Whenever I read an article by James Carroll it reminds me of this man I knew who was a friend of the family. Growing up the man seemed to be in a perpetual state of intoxication. As a kid interacting with him it never bothered me because he was kind to me and seemed like a nice man. But I’d hear my folks and others talking about him and they’d suggest they wished he didn’t drink as much as he did.
As I got older I could see what they meant when I’d see him staggering around, slurring his words, embarrassing himself and others around him. I felt bad for him because I liked him but had to agree that he wasn’t helping himself with his drinking. This went on for many years. I was in my late teens when I heard that he had gone to the doctor who told him that if he continued his drinking he’d last but a few more months. Miracles of miracles he stopped cold and turned a new leaf.
Unfortunately, for some strange reason, after being such a friend of booze and boozers over the years he turned viciously against them. He’d complain continually about some co-workers having had a beer or two for lunch or point to someone else saying she drank too much. He as much as suggested, like the early 20th Century temperance types, that alcohol should be outlawed. His close friend had become his ardent enemy.
James Carroll has two bêtes noires: the military and the Catholic Church. He comes at them in the same way that my family friend came at his antagonism to booze, he fell out of love with them. His father was a general in the Air Force; Carroll himself became a priest in the Catholic Church in 1969 where he stayed until 1974.
What brings me to a discussion of him is his article today at the beginning of Holy Week for most of the world’s Christians (the Orthodox start next week) titled: “The Wicked Irony of Holy Week.” I suppose it is not ironic that a man so full of disdain for the Catholic Church would be given a forum in the Boston Globe to attack Christianity at this particular time. It was to be expected.
Carroll wrote a book called “The Sword of Constantine” where he interprets history in such a manner that he blames the Catholic Church for the Holocaust against the Jews and others brought about by Hitler. Today’s article takes it one step further. Christian teachings were not only responsible for the Holocaust but for the present difficulties we have with the Muslim. He writes: “religious scorn for Judaism and for Jewish people served as a template for nascent European contempt for Islam and for Muslims.”
He suggests the cause of all these problems arise from the Gospels. Well, to be accurate, he does concede:“misremembering of Jesus Christ did not cause all the world’s ills.” I suppose only most of them.
Here is what Carroll calls the misremembering: “that the reported tension between Jesus and “the Jews” was not remotely what today’s Christians think it was; that Jesus, far from being against “the Jews,” was himself nothing but a Jew from start to finish? If that had not been forgotten, the history of the last two thousand years would be very different.” That doesn’t follow and even if it did who is to say the history would not have been much worse.
The big misrepresentation in that sentence though is the suggestion Christians thought Jesus was against the Jews. Who among the Christians did not remember Jesus was a Jew? When was that ever in dispute?
Carroll writes that the Gospel of Matthew has the: “Jewish crowd cry out, forcing an apparently benign Pontius Pilate to murder Jesus. That truncated version leaves out most of the happening. All four Gospels tell of it not just Matthew. Much happened prior to Jesus being brought before Pilate.
Carroll states: “to read and hear the texts of Holy Week, with their relentless scapegoating of “the Jews,” is inevitably to confront the way in which a movement full of good intentions can go wrong.”
To Carroll, the telling of events as they happened is “scapegoating.” No one has suggested that Jesus didn’t love the Jew for he was one, he refused to deny he was “king of the Jews,” and it was only Jews who were his disciples; but the corollary of that is not that the Jews at that time loved Jesus. The fact is their chief priests found him a threat and brought him to Pilate seeking to have him executed. Pilate, according to the Gospels, was told by the Jewish crowd to “crucify him” which he did.
The Christian religion is based upon the Jews seeking to kill Jesus a fellow Jew. Carroll would like to change that but to do that is to undermine the basis of the Christian religion. Rather than doing that we should accept it. We should also accept that Jesus held no animus to the Jews for having done that. He knew it was foreordained from Jewish writings in the Old Testament that would happen. Jesus told Pilate: “thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.”
Christians accept the Jews are blameless for Jesus’s crucifixion since they had no choice in bringing it about. It was God’s will. Clearly any ill will toward Jews for Jesus’s crucifixion is wrong. Wise and good Christians know that. Evil ones will pretend otherwise.
The Passion of Christ as set out in the Gospels should be taught during Holy Week as it happened; the correct understanding of those Gospels is not one of disdain toward the Jews but one of gratitude. God used them to bring about the Christian religion. :
Because some wicked folk twist the true meaning of the Gospels to achieve their own nefarious ends is no reason to suggest there’s “a wicked irony” in Holy Week. There is however a wickedness in suggesting that is the case by telling half a story at the start of that week.