Ed Koch and the Afterlife of FDR

Edward I. Koch, mayor of New York City, sports...
not a recent photo.

Christopher Cocca

Ed Koch has a very interesting piece up on RealClearPolitics.  I’m not going to get into the Israel-Palestine debate in this post, but I did want to point out Koch’s religious eclecticism on matters of the hereafter.  I’m not in the business of opining on the eternal fate of people, but I do sympathize with the religious and legislative impulse behind Koch’s placement of FDR in the not-quite-sweet by and by.  Certainly, it feels icky when civic leaders speculate about these kinds of things.  On the other hand, like the Sinead O’Connor piece I posted yesterday, Koch’s essay captures a public figure in raw struggles around faith, life, death, justice, and forgiveness.  You need to know, before reading the excerpt below, that Koch has just described newly-found evidence of FDR’s less than progressive attitude toward the fate of Jewish professionals living in a newly liberated North Africa following World War II.  I’ll also mention that I remember learning about FDR’s rather crass sentiments toward the Jewish members of his own administration in high school.  Yes, I went to high school in the 90’s, but I doubt this was a case of revisionism.  On to Koch:

I appreciate FDR’s contributions to the survival of our country. At the same time, I have never forgiven him for his refusal to grant haven to the 937 Jewish passengers on the SS St. Louis, who after fleeing Nazi Germany had been turned away from Cuba and hovered off the coast of Florida. The passengers were returned to Europe, and many were ultimately murdered in the Nazi concentration camps before World War II ended. I have said that I believe he is not in heaven, but in purgatory, being punished for his abandonment of the Jews. The concept of purgatory is Catholic. I am a secular Jew, but I am a believer in God and the hereafter, and I like this Catholic concept. The Casablanca document reinforces my conviction that President Roosevelt was, at heart, not particularly sympathetic to the plight of the Jews.

I’m not sharing this piece to stir up a big debate about FDR’s eternal reward.  But I am very interested in and sympathetic to the way Koch rather nonchalantly identifies himself religiously in the excerpt above. “The concept of purgatory is Catholic.  I am a secular Jew, but I am a believer in God and the hereafter, and I like this Catholic concept.”  Period.  I don’t relish the thought of anyone being stuck in purgatory, but I love Koch’s honesty about spiritual beliefs he has chosen, some informed, indelibly, by his inherited Jewishness, others by the pluralistic settings of successive communities and constituencies.

Here and there, I’ve described myself as an eclectic or even provisional Christian.  Even though I am a protestant, traditions from across the wider Christian experience appeal to me in various ways, as does a whole lot of secular philosophy.  This sort of up-front religious navigation strikes me as honest and compelling in ways that weren’t readily accessible to the pilgrims of other eras.

 

Sinéad O’Connor and the New Catholic Church

So Far... The Best of Sinéad O'Connor
Image via Wikipedia

Sinéad O’Connor has a moving piece up at The Huffington Post. Please read it.

UPDATE: I just said this below in the comments but it really does bear saying here: I should say that I’m one of these typically low-church protestant types, but that I find much to love in the contemplative traditions of the Catholic Church and other Christian communities.  I hope my posting of this piece doesn’t come across as anti-Catholic by any stretch. I was just very moved by it, and impressed with its cogency. A far cry, indeed, from what was done on SNL all those years ago.

Monday

Someone once said if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.  Someone else once said “these are times that try men’s souls.

Dateline: Monday – Unrest and protest in Syria and Saudi Arabia today.  Continuing crises in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya.  And those are just the things going on at the top of the news cycle having to do with wider North African/Middle Eastern developments.  There’s the natural, humanitarian, and nuclear crisis in Japan. The irradiation of Japanese milk and spinach, long lines and scant groceries and gas. There are new reports, and, it seems, new evidence, of military atrocities on the part of a rogue element in the US Army in Afghanistan.

Are you outraged?  How does your soul feel? I feel sick, disgusted, and tired. And I’m a relatively safe, healthy, American civilian.  The image of President Obama at the foot of  Christ the Redeemer in Brazil last night triggered all kinds of cynical thoughts for me about the audacity of hope.  Then I read a piece suggesting that perhaps the President was taking a kind of solace there.  Some might say he’s been taking solace for weeks, failing to lead, etc.  I don’t know how I feel about all of that. I don’t know if he was prevailed upon by State to authorize the strikes in Libya when his gut seemed to be telling him to keep the US role there as limited as possible.  I don’t know.

But I do know this.  1) We private citizens and co-people of Earth cannot succumb to soul fatigue.  We cannot ignore the news, and we cannot settle for the coverage we are given.  Free people especially must use their freedom to stay informed.  That’s just how it is. 2) If you are the praying kind, I hope to God you’re praying.  For everything.  For everyone. 3) Find some solace, but please, God, don’t roll up.

Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq; Qoheleth, Pacifism, Action.

Look, I don’t think Iraq and Libya are the same situation or have identical sets of circumstances.  I do think that the only legal rationale for either action is the pretty standard assumption that once your regime starts killing civilians, your regime loses the sheen and protection of an observed sovereignty among the nations.  It’s the closest thing to international common law we have.

Related:  Does it feel to anyone else like as soon as President Obama took office the media stopped reporting very much about Iraq?  Everyone keeps saying Afghanistan has become Obama’s war, but you just don’t hear very much about Iraq, or about protests and calls to hasten the official end of our presence there.  You hear bits and pieces, you hear reports, but it’s not like it was.  I don’t have anything else to say about that, really.

In my heart, I feel like striking military targets in Libya to impede government forces from killing people is a good thing, but let’s not forget that the Libyan resistance is not unarmed.  They’re underarmed, to be sure (there’s no Bill of Rights in Libya), and yes, the government fired first.  The sham regime lost any lingering claim to sovereignty it had that day, which was weeks ago.  It’s simply just the case today that in attacking Libya now, we’re not only protecting peaceful protesters. We’re also aiding an armed resistance.  The armed resistance is acting in response to its unjust treatment by the regime in the only way that makes any rational sense.

I know a lot of people who believe in total pacifism.  People who believe that nations and oppressed groups can collectively turn the other cheek when their civil disobedience is met with murder as a matter of national political policy.  Most of these people are Americans who will never really have to worry about choosing between ideology/Anabaptist piety and protecting their families from agents of the government.  Some of these people tell me that the cross is God’s sign that violence is not overcome by violence, and most (not all) of these people live in relative safety. At any rate, we Americans, we French, we British, most of us, anyway, have the absolute privilege of being morally and spiritually vexed.  People living through it need to do just that, and they need our prayers, our support, our solidarity.  Figure out what that means for you.  Then do it.