Pope Benedict has once again taken steps to roll back the strides made by Vatican II regarding interfaith dialogue. On July 11, seemingly out of nowhere he decided to tell the world that the only true Church is the Catholic Church. His comments have roiled Protestants and other Christian groups that for years have been building ecumenical brodges with the Church.
But even more problematic is the Pope’s decision to reintroduce the Latin Mass with prayers beseeching God to convert the Jews. The problem with the Pope’s comments and action is not that they lack a basis, but why now, with all the strife between peoples of faith, does he find it so important to degrade other religions and faiths?
Just a few weeks ago I wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Jewish Week warning against the increasingly disturbing staments being issued by the Pope and others with regard to the interfaith dialogue. Here are a few of my arguments:
Like other elements in Vatican II, the strides made by “Nostra Aetate” have in recent years been curtailed by a small but growing group of Catholic and Jewish clergymen. As the world becomes more aware of the need for a deepening of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dialogue, these religious leaders have been promoting a different approach to interacting with faiths—one that might be termed “fundamentalist relativism.”
This new group contends that no religion has a right to ask others to change or emend any of its core theological positions and likewise, relativistically, that each religion is entitled to believe what it so chooses and should not be critiqued by others.
Recently, Rabbi David Berger, a representative to the International Committee for Interreligious Consultations, the leading Jewish interfaith organization, has challenged those like Rabbi Heschel. Rabbi Berger argues that “Jews have no more right to demand that Christians reject one of the core beliefs of Christianity” than Christians have the right “to demand that Jews give up their [core] conviction[s].”
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, in a recent piece published in Commentary Magazine, has gone even further than Rabbi Berger, criticizing those who condemned the Taliban’s bombing of Buddha statues prior to 9/11. While this camp denounces the use of violence or coercion on the part of any religion, it believes each religion has the right to theoretically believe whatever it so chooses, irrespective of how potentially dangerous, violent or unethical those beliefs might be for the rest of the world. In such a spirit, Rabbi Soloveichik has also suggested that though Judaism believes in the “virtue of hate,” such a “virtue” should not impede Jews’ day-to-day relationship with gentiles. Religious people are meant to live in an eternal state of cognitive dissonance where they are suppose to befriend, live alongside and work with those whom they passionately and absolutely believe are going to burn in hell.
Strangely, rabbis like Berger and Soloveichik seem to have taken their cue from Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2000 issued Dominus Iesus, a church document reasserting the Church’s eschatological dream of all Jews and Muslims finding ultimate salvation in Christ. This fundamentalist view of Christian theology revealed itself again this past year in a speech Benedict delivered in Bavaria, where he suggested that in Islam one finds “things only evil and inhuman, such as [Mohammad’s] command to spread the sword.”
The uproar surrounding Benedict’s comments led church officials to claim that the Pope was merely issuing a challenge to Muslim leadership and not defining the essence of Islam. That said, if the Pope were challenging Muslim leadership then he should be prepared to have Muslims and Jews challenge his own theological positions.