Sunday, 20 November 2011

Anti-Semitism and Christians

Bl. Edith Stein
In the late nineteen eighties while attending classes at the Catholic Blessed Edith Stein Institute an unnamed student was overheard making a  anti-Semitic remark about a picture on the classroom wall. It  displayed a figure standing around a large and obvious Jewish symbol of the Star of David.  “What is that awful picture of a Jew doing in these Catholic halls” he questioned. What our accuser did not realize, at the time, that it happened to be the image of one Edith Stein herself – one of the most famous Jewish converts to Catholicism in the twentieth century.

Anti-Semitic remarks such as these have had a long and lasting history in Catholic and later other Christian denominations.  Paul until   thrown from his horse on his way to Damascus from Jerusalem, (between 31-25 CE) with the intent of persecuting Hellenist ‘followers of the Way’ eventually became the persecutor of Jews himself.  Nor is the New Testament exempt from several anti-Semitic comments.  For example, the Gospel of John (8. 44-47) accuses Jews of being children of the devil and the like.  Such remarks according to Christian apologist, including Martin Luther CE 1483-1546) were justly warranted because many Jews refused to accept Jesus as the rightful Messiah.  Anti-Semitism in popular European Christian culture escalated beginning in the 13th century. Accusations of deiocide, Blood libels  and host desecration drew popular attention and led to many cases of persecution against Jews.  

The intent of this brief essay is not to enter into a long history of anti-Semitism but to question as to why or how anti-Semitism remained so virulently alive that ultimately more than five million Jewish men, women and children were ruthlessly persecuted, tortured and violently killed by citizens raised in  Europe’s finest Christian tradition or nations. How did the anti-Semitism atmosphere remain such a  powerful source of hatred in the minds of Christians for so long.  What elements of this hatred finally lead to the holocaust during WWII?  How was the involvement or lack thereof by the church responsible for such a dramatic conclusion by the end of the war?     

Wikipedia tell us that Brown University historian David Kertzer, working from the Vatican archive, has argued in his book The Popes Against the Jews that in the 19th century and early 20th century the Roman Catholic Church adhered to a distinction between "good anti-Semitism" and "bad anti-Semitism". The "bad" kind promoted hatred of Jews because of their descent. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was intended for all of humanity regardless of ethnicity; anyone could become a Christian. The "good" kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies  to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc. Many Catholic bishops wrote articles criticizing Jews on such grounds, and, when accused of promoting hatred of Jews, would remind people that they condemned the "bad" kind of anti-Semitism.  Kertzer's work is not without critics. Scholar of Jewish-Christian relations Rabbi David G, Dalin, for example, criticized Kertzer in the Weekly Standard for using evidence selectively.   Dalin’s book ‘The Myth of Hitler’s Pope’  is an attempt to protect Pius XII from accusations that he didn’t do enough to save Jews during WWII.  At the same time the books admits that a historically damaging form of anti-Semitism already existed among many Christian institutions. For that reason there is little point in defending Pius XII but rather to look at the culture that promoted anti-Semitism for the last two thousand years. David G. Dalin is an ordained rabbi and professor of History and Political Science at the highly traditional  Catholic Ave Maria University in Naples , Florida.  What a rabbi is doing teaching at a such an ultra conservative Catholic university remains unanswered.  

On March 16, 1998  Catholic officials finally responded to the long awaited question of what responsibility, if any, the Church bore for the slaughter of millions of European Jews during WWII.  In the document  We Remember: A reflection on the Shoah” the Church admitted that while it had fostered negative “religious” views of the Jews it had not been responsible for any negative  images of their harmful social, economic, cultural, and political effects – the latter identified with modern anti-Semitism.   Author David I. Kertzer continues. . . . The anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism distinction soon became an article of faith that relieved the Church of any responsibility for what happened.  Before long, millions of people came to assume its historical reality.
A similar argument is used today by the Roman Catholic Church to explain  homosexuality. The Roman Catholic Catechism clearly states that “the acts of homosexuals are intrinsically disordered and are considered to be of grave depravity”.  At the same time the Catechism insists that . . . . "homosexuals must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and that every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” . . .  Is this form of 'double speak' not like having your best friend accuse you of being a sexual deviate who is going to make this fact public; but somehow still required to love you?  This begs the obvious question: which of these two remarks by your friend is likely to affect you  most?  How is the rest of the world now going to remember you?   Could some aspects of your accusers behaviour not be equally or more abhorrent to the rest of the world? Some Christians  referring to ‘homophobia’ stated that this was not a form of hatred but merely a positive means of identifying a person’s sin.  When we lose or deny our own sins and pin them on someone else we may have lost the true meaning of what it means to follow Christ.  

As for the eradication of anti-Semitism it is noted that since Vatican II Catholic-Jewish relations improved significantly.  However in 2007 Pope Benedict’s decree allowing for wider us of the Tridentine Mass once again includes a Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of the Jewish people.  A further setback in these relations occurred in January 2009 when Pope Benedict lifted excommunication of four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).  The society was reported to have perpetuated the Jewish deicide and Jewish world domination plot canards in its official newsletters and on several of its websites internationally (although the offending websites have been removed since the controversy surrounding the bishops' reinstatement).  One of the bishops who was readmitted into the Catholic Church was Richard Williamson, a bishop who believes that there were no gas chambers used in any concentration camp. As such much anger has arisen from Jewish communities, The Jewish Agency for Israel, Yad Vashem, Elie Wiesel (Nobel prize laureate and holocaust survivor) and Germany’s Central Council of Jews have all condemned the decision to lift the excommunication and the chief Rabbinate of Israel decided to cut the ties with Vatican. The controversy also attracted attention from outside the Jewish community with German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling on Benedict to issue a "very clear" rejection of Holocaust denial. Surely God intended that we should all be ONE and not separate from each other.  


The ad below was paid for by members of Canadian Friends of the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem

The Province, British Columbia, Friday, June 3, 1983


WE AFFIRM our faith in the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures and their command that we love God and our neighbour; that we pray for our leaders, our nation (I Timothy 2:1-3), and more particularly for our Jewish friends here and in Israel (Psalm 122:6), that they will be better understood, appreciated and defended.

WE APPRECIATE their presence in, and their contribution to this nation, and we are prepared to defend and protect their individual and collective rights especially against the forces of anti-Semitism (Genesis 12:3).

WE GIVE THANKS to God for the Jewish people who recorded and preserved the Word of God, and through whom God gave us the Bible and our Saviour.

WE APOLOGIZE for "Christian" anti-Semites, and for our country's anti-Semitic immigration policy before, during, and after World War II; and the double standards applied against Israel in international affairs.

WE APPEAL to all Canadians, especially those professing to be Christians, to join with us in combating and eliminating this expression of racial hatred.


No comments: