From a BBC news flash yesterday:
Pope Benedict has rejected the idea of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus Christ’s death, in a new book to be published next week.
Tackling an issue that has led to centuries of persecution, the Pope argues there is no basis in scripture for the Jewish people to be blamed.
It’s a good thing for the Pope to say this, of course. But the BBC article (read it here) is misleading in that it repeatedly gives the casual reader the impression that this idea is the result of groundbreaking exegetical research. That’s of course always going to be the bias of a “news” organization (News Flash! Stunning pronouncement changes 2000 years of Christian teaching!). To say “Pope reaffirms again what many Christians from many communions have said for many centuries” — that’s not quite as sexy of a headline.
More importantly, however, beneath the BBC article lies a worldview: which is that human nature is not in itself a huge mess of evil passions (“If you, being evil…”), but instead tries to explain human evil on bad “ideas.” Centuries of terrible anti-Semitism must be traceable, the BBC and most people think, to some bad idea early in Christian thought. If only we had had Pope Benedict around in the first few centuries, he could have given us the right “idea” and then we could have been saved all those years of pogroms, and Inquisitions, and death camps! A more accurate reading of human history, however, is the Christian aphorism from the late 1500s: What the heart desires, the will chooses and the mind justifies. People would have always have found some reason to commit terrible acts against a vulnerable people; anyone who remembers bullies in the schoolyard knows this intuitively. The BBC thinks that an idea comes first, the free human reason chooses it, and then one’s heart is based on the idea. Thomas Cranmer and others knew better.