Thursday, March 09, 2006

Notes on Anti-Semitism

Reading the blogs recently, I came across a comment-box conversation that raised an old perspective on anti-Semitism, one which holds that the term is rightly used only as to "racial" characteristics and should not be confused with "proper" arguments against the Jewish religion, culture, or (by extension) the State of Israel. I say "by extension" because this perspective arose prior to the creation of modern Israel. I've never bought into that distinction, although I considered it rather closely when I was writing my review of Hitler's Pope. The review wasn't the place to go into that, but now that I have a blog, I can set out my opinions about this nice and false distinction.

An example of what I'm writing about can be found in the 1930s German Catholic publication, Lexikon fur Theologie und Kirche, discussed by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer in his useful (but deeply-flawed) article, "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said":
In the first volume of the same lexicon, published in 1930, the well-known article on "Anti-Semitism" by the German Jesuit Gustav Gundlach had drawn a distinction between a volkisch anti-Semitism promoted for strictly racist motives (which was to be rejected), and an anti-Semitism promoted for general political, economic, and cultural reasons that Christians might accept. As examples of the latter Gundlach cited two Austrian politicians, Karl Lueger and Georg von Schoenerer, prominent and outspoken anti-Semites who had strongly influenced Hitler during his years in Vienna. It is noteworthy that in the same article Gundlach rejected as unjust ‘laws which single out Jews simply because they are Jews,' while not hesitating to call ‘global plutocracy and Bolshevism' forces that manifest ‘dark aspects of the Jewish soul expelled from its homeland' and which are ‘destructive of human society.'[1]
The moral flaw in this supposedly "proper" definition of anti-Semitism should be apparent, but unfortunately it tends to escape notice because it immediately provokes historical and factual arguments (I use the terms only as adjectives indicating the subject, not nouns indicating the quality, of these arguments) about such topics as the number of Jews at the New York Stock Exchange or the Comintern, or whether Lenin's maternal grandfather was a Jew and what, if anything, all that is supposed to tell us about Jews, Capitalism, and Bolshevism.

The moral flaw in Father Gundlach's closely-parsed definition of anti-Semitism isn't revealed by arguing about specific pieces of information. It's revealed by comparing it to Nazism, Communism, and other false philosophies that rely on determinism. Fr. Gundlach uses determinism to deny the human dignity of Jews ab initio and, if his argument is followed through, the dignity of everyone else too. From the Catechism:
God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. "God willed that man should be 'left in the hand of his own counsel,' so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him." Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts. Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.[2]
Perspectives on ideas, culture, or politics which locate their evils (real or supposed) in something other than the Church's teaching on sin (grave matter, knowledge of God's law, and deliberate assent) deny the free will and hope of beatitude that are at the core of human existence. "Global plutocracy and Bolshevism" may indeed witness to "dark aspects of the soul," but, to the extent such things may be said, they should be said about our common heritage of a fallen nature, and not about some allegedly-unique character of Jews, Englishmen . . .

. . . or Germans. One wonders what Fr. Gundlach might reply to arguments that while laws and social conventions which single out Germans simply because of their blood are unjust, law and custom may still guard us all against the "dark aspects" of the German soul which are destructive of human society. He would probably point out that to speak of a "German soul" in any ontologically-distinct sense flirts with denying not only the Church's teaching that each man has his own soul which lives as grace and will allow, but also the Church's teaching that humanity is circumscribed by two Adams:
St. Paul tells us that the human race takes its origin from two men: Adam and Christ. . . The first man, Adam, he says, became a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving spirit. The first Adam was made by the last Adam, from whom he also received his soul, to give him life. . . The second Adam stamped his image on the first Adam when he created him. That is why he took on himself the role and the name of the first Adam, in order that he might not lose what he had made in his own image. The first Adam, the last Adam: the first had a beginning, the last knows no end. The last Adam is indeed the first; as he himself says: ‘I am the first and the last.'[3]
If the Germans have a special sort of defect in their souls, they do not descend from Adam as other men do. So with the Jews, and if that is true for the Jews, then what are we to make of our Lord's having a "Jewish nature" that does not descend from Adam as our own natures do? "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham." Hebrews 2:16 (KJV).

The distintion between "racial" anti-Semitism and "cultural/religious/political anti-Judaism" is false because they share a determinist view of Jewish nature (the "the Jewish race," the "Jewish soul") that compels both viewpoints to the same conclusion. What does it matter whether the malice of "the Jews" results from their genetics or their souls, so long as either cause compels "the Jews" to act against human society?

This is why Jew-hating Christians labor diligently to filter the Gospel, to remove from Jesus what would otherwise be the ‘stain' of His ‘Jewishness.' The "racial anti-Semites" try to remove Him from "the seed of Abraham" with crackpot theories about His lineage. The "cultural anti-Judaism" bunch tries it by portraying Jesus as a divine messenger who came to repudiate Judaism and the Jews, and not as the Lord of Moses who came to fulfill the Law. Both branches of this sick tree come from the same root, the idea that the Jews are not -- for whatever cause -- fully human.

I suspect that animus is behind Fr. Gundlach's prevaricating phrase about the "Jewish soul expelled from its homeland." What does he mean to suggest? He means, I think, to suggest that the true Jewish "homeland" is not the soil of Israel but the favor of God and that, having repudiated "its" homeland, the "Jewish soul" has been outraged into a "dark" hatred of human society. He is, therefore, firmly in the camp of "cultural anti-Judaism" and yet ends up making essentially the same arguments the Nazis made about Jews being a culture-destroying race.

Fr. Gundlach and Christians who think as he did would no doubt hasten to explain that the "darkness" in the "Jewish soul" can be healed by accepting Jesus as the Messiah. That doesn't make their views more amiable. If anything, it makes them more perverse. For they have tacitly defined Christianity as a faith that regards unconverted Jews as something less than human. If anything, the paradigm runs the other way: It was our Lord who called us gentiles "dogs." Mark 7:27 (KJV). For that we were, living without the divine favor represented by the Law of Moses. It was the fulfillment of the Law by the most holy "seed of Abraham," and not His mythical expulsion of Jews from the human family, that gained us a full place in the human story. It is ironic when the "dogs" bite their elder brothers, conditioning Jews' humanity on their acceptance of Jew-hating doctrines, and then express shock and anger when Jews equate evangelism with genocide.

But what else may we call a Christian witness that implicitly conditions humanity itself on adherence to credal distinctives? What should we call it? We should call it by its proper name -- the "teaching of contempt."

[1] Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said," First Things, November, 2003. The full text of Fr. Rhonheimer's article can be found here. My (unfinished) critique of the article can be found here.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pp. 1730-31. The relevant text can be found here.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, P. 360 (quoting St. Peter Chrysologus (d. 450 A.D.), Sermo 117: PL 52,520-521). The relevant text can be found here.

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