Monday, August 6, 2018

A Daily Terror, A Daily Miracle

     Okay, let’s see if I remember how to do this blogging stuff...

     First, to all who wrote to express sympathy and offer assistance, many thanks. My recent difficulties haven’t all dissipated, but they’ve abated somewhat, and those that remain are more bearable. As usual when one is subjected to a trial, there was a lot of illumination and implicit instruction to be had, the sort one must squint to see and remonstrate with oneself to absorb. It’s not easy to look back on an episode of that sort with an unclouded eye, no matter how much one might have gained from the experience, but as the Tralfamadorians would say, the moment is structured that way.

Thomas Cromwell: Have you anything to say...regarding the King's marriage with Queen Anne?
Thomas More: I understood I was not to be asked that again.
Cromwell: Then you understood wrongly. These charges—
More: They are terrors for children, Master Secretary, not for me!

[From Robert Bolt’s screenplay for A Man for All Seasons.]

     Bolt’s narration of the downfall of Saint Thomas More has been criticized as not perfectly historical. That hardly matters in light of its larger purpose. For whether or not More actually lived, behaved, and spoke exactly as Bolt’s screenplay describes, it depicts a figure all men, throughout all the ages of Man, have needed: a hero of our kind, one whose convictions were so strong that though his body could be broken, his spirit could not. This much is historically verified: More went to his death rather than accede to Henry VIII’s claim to be the head of the Church in England. Henry made that claim for only one reason: to support his grant of a divorce from Catherine of Aragon to himself.

     The passage I quoted above is one with a deep significance to persons who hold to a faith -- any faith:

What terror would make you deny your faith, or depart from it?

     Bolt’s Thomas More was a true Catholic: one whom no Earthly terror could separate from his faith and his absolute loyalty to it. He would not betray it by word or deed. And so Henry VIII Tudor had him killed.

     Do you think you’ve known any such persons? Granted, the ultimate test is one no one would want to face. Still, perhaps there are other indicia.

     I wrote an essay, many years ago, about “The most awful day.” I’ve made a habit of reposting that essay every August 6, but I think it’s time to stop: not because the essay was wrong when I wrote it or on any occasion that I reposted it, but because new awfulnesses have arisen that challenge August 6, 1914 for the title.

     I shan’t go into gruesome detail. I shall say this: ordinary private citizens are now being hunted and attacked by other private citizens for differing with them politically. Members of the latter group call their targets “Nazis” and attack them physically when they believe they can get away with it. A recent case of this has caused me to wonder, like the author of the linked piece, when actual fatalities will occur.

     There have been cases, earlier in American history, of violence over political disputes. We fought a rather large war over one such dispute. It says something about such conflicts that the Civil War did not resolve the question it was fought over, namely whether the states remain sovereign: i.e., whether a state has the right to withdraw from the United States as defined by its Constitution.

     It’s untrue that “violence never settles anything.” But it’s appallingly true that violence cannot settle any abstract question. It certainly can’t settle a question over rights.

     Some would argue that the conclusive victory of the Union over the Confederacy did settle that issue. I must disagree; there remain ardent supporters of the right of secession to this day. A great many of them have turned up in a place where we might not have expected them: California. If they remain unconvinced, the issue is not settled. It’s merely been postponed until a state or group thereof decides to assert a claim of the right to secede – and even then the question cannot be settled by violence, regardless of the degree applied.

     Just yesterday I requested assistance from my Gentle Readers on a matter of great import, both to me personally and to the perpetuation of good relations between Christians and Jews. Let me say at once that I received the assistance I needed. Let me say further that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, better known as the former Pope Benedict XVI, stands utterly vindicated in my eyes. The charges of “fomenting anti-Semitism” that certain fools and conflict-hungry villains made against him are baseless. Indeed, they reflect badly on their makers.

     However, this opens a subject that ought not to need to be explicated: the nature of religious affiliation.

     In the simplest terms: there can only be two reasons for adopting a religious creed:

  1. You genuinely believe it;
  2. Claiming to believe it will get you something you value.

     Clearly, it’s possible for persons in either category to slide into the other, but that’s a subject for a later time.

     Moreover, every religion implicitly claims that it is correct and all the alternatives are either erroneous or lacking to some degree. If Religion X and Religion Y were to agree on everything, they would merge. Certainly there would be no grounds for contention between them.

     Contention between Christians and Jews is an enduring phenomenon. And even knowing that it might fuel further conflict, I will say this, in bold type: For some time now, it’s principally been perpetuated by the Jews.

     My reasons:

  • Jewish memory is long and vivid, as one would expect of the first people known to have kept a written history.
  • The Jews have the longest historical record as an oppressed and persecuted people.
  • Jewishness, as distinct from the Judaic religion itself, is essentially a matter of parentage. This reinforces the tribal characteristic that all religions possess.
  • Jews in majority-Christian countries are uneasily aware of their sparseness and vulnerability. This remains true in America, despite their safety among American Christians.
  • This has resulted in American Jews’ hypersensitivity about any encroachment on their “borders” by Christians, however well-intentioned it might be.
  • Therefore, they overreact to such encroachments, real or perceived.

     For example, I recall reading about doings years ago by some misguided Mormons to “baptize” deceased Jews into the Church of the Latter Day Saints. American Jews who learned about this reacted with fury. Mind you, no harm had been done to anyone. Moreover, it was highly likely that these “baptisms” were disapproved by the LDS Church. And of course, the dead Jews, being dead, had not performed the critical act that makes a baptism meaningful: i.e., they hadn’t consented to it. But Jewish rage was unaffected by any of that, for they saw it as an affront to the Jewish people.

     A largely risible matter became fuel for genuine anger and animosity. Worse yet, not only was no one harmed, the intentions of the involved Mormons were purely benevolent. Consider the sentiments expressed by Penn Jillette in this extremely important brief video:

     That doesn’t make what those Mormons did meaningful or effective. How could it, when the intended beneficiaries hadn’t consented? But it should (my favorite word) have been plain to anyone, including the prickliest of Jews, that only good was intended and no harm was done!

     There was rage nevertheless. Jews took affront. They felt they’d been “insulted.” Never mind that every religious creed believes itself to be the one and only true faith, Judaism included. Never mind that a lot of those Jews were Jews only by parentage, being uninterested in the actual practice of Judaism. Penn Jillette understands, but apparently these little things eluded those irate Jews.

     Consider this episode in light of the fusillades over Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. And consider also these intemperate statements:

     “Whoever describes the role of Judaism like this is building the foundation for a new anti-Semitism on a Christian basis,” said Rabbi Walter Homolka, executive director of the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University in Germany.


     [Theology professor Michael Böhnke], arguing that the text reveals the definitive edition of a program of revisionist theology, said: “After Auschwitz, I would not have expected that I would have to read something like this by a German theologian.”

     [From this article.]

     What vile nonsense! All because a saintly man dedicated to his faith, who has worked lifelong against anti-Semitism, a retired Pope no less, argued that Christ’s New Covenant didn’t fully supersede the Mosaic / Levitical Covenant – it didn’t, you know; we share the Ten Commandments, don’t we? – and dared to suggest that Jews try to read the Old Testament through the lens of Christian faith – i.e., as precursory to the birth, ministry, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

     This became personally important because my wife is Jewish. Mind you, she hadn’t read Benedict XVI’s article; she’d just read some angry statements and had internalized their anger. In this regard she’s probably typical of Jews who’ve reacted with anger. That was no help to the maintenance of domestic tranquility.

     A hostile attitude made manifest by accusations of this sort will do the Jewish people no good and quite possibly further harm. It’s one thing to be uninterested in exchanging one’s beliefs for someone else’s. It’s entirely another to reply to a scholarly article by a benevolent, famous intellectual as if it were a new pogrom. Tribal hypersensitivity of this sort has resulted in blows in the past. Please God, let it not recur in the future.

     The above is something of a ramble, I know. I’ve been largely away from the blog for a few days and things have been accumulating. One terror per day, as it were.

     But with each terror there comes a miracle: we go on. We surmount our difficulties, make any necessary adjustments, and we continue onward. Until the day we don’t, of course...but on that day all our temporal troubles will have ceased to matter.

     And Monday or not, may God bless and keep you all.


Manu said...

I have noticed this trend, too. Jews are quite justified by the course of history to feel as they do about this sort of thing. Or, if not justified, per se... we might say the anger is at least understandable, given the circumstances.

Nonetheless, if we are to move forward past the wrongs of the past, we all (Jews included) need to let go. To not forget the wrongs (we don't want to repeat them) but to forgive and move on.

There was a Jewish woman, a survivor of the Holocaust, who was experimented upon as part of the Nazi "twin" experiments. She later (decades later) found one of the doctors who worked for the Nazis and forgave him. Many people wondered why should we do such a thing. How could she possibly forgive for such atrocity?

Nonetheless, I think forgiveness is what needs to happen. I think she set a wonderful example. Do not forget the wrongs (indeed, she obtained from the doctor an attestation that all that evil had indeed happened - evidence to shut up Holocaust deniers), but move on from the wrongs.

Then, perhaps, hypersensitivity to statements like that of the previous Pope might be avoided. We can all just be people again. And as an incidental, your domestic tranquility may be better preserved.

Linda Fox said...

Ah, I well remember those hordes of frenzied Christians exiting "The Passion" movie, screaming "Kill the Jews!!!!!"

In reality, we left quiet and awestruck. An amazing work by a deeply flawed man.

I may have to break down and buy the DVD of A Man for All Seasons. It is NEVER shown on television, and I've not been able to find it on Hulu or Netflix (I checked during the free trial).

Glad you are back.