A Catholic Facebook group posted an anti-Semitic meme. What can we learn from this?

(Facebook.com/CatholicMemebase, Illustration: America)

On Sunday, June 10, the Facebook page Catholic Memes posted this image:

Antisemitic Catholic Meme

Before it was deleted from the page on Tuesday morning, more than 7,000 Facebook users reacted to the image with likes, laughs and hearts. Some commenters, however, accused the page of purposefully posting an anti-Semitic meme and spreading misinformation about the role Jews played in Christ’s death.

Advertisement
facebook comment

 

Facebook comment

 

After I posted a screenshot of the tweet to Twitter, the popular account @JesusofNaz316 retweeted it saying, “This is blatantly racist,” and called on U.S. bishops to talk with "those among your flocks who promote vile social media content.”

Rather than removing the post right away, the page’s official response was to double down and defend the meme, followed by posting another meme about Jews killing Jesus.

Catholic Memes Response

After speaking in the comments and in private messages with page administrator and founder Ryan Scheel, I learned that he did not create the meme but found it among memes “floating around” the internet. Mr. Scheel maintained that the meme is not anti-Semitic or racist. “Would you level the same charge against St. Paul?” Mr. Scheel asked, referring to the passage from 1 Thess. 2:14-16, in which Paul seems to blame Christ’s death on the Jews.

Certainly, isolated from the rest of the letter and from the body of Paul’s works, the line from Thessalonians seems problematic. Michael Peppard, a New Testament scholar and associate professor at Fordham University, told America that the word Paul uses, Ioudaios, refers to both ‘“Judean” as a geographical identifier and “Jew” as a religious identifier. According to Mr. Peppard, Paul was most likely referring to Judeans because he referred to Judea in the same sentence. Plus, almost all of Jesus' followers were Jewish, so Paul would not indiscriminately blame them for Christ's death. 

More importantly, when Paul talks about “Jews,” the word did not carry with it the same associations of trauma and dehumanization as it does today. He did not live in a time when Christianity was associated with imperial power and years of Catholic bigotry, hatred and violence against Jewish people.

The issue at the heart of this debacle is the trauma caused by slurs like “Christ-killer” that Catholics hurled at Jews for centuries. Belief in Jewish deicide was so serious that it needed to be repudiated multiple times by popes. In “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council said outright that “what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” More recently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI exonerated the Jewish people from all blame associated with the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

The key is the phrase “without distinction.” Indeed the meme in question does not technically implicate “all Jews,” but it does leave the interpretation ambiguous and does not specify which Jewish people are held accountable.

In a statement to America regarding this meme, Amy-Jill Levine, New Testament scholar and author of The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, said: “For Jews, who have not only a long history of persecution prompted by charges of being ‘Christ killers,’ and for Jews who to this day face this charge from Catholics … such comments may well be taken as anti-Jewish.” She also added, “To tell someone who is pained by a meme, or a joke, or a cartoon, ‘hey, lighten up,’ is to be at best insensitive.”

Despite official church teaching repudiating supersessionism, the belief that Christ’s sacrifice replaces or nullifies the original covenant God made with the Jews, Mark Oppenheimer, the Tablet’s editor-at-large and co-host of Unorthodox, told America that a lot of Christians still hold supersessionist views regarding Jews. “I’m not surprised when arguments between Christians online reflect that,” Mr. Oppenheimer stated.

After a few days of both criticism and support from the page’s community of users, Mr. Scheel decided to take down the meme and replace it with this one:

Catholic Memes Revised Meme

The page’s official comment on the new image reads: “The other meme was not meant to be Anti-Semitic. We were shocked it was taken as such, and rather than allow that conversation to go on, you get this meme instead.”

As Catholics struggle with parish closings and the lack of physical community, online groups serve as real communities, and page administrators like Mr. Scheel are de facto leaders. With just under 400,000 followers, the Catholic Memes page has the population of a small metropolitan diocese. Its influence is wide-reaching, and thus its leaders should also be held accountable for its content. At a time when anti-Semitic incidents are startlingly high and when more and more people are misinformed about the Holocaust, Catholics should know about the ways we historically contributed to Jewish persecution and be vigilant to correct any misinformation.

When I interviewed Mr. Scheel for another story a few months ago, he said evangelization is at the heart of Catholic Memes’s mission. “We’re not converting anyone,” Mr. Scheel said, “but we are planting seeds that may be watered later on in these people’s lives.” If the seeds planted are tainted with ambiguous anti-Semitism, the fruit will also be tainted.

Ultimately, while this is about more than just jokes, one should also note the quality of the meme’s original joke. “I gave the benefit of the doubt to the author in its original post,” said Ben Soussan, creator of a Jewish Memes Facebook page, to America. He admits that he has laughed at memes directed at Jewish people if the level of humor transcends the level of offensiveness. “This one is also just not that funny in the first place,” Mr. Soussan said.

Correction: June 14, 2018

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to "Nostra Aetate" as a papal encyclical. The document is an official declaration of the Second Vatican Council.

Reyanna Rice
4 days 20 hours ago

The article refers to Nostra Aetate as an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI. It is not. It is one of the documents of Vatican 2, and a rather significant one at that. Paul VI wrote 7 encyclicals but Nostra Aetate is not one of them. Please correct

Reyanna Rice
4 days 4 hours ago

I note that the article has been corrected but no notation that it was done so as is correct journalistic practice.

Tim Reidy
4 days 2 hours ago

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, we have made the correction and noted when it was made.

Reyanna Rice
3 days 18 hours ago

Thanks, Tim. Its still not technically correct. The author states “In “Nostra Aetate,” Pope Paul VI said“. It’s not Pope Paul who speaks in Nostra Aetate but the Council Fathers at Vatican 2. This young writer has done a good job with this article as a whole, but should learn the fine art of getting the small details accurately stated.

Christopher Lochner
4 days ago

Of course, there is a difference between laughing at something and ignoring something, between insensitive and hypersensitive. But to be hypersensitive does turn the spotlight on yourself and in the modern world this is paramount. Meh. A late Jewish friend of mine and I would laugh over jokes pertaining to our respective beliefs because we respected each other but not nearly so much, if at all, those who in displays of great theatre would rend their garments. Meh, again.

Alice Pat
3 days 20 hours ago

Not only is the meme racist, it is stupid and not the least funny (in my opinion). I don't see how this could be an effective evangelization tool.

MARIE CONN DR
1 day 8 hours ago

Nowhere do I see any mention of the role of the Romans in all this. Jesus was declared a traitor and was executed by the Romans. Pontius Pilate was a Roman official; from most reports about him, he would not be influenced in any circumstance by the Jews.

Andrew Wolfe
1 day 7 hours ago

Usually Catholic Memes is hysterically funny and not offensive. Not sure what happened.

malangkilde@gmail.com
1 day 7 hours ago

The meme, as in the case of many, is in poor taste... however -
Matthew 27:25 and Acts 4:27
So, while the Jewish Leadership and those gathered there participated - Jesus' death was ordained by God, and Jesus knew this.

Baron Corvo
1 day 7 hours ago

I am really amazed that this website, run, allegedly, by one of the few Roman Catholic religious orders that prides itself on accepting ONLY the best thinkers and true Catholics, would even think of running such a laughable, childish article filled with so much balderdash from ill-educated faux-Christians that go out of their way to excuse blatant Trump-era-style racial hate and intolerance and shrug "...no biggie !" when their duplicity has been revealed.
"Catholic Facebook pages" can be created and run by ANYONE with an email address - just like ANYONE that has access to the internet can say or post whatever they choose. And there are a LOT of people with silly ideas about what it means to be "Roman Catholic," equating Vatican II changes with something bad, as this silly FB page owner does.
The fact that the FB page owner doubled down on his ignorance and did not totally remove the post shows how anti-Semitic and un-Christian he actually is.

Šime Skelin
1 day 7 hours ago

What is this? Voice of Homocommos?

Kevin Greene
1 day 6 hours ago

The Catechism holds that "The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by 'all Israel,' for 'a hardening has come upon part of Israel' in their 'unbelief' toward Jesus [Rom 11:20-26; cf. Mt 23:39]. ... The 'full inclusion' of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of 'the full number of the Gentiles' [Rom 11:12, 25; cf. Lk 21:24], will enable the People of God to achieve 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,' in which 'God may be all in all.'" In addition, the 'In Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism' (1985), the Church stated that the “Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer of all.” These are statements worthy of study and discussion. I don't think it is helpful to simplify the issues facing Roman Catholics in understanding and expressing their familial bonds with those of the Jewish faith. To speak of 'supersessionism' in a Roman Catholic context seems especially odd as this is not a term embraced by the Church. (It stems, I suppose, from Protestant covenant theology and dispensational believers.) But beyond all this, let's go to the heart of our faith and recognize that it is WE (all of us) who killed Jesus and ALL OF US who can be reconciled with the Creator of the Universe.

Drew Charpentier
1 day 5 hours ago

completely agree with the crux of this article. can't quite wrap my brain around what it implies about the condition of the mystical body in 2018 that something like this had to be clarified? but I clicked on it, so mission accomplished.

i will say that i was struck with how terrifying it is that 400k subscribers to a page that gives off about as much wisdom and text as you'd find on a tea-bag would be described as "real community." at least with the tea-bag you get a slightly larger window for reflection while it steeps, and one can't simply press a like button and move on. it's precisely a series of simple surrenders like this which further the gap between true Christian community and mindlessly imbibing only things we agree with. and it's precisely true Christian community which keep us all in check from the manipulation, half-truths, and misinformation that get us into this glorious mess.

there is very little opportunity for dialogue in general right now. it's a blessed act of grace to have the humility necessary to hash out ideas with the Other. REAL community trains us in that, almost by default. woe to us if we think screaming into the void and hoping people "like" it is the support of a "real community". a community like that is a real lonely place to grow.

if Christianity is against alienation and despair, at the very least we should do a better job of being careful with the words "real community."

too bad henri nouwen can't be squeezed into a meme or a teabag... smh.

Kevin Greene
1 day 4 hours ago

Drew, I'm not certain I understand what is the 'crux' of the article, at least in a theological sense. The Church's stance remains 'problematic' for many.

Henry George
1 day 4 hours ago

Not clear to me what the pictures are saying in this article.

How is it "racist" to say something derogatory about "Jews" for when
did "Jewishness" become a race ?

"Small Metropolitan Area" - 400.000 Catholics - not unless you are
in Rhode Island are that many people going to be Catholic in a city
under 1,000,000.

America, you need to edit your articles, especially those written by
your younger writers, to a far better degree.

Mark M
1 day ago

Concur, the editors of this website should be more selective regarding the authors they Publish.
This is a nothing-burger article intended for snowflake readership.

Mark M
1 day ago

Concur, the editors of this website should be more selective regarding the authors they Publish.
This is a nothing-burger article intended for snowflake readership.

Cody Byers
9 hours 5 min ago

I laughed, and went on about my day. What I do find bothersome is the fact we can no longer have humor in society without everyone signing off on the joke it seems.

Memes are quick punchlines boiled down to a sentence or two of text over a picture that represents the thought of the text. To preface everything with the amount of political correctness needed for people to not be offended is not only burdensome but just as much removes the humor from the meme itself.

This entire exercise of being offended by a simple meme is an exercise in lunacy.

“Tragedy plus time plus the will to be amused equals comedy." - Steve Allen

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

America Media was recognized by the C.P.A. for “setting an incredibly high bar for intellectualism and spirituality.”
America StaffJune 18, 2018
Choosing death is choosing death, and that choice always comes from within a dark hole.
Simcha FisherJune 18, 2018
Typical standards, norms and laws in regard to communications are first eliminated, the pope said in his homily June 18 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.
Mystical experiences are lot more common than you might think.
James Martin, S.J.June 18, 2018