Catholics can’t afford careless anti-Semitism

It’s Advent. I’m very aware that it’s Advent. I don’t want things to be business as usual on the Catholic internet. So please believe me: I thought long and hard about how to approach this topic usefully, rather than just stirring up anger.

Last night, Catholic News Service tweeted out a “Happy Hanukkah” message “to those who celebrate.” Here’s a screenshot:

One problem: That’s an image of Roman soldiers carrying off loot from the Temple they desecrated. So yes, there is a menorah in the picture. No, that doesn’t make it appropriate for Hanukkah, any more than it would be appropriate to tweet out, “Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!” along with a photo of Herod slaughtering the innocents, or a lion mauling some martyrs, or maybe just a straight up crucifixion picture. It’s a depiction of one of the darkest moments in Jewish history.

One wag on Twitter had the same thought:

After several people immediately chastised CNS for their image choice, they deleted the tweet and posted this:

Which . . . was not great. It puts the onus on “many of our followers” for having been offended, rather than saying, “We posted something terrible, and we’re terribly sorry.” There was more backlash, and this morning, they posted this:

I do believe the original image choice was inadvertent. I do believe it’s possible that some overworked or lazy social media manager simply Googled “menorah” and thought, “ooh, that one looks classy” and went with it. Dumb stuff happens, and I’m willing to believe the photo choice was not a veiled threat against Jews, despite how it appeared.

The barely-an-apology apology is harder to get past. The follow-up apology is better, although it puts the blame a single person, even though the tweet went out under the CNS name; but I feel a dreary certainty that CNS learned the lesson “Jewish people are touchy” rather than the much more important lesson, which is this:

Antisemitism is in the Church.
Catholics who aren’t antisemites are obligated to reject even the smallest hint of it, whenever it turns up.

Even if it was unintentional; even if it seems minor; even if it seems to gentiles like an isolated, meaningless incident that can be explained away if everyone would just calm down. Even if the antisemite does other good things or is an effective fundraiser for Catholic causes.

If we don’t step up and say something every single time, then those who really are malicious become more bold, and ideas that once pushed the envelope become commonplace.

A few months ago, the Catholic News Agency published an article about Franciscan University’s response to allegations of mishandling sexual assault, which was uncovered by freelance journalist Jenn Morson and published in the National Catholic Reporter.

CNA named George Soros as the originator of the funding, and then devoted eight paragraphs of their article to the funding angle. But the funding was not, in fact, from George Soros, and even if it had been, Morson was unaware of the grant and did not receive it until after the story was published. Her editors clarified:

The grant was made eight years before Morson started writing her story. The putative connection to George Soros was, in short, imaginary. Moreover, even if it had existed, it would not have been newsworthy, much less deserving of eight paragraphs.

But Morson is a Catholic of Jewish origin, and “Soros” is shorthand in the United States for “evil Jewish influence.”

So, maybe the CNA reporter, and the editor who okayed the story, simply didn’t know the name “Soros” is an anti-semitic dogwhistle. That happens.

But after Morson and several others told them what “Soros” means to so many people, they defended their story. They added a paragraph noting that Morson was not aware of the origin of the funding; but they retained the eight paragraphs noting the alleged source of funding. It’s hard to understand why that information was relevant unless CNA wanted readers to believe the source of funding affected the reporting itself.

Well. Still. Why is this worth bringing up? Why can’t we just give the benefit of the doubt to Catholics who do good work otherwise? Why are Jews so damn touchy?

Because there are so many Catholics of bad will. Because anti-semitism is once again gaining ground in the Church, just as it is everywhere else. Anti-semitic attacks in the U.S. have surged 57% in the last year alone.  If you think those attacks only happen outside the Church, just ask any public person with a Jewish-sounding last name. Stroll by the wrong hornet’s nest, and the anti-semitism comes swarming out, sometimes disguised as piety, sometimes proudly acknowledging itself for what it is.

Does anti-semitism exist only in Catholic circles? Of course not. But when it does exist there, it’s every Catholic’s job to stamp it out in horror. Catholics of good will are obligated to be especially careful to utterly reject even the hint of antisemitism, before it gains strength.

But they’re not. They’re not stamping it out, and they’re not learning to be careful. And when they’re not careful, those without good will consistently amplify dogwhistles, whether they were originally intentional or not. The Catholic Crisis Magazine followed Catholic News Agency’s “I spy George Soros” cue and gleefully doubled down on the imaginary Soros-Morson connection with an article titled “The Soros-Funded Attacks on Orthodox Catholic Universities.” The word “attacks” is plural because the author, Austin Ruse, included my Christendom articles in this category of attack. It is common knowledge that I am Jewish.

My articles were, of course, in no way funded by George Soros, and were in no way part of a coordinated attack. But that’s not relevant, if you know your readership. And Crisis does.

The Remnant Magazine used a similar tactic in their strange, rambling article about me: They called my work “satanic” and then devoted two paragraphs to my Jewishness and how I convey it, even though my articles has nothing to do with Judaism.

In other words, they said: We are not antisemitic. But you should know that this evil article was written by a Jew.

Because this kind of thing is tolerated, because people want to pretend it’s not happening, the authors grow more bold. Austin Ruse, the author of the Crisis article fallaciously linking Morson to Soros, recently said this on Twitter of his nephew, who is an “Elder” in the Proud Boys.

Ruse, who has received numerous awards from mainstream Catholic organizations, including Franciscan University, has repeatedly insisted that Proud Boys are
mostly a men’s drinking club” and “not an extremist group nor or they even remotely white nationalist.” According to the ProudBoysUSA.com:

Men have tried being ashamed of themselves and accepting blame for slavery, the wage gap, ableism, and some fag-bashing that went on two generations ago, but it didn’t work. So they’re going with their gut and indulging in the natural pride that comes from being part of the greatest culture in the world. It’s very freeing to finally admit the West is the best. That’s because it’s the truth.

Jason Kessler was a member of the Proud Boys when he helped organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where tiki torch-wielding marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

This is the organization that brings Austin Ruse such familial pride.

Of course, it’s all about context and nuance, when you’re marching through the streets with torches.

John Zmirak in 2016 reissued his Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He’s gone on the record rejecting anti-semitism, which is bold. Was that before or after he worked for the white nationalist publication VDARE, including this Christmas essay, which is essentially a chattier version of the 14 words? Before or after he recorded at least one giggly interview, now mysteriously vanished, with neo-Nazi Richard Spencer? If he’s repented, the man has some public reparation to catch up on.

I don’t like guilt by association. I don’t like punishing people for failing to expunge every possible hint of unsavory connections from their public past. But I’m also no fool. I know that evildoers count on the cover given them by the naiveté, the timidity, the mistaken charitable intentions of decent people.

Jewish writers will tell you that anti-semitic insults and threats from people calling themselves “Catholic” are commonplace. Gentiles have told me they have no idea such a thing happens. So I’m telling you: It happens all the time. My family has received numerous explicitly anti-semitic threats of violence from people calling themselves Catholic. After years of writing for Catholic publications, it doesn’t even raise eyebrows anymore. It’s routine.

Guys, the Catholic people and publications I named are only ones I happened to have come into contact with recently, and so their names popped into my head. They are the tip of the iceberg.

I am exhausted. I am exhausted with extending good will where it is neither desired nor deserved. I am exhausted with taking the high road, telling myself people simply didn’t know any better, they simply travel in different circles, they simply don’t realize what it’s like to be Jewish. I am exhausted with arguing with myself over whether I’m overreacting or not, whether I’ll make things better or worse by saying something.

And I am exhausted with trying to persuade myself, “No one is listening to these fringe figures anyway, and I’m just boosting their signal if I respond.”

People are listening to these fringe figures. They’re becoming less fringe as people listen. My children walk through the halls of a public school where swastikas are scrawled by self-described “rednecks” who think “oven” jokes are just some snarky fun. Down the road from us is a traditionalist Catholic Church that has preserved the beautiful and reverent music and liturgy my family craves — and which teaches its children that the Jews are here to infiltrate and subvert the Church from within. It’s not dying out on its own. New generations are being raised on casual or even ardent antisemitism, and Catholics are letting it happen.

Jews ought to be able to count on Catholics to reject antisemitism with vigorous revulsion, because that is what Catholics are for: defending the vulnerable, defending the truth, defending our Faith which is inextricable from its Jewish roots.

Instead, we hear excuses: We didn’t realize. It was an honest mistake. We’re sorry you were offended. Let’s not jump to conclusions. But they do so much good otherwise. Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away.

Or: It’s Advent. Can’t we take a break from thinking about this stuff? It’s Advent!

And during Advent, Jewish Mary and her Jewish baby boy fled for their lives. During Advent, Jews all over the world are in danger, and their danger increases when Catholics pretend they don’t see antisemitism in their ranks. It is here. I, a Jew, a mother of Jews, am asking you, if you’re a writer, an editor, a social media manager; if you book speakers or hire teachers; if you’re in charge of choosing curriculum; if you are active on social media; if you are a priest, if you influence other people:

Please see this cancer on the Body of Christ for what it is. Name it as evil, every single time, and keep it from spreading.

 

The wheat and weeds in my heart

I was startled to realize that even some of the things I think of as wheat are really weeds.

What kind of things? Righteous indignation that goes on too long, feeding on itself, delighting in itself. Vigilance that turns into paranoia and unseemly scrutiny of friends. An important political argument that takes so much time and energy that I have nothing left for my family. Whistling in the dark that finally stops hoping for comfort and starts revelling in the darkness.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Let’s resist kneejerkifying history

Every few weeks, a group of enlightened teenagers, who have been raised since birth to believe such-and-such is wrong, will get together and demand that a long-dead man should be punished for not having been raised since his birth two hundred years ago to believe that such-and-such is wrong.

Sometimes, they’re onto something. I wouldn’t want to spend my afternoons bathed in the hues of a stained glass black man kneeling before John Calhoun. (I wouldn’t smash a window depicting slavery, but I would put up a fuss.) There’s a fine line between acknowledging the past and condoning its errors.

But it sure does get old to hear that Abraham Lincoln was “not the great emancipator” because his stated main goal was to preserve the union, and because he was against interracial marriage. No: Lincoln was a white man was born in 1809, and he thought like a white man born in 1809; and he was a great and good man.

Same thing for great thinkers of the Catholic Church. You refuse to employ your super-fine mind in the same room as Thomas Aquinas just because he had some dumb or hinky ideas about the ladies? Your loss. The rest of us don’t have much time to be offended; we’re too busy trying to keep up.

Just as irritating as the knee-jerk judgment of the past? The wholly unearned smugness that often goes along with that judgment. Let’s be fair: If I can’t blame Lincoln for thinking like everyone thought when he was alive, then why should I laud you for thinking like everyone thinks now? You’re not a courageous free-thinker for wearing an anti-racist T-shirt in 2016. You’re just someone who noticed that “NOH8” or “BLM” or whatever is trending right now.

Even worse than wagging our fingers at history is when we try to protect our paper-thin skins by blotting out the past altogether. What a horrible, self-defeating error. If our country is guilty of crimes, then there is one foolproof way to ensure that we repeat them, and that is to erase all evidence of them, to cleanse our living space of any exposure to them. Your body won’t fight back against a disease if you spend each day bathing in Purell, and the same is true for our collective soul as a country. You must endure some exposure.

Well, here’s an encouraging spot of sanity: Yale announces new procedure for renaming of university buildings. They’re not going to refuse to hear any argument against honoring a historical figure who held troubling views; but neither are they going to knuckle under to the mob and despise greatness when it comes dressed in historical clothing that clashes with current political fashion.

In an interview with NPR yesterday, Yale dean Jonathan Holloway said:

The fact is as human actors we’re all flawed. So I really wonder if you are going to be using the Oregon test [which applies strict, inflexible criteria] against historic figures who are operating in a world in which you – people did not even know or worry about the experiences or views of women or immigrants or minorities, you’re going to fail the test pretty quickly. And so I think any renaming test has to be mindful of the present and the past and also the future in trying to sort out what its litmus tests are going to be.

To my mind, when we wonder if we should honor someone who held views that most people now despise, there are four issues to be considered:

  1. Were these views widespread and unchallenged at the time? Would the person in question have to be an outrageously original and insightful thinker to even consider holding a different point of view?
  2. Are the unpleasant views he held even relevant to why he is being honored today? Are we honoring him for all aspects of his entire life, or can we say, “Even though he was terribly wrong about this issue, his achievements in that other field are immense and indisputable”?
  3. If he did do great things, were the bad things he did so bad (even if they were in an entirely different field from the great things) that they overshadow what was great?
  4. Have we done our research, really? Or have we just read a line or two off some Buzzfeed compilation of the Daily Snit?

Yale is apparently taking a measured approach to challenges from people laboring under what Halloway calls the “arrogance of your contemporary moment,”and is trying to slow down that locomotive of self-congratulatory outrage. He wants, if you can imagine such a thing in an institute of higher learning, for complainants to thoughtfully and dispassionately contextualize history, rather than just reflexively scratching whatever the current mob considers itchiest.

It’s especially admirable that Yale is choosing to do this now, in post election 2016. With Trump as president, and the alt right ascending, we’re likely to see more and more re-legitimization of historical figures who truly ought to be intolerable to everyone today — not because of current, changeable sensibilities, but because their views were intolerable to decent people even while they were alive.

I expect that a president who reportedly kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches at his bedside (just for the articles, you understand. He doesn’t even notice the pictures) will breathe new life and vigor into old, deservedly condemned causes. We’ve already seen some efforts, from a population indispensable to Trump’s victory, to reanimate fetid corpses of egregious racism, anti-semitism, denial of Bosnian genocide, and more. Confederate flag sales skyrocketed in 2015Trump himself praised the “strength” of China’s response to Tianamen Square; and Trump openly admired Saddam Hussein’s efficiency in dealing with his enemies.

This man is now our president, our representative to the rest of the world.

Anticipating the battles to come, we might be tempted to suit up with an extra, protective layer of righteous indignation. If we’re going to be led by a man who dabbles in horrors, we might decide ahead of time that we’ll have a prophylactic zero tolerance policy against anything and anyone that smacks of his ugly ideals.

But let’s not. Let’s not respond to kneejerk politics by jerking the knee in the other direction. This country isn’t over yet. We’re still writing our history, still making adjustments, still figuring out who we are. Let’s take a clue from Yale, and slow down, do our research, think things through — and above all, not respond to unthinking rhetoric with more unthinking rhetoric.

In an absurdly awful election, where there could be no winning for the American people, we lost. Yes, we did. But that doesn’t mean we need to surrender. We still have time.