Friday, February 19, 2010

Are You Anti-Semitic?

Every month or so, I get an e-mail from one "Diego Milagro", aka "Mark Taormino", aka "Mark Verse", aka "Yitzhak Goldberg", aka "John Apostolico", etc. Always they highlight some evil thing that some Jewish person or group has done or said. To that end, I suppose they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jews, like the rest of us, are inheritors of Original Sin and therefore are (gasp!) sinners. But what they're intended to prove is that the Real Problem with the world is Jewish influence, Jewish control and, of course, Jews themselves. And apparently some of us Catholics share the blame, so says Joseph Bellinger: "They persist in these outrages because they consider Christians to be spineless milquetoasts - and for the most part, they are. So realistically speaking, expect their behaviour to become more egregious in the future. Christians EMPOWER them when they refuse to act" (e-mail of 30 Oct 2009). And according to Dr. Edgar Suter, (who sometimes "follows up" on these e-mails and who, for all I know, may actually be "Diego", et al.), certain Jews behave in anti-Christian ways because, "change agents like you encourage them in their anti-Christ Torah religion" (e-mail of 28 Oct 2009). Other tender tidbits from Suter include this blast in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's promulgation of a new Good Friday prayer:

Certainly the synagogue of Satan is quite experienced in the combined arts of shadow play and managed opposition. Of course Foxman will not be truly happy unless the Noachide Laws can be enforced so that we "idolators" who worship "that man" will be liable for execution. I find no satisfaction that Foxman is not yet in a position to ensure that "the best of the Gentiles should all be killed." [Sopherim 15, rule 10]. As for those impostors "who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie," Jesus was quite clear about their parentage at John 8:44, was He not? Abraham and Moses, but not the sons of the devil, are my elder brothers. (e-mail of 7 Feb 2008.)
Now judging by their private and public missives, these are the sort of fellows to whom you would reply, "What would you want us to do, burn down a synagogue or two to keep them in line?", to which you almost expect them to reply, "Well, it'd be a start......" What makes it a real laugh-riot (if such a topic can be funny) is that these fellows would vociferously deny that they are anti-Semitic. How do they pull this off? They insist that the notion of anti-Semitism is purely genetic, that you can only be anti-Semitic if you hate Jewish people because of their blood-line. Since they don't hate Jews because of their genetics—but just for their religious identity as "anti-Christs", "the synagogue of Satan" and seemingly everything they think, do, and say—then they're not anti-Semitic.

That's one extreme.

The other is the tendency to throw the anti-Semite card at the least provocation. So for example, Rush Limbaugh was recently accused by Abe Foxman of the ADL of "borderline anti-Semitic" remarks after Limbaugh stated, quite factually, that for certain "prejudiced people", the word "banker is a code word for 'Jewish'". So by some, even if you simply state the views of other people who may indeed be anti-Semitic, you're branded with the same label. But Norman Podhoretz, in his defense of Limbaugh, counters Foxman in part by noting that it's hard to find "so loyal a friend of Israel as Rush Limbaugh", which brings up another facet in the ever-expanding umbrella of what it means to be anti-Semitic. You see for some, unless you are an ardent and indeed sycophantic fan of everything the nation of Israel does, you're anti-Semitic. So when Hedy Epstein, a Jewish survivor of the Shoah, spoke out concerning alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians, she was automatically branded as anti-Semitic:

The mainstream, organized Jewish community, both locally and in other places, have called me anti-Semitic, a self-hating Jew. I'm not anti-Israel, but you're not allowed to criticize Israel or else you're anti-Semitic, and if you're Jewish you're a self-hating Jew. I don't hate myself. You're allowed to criticize every other country, including the U.S., but not Israel, why is that? ("Holocaust survivor explains why she became Palestinian rights activist").
The same thing happened to another Jewish survivor of the Shoah, Dr. Hajo Meyer. After speaking out about his beliefs concerning Israeli actions in Gaza, "His comments sparked a furious reaction from hardline Jewish lobby groups, with Dr Meyer branded an ‘anti-Semite’ and accused of abusing his position as a Holocaust survivor" ("Auschwitz survivor: ‘Israel acts like Nazis’").

And of course if one simply upholds traditional Catholicism and its belief in the universality of salvation through Christ, that's considered anti-Semitic too. So, when Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a new Good Friday prayer for the traditional Roman Rite, that was immediately denounced in certain Jewish circles:

Around the world, millions of Catholics are celebrating Good Friday, when they commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But for many Jews, this year's ceremonies leave a bitter aftertaste, due to a controversial new version of a prayer that many claim is anti-Semitic. ("Leading German Rabbi Condemns Pope's Good Friday Prayer")

So I'm sure that by the über-broad definition I too would be considered anti-Semitic. I firmly uphold the belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all men, Gentile and Jew, and that all men are called to embrace Christ for the salvation of their souls. And I don't consider myself a Zionist, being quite agnostic about whether Jews have any divine right to the land of Israel but downright certain that, even if they do, such a right could never excuse Israel from the requirements of morality and international law. I agree with Mark Shea when he said:

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. (
The bottom line is that it is indeed all too easy to throw the label around and doing so without adequate justification just cheapens the currency of anti-Semitism. More mainstream definitions of anti-Semitism include these:

Oxford English Dictionary: Theory, action, or practice directed against the Jews. Hence anti-'Semite, one who is hostile or opposed to the Jews; anti-Se'mitic.

American Heritage Dictionary: 1) Hostility toward or prejudice against Jews or Judaism. 2) Discrimination against Jews.

Webster's Collegiate: Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group.
And according to those reasonable definitions, the fact remains that there is such a thing as anti-Semitism, just as there is such a thing as anti-Catholicism. Some readers of this blog may be aware that I have added my voice to many Catholic apologists who have found the writings of Robert Sungenis to contain a significant amount of material that can only reasonably be labeled as anti-Semitic (see here and here). But I suppose that one man's "prejudice" and "discrimination" might be another man's reasonable criticism or opposition. So by what standard would a Catholic arrive at the conclusion that a fellow Catholic's words or actions are anti-Semitic? By the only standard that really matters, the Golden Rule. Cutting through all the bandying about of definitions, we really only need to ask ourselves: If we were to substitute the words Catholic/Catholics/Catholicism into various writings that address Jew/Jews/Judaism, would we find them anti-Catholic?

In Sungenis' case, the answer is unfortunately very clear. I would say that the same is true of some of the writings of E. Michael Jones. And because of the research I've done lately as a result of this controversy, I've seen more and more of this sort of anti-Jewish material gaining ground in certain Catholic circles. One does not want to be needlessly naïve—there are many adversaries of the Catholic Church and indeed some of them are Jewish. And there are any number of really disgusting displays of generally anti-Christian and specifically anti-Catholic bigotry involving Jewish people and we should raise our voices in protest and do what we can to keep this a level playing field—no one should get a pass on bigotry simply because he's Jewish.

At the very least I want to be clearly on record here: there's nothing traditional or Catholic about bigotry and Catholics should denounce it when they see it—but especially in their fellow Catholics. Charity begins at home.

"All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Feelin' it in the Gut

Like many traditionally minded Catholics, I have often wondered whether it was truly a good thing that Lenten observance was made so relatively easy in our modern day. Under Da Old Rulz, all of Lent was meatless and the Lenten fast (only one full meal and two smaller collations per day) extended through all of Lent. (And further back than that, abstinence extended to milk, eggs, oil, and marital relations!)

There are some who are returning, bit by bit, to a more austere observance of Lent and finding there real spiritual benefit. One family I know began some years ago to eliminate meat from their entire Lent, starting with Fridays and adding one additional meatless weekday each year until the entire season is meatless. Sweets are eschewed throughout Lent as well. More of the fast days are observed. They say that the children (and the parents!) truly yearn for Easter, the Feast that breaks the fast, and I can well believe it.

Certainly there is a carnal aspect to this—I suppose it could be reduced only to that and one doesn't want to yearn for Easter merely because one gets chocolate and ham. But grace builds upon nature. With an empty stomach it is much easier to resonate spiritually with the Psalmist who proclaims, "For He satisfies him who is thirsty, and the hungry He fills with good things" ( Psalm 107:9) It is easier to identify, at least in a small way, with our Lord's heroic fasting: "And He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry" (Matt 4:2). It is easier to enter into the spirit of penitence and yearn for the much needed mercy of the Lord: "'Yet even now,' says the LORD, 'return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.' Return to the LORD, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (Joel 2:12-13).

Great Lent is upon us. God be with you all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

So Who Interprets Just Like Me?

You know how once in a while you will read something that is stated just exactly the way you wish you would have stated it yourself? I just ran onto that in a great conversion story by Tom Cabeen in the February 2010 newsletter from The Coming Home Network. Tom came to the Catholic faith out of a Jehovah's Witness background. Part of his search for truth very closely parallels mine. In my own conversion story published in This Rock magazine I wrote:

what was my standard of orthodoxy, the Bible or the creeds? If I appealed to creed or "the universal belief of the Church" in order to declare something unorthodox, was I not following something besides Scripture alone? This raised questions that I couldn't answer: What is orthodoxy? What is the standard of Christian orthodoxy? I began to suspect that it couldn't be just the Bible, because none of us could agree on what the Bible says. All appeals to the Bible can be countered with a different interpretation or an outright rejection of the authority of the Bible. Increasingly I turned to the creeds and to a nebulous collection of the "universal beliefs of the Church" to assure myself that what I believed was orthodox.

Tom says this differently and really captures this particular dynamic beautifully. He writes:

During my research, I kept running across references to the "Early Church Fathers." . . . What surprised me is how they applied the Scriptures. There was no official collection of Christian Scripture when these writers put pen to parchment, but they did quote from writings which later became part of the Christian canon. Often they applied a familiar passage in a way that was completely new to me. I was intriqued by the implications of this fact.

I began to see that the Bible is not self-interpreting. Most passages can be understood in more than one way. The problem is not resolved even if one is familiar with the original languages, as were all the ancient writers. Clearly, some parts of the sacred writings are to be taken literally, some metaphorically, others allegorically or figuratively. How do we sort out which is which? I had paid a lot of money for excellent commentaries, yet often I was surprised at the variety of explanations of a given passage I found among respected commentators from differing Christian traditions or denominations.

Slowly, I came to understand that there is simply no reliable way to determine if a particular Christian teaching is true [NB: here I would say "orthodox" rather than "true"] based only on whether or not it is logical, reasonable, and seems to be supported by "proof texts" from Scripture. Some other source of authoritative interpretation is needed. Some Christians expect to receive individual guidance from the Holy Spirit; others rely on scholarship, historical sources, or reason. But none of these methods produces consensus among all commentators or interpreters.

I finally realized that this is why every single denomination uses written materials in addition to the Bible, whether a catechism, commentaries, books, tracts, or other publications. No one just hands a Bible to a potential convert and says, "Read the book and you will understand the Christian message completely and clearly." Every Christian teacher must add explanation to Scripture in order to communicate the full Christian message.

I am reminded of a very aggressive Protestant apologist who is seldom left at a loss for words. But I have seen at least one question posed to him for which he was completely unable to come up with a reasonable answer. This particular person is a Reformed Baptist by doctrinal conviction and is vociferous that the Scriptures are perspicuous, that is, they are in all important points sufficiently clear that the ordinary person can discover their true teaching. But this person has been asked several times to explain how it is that, if the Scriptures are indeed perspicuous and they perspicuously teach the Reformed Baptist faith, we just can't find any Reformed Baptists in the early centuries of the Church? Indeed, we don't seem to find any of them until well into the seventeenth century. As Baptist scholar Dr. James McGoldrick states in his scholarly study into claims that earlier groups qualify as Baptist:

[A]lthough . . . groups in ancient and medieval times sometimes promoted doctrines and practices agreeable to modern Baptists, when judged by standards now acknowledged as baptistic, not one of them merits recognition as a Baptist church. Baptists arose in the seventeenth century in Holland and England (Baptist Successionism: A Crucial Question in Baptist History. ATLA Monograph Series, No. 32. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994, p. 2).

Seems like if those doctrinal tenets are clearly taught in Scripture, somebody prior to the seventeenth century would have put them all together. I have yet to hear a really good answer to this challenge.
Now obviously just pointing out that Scripture is not self-interpreting does not by itself validate the claims of the Catholic Church. It's not a standalone argument--"See there, your system doesn't work so mine must be true." But it definitely keeps us focused on just what sort of "system" (to use a clumsy word) our Lord put in place to perpetuate the Christian faith. Did He really make it fundamentally dependent on a pastiche of writings that would not be definitively gathered into a collection for centuries and would be inaccessible to your average Christian for many centuries more? Or did He make it fundamentally dependent on His Church, an extension of His own Incarnation? I think Tom's fascinating conversion story points us in the right direction.