Making E.J Dionne Even More Culturally Sensitive

By Stephen Steinlight on November 8, 2011

Despite the high seriousness of its title, in "Election 2012's great religious divide" columnist E.J. Dionne produced a piece in yesterday's Washington Post so trifling and muddled the phrase "once-over-lightly" suggests, by comparison, a work of Hegelian weightiness.

Painfully superficial and confused from the outset, his argument falls apart because it's founded on a faulty, even an imaginary dilemma. He argues Americans are fractionated by a non-existent divide that allegedly separates those who support a Jeffersonian view of the First Amendment and those who believe there's a place for religion in the public square. There's no contradiction between the two in theory or practice, though discourse about each falls into different frames of reference. There's a distinction between the way one approaches what government can or cannot do, subject, as it is, to constitutional safeguards to prevent the favoring of one faith over another or permitting religious coercion in any form, as opposed to the self-regarding actions of citizens in a free society, whether individually or through voluntary association, in which religious speech is as free and as protected as any other sort.

The socio-political tensions that arise in this context are by and large the result of left-liberal hypocrites who express exaggerated horror at the prospect of imminent theocracy when political or social conservatives draw on religious sources. But of course the same left-liberals become weepy or impassioned when listening to the historical pulpit oratory of the Civil Rights Movement, wax rhapsodic about the glories of the black church, and resonate with sermons in favor of illegal immigration that regularly make a hash of the same mistranslated Scripture in what is some of the worst eisegesis ever spouted. In addition, they welcome the enthusiastic support of religious leadership for open-borders immigration and amnesty, usually articulated by clerics in the form of crude advocacy exegesis, and they support the use of houses of worship as sanctuaries for illegal aliens. It should be added the overwhelming majority of the left-liberals who cheer the preachers on are atheists, agnostics, or only nominally Christian or Jewish.

Next, in classic left-liberal style, E.J. begs a question of great moment when he discusses the purported religious origins of his belief in "social justice." He fails to define "social justice," but he leaves the unmistakable impression it has an agreed-upon definition, and that definition is congruent with left-liberalism.

All of this is standard twaddle. But there's a surprising gaffe in the midst of this little piece that is heresy against political correctness. He lowers his heretofore league-leading batting average in political correctness by employing religiously insensitive, anachronistic terminology taken directly from Christian "Replacement theology" or "Supracessionist theology," a school of thought abandoned – as he ought to know well – by his own church.

With no apology – and perhaps no awareness – Dionne speaks of the prophets of the "Old Testament" as if that term were an accurate and unbiased one for Jewish Scripture. Ordinary Christians only slightly up-to-date with Christian-Jewish dialogue and at least not illiterate in inter-relations know the correct term for the "Old Testament" is Hebrew Bible. I use this as an instance of "political correctness," but of course it's more than that; there is good and sufficient cause for getting the term right. Using the term Hebrew Bible shows respect for Judaism's sacred text just as calling it the "Old Testament" displays the opposite.

"Replacement theology," now abandoned by most Mainline Protestant denominations as well as by the Roman Catholic Church, cast a dark shadow for centuries over Christian-Jewish relations. The spirit it exemplifies is perhaps best represented by the famous statue near the Vatican that represents the synagogue as a figure wearing a blindfold. "Replacement theology" made the case that the coming of Jesus and the "New Testament" established a new covenantal relationship God with mankind through Christ, one that abrogated the relationship between God and the Jewish people. The original covenant made with the Jewish people through Abraham and reaffirmed at Mt. Sinai was "superseded" by the Christian covenant.

One of the most important developments at the Second Vatican Council in 1965 articulated in Nostra Aetate, the document about Christianity's relationship with other faiths – but most importantly Judaism – was the repudiation of "Replacement theology." The Council determined it was not up to Christian supremacists to claim God was on their side or that it was up to them to determine God's will in making covenants. Instead, a new doctrine was proclaimed that affirmed God's eternal binding covenant with the Jewish people through Abraham and Scripture and, simultaneously, God's covenantal relationship with the Church through Jesus and Christian Scripture.

One immediate result was a powerfully symbolic change in terminology. The "Old Testament," a term of derision, was dropped from the lexicon. No longer would language denoting Jewish Scripture suggest an outworn rejected text of a spiritually abandoned people; rather, it would denote the living word of God as written down by the divinely-inspired authors of the Hebrew Bible.

It's hard to know how to interpret E.J.'s use of this anachronistic term of insult. It is difficult indeed to imagine he is a conscious anti-Semite. But is this a perhaps unconscious hold-over from the deeply conservative and in some cases virulently anti-Semitic Roman Catholic Church of Quebec where his forebears hailed from? Is it the product of the new political correctness that no longer sees Jews as on the side of the future or as people to be protected, despite the fact that one-third of all Jews on earth were murdered in living memory and despite the fact that Israel – that fascist beast – is threatened with nuclear annihilation? Or, as I suspect, is it just a product of the same slovenliness of thinking that he applies to the other issue he addresses in this piece?

Whatever the reason, I strongly suggest that henceforward E.J. Dionne show his "politically correct" credentials – even when he refers to things Jewish – by using "culturally sensitive" terms. He really should consider that given their unrivaled history of oppression, Jews deserve at least the same consideration bestowed so freely, as if on abandoned cats, on every other putative victim group he and his globalist fellow travelers have made their own.