Saturday, January 19, 2008

On the Origins of Antisemitism

I have given some thought over the years to the question of antisemitism, mostly because it is an irrational belief leading to irrational (and wholly evil) actions, and irrationality bothers me.

Now when I was younger my parents "explained" the theodicy of antisemitism by telling me that the Jews were God's special people, and for this reason the world hates them.

I don't have any real issue with the theory that the world hates God's people - this seems amply borne out by persecutions and martyrdoms from the time of St. Stephen to this present day and hour. And Christ Himself said that the world would hate His followers.

I do take objection to the theology of that explanation. For it is one of the most basic teachings of the Church that we Christians are Israel, the heirs of the promises of the Old Testament, and God's own people. (Only in the heresy of dispensationalism is this teaching overturned.) As such, I cannot accept my parents' simplistic and heretical explanation, and must look outside of it.

One possibility (again relating to theology) is that the Jews brought down a curse upon themselves when certain of them were calling for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. "May His blood be upon us and upon our children," they said.

I have two problems with this interpretation. First, and most importantly, Christ said, "Father God, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Are we seriously going to posit that God is carrying a grudge for an act that He Himself forgave? Secondly, as it has been Christians (or, rather, those bearing the name of Christ) who have done most the persecuting, it leaves us in the awkward position of claiming that God's people - the meek, lamb-like, child-like, loving servants of God - have been required or appointed to act as the tools of the devil in carrying out a curse.

Having exhausted the theological possibilities, let us look at this more rationally; rather than looking to God for reasons why the Jews have been hated, let us look to something a little more human. It appears to me that there are two logical reasons for the genesis of antisemitism, if anything that gives rise to hatred can be called logical.

First, xenophobia. In my estimation, this sin is a perversion of a love of kin. Something good has been turned to something darker, and when xenophobia turns to action, we see the birth of evil. Not only does the fear of the alien explain hatred of the Jews, it explains hatred of Gypsies, of the Irish, of the French, etc.

Second, usury. This shouldn't ever have become an issue, as usury was specifically forbidden in the Old Testament, and was not practiced by the early Church. However, certain Christian rulers needed great amounts of money to finance their wars, Crusades, and explorations. No sane person would lend large sums of money interest-free for such risky ventures: too much risk, no security. Risk is only mitigated if the money is loaned with interest. Not being permitted by the Church to handle usurious transactions with other Christians, these rulers went to the only non-Christians in their midst: the Jews, who were not permitted to do much else but loan money. Naturally, these Jews grew wealthy, as a kind of banking elite. The unfortunate corollary to wealth is that it stirs up envy, and the unfortunate corollary to usury is that it stirs up anger and desperation. The net result is that some that bore the name of Christ grew to hate the Jews for practicing a business that Christians imposed upon them to finance unChristian wars.

Which is as nonsensical as it seems.

- V.


Anonymous said...

I have pondered this question myself. Many kinds of racial prejudice I can understand, even more so cultural prejudices.
But I could never get a gut sense of anti-sematism. Perhaps I should credit my own parents for that. I recently watched a long series on the History channel about Auschwitz and the Nazi horrors. Frankly I could hardly get my mind around the possibility of the actuality, and that was punctuated by the matter-of-fact responses of some of the German people of the era who simply stated that they were taught to believe that the Jews were the reason for all that was wrong in their world.
I still don't "get it", although I have to accept their explanation as a fact.

Your last reason is probably the most likely reason, at least in Europe. I would only add that I think probably Satan spends a little extra time fanning the flames of anti-semitism, more so than any other racial/social prejudice, for the simple reason that your parents gave.

V & E said...

I don't know that Satan necessarily singles out any one group, excepting the saints of the Church. And again, I must question the theology of that reasoning.

I think that he hates humanity, in toto, and will fan hatred of any one group towards any other, be they Tutsi, Jew, Gypsy, Black, Arab, Muslim, Irish, woman, homosexual, leper, slave, etc.

- V.

Fitzhamilton said...

Late comment.

It seems to me that the likes of Nietzche (and the Nazis, in part) both despised the Jews is that their existence - continued persistence is reminder of God, and the divine law. Just as the Church is a sign of grace and a reminder of mercy, things all those creeps despised. This fact doesn't need to have any theological import (though I believe everything that happens in fact does, history being only the unfolding of the divine will after all) - or I ought to say that we ought not necessarily assign any prophetic import to it ourselves - all such things (the rise of Islam being another great example) have meaning. We won't necessarily understand that meaning prior to the apocalypse, though..

Also, if you've been around Hassidic or other ultra-Orthodox Jews, you will immediately notice (as I did repeatedly on my last trip to Israel) that there are many of them that simply do not like goyim. They radiate contempt for us, actually.

This, I think more than anything else, accounts for the hatred that the average Russian or Polish peasant felt for the Jews amongst them. This is a politically incorrect to say, but if you've been on the receiving end of such prejudice, it isn't hard to reciprocate.

The fact that this hatred mestatsisized over centuries, due to the persistent refusal of those communities to assimilate and convert, provided the likes of the Czarist regime and the Nazis (these two most notoriously amongst many other governments) a convenient tool to stoke nationalism and strengthen the regime/state.

Who better a foil than a group of unpleasant foreigners, who keep the holidays, calender and religion of a nation destroyed centuries ago (pretty bizarre stuff, and the ironic catalyst for modern nationalism) and then in fact did do things to subvert the dominant culture and religion like practice usury and embrace ideologies inimical to tradition such as socialism and Freudian psycology..

That, in my opinion, explains antisemitism more than anything else. Note how very little antisemitism there is in North America, despite the usury (eg, Maddof) and cultural corrosion (see all the Jewish names in Hollywood) that anti-semites usually point to, so as to justify their hatred.. Those abstract realities are even more pronounced here, today, than they were in Europe a hundred years ago. But anti-semitism is barely present here. I say it's because there are so few ultra-Orthodox. Where there are many really "Frummy" ultra-Orthodox (eg, Crown Heights in NYC) there's a problem anti-semitism.


F.G.S.A. said...

Antisemitism is an unfortunate expression. From a strictly ecclesiological standpoint, the Church is the True Israel. Punkt. Any other "Israel" is fraud, deceit and lie. Simple.

Clearly, the Nazis were not invoking an ecclesiological argument. They worked within a definitely secularised,this-worldly frame.

Saying that the Church is Verus Israel does not entail the imperative to physically eradicate that which pretends to be Israel. But rather to fight and remedy against the poison that false Israels spread in the world and in hearts.