The Traditions of Men

A couple of weeks ago, I made the case that the biblical warnings against confusing the traditions of men with the Tradition of God still apply in our day. A few days later, as if divinely ordained to illustrate my point, an outraged reader of my blog sent along a story that recently ran on British TV stating that the Israeli government was trying to boost tourism with some racy new ads. The story featured a lot of soft porn jiggle starring the Babes of the Israeli Military waggling their scantily clad bods and boobs while gasping young letches at the beach exclaim “Holy Mother of God!” The punchline to the ad: “No wonder they call it the Holy Land”.

Get it?

Now I believe in the natural right of a people to a homeland, so I have always supported the right of the Jewish people to theirs. (For the same reason, I think Palestinians should have a homeland.) I also believe the Jewish people remain Chosen and that the Old Covenant, though not salvific, can only be fulfilled in Christ, not abolished by man. But I do not believe it follows that the State of Israel is therefore granted supernatural status. And I think the tendency of many conservatives to do just this is a very good example of the pernicious effects of treating a tradition of men as Divine Revelation.

So when I ran the link along with my reader’s outraged note, I remarked

This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder how long American Evangelicals (and even some Catholics) can be snookered by the notion that Israel is something other than a secular nation-state. The Golden Calf appeal to Money, Sex, and Power evident in the commercial is perfectly representative of typically debased postmodern secular culture and has nothing to do with “fulfillment of prophecy”. Israel has the rights and responsibilities of any secular nation-state, but to concoct some notion that it gets special privileges as God’s Chosen State is rubbish.

This is when things got weird. For, to my surprise, Mike Potemra over at National Review On-Line decided I was neither saying Israel was a mere secular nation-state nor protesting a blasphemous jiggle ad. No, I was engaged in a far more sinister project. After informing the reader, not that I was a “Catholic” blogger but an “anti-Iraq War” blogger, Potemra explained that the problem was two-fold: 1) I was a prude who couldn’t take a joke and 2) I was (I kid you not) “trying to drive a wedge between U.S. evangelicals and Israel”. He ended with this ringing absurdity:

I support the people of Israel, believers and non-believers alike, who are just trying to live normal lives in the face of enemies who want to (first) put their women in burkas and (second) exterminate them. I can’t, of course speak for all evangelicals; but from what I know, many of us have a sense of humor and will not let the Sex Police of the Blogosphere turn us against a brave ally fighting a just war.

It was a great moment in deranged conservatism. One is reminded of nothing so much as this immortal speech from Animal House:

Otter: Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests — we did. [winks at Dean Wormer]

Otter: But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg — isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America.

Right on cue, I was flooded with a flash mob of NRO readers, replete with virtual torches and pitchforks, to declare me an anti-semite and an enemy of Israel.

I must confess that I was surprised at Potemra and his disciples. I asked them whether it is necessary for Israel to be the fulfillment of prophecy in order to support it. I pointed out that saying “Israel is a secular nation-state” is not tantamount to saying “Death to Israel” and that there is not a reason in the world Christians can’t support Israel without having to tell themselves that it is something other than a secular nation-state.

GoldCalfI also pointed out that as much as I appreciated Potemra’s willingness to be magnanimous about pieties he himself does not observe, it was probably a fair bet that if the ad had said “Jesus F-ing Christ!” even he might have concluded that it was tasteless. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, it turned out that what British TV ran was the sanitized-for-your-protection version of the ad. The full strength (and Not Safe For Work) viral web ad is found here. It turned out to be chockablock, not just with mockery of the Mother of God, but with “Holy F—! Holy S—! Holy Jesus!” and “Holy Cow!” (just to make sure Hindus feel included in the religious laff fest).

Potemra did not back down. Even as he professed his high regard for the Blessed Virgin, he upped his rhetorical voltage with the astounding suggestion that criticism of a blasphemous jiggle ad, combined with the belief that Israel is a mere secular nation-state, was a sotto voce suggestion that Israel should be destroyed:

And as to Mark’s “who-me?” denial that he was trying to drive a wedge between Evangelicals and Israel, all you need to do is examine his original post. To say Evangelicals have been “snookered” by a country that claims “special privileges”–I have no idea what “special privileges” Mark’s talking about; perhaps he means survival–is to say that their support for Israel is based on a delusion.

“Perhaps he means survival”? One hardly knows how to reply to a statement as demented as that. Evidently it did not occur to him that I think Evangelicals have snookered themselves. They are, after all, the ones who concocted the various end-times scenarios featuring the notion that Israel is the fulfillment of prophecy. It is they who suggest that Christians have to take it as Biblical Truth that you must support, say, a unified Jerusalem, or a Red Heifer Portent, or the election of so-and-so as Prime Minister or risk the Wrath of God. It is they, in short, who hold a purely human dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the State of Israel and its preservation from all sin both original and actual.

And the surest proof of the pernicious effect of this tradition of men is… Mike Potemra. Because at the end of the day, he was in fact saying that if you criticize a blasphemous jiggle ad or say Israel is merely a secular nation state (like, oh, every other ally we have) you are poisoning the hearts and minds of Americans and trying to “turn them against a brave ally”. The loud and clear message of Potemra is that anything less than uncritical acceptance of anything Israelis might choose to do–right down to a blasphemous jiggle ad–is endorsement of the idea of pushing Israel into the sea. Nope. No doctrine of special privileges at work there.

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Bruce Roeder

    Hang in there, Mark.

    Unfortunately, this tendency to get it wrong about “the promised land” is an old story, isn’t it?

    For Israel, since the land was promised by God, the land in and of itself is a big deal. It was a big deal in the OT. In fact, if we re-read Stephen’s testimony in the Acts of the Apostles, we can see how he emphasized how God used people other than from the promised land, like the widow who gave the prophet her last flour and oil, or the Syrian king with leprosy, and so forth. This witness — that land in and of itself was not the point — incensed Stephen’s listeners, Saul of Taursus among them, to kill him.

    So you’re in good company, Mark.

  • Gads…it would seem that some people use their heads for hat racks only. I’m a conservative and I was offended. The real question is why weren’t the conservatives offended? Is it because they have abandoned conservative values?

    I was offended by the ad as soon as they said “Holy Mother of God.” I’m Italian, no one messes with my Mom!

    On top of that, the pornification of America and our export of said debauchery offends me.

    As for Evangelicals and Israel…well…good on ’em for wanting to support the New Israel; sadly they don’t recognize the Church is the New Israel. The State of Israel is a great ally in the GWOT and we should support her, but she is not the embodiment of salvation.

    I say again, “gads.”

  • georgem

    There’s just something about Israel that causes otherwise-rational, intelligent adults to check their brains at the door. It’s a sort of political version of saying that the multiplication tables, or the law of gravity, don’t apply there. Once Israel is the subject of discussion, all logic goes out the window. Potemra has unfortunately provided us all with a good example of this–at Mark’s expense.

  • stevemac

    This really ties in well with the original article about tradition. Some of our evangelical brothers in Christ have admitted being disolusioned these days. I must admit that I myself threw my lot in with them as well, as have many Catholics who share certain values with the neoconservative wing of evangelicalism.

    The tradition that has been idolized is “Americanism”. It is an old New World notion that America is the New Israel that the Puritan Calvinists brought to Massechusetts in the 17th century. The neo-cons pooled their resources as a voting block to usher forth the kingdom so to speak – to put a “godly” man in the White House. I do believe that our president is probably a Christian, but he was careless and he has singlehandedly backrupted the neo-conservative movement. One might suggest this is a deserved chastening – putting faith in a men and the political systems of this world. Satan loves to take down powerful men to embarrass religion.

    But it is God alone who will bring justice. that is not to say that we embrace quiteism; not at all. Vote, be active in the process, but put faith in Christ and our good works towards the Great Commision and true conversion one heart at a time.

    When we take on the world on the world’s terms, the world always wins. Seek the way of the Lord.

  • Cooky642

    This sounds like it ought to be part of a Stan Williams article! Talk about miscommunicaton!

    On the other hand, Mr. Shea, you get a “tsk, tsk”. Have you really forgotten how elemental this issue is to Evangelical belief? You struck at the roots of their doctrine!

    Obviously, you’ve “converted” more fully than I. I still remember every “jot and tittle” of End Times teaching, and it’s not possible to look at what’s going on in the world without remembering it…..skeptically, but remembering just the same.

    In my Evangelical time, we listened to a teacher on the radio (J. Vernon McGee)whose grasp of Scripture was amazing even among Evangelicals. He taught that the current State of Israel was NOT the prophesied revival of The Promised Land. His stance was that the genuine recovery would be characterized by restoration of the Temple and Sacrifice by the Orthodox. It was an interesting idea, but try telling that to an Evangelical and they’ll hand you what’s left of your head!

    Lastly, I have to “2nd” Mr. Roeder. Jesus told His disciples that they would be villified just as He was. You ARE in good company.