(I am taking a short break from the series of posts on economic issues. They will continue next week.)
Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI issued a replacement for the traditional Good Friday prayer and it has riled up some Jewish groups. Part of the new prayer says: “Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may illuminate their hearts and that they also may acknowledge Our Lord Jesus Christ.” This new prayer was considered less offensive to Jews than the old one because the “old text prayed for, in Latin, the conversion of the Jews, calling on God to deliver “that people. . .from its darkness” and to remove the “blindness” “
Nevertheless, the new prayer is still considered offensive. “Rabbi David Rosen, director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee said that although he was pleased that the offensive terms were removed from the prayer, he still objected to the new prayer because it specified that Jews should find redemption specifically in Christ.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, also was disturbed, saying that he was “deeply troubled” that the intention to petition God for Jews to accept Jesus as Lord was kept intact.
To me, within the framework of religion, both the old and the new prayers make perfect sense. Clearly Catholics (and other Christians) believe that Christianity is the one true religion. Otherwise why would they be Christians? Many also believe that those who do not “accept Christ” in some form or other are not going to heaven, or at the very least are going to find some obstacles in their way to getting there, and at the very worst are going to find their post-death experience very nasty indeed. Therefore it is actually quite humane on their part to pray that Jews (and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and atheists) will also “see the light” and become Christians. As Rev. James Massa, executive director for interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, points out, the prayer should be understood in the essential Catholic view that “all people come to salvation through Jesus Christ.”
Similarly, when Ann Coulter caused outrage by saying to talk show host Donny Deutsch (who is Jewish) that it would be better if everyone became Christian, she was being consistent with believing in the virtues of her own religion.
DEUTSCH: That isn’t what I said, but you said I should not — we should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians, then, or —
COULTER: Well, it’s a lot easier. It’s kind of a fast track.
. . .
COULTER: We just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.
DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn’t really say that, did you?
COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express.
Similarly, one would expect that Jews who think their own religion is the right one should be hoping and praying that non-Jews would recant their existing beliefs and believe in the Jewish god. After all, the Old Testament repeatedly tells us that the Jewish god takes a particularly harsh view of those who worship other gods and does not hesitate to dish out all kinds of awful punishments to apostates. So humane Jews should try to prevent people of other faiths from meeting such a fate by getting them to convert to Judaism.
It also makes sense for Muslims to try and convert people to their religion, even if it involves pointing out the deficiencies of other religions.
Since every religion thinks that their god is the right one, they should all be trying to convert each other, out of purely humane impulses, just so that everyone would be worshipping the ‘right’ god, according to them. To do otherwise would be a sign of callous disregard for the fates of people’s immortal souls.
In fact, those who use Pascal’s wager as an argument that atheists, just to be on the safe side, should profess belief in god should also advocate forcible conversions, since they clearly think that their god prefers even a cynical, self-serving statement of belief in god to principled disbelief.
The present situation, where people seem to think that politeness demands that we refrain from claiming superiority for their own religion, seems (within the framework of religion) contradictory. After all, religious people presumably think that their faith is the most important thing in their lives, so why be so reticent about it? Like the many debates we have had during the primary elections, why not have debates as to which religion is the best and which god is the right one to be worshipped? If we can spend so much time and energy in selecting a mere president, surely we should be willing to do at least as much for something as important as the ultimate fate of people’s immortal souls?
I for one would enjoy listening to public debates as to why any one religion is better than the others. In fact, the logical thing would be for religions to run advertisements on TV to try and persuade people of other faiths to switch, kind of like the Mac vs. PC spots. It would be interesting to see Madison Avenue wrestle with how to do the religious equivalent of “Tastes great!” versus “Less filling!”
So let the games begin!
POST SCRIPT: Perhaps Mitt should have converted
I showed this clip last month but I am repeating it because of Mitt Romney’s decision to suspend his campaign. Pat Condell pointed out that childhood indoctrination of religion is so strong that even though Mitt Romney must have known that his Mormon beliefs might be the one thing that might doom his candidacy for the office he craved, he still clung to it to the end, even though he had changed his stance on so many other issues.