27 March 2007

The Fires of Hell Are Real and Eternal, Pope Warns

"What's lying in store for the relationship between Jews and Catholics?" is the thorny question I find myself asking more and more often these days. The Pope, the one currently in office, truly seems to be keen on curtailing the significant accomplishments of his predecessor, John Paul II, and Vatican II in principle.

I first became rather apprehensive about and even fearful of the man after reading these lines:

He gave a long address at the site of the former concentration camp and failed to mention anti-semitism, and offered no apology - whether on behalf of his own country, Germany, or on behalf of the Catholic Church. He acknowledged he was a "son of the German people" ... "but not guilty on that account"; he then launched into a highly controversial claim that a "ring of criminals" were responsible for nazism and that the German people were as much their victims as anyone else. This is an argument that has long been discredited in Germany as utterly inadequate in explaining how millions supported the Nazis. Given his own involvement in the Hitler Youth movement as a boy, and his refusal to make a clean breast of the Vatican's acquiescence in the horrors of Nazism by opening its archives to historians, this was a shabby moment in Catholic history. Not for this pope those dramatic, epoch-defining gestures that made the last Pope such a significant global figure.

Even worse, in his Auschwitz address, he managed to argue in a long theological exposition that the real victims of the Holocaust were God and Christianity. As one commentator put it, he managed to claim that Jews were the "themselves bit players - bystanders at their own extermination. The true victim was a metaphysical one." This theological treatise bears the same characteristics as last week's Regensburg lecture; put at its most charitable, they are too clever by half. More plainly speaking, they indicate a deep arrogance rooted in a blinkered Catholic triumphalism which is utterly out of place in the 21st century.

Now the Pope has reminded the world of the looming danger of being sent to Hell.
Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, the Pope has said.
I have to acknowledge that whenever religious leaders, especially of such impressive station, start speaking bombastically about Hell, I am instantly overcome with a feeling of nausea. I can't explain my sentiments using hard-nosed logic, but I am under the impression that lectures of this sort create nothing but rifts between people. As a Jew living in a Christian country, I fear that I will find myself, sooner or later, on the receiving end of hatred, triumphalism and a frenzy of proselytizing that often follow from such pontificating.
God had given men and women free will to choose whether “spontaneously to accept salvation . . . the Christian faith is not imposed on anyone, it is a gift, an offer to mankind”.
Judging from the above quote, those who do not accept Christianity, Jews for example, are heading for Hell. I, of course, don't really buy for a moment this claptrap, but I am, nevertheless, deeply nervous about the reaction these proclamations might elicit from the faithful. And I am also wondering what the Pope is really up to... At this point, I only sense that he is intent on resurrecting Christianity, which is not a worrying development per se, but I am curious as to what it means for us Jews.