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The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended ConsequencesHow Christian Anti-Judaism Spawned Nazi Anti-Semitism
By Anthony J. Sciolino
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Anthony J. Sciolino
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Chapter OneChristianity's Original Sin: Anti-Judaism
Most Catholics are aware of the countless saints, martyrs, popes, bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity who, throughout church history, have lived ethical, even heroic livespursuing justice, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, educating the ignorant, liberating captivesas Jesus taught in his Gospel of Love. Clearly, this legion of righteous people has been a tremendous force for good in the world. But what most Catholics, and non-Catholics, are unaware of, because it is not generally known outside academic circles, is that at the same time, the Roman Catholic Church, hereinafter "Church," and later, Protestant churches, harbored a powerful anti-Jewish biasa bias that became, albeit inadvertently, a powerful force for evil in the world.
Grounded in scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, this nineteen-hundred-plus-year bias, termed "anti-Judaism," was a deeply ingrained theological position of the Church, permeating two of its core doctrines:
Supercessionism: (1) God rejected the Jews, unilaterally revoked God's covenants with them, and thereafter favored Christians as the new chosen people; and (2) Christianity fulfilled and superseded Judaism, rendering it insignificant in salvation history.
Collective responsibility (collective guilt): All Jews, from the first century forward, are responsible/guilty for the death of Jesus, the Jewish messiah and Son of God.
That anti-Judaism became a powerful force for evil in the world is an example of what social scientists term the law of unintended consequences. Christian culpability for the Holocaust is a quintessential example of an unintended consequence. Father Michael McGarry, CSP, a Paulist priest and rector of Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, articulates this most disconcerting reality:
We Christians need to remember that studying the Shoah is not simply reading about what happened to the Jews, but what some Christianssome still worshiping, others long drop-outs from the Churchdid to the Jews. The Shoah is part of Christian history. It is part of our history if we are Christian. This is frightening, this is sickening, this is, for many, unbelievable. But the first thing we Christians need to recognize is that we study the Shoah because it is part of our history, as well as part of Jewish history. Not only do we study what happened to them but what happened to us Christians.
Tragically, the image of Jews as deicides, God-killers, and their obstinate refusal to convert to Christianity fueled a long tradition of intolerance, hatred, and violence against them. In 66 CE, for example, the newly Christianized residents of Alexandria, Egypt, massacred the city's Jewish population. When in 70 CE, the Roman occupiers of Judea under Emperor Titus starved and slaughtered at least six hundred thousand Jews in Jerusalem, destroying the city and the (second) Temple, early Christian theologians proclaimed that Jews brought the massacre upon themselves. According to Rosemary R. Ruether, anti-Judaism was fundamental to early Christianity's self-understanding as the true Israel, and of its Lord as the Jewish messiah. She maintains that within two decades of Jesus's death, anti-Judaism had become "the left hand of Christology." James Carroll, distinguished-scholar-in-residence at Suffolk University, a former priest and author of Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, terms anti-Judaism the Church's "primordial sin."
It is an indisputable fact of history that, for close to two millennia, Jews have been humiliated, victimized, denigrated, discriminated against, banished from countries, and forced to live in ghettos. They have been marginalized, demonized, stigmatized as "other," portrayed as offspring of the devil, wrongly blamed for causing human and natural catastrophes, accused of libels like the ritual murder of Christian children, tortured, and killedby Christians! Regrettably, Nazi propaganda in the twentieth century effectively exploited this shameful tradition to pave the way for the Holocaust.
The dark side of church history chronicles how the Bible has been misused to justify intolerance and persecution of racial, ethnic, or other minorities, including native peoples, blacks, women, homosexuals, and adherents of other religions, prompting French philosopher Blaise Pascal to opine: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Scripture has been invoked to justify slavery, subjugate women, to bless unjust wars, torture heretics, burn witches, and kill infidelsall in the name of God. "Anti-Semitism," writes Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, "is a terrifying prejudice that is rooted so deeply in the church's life that it has distorted our entire message." Widespread failure of conscience was clearly one of the major causes of the Holocaust. Formation of conscience (i.e., teaching how to differentiate between right and wrong) is a primary function of religion. Tragically, anti-Judaism prevented most Christian clergy, Catholic and Protestant alike, from performing this most important function regarding the persecution of Jews. The Church failed to prevent the Holocaust because Jews were never included within the circle of Catholic concern.
After the French Revolution in 1789, liberal Enlightenment ideas encapsulated in the slogan liberté, égalité, fraternité began to gain currency. Despite church opposition, Jews finally began to achieve citizenship status in European countries, something denied to them for centuries, including in the Papal States. Gradually thereafter, Jews also began to be assimilated into European society in varying degrees, particularly in Western Europe. Liberalism, however, did not eliminate Christian animus toward Jews. "Judaeophobia," a sociological pathology termed "the world's oldest prejudice," which predates Christianity, continued unabated into the twentieth century, especially in Eastern Europe, where it was particularly ingrained and where the mass killing of the Holocaust took place.
In the Beginning
When Jesus began his public ministry in the Roman province of Judea circa 28 CE, the "Jesus movement" became one of several competing Jewish religious/political movements of the time, including the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, and followers of John the Baptist. Jesus defined his mission not against Judaism, but against the imperium of Rome, specifically against its substitution of Caesar for God. Most scripture scholars agree that Jesus and his followers considered themselves a reform movement within Judaism, not the vanguard of a new religion. According to Bart D. Ehrman, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a former pastor of the Princeton Baptist Church but now an avowed agnostic, Jesus was an "apocalypticist," who expected the world to end within the lifetime of his followers. This premise, therefore, contradicts the scriptural claim that Jesus established a church on "the rock of Peter" to continue his mission on earth after his death.
Jesus was born, lived, and died a Jew. His apostles and original followers were all Jews who, according to Bishop John Shelby Strong, did not separate from the synagogue until the year 58 CE. Consistent with Jewish rabbinic tradition, Jesus, a rabbi himself, taught love of God and neighbor, Torah observance, the need for repentance, liberation of the oppressed, and, most importantly, the pursuit of justice, especially for social outcasts. He championed the oppressed, not the oppressor. The Gospels show him practicing concern for everyone without exception, reaching out to "sinners," enemies, prostitutes, lepers, epileptics, even those denounced as traitors for collecting Roman taxes. He urged his followers to love their enemies and not to judge others. Admittance into God's kingdom was open to allrich, poor, men, women, Jew, Gentile, slave, Greek. The only requirement was to practice deeds of loving kindness toward others such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.
Although a pacifist who rejected violence, Jesus suffered a violent death, nailed to a cross like a common criminal. It was Roman, not Jewish, power that crucified him in order to prevent public disorder and political upheaval in Judea. The Roman occupiers of Judea feared that a segment of Jesus's followers (the Zealots), who viewed him as a political messiah, would try to overthrow Roman rule, restore the Davidic dynasty, and make Jesus "king" of the Jews. Concern for public disorder and upheaval also explains why the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the (second) Temple forty years later.
The tendency to exonerate the Romans and fix blame on the Jews for Jesus's death intensified as early Christian missionary activity expanded into the ancient Mediterranean world. To make converting non-Jews (i.e., Gentiles) easier and less threatening to the ruling authority, Roman involvement in the crucifixion was diminished as Jewish culpability increased. This is illustrated in the Gospel of Peter, widely read by some second-century Christians, although not included in the New Testament canon. The author of the Gospel of Peter wrote: "The Jews, the elders, and the priests realized (after the crucifixion) how much evil they had done to themselves and began beating their breasts, saying, 'Woe to us because of our sins; the judgment and the end of Jerusalem are near.'"
This last phrase"the judgment and the end of Jerusalem are near"echoes the charge made by early Christian theologians that the destruction of Jerusalem and the (second) Temple signified God's judgment on the Jewish people for their rejecting Jesus as messiah and killing him.
Conflict erupted soon after Jesus's death, not only within and between early Christian groups, but also between Christian groups and various Jewish groups, some of which is recorded in the New Testament. References to persecution of Jewish Christians and Pauline Christians (followers of the apostle Paul) by Jewish groups are also included. Reverend Dr. Theodore J. Weeden Sr., a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, characterizes the "squabbling" that occurred among disparate religious groups during this contentious period of early church history as intrafamilial, or a "family feud." The feud, however, would eventually turn deadly.
Since the earliest days of the Church, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been martyred for their faith, beginning with St. Stephen, the first deacon, who was stoned to death circa 34 CE. For three centuries, Christians, because they refused to worship Roman gods or to pay homage to the emperor as divine, endured intermittent periods of persecution by the Roman authorities, particularly under the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284316). In the Roman Empire, refusing to worship the emperor or the empire's gods was tantamount to refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to the governing authority. Some early Christians actually sought out and welcomed martyrdom. The martyrs' willing embrace of death was perceived as a heroic victory over persecution, which, as it did in Judaism, became an aspect of Christian self-identity. Persecution was viewed by early Christians and later historians as a crucial influence on the growth and development of the early Church and its evolving theology. Regarding martyrdom, second-century Church Father Tertullian, wrote: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church," implying that a martyr's witness motivates nonbelievers to convert to Christianity and earns the martyr entry into heaven. An unintended consequence of martyrdom, however, is that all too often a person willing to die for his/her religion may also be willing to kill for it, as occurred among the Crusaders and Conquistadors, and is occurring today among Muslim extremists, most notably in New York City on 9/11.
Sadly, during the Holocaust there were relatively few Christian martyrs, but millions of Jewish ones.
Misinterpretation/Misuse of Scripture
The New Testament is a collection of twenty-seven books written at different times by various writers, who were early Jewish disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus and his disciples were lower class, illiterate, Aramaic speaking peasants from Galilee. Illiteracy was widespread throughout the Roman Empire, the condition of about 90 percent of the population. Original biblical texts were written in the first and second centuries, most likely in Koine Greek, the common language of the Eastern Mediterranean from the conquests of Alexander the Great (33523 BCE) until the evolution of Byzantine Greek (circa 600 CE). All writings that would eventually be incorporated into the New Testament canon were probably written no later than 150 CE. Every word in the New Testament about Jesus was orally transmitted for forty to seventy years before anybody wrote it down. There are tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament, in part or in whole, dating from the second century to the late fifteenth century, when the printing press was invented; all these manuscripts were copiedover and over againby hand.
According to Bart D. Ehrman, there are no known original texts of the writings, or even first copies of the originals. In fact, he says, there are no known copies of the copies of the originals, or copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What do exist are copies made latermuch later. In most instances, these copies were made many centuries later. And, these copies all differ from one another in many thousands of places and are filled with discrepancies large and small.
Ehrman contends that the New Testament is riddled with contradictory views. All the Gospels were written anonymously, and none of the writers claimed to be an eyewitness. Ehrman writes: "Many of these authors, no doubt, felt they were inspired by God to write what they did, but they had their own perspectives, their own beliefs, their own views, their own needs, their own desires, their own understandings, their own theologies and these perspectives, beliefs, views, needs, desires, understandings, and theologies informed everything they wrote."
Based on his extensive study of scripture, Ehrman draws a number of provocative conclusions, including:
The King James Bible was based on inferior manuscripts that in many cases do not accurately represent the meaning of the original texts.
The favorite story of Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery does not belong in the Bible.
Scribal errors were so common in antiquity that the author of the book of Revelation threatened damnation to anyone who "adds to" or "takes away" words from the text.
The authors of the New Testament have diverging views of who Jesus was and how salvation works.
The New Testament contains books that were forged in the names of the apostles by Christian writers who lived decades later.
Jesus, Paul, Matthew, and John all represented fundamentally different religions.
Paul did all his writing between the years 51 and 64, before any Gospels were written down; only seven of the thirteen letters attributed to him were actually written by him.
Established Christian doctrinessuch as the suffering messiah, the divinity of Jesus, and the Trinitywere the inventions of still later theologians.
The Jesus Seminar is a group of about 150 scholars and laymen founded in 1985 by Robert Funk under the auspices of the Westar Institute. John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, a former Catholic priest and noted Jesus scholar, is a prominent member of the seminar, which uses votes with colored beads to decide the membership's collective view of the historicity of the deeds and sayings of Jesus. The seminar has produced new translations of the New Testament and Apocrypha to use as textual sources and has published its results in three reports: The Five Gospels (1993), The Acts of Jesus (1998), and The Gospel of Jesus (1999).
The seminar's reconstruction of the historical Jesus portrays him as an itinerant Hellenist Jewish sage and faith healer who preached a gospel of love and liberation from injustice, using provocative parables and aphorisms. An iconoclast, Jesus broke with established Jewish theological dogmas and social conventions both in his teachings and behaviors, often by turning commonsense ideas upside down, confounding the expectations of his audience. The seminar treats the canonical Gospels both as historical sources that represent Jesus's actual words and deeds, but also as collaborations/interpretations of the early Christian faith communities and of the Gospel authors. Unconcerned with canonical boundaries or conventional wisdom, fellows of the seminar assert, for example, that the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas may have more authentic material than the Gospel of John. Breaking with mainstream scripture scholars, they maintain that Jesus was less concerned about the apocalypse or the world to come and more concerned about repairing the broken world in the here and now.
Excerpted from The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences by Anthony J. Sciolino Copyright © 2012 by Anthony J. Sciolino. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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