I don’t feel like I know enough about the history and details of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to make strong, categorical moral judgments. I don’t think that most of the people making strong, categorical judgments know enough either. However morally complex you think it is, it’s probably more complex than that. I was helped a little by this essay by one of my favorite former professors, Tomis Kapitan.
The topic of Palestine v. Israel does not move me to take sides. I find the whole hoary affair a textbook example of the relation of faith to force. Disputes based in revealed religious claims cannot be rationally adjudicated, for the convictions driving the disputes are not rationally grounded. There is no common ground of public evidence to which disputants can appeal. There is, in the end, only the subjugation or elimination of your foes or the subjugation or elimination of you.
Unless, that is, you don’t take religion all that seriously. The nice thing about the west is that our free, pluralistic, scientific, commercial culture has, just like Osama suspects, badly undermined truly serious commitment to religious ideals. People aren’t dying for their conception of God, because their conception of God doesn’t really matter much to them (despite what they might say), which is a really, really good thing.
Or if we do allow ourselves to take our conception of God really seriously, it is because we’ve adopted a conveniently toothless and benign remnant of our theological tradition. Which is fine. (And also a symptom of ultimate religious unseriousness.) Sugared, part-time religion gives some people the good and hopeful feeling that there’s a point to all this, that the universe is meaningful, that there’s a big payoff at the end of all this trouble, and so on. Swell! If what Jesus says is “Be nice to people!” then by all means be nice to people!
The religious tradition of my youth, Mormonism, recalls a time when Americans still killed each other over religion. I’m glad that time’s long gone. And nowadays, when I see religious tribes slaughtering each other, I have a hard time sympathizing with either.