Note on Religious vs Ethno-National Identity (or, Beck = Atzmon)

Reflecting on the call by Palestinian Solidarity activists to reject Gilad Atzmon, Ned Resnikoff necessarily ends up asking “essential” questions about religion and nationality, Judaism and Zionism, and, in effect, about the nature of identity, as mode of “being,” itself:

“If the experiment of being French and Jewish is over, what does that say for the experiment of being American and Jewish? English and Jewish? Brazilian and Jewish? Are these all doomed to failure, or are they already pretty much over as well?”

The questions cannot be answered, if ever, until you have carefully defined the key terms, especially since the main question returns to “what does it mean to be Jewish?” which in turn reduces to “what does it mean to be?” and “what does it mean to mean?”

If you don’t know what you mean by “Jewish” or “American,” how can you know whether or not it is or ever was or might someday be possible to be both American and Jewish (or both Brazilian and Jewish, and so on)? Another layer of confusion is added if you consider that “being American” isn’t quite the same thing as “being English” either. Put differently, if I could “be” English in the same way that I could “be” American, then there wouldn’t “be” any “essential” difference between being English and being American: They would not be two different modes of “being” at all. They would be utterly, definitionally meaningless distinctions – like vestigial organs or random mutations.

Instead, people live and die for those differences, and attribute meaning to their lives and deaths according to them. The element of paradox and self-contradiction arises when you consider the underlying trans-nationalist aspirations of monotheism and its heir, the non-religious religion of Secular Modernism. It is, in a sense, impossible to be “fully” Jewish (or Muslim, or Christian, or for that matter Buddhist) and also to be fully English or Brazilian, because the “eternal” is for all peoples. The Jews according to messianic Judaism (possibly a redundancy) are the keepers of a transnational message and promise – but the same is true for ideological Americanism as well as Christianity and Islam especially. They may even be the same transnational message, with contemporary Christian Zionism being the bonsai version of something actually quite essential about the historical and philosophical commonalities and deeper coherence of messianic Judaism and its daughter faiths.

It is therefore quite natural for Resnikoff to turn to the question of Philo-Semitic Christianity/Christian Zionism, and appropriate for him to close with a link to a post on Christian-Zionist Mormon Glenn Beck.  Atzmon and Beck actually have a lot in common: They break the surface of conventional discourse and stumble into the gaps between it and its subtext, releasing some of the energy whose suppression was the original purpose, by now at least half forgotten, of the conventions they violate.

7 comments on “Note on Religious vs Ethno-National Identity (or, Beck = Atzmon)

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  1. I liked this essay. It had a lovely grace note of a conclusion to what was a discussion of overwhelming shallowness by some idiots in other places

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