A giant in Catholic-Jewish relations nears retirement

Few Catholics or Jews have probably heard of Eugene Fisher. But few people have done as much for Catholic-Jewish relations.

Since the 1970s, Fisher has been the full-time staff person on Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He’s also been a veteran consultor to the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

apol09.gifIt’s safe to say that he’s been responsible for how thousands of Americans understand what Vatican II had to say about relations with the Jewish people.

When St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore gave Fisher an honorary doctorate in 1999, the school declared that:

“No single American Catholic has done more to foster these teachings (the Second Vatican Council’s declaration Nostra Aetate on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions) and to promote the ‘good fellowship’ between Catholics and Jews called for by the Council than Dr. Eugene J. Fisher.”

Fisher is retiring soon as a result of staff cuts at the Bishops Conference. Several people — Jewish and Catholic — have said to me in recent weeks that they are worried about who will fill his role when an inevitable crisis comes up in Catholic-Jewish stuff. There is hardly an important person in Jewish life who doesn’t know Fisher.

I’ve talked to him several times over the years, about Pope Pius XII, John Paul II’s trip to the Holy Land, Mel Gibson’s movie and other things. You can always tell that he understands the Jewish perspective, even if he ultimately represents the Catholic point of view. Fisher holds a doctorate in Hebrew culture and education from NYU.

“Here”:http://www.americamagazine.org/gettext.cfm?articleTypeID=1&textID=3413&issueID=472 is an article that Fisher had in America magazine about how Jews have been portrayed in Passion plays.

And “here’s”:http://www.americamagazine.org/gettext.cfm?articleTypeID=1&textID=3523&issueID=480 something he wrote after Mel Gibson’s movie came out.

Who can recommend a Protestant church in Rockland County to this woman?

Every now and then, someone calls or writes to ask me if I can recommend a church or synagogue in this region I cover. It’s not exactly what I do, so I usually try to refer the person to someone I think can help.

The other day, someone posted a comment on this blog, asking me to recommend a church. I’m going to copy the comment here. If you have a suggestion, feel free to post it as a comment or to email it directly to me (gstern@lohud.com).

I will forward whatever I get to the writer. How’s that?

Here’s the post:

“Hi Gary, I hope this finds you well. I came across your website during a search this morning. Rather than a comment, I have a question I am hoping you answer. Do you know of any churches in the Rockland area with a mixed congregation and lots of singing? I moved to the area over a year ago and though I have tried a few, have yet to find a church to call home. I am flexible so an Interdominational, Methodist, Baptist or Pentecostal church would work well. I hope to hear back from you.”

‘The Mormons:’ A pretty quick four hours

Quick thoughts on part two of PBS’ “The Mormons:”:http://www.pbs.org/mormons/

Overall, it was a respectful, entertaining introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I thought part two did a nice job showing the centrality of the missionary program and the importance of family life in the LDS world (something that many non-Mormons find appealing). The segment on how the church clamps down on wayward theologians was necessary, but should have noted, it seems to me, that the LDS church is not the only church that believes it must reign in those who push too far.

What strikes me this morning is how much a four-hour documentary could not address. There could have been more focus on LDS belief. There was little mention, for instance, of the ongoing debate on whether Mormons are Christians. Also, African Americans were banned from the priesthood until 1978, and non-Mormons would probably have been very interested to learn why. If this came up, I missed it. (NOTE: I’m now told that I did miss it. Maybe my wife was asking me what color to paint the bathroom.)

I don’t mean to sound critical. I’m sure the producers decided to give certain themes the time they needed instead of adding more material and diluting the whole thing. It was probably the right move. But even four hours isn’t that much time when it comes to explaining the history and beliefs of a worldwide church.

More books about not believing

Boy, these atheist books keep coming, don’t they?

After all the attention given the “ain’t religion dumb” books of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and, to a lesser degree, Daniel Dennett), we now have “God is Not Great” by the iconoclast’s iconoclast, “Christopher Hitchens.”:http://www.hitchensweb.com/

This one has been inevitable. Hitchens, after all, is the guy who went after Mother Theresa.

He writes:

“There are four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. I do not think it is arrogant of me to claim that I had already discovered these four objections (as well as noticed the more vulgar and obvious fact that religion is used by those in temporal charge to invest themselves with authority) before my boyish voice had broken.”

Then there is “Nothing: Something to Believe it,”:http://www.prometheusbooks.com/catalog/book_1876.html by Nica Lalli. Her atheist’s memoir is billed as the kindler, gentler face of non-belief, offering a female perspective to balance all the angry non-believing men.

“Rather than dissect God, religion or theology, Lalli dissects her own history, examining how she came to embrace being nothing,” her publicist says.

So there are so many atheist tracts out there, we are seeing niche atheists.

See how dinosaurs got along with people

“You’ve never seen anything like this. Prepare to believe.”

That’s what it says on the cover of a press kit I received today from the “Creation Museum,”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/museum/ which opens Memorial Day weekend outside Cincinnati.

The $27 million museum is dedicated to presenting a particular kind of evangelical Christian, Bible-based representation of the history of the world, generally known as “young Earth creationism.”

The museum exists, in large part, to refute the theory of evolution.

ham2_web.jpgThe world of science generally holds that the Earth was created some 4.5 billion years ago. But the folks behind the Creation Museum believe that the Earth is no older than 10,000 years old and that humankind lived alongside dinosaurs. Baby dinosaurs were among those on Noah’s ark, they say.

The high-tech exhibits at the museum aim to explain and prove these beliefs (and to spread the faith).

The museum is a project of Answers in Genesis, a hard-core evangelical apologetics group that has spent many years promoting a literal understanding of the Bible.

Its president, Ken Ham (that’s him), says this:

“As a revelation of history from the beginning to the end of time, the Bible is the foundation that enables us to construct the big picture and have the right approach in geology, biology, physics and astronomy. The Creation Museum provides a visual presentation for people to see the Bible as truth from the very first verse in Genesis to the last verse in Revelation.”

I don’t know how many New Yorkers will be visiting the museum. But if you go, please let us know how it went…

The Mormons, part I

Watching “The Mormons”:http://www.pbs.org/mormons/ on PBS last night made me realize one thing: it’s easy to take for granted what Joseph Smith was able to do.

He said that he received visions of the angel Moroni, who directed him to the gold plates — in Western New York!– that he would translate into the Book of Mormon. And people followed him. They faced tremendous persecution, traveled west in pursuit of religious freedom and against all odds…well, you know the rest of the story.

Smith is said to have asked Moroni God the Father and Jesus which of the churches were true.

“And the answer was that none of them were,” said Marlin Jensen, an LDS church historian.

synp.jpgI would think that most Latter-day Saints would feel pretty good, if a bit uneasy, about the first part of the documentary (the second part, about the modern LDS church, is on PBS tonight, 9-11). The show emphasized the amazing accomplishments of this American-born, now worldwide church. It presented Smith and Brigham Young as real human beings, who were driven by faith but also flawed. At a time when many Americans are curious about the Mormons, viewers probably came away with a much better sense of who the early Mormons were.

But the show did offer a liberal selection of critics and skeptics, as well. It gave a lot of time to the polygamy question, and strongly suggested that the church’s decision to end polygamy was a practical one and not the result of a revelation from God to the church’s president (as Mormon tradition now holds). The documentary also gave almost as much time to the “Mountain Meadows Massacre” of 1857 — when Mormons killed 120 men, women and children from Arkansas and tried to cover up the crime – as it did to the persecution faced by Mormons.

“How did these decent, religious men who had sacrificed so much for what they believe in, how did they become mass murderers?” asked Will Bagley, an historian who is known to be a critic of the LDS church.

I was wondering what the Deseret News, a Utah newspaper owned by the LDS church, might have to say about about the show. Here is a “review”:http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,660215305,00.html by Scott D. Pierce, their television critic:

Anyone who’s planning to use the two-part, four-hour PBS documentary “The Mormons” in Sunday School at their local ward is going to be sorely disappointed.
But then so is anyone who’s planning to hang copies of the program on doorknobs to convince members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to abandon their faith.
“The Mormons” is not a faith-promoting missionary tool. Although it might turn out to be that for some.
Neither is it an anti-Mormon diatribe. Though some people might see it that way at times. Continue reading