The West Side Manhattan I lived in was frequently startled by my “Good mornings,” especially enthusiastic when I attended the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, on 69th street. The responses were what I expected from busy, jaded New Yorkers. The Frederick News-Post column for New Year’s 1984 is repeated annually on TheTentacle.com.
“Moving to Frederick can be traumatic. This is such a friendly city. The old buildings radiate comforting warmth. ‘Good morning’ is freely offered and returned.” That’s no longer sometimes the truth.
In my daily walks with Pushkin, my age and increasing lack of patience can be blamed when I chastise strangers for looking away and not responding. They are like the Manhattan people of my first grown-up years, but Frederick streets were not like New York’s, as I observed in the New Year’s Eve column; or they were certainly not in 1984.
Several weeks ago I was knocked to the sidewalk in front of Bushwaller’s. The man I accused of rudeness was much younger and probably filled with alcoholic beverages. The exact word I used was “Ass!”Friends and complete strangers seem startled when I didn’t call police and report the assault. One unknown woman, who had observed the incident, tracked the assailant to give me his home address. In the first place he was with an acquaintance that I had nothing but friendly chats with when we bumped into each other on Market. Ultimately, I didn’t act because I was not angry. Pushkin and I both survived and managed to reach the house with the yellow door.
In any event, while my assailant was definitely unchristian, I had no way to ascertain he was an upper-case Christian, as the Pharisees were decidedly not; they dominated Jewish life during the Roman occupation. Their name has come down in the Western world as criminals because they pushed Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus. Jews were branded “Christ killers” from the Crucification; they were widely persecuted for centuries and blamed for all kinds of catastrophes that enabled Hitler to wreak the Holocaust. But the Pharisees followed what is now considered the Old Testament that preaches vengeance and hell and brimstone; the New Testament teaches Jesus’ “Love everyone as your brother (and sister).”
Still, Christianity has spawned atrocities, including the First Crusade. Marching through Europe toward the Holy Land, the kings and warriors slaughtered Jews by the thousands on the excuse of practicing before they battled the heretics that took Palestine, the Roman name. Actually, the followers of Islam had sought geopolitics’ “living space.” So did the Crusaders, for the landless nobles in their leadership. They founded the Kingdom of Jerusalem that lasted some 100 years; it vanished because of the desire for new property caused constant wars among neighbors.
In any event, the Pharisees were certainly good husbands and fathers that hewed closely to the Talmud and Torah, as are unchristian Christians among us. They maintain churches and Sunday schools and all the wondrous good works that our religion is famous for – but no more famous than Islam’s zakat, the giving of the richer to poor Muslims as a religious obligation. And the Western world is literally plastered with charitable acts by Jews. At the same time unchristian Christians are not hypocrites, by themselves. Every faith is marked by people who “know” theirs is the only way. Like the Pharisees, they zealously guard against any variance, ecclesiastical or temporal. They’re very much on guard for any changes, like the ancient Jewish leaders.
Large congregations in churches, temples-synagogues and mosques are protected by their numbers against individuals or cliques taking over. But smaller, country congregations stand imperiled. They are restricted in the selection of qualified ministers, rabbis and imams by their reduced opportunities, dominated by economics. Their faithful usually are marked by faiths no less faithful than their bigger institutions’ sisters and brothers. They are at greater risk of takeover by charlatans, con artists and swindlers even assured by diplomas, degrees and experienced in larger congregations.