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SIDIC Periodical XIII - 1980/3
Religious Liberty (Pages 28 - 33)

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

Prejudice: The Enemy of Religious Liberty - Models and Mechanics of Transmitting Prejudice in Teaching
Willem Zuidema


Working with ourselves does not mean changing ourselves but knowing ourselves,
being conscious of what happens in ourselves
so that change will follow as a matter of course.

How is it possible that many Christians find it so difficult to see the Jew as he is, to recognize Judaism as a phenomenon in its own right, both religiously and otherwise? I shall try to answer this question in a twofold way, first of all by an anamnesis or a preliminary case history of the illness, and secondly by describing the role that religious instruction, teaching and catechesis have played in this process along with other subjects such as history, language and arithmetic. What models are used and what values do they represent? Is it possible to correct them?

The Israeli historian, Jacob Leib Talmon, has given a brilliant analysis of the factors and mechanisms which made the holocaust possible. An absolute reversal of standards took place. Instead of "thou shalt not kill" came "thou shalt kill". Hitler, without whom "the decision to proceed with the final solution would never have been taken" 1 brought about this reversal.


"How, we wonder, did he obtain the consent and co-operation of his closest associates, the compliance of the mass of executioners and the resigned acceptance of the very many who did not care or who were unwilling to get into trouble but who all knew, either fully, partially or dimly what was going on and chose not to ask questions but to look away?" The loss of inhibitions against violence is not something that takes place overnight, "it is a protracted, gradual process of dialectical development."3 Such a process is only possible against a background of anti-semitism which in turn is a part of a wider context.

Talmon sees the Jewish-Christian relationship from its beginnings as being "saturated with neurotic elements on both sides, and it could not have been otherwise. Neurosis consists of the compulsive tendency to react disproportionately to stimuli as a result of a shattering experience at the dawn of youth." a Now, Christianity was born out of Judaism, but at the same time the Jews are 'deicides', the murderers of the Messiah, of the Redeemer. Christians are mankind redeemed by Jesus, but they are also the new Israel, the heirs of the election taken away from the old Israel because it rejected God's Messiah and thus God himself.5

According to anthropologists a murder in the family is "the cornerstone of every culture, every order of values, every ethical system and code of behavior (vide Cain and Abel, Oedipus, Romulus and Remus)." Elements as the shared feeling of guilt "give birth to conscience" and serve to prevent "the recurrence of a similar crime", bringing about "a system of laws, ethics and taboos." But in the case of Christianity, the guilt for the "murder of God" is not accepted within but placed outside the community. At the same time, however, there is the realization of the fact that "Jesus, his mother, the apostles and the apostolic community sprang from the nation of the murderers." 6 Hence this strange dichotomy in Christianity, from anti-semitism to fervent philo-semitism.

The relationship becomes even more complicated as a result of the meeting between Jews as a people of ancient culture and the primitive Germanic and Slavic tribes and nations in the centuries following the demise of the Roman Empire. The Jew was a puzzle to medieval man. He was weak and helpless yet vital and tenacious; despised and outcast yet neither pagan nor infidel; he could be persecuted but it was forbidden to kill him because the sign of Cain was upon his forehead."' However "one must not put racist Manichean anti-semitism on the same level as manifestations of hatred of the Jews throughout the generations, however great the cumulative influence of the latter in preparing minds for accepting the theory of race." 8 One sees developing from the eighteenth century onwards the simplistic idea that there is one and only one factor which can "secure society's health, vigor, harmony and justice" g and only one single factor which poisons. In this connection the threatening factor binds together clergy, aristocrats, bourgoisie, capitalists and thus also the Jews. It is possible as a result of such patterns of thought to reject whole groups merely because they exist.

When in the nineteenth century the walls of the ghetto came tumbling down the Jew "who previously had no place in society" now seemed to be "the chief beneficiary of modernization" a fact which added to the hostility shown him. Nietzsche's view of the Jews is therefore that they are "the strongest, toughest and purest race at present living in success even under the worst conditions." That is why he favors "a fusion of the Jews with the Prussian nobility to create a new ruling caste for Europe.11

When this pattern of thought in terms of "super-people" and "inferior-people" is brought in line with the Darwin formula of the "survival of the fittest in the struggle for life" then one of the strongest barriers protecting "thou shalt not kill" is demolished. The strong ones, now the Germans, have the right to exterminate the "inferior" lesser races — Jews, Slays, Gypsies. In addition, a series of complex factors arises in the case of Germany, that is, the reactions to the aftermath of the first world war. "Defeated Germany developed the psychosis of a 'nation under siege' threatened by the whole world, with the Jews as the insidious agents of that world conspiracy inside Germany itself." 12 And finally, there is the Communist revolution in Russia. "It would be impossible to exaggerate the contribution of the Bolshevik revolution to the collapse of moral barriers and to the process of man's brutalization throughout the world. The Russian civil war, the G.P.U. terror, the physical liquidation of entire social classes during collectivization and industrialization, the hideous show trials, the mass purges, the slave-labor camps, the bloody, lawless dictatorship — all these provide an example, a challenge and a licence.13

But Talmon still fails to draw attention to the successful genocide of one and a half million Armenians in the Turkish Empire in 1975, on which occasion the world took a neutral position.

Part Played by Religious Instruction

Talmon has indeed given here a brilliant analysis of the factors, hidden and obvious, which contributed to the fact that the holocaust was made possible. A detailed case history of the illness is not in itself sufficient, however, for an accurate diagnosis. It is clear that it is not enough to merely establish the facts which took place in Germany. Not only did the German churches, with a few exceptions, "look away" 14 but the greater part of Christian Europe was defenceless against these events, not only because of the destructive forces unleashed, but also because apparently there were not enough anti-bodies present in Christianity to stop or deter this degeneration. It is the nature of this lack of resistance that we must investigate.

In the past Jules Isaac — himself a victim of the Holocaust through the tragic loss of his wife and children — made great efforts to trace the reasons for the lack of resistance to anti-semitism. His various publications show this,15 the most important results of his research being summarized in The Teaching of Contempt. He is of the opinion that religious instruction played an enormous role in keeping anti-semitic prejudice alive. The three examples given by him are: a) the dispersion of the Jewish people is supposed to be the punishment for the rejection of Jesus, whilst actually this began hundreds of years before Christ and only reached its peak centuries after Christ's death; b) Judaism in Jesus' time was supposed to be degenerate, whilst it is possible to prove by documents and facts that it was in reality flourishing at that time; c) Judaism is supposed to be guilty of the murder of God whilst a historical analysis shows that the part played by the Roman authorities was large. The Jewish leaders of the various sects tend to be judged all together as if there were no differences between them.

What Jules Isaac and many others tend to forget is that a certain form of education always follows certain psychological needs. It is therefore important to trace in what way the ideas that Jules Isaac indicates function in this connection.

I should like to make a parenthesis here. From psychology we know that the relations we make in the first years of our youth are fundamental for the relations we will make during the whole of our lives. You could say that in those early years the different types of relationships are engraved in the human mind in such a way that a person will repeat those types of relationships during the whole of his life, especially the parent-child relationship, in such a way that he will react to his environment as to his parents, or on the contrary, he will play the role of his parents to himself in relating to his environment. We know that this can be disastrous and that psychotherapists have to deal with this problem in many ways. The question is how to help people to attain adult relationships which are characterized by personal responsability, in which we recognize the other as a human being in his own right with his own identity, without manipulating him in a role and "playing games with him", to quote Eric Berne in Games People Play. Now the same can be observed with the information we absorb. In a certain sense you can say that the absorption of information is also a kind of relationship whose type and character are very often the result of experiences in early youth.

Now, those who observe within themselves and in others, especially children, how the information in the educational process is absorbed, arrive at several interesting conclusions.

1. The information is more easily absorbed when it is presented in a fixed, fairly simple basic form (pattern or model.)

2. When for a number of years the information, either of a religious or non-religious nature, has been passed on in a certain pattern, mould or model, or in a given number of fixed patterns, then this pattern or complex of patterns will tend to function as a screen or filter, through which incoming information not fitting into the pattern will be turned aside or ignored. The total number of patterns or the whole of the complex of patterns acts as a reference framework.

3. The patterns and screens are of a neutral character. When, however, all religious information is passed on more or less consistently in certain set patterns and according to more or less set themes, ultimately non-religious information will also be filtered and remoulded through the same screens.


I recognize the same or similar assessments in a number of publications from which, however, only general conclusions can be drawn. The Dutch author, Anton Lam, speaks of stereotypes in his book The Given Word. He mentions three, and concludes that when these stereotypes are used in religious education it damages the meaning of the Bible. The three are:

a) the "God rewards the good" stereotype;

b) the stereotype of the exemplary faith witness;

c) the "God can do everything" stereotype.

The first of these is the most interesting for us. "Through this stereotype we judge that there are actually two opposite types in the Bible: good, friendly, meek people whose opposites are angry, jealous, revengeful people. These good people have to stand strong against the bad ones, but they remain friendly and meek, as they know deep in their hearts that God is on their side, and that the bad people will come to a bad end anyway." " This stereotype is an ideal one to use in connection with the New Testament information about Jesus and the Jews.

"How many people must have been infected with the venom of anti-semitism in their youth in the primary school or at Sunday school because they had to hear year after year how the good, beloved Lord Jesus was crucified by the Jews. Jesus is the helpless victim of a group of notorious villains. Filled with moral indignation we point our fingers at the guilty ones. But as soon as you accuse another of guilt, you have declared yourself as not guilty. And then again you have the good ones opposite the bad ones, those are the Jews, those false people, and the good ones, those are we, the Christians..." (Many children's books are written in this style.)

What Anton Lam fails to emphasize here is that, in a manner of speaking, the stereotype leads to its own life, which is the direct result of the way the human mind absorbs information.
In an article about Catholic catechetical education in the German book: Judenhass, Schuld der Christen Joseph Solzbacher says: "Children like the drawings to be black-and-white, they do not realize the many shades and nuances existing in life, especially in the moral order. Those who are good can only have sinners as enemies. In order to let the light shine as brightly as possible the opposite has to be made as black as possible, and where there is no opposite one is quickly inclined to find one and to present it as tangibly as possible." And who are more suitable for being made black in the context of the Gospel stories than the Jews?

The call of the excited crowds: "His blood be upon us and upon our children" becomes a curse on the whole Jewish people. The direct result of this is that such a catechesis makes Christians defenceless against antisemitism and other forms of discrimination.

"Preference for black-and-white drawings brings catechesis into direct danger." And what is much worse, people, whole communities from Jews to Negroes, from Indians to Gypsies, from Slays to Mongols are in danger of being robbed of the right to existence because of such a catechesis. I think we should even review our language, because the black-and-white pattern tends to make us associate black with Negroes and white with white people.

Some Patterns

I should now like to describe briefly a few of these patterns and how they work.

A. The substitution pattern.
Christianity came in the place of Judaism (historically). From a religious point of view, this pattern says that Judaism is an anachronism; non-religiously speaking, that is, politically, the State of Israel is an anachronism. Ways of removing this anachronism are: mission (religiously), assimilation (culturally), destruction (physically), liquidation of the State of Israel (politically/militarily). The tone underlying this pattern is that depriving a Jew of his Jewishness or even of his life is a positive action (religiously or culturally). A sign of this is the apartheid reproach: the Jews isolate themselves, do not want to be integrated.

A variation of this pattern is the pattern of opposites. The freedom of the Gospel replaces and is the opposite of the restriction of the Law; Jesus as revelation of the grace of God is the opposite of every other religion of justice according to works. On the non-religious level, the contrast Aryan/Jewish thus tends to be a substitution.

A sub-pattern of this and the blessed are the poor pattern (see D. below) is the punishment theme — everything that happens to Israel is a punishment for the rejection of the Messiah. The fall of Jerusalem is a punishment and sign that the old covenant is no longer valid and that Israel's prerogatives have been transferred to the Church, as Jules Isaac states.

The function of this pattern is that all information suitable of being passed on by its means is filtered and remodelled in such a way that prior points of view become confirmed. The pattern does not emphasize the value of Judaism or of the Jewish people, but just the opposite. This pattern is very obvious in Bible-study literature concerning the Old and New Testaments, in dogmas (e.g. Barth) and in study books for religious and history education. The same pattern in a nonreligious way is followed, amongst other things, in news about Israel and the Middle East from both left and right wings.

B. The Superiority Pattern.
While connected with the one described above, this pattern leads its own life. The teachings of Jesus were superior to those of his contemporaries, the religious leaders of Judaism. He himself was superior as a person to his contemporaries. The information in the New Testament is interpreted from this point of view, for example the discussions with the Pharisees who therefore were rated as inferior straight away. Also the facts of the history of the encounters between Jews and Christians are interpreted in this manner. The pattern itself makes history because a tradition arises in which the inferiority of Judaism becomes a set theme. As opposed to this, the Seelisberg Conference formulated in 1952 the Ten Points of Seelisberg, the fifth point being: To avoid disparaging biblical and post-biblical Judaism for the purpose of exalting Christianity.17

This pattern functions with regard to non-religious information in such a way that the scientific contribution, for example, of Judaism or of scholars in Israel is looked down upon unless they use the same methods or come to the same results as Paris, Louvain or Amsterdam.

This pattern can readily be used in conjunction with Model C, the evolution pattern. The Jewish people can easily be presented as the under-dog, those of lesser value. As such, this pattern has played an important part in Christian preaching, especially in the preaching of the passion, and can quickly be translated in terms of race. Judaism is not a religion but an inferior race." In this way the Jewish reality is just as much narrowed down as it would be by the thesis that it is only a religion or a race.

The pattern does not only fuction so that all statements made by Judaism are considered inferior and those by Christianity superior, but also that that which is considered superior is associated with Christianity whilst that which is considered inferior is projected on to Judaism, for example, the blame for the neglect of nature and the environment and the issue of female discrimination.

C. The Evolution Pattern.
Judaism is considered a lower phase preceding Christianity. As such it is inferior and an anachronism. Beginnings of this pattern can already be found, for example, in Justin Martyr of the second century, and Jerome of the fourth. This latter has written: "Their prayers and psalms are like unarticulated cries of animals." " The Jewish people is fossilized, ossified. Pope Gregory the Great was of the opinion that the Jewish people "have been faithful only to the letter of the divine commandments."" Words used in this connection to describe the Jewish people are, e.g., legalism, formalism, outward show, the letter of the law as opposed to its spirit, carnal Israel as opposed to spiritual Israel. These examples not only form an interesting illustration of the superiority pattern, but are used here because they mark in the meantime the beginning of the feelings which created the evolution pattern.

This pattern can readily be used in connection with certain aspects of Darwin's theory, especially that of the survival of the fittest. In the fight for existence between Judaism and Christianity the latter wins. One can hear this statement being made in its popular form on all sorts of occasions. The basic suggestion in it is that the decline of Judaism is a natural thing. Christianity and western civilization have the right to destroy Judaism, religiously by means of the mission, and physically by persecution. This pattern was ideal for religious information in such a way that it could be used as motivation for the various attitudes with regard to the Endlosung, from a passive acceptance to active support. The evolution pattern can also be used or translated in terms of race. In this case Judaism is a race which has outlived itself.

D. The "Blessed are the Poor"
Pattern. The rich live at the expense of the poor; the rich are bad, the poor good — the rich man and poor Lazarus." "The poor you always have with you:'22 "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." 23 This pattern can be filled out in all sorts of ways (see above: the "God rewards the good" pattern of Anton Lam), but always tends to put the rich into a bad light.

Another parenthesis here — because the New Testament was not sufficiently absorbed into the organic totality of the Judaism of its times, the two opposites "blessed are the poor" and "wealth is a blessing" are insufficiently experienced as a dialogue wherein these two poles can constantly correct each other. In the halacha the wealthy are guarded against themselves —they may not allow themselves to become poor by giving too much charity to the poor.

A variant of this theme is the "Jesus-Judas" pattern.

Judas is out to get money, a miser, a "typical Jew" (!) "Christians consider Jews as two opposites — they are either as Jesus, or as Judas." 24 But usually Christianity is identified with Jesus, Judaism with Judas who betrayed his master with a kiss. "It is impossible to tell the story of Judas to children, to repeat it annually in the Matthew passion, to proclaim it in songs, plays and in religious ceremonies without at the same time throwing a dark shadow on Jewish-Christian relationships." 25 This pattern is constantly used in study and reading books for the teaching of religion and history. Another variation is the banker syndrome. The Jews were supposed to have the ability to make and to use money right back in the old days.26 This pattern is also constantly repeated in Mein Kampf.

Another variation of this pattern, but in a totally different field, is a certain theology of the cross which gives rise to the glorification of suffering. The effect of this variation is three-fold: firstly it has led to a certain callousness towards the suffering of others as such; secondly there is the tendency to choose the side of the weaker one anyway because he "without doubt has right on his side"; finally it has led to outbursts of hatred with regard to the assumed causers of the suffering.27

The manner in which this pattern functions with regard to non-religious information is that this is selected in such a way that it creates a clear motive to choose the side of the socialists, Palestinians, etc. as opposed to the so-called "Bourgois"-Christians, Israel, etc.

E. The "Cain" Pattern.
Judaism is Cain, the bully who aimed his violence at the pious Abel. Abel is Jesus. Abel is the first Christian. The sub-conscious wish to kill one's brother is projected on to Judaism but at the same time is held against the Jews. Jews must wander the earth with the sign of Cain on their foreheads.28 Fratricide, patricide (Oedipus) and deicide are variations on the same pattern. Cain, Judas and the Sanhedrin appear to be interchangeable. The secret wish exists inside everybody to get rid of God, to kill him as illustrated in the writings of Freud, Dostoyevsky, Camus and Rubenstein. We can make ourselves feel innocent by placing that wish outside ourselves and by projecting it on to another. This pattern can be fitted into a great many texts of the New Testament. Judaism is "a synagogue of Satan" but Satan is a "murderer from the beginning" as well as a "liar and the father of lies."

"Now you seek to kill me... you do what your father did... you are of your father, the devil." 29 In this context it is not important what these words mean theologically or meant originally but how they are interpreted by church-going people. The modern Jews were identified with the people to whom Jesus spoke." Nazi propaganda was able to carry on from there.

It still carries on

The summary of patterns of the transfer of information which eventully work as screens or filters through which all relevant facts are not only filtered but also remodelled, is by no means complete. The fact of the effectiveness of these patterns is obvious when one studies the news offered on the radio and T.V. and in the newspapers and observes how this information is used by the listeners, viewers and readers. There is a strict selection of the supply of news which is already remodelled. Moslems in Lebanon are left-wing, socialists poor, etc. Christians are right-wing, bourgois ( = rich?) and therefore non-poor. But the listener himself also filters. He does not accept certain information. He only hears "what suits him" or rather, what suits the patterns engraved in his mind during his youth.

Compensation-mechanisms can also be active. They do not change the pattern at all. They are a negative bond with the pattern. A person feels threatened in his comfortable prosperity and therefore abuses the socialists and hopes that the Arabs will get what is coming to them. He feels vaguely guilty but projects the guilt immediately on to the opponent for whose defeat or downfall he hopes. This mechanism was also active in national-socialism shortly after the first world war.

It is clear how easily, both from the left as well as from the right, whole groups of people can be done away with through such an attitude. The question is, however, where do such attitudes arise?

There has been extensive research as to how language functions with regard to the passing on of prejudice, both in the field of religious teaching and, for example, in national socialism. It would, however, be important to examine modern literature carefully to see how it teaches religion and history; to what degree are the elements still present which in the past made Christianity defenceless against anti-semitism and nazism.

What I have tried to demonstrate is that it is not sufficient to show the roots of anti-semitism, nor to describe the origins and development of it in a theological or historical way. We have to see how they function, even in a non-religious context. We have to analyse the mechanisms of prejudice still present in our culture and already present in the first things our children learn about the Bible and religion. Brilliant books such a "Faith and Fratricide" by Rosemary Ruether 31 are very important, but are useless unless we try to translate them in terms of social psychology, sociology, etc. They are theological, and theology tends always to remain abstract. They have to be made relevant by checking their findings with other sciences which can make them operable in daily life. It is too late to allow ourselves the luxury of exchanging theories. We have to talk in terms of praxis and of planning a concrete policy for combatting prejudice, but on a basis of a thorough study of its mechanics. In terms of medical sciences, we do not only need an anamnesis and a diagnosis, but a therapy as well, not simply a general approach with broad spectrum medicines but the taking of the appropriate means in each case. We therefore need the help of specialists from all other sciences if these means are to be taken. The basic question is: how to replace the models and mechanics of prejudice in teaching by models, patterns and mechanics of respect.

One last remark: I want to distinguish between prejudice and judgments. We can say that no process of learning is possible without judgments. But what we have to obtain is the psychological ability to verify our primary judgments and to correct them constantly. Part of our educational task is to train ourselves and our children in this sense so that our and their relationship to information will be an adult one so that we shall be ready to revise constantly not only our judgments, but also the moulds and patterns which we use and which we need in the permanent process of learning in which we are involved during our whole life, in order that they do not become stereotypes of prejudice.

1. J.L. Talmon: Holocaust and Rebirth, pp. 14, 15.
2. Ibid, p. 15.
3. Ibid, p. 17.
4. Ibid, p. 19.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid, p. 20.
7. Ibid, p. 22.
8. Ibid, p. 25.
9. Ibid, p. 29.
10. Ibid, p. 24.
11. Ibid, p. 33.
12. Ibid, p. 56.
13. Ibid, p. 62.
14. Ibid, p. 15.
15. Jules Isaac: Has Antisemitism Roots in Christianity? New York, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1961. The Teaching of Contempt: The Christian Roots of Anti-semitism, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962. Jesus and Israel, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.
16. Anton Lam: The Given Word, p. 30.
17. Cf. Jules Isaac: The Teaching of Contempt: The Christian Roots of Anti-semitism, p. 106.
18. Cf. Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, Part 1, Chapter 11.
19. Cf. Jules Isaac, op. cit., p. 75.
20. Cf. also Calvin, Commentary on the New Testa- ment, 1, p. 155.
21. Cf. Lk. 16:19-31.
22. Jn. 12:8.
23. Lk. 9:58.
24. Richard Rubenstein: After Auschwitz.
25. Ibid.
26. Cf. Jules Isaac, op. cit., p. 31.
27. Jules Isaac: Jesus and Israel, point 7 of Seelesberg, p. 405.
28. Gn. 4:12, 14, 15.
29. Cf. Rev. 2:9; Jn. 8:37, 40, 41, 44.
30. Cf. Eliezer Berkowitz: Faith after the Holocaust, New York, Ktav, 1973, p. 22.
31 New York, Seabury Press, 1974.


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