larger and larger and expand more and more. All I did was write a short article in Haaretz, calling upon Israeli emigrants in Berlin and other places to come home and take part in the struggle to save Israel from itself.

I readily conceded that every human being has the right to choose where he or she wants to live (provided the local authorities welcome them), but I appealed to them not to give up on their home country. Come back and fight, I pleaded.

An Israeli who lives in Berlin, the son of a well-known Israeli professor, answered with an article entitled "Thank you, No!" He asserted that he has despaired of Israel and its eternal wars. He wants his children to grow up in a normal, peaceful country. This started a debate which is still going on.

WHAT IS new about this verbal fight is that both sides have given up pretence. Nowadays, emigrants are not cursed anymore – something that would be hard to do, because many of them are the sons and daughters of the Israeli elite. Must we despair of our state, as do those youngsters in Berlin?

My answer is: not at all. Nothing is foreordained. It all depends on us. But first of all we must ask ourselves: What kind of solution do we want?

THERE ARE two kinds of highly motivated political fighters: those who are looking for ideal solutions and those who will settle for realistic ones. The first kind is admirable. They believe in ideal solutions that can be put into practice by ideal people in ideal circumstances.

I do not underrate such people. Sometimes they prepare the theoretical path for people to realize their dream after two or three generations. I will settle for a realistic solution – a solution that can be implemented by real people in the real world.

The form of the One-state Solution is ideal but unreal. It can come about if all Jews and all Arabs become nice people, embrace each other, forget their grievances, desire to live together, salute the same flag, sing the same national anthem, serve in the same army and police, obey the same laws, pay the same taxes, adapt their religious and historical narratives, preferably marry each other. Would be nice. Perhaps even possible - in five or ten generations.

If not, a one-state solution would mean an apartheid state, perpetual internal warfare, much bloodshed, perhaps in the end an Arab-majority state with a Jewish minority reduced by constant emigration.

The two-state solution is not ideal, but real. It means that each of the two peoples can live in a state it calls its own, under its own flag, with its own elections, parliament and government, police and education system, its own Olympic team.

The two states will, by choice or necessity, have joint institutions, that will evolve in the course of time and by free will from the necessary minimum to a much wider optimum. Perhaps it will come close to a federation, as mutual relations widen and mutual respect deepens.

Once the borders between the two states are fixed, the problem of the settlements will be soluble – some will be attached to Israel by exchange of territories, some will be part of Palestine or be disbanded. Military relations and joint defence will be shaped by realities.

All this will be immensely difficult. Let's have no illusions. But it is possible in the real world, worked out by real people. IT IS for this fight that I call the sons and daughters in Berlin and around the world, the new Israeli Diaspora, to come home and join us again.

Despair is easy. It is also comfortable, whether in Berlin or Tel Aviv. Looking around at this moment, despair is also logical. But despair corrupts. Despairing people create nothing, and never did.

The future belongs to the optimists. [Abridged]

The Creeds

Ian Harris                              Otago Daily Times                              August 12, 2016

The great creeds of Christian orthodoxy have outlasted their usefulness, writes Ian Harris. So give them a decent burial.

The clue to a modern understanding of Christianity is tucked away in a comma in one of the creeds, perhaps the most pregnant comma in religious history. And because it’s all in the comma, it’s past time the churches gave the standard creeds of their heritage a decent burial. That would allow the comma to expand into a faith for today.

How so? Well, in many churches the congregation stands every Sunday to recite one of two creeds, the Apostles’ or the Nicene. These statements of faith have stood for centuries at the heart of Christian orthodoxy. Nowadays, however, they are seen to be so flawed that some ministers never ask their congregations to recite them.

For one thing, they begin “I believe” or “We believe in God”. But “believe” in the creeds doesn’t mean what it means in everyday life. It’s not “this is what I think”, which, like much that we believe, may be right or wrong, but “this is where I put my whole trust and confidence”. Thus not an opinion, but a commitment.

Further, the creeds belong to an era quite different from ours. They reflect the intellectual and cultural ferment of a time when Roman emperors reigned supreme. The central question which the learned churchmen of the day set out to answer was the same as for Christians today: Who is this Jesus, and why should we take him seriously?

The creeds answer that by making Jesus identical with all the key aspects of the God of Jewish tradition, filtered through Greek philosophy and metaphysics. In this, they were attesting to their own experience of Jesus – and human experience is basic to all religion.

For most westerners today, that throws up an immediate obstacle. Our thought-world has little or no room for metaphysical speculation, and for 21st-century Christians the answer to that pivotal question about Jesus leaves all that behind. They see Jesus rather as a man whose wisdom, healing, compassion and example were steeped in a Godness so real and immediate that people who knew him felt drawn closer to all they understood God to be.

You won’t find a skerrick of that wisdom and ministry in the classic creeds. The Apostles’ Creed, attributed (wrongly) to the apostles of Jesus’ own day, has a lot to say about Jesus, but blots out everything between his birth and execution. It says “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate” as if everything in between – the bit represented by the comma – was of little or no account.

The Nicene version is more wordy, but similarly leaps straight from Jesus’ birth to his crucifixion. Yet the bit that’s left out is the core of his teaching: what life would be like in a kingdom ruled by a father-like God, and how to make that real. The focus of the creeds is how Jesus, while fully human, related to a supernatural God.

In the 4th century that relationship was fiercely debated. One party insisted Jesus was identical with God from the beginning of time. The other thought of him rather as a human expression of God, but not God’s whole being. Bishops were deposed, exiled, even killed, depending on which faction held the upper hand.

Enter Emperor Constantine. Ending years of persecution, he recognised that a church spanning his diverse and divided empire could be an invaluable unifying force – yet the churches of the eastern and western Mediterranean were at loggerheads over how to proclaim Jesus. So in 325 he called a conference of bishops at Nicaea, in northern Turkey, to sort it out, himself presiding. The arguments flew back and forth, and in the end Constantine declared the party championing “identical” to be the winner. That was quite a step, considering he wasn’t baptised as a Christian till on his deathbed 12 years later.

Even that didn’t settle the matter, with later emperors upholding first this side, then that. But gradually the Nicene formula prevailed in the western church, and in 380 Emperor Theodosius cemented it in as state law.

Today the squabble seems irrelevant. The supernatural and philosophical categories so central to the debate have largely evaporated. Speculation about supernatural “essences” and “substances” cuts no ice. God is increasingly relocated from a heavenly realm to the midst of life, and Jesus’ appeal lies less in holy otherness than in the completeness of his humanity.

Old creedal affirmations are thus of little help in people’s search for meaning and purpose. So bury them, and let the comma blossom.