Friday, October 12, 2007

The Perfected Jew

-- by Sara

God, I do not want to talk about Ann Coulter today. Or any other day.

There's a reason a number of bloggers have taken to calling her She Who Must Not Be Named. Nobody wants to give her time, bandwidth, breath, or space. Talking about her is like feeding the Grandmother of All Trolls -- and you just know you're going to hate yourself in the morning.

But on Tuesday, she said something that requires some explanation and a background story. Media Matters describes the scene:

During the October 8 edition of CNBC's The Big Idea, host Donny Deutsch asked right-wing pundit Ann Coulter: "If you had your way ... and your dreams, which are genuine, came true ... what would this country look like?" Coulter responded, "It would look like New York City during the [2004] Republican National Convention. In fact, that's what I think heaven is going to look like." She described the convention as follows: "People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America." Deutsch then asked, "It would be better if we were all Christian?" to which Coulter responded, "Yes." Later in the discussion, Deutsch said to her: "[Y]ou said we should throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians," and Coulter again replied, "Yes." When pressed by Deutsch regarding whether she wanted to be like "the head of Iran" and "wipe Israel off the Earth," Coulter stated: "No, we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say. ... That's what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws."

After a commercial break, Deutsch said that "Ann said she wanted to explain her last comment," and asked her, "So you don't think that was offensive?" Coulter responded: "No. I'm sorry. It is not intended to be. I don't think you should take it that way, but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews. We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to live up to all the laws. What Christians believe -- this is just a statement of what the New Testament is -- is that that's why Christ came and died for our sins. Christians believe the Old Testament. You don't believe our testament." Coulter later said: "We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all."

This exchange sent me back, cringing, to the memory of a visit with my fundamentalist grandmother back around 1978, when I brought home a Jewish boyfriend from college to meet her. She very sweetly explained the above viewpoint to him -- including the repeated use of the term "perfected Jew" -- as a misguided way of buttering him up for conversion. You've got to love the essential arrogance of this position: "You think you're one of the Chosen People -- but the Bible tells me you're broken in the eyes of God. But I can help you fix that, if you'll let me...." Among Evangelicals, this kind of casual insult is what passes for winning friends and influencing people. And then they wonder why people think they're arrogant.

"Perfection" is an idea -- and a phrase -- with a long fundamentalist pedigree that goes back at least to the 1960s, and perhaps farther. The idea that Jews are God's Formerly Chosen People, who somehow got broken and lost -- and eventually, superceded in Daddy's favor -- when they failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah is a favorite Evangelical conceit. In this view, God misses the Jews and would still rather choose them -- but his hands are tied. He simply can't do that until they come around to his way of thinking on the Jesus thing. In the meantime, these stubborn "imperfect" ignorants (gifted from the start with way too much free will -- an error God has been trying to reverse ever since) have left him no choice but to give their spot on his big lap to the Christians. Of course, "perfected" Jews" -- those who come to accept the Christian Messiah -- are God's best beloved of all.

My grandma was really big on this "perfection" deal. She knew she's score triple bonus points in the eyes of God if she evangelized to Jews; and, unfortunately, my preference for Jewish boyfriends gave her ample opportunity. (Jerry, David, Randy: I'm still sorry for putting you through that.) But, even in doing this, Grandma was dancing on the edge of a fundie taboo. The term "perfection" is one of those Evangelical code words that gets a lot of use when it's just them talking in private, but is never, ever used in front of non-Christians -- probably because even the most devout fundie has an uncomfortable sense of its essential arrogance, not to mention the rank anti-Semitism of its presumptions.

She Who Must Not Be Named broke that taboo wide open on Tuesday. She used the word in public, right out there on national TV. Most people who heard it had no idea what she was talking about. But those of us who know the code winced visibly. In her eternal quest to keep her career alive, Frankenstein-like, by increasing the amount of shock applied to it, she'd taken to giving up the family secrets, putting them on the transmission belt that pulls ideas from the holy-roller fringe right into the living rooms and minds of center-right America.

Given the way the transmission belt works, this may have been the first time non-fundie America heard about "perfected Jews" -- but now that the notion is out there, it probably won't be the last. And with it comes the idea that somehow, Jews are "less than," or "other," or "don't belong," or that it's somehow OK with God if we treat them less than fairly. Or, worse: that they are broken and imperfect, especially compared with righteous Christians like Coulter who can smugly proclaim her own "perfection" on TV.

That's a dangerous notion: we all know the evil places that kind of rhetoric can take us. Even, so, in a way, SWMNBN has done progressives (and especially Jews) a favor. She's brought an ugly piece of religious condescension -- shared by tens of millions of Americans -- right out into the open, where we can a long last give it the thorough debunking it deserves. People who've think they've got a warrant from God to believe that eight million of their fellow Americans are "broken" have no business making policy that might affect them -- or anyone else.


And then there's that ridiculous claim that "we have to obey laws." Judaism is arguably the most legalistic religion on earth: adult males are obligated to obey 613 specific rules governing every aspect of work, family, business, travel, grooming, dressing, eating, and even their sex lives. In the Christian view, Jesus' sacrifice rewrote that requirement -- it took them off the hook so they don't have to obey laws to curry favor with God. They only have to believe.

So, contrary to Coulter's claim, most Evangelicals don't have much use for the Torah. It's just a bunch of Bronze Age mumbo-jumbo that doesn't apply to them at all. They take the creation myths and the Flood, and leave the rest entirely alone. And the Jews' stubbornness in clinging to the whole thing, including the laws, is the main reason Evangelicals think they need "perfecting" in the first place.

In other words: she's blithering again.

Coulter, good Christian she, claims to attend Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. However, several spokespeople for the church told Max Blumenthal that they've never actually seen her there.

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