Thursday, 6 September 2012

A Bad Day in My Christian Faith

The Jews and Their Lies - Martin Luther
There have been times when I have cried because I am a Christian, and all of those days were times of great joy. Today wasn't a good day, and for the first time in my life I cried because I am a Christian as one among those whose inequities I have been studying today.

You may remember that I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Institute in Jerusalem about two years ago. As part of that we went to learn about the Holocaust and its causes, and with a specific view of playing a part in educating others in its causes. As part of that, I have written a paper that takes the statement of John Roth that devastatingly claims: 

Christianity was not a sufficient condition for the Holocaust, nevertheless, it was a necessary condition for that disaster.’

How can this be, of a faith group that proclaims God as love, in the wake of a devastating murder on the Golgotha? Surely we abhor violence and its causes, more especially violence towards brothers and sisters of the Book? You may well think so. Someone once wrote the following:

They know only one thing … to satisfy their stomachs, to get drunk, to kill [Eight Oratories Against the Jews]

and another this:

they [the Jews] are children of the devil ... real liars and bloodhounds ... murderers and whores, thieves and scoundrels ... evil men ... etc [The Jews and their Lies]

The first commentator was St John Chrysostom, the Golden Mouthed and the latter Martin Luther, reformer and Protestant poster-boy.

In reading about the many contributory causes behind the Holocaust, I have learned the hard and painful lesson that Christianity and the church hold a large share of the blame. Of course there were other causes of the Holocaust, but it was nonetheless a war waged in the light of inspiring sentiments of the German hero of Hitler (and Luther's proposals for the treatment of the Jews in the sixteenth century resembles the Nazi manifesto is an all too alarming way). 

In some ways I can understand a reaction against Jews in the light of the death of Christ. At very few opportunities do we place the blame for his execution on the shoulders of his executioners, but instead on those who conspired for it to happen. In the mind of many early Christians, the Jews became guilty of deicide - a sentiment that took root, grew and flourished into the early 1930s and the catastrophic events that saw the cruel murder of six million Jews - because the Nazis wanted their land or possessions, to usurp their power? No - because they were Jews. The Holocaust was a unique ideological genocide rooted in an ideology of some of those who faces adorn the stained glass of our churches. 

This is so well supported by documentary evidence that I have to accept it as fact. I cannot therefore change it - but I can change the world I live in in the infinitesimal ways that I can manage - and here is as good a way as anywhere. 

I hear from time to time the heartfelt and well-meaning sentiments of some Christians who regard members of other faiths as 'the enemy'. They cite the words of the Book of the Acts to furnish a faith supremacism which is compelling and biblical. In enlightened loafer-wearing British church life, such sentiment is in line with the growing sense of evangelistic zeal that many see as the great hope of our church. Converting all people is the only way to be. 

The cost of that perspective is to say to the Jews and others that what they hold dear (and after all they believe in the same God as I do) is not sufficient, that it just won't do. They require salvation only through Jesus Christ to enjoy the fruits of their heavenly home. I have oft been suspicious of this approach to forcing a world to a gracious gospel conformity and have felt a niggling suspicion that God never stopped valuing Jews (or anyone else), for being Jews. Indeed, without the machinations of the Jews and the betrayal of Judas would Jesus ever have found the Tree of Shame?

In simple terms, my message is this: if you think or truly believe that through your Christian faith you are better than those who are not or do not share your faith, the lessons of the Holocaust have never truly been learned. And why would I come here and attack my own in this way? The simple answer is that we need to see what has happened in our name and in the name of our children - to look in horror at the theologies that went a long way towards justifying mass-murder, so that we may see and never let such sentiment grow again. 


  1. When I read Luther on the Jews I felt just as you did - ashamed to be a Protestant Christian.

  2. Theology was not the reason for the holocaust, it was the excuse.
    You know, as well as anyone, perhaps better than many, that theology is open to interpretation, and theologians as many and varied as any other species.
    The "Final Solution" was inspired by one murderous madman, whose views were given too much opportunity for expression.
    The result has stained a generation and left a legacy of guilt, but that doesn't mean it could never happen again.
    People whose lives are impoverished and empty are only too ready to seek someone to blame for their own inadequacies.
    Incitement to racial/religious hatred is easy.
    Thanks for this reminder.

  3. I agree with all that you say, Ray, except the first statement. I am quite sure that without a pre-existent Christian German anti-Semitism the work of the Nazis would have been as abhorrent then as you may imagine it would be now. The reason I argue with 'excuse' is because I don't believe the Nazis sought one. They did what they believed was right, and they believed was right was nourished by 1500 years of the stuff I have been reading this week.

  4. As we divide the human world into "us" and "them", "we" become ever more perfect, and "they" become ever more flawed. Difference becomes dislike becomes fear and hatred.

    I do not want a world of sameness where we are all clones in our thoughts, words and deeds, but I want a world where difference is an invitation to discovery and mutual revelation, understanding and respect.

    We are free to chose how we react to difference - and your post is a powerful reminder why we should never lose sight of the results of our theologies. Thanks for writing it.

  5. If you are right then perhaps it was more a matter of geography and the existence of a fundamentalist Christian sect being particularly strong in that area.
    Anti-seminism has been a predominant feature of many countries including Britain for many centuries.
    When I say religion was the excuse, I should perhaps have said that Christianity has been used as a cover by many nations usually with greed as the motive, e.g. the Crusades, The Knights Templar, The Spanish Inquisition, ethnic cleansing throughout the world in one form or another.
    The particular horror of the Holocaust was the massive scale and the apparent indifference of the rest of the world.

  6. Thank you, David. I think that a lot of what we've been brought up to believe as Christians bears little resemblance to what Jesus taught - maybe we need to go back and find out what He really wants of us and tried to teach the disciples. And we should never forget that He was Himself a Jew - known as a Rabbi - and that our Christian heritage springs from Judaism. I became very aware of that many years ago when I went to Schul(?spelling?) one year, on the Sabbath after Yom Kippur (known, I believe, as the Sabbath of Returning)with a Jewish friend. It was a most profound experience, and I felt as if I had roots somewhere there, in the long-gone past (without any Jewish antecedants, as far as I know!) Perhaps it was to do with the grounding we have in the Old Testament as well as the New. Christians have much to regret in the attitudes of even many of our respected forebears in the Church, as you have reminded us. I've thought for years that as soon as the Church became 'respectable' and officially recognised, the power that accrued to it's leaders bred instant corruption of the truths that it was founded to spread. How can we get it back to what it ought to be? Maybe we should hear the call that came to Francis of Assisi: 'Rebuild My Church, which, as you see, is falling into ruins'.

  7. It is truly dreadful what has been done in the name of God. All manner of cruelty has been justified, often by a stealth taking of scripture out of context. Add to the Holocaust the Crusades, or the Salem Witch Trials, or much of the ethic cleansing taking place throughout the world and it's beyond belief what men do to men (and little children). Too often, self-professed Christians are in the midst of the fray.

    It sure gives me pause and a greater understanding why we, belivers, are to make our calling & election sure. Inventorying my own heart sometimes makes me cry too.

  8. I agree with you, David. It was the theological view that the Jewish people as a whole had rejected Christ and that his (gentile) followers had replaced the Jewish people as the covenant people of God (known as supersessionism) that allowed the Christian church for centuries to view the Jewish people as somehow inferior to the now Gentile church. Centuries of such teaching by most streams of Christianity - Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox - gave an easy passage to Nazi portrayals of Jewish people as somehow sub-human, with the results we all know. Since 1945 the churches have been rather more careful in the language we have used and sought to redress the effects of this teaching. Nevertheless, it has been somewht patchy and there are many places where old attitudes towards Judaism (and by implication its people) come out.

    It also explains to me why many Jewish people find it hard to take Christian criticism of Israeli policy, seeing it as simply an extension of old attitudes. This even though the Christian critics may not see it that way and may be outraged that others do. We cannot ignore the context of almost 2000 years of Christian antisemitism.

  9. Just for the record David (no pun intended) your video side bar is inaccessible to me,every time I try to play whatever is on it the message " video player is too small" comes up.



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