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SIDIC Periodical XIX - 1986/2
Notes on Preaching and Cathechesis (Pages 52 - 53)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Prejudice is . . . Being down on some thing you are not up in!
Mary Travers


Although it is true to say that ignorance breeds prejudice, most of the time we are bombarded with so much new information, experiences and ideas that our poor, limited minds (which do not like to be cluttered), grab hold of it and pigeon-hole it under broadly-based categories, neatly labelled for future reference. So far, so good. Over-categorization is a natural tendency of the human mind and the resulting prejudgments arc not dangerous if they can be discussed subsequently and rectified in the light of new knowledge, without emotional resistance. They are dangerous if they refuse to take into account objective evidence when it is presented; by such a refusal they become the basis for an emotional disposition which falsifies the perception, judgment and (inevitably) conduct of an individual or group. History is only too full of examples of prejudgments that have hardened in this way into prejudices and brought in their train untold suffering and anguish for both individuals and groups.

Antisemitism is probably the oldest known form of prejudice, dating hack to pre-Exodus times. Jean-Paul Sartre has this to say:
"We are now in a position to understand the anti-Semite. Ile is a man who is afraid. Not of the Jews to be sure, but of himself, of his own consciousness, of his liberty, of his instincts, of his responsibilities, of being alone, of change, of society and of the world of everything in fact except the Jews."

It may be said that this description is true of any individual who- harbours a prejudice against any group whatsoever, but here it is used in its original, defined sense.

If it is natural to categorize information in self defense, as it were, it is not natural to allow such prejudgments to fester in the mind and produce the poison of prejudice. Nobody is born prejudiced; the sixty-four dollar question is therefore: "How do children acquire prejudice?" The musical show "South Pacific" gives an answer, couched in the language of prejudice based on skin-pigmentation, but equally valid in other situations:
"You've got to be taught to hate and fear, You've got to be taught from year to year, It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear, You've got to be carefully taught...
You've got to be taught before its too late, Before you are six, or seven, or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate, You've got to be carefully taught."

Children acquire prejudice because they are taught. Taught not only explicitly, but implicitly, in a thousand ways, sometimes (frequently?) not even recognized by the teachers (in the widest sense parents, relatives, teachers, preachers etc. etc.) themselves. Eve Lewis says:
"The forces in the unconscious minds of the parents make a far greater impact on the child than do their conscious words and deeds..." The child's "unconscious recognizes much of what his parents really are... By this intense identification with them he participates in their emotions..."

If these emotions include covert Anti-Semitism passed down, alas, from generation to generation in many good Christian families, we have a problem on out hands! Christian patents, teachers and preachers of great good will, who study the new Notes in this issue of the SIDIC Review, may be in for a nasty shock! If they can accept it and learn from it, the tide could slowly begin to turn and there will not be yet another lost generation for the cause of Jewish-Christian relations.
In their anxiety to be loved and approved, young children adopt ready-made attitudes from parents and other adults, through this process of identification; it may lead to total rejection of a group, e.g. Jews, because the parental attitude to one member of the group has formed a stereotype (intellectual aspect of prejudice). After this total rejection, a period of differentiation sets in "I don't like Jews (parental stereotype) but David and Rachel are my best friends". Ten to thirteen can be a crucial age when passive stereotypes give place to active conduct. The formation of teenage gangs (in-groups) with the attendant need for status and conformity is likely to cause prejudiced attitudes to become integrated, organized and, in extreme cases, brutally aggressive. Having said that, it is important to realise that there is evidence from the psychologists which suggests that stereotypes can be broken or transformed most easily round about the age of sixteen. It is therefore important to know something of how they evolve.

It is agreed that ignorance breeds prejudice, although account must also be taken of the effect of false or misleading information passed on unconsciously or with intent. This means that prejudice does not arise from frequentation of the out-group but rather from the general attitude prevailing in the in-group. It has also been shown that insecurity and anxiety in an individual are likely to produce prejudice as a way of coping with the imagined threat. If a prejudice is recognized as clashing with other values it will (except in extreme cases) produce a sense of guilt, which the subject could attempt to alleviate in one of four ways: by projection, blaming the out-group for one's own failings; denial of guilt (Jews prefer ghetto-life anyway!); partial denial, acting every now and again in an unprejudiced way; true recognition and contrition, leading to a radical change in conduct. The last attitude is of course the one we are striving towards in Jewish-Christian relations; the methods to be used are suggested in the Notes and developed in the different articles in this issue.

For those Jews who feel, with justice, that a change of attitude is a long time coining, it might be helpful to end with three quotations, the first from a bishop with great standing in the Early Church, the others from two Roman pontiffs of our own century. John Chrysostom said of the Jews: "We should not even salute them or have the slightest converse with them..." Many centuries later Pius XI said: "Anti-Semitism is a movement in which we Christians can have no part whatsoever. Spiritually we are all Semites." A few years later, John XXIII greeted a Jewish delegation with the words: "I am Joseph, your brother? May we not hope that a movement which took so many centuries even to get under way, is now gaining such momentum that we can look for really positive and fruitful results in the lives of tomorrow's adult Christians who arc today's children. Our generation has both the terrifying responsibility and the golden opportunity to be bridge-builders may the Master-Builder be with us!

Sr. Mary Travers, N.D.S. is a member of the SIDIC staff, Rome and a regular contributor to the SIDIC Review.


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