Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

JFK, the Pope, and Netanyahu

It was Sunday night, after church. We stayed because my uncle was going to speak on a topic he was carting to Dutch Reformed churches throughout the county, a topic that drew a crowd among all those Republicans. It was 1960, and one of the candidates for President of these United States was a young and handsome senator from Massachusetts, a war hero blessed with a striking wife, both of them drawn charmingly from the nation's elite.

That candidate was known affectionately as JFK, and he was Roman Catholic.

My uncle's traveling soap box was created to warn Dutch Reformed churches like ours, how Kennedy's election to the nation's highest office would spell the end of American democracy since the nation would be run thereafter by the Pope, who our Calvinist ancestors considered the anti-Christ. Etc.

I was 12 years old, just beginning to take interest in politics. Honestly, I don't remember what I thought about Uncle Jay, but I was proud of his startling witness. I'm sure I was thoroughly Republican myself back then, and I likely nodded my approval throughout the hammering he gave the Catholic Kennedy.

We all know how that worked out.

But last week I thought of my uncle up there in front of church years ago, trying to rip the camo off a Roman Catholic conspiracy when I read Roger Cohen's NY Times op-ed, a piece which mentioned almost off-handedly that he was among thousands of American Jews invited to watch a webcast produced and broadcast in Israel, by Israel, to oppose the administration's treaty (in fact the world's great powers' treaty) with Iran.

I remembered Uncle Jay's patriotic (and anti-Papist) passion because the scenarios seem somehow similar, except this one was real: a foreign power was doing what it could to affect American politics and culture. I'm unaware of the Pope every campaigning JFK.

The two scenarios are not the same, of course. The papacy was not at risk; Isreal is--or so Netanyahu fervently believes. What's more, my uncle's argument was theological (and Republican): because JFK was a practicing Roman Catholic, he had to listen to the Pope. Thousands of American Jews asked to view the webcast are ruled by no similar theology.

Still, I wonder whether any other ethnic or religious group might operate similarly. Would the Dutch government contact everyone with Dutch surnames if some trade American trade bill put the Netherlands at risk? Polish? German? 

Churches attempt to influence political thinking certainly. Most muster troops for one side of another of whatever culture war is raging, but none of those who do are foreign-grown.

Even if the most aggrieved of our minorities were fighting legislation they found disdainful, their criticism would be home-grown. African-Americans don't get together to watch webcasts from Kenya or Nigeria, and Native people have no foreign roots.

Good people, thoughtful people, disagree about the Iran nuclear deal. But I found myself in church again, circa 1960, when I read Cohen's article, and I couldn't help feeling like Uncle Jay did back then because what he thought was going to happen with JFK--and didn't--is happening today with American Jews.

I hope I'm not anti-Semitic when I say that, somehow I can't help thinking, 
like Uncle Jay, that it sort of stinks.

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