Despite twenty-nine chapters describing the evolution of a religion-based “problem” into a secular effort to exterminate each and every Jew alive in the twentieth century, the magnitude of the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem, its implications for Jewish survival anywhere in the Diaspora are so horrible as to hide entirely the living source both for the recent Holocaust and its future re-emergence.
The Jewish Problem is scripture-based and theology described. And so long as religion governed in the west at least one theoretical possibility to escape persecution was conversion. That loophole closed when the west shed theocracy for secular nationalism. “Conversion” within the nation-state does not exist. Escape within secularism does not exist.
And so, to remind of sources, I conclude this discussion of my on-line manuscript, An American Holocaust? not with Chapter Twenty-nine, but with Chapter One: A Christian Introduction to Christendom’s Jewish Problem.
I. The Holocaust and the “myth” of Christian antisemitism
Is Christianity responsible for the Holocaust? How much responsibility should justifiably be laid at the doorstep of that religious family? Was it chance that the Holocaust took place in Europe, cradle of Old World Christendom; that the Holocaust was also called the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem? And how explain the silence of the remainder of Christendom as the persecution of the Jews unfolded: the failure of Christendom to extend refuge to Europe’s Jews fleeing the executioner?
Guilt and innocence are assessed by actions, not “intentions.” Sympathetic utterances expressed by leaders and press, by the leaders of England and the United States serve merely to justify inaction; such pre-arranged international theatrics as the US/UK-led “conferences” at Evian (1938) and Bermuda (1943) provided public spectacle and propaganda to mask underlying a policy of passive complicity; public illusion as millions of helpless persons were publicly executed by gas and bullet, buried in mass grave or turned into ash at Auschwitz.
Twentieth century technology made the Holocaust the most massive and well-organized anti-Jewish persecution of the two thousand year history of Jews living among Christians. But this volume is not justa another “history” of the Holocaust. The 1939 to 1945 Final Solution has been described in far more detail and by far more capable writers over the years and so occupies a relatively small part of this discussion. The real question addressed here is: What is the source of Christianity’s continuing obsession with “the Jews,” its pathological need to “solve” over a two thousand year-long and continuing “problem” that Jewish survival represents?
Anticipating challenge resulting as a Jew posing such questions I preface my own discussion with observations by respected Christian thinkers regarding the role of their religion as anti-Jewish backdrop to the Holocaust; their own description of the two-thousand year history of Christian anti-Jewish persecution leading up to the recently, if barely failed “final solution.” Rosemary Ruether is a world-renowned Catholic theologian; James Carroll is a past Catholic priest and author of several works of history of the Church, and his church''s anti-Judaic history; and William Nicholls, is an Anglican minister, theologian and scholar of Christian antisemitism.
II. Rosemary Radford Ruether
Ms. Ruether describes herself an “eco--feminist,” and indeed a search of the web brings up thousands of hits as such. The search provides virtually nothing relating to a small, nearly forgotten 1974 volume on anti-Judaism and the Church which created a decade-long controversy among Catholic thinkers. Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism describes anti-Judaism as a necessary, unalterable and ineradicable part of Christian theology, necessary to Christianity in all its forms. Indeed, anti-Judaism is described as necessary for Christian self-identity! Ruether’s critique, inspired by the Holocaust, was motivated by her desire to understand the Christian roots of antisemitism, to describe a way for Christianity to free itself from its curse. In the end, as the excerpts below conclude, anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in Christianity to be excised without destroying Christianity itself.
“That Christians could through the ages continue to assert that the Messiah had come, when evil demonstrably continues to reign-and, still more, to do such evil “in his name”-is, from a the Jewish perspective, an unfathomable self-contradiction… The Church was at enmity with this Judaism… because it refused to be obsolete and threatened, again and again, to become compellingly relevant in a way that could call into question the very foundations of the Christian claim. This Judaism was dangerous to the Church because it possessed a viable alternative to the Christian New Testament… [Christianity] regarded itself the legitimate successor and fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures.” (pps. 62-3).
“The anti-Judaic tradition in Christianity grew as a negative and alienated expression of a need to legitimate its revelation in Jewish terms… it continues on… even up to this day... As long as “the Jews, that is, Jewish religious tradition itself, continues to reject [Christian understanding of Jewish scripture as correct] the validity of the Christian view is in question. The “wrath upon “the Jews,”” poured out by Christianity, represents this ever unsatisfied need for the Church to [assert] that it has the true content of the Jewish Scriptures. Until Jewish religious tradition itself accepts this as the “real meaning” of its own Scriptures, “the Jews” must be kept in the status of the “enemies of God,” in order to ward off that unthinkable alternative, suppressed at the very beginning, by the decision of faith upon which Christianity was founded.”(pps. 94-5)
“Nazism arose as the final repository of all this heritage of religious and secular anti-Semitism… The racial theory was new, but the stereotypes of hatred were old… the mythical Jew had long been fashioned in Christian history to serve as the symbol of this “disease” from which the Christian must purge himself in order to save himself… [According to Hitler} he was only putting into effect what Christianity had preached and practiced for 2000 years…
“In Hitler, the Fuehrer empowers himself with the ultimate work of Christ to execute the “Final Solution to the Jewish question.”(pps 224-5).
“The wheat and the tares have grown together from the beginning, and so it may seem impossible to pull up the weed without uprooting the seed of Christian faith as well. Yet as long as Christology and anti-Judaism intertwine, one cannot be safe from a repetition of this history in new form [the Holocaust]… Anti-Judaism… was an expression of Christian self-affirmation… it may be too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure [my italics].” (pps. 222-8)
II. William Nicholls
If Ms. Ruether described Christian antisemitism from a theological perspective Anglican minister William Nicholls took approaches the subject as a historian. His Christian Antisemitism: a History of Hate is more an identification with, and apology for, Christianity’s crimes than an effort at reform which, he seems to suggest from the book’s Introduction, is not even possible:
“Nazi antisemitism… could never have arisen without the Christian past, of which it was the secularized offspring... The lesson of the Holocaust has not been learned.” (p.xxii)
“The people of Europe had been taught by the Church that “the Jews” were bad because they had killed Christ, rejecting the divine revelation he brought. The conviction that Jews were bad was instilled in every Christian child at an early age… Even when, in adult life many of these children abandoned the Christian dogma of their upbringing, they were seldom able to rid themselves of a deep conviction that Jews were bad and not to be trusted…As a result of this millennial conditioning [they] always knew without being told that Jews were bad.”
“Hitler had a Catholic childhood, and indeed (like several of his closest associates) he died still nominally a Catholic, paying his church taxes and technically in good standing, never having been excommunicated.” (p. 348)
“We are now in a position to see clearly that the Nazi onslaught on the Jews was the ultimate expression of a much older hate, transmitted from generation to generation, and by this time altogether unrestrained by Christian limits. But this hatred of, or at least indifference to, Jews was not confined to the Nazis, though it reached its extremity in them. It was endemic in the Western world. It influenced not only the perpetrators but the spectators as well, and it continues to influence the reaction of the Christianized world to events decades later.” (p.351)
Turning to anti-Judaism in terms of Christianity Nicholls is no more optimistic than Ruether in the possibility of excising anti-Judaism from Christian scripture and theology:
“If Jesus was indeed God incarnate, it follows that in becoming a believing and observant Jew God must have validated Judaism for all time against its religious rivals, including Christianity. This is not a contradiction the Christian mind can tolerate.” (p.427)
“Today, the task for Christian theologians is to rethink from the foundations up the relationship of Christianity to Jesus, and to Judaism, the religion of Jesus. This course is most risky, for Christianity may not survive it.” p.429)
III. James Carroll
James Carroll left the Catholic priesthood due to the “reaction” that set in following Vatican II, one piece of which was “collective forgiveness” for the Jewish people for the assumed murder of Jesus. In Carroll we come away no more optimistic for an anti-Jewish Christian future than those of Ruether and Nicholls. His Constantine’s Sword: the Church and the Jews is a journey of a deeply religious man trying to reconcile his religion of “love” and “forgiveness” with its millennial history of anti-Judaism resulting in the Holocaust, Christendom’s Final Solution to its Jewish Problem, but the countless millions more victim to anti-Jewish persecution over two thousand years previous to the Final Solution.
“The overwhelmingly negative aspect of [the Jewish-Christian] interaction may prompt in Catholic readers a spirit of repentance… since the dreaded climax of this narrative occurs in a densely Protestant culture, with essential elements of Protestant collaboration with the Nazi project, rooted perhaps in a legacy of Martin Luther, the revelation of deep-seated Jew hatred that wind through time can hardly be read as exonerating any Christian. We are concerned here with Western civilization itself…. Hatred of “the Jews” has been no incidental anomaly but a central action of Christian history, reaching to the core of Christian character. Jew hatred’s perversion of the Gospel message launched a history, in other words, that achieved its [semi-] climax in the Holocaust, an epiphany presented so starkly it can no longer be denied. We shall see how defenders of the Church take pains to distinguish between “anti-Judaism” and “antisemitism;” between Christian Jew-hatred as a “necessary but insufficient” cause of the Holocaust; between the ‘sins of the children” and the sinlessness of the Church as such. These distinctions become meaningless before the core truth of this history: Because the hatred of Jews had been made holy, it became lethal.” (p.21)
Even more than Nicholls, Carroll is desperately seeking to reconcile religion with history, to reconcile two millennia of hate inspiring the Holocaust with the Church to whose priesthood he was drawn, then felt compelled to leave.
“Are the New Testament writings, twisted by a hatred of Jews that a Church council would later renounce [Nostre Aetate, 1965], a betrayal of the message of Jesus? If so, where does that leave us?… Either the Jews are guilty or the Gospels falsify history - which is it?” (p.40-1)
Carroll recognizes that Christianity’s Jewish Problem begins with Jewish rejection of the claims made for Jesus as messiah:
“Their rejection threatened the Christian idea far more profoundly than any pagan rejection. Why, of all people, would the Jews be unmoved by the logic… of their own scriptures? The truth of Jesus Christ is proven by Jewish Scriptures… Jewish denial of that claim remains a mortal threat… called [the claim] into question from the start.” (p.130)
[From] “its origins, the Church had defined itself as the replacement of Judaism, and that because Judaism had refused to yield to that claim, the Church had further defined itself as the enemy of Judaism… to eliminate the contempt for Jews that lives… in the heart of “the church as such” requires fundamental changes to the way history has been written, theology has been taught, and Scripture has been interpreted. Indeed, in this context, the very character of Scripture as sacred text becomes the issue.” (pps.552-4)
I will discuss the problem of Christian Insecurity in its turn. For the moment Carroll raises several points regarding that issue:
“The first true crisis facing the Jesus movement was that its first generation began to die off without seeing the [promised by Paul] return of the Lord. The Second Coming had proved to be not nearly so imminent as expected… whatever else [the Kingdom of Heaven] was, the Jews who identified with Jesus assumed it involved a liberation of Israel from the oppression of Rome.” (p.561)
In the end Carroll reaches the same conclusion as Ruether and Nicholls that,
“as long as the Church defines itself trumphalistically, Jews remain a living contradiction to all such claims, and the offense taken by Christians at their “prophetic critique refused” is squared. It is then that Christians become most dangerous to Jews.
The purpose of this Introduction is to provide Christian theology and history the opportunity to address Christianity’s fundamental, unalterable and therefore eternal Jewish Problem. For Jews the issue reduces to the survivability of Jews in the Christian Age. It is Christianity’s Jewish Problem, a problem for which the solution is yet to be achieved. The Final Solution to the Jewish Problem only partially succeeded, it final solution yet to be achieved.