Monday, April 20, 2015

Christianity: A Necessary and Sufficient Cause of Antisemitism?

Arch of Titus, record of Pagan Roman genocide of Jews

On April 9 I gave a talk about Polish-Jewish relations on a university campus. My goal was to offer a quick overview for members of the general public who have no knowledge of Polish-Jewish relations. It was a one-time only talk, not meant to be representational of the alpha and omega of my work or anybody's work on Polish-Jewish relations. You can hear the talk in the youtube video linked below.

After the talk was over, attendee Neil J Kressel, author of "Sons of Apes and Pigs," protested that I did not mention Catholicism in general and saints and popes in particular as causing trouble between Christians and Jews.

I responded to Neil in the note, below. Again, what you find, below, are my thoughts on this matter at this time; I'm not offering the definitive truth here. I am not capable of doing so, because I have not written an exhaustive history of antisemitism.

I remember Neil as saying that I should have spoken about the role of the Catholic Church in fomenting discord between Christians and Jews.

Rather than focusing on the Catholic Church, I focused on what Edna Bonacich called the middleman minority theory, and what Amy Chua called market dominant minorities. These two scholars, independently of each other, describe very similar paradigms.

My goal in the talk was to provide an introduction to the general public who knows nothing about Polish-Jewish relations why Poles and Jews don't get along today. Poles and Jews, for the most part, no longer live in the same country. There are few economic barriers to amity. There are some restitution claims, but those are not looming barriers to relationships between Poles and Jews in the US. And yet Poles and Jews still fight. I was trying to describe why Poles and Jews fight today.

Neil suggested that the cause of the problem is the Catholic Church.

If I ever were again to do this kind of quick, introductory, explanation for why Poles and Jews today still fight, I would add a slide or two addressing Neil's point. I would say the following.

Some scholars do cite the Catholic Church as the most important source of animosity between Poles and Jews. Some cite the Catholic Church in particular and Christianity in general as the source of all anti-Semitism. Such scholars include James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair and John Cornwell, Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII.

I would also mention that one can find well-respected works that make similar sweeping claims about Judaism. Regina Schwartz's The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism blames the Old Testament for war (See Peter Berkowitz's review from the New Republic). Riane Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade and other New Age "goddess" books implicate Judaism in replacing allegedly woman-celebrating Goddess religions with misogyny. Carl Bernstein is said to have blamed Jews for the Iraq War and Matt Taibbi is said to have blamed Jews for the 2008 financial crisis. These examples show why we must be careful when even well-respected authors pin a specific crime on a specific religion.

We find, though, that attempted genocides of Jews pre-date Christianity's spread, and antisemitism can be found today without reference to Christianity. The Roman Empire attempted to wipe out all Jews and Judaism and to exile Jews forever from Israel. The Romans were Pagans. The Egyptian Merneptah Stele of 1205 BC is said to be the first extra-Biblical mention of Israel. It reads, "Israel is laid waste and his seed is not." These Jew-killing Egyptians were not Christian. Modern-day anti-Semitism often occurs in the Muslim world.

The worst expression of antisemitism, Nazism, was specifically anti-Christian. It described itself as overturning Christianity and returning to Pagan roots, while also looking forward to a brave, new scientific future.

If there were no Christians and no Christianity, there would still be anti-Semitism. The Romans would have committed their genocide in the Jewish-Roman wars – Christianity exercised no influence there. Jews would have still undergone their reform that made them literate and numerate while in exile – Christianity exercised no influence there. And the middleman minority pattern would have played out, as it does among populations that are neither Jewish nor Christian.

Middleman minority tensions exist between groups that are neither Jewish nor Christian. For example, between Chinese and Malay in Malaysia. Anti-Chinese pogroms and atrocities take place.  

Neil pointed out that popes, saints, and Christians in general have said ugly things about Jews. Ugly statements alone, though, don't necessitate violent conflict. All identity groups say ugly things about whomever is the closest neighbor. For example, Jews did once regularly pray for the destruction of the Christians and Christianity (the Birkat haMinim). Talmudic statements about Jesus are very unattractive. Polish-Jewish authors, including Isaac Bashevis Singer, Eva Hoffman, David Roskies, and Leon Wells, have been very frank about the contempt that many Jews felt for non-Jewish Poles. Various quotes from these authors convey the following: Polish Jews could and did regard Jesus as an idol, Poles as stupid and unclean, and Poland as a foreign land, even though Jews lived there.

One can't make the point that Jews said these things because they were oppressed by Christians, thus, Christians are always the source of the problem. The early Jewish curses on Christianity were spoken when Christians were themselves a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire. Jews arrived in Poland with systems already in place to differentiate between Jews and non-Jews in ways that made intimate contact difficult – for example, taboos about intermarriage and sharing food and wine. Jews did not arrive as the oppressed minority in Poland. Again, the first Jews in Poland were slave traders dealing in Polish slaves.

So. Popes and saints said ugly things about Jews. Popes and saints roundly condemned prostitution, gambling, and gluttony, and yet a lot of prostitutes, gambling dens, and pizza parlors are doing very good business. Ugly statements from popes and saints can't be the necessary and sufficient cause of antisemitism. Something else must be going on to have prompted spontaneous, violent outbursts by average people who otherwise were not engaging in mob violence. The middleman minority theory provides us with some of that answer.

Popes, saints, and Christians said good things about Jews. Popes and other Christians repeatedly attempted to stop violence against Jews. These Christians did these things because hatred of Jews is contradictory to Christian scripture.

Jesus said, "Love one another as I have loved you." When asked who his followers should love, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. The message is that Christians are to love everyone, whether that person is a member of the in-group or not. Jesus and his early followers were mostly Jewish. Pope Pius XI said, "We are all Semites."

There are no scriptural verses ordering Christians to convert others by force. Jesus advised us to preach. If people didn't listen to us, we were to "shake the dust off our sandals" and move on. There are no scriptural verses ordering Christians to kill those who aren't Christian. Just as God allows tares to grow with wheat, we are to allow non-Christians to live among us.

Popes repeated these messages in papal bulls. An example is Sicut Judaeis from 1120 which forbade Christians from harming Jews.

Yes there are harsh verses in the New Testament about Jews, but they were written by Jews following the Jewish tradition established in the Old Testament, which contains many more harsh statements about Jews written by Jews.

If you are going to read the authors listed above who cite Catholicism as the source of antisemitism, in all intellectual honesty you have to also read the authors who have responded to them, including Ronald J Rychlak's Hitler, the War and the Pope and Rabbi David Dalin The Myth of Hitler's Pope.

About Constantine's Sword, an important book among those books that cite Catholicism as the course of antisemitism. James Carroll falsifies Polish and Holocaust history in a big way in that book. I talk about Carroll's misrepresentation of history in Bieganski. That he could be so false on something so important says nothing good about the overall worth of his work.

One reviewer of Constantine's Sword wrote the following, "As a professional historian, I can say that this book is not a book of history, as it claims to be. The author has not used primary sources to construct his case on the Catholic Church's attitude toward the Jews. Many of the secondary sources he uses (such as John Cornwell's discredited book) are not considered serious by professional historians. On the rare occasion when the author does use primary sources, he clearly distorts the source. I've noted at least ten Church documents where the author draws out several phrases that appear to be anti-Semitic, but where he ignores passages (in the same document) which explicitly condemn violence against Jews. Rarely have I read a book that so ruthlessly cuts the evidence to suit the author's personal biases."

It's undeniable that Catholics and other Christians have done horrible things to Jews and that they did so believing that they were acting in the name of God. When one looks at their own self-announced motives for attacking Jews, though, those motives often spring from the middleman minority stereotype, rather than from theology. Radio Maryja is Catholic radio station. It is a modern-day purveyor of antisemitism in Poland. Here is one quote, Poles are "being out-maneuvered by Judeans who are trying to force our government to pay extortion money disguised as compensation." This Radio Maryja spokesperson is complaining about Jews being smarter, craftier, and getting money thereby. This is a middleman minority concept, not a theological one. And Radio Maryja has been repeatedly criticized by the Vatican and by Polish cardinals.

The most influential philo-Semite in Polish history and culture is John Paul II, a Catholic and a pope, who grew up among Jews and who had a good Jewish childhood friend, Jerzy Kluger. Probably the most influential antisemite in Polish history and culture is Roman Dmowski, a biologist influenced by Scientific Racism, an application of Darwinian concepts of struggle to human beings. Dmowski was a critic of Catholicism, but made a tactical decision to adopt a public pose as a Catholic, because he saw the Catholic Church as an important feature in Polish nationalism.

So, yes, if I ever were to give this talk again, I would mention Catholicism, but I wouldn't say that Catholicism was the necessary and sufficient cause of bad relations between Christians and Jews. I would acknowledge that Catholics often said horrible things about Jews, did terrible harm to Jews in the name of their faith, and Catholics often disseminated destructive anti-Semitic cultural products. 

One example of that is the mural in Sandomierz cathedral mural that depicts blood libel. I would also mention that popes repeatedly condemned blood libel. Something, then, prompted Catholics to embrace blood libel in spite of papal condemnation. I believe that that something is the middleman minority social structure that Catholics interpreted as leaving them subject to exploitation. That they felt that way is not right or just or attractive, but it is a universal feature of body exploitation folklore. 

This folklore exists today. A Japanese tourist and bus driver were stoned to death in Guatemala in 2000 because the villagers believe themselves to be victims of body exploitation schemes by tourists. The villagers' belief is false and the murder is hideous, but it can be understood through the lens of body-exploitation folklore. 

I think that the middleman minority pattern, emphasizing, as it does, economic castes, offers greater explanatory power for something like the Kielce Pogrom and the Sandomierz cathedral mural than does any ugly statements by popes, though, yes, those statements should be mentioned.

1 comment:

  1. I think that you make many good points.

    The constant attacks on Christianity, in academia, are no mystery. Much of academia is left-wing, and has an instinctive antipathy towards Christianity.

    It just so turns out that I recently reviewed a book, by a Jewish author, that repudiates the lachrymose view of Jewish history--that the Jewish experience under Christianity was one of unrelieved demonization and persecution. To see my review, please click on my name in this specific posting.


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