America, Israel and the Ordeals of Divine Election
America and Israel share the deep—some would say sacred—idea that their nations were chosen, in perpetuity, to do God’s work. The Jewish people take as their origin God’s promise to Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation.” Seventeenth-century British settlers thought they were founding “God’s new Israel” in the New World. But the belief in divine election is far more than a fanciful idea; it’s a living force, sometimes dangerous, always enticing. Even when disguised by secular language, even when the meaning of divine election is disputed, the idea of a providential destiny operates behind our backs.
In this original and provocative book, Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz argue that what unites the two allies in a “special friendship” is less a joint strategic interest than this lasting, burdensome, and inspiring belief that they were chosen by God. They show how rivals and adversaries have adapted it for their own purposes. They show how the idea of chosenness gave rise to the Jewish people in the first place, sustained them in exodus and exile, and, centuries later, animated even secular Zionists and coaxed them to embrace religious settlements on the West Bank. They find this seductive idea at work when Americans made a revolution against Britain, went to war with the Indians, expanded westward, built an empire, waged war in Iraq, and proposed messages of enlightenment to a benighted world.
The Chosen People digs deeply beneath the controversies of the moment to show how deeply ingrained is the idea of a chosen people—and yet how complicated it really is. Weaving together history, theology, and politics, The Chosen Peoples vividly retells the dramatic story of two nations bound together by a wild and sacred idea, and offers an unexpected conclusion: only by taking the idea of chosenness seriously, wrestling with its meaning, and taking on its responsibilities, can both nations thrive.