Here’s the latest script for interfaith understanding, produced and presented with the help of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: swipe a draft of Mel Gibson’s script for The Passion, get some revisionist scholars to look it over, and leak their report to the press. The result of the effort is that what is apparently a straightforward re-enactment of the Gospel narratives becomes for Andrea Peyser, a Jewish columnist for the New York Post, a collection of antisemitic slanders. I would think that the function of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs would be, among other things, to advance understanding of the Gospel among Jews. Is that what it’s doing?
The relations between Catholics and Jews are a difficult business, but since the difficulties aren’t going to vanish the sensible thing is to keep a cool head and stick to fundamental principle. It’s right to examine ourselves for attitudes that might contribute to catastrophes like the Holocaust or the Gulag. What’s not right is to turn eradication of everything that can be associated with such events into an absolute command of morality. For example, the view that some social institutions are bad and should be done away with, that oppression by the rich of the poor is wrong, and that Christian hierarchs have sometimes done what they should not do facilitated the communist murder of 100,000,000 innocents. Those views are not therefore wrong. Nor are Jews evil, simply because so many Jews have been communists.
Similarly, the authoritative traditional scriptures and beliefs of the Catholic Church are not wrong simply because they interpret sacred things in a sense radically opposed to the Jewish interpretation and therefore put the Catholic Church and the Jewish community at odds in an enduring and fundamental way. That remains true even though the opposition between the two has contributed on the human level to wrongs comparable in enormity to the wrongs perpetrated by the communists. Nor, in spite of the apparent view of the scholarly advisors to the USCCB, is there anything wrong with a straight presentation of the Gospel accounts of the Passion—which are central to the Catholic faith—simply because they raise the issue of the opposition between Judaism and Christianity and take the side of Christianity. We do not have it in our power to eliminate all oppositions. What is in our power is to attempt to live in charity with conflicts we cannot avoid. Whether Gibson’s Passion does so we cannot know until it is released. If it does not it will betray its subject. Let us hope and pray it is truly faithful.