Sunday, February 08, 2009

Chalice half-full

Look on the bright side: At least Bishop Richard Williamson is unlikely to compare legal abortion to the Holocaust, a rhetorical device much loved by Christian clergy, because according to him, there was no Holocaust. The Nazis killed 600,000 Jews, tops, and they probably had it coming because the Jews are bent on world domination, according to the bishop, recently welcomed back into the Church by ex-Hitlerjugend Joseph Ratzinger, a/k/a Pope Benedictineandbrandy XVI. Oh, and the Vatican is controlled by Satan anyway, says the bishop. Well...

All this has caused quite a tempest, and for the usual reason: money. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has called on the Pope to explain his actions. Here's something I didn't know: when Germans file their tax returns, they can check a box for a portion of the payment to go to the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, or any other recognized religion -- like the checkoff for public funding of presidential campaigns on US tax returns. (Why the American religion industry hasn't demanded something like this, I don't know.) Since denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany punishable by imprisonment, there is talk in the Bundestag of cutting off this lucrative source of church money. Of course, Williamson doesn't live in Germany -- he runs a seminary in Argentina, you'll be surprised to hear -- and the Vatican's position is that he can say whatever he wants about the twentieth century as long as he doesn't violate Church doctrines prescribed in the preceding nineteen.

The timing is curious. This year on Good Friday, by papal decree Catholics will once again pray for "the conversion of the Jews," an insulting bit of liturgy that was dropped some years ago. In apocalyptic Christianity, this conversion is a necessary step in bringing about the Final Days. We already have a pretty good idea what this pope thinks of Islam, so why is he planning a trip to Jerusalem this year? Having angered all the Jews in Italy, is he looking for more people to piss off? Or are his intentions more sinister? At the very least, ecumenism is dead and it's every believer for himself.

For two thousand years, Christians have been expecting the end of time. They have been consistently disappointed, but that's why it's called faith. Now for the first time, they are capable of self-fulfilling prophecy. The days ahead will be terrible -- we seem to be in for a global depression, ecological catastrophe, and more hideous violence as in Darfur, Rwanda, Gaza, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, a dozen other places. True believers of every stripe will be tempted to utter a despairing "Fuck it!" and detonate whatever they have lying around. The last thing they will need is encouragement.

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