Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Rabbi asks a priest a question... part 19

Continued from last week…

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.” Charles Darwin, the Descent of Man.”

In 1517, the Reformation killed Christendom. In 1618, the Thirty Years’ War killed Europe. In 1789, the French Revolution killed God, and in 1859 with the publication of The Origin of Species, Darwin pointed out that we had never really needed God anyway. We weren’t God’s creatures. Evolution had created us by means of sexual selection. To be fair to Darwin, he wrote in The Descent of Man, quoted above, that we really can’t kill inferior and savage peoples, we should simply not encourage them to breed and hope that they would just be absorbed by superior races like the English I imagine.

Later readers of Darwin, like Hitler and Hitler’s friend Margaret Sanger of Planned Parenthood took Darwin’s ideas to their more logical conclusions. The inferior should not be allowed to breed. In the Thirty Years’ War and the French Revolution, the nation state had replaced God and Christendom as the object of worship. We, Us, Our Nation was superior and all others inferior. Our way was better, our music more beautiful, our laws more perfect and our genetic material more special. Darwin had discovered that the purpose of natural life was not love nor was it virtue. The most insistent purpose of life is the struggle for resources and the survival of the fittest. There was no room for a loving God in a cruel world.

The readers of Darwin applied these ideas to the new age of 19th century nationalist imperialism. The nations of Europe scrambled for control of resources among the inferior nations of Asia, Africa and the land still held by indigenous Americans and Australians. These chosen superior Nations, each more chosen than the other, needed resources. By this, they meant territory. A nation, according to these Imperial Darwinists was an organism. Its purpose was survival and thus, the control of resources. The inferior would just have to take their lumps and part with their possessions, and if need be by their lives.

There were however two special nations, two nations that didn’t have any land at all, and didn’t seem to want any, first the Roma people, the “Gypsies,” but far more significantly, the Jews. The Jews may have been chosen by God, but now that there was no God, they were nothing more than parasites. The Gypsies lived off the land and what they could take with them when they left for greener pastures. The Jews were far more insidious, according to some of the Imperial Darwinists. The Jews didn’t move on. They settled in like an infection, loaning money and controlling factory production and art and theater. They controlled the press, the manufacture of weapons, public opinion, etc., etc. They had to be rooted out like any infection. Europe was about to meet just the physician to perform the operation: Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist Party was not a madman. He was evil, not insane. He coolly, reasonably convinced a whole nation, famous for its art and science, that the Jews were nothing more than a parasite nation living off the wealth of others since they had no resources that is no land, of their own. Hitler could dispassionately decide that an entire ethnicity should be extinguished, because there was no God who loved and had chosen Israel as His Firstborn. The German People were the true chosen, and Hitler in effect was the god who had chosen them.

In ten years six million Jews would be rounded up and killed. They were among the 80-million-person butcher’s bill that the glorification of the nation and Imperial Darwinism had demanded.  (I have no stomach for holocaust deniers. In my grandfather’s town in Germany there were 300 Jews as there had been since the Middle Ages. In 1945 only 3 remained alive. Most of the 80 million dead were the direct or collateral casualties of war. The Jews, the Gypsies and many Poles were butchered not as the result of war, but for the sake of genocide.) A parallel horror continued in Russia, China, Eastern Europe, and much of the rest of the world until 1991. It continues to this day in Cuba and to a lesser degree in China and Vietnam. 

Karl Marx, an atheist of German-Jewish background, created a social philosophy that promised an earthly paradise, since there was no heavenly one. In the chaos following Hitler’s death and the end of the Second World War Marxist Socialism took over a third of the world and cost the world even more lives than had the world wars. The death of God in Europe and America and the worship of nation, the race and the State had spawned Darwin, Margaret Sanger, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Marx and the litany of sorrow that was the 20th century.

The result of all this is that Christianity is no longer the required state religion of any country that I can think of and, more often than not, Christianity in any form is discouraged if not persecuted. Christianity is no longer a state. It has the opportunity to become a religion once again.

Curiously the madness of the 20th century has witnessed the birth of a Jewish state after 19 centuries of statelessness. In a sense, we are back to the years of the birth of Christianity. Christianity claims to be a spiritual Israel, and Judaism has become a very concrete state in this world as well a religion. This amazes me.

Next Week: I am now ready to answer the Rabbi’s questions.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Rabbi asks a priest a question... part 18

Continued from last week….

Liberté, égalité, fraternité!!  Liberty, equality, fraternity! But now off with your head. The French revolution lopped off the heads of at least 20,000 in an attempt to blot out the evils of the Bourbon Monarchy and Catholicism and then went on to kill hundreds of thousands more in suppressing counter revolution.

Who pray tell were the Bourbons? Remember the wars of religion? The old royal family, the Valois petered out due to insanity and debauchery, and the nearest royal cousin was, heaven forfend, a Protestant!  Henry married a Valois princess, whom he eventually divorced and promised to become a Catholic in order to escape death in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in which French Catholics slaughtered several thousand Protestants who were in Paris to celebrate the wedding as well as thousands more throughout France. He escaped Paris in 1576 and renounced Catholicism.

He rejoined the Protestant forces in the wars of religion, then so popular in Europe. He eventually became Catholic (again), saying that, “Paris was worth a Mass.” No way could he rule France and not be Catholic. His grandson was Louis XIV (1638-1715). He was the Catholic Sun King who went to daily Mass with his wife and mistresses and fought Catholic Austria with his allies the protestant swedes. His great grandson was Louis XVI who got his head cut off by the revolutionaries a few paragraphs back. The whole revolution thing was such a great success that having cut off the head of the last Bourbon king, Louis XVI in 1793 they elected Napoleon Bonaparte as their dictator in 1799.

He won three million of the one and a half million votes cast, thus proving that equality was the rule of the day. Your vote was as worthless as everyone else’s vote. Vive la Revolucion! Napoleon then placed himself on the imperial throne in 1804 plunging Europe and the world into a war that cost about one million lives. So where are the Jews in all this?

Up until the revolution the Jews were repeatedly exiled from France then invited to return. It seems that Jews were good for the economy. But come the revolution, and a councilor of the revolutionary parliament declared, “I believe that freedom of worship does not permit any distinction in the political rights of citizens on account of their creed. The question of the political existence of the Jews has been postponed. The men of all sects (should be) admitted to enjoy political rights in France. I demand that… a decree (be) passed that the Jews in France enjoy the privileges of full citizens.”

Judaism in France became, “nothing more than the name of a distinct religion.” French Jews were French. In gratitude for their new nationality, French Jews dedicated themselves to France, fighting in the Army of the Republic against the European enemies of their new homeland France. They contributed materially to the war effort. Candelabra of synagogues were sold, and wealthier Jews donated their jewels to the cause. They were French and proud of it. Napoleon brought Jewish emancipation and citizenship to the lands he conquered, liberating Jews from their ghettos and making them full citizens of the new Europe. In 1807, he made Judaism an official religion in France, along with Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism. Still, he may have had mixed motives. He seems to have been prone to the medieval custom of borrowing money from Jewish financiers and then welching on the debt.

In 1808, Napoleon took back some of his reforms. All debts owed to Jews were cancelled, reduced, or at least postponed. The new decrees also restricted where Jews could live. The restrictions were ultimately eased in 1811 and eventually abolished, but still…

Why dwell on Jews in France? It’s pretty much the story of Jews in Europe. You’re welcome to live here, just don’t get too comfortable. You are not us. After the revolution things were different, right? Not quite. In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer who happened to have a Jewish background was sentenced to life imprisonment for sharing French military secrets with the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil's Island in French Guiana. He was released after five years, a broken man. He was completely innocent. The real culprit was eventually exposed, but at the time it was quite convenient to blame the Jew! After all, how loyal could a Jew be? 

The Dreyfus Affair had unanticipated fruit. The Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl, a Jew, was present at part of the trial, the cancellation of Dreyfus’ army rank in 1895. Herzl was convinced of the need to resolve the Jewish question. “If France, the bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism, can get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant 'Kill the Jews!' Where can they be safe once again, if not in their own country? Assimilation does not solve the problem because the Gentile world will not allow it as the Dreyfus affair has so clearly demonstrated…” If the Jew could never become part of another nation, they would have to form a nation of their own.

Christendom had broken down into political chaos and now Judaism would enter the fray. The superior nation state that had become the substitute for religious chosen-ness in the Christian world would engender the Jewish state. Christianity and Judaism were a long way from their competition as religious variations on the faith of Israel. Religion took a back seat to secularized, nominal Christianity and a secular “reformed” Judaism. Oh, by the way, Alfred Dreyfus died an old man in 1935, just before the greatest horror known to human history broke, and it broke hard on the Jews.

Next week “If you worship me, I will give you all the kingdoms of the world….”

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Rabbi asks a priest a question... part 17

Continued from last week…

In 313, when the emperor Constantine issued his Edict of Toleration, he started the ball rolling to make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The process was complete in 380, when emperor Theodosius issued Edict of Thessalonica. Christianity had been a persecuted sect that claimed to be a variation of the religion of Israel. It was founded by Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. His followers said He had risen from the dead and some even claimed that He was God in the flesh. Now this rather strange little sect had managed in just over three centuries to become the official religion of the Romans.  Not only was Christianity the religion of the Romans, but a certain form of Christianity, Catholicism, was the religion of the Romans, and Catholicism came with all the baggage of a God who was three persons, yet one God, and that God had established an organization with bishops, priests and deacons in leadership with a special emphasis on the bishop of Rome, who claimed to be the spiritual and theological heir to saints Peter and Paul.

Things had come a long way since the days of squabbling Israelite sects. The first squabbling followers of Jesus had become the Official Religion of the Romans. They still managed to squabble but now the emperors of Constantinople joined the squabble. The Germanic peoples who overran the western half of the Roman Empire around 425 AD were Christians, just not Catholic Christians. They could not care less about the bishop of Rome and they thought the trinity was nonsense. They were followers of Arius, who believed Jesus was really swell, just not equal to God the Father. When the German barbarians set up their new kingdoms in Spain and France and North Africa, they had a hard time controlling things.

The contentious followers of the Humble Carpenter of Nazareth were not easy to govern. The Germans had invaded the Roman Empire, not to destroy it, but to enjoy it. They liked Roman amenities, like wine and olive oil and white bread and bathing, far better than beer, bacon fat, bugs and barley bread. If the new German aristocracy converted to Catholic Christianity it might make acceptance by the Romans easier, which is precisely what they did. And, when the king was re-baptized Catholic, you had better believe that his court, accepted the religion of the Romans.

In times past, individuals had made a decision that Jesus was the Messiah. Now the decision was made for you, if you were a Roman, or a Visigoth or a Burgundian, or a Frank. In 785 AD Charlemagne, the king of the Franks decreed that, “If any one of the race of the Saxons hereafter concealed among them shall have wished to hide himself unbaptized, and shall have scorned to come to baptism and shall have wished to remain a pagan, let him be punished by death.”

Something similar happened in Russia. Prince Vladimir of Kiev went religion shopping and chose Byzantine Christianity because the liturgy was so beautiful and, thankfully, Christianity did not prohibit the drinking of alcohol of which the Russians were, and still are, quite fond. Vladimir was baptized, married the sister of the Roman Byzantine emperor of Constantinople and upon returning to Kiev, marched the entire population down to the Dnieper River, starting with his 12 sons and the boyars (nobles). The wooden idols of the Russians were either burned or and thrown in the river as was the statue of the main Russian god, Perun. In his enthusiasm for Christianity Vladimir even baptized the gods! The Kievan Russians were now Christians, whether they liked it or not.

What a lucky break for the Romans in their shrinking empire! The Roman state, threatened in the west by the Germans and in the east by those Turks and Arabs who were not Christian (There are still many Turkic and Arabic speakers who have retained their Christianity despite a millennium of persecution) suddenly had a boatload of allies. The sect of Christians first became the Religion of the Romans. Now it was the religion of the Roman state as well the Frankish, Gothic, and eventually of the Russian states, as well as many others. Each of them came to think of themselves as uniquely chosen by God to do His will on earth by slaughtering his enemies who, coincidentally, were the enemies of the state.

To serve the interests of the state was to serve God. To refuse to serve the state was to refuse to serve God, and hence both treason and blasphemy. It was never the tradition of the church to burn heretics and blasphemers. It was most certainly the practice of the state to burn traitors. And so the horrors began. Enemies of the state were executed or expelled, and so Jews continued their wandering, first to Spain, and then, when expelled by the non-Christian Almohads around 1150, they fled to France, then from France to the Rhine valley, then to Poland and Russia, always on the edge of the society.

Oddly, the Jews of Italy were the safest Jews in Christendom until the Second World War and the Jewish community of Rome exists to this day. The popes may have said unfortunate things but usually protected the Jews of Italy, as did Pope Pius XII in the Second World War. (C.f. Rabbi David Dahlen: The Myth of Hitler’s Pope) The Jews had become the un-chosen people, a stateless nation, once chosen, now rejected.

How does one convince ten or twenty national ethnic groupings that they are each God’s new chosen people? Easy! You have a pope! The Papacy managed to hold all these chosen nations and their anointed sovereigns together in a crazy quilt of chosen-ness by cobbling together a super-nation called Christendom. The aggression and arrogance of kings were limited by the threat of excommunication. No one could quite get the upper hand, because “all must kiss the foot of the Roman Pontiff” or so says the Dictatus Papae, published by Pope Gregory VII in 1075. The Dictatus is a list of twenty-seven statements pointing out what sovereigns owed the Pope. In addition to kissing the foot of the pope, the Dictatus said the pope may depose emperors, and that “…he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.” This meant that the pope could dissolve any government in Christendom and release the subordinate of any emperor, king or nobleman from their obligation of obedience to the local authority.

Amazingly, people took all this seriously. It meant that there was some non-violent international control over the avarice and aggression of the upper classes. The system worked, at least until the Reformation in 1525, when certain German and French theologians decided that the papacy was useless. With no pope to threaten excommunication, the monarchs of Europe were free to impose their superior chosen-ness on their neighbors. Europe dissolved into a century of war in which half the population of certain areas perished. Strangely, Europe lost its religion during the wars of religion. To be Protestant, Catholic, or none of the above was no longer a matter of choice. Your religion was a matter of a political unit that was hell bent on proving its superiority to those a little less chosen than itself.

The mayhem started in 1525 when the German theologians reinvented Christianity and dumped the papacy. The Great Peasants' War or Great Peasants' Revolt devastated Central Europe from 1524 to 1525. The peasants decided that, if the priests and aristocrats didn’t need popes and bishops, they didn’t need the aristocrats and priests. They slaughtered thousands of the German governing class. The governing class who, after all, had the money and the weapons returned the favor by slaughtering perhaps 300,000 of the peasants.

This was just a warm up. A century later, the Thirty Years War, punctuated with bouts of witch burning and cannibalism, killed about a third of the population of large parts of Europe. It started as a religious conflict when the Protestant town council of Prague threw the representatives of the Catholic emperor out a window (This is called the “Defenestration of Prague.” You’ve got to love the name, no?) 

It started out Protestant versus Catholic, but by the end Catholic France was allied with protestant Sweden against Catholic Austria. The war spilled over from Germany into France, Holland, England and the Americas.

When it was all over the nation-state was supreme, Christendom was gone and 11 million people were dead. No pope got his foot kissed by any monarch any more. The worship of God faded into the worship of the state. The state was no longer chosen by God. It was just chosen. European Christianity was completely separated from the idea of conversion and started to die.  And the Jews? They were not part of any chosen state no matter how hard they pretended.

Next week: Just when things couldn’t possibly get worse…