Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The crisis in Catholic-Jewish dialogue

I've been more or less brushing off the cries of anti-Semitism regarding TPOTC, especially seeing that there have been no pogroms since its opening. But after reading some Jewish blogs and particularly this article in The New Republic, by Leon Wieseltier, I'm now deeply saddened and troubled. I've come across Wieseltier in the bookstore, skimming through his book Kaddish, which impressed me as an earnest spiritual journey of a secular-minded intellectual struggling to come to grips with the ancient faith of his fathers. It's one thing for the religiously aloof literatii to bash the film with no clue to the theological issues at work, but it's another for religiously sensitive Jews to join in the "mel-edictions."

"In its representation of its Jewish characters, The Passion of the Christ is without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie, and anybody who says otherwise knows nothing, or chooses to know nothing, about the visual history of anti-Semitism, in art and in film."

"The apologetics for The Passion of the Christ must represent an intellectual nadir in contemporary American conservatism. Thoughtful people have been uttering thoughtless words."

When I hear statements like this, I just want to throw up my hands and say, "No, Rodney King, we will never just get along." Is dialogue just a joke? Is its only purpose to impose and enforce a slow death sentence on an orthodox Christology? Why bother explaining the nuances in one's theology when even sincere people only give them the worst possible interpretation? Wieseltier doesn't want to hear any of it. Anyone who finds value in Gibson's film is supportive of anti-Semitism and ignorant of history. Pretty black and white. When these complex, multi-layered issues are reduced to a choice between pluralist heaven and orthodox hell, people will follow their love, like Orpheus, to hell.

"Then there was the argument for timidity. "Jewish denunciations of the movie only increase the likelihood that those who hate us will seize on the movie as an excuse for more hatred," Medved declared. I wonder if he feels the same way about Jewish denunciations of Islamic anti-Semitism. In a journal of the American Enterprise Institute, he warned that "sadly, the battle over the The Passion may indeed provoke more hatred of the Jews." Yet the hatred of the Jews is not simply a response to the Jewish response to the hatred of the Jews. Anti-Semitism is not anti-anti-anti-Semitism."

True, but Medved still has a point. Before articles such as Wieseltier's, I, in good faith, assumed that to appreciate the movie as a profoundly Christian work (but not very intelligible to non-Christians) and to regard Judaism with respect and honor were naturally consistent with each other. Now I'm being told that it's not only inconsistent, but impossible! Who's forcing who into a fight?

To see Catholic scholars and clerics (like my former prof Fr. John Pawlikowski) scramble for cover, desperate to apologize for the movie's violations of dogmatic pluralism, reveals a real crisis in interfaith dialogue. It tells me that all of the work we've done to strengthen bonds of mutual understanding between Catholics and Jews is far from complete. In fact, we've probably taken several wrong turns along the way. There IS an inherent theological anti-Judaism in the New Testament that must be acknowledged and understood as separate from social and political anti-Semitism. If this cannot be discussed, if Christians are required to swallow the equation, Christological supersessionism = anti-Semitism, then dialogue is indeed impossible. Because this seems to be the case, I can't be too hopeful. Sad to see how often we prove Nietzsche's vision of truth as a mere battle of wills.