Passion vs. Fahrenheit, for starters.


William F. Buckley Jr.

An honored friend, charging that there has been anti-Semitism on the air, sends along the offending transcript, and I read through MSNBC’s Scarborough Country (for Dec. 8) and found some noisy people discussing Hollywood. The question before the house: Will The Passion of the Christ win the relevant Oscar, or will it be Fahrenheit 9/11? The seven guests of Pat Buchanan, who was the mc that evening, included a rabbi (Shmuley Boteach) and the president of the Catholic League (Bill Donohue).

The Catholic League (“The Nation’s Largest Catholic Civil Rights Organization”) fashions itself after the Anti-Defamation League of the Jewish establishment, and although tiny by comparison with the ADL, engages in some of the same excesses. The ADL will find you a hidden anti-Semitic motive in a public recitation of “God Bless America,” and the Catholic League (what it is, essentially, is one man, its president William Donohue) will find anti-Catholicism/anti-Christianity in every third movie produced in Hollywood.

On the MSNBC show, the charge was immediately lodged that a failure by Hollywood to vote Passion ahead of Fahrenheit would constitute, pure and simple, an anti-Christian body blow. I detach from the quarrel to say that I agree that preeminence could not be given to Fahrenheit because it is a superior dramatic production–it could only mean antagonism to Passion. But to vote for a third contestant would be explainable in non-discriminatory language. Many share the opinion that Passion was unnecessarily, and inartistically, bloody.

But to return to the language of the exchange on the television program. Rabbi Boteach led off provocatively: “I hope that Michael Moore actually wins so we can finally confirm what Hollywood is. Hollywood has become an America-hating bastion that always portrays people in uniform in some sinister role.”

But for Donohue, charging Hollywood with being anti-American was by no means specific enough: “Who really cares what Hollywood thinks?” The answer to that question is, roughly–everybody. It is because people care that this question was being raised on TV. “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, okay? And I’m not afraid to say it. [Donohue is not afraid to say anything.] That’s why they hate this movie. It’s about Jesus Christ, and it’s about truth.” What Hollywood likes is “anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions.”

Donohue’s swings were so wide, inevitably he touched on genuine points of controversy, the current one of which focuses on the Christianization of Christmas.

Donohue speaks of things which are “not a secret.” And here is a flash point. The opposition to nativity scenes at Christmastime, or to the singing of songs that focus on the manger and the stilled star that hung over it, embraces a wide group of people. Among them are secularists who have drunk deep of ACLU doctrines over the years and have convinced themselves that any theological exercise in public circumstances is both a deprivation of their rights to seamless agnosticism, and a personal affront to believers in competing doctrines. In such language you can’t say a Christian prayer without offending the Jew or the Muslim.

Those can be thought of as bureaucrats of Weights and Measures. But in this band are also genuine anti-Christians. People who wince when Christianity is deferred to, people who hate Catholicism as the axis of Christianity and who will seek any opportunity to hinder or belittle it, whether it is removing common prayer from the schools or the invocation of Christ during a Christmas–holiday (not holy day).

It is imprudent and historically ignorant for these to seek to hinder the community that wishes to express sentiments, at Christmastime, that relate to the establishment of the day.

But to suggest that Hollywood is the incubator of the anti-Christian, secularist movement is ignorant and provocative. Rabbi Boteach neatly undercut Donohue by saying simply, “I’m amazed that we’ve made this a discussion about secular Jews. I have got to tell you that Bill Donohue, who I otherwise love and so respect, ought to be ashamed of himself, the way he’s spoken about secular Jews hating Christians. This is a bunch of crap, okay? . . . Hollywood has become a cesspit because it’s secular, period.” The rabbi is saying it hurts the Jewish faith equally to fight the secularist fight. And that is how to find the right perspectives in the current quarrel.


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