September 06, 2007
You didn’t see these headlines last month, and neither did I. I did get an email from a retired heirarch of a church in Asia with the subject line: “Fire bombing of Bishop J____’s house,” and the news that a stolen car, evidently packed with cans of gasoline, exploded in back of a modest home with a small church in the front — I call it a Cathedral because it is the seat, however humble, of a bishop, however marginal. The rising fireball missed the bishop’s living quarters on the ground floor, but destroyed the third story apartment of a priest, his wife, daughters, and all that they owned. The priest had been born in Pakistan, and might have been believed to be a former Muslim, or at least of Muslim descent; local Muslims have long boasted of getting away with the clandestine execution of “apostates.” This is New York, where insulting graffiti on a Jewish tombstone are relentlessly publicized as an unforgivable hate crime, as they are, but Christians, especially Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, are considered undesirable elements unless they happen to be rich. The tiny Orthodox denomination whose mother church was attacked is keeping a low profile, perhaps in well founded fear that publicity will put their clergy in greater danger without any hope of effective police protection. Indeed, the police claimed that investigating fires is the Fire Department’s job; New York’s finest have better things to do than track down car thieves. The burned out car itself eventually disappeared, as cars, even wrecked cars, tend to do, without being examined.
Bishop J____ knows his second class status well. A convert from Anglicanism, he was baptized around the corner from my house in what was then the North American Mission of the Russian Church Abroad. By the time he had completed his seminary training upstate the cathedral was closed, together with St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church a block away, condemned by the State of New York along with the parishioners’ homes, to make way for luxury apartments, gargantuan eyesores of remarkably shabby construction. The neighborhood was left standing long enough to film the movie version of West Side Story to show just what sort of criminal elements were being packed off to New Jersey and the outer boroughs. The Orthodox relocated to one of the latter, I shall remain discreet about which one, and those few Catholics remaining West of Broadway in buildings like mine left standing, were integrated into Blessed Sacrament, the once fashionable parish of General Sherman and Dorothy Parker.
Ethnic cleansing? It has been called that, and so it might have been for the egregious Robert Moses. But, as Charles Coulombe reminded us not long ago, it was more a matter of an unscrupulous landlord, the State, embarking on a massive campaign of harassment and eviction with the prospect of charging more rent, that is, taxes, to a better class of tenants. For, as insurance agents were long trained to advise their prospects, you don’t really own your home, you only think you do. In fact you only rent it from the State, as the Supreme Court has recently made plain.
The developers had promised to replace the houses of worship they had destroyed, and so they did, and handsomely. The Lincoln Square Synagogue, serving a largely Israeli congregation, stands proudly over the site of the old Russian Church. On a Saturday afternoon I can hear these immigrants wax bitterly indignant that they must share the sidewalks of New York with people of color. “Look at that one. See how black he is? A real criminal!” (My high school German is still good for spoken Yiddish, though even after two trimesters of college Hebrew the alphabet defeats me.)
Encounters like that one are particularly painful for a philo-Semite like me. I remember very well indeed the remnants of the Gilded Ghetto the West Side used to be. Even before I moved down from Inwood I had dinner with the family of a college friend across the street from the rich folks’ projects. The father, a physician deeply nostalgic for the Vienna of the Habsburgs, would burst out into “Herr, lehere doch mich” from Brahms’ German requiem, and remembered Ludendorff’s declaration of unrestricted U-Boot warfare particularly well — because he and his schoolfellows were required to translate it into Greek. Fourth Century Attic Greek. I don’t think it was a particularly kosher meal, and I can’t imagine this magnificent patriarch submitting his suits to the Rabbi’s microscope to check for any forbidden miscegenation of animal with plant fiber, as posters in the local drycleaners now demand that we do. For me the Jews were the people fighting to save Carnegie Hall from the real estate interests, not the ones destroying family homes to build Lincoln Center. And, thanks to the heroic efforts of Isaac Stern among others, the Philharmonic is finally able to return to their historic home now that the acoustic disaster of their more recent venue can be admitted in public.
The problem here isn’t a Jewish problem, or even an Israeli problem. It is an immigration problem. Israelis born in the Soviet Union aren’t the only ones who despise America and Americans for our remarkable colorblindness, imperfect as it is. I recall an academic from India complaining that other Indians were boycotting his parties, because he had somehow found it natural to invite his black colleagues — and some of the offended were those United Nations types who so love to denounce us for our racism. I have no doubt that the arsonist who occasioned these reflections represents a school of Islam fairly new to America and still, thank God, fairly rare here. But multiculturalism is a deadly menace, and deadlier on a daily basis. We simply cannot continue to embrace with open arms those whose culture mandates racial contempt and religious hate. We must always be a refuge for those immigrants who want to be free to practice the Christian religion, or any other religion (within reason) or none — not for those who would murder them for it.
Violence against Christians, Catholics in particular, and Orthodox, whom many fail to distinguish from Catholics, has been a growing and unreported problem here and, I suspect, elsewhere. Five or ten years ago, in broad daylight, a priest was dragged from the altar of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on 60th Street while celebrating Mass and roughed up by some thugs who disapproved of the Church’s ministry to those struggling with homosexual inclinations. Video clips were shown on the early evening news, but by ten o’clock the story had been spiked. If a synagogue service were so profaned, the outrage would be massive and public, but the owners of the media and the authorities, civil and ecclesiastic, treated the incident as an embarrassment to be hushed up. Again, in the run-up to the current Iraq war, after the Pope had voiced his opposition to it, the sanctuary of St. Margaret’s church in heavily Jewish Riverdale was invaded and vandalized. The matter was kept off the air and out of the papers; I only heard because the husband of my Jewish boss was a parishioner there — she said it had to be black kids who did it. Maybe it was; we’ll never know. In New York the desecration of Christian houses of worship is almost never reported. Violent attacks on priests seem to make the news only when the motive is obviously robbery. It’s not Baghdad yet, or even Jerusalem, but it’s getting there.
Hate crime against traditional (liturgical) Christians is growing, and we need to take action now. First of all, we need to keep using the internet to break through the mainstream media blackout, as my Orthodox friend did in the present instance, and we must learn to use the new media even better. We must counter the blood libels of the Foxmans and Goldhagens which incite and justify violence against us here and against Christians in the Middle East and throughout the world. We must refute the constant propaganda barrage of less disreputable figures from the pseudo-scientist Dawkins to the stage magicians Penn and Teller claiming that we are mental defectives who should not be allowed to breed, much less to raise children or be entrusted with educational or cultural work. We need to carry on incessant and creative guerilla warfare on the cultural front, liberating a kaleidoscopic array of temporary autonomous zones where our values are permitted, however briefly, to show themselves. We need to exploit the magnificent opportunity the Pope has now give us to open windows of liturgical splendor into the Puritan meetinghouses of the Latin Rite, and we need to open the eyes of our hearts ever more to the richness of the Eastern Churches both in and out of communion with Rome.
Most of all, perhaps, the remnants of Christian America must give refuge to the remnants of the ancient Christian churches of the East as they are rendered homeless by the Islamic, Likudnik, and Bushite jihadists, though our rulers and pundits defame them as ragheaded “sand niggers” steeped in ludicrous superstition.