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Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2017 | No Comments »

“Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions

of our Day,” that is, environmentalism.

Paris, Trump, and the Religious Right

Note: This article includes excerpts from my book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, to be released by Fortress Press in July.

Like many of you, I am appalled by many things that Donald Trump has said and done in the first months of his presidency, including his announcement that he’s pulling the United States out of the (largely symbolic) Paris Climate Agreement. But we must look beyond the daily spectacles of the Trump Administration to see what’s really going on. Now that Republicans dominate Congress, they are quietly working to enact regressive policies that have been in the works for decades, policies that target the poor, people who are sick, people of color, immigrants, women, our young and aged, and yes, the environment.

Donald Trump didn’t get elected in a vacuum. He has lots of backers, including the Religious Right. This primarily Christian constituency is aligned with conservative social, political, and economic interests and is a powerful and organized force in the Republican Party. The cruel policies supported by those who espouse right-wing Christian beliefs are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Religious Right also exerts a strong influence on the debate about climate change in the United States. This conservative religious lobby’s talking points and policy proposals on energy and climate are largely indistinguishable from those of the fossil fuel industry. Recent initiatives have focused on Academic Freedom legislation, designed to “teach the controversy” about climate change in public schools. Legislation to this effect has been drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative secular organization that brings corporate leaders together with conservative lawmakers to draft model legislation on various issues to be presented in state legislatures. Teach the controversy legislation has also been supported by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian advocacy group, and the Discovery Institute – a creationist think tank. This uninformed and deliberately confusing approach to climate change was reflected by then-candidate Donald Trump in a 2016 New York Times interview, when he said, “You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind…. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

Right-wing Christian groups deny climate science and evolutionary science on the basis that they are unbiblical. The Cornwall Alliance’s website hosts a sign-on declaration, “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming,” stating that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.” The Cornwall Alliance also offers a DVD called “Resisting the Green Dragon: A Biblical Response to one of the Greatest Deceptions of our Day,” which outlines the dangers of the new and false “religion” of environmentalism. Not surprisingly, the organization also works to prevent the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Although political and economic interests help fund and influence the Christian Right’s opposition to climate science, there are also theological factors at work. An analysis of anti-environmental sentiment within the Religious Right reveals that some are convinced that concern for the environment is based on the worship of nature. Others, who believe in apocalyptic prophesies about the coming end times, feel that it is pointless to worry about climate change. What they hold in common, however, is their insistence that the creation stories in the book of Genesis must be taken literally.

Creationism, the belief that the creation stories of Genesis are scientific fact, is widespread among conservative Christians, who seek to introduce this doctrine even in public schools. This sets the creation stories in scripture in opposition to the scientific story of the origins and natureof the universe. Was the universe created in fifteen billion years or in seven days? In pre-scientific times, most believers did take the creation stories in Genesis literally, but times have changed. Scientific discoveries have revealed aspects of the universe unknown in ancient times.

One form of denial at work in these and other conversations about climate change is people’s refusal to consider facts or evidence that contradicts their worldview. Science is continually revealing new information about the natural world, its origins and interconnectedness, and the causes and impacts of planetary warming. Reason enables us to weigh the evidence, reflect on its implications, form rational conclusions, and make informed decisions as we consider how to respond to the earth’s changing climate in a reasonable way. But in the words of Naomi Klein, “it is always easier to deny reality than to watch your worldview get shattered…”

The debate about climate change is political, not scientific, and confusion need not hold us back. Faith in the One who brought creation into being enables us to overcome denial, fear, and confusion as we seek truth about these issues. Jesus insisted that the most important measure of human life is loving God above all and our earthly neighbors as ourselves. In this time of climate change, love of God and neighbor requires honoring creation and working to establish justice for our human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, for our young and future generations, and for all creation.

 

Sharon’s new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, describes some of the ways that the Religious Right has impacted US climate policy, and explores the topic of climate change in a way that takes climate science seriously and is grounded in Jesus’ teachings and example. Sharon’s blog can be found at sharondelgado.org.

For more information and an analysis on the Religious Right’s backing of Donald Trump’s policies on climate change, see “Politics, culture, or theology? Why evangelicals back Trump on global warming,” by David Gibson.

 

 

Is Ryan a Religious Hypocrite? A Priestly Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan from Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

Mar14

by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on March 14th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

Dear Speaker and Congressman Paul Ryan,

As a priest who commemorates his 50th year in the priesthood this year (28 as a Roman Catholic and 22 as an Episcopalian), and as your elder, I am writing you this letter because I am worried about your soul.

We all know you take good care of your body, working out frequently in the congressional gym we taxpayers provide for those in Congress, and that is a good thing. But I am concerned that you are neglecting your soul. It too requires work-outs and practice to stay healthy.

You claim to be a good and a practicing Catholic Christian but I have serious doubts that you are. Our Christian beliefs include these words of Jesus after all: “What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?” These powerful words are surely important for anyone serving in public office or any other places of responsibility, whether in government or business or church or wherever. Yes, they even apply to your close buddies the Koch brothers, upon whom you depend so fully for your income and ideas and campaigns and job.

You see, another passage that grounds Catholicism and Christianity is found in Matthew 25: “Do it to the least and you do it to me.” Not to mention the Golden Rule which is found in Matthew 7:12 and is reflected in some form in every world religion since the time of Hammurabi: “Sowhatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this isthe Law and the Prophets.”


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The 12 Truths of Christmas

Dec20

by: Allen L. Roland on December 20th, 2016 | Comments Off

Although Tikkun was started as the voice of progressive Jews, we also honor the traditions of progressives in every religion as well as the insights of secular humanists and spiritually progressive atheists. Our interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives is explicitly not only in its conception interfaith, but explicitly welcoming to secular humanist and atheists. In short, one does not have to be a believe in any conception of God or connected to any religious practice to be a spiritual progressive. Yet, we also do want to honor the religious practices of every religion to the extent that they embrace a spiritual progressive worldview—namely, seeking to build a world of love, generosity, nonviolence, peace, social and economic justice, environmental sustainability and enhancing our capacities to treat others as embodiments of the sacred and responding to the universe with awe and wonder rather than seeing it (or seeing other humans) primarily in instrumental terms (namely, “what can you do to satisfy my needs?”). It is in this spirit that we send out statements about Christmas and Chanukah, just as we have done for Ramadan. ~Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor of Tikkun, rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

The 12 truths of Christmas are universal truths meant to be savored and reflected upon, for they are the product of over 45 years of my personal quest to deeply feel and understand a state of love and soul consciousness I once felt and knew as a child. I then found the courage to identify it as the Unified Field, a state of consciousness that exists not only beyond time and space but also beneath our deepest fears. It has demonstrated its remarkable self-healing qualities through the power of gratefulness with clients as well as combat veterans by the simple act of surrendering to love and conquering fear in the process. ~Allen L. Roland, PhD


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Pew Report on Religion and Education Around the World

Dec16

by: Pew Research Center on December 16th, 2016 | Comments Off

Large gaps in education levels persist, but all faiths are making gains – particularly among women

Religious figures/people painted on a wall.WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 13, 2016) – Jews are more highly educated than any other major religious group around the world, while Muslims and Hindus tend to have the fewest years of formal schooling, according to a Pew Research Center global demographic study that shows wide disparities in average educational levels among religious groups.

At present, Jewish adults (ages 25 and older) have a global average of 13 years of formal schooling, compared with approximately nine years among Christians, eight years among Buddhists and six years among Muslims and Hindus. Religiously unaffiliated adults – those who describe their religion as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – have spent an average of nine years in school, a little less than Christian adults worldwide, the study finds.

These gaps in educational attainment are partly a function of where religious groups are concentrated throughout the world. For instance, the vast majority of the world’s Jews live in the United States and Israel – two economically developed countries with high levels of education overall. And low levels of attainment among Hindus reflect the fact that 98% of Hindu adults live in the developing countries of India, Nepal and Bangladesh.


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The Miracles of Christmukah!

Dec1

by: Dan Brook and Richard H. Schwartz on December 1st, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Small christmas tree and chanukah candles side by side.Christmas and Chanukah periodically coincide and do so again beginning on Christmas Eve 2016, the first night of Chanukah 5777. Some are calling it Christmukah. Some are calling it another miracle!

Hope springs eternal. Indeed, it’s always been an integral part of Jewish and Christian history, spirituality, and politics. Without hope, there wouldn’t be a Chanukah; without hope, there might not even be a Jewish community; without hope, there might not be democracy or America. That’s the power of radical hope!

Christmas has been celebrated for over 1600 years and Chanukah has been celebrated for 2181 years. The two holidays may be united in our gratitude for Light, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Latkes. We don’t know if Jesus ever ate latkes, but as a Jew, it is highly likely that he celebrated Chanukah.


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Understanding Unconditional Love and Forgiveness from The Gospel of Simon

Sep1

by: Victor Narro on September 1st, 2016 | Comments Off

In my book Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014), I reveal how the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi shape my work for justice, teaching me the way of peace, love, humility, and service. I talk about how my Franciscan spirituality has been enriched by the teachings of spiritual leaders of other faiths, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and human rights activist.

John Smelcer’s new book, The Gospel of Simon (Leapfrog Press, 2016, also available in Spanish as El Evangelio de Simon), speaks of the concept of unconditional love and peace through action. The book is a powerful and vivid narrative account of an encounter two thousand years ago during a public spectacle where an itinerant Jewish preacher named Jesus was being brutally crucified and a man named Simon was being forced by a Roman soldier carrying out the crucifixion to help him carry the heavy cross through the crowded streets. Through Smelcer’s powerful storytelling narrative of that encounter and the relationship that developed between Jesus and Simon, this book is able to provide deep insights into the teachings of the Gospel, not so much from the approach of preaching, but as a story that provides us with invaluable lessons. This book is storytelling at its best, and it can apply to all faiths and spiritual teachings. The book’s simple and eloquent prose invites the reader to read it deeply with an open mind and heart.

For me as a social justice activist and scholar, what moved me the most is Smelcer’s emphasis, with much simplicity, on how our spirituality or faith can be a force for justice in the world. Faith is how we choose to live our lives, mindful that we dwell in the presence of a higher spiritual being – a higher good. It begins with the simple act of loving. Because there is a higher Goodness who loves you, you cannot have faith until you love yourself. Through a conversation between Jesus and Simon, this book teaches us that it is the inward expression of love that matters. You must look into your own heart. What you adorn your body with outwardly is of no consequence and does not prove love. The contents of your heart and your acts of kindness are all that matter. Compassion is the soul in action. Compassion triumphs because it is endless.


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Pope Francis and the Changing Catholic Church

Aug10

by: Sarah Asch on August 10th, 2016 | Comments Off

Pope Francis saidin late July that he would never call terrorism “Islamic terrorism” since all religions contain fundamentalist groups. He made the comment in response to questions about a French priest who was targeted and killed in a terrorist attack.

His statement came on the heels of progressive remarks he made in June when he called for the Catholic Church to apologize to the LGBT community for centuries of discrimination. In his efforts to move the church towards a new era of cultural acceptance we should view Pope Francis with as much scrutiny as we would any politically savvy public figure. And whether or not you believe that the Pope is doing his best with a centuries-old system or that he is not moving fast enough on certain issues, we can all agree he is moving. Then the question becomes: how sustainable are these progressive movements after Pope Francis resigns or passes away? After all, Pope Francis changed the tenor of the church pretty quickly after his conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, stepped down at the age of 85. With that in mind, many wonder how far Francis, who is 79 years old, can move the church before he has to hand over the job to somebody else.


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The False Consciousness of Stewardship

Jun28

by: Eleanor Johnson on June 28th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

According to New York Magazine, citing data from NASA and Bloomberg, it’s been the hottest month in recorded history for a year now. In these temperatures, we’ve got big frozen things melting, low-lying places flooding, hurricanes swooping out of season, trash pools whirling in ever-widening gyres, and species quietly going extinct. The long-term impact of the heating up of the earth’s surface is not entirely clear, but what is clear is that something needs to change.

In all of this discomfiting warmth, I am primarily concerned about people, and I am of a mind to start pointing fingers. Not at big industry, emerging nations, or even the U.S. government. I want to point at people who read the Christian Bible superficially, thus engendering misunderstandings that become powerful and damaging political ideologies. More specifically, I want to point fingers at Christian environmentalists who, with the best of intentions, take on the mantle of environmental “stewardship,” which they derive from the Bible, but actually use that mantle to the detriment both of the earth and to accurate readings of the Bible itself.

I’m talking about the Biblical treatment of stewardship. Many Christians invoke the idea of stewardship as a justification for their environmental stances. In one interpretation of Christian stewardship, God gave the earth unto mankind, so that mankind could act as steward of that gift, using the earth’s resources to the greatest possible advantage. Now, of course, many Christian Environmentalists understand stewardship not as carte blanche to do what they will with the earth, but as an obligation to manage God’s gift responsibly. But all too often, the idea of stewardship is impressed into the service of demands to drill for oil in the arctic or dump massive amounts of waste into the seas because, well, there those places are, kind of big and empty and underused.

What I find fascinating about the discourse on stewardship is that it misses the point of the steward parable – often by wrongly conflating it with the Parable of the Talents. The actual stewardship parable, often called the Parable of the Unjust Steward, tells a story of a steward who is entrusted to manage his lord’s wealth responsibly. But the steward fails in his assigned task, wasting all of the lord’s goods, so that the lord demands an account of his expenditures and fires him from his job. Bad news: it looks like there are pretty dire consequences for mismanaging the lord’s goods. But things get more interesting. In response to getting busted, the unjust steward goes to people who were in debt to the lord, and he reduces their debts by half. Now things get really weird: the lord praises him for redistributing the lord’s wealth in this way, for being “unjust,” and for taking wealth from the lord himself.

Needless to say, this parable has historically been a source of consternation for Biblical commentators. But in the 1380s, a cleric named Thomas Wimbledon had a great insight into it. He delivered a public sermon on the Unjust Steward to a group of Londoners, which emphasized how the steward’s original squandering of the lord’s wealth would have consequences for the weakest, poorest, and most desperate in society, and how that neglect to take care of those in need was his primary crime. Thus, the steward’s redistribution of wealth at the end makes sense: it is direct atonement for the initial act of wasting and squandering.

Now, the circumstances of the 1380s were different; Wimbledon wasn’t protesting environmental squandering by nation-states and corporations. But his fundamental insight is deeply relevant to our current socio-political and environmental situation. The Parable of the Unjust Steward only makes sense if you understand it as a claim for the importance of economic justice, the redistribution of wealth, and the protection of the poor. That is what the Bible endorses as the mandate of a steward. So, if the industrialized nations — in fact, I’ll just say the U.S. – wants to orient its environmental policy around the idea of stewardship, it needs to do so with the awareness that stewardship is ultimately about the protection of other people. Poorer people. People down the ladder of socio-economic stability and security.

In our current geopolitical moment, then, anyone who wants to lay claim to stewardship of the “earth” should actually make an effort to foster economic and environmental justice that will include, for instance, the Global South — the area of the surface of the earth that suffers the most acutely from the ongoing effects of colonialism, structural inequality, and environmental decay. If you want to be a good steward, a good Christian using the earth’s resources well and responsibly, you have to do so with an eye not simply toward the material preservation of what you have been given — like coal, oil, gas, or water — but also toward the people who have less than you have and who are structurally positioned to have less access to what you have.

So, as the earth continues in its perhaps doomed course of warming up, I would like to make a plea that people who rely on the Bible to justify their political stances on the environment read a little more carefully, so as to recognize that, to Jesus, the goods of the earth that we are most meant to preserve are the welfares of its human denizens.

Eleanor Johnson is a professor at Columbia University.

Review: Why People Pray by Mordecai Schreiber

Jun27

by: Alice Ogden Bellis on June 27th, 2016 | Comments Off

Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber’s Why People Pray is a remarkable book. It is ecumenical and yet aware of a great deal of the history of both Jewish and Christian spirituality, as well as Muslim and Eastern approaches. Rabbi Schreiber is learned, but down to Earth. He is not afraid to tackle the difficult questions (e.g., is anybody listening?) nor to give, on the one hand, the honest answer that ultimately we do not know many of the answers, but on the other hand, his own convictions born out of a lifetime of serious searching. The thirty-five chapters are short, most just a few pages, but they are packed with insights for the pious and even the free-thinkers. He quotes sources as disparate as Huckleberry Finn and Thomas Merton, William Blake and the Muslim Al-Hadid, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, and Stevie Wonder and Karen Armstrong, as well as much scripture from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and many traditional Jewish sources.

Born in Israel pre-1948 to secular Jews who had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust in time, Morry Schreiber found his way to religion on his own. Perhaps because of this, his approach to spirituality is fresh and open. He does not preach, but inspires and leads the reader gently to consider the value of prayer. The tone is conversational, and yet a great deal of wisdom from a life lived on three continents and that has traveled much of the globe is packed into this small volume.

The book is divided into three parts: What is prayer? What do people pray for? Prayer today. In the first chapter we learn about Rabbi Schreiber’s childhood and also his general approach to the subject, in which he says, more or less, that to live in a sense is to pray. The second chapter “Is Anyone Listening?” is one of the most important because the author’s honesty and openness is so clear. He admits that we do not know for sure, but he senses a divine presence in his life. Of course, he says it much more eloquently than that. He goes on to talk about the sources of prayer and then the essence of prayer, which he calls the “expression of our deepest emotions” (p.17). In this chapter the range of expression is seen, from the quiet of a traditional Quaker meeting to the exuberant African-American holiness worship service. An interesting chapter on prayer and magic explores the difference between magic in its negative connotations and at the same time explores the positive associations of the word magical in our understanding. Another interesting chapter deals with prayer and sacrifice and notes that after the Temple was destroyed, the rabbis used Hosea 14:3 as a way of transitioning from a religion of sacrifice to one of prayer:

Forgive all guilt

And accept what is good;

Instead of bulls we will pay

[The offering of] our lips[1]

In a chapter entitled “Creative and Static Prayer” the focus is on the need constantly to update written prayer materials so that they will reflect the current context. Nevertheless, some prayers are timeless and seem to be able to cross temporal boundaries better than others. Rabbi Schreiber gives a wonderful example of a fourteenth century Syrian Muslim prayer for peace which would be very appropriately prayed today. The next chapter is a reflection on the power of words, both their positive and their negative power, depending on how they are used. They were used rhetorically in very negative ways building up to the Holocaust, but they can also be used with great positive power. In the chapter called “Prayer, Work and Creativity” the concept of prayer is extended beyond words to the area of human work and especially creative work. The works of Van Gogh and Gauguin are briefly considered in this section.

In the section on prayer and meditation, Eastern spiritual traditions are brought into view, especially Buddhist practice. Rabbi Schreiber notes that in Judaism Kabbalistic traditions and in Christianity contemplation are also forms of meditation. He moves from meditation to life with people, in which he balances the individual nature of meditation with the communal aspects of prayer.

The next chapter is a reflection on praying to God as a father figure, where Rabbi Schreiber admits the problems inherent within Judaism and Christianity given the overwhelmingly masculine imagery in the Bible. He indicates that God is neither male nor female and that there is the Virgin Mary for Catholics, the Shekinah, the feminine divine presence for Jewish women, though this may be too abstract, and women biblical characters now included in the prayer book. What could also be said is that since God is neither male nor female, we can create new imagery for God that is gender neutral or that is binary: God as mother and father, since there is some female divine imagery in the Bible.

In the Kaddish and the Lord’s Prayer, Mordecai Schreiber not only shows the specific Jewish roots of the Christian Lord’s Prayer, but also tells a moving story about a group of Polish soldiers facing death who together recited the Lord’s Prayer, allowing them to go down in dignity. The next chapters deal with prayer and various attitudes/experiences: humility, triumphalism, suffering, repentance, afterlife. The final chapter in Part I deals with the efficacy of prayer. The bottom line is that there are no guarantees, but one should pray anyway.

In Part II about what people pray for, there are chapters on: Healing, prosperity, life cycle prayers, yearly cycle prayers, sabbath and prayer, prayer and peace of mind, prayer and war, and prayer and world peace. Part III on prayer today has several important chapters. “Prayer and the Holocaust” deals with the difficult issues of how to pray in the aftermath of the horrible genocide. The chapter on the “Detractors of Faith” deals with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and reflects on how to respond to their attacks on religion. “Prayer for Freethinkers” is a chapter making the case that prayer is not just for the pious, God-intoning crowd; there is plenty of room in his mind for those who are uncomfortable using God-language. The last two chapters are “Prayer as a Way of Life” and “A New Language of Prayer” in which Rabbi Schreiber considers some of the areas in which we need new vocabulary, less sin oriented, more gender neutral, less tolerant of poverty, more eco-friendly.

Why People Pray provides ample material for a study group and includes many anecdotes that will be of use to those preparing sermons. It could be used with teenagers straight through to senior citizens. This is a rare book, delightful, and wise.


[1] Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985), Ho 14:3.

Alice Ogden Bellis is the Professor of Hebrew Bible at Howard University School of Divinity.

Building Upon Nostra Aetate: Fraternity Over Collaboration

Jun17

by: Timothy Villareal on June 17th, 2016 | Comments Off

Abraham Joshua Heschel and Thomas Merton

Abraham Joshua Heschel and Thomas Merton

In April, news reports surfaced that the Vatican was on the verge of granting canonical status to a far right breakaway movement within Roman Catholicism that rejects the Second Vatican Council: the Society of Pius X (SSPX). Most Catholics became familiar with this group’s existence in 2009, when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, though not granting it canonical recognition, lifted the excommunication of its members, including an infamous bishop of the Society, Richard Williamson, a Holocaust denier since expelled from the group. Sadly, the removal of that bishop has not, as documented by the Anti-Defamation League, done anything to cleanse the SSPX of its anti-Semitism.

In January 2013 – just two months before Pope Francis ascended to the papacy – the leader of the Society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, blamed the Vatican’s refusal to grant his group canonical recognition on the Jewish people. As reportedby the ADL:

In his remarks, Fellay accused Jews of lobbying the Vatican to accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. “Interesting, isn’t it?” Fellay said. “People from outside the Church, who were clearly during centuries enemies of the Church, say to Rome, ‘if you want to accept these people (SSPX) you must oblige them to accept the Council.’ Isn’t that interesting? Oh it is. I think it’s fantastic, because it shows that Vatican II is their thing, not the Church’s. They see, the enemies of the Church see, their benefit in the Council. Very interesting.”

Fundamentally, what Fellay was referring to when he said that Vatican II was “their thing, not the Church’s” was the landmark Vatican document, Nostra Aetate: a document which revoked the charge of deicide against the Jewish people, and which paved the way for the following 50 years of positive Catholic-Jewish relations.

Indeed, without that so-called “Jewish interference” at the Second Vatican Council generations of Catholics would have likely been imbued with the same anti-Semitic, or at least anti-Judaic, religious mindsets that plagued pre-Vatican II Catholicism.Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the greatest Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, was the lead representative for the American Jewish Committee on the Council text addressing Catholic-Jewish relations in this post-Holocaust world, helping to shape its outcome for the better.

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