Catholics, Muslims and tolerance

“What I like about the Catholic Church is that it is one of the few institutions left that still believes that some propositions are true” — Patterson Brown, c. 1964

Recently I was asked to appear on a show on a Catholic TV station to present the Jewish point of view about the controversial Good Friday Latin prayer adopted by Pope Benedict XVI (I’ve written about it here and here).

What I wanted to say was that I wasn’t bothered at all by the prayer, which asks that God may “illumine their hearts that they might acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Savior of all”.

This is because Pope Paul VI, in a declaration issued in 1965 called Nostra Aetate, made the following points quite clear:

  1. The Church believes that its doctrine is true and universal for all people
  2. Nevertheless, one must be respectful and tolerant of other religions

Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism are mentioned, and antisemitism is categorically singled out for condemnation. Arguments like “the Jews are guilty of the death of Jesus” are specifically refuted.

I do not object to Catholics hoping that I will ultimately see the light, as long as they have stopped inciting pogroms because of my refusal to do so. If it makes them feel better, they should hope.

What I would have said on the TV program was that yes, there is a long history of antisemitism based directly on Church dogma and in many cases incited by officials of the Church, going back to the first century. The stubbornness of Jews in refusing to see the ‘truth’ as propounded by Christianity was an excuse for many massacres, the Inquisition’s burning of ‘judaizing’ converts, and even the pogroms that drove my grandparents out of Czarist Russia.

But in 1965, the Church resigned from the ranks of the antisemites. Maybe it was because of the Holocaust, and one can wish that it had happened years earlier, but in any event it happened. Catholicism did not give up its insistence on the truth of its doctrines, but began to insist that correct belief be accompanied by tolerance.

Now the story — both my personal story and the historical one about antisemitism — gets interesting. Did antisemitism start to die out when the Church dumped it?

No. Actually, there was a resurgence of antisemitism which started in the 1960’s, and which came from an entirely different place. Instead of Christian dogma, it stemmed primarily from the radical anti-Zionism of the Arab nations, abetted by the Left (which took its cue from the Soviets, who had taken the Arab side in the Mideast conflict and who still had plenty of traditional Russian Zhid-hatred in their blood).

Arab and Persian Muslims found support in the Quran and other writings for their antisemitism — Muhammad had several conflicts with Jewish tribes in his conquest of Arabia and wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. And Islam did not have a Vatican II to distinguish between a doctrinal disagreement and a casus belli. Making things worse, Muslim antisemites adopted the tried and true themes of European Jew-hatred such as the blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and so forth.

So now you can hear in one place that Zionist, colonialist Jews are sons of apes and pigs who drain the blood of non-Jewish children to make matzah and commit genocide against the Palestinians while undermining the foundations of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

This rejuvenated anti-Jewish incitement now plays exactly the same role as it did for the Nazis, setting the Jewish people apart, blaming them for their own persecution, and developing conditions under which they can be destroyed.

I wanted to contrast the attitude of today’s Church with that of the Islamic fundamentalists of Iran and Hamas. I wanted to say that I would far rather have someone praying for the veil to be removed from my eyes (as an earlier Good Friday prayer said) than the head from my neck.

Unfortunately, the TV producer told me that I was expressly forbidden to use the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Iran’ on the program, and that the only antisemitism that could be discussed was that of the Catholic Church.

I wasn’t prepared to talk about antisemitism without mentioning the elephant in the living-room, the incitement from the Arab nations and Iran. And I couldn’t talk about the Holocaust and leave out the likelihood of another one within the next two years. So I won’t be on the program.

I think the producer would have preferred for me to say that the new Pope’s prayer was a step backward, because it states that we Jews are incorrect in our beliefs. But I don’t think that the Church ever accepted the radical view that all religions are equally true.

What I would have liked to emphasize was the other part of Nostra Aetate: the part that is clearly not accepted by so many Muslims, the part that says that you must respect and tolerate the religious beliefs of others, even if you think they are wrong.

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