Shuck and Jive

Friday, March 23, 2007

Constantine's Sword

As we approach Holy Week, we will hear and in some cases preach sermons about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, his last week there, his execution, and the "meaning" of the cross.

I am in the process of reading James Carroll's, Constantine's Sword This is a book that should make Christians think twice about calling the execution of Jesus, "Good Friday." Carroll takes us through the history of the church's attitudes and actions toward Jews arguing that anti-semitism is at the root of our Christian conviction. He begins by reflecting on the cross at Auschwitz. Why is a cross there? Should there be? What does it mean for Jews?

Reckoning with this work will be on my agenda as I seek to construct my own theology for the twenty-first century.

Here is an excerpt from his book:

Perhaps the voice a troubled Christian most needs to hear is that of the Jew who says the Holocaust must be made to teach nothing. "What consequences, then, are to be drawn from the Holocaust?" asks the theologian Jacob Neusner. "I argue that none are to be drawn, none for Jewish theology and none for the life of Jews with one another, which were not there before 1933. Jewish theologians do no good service to believers when they claim that "Auschwitz denotes a turning point." That voice is useful because if Jewish responses to the Holocaust, which range from piety to nihilism, are complex and multifaceted, Christian interpretations of the near elimination of Jews from Europe, however respectfully put forth, must inevitably be even more problematic. The cross signifies the problem: When suffering is seen to serve a universal plan of salvation, its particular character as tragic and evil is always diminished. The meaningless can be made to shimmer with an eschatological hope, and at Auschwitz this can seem like blasphemy.
But what about an effort less ambitious than the search for meaning or the imposition of theology? What if the cross at Auschwitz is an object before which Christians only want to kneel and pray? And, fully aware of what happened there, what if we Christians want to pray for Jews? Why does that offend? How can prayers for the dead be a bad thing? But what if such prayers, offered with good intentions, effectively evangelize the dead? What if they imply that the Jews who died at Auschwitz are to be ushered into the presence of God by the Jesus whom they rejected? Are Jews then expected to see at last the truth to which, all their lives, they had been blind? Seeing that truth in the beatific vision, are they then to bow down before Jesus as Messiah in an act of postmortem conversion? Shall the afterlife thus be judenrein too? Elie Wiesel tells "a joke which is not funny." It concerns an SS officer whose torment of a Jew consisted in his pretending to shoot the Jew dead, firing a blank, while simultaneously knocking him unconscious. When the Jew regained consciousness, the Nazi told him, "You are dead, but you don't know it. You think that you escaped us? We are your masters, even in the other world." Wiesel comments, "What the Germans wanted to do to the Jewish people was to substitute themselves for the Jewish God." Here is the question a Christian must ask: Does our assumption about the redemptive meaning of suffering, tied to the triumph of Jesus Christ and applied to the Shoah, inevitably turn every effort to atone for the crimes of the Holocaust into a claim to be the masters of Jews in the other world? Read more

This is from the Publisher, a review from, a review from Catholic theologian, Robert Coates, and some Questions for Discussion.

I am thinking of suggesting this book for our next study group.

Have a thoughtful "Holy Week."

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