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Handling holy hypocrisy at holiday season

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

If Passover cannot really be celebrated without Palestinians being free – and since Palestinian freedom isn’t on the immediate or even long-range horizon and ironically Passover has become a time for punishing Palestinians for asserting their right to be free – should we suspend our celebration of Passover?

I doubt I am alone in thinking these thoughts on the first day of Passover. But, then, Easter is in the air as well. Should Christians be thinking the same blasphemous thoughts about their own holy days?

If we applied the refusal to celebrate liberation or salvation in an unliberated, unsaved world to religious rituals across the board, the suspension should be centuries, perhaps millennia old. This as Pope Francis is hailed for his impromptu remarks and selfies in St. Peter’s Square on Palm Sunday and as he addresses or further deflects the Church’s pedophile crisis, depending on one’s viewpoint. Of course, as with Easter, Francis has his own (checkered) Argentine past. But, then, if the Catholic Church hadn’t been in bed with all sorts of ancient and modern tyrants would it have become the “universal” church it is today?

So Christians, like Jews, should beware of the Passover applied critique. Our Israeli thugs who pose as political leaders aren’t far behind you. Or are they racing ahead of our chastened Christian brothers and sisters?

Islam cannot escape the holy hypocrisy test either. Like Christianity, Islam is another “universal” faith spread and maintained through all sorts of empire intrigue. The suffering in Syria comes to mind and though Syria, like Israel-Palestine, isn’t primarily a religious conflict, leaving the various factions of Islam out of the Syria equation is turning our back on primal identities.

Some argue that Passover and Easter should go on regardless precisely because we don’t want the religious authorities of any stripe hijacking the holy days of our traditions. This makes sense. Why let them take our traditions for their empire ride? Unfortunately, their empire is our empire as well, since most Jews in America and Israel benefit from these empires. Many Christians and Muslims do as well.

Passover is a tangle. Easter is a tangle. Jews of Conscience and Christians of Conscience share common ground here. Christians are accomplished empire travelers. As a whole Jews have only recently been invited to the Christian empire table. Today during Passover/Easter we feast on injustice together. How marvelous our interfaith solidarity is!

Yet together we also oppose injustice. We should recognize this as more than coincidence. Seder meal. Easter Eucharist. They’re so closely tied in history that without Passover, Easter wouldn’t have a heritage to stand on. Exercising conscience together should we call for a joint moratorium on Passover/Easter?

Like a union picket line. A Passover/Easter picket line. See who crosses it.

Even for Jews and Christians of Conscience, we might want to cross the freedom celebration line. The comfort of these holy days is heart-felt and habits of the heart aren’t easy to give up. In this alienating age, can’t Passover and Easter be spared?

Think about these holy days, what they represent historically and what they have become. We have come far from the narratives of Egyptian slaves struggling for liberation and the Roman Empire crucifying a Jewish rabble-rouser who triumphs over empire power. Bourgeois reality consumes everything.

Of course, we don’t want to give up our privilege or struggle too much for others. Who will sacrifice for us?

Jerusalem might be an interesting place to begin in our Passover/Easter refusal. After all, is there a more (un)holy city so precious to the monotheist religions that pretends to holiness? Or would a narrative rendering of Jerusalem that refuses to cross into celebration be replicating the old Passover/Easter eschatological line in the sand?

We think that if we just keep embodying the true spirit of our separate holy days we might overcome the joint inheritance that continues the cycle of violence and atrocity.

Our hope hasn’t worked yet. In fact, suffering on the ground is getting worse.

Instead of these important, perhaps irresolvable questions, we are treated to the lowbrow of culinary cuisine – Passover and fried artichoke hearts which goes back to the now no doubt gentrified Jewish ghetto in Rome. How picturesque former ghettos are, especially when new ones are being created by their collective heirs.

Will the Pope travel there to the Roman ghetto on Easter Sunday? Perhaps he will grace Jews with his presence on Passover. Soon after Easter, he will travel to the (un)Holy Land. I’m sure Pope Francis will make all the right statements about Judaism and occupied Palestine – in their proper “on the one hand/on the other hand” proportion.

When he arrives in Jerusalem, think of Pope Francis as John Kerry in flowing robes.

How trite Passover/Easter has become. Repetitive as well.

On the first day of Passover, if you’re wondering how much worse “Next Year in Jerusalem” can become, eat some fried artichoke hearts, drink another glass of wine and take a long, deep breath.

The age-old dream of Jewish return has already come true. In spades.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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13 Responses

  1. Walid
    Walid on April 15, 2014, 1:16 pm

    Marc sees Judaism sinking because of its failure because of the Palestinians and he’s insisting in dragging Christianity down with it. Would have liked to do likewise with Islam, but there was nothing paschal to it.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen on April 15, 2014, 2:33 pm

      I thought he made some relevant points. The ending was a bit much. Sort of celebrating the oppression and violence in an odd twisted way.

      • Chu
        Chu on April 15, 2014, 3:00 pm

        I thought it was foggy, murky writing. What are the similarities behind Easter and Passover. Really not much.

        “Christians are accomplished empire travelers. As a whole Jews have only recently been invited to the Christian empire table. ”

        So Christians invited Jews to the empire table. Not sure about that even it this is supposed humor ~ more of a smoke screen.

      • Kathleen
        Kathleen on April 15, 2014, 4:14 pm

        I believe back awhile Jews and Christians were both competing for the monotheistic empire.

  2. W.Jones
    W.Jones on April 15, 2014, 1:34 pm

    Dear Marc,

    You ask “if the Catholic Church hadn’t been in bed with all sorts of ancient and modern tyrants would it have become the “universal” church it is today?”

    Yes it would. Catholics use the word “universal” to mean the “fullness of the faith”. Historically, even when they were not in bed with tyrants and became a repressed group, they still considered themselves to have the fullness of the faith.

    Now I don’t believe they are the universal church, because I am not Catholic, but I must emphasize that Catholic philosophy does not base itself on acceptance by earthly tyrants.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones on April 15, 2014, 3:57 pm

      So Catholics would still be calling themselves “universal” because being “Catholic” is a philosophy meaning “fullness of the faith” that is independent of whether a government accepts it or not.

      A great example of this is how practically all Christians say they believe in a “Catholic and Apostolic faith”. A wide range of Christians say this, from anarchist to establishment groups, because it is just a philosophy of fullness, not government support.

      I think your conception though is that “Catholic” reflects the idea that very many Christians accept that particular church. Would they all accept “Catholicism” without tyrants? Well, I believe that Catholicism would be different if there were no tyrants, and my personal belief is that the Pope has a dictatorial role based on the model of a Roman emperor. And yet nonetheless, I believe that a version of Catholicism- ie. mainstream Western Christianity – would still be accepted without tyrants. The reason I say this is because Christianity spread in the West precisely while it was being repressed by those very tyrants.

      This brings up one of the interesting issues, Marc. According to the Bible, spreading the knowledge of God was a main role ascribed to the Messiah. And there are descriptions of a suffering Messiah both in rabbinic and in Biblical thought. How is it then that Jesus of Nazareth and his followers, despite all that persecution, brought knowledge of God to most of the world’s population through Christianity and Islam? I am aware of counterarguments made against Christianity, but in any case, this is a noteworthy point.

    • Walid
      Walid on April 15, 2014, 4:04 pm

      W. Jones, for a long time, the Catholic Church WAS the tyrant. Check its history, especially that involving the current pope’s order, the Jesuits.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones on April 15, 2014, 4:09 pm

        Yes, the Catholic Church did have a tyrannical aspect. Nonetheless, I am trying to answer Marc’s question – if it were not in with the tyranny, would it still be “Catholic”? And one can add- were it not tyrannical, would it still be Catholic? I believe that the answer is yes, because “Catholic” is really more of a philosophy about being full. Do I believe the Catholic Church should have avoided tyranny? Yes, and I think it would have looked different if it had, because that would have carried over into administrative rules. It would have looked somewhere between the Catholic church and the Quakers.

        People love to make arguments about necessity- the Church “had” to be tyrannical”, we “have” to have the death penalty, the Israeli government “has” to be severe. I don’t believe this way, and many Catholicism don’t either, based on other aspects in Catholicism that have nothing to do with tyranny except to oppose it.

        Peace, my friend.

        P.S. May I ask what your background is?

  3. libra
    libra on April 15, 2014, 3:53 pm

    Professor Ellis: They’re so closely tied in history that without Passover, Easter wouldn’t have a heritage to stand on.

    Is the Easter Bunny Jewish?

  4. Citizen
    Citizen on April 15, 2014, 4:12 pm

    We fought them, we won, let’s eat (crappy food). Some religion, eh?

  5. MHughes976
    MHughes976 on April 15, 2014, 4:43 pm

    I do take the point that we Christians ought not to get smug and self-righteous at this point in the proceedings and if I said to Jews ‘No Passover until the liberation of Palestine’ they could reply with some reason ‘No Easter until the righting of wrongs linked with the British Empire’, which would touch my Anglican nerve. In fact I do not call for Passover celebrations to be suspended, though I would appreciate Toronto-style mention of the Palestine situation. We could chime in with some repentance of our own.
    My own very small branch of the Church of England was dwelling on persecuted Christians on Sunday, when I was due to lead the prayers of intercession. I did make a point of saying that it should not be forgotten that Christians have inflicted persecution as well as suffered it.
    I think we should – those of us who maintain some kind of faith -try to deploy the resources of our religions in a good way rather than shut them up in a cupboard for the duration of injustice in the world.

  6. Citizen
    Citizen on April 15, 2014, 6:26 pm

    Religion, what a joke, a bad joke,

  7. Kay24
    Kay24 on April 15, 2014, 10:28 pm

    The Pope should not make this trip to apartheid land, because he will be endorsing the crimes against Christians and Muslims, by Israeli thugs and bigots.
    Terrorist settlers have attacked a Christian village, showing nazi like tendencies again.
    It seems they are using their deep seated hatred against other religions in the most violent ways, and the Israeli government does nothing to halt these terrible crimes.
    Zionist Christians in the US must be okay with this violence too.

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