John Hagee and the problem of evil

Everyone’s all over John Hagee. McCain’s dumped him, the fake Zionists at J Street are congratulating themselves, and even real Zionist Ami Isseroff thinks Hagee’s support is Bad For The Jews.

Here’s part of what Hagee allegedly said that caused all the excitement:

How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel…

Today Israel is back in the land and they are at Ezekiel 37 and 8. They are physically alive but they’re not spiritually alive. Now how is God going to cause the Jewish people to come SPIRITUALLY alive and say “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He is God?”

[partial audio of the sermon is here]

There are two supposedly offensive statements here. One is that the Holocaust was ordained by God, and the other is that the Jews are “not spiritually alive”, which is normally quoted as “Hagee said the Jews are spiritually dead” because it sounds more antisemitic.

Let’s look at the first part. Hagee, like many philosophers and theologians before him, is grappling with the problem of evil. One way to express it is to say that the following three statements can’t all be true:

  • There is evil in the world
  • God is all-powerful
  • God is perfectly good

Hagee can’t reject the second and third statements, so he works on the first one. Evil exists, but its consequences are a greater good, in this case a good so all-encompassing — the salvation of humanity — that on balance the evil is wiped out.

This is not the solution that I would choose, but in the context of his end-times theology it’s the right one. In any event it is far from saying that Hitler was doing God’s work, as some have described it, except in the trivial sense that everything that happens ultimately ends up doing God’s work.

The fact that Pastor Hagee thinks as he does should not be a major revelation; anyone who understands the theology behind his brand of Christianity would know this, just as nobody should be surprised that the Pope wants Catholics to pray for the souls of Jews.

The reference to the Jewish people not being spiritually alive most likely (since his explanation does not appear in the audio snippet) means that the second coming will be required to make them so; again, part of his end-times theology and something that probably applies to everyone, or at least everyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus yet.

The J Street folks and Hagee’s other critics probably don’t grapple much with the problem of evil, because they have a far less concrete idea of God than Hagee. But the biggest problem is this: Pastor Hagee and the Pope believe that their religion is universal and objectively true.

Secular and almost-secular people who believe that no religion has factual content — that religions are pragmatic ethical systems with ontological trappings, psychological phenomena, moral crutches, superstition, myths, stories, cultural artifacts, etc. — are infuriated by this point of view, although it’s interesting that they don’t seem to object as much to Islam, which shares this characteristic, as they do to Pastor Hagee’s fundamentalism.

And of course J Street and others are happy to tap into this righteous indignation to embarrass the Republican candidate.

But real religious tolerance would include respect and understanding for those who see their beliefs as true as well as for those who think that religion is in essence bunk, as long as the ‘fundamentalists’ in question don’t try to enforce their point of view by violence.

From my point of view, I far prefer Hagee’s support and Catholic prayers to Hamas’ genocidal ideology. Don’t you?

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