Thursday, June 11, 2015

Methodist Official Calls For Boycott of Holocaust Memorials (Among Other Things)

Methodists, it seems, have a problem with the Holocaust. Not so much with the event itself, but rather with all the trouble it gives to the Palestinian cause. For example, in 2011 I wrote about a Methodist Church report which complained that "Peace groups in Israel have to work against this backdrop", the "backdrop" being Yad Vashem. The old saying is that "the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz", apparently the Methodists also would like an apology from the masses of dead Jews for inconveniences caused.

Yet I think that account pales in comparison to this piece by Janet Lahr Lewis, the Methodist Church's Advocacy Coordinator for the Middle East. You see, Lewis thinks that everybody needs to stop memorializing the Holocaust (via):
Don't participate in Holocaust Remembrance Day without participating in Al Nakba Remembrance Day. Don't visit a Holocaust museum until there is one built to remember the other holocausts in the world: the on-going Palestinian holocaust, the Rwandan, the Native American, the Cambodian, the Armenian ... You could be waiting a long time!
How lovely. In fairness to her, I'm not exactly keen on Lewis visiting a Holocaust memorial either -- primarily because I'd worry she'd use it as a how-to guide.

I'm sure that it comes to the surprise of no one that Holocaust memorials aren't the only Jewish things Lewis thinks we should boycott. Even better is her citation to Alison Weir's If American's Knew organization in support. It's like the last few days are all just coming together.

As is always the case in circumstances like these, I am left to marvel at why the Christian community thinks it has any thing useful to say on this subject. What makes it think it has reliable instincts? What, as I asked before, "makes Christian organizations think we will read such a message and think 'by golly, they must be right, because if there's one group I trust to issue accurate assessments about moral questions in general and Jewish experience in particular, it's institutional Christianity!'" And forget about me: what makes Christians think that about themselves? What bizarre voice in their head is telling them "this is something you'd be good at. Your thoughts on this subject are good thoughts, and most certainly are not infected by an unbroken multi-millenia streak of anti-Semitism that literally laid the foundation for the entire worldview you're drawing from"?

It boggles the mind. It really, really does.

5 comments:

EW said...

"I am left to marvel at why the Christian community thinks it has any thing useful to say on this subject. What makes it think it has reliable instincts? What, as I asked before, "makes Christian organizations think we will read such a message and think 'by golly, they must be right, because if there's one group I trust to issue accurate assessments about moral questions in general and Jewish experience in particular, it's institutional Christianity!'" And forget about me: what makes Christians think that about themselves? What bizarre voice in their head is telling them "this is something you'd be good at. Your thoughts on this subject are good thoughts, and most certainly are not infected by an unbroken multi-millenia streak of anti-Semitism that literally laid the foundation for the entire worldview you're drawing from"?

It boggles the mind. It really, really does.
"

Some people think that the merits of an idea can be evaluated independent of the merits of the idea's proponent. Apparently, some people don't.

(Alas for those people, without knowing more about me, they will be unable to evaluate this comment....)

David Schraub said...

Ideas don't spring fully grown like Athena from Zeus. They come from sets of priors and understandings, and it is perfectly reasonable to assess their likely viability based on a measurement of the conditions from which they emerged (particularly in the aggregate -- how likely, ex ante, is it that someone coming from this ideological tradition will come storming through with a great versus terrible idea?).

It's not so much that an idea can't be evaluated independently of an idea's proponent. It's that (a) there is not time to fully consider the merits of every single idea presented, and moreover in situations of asymmetrical power idea-havers can implement their ideas -- good or bad -- prior to any such independent analysis anyway, (b) particular worldviews typically approach problems using particular methodological and conceptual toolkits which are not necessarily reliable and (b) their proponents may not be aware of their unreliability. Call it a moral Dunning-Kruger effect. In these circumstances, I think it is perfectly reasonable to indict the toolbox and ask "why do you think your ideas which emerge from that well-known set of priors will be better from all of those that came before?"

EW said...

Nine thoughts:

1) I know nothing about Janet Lahr Lewis. Her ideas may be terrible. But I suggest that each idea is terrible because of its own merit or lack thereof, not because of the order in which it was espoused.

2) A third of the world’s population is Christian; I’d be hard pressed to find a number of “Christian organizations.” But I’d be even harder pressed to find an accurate characterization of all such organizations.

3) “Look, Messrs. Orville and Wilbur Wright, stop wasting my time. I can evaluate the likely viability of your ideas based on a measurement of the conditions from which they emerged. Plenty of Christians have claimed to have ideas for creating flying machines and have been wrong. You guys are just a pair of American United Brethren in Christ, so that’s proof that your idea is wrong, too. Why do you think your ideas which emerge from that well-known set of priors will be better from all of those that came before?”

4) Methodism began in 1729; the United Methodist Church in 1968; the Methodist’s Global Ministries thereafter. None of these organizations have a multi-millennia streak of anti-Semitism.

5) Christian organizations have had a history of anti-Semitism. Does it therefore follow that the perspectives of every Christian organization – say, MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or the Quakers, or a symposium of Notre Dame political science professors, or the 3d Presbyterian Wed. Nite Beer & Checkers Club – should be dismissed on the grounds of anti-Semitism? (People who might be someday be candidates for Notre Dame’s political science faculty might want to exercise caution in answering this one.)

6) Lewis appears to be female; Straub appears to be male. I am left to marvel at why the male community thinks it has anything useful to say on this subject. What makes it think it has reliable instincts? What makes men think we will read such a message and think 'by golly, they must be right, because if there's one group I trust to issue accurate assessments about moral questions in general, it's men!'" And forget about me: what makes men think that about themselves? What bizarre voice in their head is telling them "this is something you'd be good at. Your thoughts on this subject are good thoughts, and most certainly are not infected by an unbroken mulit-multi-multi-millennia streak of gender oppression that literally laid the foundation for the entire worldview you're drawing from"?

7) Let’s concede that Lewis is in a particularly weak position to speak about the Middle East, that Moses was in a particularly weak position to speak to the circumstances of Jew in slavery, that St. Paul was in a particularly weak position to speak to the circumstances of Christians, and that Jefferson was in a particularly weak position to speak about African Americans in slavery. What basis does this provide for evaluating the content of their speech?

8) When informed that someone had heard a woman preaching, Samuel Johnson remarked, “Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” I suggest this quote does not put Johnson in his best light.

Similarly, Straub does not find Lewis’s remarks impressive. But to chide her for the effrontery of offering opinions, rather than for the content of the opinions, puts Straub in a similar light. For better and worse, America’s egalitarian social norms generally embrace the idea that anyone can express an opinion.

9) Finally, if as a strategic matter I were to seek to stigmatize someone’s opinion on the basis of their personal characteristics, I’d look for characteristics such as “felon” or “mentally ill” or “stupid.” Perhaps private practice taught Straub that he could sway juries by stigmatizing the opposing side as being Christian – but I’d be surprised.

There are many reasons to strive for virtue. Especially you lack an aptitude for vice.

David Schraub said...

Just one thought: Who is this "Straub" guy? [Most other pertinent thoughts have already been expressed better than I in the final chapter of Miranda Fricker's Epistemic Injustice].

EW said...

"Who is this 'Straub' guy?"

An applicant for the Notre Dame poly sci faculty; weren't you paying attention? :-)

Sorry 'bout that.