By Annie Liebman
Classic rock ‘n’ roll and the search for Utopia meshed during an intimate discussion of the religious philosophies that make up Messianism, a belief that a particular cause or movement is destined to save the world.
The lyrics to “Imagine” by John Lennon lit up the screen at Engineering 101 while a small group of students and Santa Cruz locals listened to renowned Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg relate a thousand-year-old religion to modern-day pop culture. Gorenberg said the song was a classic example of Messianism. “It calls for a new order that wipes away the past and establishes a reign of peace,” Gorenberg said.
Shari Geller, a fourth-year student at UCSC who attended the lecture, said that she wished more students had attended the event, but found Gorenberg an engaging and informative speaker. She said, “It was fantastic to be in the presence of someone so distinguished.”
Gorenberg, who currently resides in Jerusalem, is a distinguished alumnus of UC Santa Cruz. In addition to being published in the New York Times and the LA Times, he is also one of the founders of UCSC’s Jewish student newspaper, Leviathan.
Bruce Thompson, a history lecturer at UCSC, said that along with being an outstanding journalist, Gorenberg is also an “accomplished historian.” His books, which focus primarily on the history of Israel, “are some of the most important and illuminating,” Thompson said.
Gorenberg focused on the religious tenets of Messianism, which he described as the end of normal history and the rise of a perfect world. He said it is demolishing the current world and establishing a utopia. “Evil will vanish,” Gorenberg added.
Messianism is also a critical component in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both Israelis and Palestinians believe that the land, which Israel now occupies, belongs to them. Wanting ownership over the land is the reason for infighting between the two sides, but their fundamental belief in Messianism is at the heart of it. Gorenberg said that Messianism is a barrier to compromise, because each group believes it will never have a perfect world if it isn’t allowed to live in the holy land, he stated.
The religious tenets of Messianism also rouse a lot of passion for the cause, which is often shown through intense activism. “Every progressive movement is a secularized version of Messianism,” Gorenberg said.
However, he cautioned student activists against trying to create the perfect world that the religion calls for. “Things can be better without being perfect,” Gorenberg said. “You can work for change without having to overthrow everything. If you work for a perfect world, it saps your energy.”
It is fundamentally impossible to create a perfect world, Gorenberg continued. And it is this notion that often leads to disappointment among believers. He described this as a “public bi-polar disorder.”
Thompson said that Gorenberg’s lecture “connected so many dots.” He was particularly interested in the idea of mythical versus pragmatic politics. “If there is hope for any sort of compromise in Jerusalem, it would be for a return to pragmatic politics on both sides.”