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INVINCIBLE IGNORANCE


An
Exchange of Views between Thomas J. Nash and E. Michael Jones

 

Mr. Nash: Invincible Ignorance

 

I appreciated Dr. Jones’ tone in his response to my letter October 2004 (“Privilege and Blessing”) that primarily addressed his June 2004 article (“Is St. John an Anti-Semite?”).  And I want to again reiterate my respect for Dr. Jones for his scholarship and long-time service to the Church on various fronts.  However, I submit respectfully that Dr. Jones did not accurately reflect my position in saying Mr. Nash proposes a dichotomy which may have currency in the culture wars but has no theological basis.  Mr. Nash proposes a distinction between ADL Jews and “faithful Jews.”

 

Dr. Jones focused solely on my use of the term “faithful Jews,” even though I used the term “religious Jews” much more frequently (seven).  Nevertheless, given a clearly established context, it is not illegitimate to use the term “faithful Jews” equivocally, i.e., referring to those Jews who faithfully follow the basic tenets of the moral law as they understand them in their Old Covenant form.  In addition, it is well-founded in Catholic theology to speak of non-Catholics, including Jews, who are either faithful or unfaithful in following the general moral law written on their hearts (cf. Rom. 2:14-16).  Indeed, for those who are invincibly ignorant, the Church teaches that this will be the basic standard by which they will be judged.

 

There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace (Pope Pius IX’s 1863 encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, no. 7; cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, no. 16; Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), nos. 846-48).

 

I left no doubt in my letter that I believe that Jews are mistaken about Jesus Christ; that they can only be saved by invincible ignorance if they don’t accept Christ; and that, because we can’t presume upon such ignorance, we need to work to help them accept Him as members of His Catholic Church, which is contrast to the views of some others in the Church.  Unfortunately, in response, Dr. Jones didn’t acknowledge these clearly stated and important points in my letter, e.g.: that “God made an indissoluble covenant with the Jews, and so, like a faithful spouse, He continues to seek out the full reconciliation of His beloved through their embrace of the fulfillment of His covenant.  And so we as disciples continue to yearn for the full reconciliation of the Jewish people to God in His Church” (cf. Vatican II, Nostra Aetate (NA), no. 4). The Church does dogmatically teach that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and thus that “Jerusalem did not recognize God’s moment when it came” (NA, no. 4), but the Church does not presume to judge the culpability of the Jews or any other group of people. To be sure, each one of us will have his particular judgment with the Almighty (cf. CCC, nos. 1021-22).

 

All salvation comes by Jesus Christ through His Catholic Church, and we cannot presume upon a non-Christian’s invincible ignorance (cf. CCC, no. 846-48); yet, I’m worried that Dr. Jones’ review [of Roy Schoeman’s Salvation is from the Jews] and article may serve as impediments to evangelizing Jews.  Indeed, I don’t think many Catholics consider that a number of actions done in the name of Jesus toward Jews during the last 2,000 years have actually impeded the mission Our Lord gave His Church (cf. Mt. 28:18-20).

 

All too often, Jews have been vilified for their religious heritage instead of being shown the love of the Savior.  Too often they’ve been condemned for Jesus’ death instead of observing Christians who were ready to emulate the Savior, even to the point of dying for them.  One can justly and constructively criticize irreligious Jews without having to gratuitously alienate religious Jews.  And one can constructively criticize the actions and scriptural analysis of religious Jews, i.e., in a way that is likely to be heard and therefore more likely to bear fruit.

 

When Jews see Catholics living their faith with genuine love, they’ll be more likely to believe in Jesus and thus become “completed Jews,” as Father Arthur Klyber described his becoming Catholic.

 

While Dr. Jones cited Nostra Aetate in his favor, NA does not speak of any Jew who has not accepted Christ as necessarily “worse than a pagan.”  Nor does NA speak of all Jews as being liars, nor as members of the synagogue of Satan.  Nor does NA say that all Jews have “rejected Abraham and Moses and the entire Jewish religion well,” as Dr. Jones seems to imply in his response, and uses St. John as apparent support.  (Nor does the Council of Trent, the Fourth Lateran Council, and, as I noted in my October 2004 letter, John and Jesus, properly understood.)  Rather, NA speaks of Jews and Catholics as having a common heritage in a significant sense.  And if, in fact, any Jew in not accepting Christ has thereby rejected “Abraham, Moses, and the entire Jewish religion,” as Dr. Jones seems to imply, then Dr. Jones has misidentified them as “Jews” because they are thereby not Jews in any sense of the word, save perhaps, depending on the individual, in the ethnic sense of the word.  Yet, NA disagrees with such a conclusion, as do St. John Chrysostom, the Fourth Lateran Council, and Trent.  Dr. Jones himself identifies such people as Jews later in his response to my letter.

 

Further, Dr. Jones continues to not distinguish between Jews’ objective error in not accepting Christ vs. their subjective culpability in doing so, which can vary from person to person.  Plus, as noted, there are manifest and major differences between Jews re: following the basic tenets of the moral law, specifically the aforementioned law of God written on their hearts.  Whatever his criticism of the Jews, St. John Chrysostom would not disagree with my points re: distinguishing between objective wrongdoing and subjective culpability, nor do my points here conflict with the directives of the Fourth Lateran Council.

 

Finally, there is the very important issue of which approach will be most likely to bear fruit in leading Jews to become Catholic.  We must not compromise the truth, of course, but we must also avoid expressions and actions that can gratuitously undermine or derail our efforts in advancing the Church’s mission to the Jews.CW

 

Dr. Jones: The Stone of Tolerance

 

Mr. Nash’s discussion of invincible ignorance is beside the point here. It applies to those who don’t know of the coming of Christ as the Messiah. These people can be saved if they follow the moral law. Those who reject Christ cannot be saved even if they follow the moral law—an admittedly unlikely prospect. I have no way of judging the soul of any man, so I simply cannot tell if any one person is among the damned or the elect at the time of his death. However, I think I did show in the three articles from my book on the Revolutionary Jew which have thus far appeared in Culture Wars that Talmudic Judaism is not the religion of Moses and Abraham; it is rather a revolutionary ideology based on the rejection of Christ. If that is the case, then no one who follows that religion can be saved because no one who rejects Christ can be saved. Many Jews are not religious, but the distinction between “faithful” or “religious” Jews and “secular” Jews is irrelevant when it comes to the question of Christ. Both groups reject him as the Messiah. From the time of the events recounted in the Gospel of St. John, the Jew has defined himself as a rejecter of Christ, something evident in the passage on the parents of the man born blind, who refused to speak “out of fear of the Jews,” even though they too were Jews, because the “Jews threatened to expel from the synagogue anyone who accepted Christ as the Messiah.” The “Jews” did that then, and they do it today.  I can judge no one’s soul, but if there is one group on the face of the earth which cannot claim to be invincibly ignorant, it is the Jews because they were instructed by God himself through the law and the prophets. However, the very fact that Jews are taught by their Talmud to vilify Christ, mitigates individual culpability, which is, as I have already stated, beyond my ability to judge. I have known Jews who seemed to be honorable men, and I have known Jews who have seemingly gone to their grave defiantly rejecting Christ. The fate of their immortal souls is up to God. The only Jew I fear is the Jew who comes to me looking for Christ and who receives from me the stone of tolerance rather than the bread of eternal life. That happened once in my life, and I had made up my mind that it was not going to happen again.

 

In order to put this discussion in context, I would like to talk for a moment about the converse of my statement that Jews, the people instructed by God Himself, cannot possibly claim invincible ignorance, by talking about the case of one individual, in this case, Sam Shapiro, someone I had known for over 20 years until his death in late December 2004. Sam had written a number of articles for both Fidelity and Culture Wars; he lived around the corner; he would call me on a regular basis, and yet the relationship was not one which I would call symmetrical. He could and did call me whenever he felt like talking; when I called him, however, he would often seem distant and unavailable.

 

That asymmetry continued to the end. Roughly one year ago, I got a call from him after a gap of several years. I had written an article on his wife and her involvement in witchcraft as a professor at Indiana University which had almost gotten her fired. Even though he instigated the article and even though I could not have written it without the information he had provided, he denounced me angrily for writing it, and for a number of years, all communication ceased.

 

Then roughly one year ago I got a call from Sam, who told me in his typically direct fashion that when he looked into the mirror he saw the face of a dying animal. Sam had cancer and thought he was dying at the time. He was dying, but not in the way he thought. I countered by saying that at moments like this we should think about the four last things?

 

“What are they?” he asked. “Death, judgment, heaven, hell,” I answered. “I don’t believe in any of that,” he said. And that was that. For a while at least.

 

I got another call in October. Sam had had a heart attack and was in the hospital awaiting a quadruple bypass operation. His wife had died in June; his children were living someplace else. I was, he told me, the only person he could turn to at the moment. Would I mind taking care of his affairs in case he died? That meant primarily, as he told it, shipping his body off to the lab at Indiana University, where he was going to be chopped up into pieces and passed around to the needy in some ghoulish rite that reminded of the John Prine song “Please Don’t Bury Me.”  Again, on the phone and for the days of his recuperation, I brought up the four last things. Or, let’s say, I tried to bring up the four last things in a hospital room where the television is constantly playing. I remember trying to talk about the final judgment, when suddenly Sam interrupted me by saying, “Look at that.” He pointed to the television, which ironically was showing a documentary of people dying in spectacular accidents. So naturally I got caught up in the footage of the people tumbling out of the hot air balloon, being crushed as their vehicles overturned, etc., and the conversation ended before it began.

 

Things continued in that vein on a daily basis. I visited him just about every day, something that he mentioned with gratitude more than once. “The rabbis never came to see me,” he said at one point, “but you did.” At another point, he became pensive and said, “Think of all the students I’ve led astray.” His son was in the room at that point, and he added, “universities are subversive.”  I was tempted to disagree but said nothing.

 

Universities may or may not be subversive, but Sam and his wife certainly were. Sam was fired from a teaching job in Michigan, and then hired on the orders of Father Hesburgh at Notre Dame, without as much as giving the talk he had prepared for the search committee. He no sooner showed up on campus than he was sent off to the Rockefeller Foundation, as Notre Dame’s token Jew, to beg money. Sam claimed to be a professor emeritus, but he had been fired for his compulsively smutty talk in class, talk which had amassed a huge and growing file of complaints from students over the years. He was given a $250,000 settlement (or reward) and sent packing. His wife, according to his testimony, used to brag about all the marriages she had destroyed and the abortions she had procured for her students. This was in the days before she became a promoter of witchcraft and lesbianism. All in all the two of them had spent their 40 years in South Bend corrupting the morals of their students. For this they were rewarded handsomely, at least in this life.

 

Sam was released from the hospital a few days after his quadruple bypass, but within a matter of days, infection set in and he was back in the hospital. This time, since he was in for the long haul, he was transferred to a quasi-nursing home at South Bend’s Catholic hospital. I visited him once or twice, when I got a call around midnight, which my mother could not transfer. When I visited him on the following day, Sam told me that he wanted to become a Catholic.  After conferring with two local priests, I came up with a plan, whereby I would read passages from the Catechism to him while he was convalescing. After he got well enough to leave the hospital, he would be baptized and brought into the Church. If he took a turn for the worse, I would make sure that he was baptized immediately. The plan never got put into effect. When I arrived to put it into effect, a doctor was in his room standing at the foot of his bed joking about something or other and urging him to read Seymour Hersh’s book on John F. Kennedy, a copy of which he provided on the condition that Sam give it back when he was done.

 

When I showed up at the hospital the next day, the doctor and the Hersh book had done their work. Sam was no longer interested in conversion because Kennedy was a “bad Catholic.”  I tried to explain the irrationality of his position, but as I said before, we enjoyed an asymmetrical relationship. It was a bit like talking to my deaf grandfather. He could initiate conversations, but I could not. I could only respond to what he said. For the next few days, Sam would complain about the doctors. In particular the one who had given him the Hersh book struck him as anti-Catholic, and he would complain about getting weaker. Any attempt to steer the conversation to the four last things was dismissed, rebuffed or ignored. Finally, one day he started talking about some physics professor who had explained to Sam how big the universe was and small and insignificant we were by comparison. I replied by saying that at one point metaphysics, or natural theology, was seen as flowing naturally from physics. People who thought that way felt that human destiny was determined by the stars, but that was now known as astrology and not something to be taken seriously. Sam must have been offended by what I said, because he said that he was a sick man, that he was tired of arguing with me, and that he would be happier if I didn’t come to visit him anymore. Roughly two weeks later, I found out that he had died a few days after my last visit.

 

That wasn’t quite the end of the story. As soon as I found out that Sam had died, I called the priest who had suggested that I instruct Sam in the faith. I found out that he had visited Sam in the time between my last visit and his death. Sam, the priest told me, had shown no interest in the conversion which had prompted my conversation with the priest in the first place. The priest felt that the fact that Sam’s daughter was in the room might have inhibited their conversation, but I doubt it. I think Sam had made up his mind when he asked me not to come visit him. I cannot generalize about individuals. Sam was a Jew, and Jews cannot be invincibly ignorant. But Sam the individual wasn’t ignorant either. His adult life was an ongoing internal struggle between Sam the Jew, whose life was based on the ethnically conditioned rejection of Christ, and Sam the Israelite, who was drawn to Christ as his savior. In the end, at least from my limited perspective, it looks as if the Jew won out in that struggle.CW

 

Thomas J. Nash is a Senior Information Specialist at Catholics United for the Faith (CUF).

E. Michael Jones is the editor of Culture Wars.

 

This exchange was published in the February, 2005 issue of Culture Wars.

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