September 18, 2007

We’ll do God, and you can do Baal!

I came across the following through the help of an excellent new blog-find, WI Catholic Musings. The full article appeared at The Jewish Press, who are, as they are putting it themselves, commenting from "from a centrist or Modern Orthodox perspective".
The Pope's Got A Point
By: Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

The pope has generated a bit of controversy.

First, he permitted congregations to go back to the old custom of praying in Latin. (More about that later.) Then he announced that only the Catholic Church qualifies as a real church. Protestants, as far as the pope is concerned, simply don’t make the grade!

And with that, over 40 years of ecumenical dialogue go down the tubes. Protestant leaders are offended. The churches whose founders long ago broke away from the Catholic Church feel they are considered less-than-Christian by an institution they previously rejected as “too Christian.”

No doubt, in short order, a multitude of Jewish leaders will express their own concerns over the pontiff’s lack of tolerance for those whose beliefs are different from his own. After all, a spirit of cooperation fostered by the Second Vatican Council back in 1965 has allowed people of diverse faiths to share their beliefs in mutual respect. Why, we’ve even witnessed the intriguing phenomenon of cardinals, in full “uniform,” visiting rabbinical students to observe the study of Talmud. How, many are asking, could the pope jeopardize this détente with his bigoted condemnation of non-Catholics?

I have one thing to say to the pope: “Hear! Hear!” What do his critics want from the man? He’s got a religion to run!

I, for one, am not at all put off by the fact that the leader of another religion sees that religion as primary. If he thinks his religion is right, he obviously thinks mine is wrong.

I’ve always found it curious that people of different religions get together in a spirit of harmony to share their common faiths. By definition, these people should have strong opposition to the beliefs of their “colleagues” at the table. The mode of prayer of one group should be an affront to the other group. Yet, for some reason it isn’t. Why is that?

I suspect the reason many representatives of diverse religious groups find it easy to pray together is that they don’t really believe very strongly in the uniqueness of their own beliefs.

If my religion is okay and your religion is okay, we can mix and match and share with mutual respect and admiration. Can you envision Elijah the Prophet conducting an ecumenical service on Mount Carmel? “Oh, would you like to have a joint prayer meeting? Great! We’ll do God, and you can do Baal!” I don’t think so!

What the pope is saying – and I agree 100 percent – is that there are irreconcilable differences, and we can’t pretend those differences don’t exist.

Christians believe we are all sinners and that there is only one way to achieve salvation. It starts with believing that the Messiah arrived about 2,000 years ago. I obviously don’t believe that premise to be correct. I can’t. Such a belief is, based upon the teachings of the Torah, theologically indefensible.

If you believe in something, if you really believe in something, you need to have the courage of your convictions and stand up for what you believe. I can respect the pope for making an unambiguous statement of what he believes.

We need to respect all people. All of us are created in God’s image. This does not mean, however, that we have to respect their opinions. Nor does it mean that we should go around trashing the beliefs of other people. What it means is that we don’t need to play games of “I’m okay, your okay” with beliefs we find unacceptable.

The Latin Mass that was dropped many years ago included a prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Now that the Latin Mass is once again acceptable to Catholics, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations has written to the Vatican and expressed “profound concern … that the authorization may have allowed the return of this prayer.” They have requested confirmation that the conversion prayer will not be reintroduced.

I ask you, does this make sense? Where do we Jews get off making demands of Catholics that they only say prayers that meet with our approval?

Next week is Tisha B’Av. Have we forgotten that we are living in exile? The audacity of Jews dictating to Christians how they should pray is simply mind-boggling.

First off, the request implies that we can influence Catholic theology. Face it: Christians believe they are right and we are wrong. They think we should convert, and that attitude will not change until Moshiach comes.

And speaking of Moshiach, if we are going to sit down with the Vatican to negotiate liturgy, should we, l’havdil, offer to take out the second paragraph of Aleinu, in which we pray for the day when gentiles will stop worshipping idols? How about “sheheim mishtachavim” – the line that Christian censors removed from Aleinu, claiming it insulted Christians? Many of us have put it back. Should we allow the Vatican to dictate what we say in our prayers? Or should we, perhaps, do a line-by-line analysis of the Talmud to make sure there is nothing there that people may find offensive?

I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t be talking to Catholic leaders. The pope needs to know, for example, that it is good to encourage his millions of followers to support Israel and that it is bad to hate Jews. There needs to be careful dialogue, but it needs to be a secular, common, needs-based dialogue. We should not be studying Talmud together and we should not be discussing prayer.

A Catholic doctor once came to visit me in my office. Someone had told him what I said in a sermon about the murder of pre-born children, and he determined that he and I were on the same page. He invited me to participate in a symposium on abortion, to be made up of doctors, lawyers, and clergy. He was looking for non-Catholics. “After all,” he reasoned, “we orthodox people have to stick together!”

I declined the invitation.
The rabbi's views are like a fresh breeze cleaning up the minds clogged by relativism and I-am-okay-you-are-okay drivel. Can you believe it! He is not taken aback by the fact that the pope is Catholic! This is a long-overdue slap in the face of all those who insist on their different-, precious- and uniqueness and who are then not content with discerning respect received from a distance, an attitude best defined as leftism, by the way.


Panday said...


On the subject of outspoken Catholics, I feel bad for the Archbishop of Cologne who is under fire who called art "entartete Kunst".

All the man did was tell the truth. It's unfortunate that he's being pilloried for his choice of words.

Nobody else in Europe is trying to preserve European culture except the Catholic Church these days.

Cornelius said...

Interesting... It never occurred to me that as a Protestant, I count as gentile and worship Baal, as long as there's a Catholic next to me that "does God". I was raised by parents of different Christian denominations in the belief that it was Jesus Christ who died for all of our sins and thus set us free. But if the pope says it, and Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz says it, and the Editrix says it, ...maybe I'm wrong.

However, although for the latter "[t]he rabbi's views are like a fresh breeze cleaning up the minds clogged by relativism", there is not a single argument in his rant that is theologically relevant to the discussion about the pope denying Protestant denominations the status of church. The rabbi's article is just plain stupid as long as he compares "gentiles" with Protestants and uses "[Roman] Catholic" and "Christian" as synonyms. He can ramble as much as he likes about Jewish-Catholic relations, but next time he wants to contribute to an inner-Christian debate on things Ecumenical, he should better think twice before making a fool of himself.

I am a tad disappointed, Editrix: I did not expect you to react like that.


The_Editrix said...

"Interesting... It never occurred to me that as a Protestant, I count as gentile and worship Baal, as long as there's a Catholic next to me that "does God". I was raised by parents of different Christian denominations in the belief that it was Jesus Christ who died for all of our sins and thus set us free. But if the pope says it, and Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz says it, and the Editrix says it, ...maybe I'm wrong."

That is not at all how I understood it, Cornelius. I may be wrong, though. He took up the pope's words to clarify the distance that ought to be between religions and denominations. At no point I was under the impression that he considered Protestants as an inferior sort of Christians or -- heaven's forbid -- as an equivalent to Baal-worshippers while Catholics "do God". I did not understand it to be about inner-Christian matters at all, or better: I can't see that he said anything that in any way identified one Christian denomination as superior. He just said that Protestants ought not to be amazed that the pope said what he said and with that I concur.

As I said in the blog entry, I don't understand people who want to break away from a majority and to stress their differentness and are, after they did, miffed if they are regarded as such. I have the same respect for Protestants as people regardless of the theological clarifications of the pope and what I see are Catholics who feel likewise and can't be much bothered otherwise.

I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties in a Protestant environment that was full of anti-Catholic clichés, from colourful to downright nasty. My parents were Protestants turned agnostics. That was in a Protestant part of Westphalia with a strongish Catholic minority and the arch-Catholic, deeply "black" Münsterland next door, which caused a climate of distrust and even hostility. Others may have reacted differently to that, however, we can never dismiss personal idiosyncrasies. I ended up as a non-believer in ecumenism and I seriously think that both denominations would buckle under the pressure. Distance and respect are the answers or so I think.

I never understood Protestants and what I perceive as their inferiority complex. I always wanted to shout: "You broke away 500 years ago, you've been a huge success, you've become, for better or worse, the predominantly formative religion in Germany. Why can't you just leave the Catholics be!"

Hat off to your parents who were strong and loving enough to bring you up successfully in spite of all that. It's only for the very strong.

I think that the rabbi's thoughts should be best applied to the insufferable "dialogue" with Islam. (Another thing where the Protestants lose me.)