Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why Do You Side With Them Instead Of Us?

The question from evangelicals to Jews, and even to mainstream denomination Christians, has a plaintive quality. It is the anger of hurt, not hostility.

They are not siding with us for good reasons and bad. First, the question can fairly be reversed. If evangelicals really want other religious people on their side in the cultural battles, upholding (for example) the institution of marriage and the nurture of the young, they should consciously seek that alliance. Evangelicals know how to rouse each other for specific tasks, but don’t stop to remember that even those who tend to agree with them do not respond to the same language and appeals. Parachurch ministries, in some ways the connecting fibers of evangelicalism, are particularly bad at this. They focus their energy on convincing the like-minded that their particular cause rises to the level of requiring action. A host of other groups who might occasionally or more passively support a cause are left unmentioned. Mormons have joined cultural alliances because they respond to much the same language and values, not because evangelicals have done much good work recruiting them. Christians from mainstream Protestantism have a slightly different focus, framing needs differently. Roman Catholic activism uses language and concepts that are a little further away; Eastern Orthodox further still. These are language and conceptual differences that are easily overcome with a little listening. They draw from the same scripture; they are filtered through the assumptions of the American experience. Evangelicals recognise the sources immediately – it’s just not the way we would have put it, or the focus we would have had.

This is even more true in speaking with Jews. The gap is wider, but not uncrossable. Evangelicals should not always leave it to others to make the adjustment, having to parse language closely to see if there are any theological time bombs included in the proposals.

For example, all groups might heartily support the idea of strengthening marriage, yet have different focus. Some want to do battle against cultural forces which undermine marriage; others might be drawn to marriage enrichment, reducing domestic violence; strengthening the surrounding community; or any of a half-dozen other worthy causes. If you want them to support your causes, consider supporting theirs. I suspect that evangelicals have little idea what causes the synagogues support in their community.

Secondly, if you are asking who religious Jews will side with as their second choice, secular Jews or religious Christians, remember that they have good recent historical reasons for suspecting that Christians might not reciprocate the sentiment, and in a pinch, choose secular Christians as their second choice over religious Jews. Protestations that this was across the water and that our history has been different will only go so far.

But the third reason is a bad one, and evangelicals should have no illusions about it. I don’t think that urban, well-educated liberal Jews are dramatically different in their cultural attitudes than other urban, well-educated liberals. If they are underrepresented in the military, they are not conspicuously different than the gentiles of their neighborhoods. If they regard people from the South and Midwest as general yahoos who like the wrong music, wrong clothes, and read the wrong authors, they do not do so in a way significantly different than other urbanites. If they are entirely beholden to the Enlightenment framework of history, the self-congratulatory picture of how benighted the earlier people were compared to their wise selves, it is because they are a product of the same schools and authors as the gentiles in their districts. Do not assign Jewishness to what is primarily a cultural prejudice. On the other hand, don’t expect that Jewish historical religiosity will overcome it either. The Arts & Humanities Tribe has contempt for the flyover American culture, which is the primary competitor to their own cultural dominance. The lash out for in resentment for status reasons, though they couch it in other terms. Liberalism is its own religion, and a very intolerant one. (If Elisheva is still on board, she looks to be an excellent example of an exception to this stereotyping of us. Be alert for such.) (Update: Okay, maybe not.)

The fourth reason would perhaps be a bad one, but as so few people are aware of it, I’m not sure it can count for or against anyone. The Anglospheric, especially American experience of Jews is profoundly different than in other countries. The religious plurality which allowed all of us, including Jews, to flourish here is deeply related to the evangelical belief that conversion must be a result of persuasion and individual decision, not government decree or cultural pressure. It is not only evangelicals who believe in persuasion in religion, of course, but we are particularly known for it. And particularly despised for it. The irritation, even deep insult, that people feel when we attempt to persuade, is not perceived as connected to the stunning newness of the American experience. Such reliance on persuasion rather than fiat is so natural to Americans now that they believe it is the natural state of affairs. They consider it some vast inconvenience and intrusion when others try to convince them. They no longer remember the alternatives were far worse.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

I think this is a fair representation of the problem--at least with respect to how I see it as a Jew and as an American. As a Jew, I am particularly sensitive to the lurking "theological time bomb" (good metaphor, that).

With respect to the discussion of persuasion: do remember that our freedom includes the freedom to refuse to listen to persuasion and the freedom to dislike it when it is forced on us in places that our tax dollars support--like the public schools and the military academies. And Americans also cherish the freedom to dismiss it with some expressive hyperbolic language when encountered unexpectedly and in public places.

Finally, I honestly think Evangelicals would do well to clean up their own house--Christianity--prior to trying to persuade non-Christians to become Christians. You have several lifetimes worth of work to convert your own, especially in Europe.

A Jewish perspective: we have a covenant that predates yours, but we don't spend our time trying to persuade you of the truth of ours and we don't ask you to reject yours for ours. We believe that "all nations shall come to Zion" does not mean that you all will put on t'fillin and stop eating pork. If you extend the same courtesy to us, you'd be amazed. Some of that requires, as you said, that you will learn something about our history and the experiences that make us so intensely uncomfortable with just the word "Jesus."

When Jews who agree with you on basic values can be assured that you will not use common causes as an excuse to evangelize us--which is an intensly unpleasant experience as I said above--then you will find much cooperation. Otherwise, many Jews will find good reason to avoid working with Evangelicals.

Traditional and liberal (in the European sense) Jews do work with Catholics on certain issues of mutual concern, such as vouchers for our private schools. Nostre Aetate,the papal encyclical which discussed and abjured the historic anti-Judaism of the Western Church, and which did away with the need to convert Jews, did much to reassure American Jews that we could work together with Catholics without losing our unique and precious identity as Jews.

I do work with a range of Christians on patriot political matters, but I do find it terribly uncomfortable at times, especially when interest is misinterpreted as desire to be evangelized. And of course, there are the frequent anti-semitic attitudes that crop up. You probably know them--about Jews and money, and more sinister ones that could come right out of that old forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Nevertheless I do work with Christians, but of them all, I find the Roman Catholics the most simpatico, followed closely by the Mormons (though I find it strange to be considered a gentile). And when I do work with Evangelicals and Fundamentalist Protestants, I always end up having to do a lot of explaining why I do so to my fellow Jews.

The distrust is still very great. One of the main reasons is that most of the Jews that I encounter have had experiences of real hate from your coreligionists. I will never forget sitting across the table from an Evangelical Christian at my daughter's elementary school, and as I expressed my concern about the overdone and overtly religious Christmas celebrations in a tax-supported institution, I was acutely aware of this woman's hateful glares. I do really think she would have killed me had she a weapon at hand. Ask almost any Jew who regularly interacts outside the Jewish community, and you will find similar stories.

karrde said...

One particular problem in this messy relationship is the distinctively American assertion that people (in general) are not guilty for the deeds of their ancestors.

This is not universal in America; see any argument about reparations for slavery in America for a good example.

I do not say this to oppose your point of view, Elisheva; I say it to note another dimension of the problem.

This thought pattern is likely to be deeply entwined with many other values that have become traditional in American "flyover country". (Think: individual initiative, self-reliance blended with a sense of duty to help family and friends, etc.)

There is also the factor that most Evangelicals use their own experience and the experience of friends in deciding how to deal with minority religions. Thus, any historical distance between Evangelical and Jew is exacerbated by further reticence to have any common cause.

Thus, people who rarely interact directly don't know how to read signals along the lines of I agree with you, but don't preach to me.

Again, this is to further clarify the problem, not to cast blame.

Gringo said...

Evangelicals do just that: evangelize, a.k.a. proselytize. Both my fundamentalist Christian grandmother and my Buddhist sister attempted to convert me. Both cooled it, but with my sister it got rather intense for a while, to the extent that I didn't want to see her. It got to be a real problem. My grandmother was not that much of a problem, as my father told her in no uncertain terms some years ago to cool it. She would make the occasional attempt, nothing more.

A lot of people don't like being proselytized. It's that simple. I certainly don't.

Fortunately, most proselytizing of strangers is low key. Church people who knock on my door politely turn away when I politely indicate I am not interested.
The Jewish faith is not a proselytizing one, which is one reason why they have a negative reaction to evangelicals.

Elisheva Hannah Levin makes this point: "You have several lifetimes worth of work to convert your own, especially in Europe."

I am neither a churchgoer nor an Evangelical.Given that Europe has essentially abandoned Christianity,some evangelizing there wouldn't be a bad idea, at least to combat Islam.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Elisheva, I appreciate your attempts to see my points, but you still do not understand. You do evangelize. You are evangelizing here, though you do not see it. Jews have a conventional wisdom reputation for not evangelizing, but it simply takes another form.

I am a bit brusque. I am sorry. I will consider before I go further. But I am quite emphatic that you do not understand Christianity very well, yet speak with great assurance. You have brought up such diverse topics as witch-burning and Indian schools as if these were news to me and you must condescendingly teach. Yet you are wrong on key points, following the conventional, PC belief without searching deeper. You might consider the possibility that others may actually know some history as well. If you review your comments, you will see that there is no hint that you might actually learn something, but a great deal of telling others what is right. What else do you think evangelising is?

Donna B. said...

AVI -- I am not familiar with your church or with its method of evangelizing "others".

Perhaps your church and your belief allows others to have a different belief without considering them "others". But how is that so?

How, in fact, is it possible?

I could ask this same question of any Jew, but the Jew is not asked to convert me. He may consider me an "other" without experiencing a need to change me and I might therefore feel more of a "kinship" with him. We may not agree, but we disagree as equals.

Any organization that encourages proselytization, defines "other" as less than equal. There is an ingrained unequality and that disturbs me.

David said...

"Any organization that encourages proselytization, defines "other" as less than equal."

All political organizations, and most individuals, attempt to change people's beliefs, ie to proselytize. Does that mean they're defining "other" as less than equal?

All salesmen and advertising people, by definition, attempt to change people's beliefs regarding whatever they're trying to sell. Are they defining "other" as less than equal?

Proselytizing, whether in religion, politics, or the commercial field, can be irritating and often is, but I don't think it is necessarily insulting.

Glenn_W said...

Hello Everyone,

I have been a lurker at this site for a couple of years now and have always enjoyed the posts and discussions. I have decided to poke my head up and chip in my 2¢ worth on some of the comments that have been made. I am sure that I would be counted among the evangelicals being discussed here so I am going to add my perspective.

We understand that most people have no interest in what we have to say and that the message we bring will be rejected more often than not. However, we also believe that the greatest of the commandments is to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” To believe that there are dire, eternal consequences for those who die in unbelief and not share the message of hope is an act of hate not love. Is the penalty for unbelief real to an unbeliever? Of course it’s not. But that, in and of itself, is not a reason not to evangelize.

I do agree that we should not turn public schools and military academies into religious training grounds. However, I have to say that I have watched what is going on in our culture and I am becoming more convinced as time goes on that there is no way to be “neutral.” All of those who say that by keeping any religious references out of the public square we are somehow being neutral and not taking sides rings hollow to me. I continue watching while all of these “neutrals” grow more antagonistic to people like me all the time.

There were not a lot of Jews in the town I grew up in so most of my exposure to Jewish thought has come as an adult. In every job I have had since leaving college I have had Jewish co-workers and, over time, I have begun to understand a bit more of their frame of reference (I do not claim any particular expertise on the subject). I got into a conversation with a young Jewish woman about ten years ago that really left an impression on me. She was not a religious person as far as I could tell yet she told me that she considered herself to be a Jew first and everything else (including being an American) came second. This was something that was difficult for me to digest but whenever I read conversations like the one in this thread, her comment always comes to mind. I would truly like input on what I am about to write so please do not misunderstand this as some hard and fast conclusion I have come to. When Elisheva writes: “Finally, I honestly think Evangelicals would do well to clean up their own house--Christianity--prior to trying to persuade non-Christians to become Christians. You have several lifetimes worth of work to convert your own, especially in Europe.” does she believe that I feel a loyalty to other gentiles first? I have no such loyalty. Members of my family fought in two world wars in Europe and I have no particular feelings of loyalty or kindred to them. Remember, love your neighbor (the person next door) as yourself and if I can’t do that I have no business going half way around the world to Europe. Also, no evangelical worth his salt would ever state that Christianity is just some European thing.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

My first impulse was to go on a rant. I doubt that would be informative, entertaining, or persuasive. Okay, maybe entertaining, but not in a good way.

The problem with these discussions is that each subtopic has its own complications and produces three more subtopics. The person responding thus has nine subtopics, which in turn elicits twenty-seven.

The supremely wise people we read in books are able to pose a single question that causes the others to be haunted for years, until they talk themselves into the desired position. I am not that person, and don't think I could get there with even ten of my best questions. But I will try something closer to that tack, because I think there are core issues which are dictating the surface responses.

1. I consider the madness of the Holocaust to be unfortunately normal for the human race, not some unexplainable aberration which requires explanation. It is the exceptions, when people live in even relative tolerance, that require explanation. Fifty million Christians were martyred in the 20th C - The Chinese were good for 10M all by themselves in the late 40's. Yet the Chinese were massacred by the Japanese as well. Eleven million Ukrainians were starved in the Holodomor in the 30's. Even quite recently it is still going on in Sudan, East Timor...

Yet we are told that statistically, these are more peaceful times than previous ages, and more folks died by violence in our hunter-gatherer days, or even the 19th C.

Who should I hold responsible for this? Should I consider that Norwegian socialists have nothing to say worth hearing because more thoroughgoing marxists killed millions of Christians? Or perhaps I should focus on their orientalness instead? (Note: subrant: I know that Elisheva does not think she is speaking hate or rejection, but I am talking functional equivalents here. The language leakage allows no other interpretation, whatever her personal feelings and general goodwill are.)

A recollection: an elderly man in a park gave me a rank antisemitic tract years ago. He recalled with tears how the "Jewish Communists" had come into his village in Poland and wiped out all his relatives. I tried to convince him that it was the communist part that was the trouble, and that he had been propagandised that they were Jews. No, he insisted with fire, these were Jews that he knew by name from his own village. Well, perhaps so. There were some Jews prominent in the early communist movements. My arguing statistics was unlikely to mean much to him.

I don't want to ever be that guy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

2. No peoples on the earth have seemed to do much of a good job with power over others, whether national, tribal, or individual. Jews may do somewhat better than most, but not conspicuously so.

The Roman Empire was a model of tolerance for its time. It was more peaceful and just than many places even today. Yet both Christians and Jews have ample evidence of how horrible that government could be.

Western Civilization and its values, which we consider so normal now as to be horrified at their omission, grew up in exactly one place. We can create alt-histories where we imagine that such rights of humankind could develop in other ways, but in fact they did not. It happened once. There has been considerable energy put into showing that this was somehow incidental to the Christianity that slowly took influence in the West. The Enlightenment framing of history - Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment - trying to show that science and reason created all these good attitudes and rights, is the dominant picture taught. You might also notice how self-congratulating this is to the Enlightenment, the people who gave you the French and Bolshevik revolutions, founded on reason and science alone.

The book-length treatments that these developments were not in spite of Christianity, but because of it, take more actual history into account. That the Jewish contribution to these developments were enormous compared to their numbers is undeniable, but does not change the base fact.

This is doubly true of the American experiment, and 300+ years of partial but nonetheless impressive tolerance should count for something. Christianity in constant tension with pure reason has produced what we have today. Something similar seems to be happening in Israel with a tension between Judaism and pure reason, and perhaps that will also prove out. But the book is still out on that.

Those who criticise Christianity make some excellent points, worth hearing. But their very objections come from expectations one can only have in the West.

Mike O'Malley said...

Hello everyone!

I was visiting as I do on occasion and I found this topic to be particularly interesting. Permit me to try to add something of value to the conversation.


Donna B said: ... I could ask this same question of any Jew, but the Jew is not asked to convert me. He may consider me an "other" without experiencing a need to change me and I might therefore feel more of a "kinship" with him. We may not agree, but we disagree as equals.

Any organization that encourages proselytization, defines "other" as less than equal. There is an ingrained unequality and that disturbs me.

I disagree. Jews of course have been disagreeing with and attempting to convert each other to one particular flavor of Judaism or another, and on occasion gentiles too, for thousands of years. Indeed during the Maccabeus Period Edomites were forcibly converted to Judaism at sword point. Most often however full blooded gentiles are not targeted for conversion to Judaism. Nonetheless, modern Jews attempt to “convert” orthodox Christians into adhering to a deracinated heretical version of Christianity. In fact I've found they often employ the very same tactic that you are employing in your post Donna. They try to persuade Christians, even guilt tripping them, into abandoning the Great Commission as enunciated in Matthew 28:16-20. The Great Commission, as I'd guess you well know, is central to Christianity. Arguing as you seem to above is akin to what some Hindu religious nationalists argue that Jews should abandon the doctrinal core of The Shema: - Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One; arguing that the legacy for Jewish insistence on the monotheistic exclusivity of YHWH is inescapable religious intolerance and is responsible for the deaths of around 80,000,000 polytheists and Buddhists on the Indian subcontinent.

Both arguments for very troubling. Both arguments are in substance an attempt to “convert”.


Donna B said: ... We may not agree, but we disagree as equals.

Are you sure? There are various flavors of Orthodox Judaism which disagree with other flavors of Judaism to which they consider themselves superior. And gentiles, such as yourself are ... well ... gentiles! Allow me to quote directly from the Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Editor in Chief). From pages 247 and 248 under the caption: Gentiles (nations; Heb.: goyim, Gr. Ethne) generic Isrealite expression for all of humanity except Israel. Most often this common biblical expression has a pejorative connotation that parallels the Greek use of “barbarians”. By virtue of its covenantal relationship to YHWH and its observance of the Torah, Israel is contrasted with the rest of humanity, which stands outside the scope of God's covenantal love ...”.

The concept of equality of persons, without distinction, before God, is a Christian doctrine with some roots in the Old Testament. Without Christian evangelization it is unlikely that any gentile and most Jews would recognize “equality” of all persons as a virtue.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

On two points, I have been misunderstood and I want to correct them as best I can. As one commentor has said, itmight be that being from traditions, we use the same words differently.

First: I do not assume that you do not know the history that I know. But in that part of flyover country where I was educated, I was taught to be more detailed in writing than in conversation because questions can be asked back and forth in conversation, whereas they cannot be in writing. I also have an academic career, and thus I tend to be didactic. I have thought that too much time at university = ruined writing style. I'm sorry if this offends you. Truly, I am. But I probably will continue to slip into it, especially if I am trying to explicate an argument. (See, I did it again).

Secondly, my purpose is not to get you to agree with me, nor is it to assign personal responsiblity to you for things that you had no part of. It is an attempt to explain what I thought were the overarching questions explored in these entries, Why are Jews Liberal? and Why do Jews side with "them" and not "us"?
In "Norma Rae" there is the following exchange:

Norma Rae: Why are Jews different?
Jew: History.

And this is true, but it is not so much history alone, as it the way memory is passed down. In reading these exchanges, I have cause to think about how very different your memory and my memory have been formed about the same events--esp. those that neither of us have personally witnessed. But who the witness was, the role in the events, affects how they are passed on.

To understand why Jews side with your "them" and not your "us", it is not only the history that the questioner must know, but also the way that memory is passed down, with all of the attendant fears and emotions, that the questioner must try to understand. Difficult.

I have learned by reading these entries. From your responses (to me bewilderingly defensive)--I might assume that you have not learned anything from me. But I could very well be wrong.
I cannot hear your tone of voice nor see your expressions and body language, and you cannot see mine. The problem with internet conversations.

And, of course, my apprehension of what question this conversation was about in the first place appears to be completely wrong.

AVI: Oddly enough, what I consider you in terms of this conversation is an "Ezer K'negged" an oppositional helper. (Risking too much detail, that is a term used regularly in the way that Jews in Yeshiva. They argue heatedly & they don't give in until the argument is exhausted. Both then incorporate the opposition, each expanding his reality). I don't expect you to agree with me. I want you to argue . I sense that you do not respect my discussion methods, but know that I use the term "Ezer K'negged" with the highest respect.

I have written a reflection that was partially informed by this discussion: http://ragamuffinstudies.blogspot.com/2009/09/yom-kippur-persistence-of-memory.html

You may or may not enjoy it.

May we all have a year of wholeness, blessing and peace. But perhaps not good arguments.


rightwingprof said...

"Roman Catholic activism uses language and concepts that are a little further away; Eastern Orthodox further still."

I am Orthodox and am interested in hearing your thoughts on the second clause, since I'm a bit unclear. If you'd rather discuss this tangent in email, please email me.

Mike O'Malley said...

Elisheva Hannah Levin said... And this is true, but it is not so much history alone, as it the way memory is passed down. In reading these exchanges, I have cause to think about how very different your memory and my memory have been formed about the same events--esp. those that neither of us have personally witnessed. But who the witness was, the role in the events, affects how they are passed on.

To understand why Jews side with your "them" and not your "us", it is not only the history that the questioner must know, but also the way that memory is passed down, with all of the attendant fears and emotions, that the questioner must try to understand. Difficult.

Well said Elisheva! Well said! It is not only the history that the questioner must know, but also the way that memory is passed down ... but fortunate is the answerer who recovers what is forgotten.

We live in fortunate times Elisheva. We are recovering the past. With the Dead Sea Scroll and the work of truly gifted scholars, such as Jacob Neusner, we can transcend the polemics of Rabbinical Judaism and recover a far better understanding of the Jewish world before the Partings of the Ways. We can understand for instance how the Gospel of Matthew is Jewish religious literature; how Matthew employed Jewish rhetorical technique to defend against an effort to expel his Jewish community from Judaism. We can locate the Jewish eschatology rhetoric of Jesus in the context of the Teacher of Righteousness. We can employ Girardian Theory to recover the anti-violence anti-scapegoating message conveyed by Jesus in his harsher exchanges with the Pharisees as conveyed in the Gospel of John. And thus we can learn how and why the New Testament does not support anti-Semitism.

These are good times Elisheva, because the Catholic Church has spent the post war years well and purged its teachings of all support for anti-Semitism. This should be a model for all: Protestant, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu and Jew.


Regarding the Holocaust:
We must recover the memory that was lost. Some years ago a Jewish public school teacher (specializing in teaching the Holocaust), a granddaughter of a Holocaust surviver, a law student at Rutgers Law School in Camden, New Jersey, came across a largely forgotten archive of evidence and research prepared by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Research and Analysis Branch for use by the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials.

That teacher, Julie Seltzer Mandel, then editor of the Nuremberg Project for the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion said: "When people think about the Holocaust, they think about the crimes against Jews, but here's a different perspective,"

"A lot of people will say, 'I didn't realize that they were trying to convert Christians to a Nazi philosophy.' . . . They wanted to eliminate the Jews altogether, but they were also looking to eliminate Christianity."

Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion

the Nuremberg project at Rutgers

Installment No. 1 - Posted: Winter 2001

July 6, 1945 - "The Nazi Master Plan: The Persecution of the Christian Churches"

Part I (11,890KB)
Part II (10,431KB)
Part III (8,017KB)
Part IV (10,392KB)

A document prepared by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Research and Analysis Branch. Courtesy of Cornell Law Library, which holds the original document.



Papers reveal Nazi aim: End Christianity


Mike O'Malley said...

AVI responded to Elisheva in part: I am a bit brusque. I am sorry. I will consider before I go further. But I am quite emphatic that you do not understand Christianity very well, yet speak with great assurance. You have brought up such diverse topics as witch-burning and Indian schools as if these were news to me and you must condescendingly teach. Yet you are wrong on key points, following the conventional, PC belief without searching deeper.

Earlier in the September 24th thread Elisheva Hannah Levin wrote: It was Christians, goaded on by their churches, who burned pagans as witches

This charge for example is without substantive basis in fact Elisheva. Sadly you are reiterating an anti-Christian “blood libel”. The practice of burning witches was a Pagan practice with a parallel prescription in Torah mind you. However, in the history of Christianity, for century after century, Christian missionaries and clerics in Europe sought to OUTLAW the Pagan practice of killing witches. These early Christian human rights activists were convinced that witches had no supernatural powers so they therefore determined that witches could do no magical harm. These early Christian human rights activists therefore lobbied and insisted that witches NOT be executed. Medieval European law which provided for the execution of witches was held over from earlier Pagan law.

It was only after the devastating cultural, psychological and social damage suffered by European Christianity during the Black Plague that this practice temporarily changed. And then several other anthropological factors were also involved, such as the penetration of European urban culture into the culturally more primitive “backwoods” of Italy and France etc., the emergence of the Age of Rationalism, the dislocations of early modernity and the emergence of a heretofore unobserved phenomena of rejectionist Christians who claimed some sort of explicit league with evil/Satan. Nonetheless ALL persons accused and tried as witches were people who understood themselves to be Christians of some sort. NONE mind you were PAGANS. The European witch hunts took place largely during a one century period during the dawn of the Age of Rationalism. They took place AFTER the Catholic Church lost its moral and institutional hegemony over Europe. Modern specialists in this particular field of study estimate that around 30,000 persons (maybe as many 40,000 or even 45,000) were executed as witches in Europe and North America. Most executions took place after trial in local secular courts, where 97% of the accused were convicted and executed. National courts executed around 70% of the accused. Interestingly, the Inquisitions almost invariably pardoned any and all accused witches who repented. Indeed where the Inquisitions operated it condemned around 100 witches in total over a expanse of five centuries. Substantially all of those so condemned were also charged with serious related criminal misbehavior. In fact the Inquisitions were highly effective at SHUTTING DOWN witch burnings wherever they could gain jurisdiction over accused witches.

continued in PART II

Mike O'Malley said...

Part II - continuation of post above:

Now let's compare so we can gain perspective. Upon the emergence of the French Enlightenment secularist state, during the Reign of Terror, between 15,000 and 40,000 persons were judicially murdered over a one and a half year time span. During the Spanish Civil War the Stalinist assassinated and summarily executed over 6800 Catholic bishops, priests and religious. And during an span of a few weeks after the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in the early 7th Century, local Jews annihilated the entire surviving Christian population of Jerusalem, man, woman and child. Contemporaneous estimates of that death toll ranged from the low of some 30 thousands to over 67 thousand persons. Modern estimates put that death toll at around 15 thousand.


I have no wish to single you out Elisheva. My point is broader and directed at wide audience. The significant error and distortion in charges such as these, including those related to the Crusades and Inquisitions, have historically contributed to untold suffering among Catholics . These errors require correction. For instance, historical blood libels such as these fostered political and social environments that were intensely hostile to Irish Catholics, here in the USA and in Ireland. These blood libels provided justification for the enactment of the genocidal Penal Laws in Ireland, the Tumblings and evictions, massive famine death (around two million dead) and ethno-religious cleansing of Ireland during the 19th Century. The conditions in the Poorhouse system in Ireland at the time of the Great Famine resembled those of the Nazi slave and death camps sans the barbwire. These historical distortion contributed justification to the waves of antebellum Catholic church and convent burning in the USA. Moreover propagating these errors today contributes to latent anti-Catholic bigotry and frustrates Catholic efforts to persuade Muslims to provide adequate human, civil and political rights to non-Muslim minorities in the Islamic world. There are real world consequence to propagating the “Black Legend” today.

Thank you all for hearing me out. :-)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Elisheva, very graciously said. I am hyperattuned to emotional leakage, and often know more about people's hidden attitudes than they know of themselves. That is part nature and part training. I accept not only that you do not wish to appear condescending, but that you also do not wish to be so, and it is thus likely a smaller part of your intent than I imagined. My defensiveness is actually more the arrogance of enforcement of precision - a role no one assigned me but I take anyway.

People say what they really mean if you let them talk long enough. You may well imagine how unpopular it is in adult Sunday School when the church accompanist with two gay children begins a comment about gay rights with "I don't want to question other people's Christian faith but..." and I interrupt to say "Sure you do. That's exactly what you mean." I would abandon it altogether except that enough people come back years later agreeing that I figure I have some batting average.

Your idea of how memory is passed down is intriguing, and I will most certainly reread your post and think on it. It may have come in the nick of time, for my current reflections have influenced me to change my mind and declare an even greater distance between current Christians and their predecessors. In seeking to measure how much institutional continuity there is, I decided that just because one can row a boat from Montana to Havana does not make Montana a communist state. Yet the idea you present is worth contemplation. I knew the concept of Ezer K'negged but had forgotten the term if I ever knew it. I do not take it amiss.

Mike, I have considerable agreement with what you put forward but pass on some modifications. The resurgence of witch-burning in Europe also coincides with the rise of science. This seems counterintuitive until one considers that people were discovering that forces they did not understand worked on them in ways they had not imagined. People believed that some others could exercise power over them by manipulating forces of the universe. We are not morally superior folks now because we don't burn witches - we just don't believe they can do those things. We are still dramatically punitive toward people who we feel can harm us from afar. See also, radiation, pollution, contagion.

Think alchemy if you want to understand the idea that those superstitions came more from science than relgion.

Witch-burning became more common the further east one went. Your claim that it was a pagan resurgence I accept in part, but I don't let Christians off the hook on it. It is true that it was more common in less-religious areas (Such as Salem in America. Somehow we get the most common association with witches on the basis of that one episode compared to thousands in Europe. Go figure), but there was no part of Europe that was without considerable Christian influence.

Jonathan said...

AVI: the arrogance of enforcement of precision - a role no one assigned me but I take anyway.

Welcome to my childhood, people.

Gringo said...

AVI: while a resurgence in witch-burning may have occurred along with the rise in science, recall that correlation is not causation. The pursuit of science occurred among a small elite, and as such was not likely to influence the mindset of illiterate peasants.

Europe was in an upheaval in making the transition from the medieval to the modern world. The universal church was shattered by the advent of Protestantism, which also shattered what little unity and peace the universal church offered. The small principalities of the medieval world were wracked with war in the process of consolidating into national units. These wars were intensified by opposing sides often adhering to opposing churches. In such a time, some might turn to witchcraft and to witches as a way to make sense of a turbulent world.

I have read in places that ¼ of the German- speaking population of Europe was killed during the Thirty Years’ War. Living amidst such chaos, many will latch onto any explanation for what they are living through. Witches provided an explanation.

Mike O'Malley said...

Thank you AVI. I agree with you that the Burning Times were in part due to the emergence of Western rationalism and science. It is my understanding the divergence of rationalistic scientific practices and medical professionals from say traditional folk medicine isolated the traditional folk healers and implied that their art might be based upon the Satanic occult. Consider, that during the early Renaissance the substantial majority of European scientists were Catholic clerics whose practice of astronomy included the casting of astrological charts. They did so without any suggestion that they were engaging in occult practice. That came later.

I do not claim any pagan resurgence. Only that local politicians, Catholic and Protestant alike, reached into their bag of legal tricks and pulled out a holdover Pagan practice to deal with local mass hysteria. Nonetheless it is meaningful to contrast this reuse of traditional pagan law with the traditional European Christian approach to the problem of witchcraft. British Egyptologist Margaret Murray introduced the idea that these witches were Pagans in the early 20th Century. Murray's speculation has not withstood later research. It seems that the mass hysteria's about witches were early reactions to the uncertainties and alienation of emerging Modernity. It is no accident that the witch hunting panics coincided with the Reformation.


BTW: I had a chance to double check my figures with an authoritative source. I need to make a correction. I'll quote one of my sources, Jenny Gibbons: local "Community-based" courts were often virtual slaughterhouses, killing 90% of all accused witches. National courts condemned only about 30% of the accused."

I'll quote a bit more from Gibbons:

"(M)ost of the killing was done by secular courts. Church courts tried many witches but they usually imposed non-lethal penalties. A witch might be excommunicated, given penance, or imprisoned, but she was rarely killed. The Inquisition almost invariably pardoned any witch who confessed and repented.

Consider the case in York, England, as described by Keith Thomas (Religion and the Decline of Magic). At the height of the Great Hunt (1567-1640) one half of all witchcraft cases brought before church courts were dismissed for lack of evidence. No torture was used, and the accused could clear himself by providing four to eight "compurgators", people who were willing to swear that he wasn't a witch. Only 21% of the cases ended with convictions, and the Church did not impose any kind of corporal or capital punishment."

Anonymous said...

Elisheva, as an evangelical, I think you misunderstand us. All are saved through Jesus. When we reach out to Jewish folk, it is out of concern for your salvation. The truth is that the only salvation is through Jesus Christ. We would be denying Jewish people a chance for salvation if we did not evangelize. So you see it is an act of compassion when we evangelize. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light. As evangelical Christians, we recognize our responsibility to share this with the world. Now, where Jews and Christians can find commonality is through the end-time prophecies. It is clear that the modern state of Israel is the culmination of Biblical prophecy. Thus, our interests meet in preserving and defending the state of Israel. Shalom.

Mike O'Malley said...

Elisheva Hannah Levin said…And this is true, but it is not so much history alone, as it the way memory is passed down. In reading these exchanges, I have cause to think about how very different your memory and my memory have been formed about the same events--esp. those that neither of us have personally witnessed. But who the witness was, the role in the events, affects how they are passed on.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner discussed the different ways that Jews and Christians remember history. He did so in Judaism in the Matrix of Christianity.I think. According to Rabbi Neusner, Christians remember history as a linear process from a beginning progressing toward a purposeful end. This is the way Judaism used to remember and contextualize its history. Generally Pagans and other non-Judaeo-Christians view the passage of time as a cycle. According to Rene Girard, non-Judaeo-Christians experience time as a cycle based on their experience of the cyclical foundation and in time dissolution of their cultures based upon the collective “memory” of their experience of the victimage/scapegoating mechanism. Neusner indicates there were intense eschatological expectations inherent in the pre-normative Rabbinical Judaic experience of linear history. He then explains how those expectations were so devastatingly shattered by the failure of the Bar Kokhba Revolt against Rome that Judaism adapted by abandoning their linear conception of history. Neusner found that Rabbinical Judaism classifies certain like events together as a way to contextualize history. In any case this new way of remembering the past differs from how Christians and earlier Jews remembered history as a linear process. It differs too from the reiterative cycles of Pagan memory.

Upon reflection it seems that Elisheva’s way of remembering history is as Rabbi Neusner describes Jewish historical memory in the Rabbinical era, i.e. it is based on categories of like events I’ve engaged in discussion with many Jewish Americans over the years who seemingly remember history in relation to Christianity much as Elisheva seems to. I find that those memories cast Christianity in a highly unfavorable light. Those memories often reflect substantial error and seem to be entirely devoid of mitigating and balancing information. I am tempted to fiske some of Elisheva’s earlier comments in this regard as I have did above in response to her earlier comment in the September 24th thread where Elisheva Hannah Levin wrote: It was Christians, goaded on by their churches, who burned pagans as witches. Similarly if one’s historical memory is based upon the Black Legend, as also appears to be the case with American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, then one seems likely to perpetuate the injustices such as the Irish Penal Laws, anti-Catholic unconstitutional radical Separation of Church and State.


One related point regarding critical New Testament scholarship. The School of German Higher Biblical Critics in the early 20th Century ignored the way Rabbinical Judaism and indigenous Semitic peoples in the Levant preserve and convey oral history from generation to generation. They chose instead to use the way German folk tales were conveyed in modern literate German society as a model for how oral eyewitness testimony of historical events was conveyed in the Gospels. I don’t imagine that this particular choice was made in good faith.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Excellent comment. Please keep coming by. I wrote a post on linear versus circular time about a year ago.


Mike O'Malley said...

Loren Eiseley, now that’s a name I haven’t heard in many a year!


Thank you for your invitation AVI. Your site has been bookmarked. I found you by way of Dr. Sanity and Neo-Neocon. I make the rounds on about a dozen or two blogs, posting more frequently after Charles Johnson cast me forth into the darkness to which troublesome little green lizards are condemned. Somehow no one is suppose to say that Michael Behe is an OK guy or that the Holocaust had something to do with Social Darwinism … you know that book entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. now conveniently shortened to The Origin of Species … that subtitle by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue with ease as it did in the 1920s and 1930s. What can one say?


I’m a “relapsed” Irish American Catholic with a large Irish family with many new branches: Italian, Polish, Peurto Rican … and Jewish (Levite and Kohanim). I’d like to continue our conversation with Elisheva because it seems to me that too many American Jews appear oblivious to the rising anger of Anti-Semitism on the Left. For that matter, I can’t imagine why a political candidate whose official campaign website hosted pages for virulent anti-Semitic supporters gets a pass …


Sincerely but with a touch of occasional sarcasm

Mike O’Malley
little Kelly green lizard in exile

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, Johnson seems to have it in with theists of any stripe these days.

Thanks for coming by.