Why I Withdrew from “Hope is Fuel”

After much reflection I have decided to withdraw from "Hope is Fuel" due to its inclusion of E. Michael Jones as a speaker.

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A while back I was invited to give a talk for Patrick Coffin’s course Hope is the Fuel, which has generated much controversy based on the host and one of the other invited speakers, E. Michael Jones. After much reflection I have decided to withdraw and have asked Patrick Coffin not to include the talk I have recorded.

Many of you are thinking, “why did it take so long?” Others are thinking, “why have you caved?” I am pretty much in a lose/lose situation here so I will lay out my thinking (perhaps too extensively!). Moreover, I want to be as fair as possible to E. Michael Jones (who does unearth some amazing historical facts unknown to many of us) and Patrick Coffin (who is a wonderful interviewer and hosts important conferences). After all, the term “antisemitic” can be as problematic as the term “the Jews” which causes so much trouble.

When I taught at the University of Notre Dame in the eighties, I was a part of a group of Catholic friends who gathered nearly every Sunday at the home of Michael and Ruth Jones (a wonderful cook and baker) and enjoyed terrific conversation about all matters Catholic, especially about dissent in the Church (the sexual abuse pervasive in the Church was not yet known.) They were exceedingly gracious and generous hosts. But at some point, I became very bothered by Jones’ take on certain issues and what seemed to me his unduly aggressive and unnuanced form of speaking, to the point that I withdrew from that group. Consequently, I have paid no attention to what Jones has been doing for the last many decades. 

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When I was asked to record a talk for Patrick Coffin’s Hope is Fuel course, I said yes without awareness of who the other speakers would be. When I learned Jones was a speaker and people had concerns about him as an antisemite (as did I from what I heard), I approached Coffin about Jones and was satisfied with the reasons he gave for inviting him; he did not believe him to be an antisemite. But when some readers of my Facebook posts challenged me to take a closer look, I watched Dr. Michael Brown’s interview of Jones and looked at many FB points that were deemed to be problematic. I certainly may have missed some important statements by Jones and hope I don’t have to make another statement if so; I have already spent too much time on this matter. I have also spent hours discussing the matter with Coffin and some wise advisors to whom I am very grateful.

This is my understanding of Jones’ work that has led me to withdraw. 

I do not believe that Jones can be accused of being an antisemite in the sense of hating all Jews and wanting them to be killed, harmed, confined to ghettoes, or discriminated against. He wants us to take seriously the importance of converting Jews since, in his view, those who are unconverted are disproportionately responsible for a rebellious spirit in the world (stemming historically from the rejection of Christ) that has led to a great deal of evil. In itself, as so described, his thesis is not intrinsically antisemitic, and, in my view, it should not be anathema for Catholics to consider that thesis. He has written a book of over 1700 pages to support his thesis. It can be proved or refuted by examining the evidence.

What is more problematic is the way he has chosen to present his thesis. He speaks always in terms of “the Jews” who, in his view, because of their part in leading to the crucifixion of Christ, have thereby rejected the Logos (by which he seems to mean objective, universal truth, especially moral truth). He attaches no qualifiers to the term “the Jews.” It seems to me he is largely speaking of individuals of Jewish descent who have rejected Judaism as a religion but for some reason, to some extent, cling to a Jewish cultural heritage and cluster together to use their joint power to advance such evils as communism, abortion, and homosexuality, etc., but again, he attaches no qualifiers to the term.

He argues that his use of the designation is justified by the gospels, especially John’s, and it is because he is a Catholic that he speaks of “the Jews.” 

What he refuses to acknowledge is that there are Jews who remain committed to Judaism and thereby adhere to the moral law of the Old Testament that is importantly the same as that of the New Testament. As Dr. Michael Brown, in a courteous and fair interview with Jones noted, many of these Jews have not rejected Christ – he is in their consciousness no more than Buddha is in the consciousness of most Christians. Moreover, there are biological Jews who have rejected Christ but still seem to accept the Logos since they adhere to a natural law view of morality, which is objective and universal. Why does Jones insist that these Jews be viewed as one with secularized Jews who push a relativistic morality?

In his interview with Brown, while Jones denied that it is something in the DNA of Jews that makes them rebellious; he also says that every single one in their lifetimes have made a conscious choice either to accept or reject Christ. That certainly seems an insupportable claim. 

Jones is intent upon using the term “the Jews” because he thinks it wrong that we are willing to make generalizations about others, such as “the Muslims” and “the Blacks” but not about “the Jews”. To his mind our reluctance to do so shows how successful “the Jews” have been in programming us to think that they cannot be criticized since their suffering has been so exceptionally great. Dave Chappelle’s Saturday Night Live skit does an uproariously brave and funny send up of exaggeratedly tender treatment of “the Jews.” There is no doubt that the word “antisemitic” is used to silence opposition to some ideas and it is not wrong to push back on that. 

BUT, I think it extremely unwise for Jones, irresponsible, and thus immoral, to marry his program of exposing how much evil has been promoted by secular, powerful, non-practicing, ethnic, not religious Jews with his desire to demonstrate that it is not per se antisemitic to speak of “the Jews.” In the post holocaust world, if not earlier, it is very hard to strip the term “the Jews” from all the prejudice and venomous and lethal hatred many have had for “the Jews.” Jones does not succeed in doing that nor, so far as I can see, even makes much of an attempt to do so. 

Some time ago, I engaged in an exchange with a friend wherein I advised him against making such claims as “sex is a highway to Heaven”  (or something like that) since the modern mind quite immediately springs to having an image of “copulation” of almost any kind. He was adamant that he was using the word as Saint Pope John Paul II does, as meaning “gender”, or “sexual difference,” which ultimately means our directedness to love. I told him that even if he said that every time he spoke of sex as a gateway to heaven, we could not erase the image and thus false understanding from our minds. We who wish to communicate effectively to the public have to be acutely sensitive to how the words we use are understood by our audience.

Similarly, even were Jones to regularly explain the proper limitations of the term “the Jews” for his thesis, that would not serve to divest the term of all the baggage it carries. It does not help that Jones’ manner of speaking often leads him to uttering the term “the Jews” with almos dripping disdain (which I hope he doesn’t mean). Unfortunately, that manner of speaking is enough to lead people to think he is an antisemite. I prefer to look at the thesis rather than the tone, but it is not irrelevant. 

What is relevant and ultimately decisive for me is that Jones uses the term “the Jews” in an unqualified way that makes it inevitable and to some degree reasonable to think that he means “all Jews” even ones who share not at all the views of the secularized non practicing powerful ethnic Jews Jones wants to warn us against. That is both terribly unjust and, in a world where antisemitism is still a potent reality, it is dangerous. His willingness to use language that so easily is received as prejudicial against all Jews and thus aids and abets those who are antisemitic in a way Jones is not, unfortunately, makes him complicit in the actions of those who are fully antisemitic. He could express his thesis in a way that does not lead to unjust speech and unjust treatment of the innocent. But he doesn’t. And, therefore, I think I have an obligation to refuse to be associated with him by speaking at a conference that portrays itself as being faithful to the Faith. What is relevant and ultimately decisive for me is that Jones’ uses the term “the Jews” in an unqualified way that makes it inevitable and to some degree reasonable to think that he means “all Jews.” Tweet This

As mentioned, Jones maintains that his language is dictated by the gospels and by his Catholic faith. While Patrick assures me that Jones’ talk is truly inspirational and does not mention his position on “the Jews”, nonetheless the invitation of him to the conference indicates that his approach to “the Jews” is compatible with the Catholic faith. For me, Jones’ inclusion in the conference carries a special downside because my talk is extolling the excellence of the Traditional Latin Mass. Unfortunately, some people think that all traditional Catholics are antisemitic because some are. I am afraid the hosting of Jones facilitates erroneous views of “the Jews”, of Catholics, and especially of traditional Catholics. 

Now, after all that, if you are still reading, you may be asking, isn’t your withdrawal inconsistent with your former position that no one expects all speakers at conferences to share the same views or to think that appearing at a conference means one endorses all the views of other speakers. I still maintain that in general that position is true, but, as I said in my earlier statement, if Jones is an antisemite, I would object.

What he is, is complicated, but, as I have argued, his choice of language, despite his disclaimers, is exceedingly problematic. I would refuse to speak at a conference espousing Christian values, if someone who in some speeches says things, but who nonetheless supported proabortion practices and policies, was slated to speak. Organizers can find others to say inspirational things who don’t also lend support to seriously abominable actions. My withdrawal does not make me a part of “cancel” culture. “Cancel” culture, among other things, means denying freedom of speech to those who advance objectionable views. I support Jones’ right to free speech – that does not mean Catholics should give him a platform. 

And BTW, one of my wise advisors pushed me on the distance I want to keep from the question of sedevacantism. My head got pounded against the concrete yesterday in my conversations with my wise advisors (oh, they were gentle, but firm; I am speaking how I received some of their advice). I think Cathy Caridi in her “Can You be Both a Catholic and a Sedevacantist” gives the correct position: no. 

Finally, there are many fine speakers who have taped excellent talks and I do not wish to discourage anyone from joining the course and in fact encourage people to do so. The status of a speaker and an attendee is very different. And since speakers are paid by the number of attendees they draw, very little of what an attendee pays goes to speakers they disapprove. (I say this because in reading this article, you already know to be wary of E. Michael Jones and of sedevacantism.)

[Editor’s Note: We originally posted an earlier draft of this article and have since edited it to reflect the final version. We apologize for the error.]


  • Janet E. Smith

    Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., is a retired professor of moral theology.

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