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Jewish World ReviewSept. 29, 1999 /19 Tishrei, 5760

Sam Schulman

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What's so bad about G-d? --
THE PLOT OF A NEW FRENCH NOVEL tries to imagine living in a world that believed in G-d. In it, an academic philosopher discovers an entirely new logical proof for His existence. The intellectual world find it as irrefutable as the Black-Scholes equation. As a result, scientists, intellectuals and businessmen start leaning back on their heels, utterly blissed out, slacking. In the end, the Church has to take steps to suppress this knowledge so things can get back to normal.

We're hardly in that boat, you might say, but we're in a situation so opposite to it that it begins to seem familiar. We're living through an outbreak of attacks on religion of such fury that the fury begins to seem suspicious. Several commentators have noticed that most of the schoolyard massacres of the last couple of years -- Paducah, Columbine, Fort Worth -- have targeted children making public displays of piety: attacks on Christianity itself. I see this as the extreme side of another less violent but no less obsessive concern with Christianity. Liberal Jews and gay men and women seem to have lost their heads about, of all things that don't concern them, the Roman Catholic church. You can see this obsession right here on the Great White Way: without priests and nuns to kick around, the lights of Broadway and off-Broadway would be darker places.

For Jews the question is more complicated. In our feelings toward someone else' s Church, we seem to have put off our feelings of having been let down by our own G-d. The Jewish establishment is besotted with the notion that, of all the forces that conspired to allow Hitler to rise to power, the most powerful was --- the Vatican. John Cornwall's ridiculous new book on Pius XII merely proves how weak this case is. True, Pius XII might have made more meaningless gestures than he did do(and he did make some), but they would have made no difference. If the Concordat with the Nazis had not been signed, nothing would have been different. Hitler regarded believing Catholics, properly, as his enemies, as he believed all Christians to be.

If one were to make a list of parties who could have prevented Hitler's accession to power, you'd start with the other German political parties, with Stalin and his German Communist, -- just about everyone but the poor Catholics. In fact, what the Jews ought to be disappointed in is our own "idols of the marketplace": our belief in democracy, the basic goodness of man, patriotism, socialism, idealism. The German Jews lived by these beliefs and were betrayed by them. But it is the Roman Catholic Church who, all agree, must apologize. (We're just as nutty about what we call "fundamentalist Christians", and Jeff Jacoby in the Globe has brilliantly punctured the hand-wringing in the Jewish liberal establishment about prayers for the conversion of the Jews.)

On the part of gays and lesbians, their obsession with nuns and priests, the supposed disciplinary procedures of parochial schools, the mockery of the Mass makes no more sense. The Church was hardly the most anti-homosexual of religious authorities: indeed the stricter interpretation of celibacy that grew in the Victorian era meant that it was as much a refuge for homosexuals (and even pederasts) as it was a persecutor. And the Roman Church's de-emphasis of Bible reading by the populace meant that it spared the people the most eloquent denunciations of sodomy (such as Leviticus 18:22).

The point is this: It's nothing that the Catholic Church says or has done or not done. It's what Americans want to see in the church rather than what is there. Americans-most of us non-Catholics-can't escape from seeing the Roman Church as the fount of transcendent authority and sacred order: a stand-in for G-d. There is something about its self-confidence that simply drives us nuts. What is closest in this country to an official intellectual establishment, ensconced in academia and the entertainment industry, wants us to believe that divinity resides in the hands of anti-semitic, homophobic Popes on the one hand, mad fundamentalist preachers on the other. But the extremity of this view reveals that Divinity is seeping in through the cracks.

Think about it: what's so bad about G-d? When atheism first began to avoid the stake in the late 17th century, freethinkers adopted a tone of calm, scientific unbelief, in contrast to the heated piety of the faithful.

Nowadays the big fanatics are the unbelievers. Pathetically they kick and scream against the believers, more out of a spirit of resentment than the desire to enlighten their fellow-man. The men who executed the children at their prayer-meeting, the boys who shot their schoolmates whom they knew to be believers, were trying to prove that faith in G-d was meaningless. They proved the opposite, that what they most feared was true: that others had access to something that their hard hearts denied them-and they were right. If life had no meaning beyond the pure Peter Singer or Richard Dawkins level, these evil men would have killed themselves first and not bothered with the others. Would G-d had let them do it.

Contemplating the anti-Catholic antics of the Gay "Pride" festivities the superiority to faith of movies like "Stigmata," you might squint your eyes and see something else going on. It's not mockery but self-loathing, not affected superiority but a sign of yearning for belief-and a bitter envy of those who can accept that there might be something to believe in other than the cold and solitary self. It may still be the case that the notion of St. Edith Stein drives poor Anne Roiphe off her nut because Mrs. Roiphe is, without knowing it, a saint herself.

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


©1999, Sam Schulman