The Question of Anti-Semitism
I enjoyed very much reading the editorial “Jews, Christians, and Anti-Semitism” (March), imbued as it is with a generosity of spirit and deep faith . . . . I appreciated the clarifying statement that to care about Jews and Judaism is to care about Israel. There is no doubt in my mind that, too often, the raw crudeness of anti-Semitism finds a camouflaged outlet in a political antagonism to Israel.
I have some reservations about the editorial’s statement that “a public square that is devoid of religiously grounded imperatives and inhibitions is a very dangerous place for a very small and very prominent population that is importantly different.” The argument most frequently encountered in support of this notion is that the Holocaust was conceived and designed by a regime hostile to religion. What is missing in this viewpoint is the acknowledgment that the Holocaust was implemented in countries of Eastern Europe that were by no means secular. The Nazis undertook the monumental task of transporting the millions of European Jews in the belief that the implementation of the Holocaust would have a smoother ride in the religiously imbued countries of Eastern Europe. The question that begs to be answered is whether the thorough sweep of the largely unresisted Holocaust can be dissociated from Christology.
I submit, and Jewish history seems to confirm, that the New Testament is a rich source for inappropriate exploitation of anti-Judaic sentiments. While Jews, even those with no personal experience of the Holocaust, have a historical consciousness of that fact, most Christians seem to be unaware of it or tend to block it out. It is my belief that this tragic connection is the underlying reason why Jews tend to be inclined to strict separation of Church and State. To them religion in the public square is just a step toward publicly supported [anti-Jewish] religious education . . . .
The New Testament is the sacred book of Christianity, and nobody is suggesting drastic changes in its content. However, publicly enunciated teachings that would deal with the most egregious anti-Judaic expressions and that would provide the historical framework of the nascent formulation of Christianity would go a long way to make Jews more comfortable with religion in the public square. The nearly total silence [of the churches] on the subject suggests that even the first step, the publicly stated admission of a link to anti-Judaism, is still lacking.
Rifka Black Sandler
Your probing the subject of anti-Semitism is both valuable and courageous . . . and of necessity, incomplete.
As you have carefully pointed out, there are Jews and Jews and Jews. Thus the discussion is immediately [confused] by the impossibility of collective identification or behavior . . . . But there is a radical fringe . . . to whom any criticism of Jews or Jewish actions is anti-Semitic . . . .
Thus references to the Holocaust are guilt daggers stuck in the backs of any and all critics. The radical fringe will vehemently disagree with your appraisal that “it is not anti-Semitism if one, all in all, does not like Jews very much, just as there is no moral culpability if, all in all, one has a dislike for Italians.”
And this radical fringe for alleged reasons of self-defense engages in activities we cannot even discuss publicly because the negative judgments might produce an upswelling of anti-Jewish sentiment.
I remember Dr. Jerry Falwell once expressed the desire that Christians put together some sort of monitoring organization like the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith to combat the anti-Christian sentiments sweeping the country. Indeed! . . .
Karl E. Brandt
I was deeply disappointed in your editorial “Christians, Jews, and Anti-Semitism.” . . .
The editorial begins, cautiously enough, by saying that some think that Joseph Sobran and Patrick Buchanan have made public statements that could be construed by their tone as anti-Semitic. The editors concede that having no personal liking for Jews is not anti-Semitism unless it is carried to the point of demonizing Jews and wanting to single them out for special discriminatory and hostile treatment. Criticizing individual Jews, Jewish organizations, and the State of Israel on moral and political grounds is therefore permissible.
So far, so good.
But then the editors take the unwarranted step of agreeing with William F. Buckley’s statement that “the likes of Pat Buchanan and Gore Vidal would have been more severely and generally censured for their anti-Semitic delinquencies, say, ten years ago.” But it has not been established that Pat Buchanan and even Gore Vidal have, in fact, gone beyond the limits of reasonable discourse. They have, at most, expressed their dissent from mainstream opinion in a highly polemical manner, but no more polemically than they express their views on other policy matters (such as abortion, drugs, Communism, affirmative action, and homosexual rights). That is simply the give-and-take of American political discourse. There is little point in being thin-skinned or in “excommunicating” opponents by calling them anti-Semitic; the better course is to refute their contentions by rational and moral arguments. Jews are certainly entitled to advocate whatever policies they regard as serving their understanding of the common good, but non-Jews are also free to do the same without being dismissed unheard on unproven charges of anti-Semitism.
In summary, the editorial allows a wide scope for disagreement in theory , but no scope at all in practice . Your neoconservative standards for discourse on Israel are, in practice, so narrow that, according to them, Pope John Paul II himself would stand condemned as an anti-Semite for speaking out on behalf of the Palestinians and for repeatedly asserting that their peoplehood is as valid as the Israelis’. You speak of the need for cooperation between Christians and Jews on the basis of common biblical roots; but what kind of “biblical” vision worthy of the name would deliberately silence the prophetic spirit on the grounds of political expediency?
W. Robert Aufill
There is no Christian conscience that requires Israel’s survival more than that of any other country.
Nor have Americans a moral obligation to see that Israel survives more than any other nation.
The idea contained in the last paragraphs of your editorial, that there is such an obligation, is fatuous. And I am sure most Jews will agree this is so.
On the political level, to connect Americans with Israel’s expansive foreign policy on the West Bank, enslaving the Arab people, and shooting and killing them to control them while removing their liberties, is a policy most Americans abhor; and one that most Christians of conscience throughout the world see is contrary to their religious and moral precepts.
Staten Island, NY
Your editorial was fairer to Christians than I have come to expect from interfaith journals. It was even fairer than William Buckley’s essay, which suffers from the inhibiting fear that so many Christians have of the “anti-Semite” label. I like your tone and I can accept your general thrust until the end, when you bring up Israel. On Israel you err, for two reasons.
First the easy one. For better or worse, Israel has become a political issue. Just as American Jews can love Israel (some even more than they do America) and still be good citizens, Americans can oppose the endless, unappreciated aid we give to Israel and not be anti-Semitic. Aid to Israel involves public funds and is therefore a matter to be settled in the public arena guided by public morality, prejudice, and political considerations . . . .
Now the hard one. You say “to care about Jews and Judaism is to care about Israel.” But I care about Jews and I don’t care for Israel because it is a manifestation of Judaism and I do not like Judaism. I do not want to alienate my Jewish friends, but the doctrine of “God’s chosen people” is just as separatist and intentionally divisive when employed by Jews as it is when practiced by “Christian Identity” cultists. If I didn’t believe that, I’d convert to Judaism so as to be “chosen.” Furthermore, I believe that peace will come when all the world, Jew and gentile, bows before the cross of Jesus Christ. Now, we can disagree about the points I just raised and still live together as good American citizens. Similarly, if Jews can mix their theology with their politics and still be good citizens, then I can mix my theology with my politics and not be an anti-Semite.
San Pedro, CA
I appreciate many fine insights in you editorial, “Christians, Jews, and Anti-Semitism.” A “Christian-Jewish enterprise” is to be applauded. After all, we do have common roots.
I too wonder about so many Israeli and American Jews being Jews only in name. Israel is a secular state. How curious, then, that it claims Old Testament promises regarding the land, but has so little regard for Yahweh. Colin Chapman’s cogent historical and biblical study (Whose Promised Land? 1983) raises questions about Zionist assumptions on the subject.
Judaism is rightly admired as a religion imbued with humanism (I use the term non-pejoratively). At its best, Judaism has kept before itself the injunction of Micah, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Zionism has demonized that noble vision, however. Your editorial passes quickly over Israel’s record-much too quickly. We may and do disagree over Israeli policies and acts. You leave out, however, another dimension: Accountability. Never mind accountability before God; what about accountability before the court of humanity? Can you not identify with the anguish of thousands of Israelis who, in the Begin/Sharon rape of Lebanon in 1982, feared losing their national soul? . . .
Your deliverance, “To care about Jews and Judaism is to care about Israel,” is egregious. Not that I oppose the existence of Israel. I agree with you: “it is there.” We have to go on from where we are. But I am deeply troubled about where we are.
Arabs are tirelessly pilloried for dedication to Israel’s destruction. Hardly a word is breathed about the Likud regime’s resolve to rid Israel and the territories of all Arabs, Christian as well as Muslim. To publicize this would jeopardize the billions in American economic and military aid. To their credit, thousands of Jews in Israel and in America valiantly speak up for a two-state Palestine. Are they anti-Semites?
Theodore J. Georgian
Thanks for Paul V. Mankowski’s “What I Saw at the American Academy of Religion” (March). There are occasional days when I wonder why I left a tenured faculty position teaching religion and ethics to become a personal financial consultant with a major Wall Street firm. Mankowski reminded me of how shallow, silly, and smug professors of religion often are. Speaking for myself, I got tired of hearing academics judge ideas on the basis of ideology and seeing them confuse novelty with creativity. Although I now keep up with mundane things like interest rates and the tax consequences of various retirement plans, I feel more in touch with reality than I did listening to the latest tirades of the politically correct.
El Paso, TX
In his review of Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth (March), Robert Royal claims that Lactantius “ignored the sophisticated hermeneutics of Fathers like Augustine and Chrysostom.” I don’t see any reason to hold this against Lactantius, since he died before either Augustine or Chrysostom was born.
Mr. Royal also claims that “Lactantius was posthumously condemned as a heretic.” I have done extensive studies on Lactantius, accumulating material to refute his pacifist ideas. In all my studies, consulting about a dozen reference works, I never found the slightest hint that he was posthumously condemned as a heretic. Many theologians disputed many of his views, but that hardly makes him a heretic.
Ernest L. Fraser
Long Beach, CA
Robert Royal replies:
Ernest Fraser is correct that Lactantius could not have “ignored” Augustine and Chrysostom. This misstatement is mine, not Professor Russell’s, who points out only how atypical Lactantius’ scientific beliefs were compared with earlier and later hermeneutics among the Church Fathers. About Lactantius’ posthumous condemnation, I relied on Russell’s statement that it occurred and his explanation: “He maintained, for example, that God wills evil as a logical necessity and that Christ and Satan are metaphorical twins, two angels, two spirits, one good and one evil, both created by God (p. 32).” Russell cites as sources his own book Satan and Lactantius’ De divinis institutionibus, 3:3, 3:24.
Euthanasia and Euphemism
J. Albert Clark (Correspondence, March) disagrees with your use of the phrase “manual for killing” to describe Derek Humphry’s Final Exit. He argues that Webster’s defines euthanasia as “an act of putting to death . . . .” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary states that euthanasia is “the act or practice of killing or permitting . . . death.” Mr. Clark calls killing a “negative term.” To kill is nothing more than to deprive of life. Mr. Clark is allowing his logic to be clouded by euphemism.
He affirms that the person, body and soul, is owned by God. How, then, can he accept assisted suicide as a valid act when Humphry himself states on page 21 of Final Exit : “If you consider God the master of your fate, then read no further”?
Mr. Clark decries the use of costly mechanical means to sustain life in a non-functional physical body but fails to acknowledge the existence of any other solution to this problem.
Life and death issues must be examined with care if the emotional content with which they are charged is to be avoided.
More on Religious Freedom
Some thoughts on “For the Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (March).
The authors attempt to reassure us that RFRA cannot be successfully invoked by women claiming a free exercise right to abortion. The argument that they think “most decisively” precludes this possibility is that RFRA allows a free exercise claim to be overridden by a “compelling governmental interest.” They assert (without citing evidence and interpretation) that “all of the justices who have indicated they are prepared to overrule Roe have stated that the government’s interest in protecting unborn life is ‘compelling’ from the point of conception.” Even if that were true, in order to obtain a Roe-overturning majority these justices might have to accept a less formidable proposition. But with respect, it seems to me that the available evidence is ambiguous. It seems more likely that an overturning of Roe will come through ruling that abortion does not trigger the compelling interest test, rather than declaring that the state’s interest in the unborn passes this test.
A free exercise claim of this type will have more plausibility after the passage of RFRA than it does now because those advancing this claim will be able to cite arguments such as those made by the authors of the article emphasizing that the abortion issue is religious in nature. What might happen, then, is that the Supreme Court might be forced in future litigation to declare whether the state’s interest in protecting the unborn is in fact compelling. Thus, RFRA and the pursuit of a pro-choice free exercise challenge might force the Court into making a more decisive rejection of Roe than now seems likely. It is also possible that the Court would back away from that option and allow the challenge to prevail . . . .
The authors address several criticisms based on contentious interpretations of RFRA, but they do not address the issue of the significance of the Act as an exercise of Congress’ powers under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. This power was intended to be, and has in fact been, used to give force to the provisions of the Amendment, especially the Equal Protection Clause. In recent years there has been new enthusiasm for its use, via the incorporation doctrine, to give force to protections in the Bill of Rights.
RFRA is an example of this new use of section 5. What makes this particular exertion of section 5 power noteworthy is that it mandates the judicial test the courts might use in interpreting an enumerated right, and in doing so it overrules the Supreme Court’s statement about this test.
Conservatives should always be suspicious of new enthusiasms, even or especially when distrust of one’s fellow citizens makes it seem as if the sky is falling, and when the enthusiasm relates to a two-edged sword. If RFRA is passed, jurists and legal scholars of the left will be able to cite the Act as evidence of support across a broad ideological spectrum for Congress’ section 5 powers-even when used in explicit opposition to the judicial branch. Thus fortified, they can then go on to support the use of this power to correct any future overturning of Roe v. Wade . After all, why not use section 5 to establish the compelling interest test as the proper test to be applied with respect to the abortion right (you don’t even need the aid of the incorporation doctrine for this)? The House of Representatives is currently considering an abortion rights bill (H.R. 25), and conservative scholars and pro-lifers are in Washington testifying that such a bill would exceed Congress’ section 5 powers. This seems like a singularly inappropriate time to be marshaling broad bipartisan support for a vigorous new use of section 5.
Over the years conservatives have expended much rhetorical energy in arguing against the dangers and deformations of expansive “rights talk.” The authors of the article may be right that now we must do a 180-degree turn and give a boost to trends we formerly scorned. It may well be that rhetoric is no longer that important to something that now bills itself as “the traditional values movement.”
I read with interest the essay on RFRA by Professors Durham, Gaffney, Laycock, and McConnell. The gist of the professors’ argument is that it is highly unlikely that the Act will be successfully employed to invalidate restrictions on abortion.
I am a longtime supporter of pro-life efforts in Congress. I also serve as the ranking Republican on the Civil and Constitutional Rights Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over constitutional amendments and statutes pertaining to abortion and religious freedom, among other issues. I have examined carefully the question of RFRA’s likely impact on abortion laws, and I have concluded that the danger is substantial . . . .
There is no doubt whatever that organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would attempt to use RFRA to entangle pro-life laws in a new web of litigation. As explained in careful legal analyses by leading pro-life attorneys, at best such litigation would effectively nullify such laws for years, and in some states permanently, regardless of what the Supreme Court eventually says RFRA means with respect to abortion. At worst, RFRA would effectively prohibit limits on abortion nationwide.
If this occurred, it would be nearly impossible to get past the congressional committees to correct pernicious interpretations by the courts. Consider the “KKK Act,” enacted in 1973 to protect the civil rights of African-Americans, now construed by some federal courts to apply to pro-life “rescue” activities. Or consider the RICO law, passed to deal with mobsters, now used by feminist groups to entangle pro-life activists in debilitating litigation.
It is important to separate the question of RFRA’s effects from the issue of the proper interpretation of the First Amendment. We are dealing here with a proposed federal statute, and we must carefully consider the likely or possible legal effects of the bill.
Some proponents of RFRA wish to avoid careful scrutiny of specific applications of the bill by saying that it simply “restores” the law that existed prior to the Smith decision . . . . In truth, no statute can simply “restore” free exercise law as we understood it pre-Smith , because it cannot simply overrule the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Congress can sometimes prod the Court to reconsider a constitutional holding. I hope that the Court takes the first available opportunity to adjust the analysis that it employed in Smith. I think that a carefully constructed “litigation strategy” might well result in the erosion of Smith as a precedent, without giving rise to the grave dangers of the RFRA approach . . . .
Both the plain language of RFRA and the statements and actions of many of its sponsors and supporters have given me ample basis for concern regarding RFRA’s application to pro-life laws. My objections can be removed only by insertion of explicit language in the bill to exclude its application to abortion.
A significant number of organizations have already filed lawsuits and legal briefs arguing that if a woman feels that an abortion is consistent with her religious beliefs, then it is her religious duty to get an abortion, and any law that stands in the way is an infringement on the woman’s free exercise rights . . . .
I have some personal experience in this area, because I am the author of the amendment that ended almost all federal funding for abortion. That law was temporarily invalidated by a federal district judge on grounds that it interfered with the free exercise of religion of indigent women who want abortions (among other reasons). The Supreme Court did not reject that holding, but merely sidestepped the issue, ruling that the specific plaintiffs in that case did not have legal standing to press the free exercise claim.
I want to emphasize that I am not impugning the sincerity or good faith of the pro-abortion supporters of RFRA. On the contrary, I recognize their sincerity and take them at their word that they believe the right to free exercise of religion encompasses the right to obtain an abortion at will . . . .
Thus, I respectfully disagree with those who urge that we “take a chance” with the lives of countless unborn children. There are many others who share my pro-life views who also strongly oppose RFRA, including the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Right to Life Committee, and Americans United for Life. It is noteworthy that these are the organizations that have been the most active in defending the pro-life cause in the courts, and who therefore have the clearest idea of what a powerful legal weapon RFRA could be in the hands of groups such as the ACLU.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde
U. S. Congress
In your March issue (Correspondence), you offer a “correction” of my quotation from Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.” You suggest that the lines should read “the grating roar / Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling” and not (as I gave it) “suck back”—which you describe as a “rather unlikely alternative.” Unlikely or not, that is what appears in both The Penguin Book of English Verse (1956 ed.) and The Poems of Matthew Arnold (Humphrey Milford/Oxford University Press, 1924). Investigation, I suspect, would reveal manuscript variations.
Kevin L. Flannery, S.J.