All conflict is fundamentally ideological.


For the week of July 26, 2014 / 28 Tammuz 5774
Torah: Bemidbar/Numbers 33:1 - 36:13
Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4

Ideological Warfare

When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. (Bemidbar/Numbers 33:51-52; ESV)

Ideological WarfareOver the past few weeks I, like many others, have been caught up with the tragic situation between Israel and Gaza. The amount of articles and videos is overwhelming. As you may know, if the issue includes Israel, we end up with an inordinate amount of emotionally charged attention and opinions.

Every now and then I happen upon an article or report that, in my opinion, is set apart from the others by how the author avoids narrow definitions and simplistic conclusions. Why the Arab World Is Lost in an Emotional Nakba, and How We Keep It There by Richard Landes looks at the conflict from a worldview perspective. Whether or not Landes's evaluation is correct, he is right that the problem at hand is fundamentally ideological. How people see the world controls how they live life. Failure to accept that will undermine any attempt to resolve conflict, whether it be interpersonal or international.

But this is not the way many people in the West look at life, instead preferring simplistic superficial analysis and quick thoughtless solutions. A great example of this as it relates to the current crisis is a three-and-half-minute animation entitled This Land Is Mine by Nina Paley. This is a satirical retelling of the history of the region by showing each people group being killing off by the next people group as their cartoon representatives seamlessly lip synch the song "This Land Is Mine" from the 1960 film, "Exodus."

The appeal of Paley's animation, apart from its humor, is its simplicity. But it's a simplicity not rooted in a deep understanding of the issues. Instead it's stripped of any historical context whatsoever. The bigger picture that might inform and affect the behaviors of the people involved is either neglected or deemed irrelevant. There is no consideration whatsoever for the various factions' history, values, and aspirations. All the viewer is offered is a story of meaningless killing with the implied resolution being if only the fighting stopped, everything would be okay. A cry of "why can't we all get along!" may sound good, but is devoid of any sense of justice.

What does this have to do with this week's parasha (Torah portion)? Everything. First, so much of the Bible is taken up with issues pertaining to the region in question. The backdrop of a great deal of what is going on in Scripture can be termed "Mid-East crisis." By the Bible's twelfth chapter who has claim to the Land of Israel is already a key theme. While so many people are quick to derive personal spiritual lessons from the stories of Scripture, most of the context of both Old and New Testaments is the geo-political issues of the region. Yet many readers of Scripture treat this context in the same way as Paley's animation. The bigger story becomes irrelevant in our attempt to distill the meaning we wish to derive.

The verses I quoted from this week's parsha demonstrate what the conflict in the region is really all about. When God called the people of Israel to take the Land, they were not only to drive out its inhabitants, but also to destroy the objects of their religions. They were not simply a migrant people looking for territory and annihilating anybody who stood in their way. The goal was to establish a godly community of truth and righteousness. At the same time displacing the previous inhabitants was not indiscriminate, but was rather God-ordained judgment on peoples whose evil behavior had become irreversible (see Bereshit/Genesis 15:16).

I am not proposing that the modern State of Israel should follow the same directions today that God gave through Moses over three thousand years ago. I don't believe that the Bible supports that at all. Still, through this we are reminded that all conflict is fundamentally ideological. This is why Landes's article is so helpful. He understands that the two sides are conflicting on how they see the world. Paley's animation provides another way of looking at the world, but skirts the real issues and insults the peoples involved by belittling their concerns.

The Bible is God's revelation of the way the world really is and calls us to make that truth known in the name of the Messiah. The players in the current conflict are caught up in this ideological battle whether they know it or not. The only way we will ever find lasting resolutions to this and every other conflict is by gaining a better understanding of God's perspective through his written Word.

Comments? E-mail:, or
leave a comment on

Subscribe? To have TorahBytes e-mailed to
you weekly, enter your e-mail address and press Subscribe


[ More TorahBytes ]  [ TorahBytes Home ]