Maureen Dowd and My Georgetown Crucifix Problem

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Maureen Dowd occasionally turns over her column to her much-more conservative brother, Kevin, usually to interesting effect. Today's column, on the future of the Catholic Church, is especially good. Of course, watching the Vatican priest catastrophe unfold is purely a spectator sport for me (and hard for me to relate to, given that my own personal religion never experiences any sort of crisis whatsoever), but it still provokes in me unhappy feelings, not only for the obvious reason (I'm a parent), but because a) I think non-fundamentalist religion is a good thing generally, and b) I grew up in a mostly Catholic town, and I have many fond memories of the Popish atmosphere, excluding the five or six miscreants who accused me of killing Jesus, which I did not do.

I did commit one sin against Jesus, however, and I was reminded of this sin by Kevin's call for the Catholic Church to return to its fierce and righteous roots:

It is time to go back to the disciplines that the church was founded on and remind our seminaries and universities what they are. (Georgetown University agreeing to cover religious symbols on stage to get President Obama to speak was not exactly fierce.)

Our first child was born thirteen years ago at Georgetown University Hospital. A small and tasteful crucifix hung on the wall of the delivery room, and Mrs. Goldblog, upon being wheeled into its presence, demanded that yours truly remove it from the wall. I saw in the crucifix an opportunity to make to my soon-to-be-born child the classic Jewish joke, "This is what happens to Jewish kids who don't do their homework" (I realize that newborn babies don't get humor, but you have to start training them early). Mrs. Goldblog, however,was in no mood for jokes, nor was she in a terribly analytical frame of mind, so when I said, "Hey, sweetie, this is their hospital, and this is their savior, so if they want him on the wall, it's their right." She repeated her demand, stridently, that I remove Jesus from her sight. So I did, and placed him between two towels in a drawer. Everything went swimmingly from there (including the Bat Mitzvah in February of the aforementioned newborn).

But a few weeks after the successful delivery, I was talking to a friend of mine who was a Catholic chaplain at Georgetown, and I told him, with some trepidation, about what I had done, and where, if he was so inclined, he could find the crucifix. He laughed and told me that I should not have been worried about my Jesus-removal activities; if I had called him, he would have gladly removed the crucifix for me, in order to make Mrs. Goldblog more comfortable. I complimented him for his kindness and understanding and general sense of non-judgmental universalism, but I also thought then, as I do now, that he would have been within his rights to say, "You chose the hospital, we didn't choose you. With all due respect, we're not going to change or mask our beliefs for fear of offending you." Cynthia Ozick famously said that "universalism is the parochialism of the Jews," and, if I'm reading Kevin Dowd correctly, this might be a bit of a problem for Catholics as well. In this case, tolerance for the wrong things has led to a crisis of faith that has served to undermine the belief among many Catholics that they possess the transcendent truth.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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