I’ve been trying to figure out how to address a series of articles written by James Carroll in the Boston Globe over the last few months on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This five-parter was given a lot of prominence and seemed worth responding to, even if it’s a bit “out of scope” for a blog such as this one.
Fortunately, Dexter Van Zile has (yet again) done a masterful job, dealing with Carroll’s writing in a comprehensive and thoughtful way. I highly recommend reading the series and Dexter’s response in their entirety.
Having grown up in a pretty Catholic environment (and having attended more Catholic masses as a teen than Jewish services), I’ve ended up with a number of Catholic friends who share my wariness for Mr. Carroll, albeit for different reasons. While most of my friends have ended up in the “liberal” or “fallen” wing of the Catholic church, they see in Carroll the same type of Judge Penitent that so turned them off to doctrine in the first place.
Both they (and I) are experienced enough to see Carroll’s history of admonition against anti-Semitism within the church as more than just moral finger wagging. But to my Catholic buddies, Carroll seems like someone who has stayed in the church just to be able to criticize it from within (similar to Jews whose only relationship to their Jewishness is their willingness to highlight it when criticizing Israel or fellow Jews).
For my part, I just can’t separate Carroll’s severe scrutiny of his own church with regard to a centuries-long tradition of anti-Semitism with his utter unwillingness to see this same sin located anywhere else (even in the genocidal, religiously based doctrines of organizations such as Hamas). I’ve joked before that Carroll seems ready to the fight the good fight when it comes to defending dead Jews against dead Germans (and scold both living and dead Catholics for not joining him). But when it comes time to take a stand and confront contemporary versions of this same genocidal hatred, Carroll the moralist balks, preferring instead to provide safe platitudes based on truncated analysis that will not put his status as a voice of religious liberal conscience at risk.
This might be a cruel observation, but if you try a thought experiment which involves Israel being destroyed by its enemies you can envision a time several decades after that when new plays are written or essays penned about the failure of men of faith to find the courage to stop such a disaster. And rather than focusing in on Pope Pius XII (the Catholic leader who did so little during World War II to save the Jews from the Nazi menace), the subject of these stories will be James Carroll, a man who, when he should have been fighting the good fight instead spent his time trying to figure out why “Arabs and Jews can’t just get along and settle things like good Christians.”