Gentleman Peck’s Agreement

/ Movies /

For five years now my girl and I have watched movies at home together, old movies especially: her house or mine. Last night at my house we slid the love seat over to the monitor, entwined our hands, arms, legs, heads, hearts and watched Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947, Gregory Peck with a terrific cast. Peck plays a writer assigned to write about anti-Semitism. (pk on the subject)

Hmm, 1947: smell a rat? smell an inevitability? WWII turned lots of rot up under our noses: German rot, European rot … Christian rot, American rot. Peck’s journalist decides to pose as Jewish himself. Instantly he experiences discrimination, sabotage. He writes it, people respond, people are ashamed. Progress!

Even his girl friend is ashamed of her hypocrisy and becomes his girl friend again. Another war won. (And it was the girl friend, Dorothy McGuire playing appealing WASP female to the hilt, who’d had the idea of the article series in the first place!)
Darien Connecticut gets noticed in particular. J had to squirm, so many of her oldest, fanciest, richest friends are from Darien: all chintz, nail hit on the head.

pk still smells a rat. Peck tries to explain anti-Semitism to his movie-son: See? there are religions: some people go to the Catholic church, some don’t, they go to a Protestant church, and others still go to a Jewish church, only they call it a temple, or a synagog. Words, words, as though there were no significant differences among the three: God, religion, truth … all trivialized: and no fourth or fifth choice; no Islam, no Buddha. Implicit is the idea that people see differences where there are no differences. There’s no discussion of the truth of any of the varying assumptions, dogmas. So superficial, I was cringing, but I’m always cringing: and no one has the patience (the honesty) to fathom why.

Americans are proud of a tradition prescribing freedom of religion. My daughter-in-law is half-French, the French have a valued tradition of freedom from religion: the French don’t bomb the churches, they leave them be, they ignore them. Jews have a proud tradition of being despised. (Me too.)

In words, in Peck’s account, in this movie, there are no differences. Peck has a Jewish friend! Dave! Played appealingly by John Gavin: in uniform! He must be a good guy, he’s in uniform, an American soldier! No hint of being a Christ killer.
[2015 07 20 and no hint that there’s no difference between Christ killers and Christians! Just remember: at Judgment, the truth will be up to God, not up to the Christ killers! Or, leave God out of it: just invite truth.]

But before anyone starts burning crosses in people’s yards, should some core of things be establsihed as true? Shouldn’t it make a difference whether or not the god of any of those churches is real? The Jews must be punished for murdering Jesus? Did they? Has anything been established as true? (Are humans capable of establishing anything as true?) I read the bible. I see lots of reason to believe that the bible is no more reliable an account of anything than is The National Inquirer. But what I read there suggests to me that the Romans killed Jesus. If there was no Jesus, or rather, there were Jesuses, lots of Jesuses, but no compelling evidence of any special Jesus, there’s still plenty of evidence of the Romans crucifying lots of people, many of them Jesuses. Why don’t Christians want to beat up on the Romans? Could it be because we are the Romans? The Roman empire became the holy Roman empire. It was far from holy and now it’s far more American than Roman, Rome has been left far behind.

Yes, shouldn’t Christians prove that god is true, that Jesus was real, that the Jews killed him (and that we did not kill him) before we go around killing Jews, canceling their hotel reservations, calling them kike, murdering their pregnant women on the streets of Berlin? Shouldn’t we have proved that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before reducing Bagdad to rubble? (J and I tried (and failed) to watch The Hurt Locker the evening before: she bailed out for good, I’ve struggled with a few minutes more of it.)

No, no, pk, you just don’t get it: that would be the rational thing to do. This, kleptocracy, hypocrisy … mass murder … is the human thing to do. And all this rationalization, this excuse finding, while bombing people world-wide, that‘s another human thing to do.

Christians are so proud of being Christian, as though Christian were a synonym for “good guy”. or that it meant beloved of God, forgiven by God … Are any of those things true? Didn’t Nazis believe that Nazi meant good guy? Wouldn’t the centurion offering Jesus vinegar instead of water on the cross have believed that Roman meant good guy? Shouldn’t Christians demonstrate a significant population in heaven before they brag? That’s like saying you’re got more money than Trump without ever letting anyone see a bank statement. It’s all liars poker: my bluff raises your bluff, no cards ever need be shown.
Christianity promises a reckoning by God: where is it?
God has shown me; but I fail to show you. Not the first, not the last.

In the 1950s my friends had a low opinion of Peck’s acting ability. I guess I saw what they meant. But I suspect we learned our opinions from the general population. I also see that we were defending ourselves against his being too damn good looking, against him making us uncomfortable. I know he made me uncomfortable. Early 1960s I remember my buddy Phil detailing the excellence of his performance in To Kill a Mockingbird. Poor Gregory, nice to see him again. And there were stars throughout the cast. I loved Ann Revere as our hero’s mom.

Ah, I just stumbled on some 1947 background for this movie: Zanuck picked up the novel rights, Zanuck was not Jewish, one of the Hollywood mogul few.

Btw I finally picked up what the title “means”: the phrase in its context is put in Dorothy McGuire’s mouth: Darien anti-Semitism is the polite Christian form of racism where the stuck-up hotel loses the Jew’s reservation while moving his luggage back to the taxi stand. The Darien Christians don’t build a Buchenwald, they just do what this and that group has always done, lived a double standard, one out loud, another silent: silent except in action.

You want an exact parallel? without any Jews or Jewishness? observe pk in his redneck milieux. See the neighbors turn their backs, blind their eyes, deafen their ears … rehearse lies in whispers.
We need God because … left to our own devices truth don’t get told.

But boy can we watch neat movies! flattering fictions: where Gregory Peck is the guy, his applauding audience is the public, and Dorothy McGuire is the distaff!

Dorothy McGuire
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Invasion, Intervention

Several recent movie viewings precipitate thoughts of Hitler invading Poland to murder Polish Jews, not content with murdering German Jews in Germany, all while he yearned to murder Jews in Russia. I mention Bush & Iraq. The White House was concerned about Iraq weaponry. I concede that he had a right to worry, I do not concede he/we had a right to invade. Say I worry about the weird kid down the block: Gee, what if he has witch under his bed? What if he gets his witch to cast a spell on me? I have a right to worry. Maybe I have a right to go up to his sidewalk and tell him he worries me. Maybe I have a right to go up his walk and ring his doorbell. But do I have a right to bust down his door and turn his bed upside down?
Say Iraq worries that Bush has a nuke in Wyoming aimed at Bagdad. Does Iraq have the right to invade Wyoming? the Pentagom? your or my living room? Not that I see. And I don’t see that we have any right to invade Iraq and peek in closets.

Established as True

Imagine that the Supreme Court fiats a fact finding committee: they find that, Yes, the Jews killed Jesus. They further establish that Yes, that god is real, the Protestant God, the antisemitic god. OK: now, at long last, we can have a legitimate pogrom. Baptists and Congregationalists band together and mark Jews’ doors with a J, make the Jews wear a yellow J, then start executing the letter-wearers. Fine. Only right in the middle of this activity a god appears. And he says Hello, I’m God. I’m the real God, I’m the God of the Jews. And now I’m going to hurl everyone who’s ever harmed a Jew into hell! I’m gonna hurl everyone who’s ever even thought of harming a Jew.
Imagine that that God then starts with the Supreme Court justices, hurls them into hell, witnesses galore. Now what do the Baptists and Congregationalists do?

Imagine that scientists the world over establish Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to be true: should the Christian Scientists then be thrown into hell? the Roman Catholics? And what if SuperScientist then interrupts and says, Hello, I’m Superscientist, and until you clowns start talking about SelfOrganized Criticality, I’m going to throw you all into hell!

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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