Thursday, September 15, 2005

On the origins of antisemitism

On someone else's blog, JoeCool said something stupid. I'd respond to him there, but the thread is old, and I'm worried he'll miss it. Here's what the idiot wrote:
Sure, antisemitism was rampant in Europe. It still is. But there are no mainstream christian sects for whom it was racially based. From Roman times until 19th century antisemitism was always religious in nature. After that, with the appearance of mystical german philosophers, antisemitism became racial. Anyone with a brain could understand that.
No Christian sects for whom it was religious based? From Roman times until 19th century antisemitism was always religious in nature? Wow. That's what more polite people would call a "school boy howler."

JoeCool errs in presuming a clear and neat distinction between religous antisemitism and racial antisemitism. Racial antisemitism was not something unique from Church antisemitim; it developed from it.

The truth is that "purity of blood" theories which originated in Catholic Spain gradually spread throughout the Church. The Jesuits, for example, expressly barred candidates of Jewish descent until 1946, and in the late 19th century expecially, the Church actively promoted racial antisemitism in their newspapers. All the familiar racial attacks can be found in those Church publications, and similar attacks were repeated from pulpits in France, Germany and Italywith the Pope's tacit approval (Kertzer)

No less an authority than The U.S. bishops' conference has admitted this. The document they produced providing guidance for the implementation of We Remember in Catholic schools, put it this way: "Christian anti-Judaism did lay the groundwork for racial, genocidal anti-Judaism by stigmatizing not only Judaism but Jews themselves for opprobrium and contempt. So the Nazi theories found tragically fertile soil in which to plant the horror of an unprecedented attempt at genocide..."

As the bishops suggest, the Church bears the original responsibility for identifying the Jew as the "other," thus making the Jews ready scapegoats whenever a demagogue wanted to exploit the bloody-mindedness of the mob.