Guest Commentary: Hope at Easter Time

By Alan Hirsch

I want to tell a story of how I as a Jew came to a new appreciation of Christianity.

The Sunday before Easter, my Davis synagogue hosted a speaker from Texas Pastor John Hagee’s group, Christians’ United for Israel (CUFI). The Washington Post has characterized this powerful lobbying group as the “NRA for Israel” with its four million members and hundreds of speaking engagements at Churches around the US every year.

CUFI Christians and it seems many other Evangelicals believe not just in reading the Bible as a guide for ethics, but also in reading the Bible as if it is God’s literal plan for history to come.  The story they tell is that in the near future a narrow 1% of the population will be “saved:” a small minority of Christians, the “true” ones raptured directly to heaven. The rest of us will then face war, famine, and the rule by a one world government headed by an evil anti-Christ. This is a “New World Order” where millions are killed in wars, particularly in the Middle East over Jerusalem as Pastor Hagee has described in his many books and talks, and in the Left Behind book series that has sold over 69 million copies.  They believe this carnage allows Jesus a stage for his 2nd coming, a chance to demonstrate his power by engaging in a human war to set things a right.

And they believe, hope, and talk publicly about signs of this period of dark history is just about to begin.

This story is called Christian Pre-Millennialism.

Social chaos, natural disasters, and wars of apocalyptic scale feel like it is more likely following Trump’s election.  We read of increasing chances of nuclear war with Iran and North Korea as Trump hollows out the State Department—a government department whose goal is to negotiate with enemies instead fighting.  Then there is the US’s ending efforts to address the climate change crisis and assuring long term sustainability of the earth. And resisting regulation of guns: every man needs one to protect himself in case of social or governmental collapse.

You might think this apocalyptic prophecy is self-fulfilling, with CUFI a powerful foreign-policy lobby and the fact many who hold these beliefs helped elect Trump now have gained tremendous power in the Trump administration.  Including Vice President Pence.  But Hagee and other evangelicals of his stripe deny their actions will make social chaos, hate, natural disasters and war more likely.  CUFI folks told me and others at my synagogue deny they have their own agenda: they are only following God’s plan.

Religious scholar Karen Armstrong tells us religions and cultures are built on stories. Archetypal stories, also called myths, instruct and give meaning to our lives that science does not, cannot.  These stories help us decide what to do and then give us comfort that there is order in the universe even amidst the chaos and pain.  And these stories also tell us what we as individuals must do to make a difference beyond our self-interest – and the fog of the internet news.

Jews like me have the Passover story. Christians have the Jesus story. And even secular Americans have stories: a belief that US history, as Martin Luther King described it, follows “an arc of Justice that swings wide,” i.e. over the long term, the US is a positive actor on the world stage.  These stores have defined our collective efforts.

I am a Jew who is unfamiliar with topography of Christian belief, of Christian myths.  So after Sunday’s talk, I meet with a Pastor from a local Baptist church to help me calibrate where the stories told by those like Hagee fall in the Christian spectrum.

This local Pastor told me over coffee, he and most Christians take no stock in the beliefs that God plans for us all to go through a horrendous period of history filled with human death and suffering. He rejected this pessimistic story of Christianity.

No, he said.  Christianity has an optimistic story to tell about all of humanity and God’s creation.

And he used as a proof text a New Testament line my Jewish soul has never really “heard” in its full emotional impact. A story of optimism I was finally primed in the fearful age of Trump to hear in the full power it possesses:

“God so loved the world he gave….”

I wish the Christian Community a joyous Easter, an affirmation of our collective optimism.

Alan Hirsch is a member of Congregation Bet Haverim. He can be seen passing out “Love your Neighbor” and “Support Science” lawn signs, American Flags as well as fliers encouraging political activity in the Davis Farmers Market most Saturdays and Wednesdays

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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    1. Tia Will


      if Easter events are a myth, Christianity is meaningless, a fraud… and no hope can be derived from its scriptures.”

      I fundamentally disagree with your conclusion. It is entirely possible to believe in the moral guidance and hope that humans are capable of living an ever closer approximation of the moral path provided as guidance by Jesus and that this can provide sustaining hope without ever accepting what I consider to be the mythologic story of Christianity.

      1. aaahirsch8

        Response for Believers:

        A novel can change your life, and a stories, movies, TV series, etc shared by many are even more reinforcing.

        So I hope “believers” can accept that the Christian story can change non-believer behavior for the better, even if they do not accepted it as “true” scientifically.

        Maybe you can understand this is as another definition of Truth beyond the narrow scientific one: Rabbi Harold Kushner suggested the Bible is “true” the same way as Shakespeare is “true”.

        Was the goal of Christ about behavior change going forward…or enforcing a particular literal reading of Bible as scientific historical fact?


        Response for Secularlists:

        Newspapers and blogs the last few days are retell & reimagining the story of Martin Luther King and the story of successes, albeit partial, of the civil rights era.  This is part of proof of the myth of the “Arc of Justice that swings wide but bends toward justice”.

        This is a hopeful myth that can even guide existentalists.

        I suggest this faith via stores about progress, are what sustain liberalism and the enlightenment vs a Hobbsian alternative.


        1. Howard P

          Jesus claimed to be the Son of God (also Son of Man).  That is either true or untrue.  Also goes to the existence of God… also either true or untrue…

          If the first is untrue, and if Jesus did not come to save personkind from their failings, die for that purpose (the Messiah), and rise from the dead, Christianity is bogus, a fraud…

          If the second is untrue, similarly consider Judaism and Islam to be bogus, frauds.

          If you base your actions on myths (myths are a notch or two down from legends… legends have historical basis, and have many facts to back them).

          If you believe both are untrue, and still respect scripture, teaching, you are an atheist, agnostic, or a liar.

          Might as well base your belief system on any agnostic/atheist philosopher…

          Simple… just saying…

  1. Alan Miller

    >The Sunday before Easter, my Davis synagogue hosted a speaker from Texas Pastor John Hagee’s group, Christians’ United for Israel (CUFI).

    Nice deceptive job burying the lead for your own agenda.  I was at the talk, the one that had nothing to do with your essay that expounds on your outburst during the Q&A.

    The speaker the congregation hosted was 89-year-old Irving Roth, a Jew and a Holocaust survivor.   He didn’t speak about Christian evangelical values, he spoke about the Holocaust.  His story of surviving the Holocaust, and losing his brother to the Holocaust.  His story was deeply moving and eloquently told.  His purpose in being there was to bear witness to the Holocaust.  If you read his book, or look at videos of him at Auschwitz, he is there to tell the story.

    Yes, he is a conservative Jew, sponsored by conservative Jews.  He believes in the creation of modern Israel and gave some very solid reasons for the creation of modern Israel — having said that I am wary of any group that claims a certain portion of the Earth is theirs because God says so, or any group that claims a certain portion of the Earth is theirs because they were there first, or second, or third, or last, or conquered someone else.  And, yes, it is a weird relationship between conservative Jews and evangelical Christians.  I get that point.

    However, your outburst at the talk was hugely inappropriate.  They asked that people ask questions, not make speeches.  You gave a speech before you asked your question — that was fine, I’m always up for a little civil disobedience to make a point.  But then it went horribly wrong.  Irving Roth was talking, and I wanted to hear his answer to your question.

    But he never got the chance.  You interrupted him with loud emotional incoherent babbling that shut down Irving, and the coordinator ended up shutting down his answer, and you, so that others could ask questions.  So we never got to hear what Irving had to say.  I spoke to the man from CUFI later and he said yours was the most disrespectful display he had ever heard during a talk by Irving Roth.

    Your point is valid.  But your agenda is not nearly as important as hearing a living witness of the Holocaust.  I don’t care if CUFI brought Irving Roth.  I wasn’t there to hear about CUFI, and I certainly wasn’t there to hear your opinion of CUFI, I was there to hear witness of the Holocaust from a living survivor, something that will only be possible for a few more years.  Rather important in an era of Holocaust deniers.

    But strangely, the name of the speaker, the purpose of the speech, the word Holocaust or anything else about the purpose of the talk was completely left out of your essay.  It was, as your reported it, your congregation inviting an evangelical speaker from CUFI.  Reality is apparently unimportant compared to your personal agenda of discrediting evangelicals.  Well, congratulations on making an arse of yourself a week before Easter and Passover.

  2. Tia Will

    I welcome all perspectives and would prefer that they remain free of personal attacks.  How can we expect to make progress in living together as evolving communities of faith, of different skin tones, genders, gender identities, languages, cultures, if we cannot even converse civilly both in person and on blogs ?

  3. aaahirsch8

    Mr. Miller.

      You may not of heard my or Denise’s both asking similar question that we both felt Mr. Roth evaded answering by instead repeatedly cycling back to statements about Gay privilege during the holocaust.  

    We were looking to understand his reasoning how he can worked for homophobic leadership of CUFI given Gay martyrdom in Nazi death camps.    

    Regarding my omitting his homophobic responses from my piece, I did not want to distract from my upbeat point of piece which was the optimism of Easter.

    Yes, what actually was said by Mr. Roth two Sunday ago about Gays was not recorded, so you and others might dispute it.  You obviously seem to have missed it. 

    But you can determine the likelihood of homophobic statements in a CUFI presentation by simply googling CUFI head Pastor John Hagee and “Gay” and see what you turn up.  Or Google CUFI’s chief Lobbyist/Family Research Council founder Gary Bauer and “Gay”.   

     + + + + 

    Mr. Roth is a living survivor, and should be given all respect for that, as I stated in my preface to my question.  But I am sincerely interested how he carried this experience as a survivor with working with folks at CUFI with their right-wing homophobic agenda.  

    I hope this offers an explanation. 

    Thanks for all you do in Davis. 








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