Carroll to lecture on American perception of Jerusalem


James Carroll

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

There are two Jerusalems, according to James Carroll’s book Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World.

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Carroll will begin the second week of the Interfaith Lecture Series with a lecture called “City on a Hill: Jerusalem in the American Imagination.”

Carroll said one Jerusalem is the historic city, and the other is the conceptual holy city; the two cities are in conflict with each other, and their simultaneous existence highlights the relationship between religion and violence.

The first Jerusalem is the city as described in the Bible, history textbooks and newspaper accounts, Carroll said, and this is the Jerusalem studied from the time of Jesus, through the Crusades and into the current conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“The other is the fantasy city that begins with the idea of heavenly Jerusalem, which becomes a motivating image for western civilization,” Carroll said. “(It is) Jerusalem fulfilling all of human hopes, and that idea grabs hold of the western imagination so that it defines the violence, the Crusades … and in a very large way it defines America’s own sense of itself.”

The tension between religion and violence is created when the violent history of Jerusalem the city clashes with the nonviolent nature of religion. There are aspects of early religion, like sacrifice, that are violent, Carroll said. But violence is not the core of religion.

“If I thought that religion was only about violence, then of course I myself would not be a religious person,” Carroll said. “It’s because I find religion to be a source of resistance to violence that I want to rescue religion from its violent impulses.”

He added that violence is basic to the human condition, and religion inevitably gets caught in it.

Many of the arguments in Carroll’s book are controversial, but Carroll said he is not afraid to question religion. In fact, he said it is necessary that religions and believers be self-critical of their beliefs toward violence.

Before writing another of his books, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, Carroll was a Catholic priest. Constantine’s Sword challenged modern Christianity and the church, citing the history of violence between Christians and Jews, but Carroll said the self-reflection strengthened his faith.

“I understand in a way that I never did before that the entire Christian church is guilty of sin and therefore must always be in search of forgiveness,” he said. “But I understand the good news of Christianity to be that forgiveness is readily available, that God is a giving God.”

Carroll’s honesty made him a great lecturer to open the week’s theme “The Role of Religion in Engaging Citizens for the Common Good,” said Maureen Rovegno, the assistant director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua.

“Sometimes to engage citizens, you have to hold up a mirror to what is really happening,” Rovegno said.

Carroll traces the theme back to the fundamental principles of Christianity.

“That citizens must be engaged for the common good is another way of saying the greatest of the commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself, to do unto others as has been done to you,” Carroll said. “Those are the basic basic principles of what we would call the common good, and my lecture will track that idea right into a modern era, going from the Biblical principle of the Golden Rule right through the basic principles of liberal democracy.”

Carroll has also been a weekly columnist for The Boston Globe for almost 20 years.

“Its work requires me to pay attention to the world around me and the world that is unfolding in front of me, and the question a columnist always asks is, ‘What do I care most about?” Carroll said. “Being a columnist has really sharpened my work as a writer of books.”