Bigots Anonymous

There are meetings of Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, Alcoholics Anonymous. I would like to suggest a new addition – Bigots Anonymous, and Rabbi Joshua Hammerman should head the effort to get it off the ground.

Rabbi Hammerman has apologized for his twisted remarks about those who applaud Tim Tebow’s public declarations of faith. The New York based newspaper, Jewish Week, which published his thoughts rather than sending them back to him with a big red X through the offending article, has apologized as well. I am quite sure that both the newspaper and author were taken aback at the furor their words provoked, and I am willing to concede that the apologies may be authentic rather than simply backpedaling to get out of trouble.

Pretty much anyone who speaks or writes publicly, including my husband (and even me!), has occasionally said something poorly in a way that leads it to be misconstrued. Other times one sometimes gets a reaction which stems from the fact that the reader is reading poorly, bringing tons of chips on his shoulders to the writer’s words and reading things which no objective observer would see. Case in point – I was recently accused of racism for my blogs, Dear O and Lucy, Lucy and Herman Cain. I wasn’t sure if I had been insensitive – though I thought racist was a bit strong – or if my accuser was over-sensitive. After re-reading my words and not seeing anything I wanted to retract, I asked the reader to please post her comments publicly so that others could let me know what they thought. As of yet, she has not done so.

There is another experience one can have after articulating an idea. A strong negative reaction can cause one to step back and re-evaluate.  Perhaps one’s convictions are entirely wrong! In one of my blogs, I used a word for which I was taken to task by a reader. I honestly had no idea that the word had a reprehensible history and so his comments taught me that a word which I assumed was benign actually wasn’t. Or perhaps an author or speaker discovers that something which one assumed was a standard, perhaps universally accepted concept actually isn’t. This happened to both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The former’s comments as a candidate trying to share in the pain of the public, “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?” reflected a lack of awareness that arugula is not as American as apple pie and that Whole Foods isn’t quite Safeway.  The latter candidate similarly showed that his thinking isn’t instinctively that of most of us when he threw out the sum of $10,000 for a bet as if we all think in those types of numbers.

Rabbi Hammerman’s comments were obviously in a different category than either Obama or Romney’s. This is why they need to be treated seriously and not dismissed simply as foolish or careless. I don’t know Rabbi Hammerman and I don’t regularly read the Jewish Week, but I assume that the rabbi and the editors see themselves as good and enlightened people. This incident is a wake-up call that they hold prejudiced and bigoted views about Christian America. These views aren’t surprising as the circles they travel in are probably quite narrow: liberal, east-coast and academic.  As with most holders of prejudice, they aren’t aware of how intolerant they are because everyone with whom they interact shares their views.  It would do them all good to get out of their sheltered cocoon and get to know some actual Tim Tebow supporters, instead of the caricatures in their minds.  Perhaps, in addition to a twelve-step program for anti-Christian bigots, they should undertake a sensitivity training journey around America. I’d be happy to introduce them to pastors and congregants in amazing churches in the Bible Belt.  I don’t think that in their wildest imaginations they envision these fervent, sophisticated, charitable, and diverse congregations.

Future actions will determine whether Rabbi Hammerman and the Jewish Week’s apologies reflect a willingness to expand their thinking or if they only regret the crassness with which they revealed what they believe. If the dogmatic, doctrinaire, intolerant and insular thinking of the liberal Jewish community which they represent remains entrenched, an opportunity for growth will have been wasted.




6 thoughts on “Bigots Anonymous”

  1. I find the same attitude among some Christians for others, including other Christians, it’s just not a Jewish issue. In addition, if you have a hammer (a bigoted issue), everything looks like a nail (to squelch ones ability to express one’s views. The real issue is it a slip in thinking or a large habit (whether visible or invisible) that needs to change, on both sides of an issue? Thanks for your comments, Susan, they’re welcomed, for sure.

  2. Sheldon,
    Wow! You have your work cut out for you. When I watched the movie “Gentleman’s Agreement” with Gregory Peck years ago, it was clear how the people represented in the movie would have been shocked to hear there was something wrong with how they spoke and what they believed. That was true for comments they would make about Jews and Blacks. Today, it is incredibly sad that many Jews are in the opposite position. The media they watch and read, the leaders they revere, are ‘Christian phobic’. And they have no idea that they need to question their assertions because they would be appalled if anyone spoke about any other group – including Moslems -in such hateful terms.

  3. I am a member of Rabbi Hammerman’s congregation. I have known him and his wife for close to 20 years. When I read his piece, all I could say was “how could you?”
    I decided to go out and talk to other congregants and get their opinion. Everyone feels it is hard to defend the article but they feel he was mislabeled a bigot. I ask them, “why do you feel that way”. The answer I get each time is, “Christianity really is a problem in our society”!
    Do all these people, many who I call my friend really feel this way? Am I really surrounded by a bunch of bigots? What other conclusion can I reach?

  4. I found Clutterers Anonymous through a web search. You and your daughter can too!
    Your comments on the weakness of the language of the apology are spot-on. Unfortunately, the story you tell doesn’t surprise me.
    I do think that the Jewish Week’s retraction of the story (and you won’t be surprised that their attitude towards religious Jews is frequently negative as well) is important. Even acknowledging that the loathing they feel for the ‘Religious Right’ should not be spoken of openly is, sadly, a step in the right direction. And you are correct, of course, that spreading fear of Christians has value for them in advancing their political views.

  5. Clutterers Anonymous? Really? How do I put my teenage daughter in touch with them?
    When the news broke, I’d chosen not to take the time to read Rabbi Hammerman’s 12/14 article. After now having read it, I am not in the least surprised at the hatred his words reveal.
    Several years ago while in New York City attending a holiday season corporate business dinner, I sat astonished to hear my NYC resident colleague from across the 12 top table recount how he answered his 4 year old daughter’s question: “Daddy – who’s Jebus?”. “Oh”, my colleague continued, “He’s just somebody that stupid and weak minded people believe in because it helps them cope with life (chuckle chuckle).” His words passed without reaction. As shocked as I was, I decided not to take the bait in protest. I was previously aware of the fact that the man who spoke these anti “Christian right” words is a gentile who happens to be married to a woman who is Jewish. Perhaps he was only dutifully recounting the “wisdom” of his and/or his wife’s “respected spiritual leader”?
    As Rabbi Daniel Lapin has taught us, “Politics is nothing less than the practical application of our value system”. To my mind, Rabbi Hammerman’s now retracted article is more a political statement than social commentary. After all, for the left in their various and sundry incarnations, it’s perpetually open season on the so called “Christian right”, isn’t it? Witness the impunity with which my colleague expressed his bigotry. No HR jail or sensitivity training required for him.
    The Rabbi Hammerman article has accomplished its political purpose, retracted or not, and the controversy surrounding it has only amplified the effect. As we’ve learned from Rabbi Lapin’s “The 10 Commandments: How Two Tablets Can Transform Your Life And Direct Our Nation”, bearing false witness against our neighbor is wrong not least in part because of the lasting impression it makes upon the hearer. To slander Tim Tebow and his “legion of faithful followers” (read “Christian right”) with the slander of “insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants” leaves in indelible impression that cannot be completely removed. Certainly not by an arrogant, self-serving and credential burnishing “apology”, blaming “the way in which I attempted to make my points” rather than his points themselves. If we truly “sincerely apologize”, we don’t use words like “all those whom I may have offended”. His use of the word “may” implies choice, with the choice being that of the offended party. Here’s how I read his apology: “I do hereby apologize to those who may choose to be offended at my clumsy attempt at making my points . . . and O.K., alright, I guess they were inappropriate even though they came from moi, the aforementioned seasoned veteran of all causes humanitarian who certainly couldn’t possibly have meant it that way”.
    Lastly, this hastily retracted article is perhaps best seen as an opportunity to have been a fly on the wall in the sheltered cocoon from which the words emanated, and all the more reason to support the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, a noble and worthy effort that is needed today more than ever before.

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