Reading Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's superbly argued book Hitler's Willing Executioners, he points out in a nutshell the genesis of nearly two millennia of European anti-Semitism from which that genocide sprang. Yes, that pun there is intentional: "European anti-Semitism," he points out, "is a corollary of Christianity."
From the earliest days of Christianity's consolidation of its hold over the Roman Empire, its leaders preached against Jews, employing explicit, powerfully worded, emotionally charged condemnations. The psychological and theological need impelling Christians to differentiate themselves from the bearers of the religion from which their own had broken off was born anew with each generation, because as long as Jews rejected the revelation of Jesus, they unwittingly challenged the Christians' certitude in that revelation.I think that's as unanswerable a point today as it was when I first read it several years ago, and indeed the point is reinforced for us by the various pronouncements throughout those two millennia by Christian thinkers such as Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas and Peter the Venerable of Cluny, all of whom viewed anti-Semitism as an essential part of their Christian faith; the fourth century comments of John Chysostom, "a pivotal Church Father," will serve here to stand for all of them: that the Jewish faith is a direct and ongoing challenge to the Christian faith, and therefore may not be allowed to survive. Said Chrysostom,
If the Jews, the people of God, shunned the messiah that God had promised them, then something was awry. Either the Messiah was false, or the people had gone profoundly astray, perhaps tempted by the Devil himself. Or Christians could not countenance contemplation of the former, so they opted heart and soul for the latter: The Jews were religiously wayward in a world where religion and the moral order were conterminous, and where deviation from it was a grievous transgression. [...]
Bernard Glassman, a historian of Christian attitudes towards Jews, writes:The clerics believed that if Christianity was indeed the true faith and its followers were were the new Israel, then Judaism had to be discredited in the eyes of the faithful. In medieval sermons, plays, and religious literature, the Jews were often portrayed as adversaries of the church who from the time of of the Crucifixion threatened good Christians.Thus the Jews can to represent much that was antithetical to the moral order of the Christian world.
Where Christ-killers gather, the cross is ridiculed, God blasphemed, the father unacknowledged, the son insulted, the grace of the Spirit rejected... If the Jewish rites are holy and venerable, our way of life must be false. But if our way of life is true, as indeed it is, theirs is fraudulent. I am not speaking of the Scriptures. far from it! For they lead one to Christ. I am speaking of their present impiety and madness.Notes Goldhagen of this "early example of the Christian world's essential relationship to Jews," it illustrates that Christian hostility towards Jews is not merely one of "unflattering stereotypes and prejudices," but one irrevocably "interwoven into the constitution of the moral order of the Christian cosmos and society."
Now, this thoroughgoing almost metaphysical hatred can be seen in one other obvious place in today's modern world, and it seems to me that Goldhagen's point throws a profound light too on our present-day troubles; on a world in which Christians, Jews and atheists alike are under threat from murderous Islamic totalitarians inspired by a hatred born of a similar source.
Can't you just see the same nasty, hate-filled corollary in action over Islam's double dismissal of both Judaism (for whom both Islam and Judaism share the pre-Jesus prophets) and of what they see as the 'Christian' west (who in their minds have embraced a prophet as a messiah, and who have rejected the true, later prophet Mohammed) ? It's as insane as the hatred that impelled two millennia of anti-Semitism, and it derives from a similar source.
As Christopher Hitchens affirms in the subtitle of his new book, religion really does poison everything! Seems you either take your religious nonsense seriously and as a consequence hate everyone who has a different imaginary friend to you, or you take your religion with a grain of salt and keep your head down when the hatred starts flying -- and in two millennia it still hasn't. Or better still you can reject the whole field as the hate-filled superstitious nonsense that it is, and seek your answers here on earth.
It's what a rational man would do.