Friday, February 27, 2004


I wrote yesterday’s post after a fatiguing day sawing down and piling up cedar trees on a ranch – have to earn money any way I can. In any case, the fatigue showed.

Today, I read a quote from some interview with Mel Gibson, who was, indirectly, the subject of my last post. In the interview, Gibson took issue with those people who “blame the Church for the Holocaust.” He had a name for these people: secular Jews.

Unfortunately, in the effort to be evenhanded, and in the even greater effort to be non-controversial, the American media discusses the issue of the Catholic church’s rich Anti-Jewish history with caution. To give you a taste of what “radical” Catholic opinion was like back in the day, go to this site about the Croatian Ustashi. The Ustashi was the Croatian equivalent of the Nazi party. Its roots were clerical, its intellectuals taught at Catholic Universities, and when it came time to build the concentration camps, its priests were right there, blessing the mass slaughter of the Jews and the Serbs.

Here’s a typical excerpt from the Catholic press at that time:

"Up to the birth of Christ, Jewish atavism proved its sinful inclinations toward knavery, its lack of gratitude to God, its ruthless selfishness, its disobedience toward the heads of the state, its anarchism, its love of profit-making through the accumulation of worldly goods by means of corruption, bloodthirstiness, despotism, lasciviousness and homosexuality, incorrigible stubbornness and haughtiness ... Having realized all this, we dare to conclude that the Jews have always been destructive regardless of whether they governed themselves or were governed by others. The Jews will never change, because according to the laws of psychology their national soul cannot change for the better as long as the human race continues to exist."

I didn’t see the interview with Gibson, but it would have been nice if the interviewer was educated enough to ask revealing questions. My guess is that there was no mention, in the interview, of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp. It was here that the dirty spirit of one hundred fifty years of Catholic invective against the Jews finally came to fruition. A Franciscan, Miroslav Filipovic, was put in charge of the camp. The rules were a bit different than what one would expect from a follower of St. Francis of Assisi. Filopivic later claimed, in a probable understatement, that he’d ordered the killing of about 40,000 people at the camp. If you are in the mood for it, here’s the testimony of one of the survivors of the camp. Much has been made of the fifteen minutes of whipping time in Gibson’s film. Compare it to the tender mercies of Father Devil, as he was known:

Fra Filipovic's] voice had an almost feminine quality which was in contrast with his physical stature and the coarseness of his face... I was hardly seated, and as I sank into my sad thoughts, I heard the orders "Fall in - Fall in!"
...Old Ilija, an Ustasha, appeared in the threshold of the hut, a revolver in one hand and in the other, a lash... Before us passed six men, their hands tied before their backs with chains. The Ustashi had their revolvers loaded and aimed. Fra Sotona walked over and approached our group.
"Where is our new doctor?" I knew he meant me.
"He is here," someone replied. He came a little nearer, looking at me with an insolent, ironic, bizarre manner.
"Come here, doctor," he said, "to the front row, so that you will be able to see our surgery being performed without anesthetic. All our patients are quite satisfied. No sighs, nor groans can be heard. Over there are the head and neck specialists, and we have need of no more than two instruments for our operations."
And Fra Sotona caressed his revolver with one hand and his knife with the other ... Looking at these victims who, in a few moments would be in another world, fear written on each face, no one could penetrate the depth of their moral abyss. They silently watched the gathering crowd of more pitiful people, more condemned people like themselves.
Fra Filipovic approached a group of them. Two shots rang out, two victims collapsed, who began to twitch with pain, blood surging from their heads intermingling with the brain of one or the eyes of the other.
'Finish off the rest!' cried Filipovic to the executioner as he put his revolver away. “

Secular Jews make such fusses about such things, being, well, secular, and Jews, and all. Unsightly.

Perhaps, you will say, this is just some peculiarity of Croat Catholicism. Surely the Vatican eventually responded. This is true. They responded after the war. At the highest levels, they systematically smuggled Catholic war criminals out of Europe, so they could escape imprisonment by the Allies. Many of them went to Argentina. The effect was delayed, but the years of the Dirty War showed that packing these people off on the rat lines did make a difference.

Looking elsewhere, we find another state run by a Clerical Nazi Party – the Slovak Republic. Here, a Father Tiso became head of state, supported of course directly by the Nazi party. Catholic historians, who look around for evidence that the Vatican opposed the mass killing of the Jews, often cite the letters sent from the Vatican to Tiso about the deportation of Slovak Jews to the death camps. Indeed, this happened in 1944, and there is a nice, comprehensive account at the Catholic Information Network site . The Holy See protested the deportation of Slovak Jews from a labor camp at Sered to Bergen Belsen. This protest was seconded by Father Tiso.

But before we bestow the ADL man of the year award to Father Tiso, it is necessary to see what other action was taken by his government in relation to Slovak Jews.
- in 1939, on the accession of Father Tiso’s party to power in Slovakia, Jews were forbidden from certain professions.
- In 1940, with the cooperation of Eichman, who advised the Tiso administration, Jews were singled out for the yellow star. They were also committed to labor camps. Expropriation of the wealth of the Jewish Slovak community commenced.

You will not find the Holy See intervening to protest these measures.
The truth is, the Holy See never embraced and actively opposed, most of the time, the exterminationist agenda. The pre World War II Church was, indeed, anti-Jew (a word I prefer to the milky anti-Semitic), but wanted that prejudice embodied in certain cultural and legal restrictions on Jews, not in such things as labor camps or yellow stars. Given that the church’s agenda was to hold onto this prejudice, but to fight the de-humanization and murder of Jews, the Vatican did battle, by its own lights, with the Nazis. The fascisms of Tiso and the Ustashi were of a virulence that was not mainstream. The more decorous notions of order promoted by Catholic thinkers like Eliot are probably closer to the Catholic norm, with their complaint about the modernizing, atheistical strain in society that can be laid at the feet of the Jew.
There. If I was going to place Mel Gibson on the anti-Jew meter, he isn’t even close to Father Tiso. He is, however, typical of the American form of bigotry, which is more about blackballing from clubs, and jokes about Jews with the right listeners. And of course there’s his Dad, who is further in the direction of Father Tiso. These bigots can be recognized by the bristly defensiveness that emerges when they are called about their bigotry. There isn’t, really, any mystery here.

Oh, but before I finish this post with my oh so sophisticated dismissal of Gibson’s anti-Jewism, let me link to this account of a more disgusting and dangerous variant. It isn’t as if Father Tiso’s spirit is dead.

We especially liked the response of the current Slovak charge d’affairs regarding the laws restricting Jews in the professions. This is ur-Gibsonism:

“While he acknowledges that there was anti-Semitism in Slovakia during the wartime period, he argues that some of the first laws targeting Jews, specifically the ones restricting the number of Jewish lawyers and doctors, were not altogether anti-Semitic.
"I'm saying that particular one was not solely anti-Semitic," he says. "I think that one was based on the social justice of trying to get other people into those professions over and above the one minority.’”

Thursday, February 26, 2004


I was out drinking with some friends the other day when the topic of Mel Gibson’s Jesus film came up. Now, I had experienced for myself Gibson’s dim religious wattage in the forgettable Signs, and from what I’d read about the Gibson movie, beyond the anti-jewish bits, it looked to me like the clunkiest Hollywood realism – which consists of an almost fetishistic appreciation of the artifacts peculiar to a historical epoch or situation, vitiated by the emplacement of the most physically unlikely specimen of California health -- the blond, dazzlingly toothed actor or actress -- in the midst of it. There was an article in the NYT about what Jesus looked like, a little froth on the Gibson publicity circuit, and the man who wrote it, who was mounting his own meticulously detailed Jesus bio-pic, was adamant that he must be a wiry peasant, about 5’3” – no Hollywood charmer.

Well, we wonder about the 5’3” – although we do concede the point that a man who wanders on foot the length and breadth of Judea is probably going to be wiry. It is hard to think of a man as fat as, say, Nero, as a messiah. For one thing, he was no pedestrian. Jesus was a pedestrian – how is that for a bumper sticker?

Anyway, my drinking friends were all going out to see the movie. One of them was interested to hear that I did not consider Jesus to be the son of God, and she remarked that she couldn’t imagine living without God. To which I made some conciliatory remarks about how I consider God to be what we are made of, and what everything else is made of. A goofy enough theology to get by when you don’t want to be pressed on the point. Another of my friends told about seeing a special about the movie – everybody seems to have seen a special about the movie – that showed how they manufactured a crucifixion, complete with a nail entering a hand. Hmm. My impulse was to say, how awful – the crucifixion as F/X shocks even me. But then I thought that this was par for the course as far as my reactions are concerned – only someone for whom religion is a matter of beautiful pictures and poetry would be discomforted by such tackiness. Tackiness, as Flannery O’Connor knew, was no bar to religious ecstasy.

For those interested in the portrayal of Christ, there’s an essay on the birth of the paradigmatic connection between image, power, and religion in this season’s American Journal of Philology, written by a Francis James. It is entitled Living Icons: Tracing a motif in verbal and visual representation from the second to the fourth centuries C.E. It is James’ contention that images – as in portraits, descriptions of persons with an emphasis on their visual aspect, instead of a stereotypical reference to the fact that they had a visual aspect – comes into textual play in these centuries. Not coincidentally, they come into play in terms of lives of holy men and Byzantine emperors. And they not only come into play, but they refer to their own quality of visualizing by making reference to painted or sculpted images. So an emperor, like Constantius, can be described entering into a town in triumph by referring to the way he looks like a painted image, and the way he looks like a painted image is referred to, consciously, by the way he is stiff, the way he glances with dignity at the crowds, etc., etc.

Here’s a graf from the article:

Thus it appears that it was the writers of the Second Sophistic who
specifically developed ekphrasis as a description of works of art, and in
so doing they explored and exploited the relation between word and
image for their own literary purposes. The author of the Philostratean
Imagines, arguably the most powerful work of ekphrasis in antiquity,
presents a tour of an entire gallery—possibly real, possibly imaginary12—
signaling a new departure in which viewer and object enter into a complex
reciprocally assimilating relationship. In Imagines the reader becomes
the viewer in the gallery. Preoccupied with “looking” at the pictures
and the learned interpretations of the docent character, the reader is
absorbed into the text and forgets that he or she is a reader. The acts of
reading and viewing are compounded, their boundaries blurred.13 Similarly,
and also from the late second or early third century C.E., Longus’s
novel Daphnis and Chloe purports to be an immense ekphrasis.14 The
distinction and conotation of verbal and visual representation was being
deliberately and artistically pursued at the very cutting edge of Roman
imperial high culture.

Indeed, the face is, as Deleuze puts it in Mille Plateaux, a social machine.

In an odd way, living without TV has cut me off from this machinery in its most frenzied historical phase. I am dying outside history, getting my images filtered through the constraints on the bandwidth of my computer. They are all, essentially, fuzzy. This is probably a good thing.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...