Clearly out of sequence, this chapter precedes the entire book. I happened to return to it today and decided it too should be shared on the blog.
The Holocaust and the “myth” of Christian antisemitism: To what degree is Christianity responsible for the Holocaust? For a Jew to ask such a question could easily be dismissed as an attack on the integrity of that religion by a Jewish equivalent of a Christian antisemite. So I will leave that charge to Christian theologians and historians to level. And yet the Holocaust, known also by its other title, the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem, took place in the cradle of Christendom, Europe; its perpetrators all, or nearly so, self-identified Christians. And as the Final Solution was gradually emerging, was exposed in the media in horrifying detail, the remainder of the Christian world, with one or two minor exceptions, if at all interested, chose to remain passive observers tut-tutting the active perpetrators from the sidelines.
Guilt and innocence are assessed by actions, not “intentions.” Sympathetic utterances serve merely to assuage the guilt of the passive participant for inaction; pre-arranged international theatrics such as the US/UK-led “conferences” at Evian and Bermuda provide public spectacle, empty gesture for purposes of appearance, suggesting “helplessness” while two million more Jews would die to salve those guilty consciences.
My purpose in writing is not to produce yet another “history” of the Holocaust. The Final Solution, certainly the most dramatic in scope persecution of the Jews over the past two thousand years, occupies a relatively small part of my discussion. Within a two-thousand year and counting persecution of the Jews, as enormous and horrible as was the Holocaust it was but the most recent and massive assault on Jewry living within Christendom. The real question addressed in this book is: what is the Christian source, that religion''s continuing need to “solve” this two-thousand year-long “problem” inspired by the continuing existence of Judaism, of the Jewish people?
To forestall any objection that what the following chapters represent is an invention by a Jew with anti-Christian motives, I will allow several prominent Christian theologians and historians to describe their religion’s Jewish Problem, and the history of tragedy for the Jewish people which it inspired, and holds for the future.
Rosemary Radford Ruether describes herself an “eco-feminist,” and indeed a search of the web brings up thousands of hits as such, and virtually non relating to her small, nearly forgotten 1974 volume that 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 Christianity. Indeed, anti-Judaism is described as necessary for Christian self-identity. Ruether’s critique, inspired by the Holocaust, is motivated by her desire to understand its Christian roots, to describe a way for Christianity to free itself of the curse of anti-Judaism/antisemitism. 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)
* For readers wanting more discussion of Ruether without actually reading the book, Amazon has several well-considered revues by Jewish and Christian readers.
If Ruether wrote, as I understand her, to redeem her religion by discussing its antisemitic foundation, Anglican minister William Nicholls had a very different purpose. His Christian Antisemitism: a History of Hate is more historical that theological, more an identification with, and apology for the crimes of his religion than an effort at reform which, he seems to suggest from the book’s Introduction, is not 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 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)
James Carroll was a Catholic priest for whom the Holocaust apparently contributed to his decision to leave the priesthood, but not the Church. In Carroll we come away no more optimistic for the future than from Ruether and Nicholls. Constantine’s Sword: the Church and the Jews is more a journey of a deeply religious man trying to reconcile his religion with its millennial history of anti-Judaism resulting not only in the six million murdered in the recent Holocaust, 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… [Jewish denial] 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 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 was to allow Christian theology and history to address the fundamental issue discussed in this book, Christianity’s fundamental, unalterable and therefore eternal Jewish Problem: the existence of Jews in a post messianic era. It is Christianity’s Jewish Problem for which, to date a final solution has yet to arrive, that is the subject of this book.