Monday, June 21, 2021

Bishops use sacraments to pressure Biden

     One beauty of being Jewish is that you can’t get excommunicated, Spinoza notwithstanding. Sure, there are various boards of rabbis here and there. But no central authority, the way Catholics have their U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Nor do Jews have sacraments, like communion, that can be withheld as punishment for apostasy. The way the bishops voted overwhelmingly Friday to draft “a formal statement” forbidding Catholic public officials like President Joe Biden from receiving the eucharist if they insist on supporting one particular legal American right that conflicts with Catholic theology: abortion.
     The most important aspects of Judaism: lighting candles on Friday night, atoning on Yom Kippur, pushing back against dogma, can’t be yanked away by some board of overlords.
     In fact, being heretical is almost the Jewish brand. That’s why the faith is so studded with people like Spinoza, or Freud, or Einstein, or Lenny Bruce. When my son came back from sophomore year and gravely informed me he is questioning the value of his religion, I smiled and replied, “Buddy, I hate to tell you, but doubting Judaism is the most Jewish thing you can do at this point in your life.”
     Yes, like all faiths, Jews have our own strong ultra-Orthodox wing, where wearing a pearl gray Borsalino hat will get you in hot water, never mind pushing back against doctrine. But the Hassidim have about as much influence on mainstream Judaism as the Pennsylvania Amish have on the Philadelphia club scene. They do encourage weak tea Jews such as myself to say certain prayers, but are smart enough not to try to punish us if we don’t. Which I respect, even while their lifestyle puzzles me. You’ve got one life. Are you really going to spend it dressed for 18th century Vilnius and arguing obscure points of Deuteronomy dietary law? Don’t let me stop you. It’s a free country.
     And I’d like to keep it that way. Which is why we need to resist the bishops, and remind them their authority ends at the church door. Yes, they are free to define the contours of their own faith. But to inflict a special penalty especially on government leaders is not religion but politics. Not just their business, but ours too. It isn’t as if regular lay Catholics are being punished for their beliefs, not anymore. If some Board of Rabbis were to announce that U.S. senators couldn’t eat latkes at Hanukkah unless they keep Kosher, the ridicule would be Biblical.

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  1. The Catholic Church is already in trouble. Don't know if you've been following the Renew My Church initiative the Archdiocese of Chicago is implementing. If an organization is forced to consolidate due to shrinking membership, you've got problems. Weaponizing the Eucharist is wrong and will drive away more Catholics.

  2. There’s a certain pride in being Jewish. I imagine people of other faiths feel similarly.
    Unlike those of other faiths, you don’t have to believe in God to be Jewish… but it wouldn’t hurt.

  3. Great column, as always. I have to comment on the restraint you showed by not pointing out that they should deny themselves communion for covering up (and even participating in) the criminal sexual abuse of children. Hypocrisy is not a strong enough word for these conmen.

  4. How much do indulgences cost these days?

  5. This is so cynical; I wonder how many bishops are Republican.

  6. So blatantly political, they focus on abortion but the Republicans supporting the death penalty get a pass.

    Their weaponizing of Communion is not in keeping with the spirit of inclusiveness exhibited by the one who instituted it. Also, it's extremely selective. According to "the rules," nobody in a state of mortal sin should receive Communion. If the bishops could deny it to every person lining up on Sunday who was in a state of mortal sin, based on a strict application of the rules, many, many people would be turned away. And then, where would the bishops get the cash that they need to pay settlements for their own malfeasance?

    Hey, the Pope is Catholic! He said: "The way of the Church... is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: 'Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners.'" He specifically referred to Communion as "not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak." Of course, he's not a Republican.


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