I was deeply offended by the Pope’s recent book quote in which he freed the Jews from responsibility for the killing of Jesus (I know it’s just a restatement of Nostra Aetate but that was before I was born). Here is why -consider the following scenario to which, to me, it felt akin:
Suppose in 2011 a white president of the United States wrote that African Americans, after his examination of their biology and history, are not less than human than whites, as many in our country once thought. Why would that offend me? Firstly, it’s anachronistic and just not relevant to our world today, secondly, it would seems to imply that had the white slave owners been correct slavery would have been justified, and thirdly, the President is not a biologist and so instead of being considered science or history it would smack of a political agenda. The only thing such a white President could do that would not seem absurd would be to apologize for the past and shed tears for all that might have been and was destroyed though bigotry and hatred.
I believe that if the goal is better interfaith relations, (which almost all Jewish leaders lauded the pope for in light of this statement last week), then this will not get us any farther on that path. Real interfaith work requires that we each see the other fully as they are, not as we would like to see them. Only when we put ourselves in the shoes of those whom we have hated and see the world through their eyes can we learn from them. Tolerance is easy, especially if the other is a bit whitewashed, but tolerance is not deep or interesting. Really understanding the other through their own eyes is the first step toward being able to understand them and the world as they see it, only then can true learning from each other begin.
When I was a Rabbi at Washington University, all the clergy would meet together each month. Evangelicals, Catholics, Protestants, and I would sit and discuss students and religious life on campus. One year we decided to spend some time learning from each other about our individual theological worldviews. Much of the time the conversation was prevented from becoming truly deep, as we walked on eggshells careful not to offend the other since we valued our friendship and collegiality. At a certain point though I realized that we would never really respect each other, understand each other, and learn from each other, if we were not willing to truly encounter the other fully.
At the next meeting, I said the following to the most fundamentalist Christian pastor among us, a young man I really did like and respect as a person and colleague: “Scott, unless we can really express who we are with each other, until you can tell me you think I am going to hell and until I can tell you I think you worship a Jewish heretic, we will never be able to truly break though the armor that protects us from seeing the world through each other’s eyes, and never really learn from each other’s theology.”
It was eye opening. Only then were we able to really lay out what we believed, only then were we able to really present how we see the world and why it is so important to us. Why we would be willing to die for it. Only then did we really learn from each other’s vision of the world, religion and God.
If the pope were looking through Jewish eyes he would realize it does not matter to Jews who killed Jesus, and to even talk about it in light of the rivers of Jewish blood that have been spilt over two millennia in its name, is absurd and profoundly offensive. May it be that we all learn to look through each other’s eyes, to garner from each other’s world views and understandings of the Divine, to come closer spiritually to the Infinite One and to each other.