Monday, November 30, 2009

Constantine's Sword

Wow, what a book! I didn’t fully appreciate how pernicious is the only-through-Jesus stance that I critique in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, until I read Contantine’s Sword. To everyone interested in my writings I enthusiastically recommend this book by James Carroll. I expected to pass on its revelations of the Catholic Church’s war against Jews. But it gets closer to my themes than that.

James Carroll brings us the entire history of Catholics degrading Jews by articulating a theology of the cross that blamed Jews for killing God. The Church herded Jews into ghettoes, stole their children to baptize them, ruthlessly restricted Jewish mobility and commerce, nearly forced them to become moneylenders and then despised them for usury. Carroll shows us canonized saints and revered scholars spewing anti-Semitic venom, with the ever-present undercurrent of conversion to Jesus as the only option for any life. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, Jesus “is the absolutely necessary way of salvation.” [391]

Carroll quotes Rosemary Radford Ruether, who asserts that the religion-based hatred of Jews led to the race-based hatred of blood purity regulations, “the ancestor of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws.” [382]
I was especially interested in the facts finally settling the controversy over whether Pius XII, the pope during my youth, was guilty of cooperating with Hitler. After this book, there can be no doubt.

It started when Eugenio Pacelli, a cardinal and secretary of state for Pius XI, worked out a Reichskonkordat with Hitler in 1933 to advance the political standing of the papacy. This endorsement by the Catholic Church saved Hitler’s reputation from the suspicious eyes of other countries. He had not been shy about expressing his hostility to Jews. When his campaign against them became more apparent months later, Pacelli pleaded for non-Aryans who converted to the Christian religion, but not for non-converted Jews.

The most damning incident happened in the Jewish quarter next to the Vatican and Pope Pius XII, the former Eugenio Pacelli.
The Germans had occupied Rome in September 1943. Until then, Jews had been relatively safe, but at 5:30 A.M. on October 16, the noise of gunfire broke the night silence of the ghetto. By then it was home to about four thousand Jews. The streets leading out of the quarter were blocked. SS officers drove residents from their homes, and in a few hours the Germans had arrested more than twelve hundred people. The Jews were taken to a temporary jail in the Italian Military College, which stood a few hundred yards from Vatican City. Yet from the Vatican, no voice was raised in public support of the Jews.
Two days later, the prisoners were put on trucks, taken to the railroad station, and loaded into boxcars. Again, no voice was raised in protest. The arrested Jews were gone. Five days later, this entry appears in the meticulously kept log at Auschwitz: “Transport, Jews from Rome. After the selection 149 men registered with numbers 158451-158639 and 47 women registered with numbers 66172-66218 have been admitted to the detention camp. The rest have been gassed. [524]
Defenders of Pius XII insist the Holy See intervened with a “dressing down” of the German ambassador the morning after October 16 and stopped deportations, but notes by the Vatican’s own secretary of state reveal anxious hope that the Vatican would not have to publicly condemn the roundup of Jews and bring Nazi hostility onto itself.
The [German] Ambassador after several moments of reflection, asked me: What will the Holy See do if events continue?
I replied: the Holy See would not want to be put into the necessity of uttering a word of disapproval.
The Vatican secretary of state explicitly authorized that this communication be kept private, obviously avoiding any public plea for justice. The German Ambassador wrote Berlin that the pope, “although harassed from various quarter, has not allowed himself to be stampeded into making any demonstrative pronouncement against removal of the Jews from Rome.” [527] Many Jews did find refuge in Catholic homes, religious houses, churches, and the Vatican itself. What Pius XII had to do with the acts of heroism is not known.

I hinted that Constantine’s Sword states themes similar to mine, but I can’t say it mimics my brief, blunt statement, “I don’t believe Jesus is God or that his death saved the world.” Carroll is blunt but never brief. He quotes “the great twentieth-century Catholic theologian” Karl Rahner and informs me of something I hadn’t known. Rahner was silenced by the Vatican under Pius XII for stating that Catholic dogma needs to be reconsidered but, under Pope John XXIII, he was rehabilitated by Vatican II. No theologian had more influence at that council. Rahner wrote:
The West is no longer shut up in itself. . . . it can no longer regard itself simply as the center of the history of this world and as the center of culture, with a religion which . . . could appear as the obvious and indeed sole way of honoring God . . . today everybody is the next-door neighbor and spiritual neighbor of everyone else in the world . . . which puts the absolute claim of our own Christian faith into question. [583]
Carroll added, “The Church’s fixation on the death of Jesus as the universal salvific act must end.” Expressed briefly and bluntly, Jesus’ death did not save the world.
We do not own the truth.

Carroll writes as a laicized Catholic priest committed to the Catholic faith. His challenges to the hierarchy come out of love for Jesus and the Church.

I expected him to at least mention a necessary corollary to his indictment of Catholic crimes against Jews—the Jewish state of Israel now punishes Palestinians for the sins that Europeans committed against Jews.
After the Holocaust, Jews organized a migration of Jews back to the land from which they were purged by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. Trouble is, the land wasn’t empty. Their ethnic relatives lived there and the Jews moving in were not satisfied with joining their fellow Semites and living peaceably among them.

Palestine had been declared a British protectorate after the Ottoman Empire was defeated in WWI. As tensions between incoming Jews and the indigenous population increased, the British washed their hands of it and turned it over to the U.N., which planned for two separate states, one Jewish, one Palestinian. Without waiting for the plan to take effect, the Jews declared themselves a state and have been steadily encroaching on the land the U.N. had intended for a Palestinian state. Israel has a powerful ally in the U.S., which, no matter which party controls the White House and/or Congress, always thwarts U.N. attempts to bring justice to the Middle East.

A pamphlet given to me recently prompts my writing about this festering issue again. Just a few facts:
• Since the 1950s, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture has been taking Palestinian land and giving it to Israeli settlers for housing.
• As of July 4, 2009, Israel had demolished 24,145 Palestinian homes.
• From 2000 to 2004, the Israeli Army uprooted 400,000 olive trees causing $60 million in revenue loss.
• Israel’s continued construction of a 30-foot high wall enclosing Palestinians on a small portion of the land the U.N. planned for them prevents Palestinians free access to their farms and orchards, employment, medical care, and commerce of all kinds.
• 80% of Palestinians are unemployed.
• Nearly half of all Palestinian children suffer chronic malnutrition.

Here are links to more information.
If Americans Knew
Jews for peace in Palestine
Jewish voice for peace
Please get more facts regarding this awful tragedy about which Americans know very little. Many Jews in Israel and the U.S. know that only justice for Palestinians can bring peace to Israelis.
To translate your concern for the forgotten people of Palestine into action, visit Churches for Middle East peace. It responded to the temporary freeze announced by the Israeli government on settlement construction in the West Bank . . . but not in East Jerusalem. No freeze in East Jerusalem, which was to be the capital of the Palestinian state! The U.S. government praised this ridiculously inadequate step. Construction on land stolen in the past continues.

This announcement is like the U.S. government saying to Native Americans in the 19th century, "We'll temporarily stop taking some of your land, but we'll take what we really want."

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