Pope Talk and Middle East Fundamentalists

by on April 8th, 2005

I’ve been skimming all the talk about Pope John Paul II’s funeral and the impact of his quarter century in power. Although the mainstream reports I’ve seen are as superficially respectful as one would expect, it’s been good to see the many bloggers and alternative media columns dissecting JP’s regressive defense of Catholic orthodoxy. I especially liked this from David Corn:

But I do find it odd that much of the media discussion has not covered a fundamental point: what was the Pope really all about? To be precise, he headed an institution that promotes the view that only a certain sort of Christian who faithfully heeds a certain set of (conservative) rules will be granted access to the eternal Kingdom of God. And for the rest of us — other followers of Christ, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, druids, wiccaners, animists, and atheists — it’s damnation of some sort.

Corn’s comment about religious exclusivity stays in my Jewish atheist mind as I read about mourning for the Pontiff in the Philippines, Brazil, Cuba, all over. Catholic expansionism’s damaging role in world history makes all those media images of multiracial cardinals remind me not of Christ-like goodliness but of imperialist success.

That’s pretty much the same feeling I get when I ponder the Muslim expansion from Arabia and current efforts to install Islamic states everywhere.

And the same feeling I get when I read about Jewish claims to the Temple Mount and all of Greater Israel, including the planned effort this coming Sunday by right-wing Jews to take over the Temple Mount and maybe to attack the two mosques sitting above Jerusalem’s Western (Wailing) Wall. The goal is to spark a massive Arab response that would end the Gaza pullout and any other efforts toward de-escalation. Leveling the mosques, of course, is advocated by those who want to rebuild Solomon’s Temple. Like God wants, I suppose.

As I’ve discussed before, the three Abrahamic religions seem to me particularly problematic on the tolerance front.

That’s true even when they move from hostility to cooperation. Last week’s three-religion press conference in Jerusalem opposing this August’s international Gay Pride Festival was notable for the confluence of interests among each religion’s more fundamentalist branches. It reminds me of a comment by Saleem Tamari that I described last January during my visit to Ramallah. The Palestinian politician said that what worried some Israeli negotiators at Taba a few years ago was not so much the number of Palestinians who might move to Israel if granted the right to return — all agreed the numbers would not be as massive as some assume — but by the fact that most returnees would be religious. The Israelis worried that the new Islamic political parties would form a coalition with Jewish religious parties and strengthen religious control over Israel’s current majority of secular Jews.

That prospect strikes some as far-fetched, but last week’s meeting of the fundamentalist minds makes me wonder.

Dennis Fox