Wednesday, September 8, 2010

THE SINS OF THE MANY ARE VISITED UPON THE FEW

America is not a “Christian Nation,” but most of its people are practicing, professing, or self-presuming Christians. By identification with this religious majority, Christians enjoy a comfort or security of association denied members of smaller religions. They also enjoy a sense of superiority, usually unrecognized and often undiminished by a lack of information about Christian doctrine or church history. Not surprisingly, they know almost nothing about the doctrines or histories of other religions and can be remarkably insensitive to their followers.

Juxtapose two current examples. One is the objection to the proposed Islamic community center in New York on the historical claim that Islam builds mosques on the grounds of destroyed churches. Obviously, many Christians believe that it desecrates holy ground and resent the idea of Islamic supersession. Obliviously, many Christians deny, do not know, or do not acknowledge the identical Christian practice in spreading Christianity throughout pagan Europe and the Western Hemisphere. Pots and kettles.

The other example is Diane Alba’s Sun-News story (8 Sept) about Rosh Hashanah. In it, she recounts the meaning of Rosh Hashanah to local Orthodox and Reform Jewish congregations. Then she reports its “messianic”—read: Christian”—meaning to a local proselytizing Jews-for-Jesus group. As a Christian journalist, Ms. Alba is either ignorant of or insensitive to Jewish opposition to such proselytizing imposters and thus the inappropriateness of including all together higgledy-piggledy.

The important point is the parallel between architectural and textual substitution. Like Christian churches razing and rebuilding over Aztec temples, or Islamic mosques razing and rebuilding over Christian churches, Jews-for-Jesus delete the Jewish meaning of Rosh Hashanah and substitute their meaning. Ms. Alba does not and probably cannot perceive the parallels and understand the offense given. So, too, most Christians.

Indeed, the use of Holy Scriptures as prooftext for the New Testament is a doctrinal variant of desecration by reinterpretative supersession. The traditional Christian response to the refusal of Jews in Jesus’ time and place to follow him is imputed to the character of the Jewish people as “proud and stiff-necked.” Such labeling is inherently disrespectful. It dismisses the possibility that first-century Jews in the Holy Land believed in the values of their religion, regarded emergent Christianity’s departures from or repudiation of them as unacceptable, and resented its manipulation, even its perversion, of their Holy Scriptures.

I am not making a case for Judaism or against Christianity. I am trying to make the case that those who, one way or another, are, or identify themselves as, members of a religious majority have much work to do to respect others. Some want to respect those of other religions; most say that they do. Then many give themselves away as either hypocritical or ignorant.

Consider the request for the Islamic community center to relocate out of sensitivity to the feelings of family members of victims, members of the armed forces, or the troop of those who sympathize with them. The assumption is that, by honoring this request, Muslims can restore civility and comity to the community and the country. Rubbish. The opposition to this community center in New York is being played out at the sites of other Islamic buildings of all kinds throughout the country. The request is a reflection of Islamophobia—period.

I hope that the Islamic community center is built on the site approved for its construction. For compliance with the prejudices of Islamaphobes will lead, not to social harmony, but to further requests or actions hostile to Muslims. The truth is that prejudice knows no bounds. Thus, efforts to placate prejudice by acts of accommodation to its demands do not satisfy, slow, much less stop prejudice, but inspire it to further demands.

The anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany is a historical example. Jews attempted to abate the abuses of anti-Semitic legislation by compliance, not confrontation. With the tacit consent or active support of the largely anti-Semitic Christian population, Nazis made the laws increasingly severe, and embarked on increasingly inflamed verbal assaults, and engaged in ever more frequent violence, against Jews. No Jewish efforts at acquiesence or accommodation saved Jews from ghettos, concentration camps, labor camps, and extermination camps. The Holocaust is a monument to the failure of appeasement and pacifism as answers to prejudice.

My practice is to offer solutions to problems which I identify and dissect. One solution to prejudice, a variant of the cardinal sin of Pride, is prayer and fasting. Another is action following the example of righteously practicing, not merely ritually observant, Jews at this time of year. For them, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are days of repentance, during which they seek forgiveness from those whom they have offended or wronged. Perhaps committed Christians should consider, not vicarious atonement, but face-to-face absolution; or, in the absence of individuals affected, resolve to study, examine themselves, and repent any prejudice, however manifested. It would be the Christian thing to do.

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