The Moment of Truth — October 27, 2007

The Perfect Jew… Perfect for Whom?

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: how Lhasa got so apso.

I want to address certain remarks made on an obscure cable TV show by a skinny, blond-haired Christian supremacist, whose name sounds a little like the phrase “off kilter.” All right, it’s Ann Coulter—but I’m only using her name so the company she hired to Google herself every twenty minutes can find this.

Ms. Kilter says Christians, among whom she includes herself, I guess, consider themselves “perfected Jews.” So, accordingly, I guess she thinks she’s a perfect Jew. She couldn’t be more wrong. She’s a perfect something, that’s for sure. The words “expectorant,” and “biohazard” come to mind. But Judd Hirsch she ain’t.

Not only that, but Ms. Kilter’s idea of Christian perfection directly contradicts a popular bumper sticker: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” So maybe a Christian is a Jew who’s been forgiven? Because, Lord knows, Jews have pulled a lot of dirty shenanigans they have to be sorry for! Like making Richard Nixon paranoid. Oh, and killing God.

Now presumably, through Ms. Kitler’s lens, all people are imperfect unless they accept Jesus. So why pick out the Jews, exactly? Is Jewish imperfection worse than, say, Hindu imperfection? If they both accept Jesus, will one former infidel become a little less perfect than the other?

It’s easy to construe Mr. Himmler’s statements as anti-Semitic. That’s because they are. But she is a clown portraying a Christian Fundamentalist whose main enemy is secularism. So there is more to her view of Jewish imperfection than the Jew’s mere inability to recognize the Messiah the first time around. Presumably, there’s time to repair that flaw, at least up until the last moment of Judgment. And before then, the Jews who play ball with the Fundamentalists can even help bring about the glorious End of Days, at which time they then get to make the exciting decision of whether to join the perfect people or swim around in a flaming lake forever.

But the Christian, uh, “critique” of the Jews has, since the earliest days of the liberal and humanist Enlightenment, been provoked by something else. I would like to quote from a book by a Catholic clergyman, Jose M. Sanchez. The book is Pius XII and the Holocaust, Mr. Sanchez’s three-quarters-heartedly evenhanded examination of the Pope’s role in the extermination of the Jews:

“… in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries… Jews were viewed not only as ‘Christ-killers’ but more importantly as purveyors of a cultural modernism at variance with traditional Christianity (p71).” [Italics mine]

See? That Jews purveyed values at odds with traditional Christianity was even more important than the fact they killed Jesus! Can you believe it? I mean, what could be more important than killing Jesus? But that’s just a religious problem. Purveying modernism is a cultural and, as we shall see, racial issue.

Sanchez makes the distinction between religious and cultural stigmatizing of the Jews in order to claim a separation between the anti-Jewishness of the Nazis and the kind of anti-Jewishness historically institutionalized by Vatican policy. The Nazis hated the cultural subversiveness of the Jew, which they saw as part of his racial nature. The Vatican didn’t like that the Jews had killed Jesus, but, come on, they weren’t Nazis!

Unfortunately for Sanchez’s thesis the Vatican was in fact very much antagonistic toward the Jew and the cultural subversiveness to which he was predisposed—predisposed racially, according to theories current at the time. At the beginning of the 19th Century, the power of the Church was threatened by such innovations as elected parliaments and ideas about universal human rights. At that time Italian Jews in lands overseen by the Pope were ghettoized and had to wear yellow badges—but still, not like the Nazis at all.

When Napoleon made his second incursion into Italy, the Jews were freed from the Italian ghettos where they had been relegated by papal decree, but when the French retreated, the Pope reinstituted the Inquisition and made even more of Italy off limits to Jews, jamming them into an even smaller number of ghettos than before the French invasion. We’re talking around 1814-15 here.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Jews came to be associated with liberalism and humanism. While the popes were still forcing Jews to convert on pain of imprisonment and torture, much of the rest of Europe had left the Middle Ages behind. The Jews wanted to leave the Middle Ages behind, too. The Middle Ages sucked. But the Pope and his Cardinals were family-values types.

Today’s equivalent of the cultural modernism alluded to by Sanchez is called “secularism.” Or perhaps secularism is what evolved out of the cultural modernism Sanchez mentions. One way or another, I believe that, in the case of what’s-her-face and her ilk, the Jews are mistrusted not just for having failed to accept the true faith, but more importantly as purveyors of secularism. In point of fact, what Ms. Expectorant did in her TV diagnosis of Jewish imperfection was give voice to her anti-Semitism, hoping to keep the discussion on a safe, theological level without acknowledging the right wing’s identification of the Jews with the evils of secularism. She likes to do that: bait enough to offend while leaving herself semantic wiggle room. But let us be clear: the issue is not merely theological. In the eyes of the religious and pseudo-religious right wing, and the clowns who portray them on TV, there’s something far more imperfect about Jews, something profoundly cultural.

My apologies to Jews of other cultures, by the way. I understand that the argument I’m engaging leaves out all kind of Jews, mainly because the Christian Right doesn’t really know, let alone understand how or why, they exist: Chinese Jews, Yemeni Jews, numerous Iraqi Jews whose ancestors emigrated to India in the 19th Century and who are now in Israel, for the most part—and I’d especially like to recognize the Lemba in Zimbabwe, an ethnic group of black Africans who, genetic tests demonstrate, are related to the very same Jews the Popes of Europe had so much tzurres with.

But wherever the majority of Christians are, Jews have been and still are stigmatized as purveyors of social changes at odds with traditional Christianity. Wherever traditional Christianity, or “old-time religion” as it likes to style itself, waves its flag of resentment, the enemy as always is the Jew, the racially degenerate purveyor of new-fangled insidious values.

On December 8, 2004, Pat Buchanan was subbing as host of “Scarborough Country,” another obscure cable show, and he had on William Donohue, head of the Catholic League, who put all the pieces of the Jewish Problem together for us. Speaking of why Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was going to be denied an Oscar for best picture, Mr. Donohue said:

“Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, OK? And I’m not afraid to say it. That’s why they hate this movie. It’s about Jesus Christ, and it’s about truth. It’s about the messiah. Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions.”

According to Mr. Donohue, Jews like anal sex and hate Christian imagery because they hate the truth, especially the truth about the messiah. Here Mr. Donohue spastically navigates the connections between what’s wrong with the Jews religiously and what’s wrong with them socially, culturally, and sexually. And sexuality is, of course, a racial matter. Black people, can I get a witness? The Jew may be called liberal, homosexual, New Yorker, Hollywood smut-peddler, child-killer (in the old days he drained their blood for use in rituals), draft-dodger, atheist, agnostic, socialist, unionizer, trial lawyer, foreigner, mainstream media, or any number of other variants hinting, more or less subtly, at his subversive racial traits. But please, let’s not forget who lives in New York and Hollywood, who runs the media, who kills Christian babies by loving abortion, what country the Jews “really” owe allegiance to, who invented socialism, and what kind of sex homosexuals have. I wonder if the Lemba like anal sex? Would Mr. Donohue please go to Zimbabwe and find out? I’m sure it’s important to Jesus and Mel Gibson.

So, yes, any time-honored theory of what’s wrong with the Jews does sound like racism to me—anti-Semitism of the European variety, the kind the Vatican wants to believe itself incapable of. Cuz that’s a Nazi thang. What all this leads to is my belief that anti-Semitism is integral to today’s rightwing Christian hatred of secularism. It’s a paradox, to tag a religious identity with the label of religious neutrality. Which is why people like Donohue and Heinrich Coulter sound like idiots so often. It’s also why, when, say, Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Channel says, “Liberals want to take your money away and give it to lazy drug-addicted single mothers,” what I hear is, “Let’s get the Jews!” And when Sean Hannity says, “Congress isn’t allowing the CIA to secretly send enough innocent people to Black Sites in Syria to be tortured,” what Hannity’s words sound like to me is, “The Jews have ruined this country. Back to Africa with ‘em.”

Secular humanists who are of Jewish descent ought to be aware of the anti-Semitic code that flavors civic discussions even now, in the 21st Century. But even religious Jews—all Jews, in fact—should understand that attacks on science, inclusive rights, and social progress are in part racial attacks against them. So even the most observant Jew is not excluded from the hate speech of the Catholic League or even the more dithering hate speech of Ms. Bloodclot against “liberalism,” “secularism,” and other godless belief systems.

That’s right, Rebbe. You with your tallis, your bindings on your arms and frontlets for your eyes, with your Torah scroll painstakingly handwritten in berry juice, you who daven and say the shema with such passion. To the Christian Right, you are as godless as Karl Marx, treacherous as Mata Hari, and gay as Oscar Wilde.

In the Christian USA, there is no such thing as a non-secular Jew. If anything has become clear during the past years under a regime whose chief executive is a fundamentalist Christian, it’s that Jews, because they balk at living under a Christian theocracy or the persecutory policies of those who promote such a government, are viewed as champions of secularism and therefore the enemies of the Christian right, regardless of the part one or another Jew might play in hastening the return of Jesus and his avenging army of sword-wielding monsters.

As the W administration winds down and drowns in its own filth, I expect the fundamentalists will have less and less patience with tiptoeing around the classic anti-Semitism inherent in their anti-secularism. It’s the same old European thing—the only difference is, now it’s on cable.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!