This could turn out to be a two-part post. But first, the story. This is a true story and I think it says a lot about how comfortable the dominant culture is with differences and diversity in these United States. And that's not much.
The "Jews are Really Christians in Disguise" Story:
I used to be a member of a Jewish-Catholic Dialogue group. We would get together once a month to discuss an assigned reading and once a year, we ran an educational day to bring others in the community to discuss some issue or another. The more we met, the more I got the sense that the group did not want to discuss the hard stuff--like the role of Christian Europe in the Shoah, or even the differences between us. There seemed to be a sense in which the group wanted to get together and feel good about how diverse and accepting we all were. But differences? Well, they make people uncomfortable. Best not to talk about them.
This was confirmed for me when we got together to discuss two articles published in the Jesuit magazine, America. One article, by a self-labeled "conservative Catholic" archbishop, very matter-of-factly discussed some important theological differences between Catholicism and Judaism. And it was clear that the archbishop, speaking from his perspective, thought that Judaism had gotten it wrong about Jesus. This article was not suprising to me and some of the other Jews there. Nor was it offensive. After all, as a very small minority in the United States (somewhere around 2% if we are lucky), we are well aware that we think differently about the identity of Jesus than Christians do. The Archbishop did not express any contempt for Jews. He did point out the areas of disagreement. Strongly. And that had some of the Catholic members of the group falling all over themselves to show how very liberal and tolerant they are by refusing to acknowledge that we do, in fact, have very different beliefs about Jesus.
The second article, by a self-identified "liberal Catholic" was very different. Nothing was strongly worded at all. It appeared on the surface, that the writer was very "acccepting" and "tolerant." But I found his position to be extremely offensive. He argued that essentially Jews are really Christians who just don't know it yet, and therefore are worthy of "salvation." And the Catholic members of the group just couldn't get enough of it. They thought this neatly solved the whole problem of "salvation" for Jews.
For me, that was the problem.
In order to prove how "diverse" they were, the Catholic members who approved of this notion, and not all did, were essentially erasing our identity as Jews. And so I said something like this:
"Look, some of you have a problem with the Christian doctrine that salvation through belief that Jesus was the Messiah is the only way to relate to G-d. This is a Christian problem. It is about Christian doctrine. It has nothing to do with us as Jews. We do not agree with you about that doctrine. And we understand that it is part of the structure of your belief. And it's a free country. You have the right to believe that if you want to. As long as you do not exert force against those who do not agree with you, I am not offended by your belief. But when you take away my identity as a Jew because you are so uncomfortable with the fact that I disagree with you, then I am offended."
As you can imagine, in that group my statement set off quite a---well, discussion. I took some heat. And ultimately, the subject was dropped. Probably because it was too uncomfortable for some of the touchy-feely types who wanted to feel good about how liberal and accepting of diversity they think they are.
And that is the nub of the problem. Accepting diversity means that one accepts that others are not exactly like you. It means looking deep within and recognizing that your way of seeing the world is unique to you. It's a lonely realization. It means recognizing that yes, we are all human beings and members of the same species, with the same evolutionary heritage and genome. We are all very similar. The words Shakespeare puts into Shylock's mouth are:
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
do we not die?..."