Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Leftist Church & The Jews

Jewish-Christian Relations

This article is a follow-up to earlier posts (see here and here) on the state of affairs between the Church and the Jews; and more important as to how the Leftist Church, typically mainline Protestant churches, but not exclusively, tend to view Israel and the Jewish People. What they all share is a hostility toward Israel and a deep-rooted anti-Zionism bordering on hate. This article does not apply in general to Evangelicals, who have been unwavering supporters of Israel, and whose views on the Jewish State are generally diametrically opposite those of the Leftist church.

The Jews started it all—and by "it" I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings … we would think with a different mind, interpret all our experience differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.
Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews:
How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed
the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels

Christianity has had a long and tortured relationship with the Jewish People during its 2,000-year history. This hatred and slaughter of Jews (and Muslims in some cases) continued essentially unabated for centuries, and did not end with the entry of Christianity's newer sect, Protestantism, despite its early attempt to exhibit some tolerance of the Jews.

It did not last long; one famous and classic example is Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, whose public stinging rejection from the Jews, resulted in this reaction: a provocative if not inflammatory 65,000-word anti-Semitic treatise in German (Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen), translated in English to, On Jews and Their Lies (1543):
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:
First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly—and I myself was unaware of it—will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.....
and so on, ad nauseam.
Notwithstanding the apology one can make for sixteenth century language, one could hardly doubt Mr. Luther's lack of tolerance. This literary embarrassment, written by one of the "giants" of the Protestant reformation, remained as is, unchallenged or unchanged and vociferously defended by many Christian followers for more than four hundred years. It seemed unworthy, perhaps even ignoble to consider that such a piece of writing ought to be examined and deemed precisely what it always was: an anti-Semitic diatribe. Or in modern parlance  a rant. Despite so long a wait, modern times and modern sensibilities finally caught up with him, and in 1994 the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected Luther's anti-Semitic writings. Although I applaud its actions, I wonder why it took four centuries to act. It goes to show that change happens slowly among religious institutions, notably when it comes to rejecting the views of a leading religious figure or hero.

When one considers that it is only in the last fifty years or so, in the post-Holocaust period, that the Christian Church, in general, has become more tolerant of the Jewish People and its religion and traditions, it's not surprising that old prejudices remain and are revived. To its credit, the best minds within the Church has done so, not be denying the validity and veracity of its book, the New Testament, but by focusing its energies on what it has in common with the Jewish People, "the People of the Book." It's true that the New Testament itself, the book loved, adored and read by Christians the world over, contains passages that are acutely anti-Semitic, leading to animus towards the Jews. There is the (in)famous passage justifying religious hatred towards the Jews: "When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man’s blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!' " (Matthew 27:24-25).

This passage alone has done the Christians a great harm in their desire for validity as a religion of "love and peace." For the Jews, understandably,  it is hard to accept such a statement when its followers, its devotees, acted otherwise, driven to excesses by the very words in the New Testament that has led to the greatest charge levied against the Jews—the crime of deicide, a charge that carried so much weight that it was used to justify the many massacres, by mob and state, against the Jews. That the Gospel accounts are contradictory are another matter, as is the chief contradiction of who is ultimately responsibility for the crime of deicide, if that really matters. Consider the following and think about it carefully: If it were the superintended will of G-d to offer his beloved son as a sacrifice for all humanity, then why ought someone else bear responsibility for its commission?

Even so, is the crime of deicide, the killing of a god, pales in comparison to the killing of a human; the reasons are so clear that any rational human should understand why this is so. Making a clear case of it is Eliezer Berkovits, a Jewish theologian and a rabbi, in Faith After the Holocaust (1973):
That deicide is the greatest of human crimes is among the most dangerous fallacies ever taught to man. The truth is that the capital crime of man is not deicide, but homicide. To torture and to kill one innocent child is a crime infinitely more abominable than the killing of any god. Had Christianity, instead, of being preoccupied with what it believed to have been a deicide, concentrated its educative attention on the human crime of homicide, mankind would have been spared much horror and tragedy. There would have been much less suffering and much less sorrow among all men; nor would there have been either Auschwitz or Treblinka.Unfortunately, the teaching of deicide became an excuse, and often a license, for homicide. Pity any god thus caricatured by his devotees! (127)
Pity indeed. Yet the wheels of justice move slowly. It was only in 1965 that the Catholic Church removed the accusation against the Jewish People; and has been noted above only in 1994 did the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America act likewise, repudiating the hateful writings of its namesake, Martin Luther, with its 1994 “Declaration to the Jewish Community.”  It's a good start, as was what the Catholic Church did in 1965, led in its efforts by Augustin Bea, a Jesuit priest from Baden, Germany, and who was head of the Secretariat for Christian Unity. But even a conservative Catholic as Paul Johnson, the noted historian, admits that the document, "Declarations of the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," hasn't gone as fair as it should. Johnson writes in A History of the Jews (1987):
It was a grudging document, less forthright than Bea had hoped, making no apology for the church's persecution of the Jews, and inadequate acknowledgement of the contribution of Judaism to Christianity. The key passage read: "True the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, not against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be represented as rejected of God or accursed, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures." This was not much. But it was something. In view of the fierce opposition it aroused, it might even be considered a great deal. (517)
True enough; but that there was fierce opposition a scant fifty years ago also says too much. Even so, being generous of spirit, one could say that modern Christianity now tends to generally ignore the passages that accuse the Jews of deicide, or at least give them secondary meaning or status; such generosity is a testament to our modern age and its influences on Christianity; but more important it is a testament that after almost two thousand years of bloodshed in which the Jews were the primary targets of hate and killing, the Christian is generally no longer interested in investing his energies in hatred and killing; his interests lie in more loftier ideals.

Except, perhaps, for the Leftist Church, which includes many Protestant churches and some Catholic orders, who have turned their attention to liberation theology, human rights and social issues, in their general drift "Left," which has left them over the years with a steeply declining membership. Some astute church commentators attribute their loss in members to a straying from original goals, or mission, if you will, including the necessity of improving and repairing relations with the Jewish People.

But, no, in their impeccable analysis, the problem of "world peace" forms a straight line to the policies of Israel, a small sliver of a nation that continually faces threats for its survival. That this nation, of all nations, is selected for their campaigns and actions, is not surprising if you understand the Leftist Church's influences and its underlying ideologies. Like all Leftists, it has to identify an enemy, and how convenient an enemy it has found in Israel, dovetailing nicely with the many New Testament passages vilifying the Jews.

For the Leftists in the church, the recent history, the last fifty years or so, of improving relations with their Jewish brethren is of little importance. What seems important to them, no doubt, is following the words of their hero, the founder of the Protestant Church; the response is nothing short of reactionary. Rather than showing the Jewish People gratitude and humility for opening an universe of ideas to them, for bringing knowledge and truth to the world, including the "Christian" world, the Leftist church response is haughty ingratitude, ignorance and hate. That's a sad testimony, indeed.