Friday, February 16, 2007
Better a human being than a rattlesnake: Gilad Atzmon answers Lenni Brenner's theological questions
This past 9 February I received an email from Lenni Brenner, the legendary anti-Zionist Jewish Marxist Historian. Lenni sounded very concerned, on the verge of panicking so to say. He may had have had good reason to dread; he was totally convinced that I have fallen ill, subject to the worst possible disease known to mankind. Lenni was certain that I became a lamb of Christ. But Lenni didn’t stop just there, he also believed that in addition to my newly adopted religion, I am busy spending my spare time acting as an inquisitor, chasing the sons of Israel and persecuting them for killing Jesus.
In a desperate effort to save a lost soul of Israel, either himself or myself, Lenni contacted me to find out whether there is truth behind the vicious rumours. Lenni was convinced that he had a scoop in his hands, so he CCed Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch, a magazine that hosts my writings regularly.
In my eyes, Lenni’s questionnaire serves us with an authentic glimpse into the notion of Jewish trauma. For an outsider, it is probably hard to believe the level of terror some Jews inflict upon themselves for no real reason. Seemingly, Lenni, a prominent historian, proves to be horrified by Christianity, its symbols, the narrative and its message of divinity.
Over the years I have learned a lot from Lenni Brenner. Though I do not share his political view, I regard his books as invaluable. I do believe that the differences between Lenni Brenner and myself portray a very accurate picture of the emerging chasm between the decaying tribalist Jewish Secular orthodox school of thought and the reawakening ethical discourse; a discourse that aims beyond the political and the dogmatic. I hope that this exchange may raise some interest amongst Lenni’s followers. I am pretty sure that my readers will find it interesting as well as entertaining.
This piece was published, without this introduction on Counterpunch. Since the time of responding to Lenni Brenner, I ran across a piece by an author who has been a great influence on me, Kurt Vonnegut. In his latest book of essays, he writes:
How do humanists feel about Jesus? I say of Jesus, as all humanists do, “If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?”
But if Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being.
I’d just as soon be a rattlesnake.
Lenni: Hi Gilad, People tell me so many things about you, that I decided to get some answers straight from the horse's mouth, as we Yanks say.
Gilad: Hi Lenni, I do appreciate it!
Lenni: Are you a Christian?
Gilad: Not that it is your business (in case you didn’t know, Christianity is not paedophilia, it is allowed these days), however, I am an ex Jew. I didn’t formally join any organised religion and this includes: Islam or Christianity as well as your UK Bundist friends’ version of Talmudic Marxism (a religion rather than an ideology).
Lenni: Was Jesus human only, or divine in whole or part?
Gilad: What a pathetic question Lenni. How am I supposed to know? Do you know? Having been trained in philosophy, I will try to help you to refine your question. What you want to ask is whether I BELIEVE that Jesus was divine.
My answer, Mr. Brenner, is very very simple. I do not engage in questions having to do with divinity. And my own belief is irrelevant because I am not religious. Yet, I do respect the FACT that very many people around me believe that Jesus was divine. Unlike you and your UK friends, I do respect other people’s beliefs. In fact I respect any form of spiritual activity. I admire people who are inspired by divinity. I admire Torah Jews, who are the only Jewish collective resistance to Zionism. In case you ask yourself where I find divinity, my answer is very simple: Coltrane, Stravinsky and Bach, but this changes often.
Lenni: Was he (Jesus) the messiah? Is he coming again? Do you accept the New Testament as divinely inspired?
Gilad: Lenni, do I look like the Pope? How am I supposed to know whether Jesus was the Messiah? Again, do you know the answers? My affair with Jesus is rather metaphysical. I regard Jesus as a critical ethical awakening. For me Christ is all about loving your neighbour. Jesus is the birth of western universal humanism (as we know it). Following Hegel, I am inspired by the notion of Otherness, and ‘Master Slave Dialectic’. However, the notion of Otherness is nothing but Christ’s heritage. I suggest that you think about it for a while.
I would like to mention as well that your dismissal of Christianity and religion in general is rather disconcerting. However, without me being Christian, I must insist to remind you and your half a dozen UK followers that the days when Jews chased Christians are over.
Lenni: Did you write:
"I would suggest that perhaps we should face it once and for all; the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus who, by the way, was himself a Palestinian Jew. But then two questions should be asked:
1 - How is it that people living today feel accountable or chased for a crime committed by their great great ancestors almost 2,000 ago? I assume that those Jews who get angry when blamed for killing Jesus are those who identify themselves with Jesus's killers. Those who would commit this murderous act today.
Those Jews are called Zionists and they are already advancing into their sixth decade of inhuman crimes against the Palestinian people and the Arab world.
Zionism, for those who do not know, is a repetition of the darkest age of the Jewish Biblical era."
Gilad: Yes indeed, these are my words and I stand by them.
Lenni: Does any living Jew have any responsibility for Jesus's death?
Gilad: Lenni, did you lose your capability to grasp a very simple text? I would really like you to present just how my text implies that I accuse contemporary Jews for killing Christ or for being responsible for it. In fact the text says the complete opposite. I ask: “How is it that people living today feel accountable or chased for a crime committed by their great great ancestors almost 2,000 ago?” In other words, I find it astonishing that people today happen to be offended by such accusations.
Lenni: Am I responsible? Do I have to atone for his death? Do I have to accept that he rose from the dead?
Gilad: Lenni, do I look like a shrink? I really leave this question to you. It is you who should answer whether you ‘feel’ responsible or not. By no means does my text imply that you or anyone else is responsible. The text says that those who are offended are “those who identify themselves with Jesus's killers. Those who would commit this murderous act today. “ Accordingly, it is you who should ask yourself whether you would commit such a crime today.
Once again, you may want to refine your question. The question you want to ask is whether I BELIEVE that you are responsible.
No is the answer. I don’t BELIEVE that you are responsible; moreover I KNOW that you are not responsible. Nevertheless, my text implies as well that you MAY not be as innocent as you wish to be.
In my text I stress that “I assume that those Jews who get angry when blamed for killing Jesus are those who identify themselves with Jesus's killers. Those who would commit this murderous act today.”
Seemingly, you are ‘angry’, you feel accused of something without even being accused of anything. On the face of it, the question you have to ask yourself is whether you identify yourself with Christ’s killers? I am pretty sure that you don’t and you shouldn’t be. However, I must tell you that the cyber kangaroo courts that you and your friends hold on a daily basis reminds me too much of the Sanhedrin. I suggest that you think about that as well for a while.
Somehow you and those like you know what is good for the Palestinians, the Jews, the working class. I occasionally ask myself what it is that makes you so confident. You and your followers indeed have managed to silence some of the most interesting intellects around just because you do not approve their politics or religion. I am afraid to inform you Lenni, that these days are over. Your six UK disciples are working day and night for more than three years doing their very best to silence me, I am afraid to tell you that they fail. In fact they achieve the opposite instead.
I do not feel sorry for them because they have really zero reputation to defend. But I really feel sorry for you Lenni. You are an important contributor to the Israeli-Palestinian discourse. Your books are more than valuable. You have a reputation to defend. I would like to see you in the midst of the discourse rather than surrounded the last shadows of echoes of tribal socialism.
Just before closing this email I will sharpen the differences between us. Unlike you Lenni, I believe in freedom of speech. Unlike you Lenni, I am against gatekeeping, I am also against any form of dogmatic or monolithic discourses of hegemony. Unlike you and your friends, I believe that every human subject is entitled to human rights. Unlike you Lenni, I approve of the Hamas. Unlike you Lenni, I understand that working class politics has very little relevance in Arabia.
Yet, I have never tried to silence anyone, on the contrary. I will fight for your right to speak your mind.
Lenni: Thanks, in advance, for your time and trouble in this regard,
Gilad: It was my entire pleasure.
All the best