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canary in a coalmine? better late than never?
November 17, 2005 5:57 PM   Subscribe

Anti-Defamation League speaks up against the Christianizing of America-- They're calling for a communal strategy for confronting the political and cultural initiatives of religious conservative groups, and naming the Arlington Group, Focus on the Family, The American Family Association and the Family Research Council as some of those responsible for the infrastructures throughout the country designed not just to promote traditional “Christian values,” but to actively pursue that restoration of a Christian nation. Opinions differ, of course. Foxman anticipates them in his speech, Religion in America’s Public Square: Are We Crossing the Line?: ... On one hand, there is an extreme element in the community that believes it is unsafe to confront Christianity. ... There are also those who say that because evangelicals are friends of Israel, “don’t fight them;” “don’t make them angry;” “don’t upset them.” . ...
posted by amberglow (45 comments total)

 
from the end of the speech: ...It is so delicate – this issue: How can the Jewish people – people that have been established, founded, created in faith – how can we be opposed to God or to the imposition of so-called traditional values? It is uncomfortable for us to be the ones out there fighting faith.
The fact is we welcome and embrace faith. It is the lifeblood of our country.
What we oppose is the imposing of one belief, one truth, above all others. We believe that we are a country that respects and envelopes people who have faith, a belief of a truth. Everyone is entitled to his or her own truth.
At the end of the day, where are we? ...

posted by amberglow at 6:01 PM on November 17, 2005


Isn't judaism one of the most exclusionary faiths on the planet? Don't many if not most jewish people consider their "religion" to be a racial definition? Isn't it a little ironic for such an exclusionary religion to be voicing concerns such as this?
posted by nightchrome at 6:06 PM on November 17, 2005


No.
posted by raysmj at 6:09 PM on November 17, 2005


So Jews don't like the Bush-Christians either. Big whoop.
posted by wfrgms at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2005


nightchrome:

In order:
Isn't judaism one of the most exclusionary faiths on the planet?
No
Don't many if not most jewish people consider their "religion" to be a racial definition?
No
Isn't it a little ironic for such an exclusionary religion to be voicing concerns such as this?
and No
posted by felix betachat at 6:14 PM on November 17, 2005


Holy crap. It's on.
posted by It ain't over yet at 6:17 PM on November 17, 2005


It is not a proselytizing faith, and there's no mandate for the whole nation or world to have to become Jewish--which is the reason for the concern expressed. "Most importantly, the court victories are vital steps to keep doors open for the spread of the gospel and reclaim the legal system for Jesus Christ." is not something that any Jewish person would ever utter or attempt to do. Our very survival depends on there not being a single State Religion.
posted by amberglow at 6:17 PM on November 17, 2005


Oh, and kudos to Abe Foxman for calling bullshit on evangelical support for the state of Israel. Anyone that believes your nation will either convert or die to spend an eternity in hell is not your ally.
posted by felix betachat at 6:18 PM on November 17, 2005


because evangelicals are friends of Israel

Some friends -- gelicals only want to see an Isreali state because it (and the rebuilding and then redestruction of the Temple in Jerusalem) are necessary components of the countdown to the second coming.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:19 PM on November 17, 2005


bleh -- bad editing -- I meant "gelicals only want to see a successful Israeli state"
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:20 PM on November 17, 2005


more on that here: Israel finds an ally in American evangelicals ...This unlikely alliance of evangelicals and Jews, coming after centuries of anti-Jewish hostility and violence on the part of Christians, is not without its snags. Conservative evangelicals and liberal Jews differ on such issues in American politics as abortion rights, prayer in schools, and homosexual rights. Jewish leaders in the United States and Israel balk at some evangelicals' efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. And Jews bridle at some evangelicals' belief that Jews are essentially actors in a Christian end-of-the-world drama, destined to be wiped out or converted at the second coming of Christ. ...
posted by amberglow at 6:23 PM on November 17, 2005




Should I count the ADL as fellow-travellers now? Maybe they'll point their spies and wiretaps at the REAL enemy for a change.
posted by davy at 6:44 PM on November 17, 2005


They want to "Christianize" the nation? Awesome! When do I get to see massive outbreaks of Love thy neighbour, Turn the other cheek, Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's, Judge not lest you be judged, the rich giving away their wealth to help care for the poor, and the complete abandonment of any debate over equality for homosexuals, seeing as Jesus couldn't be bothered to say a single word on the subject, aside, from, you know, hanging out with the poor and the lepers and the outcast and insisting on their human dignity, and all that stuff?

Oh, wait.

Right, and I guess we're not going to be seeing an increase in those blessed peacemakers Jesus was always going on about, either.

Face it, Jesus's actual words and teachings are just a pesty impediment to the political agenda of the religious right, as far as I can tell. Better just to dump them entirely. There's no Christ in their Christianity.
posted by jokeefe at 7:15 PM on November 17, 2005


Only an american fundie christian, of all the western political movements, could see the goal of becoming monocultural as desirable. And only they would miss the historical parallels staring them in the face.

The sooner their subpar ally gets kicked out of the White House the better for my chances of beating insomnia, paranoia & depression.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:31 PM on November 17, 2005


Face it, Jesus's actual words and teachings are just a pesty impediment to the political agenda of the religious right, as far as I can tell. Better just to dump them entirely. There's no Christ in their Christianity.

I think jokeefe's point is very astute; the problem isn't Christians so much as the people who claim to be. But then, I'd tend to think real Christians (in the Christ-like sense) are rarer than unicorns. Or, perhaps so much less vocal than the "Christian" Right as to be nearly as marginalized as other religions.
posted by JMOZ at 7:36 PM on November 17, 2005


Seriously there are no unicorns.
posted by I Foody at 7:49 PM on November 17, 2005


pursue that restoration of a Christian nation.

When was the U.S. ever a Christian nation?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:53 PM on November 17, 2005


Nice link, amberglow. Best news I've heard all day.

The ADL might not be it, but I've long felt that this nation could use a high-profile watchdog group that makes a lot of noise about fundie thought control making its way into politics. There are a lot of small groups and individuals making noise, but it's going to take a prominent group, or several of them, with a lot of moral authority. This is a great start.
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on November 17, 2005


Umm....i wasn't quoting anything there. Sorry for adding italics.
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on November 17, 2005


I'm not really concerned about the Evangelical-Jew connection. People were making a lot of noise about this around election time, thinking that Jews would skew Republican this time around. A whole lot of worrying over nothing. Jews, as usual, voted overwhelmingly Democratic, something to the tune of 78%.

Republicans care about Israel for the same reason that any white people care about anything involving the Middle East - oil. Oil oil oil oil oil oil oil. Oil. Anything else they say is just an attempt to gain political support.
posted by afroblanca at 8:34 PM on November 17, 2005


He suggested that Foxman is prone to exaggeration. With his effort against "The Passion," Foxman "predicted the sky would fall, and the sky has not fallen," Minnery said.

Oh but it has.
posted by It ain't over yet at 8:56 PM on November 17, 2005


Ouch! There are rocks on the bottom ! Dead nation walking !
posted by Oyéah at 9:09 PM on November 17, 2005


posted by ZenMaster This When was the U.S. ever a Christian nation?

Ever since the decision was made to close government buildings on Sundays instead of Saturdays, I'd guess.
posted by fandango_matt at 9:30 PM on November 17, 2005


Good for Foxman. I'm not a huge fan of his, or of the ADL, but this speech did take some guts and some contrarian chutzpah and I'm glad he made it.
posted by OmieWise at 5:26 AM on November 18, 2005


Only an american fundie christian, of all the western political movements, could see the goal of becoming monocultural as desirable.

Isn't a monoculture the BNP's real goal, to name but one non-christian-non-American western political movement example?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:46 AM on November 18, 2005


I think that people who claim that the U.S. has always been a Christian nation have dramatically overestimated the degree of ecumenical good will that existed between different churches in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. As an example, I recently read an article on Hogarth's mid 18th century engraving, Enthusiasm Delimited which is a scathing attack on Methodism, George Bush's own church. One of the reasons for the North American colonies was an attempt to solve the problem of violence and prejudice by just exporting non-Established congregations.

Although a lot of people focus on the First Amendment, I think the body of the constitution with its ban on religious oaths and tests is more telling. It is exactly this kind of oath or test that was used to lock minority religions, (mostly other Christian sects) out of public life.

So while a supermajority of people in the early U.S. were Christian, all of the little differences in doctrine that today seem petty were critically important. There was no such thing as a "Christian" nation in the 17th and 18th century. There were Catholic nations, Lutheran nations, and the British Empire. And while the wars may have been fought over land and trade routes, the fear of ideological and religious persecution should one of these countries take over was very real.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:19 AM on November 18, 2005


Hey Jews thanks for the Old Testament there's really a lot of great stuff in there looking forward to your awesome plans for America hope we get compulsory military service and bimonthly bulldozing of homes

barf
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:19 AM on November 18, 2005


OC-um, what?
posted by OmieWise at 9:59 AM on November 18, 2005


What I'm saying is that while it's all well and good that they're against the Christianization of America, a) Jews haven't done a real aces job with Israel, and b) if it weren't for their dumb religious tradition, we wouldn't have to deal with the Christian death cult in the first place.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:16 AM on November 18, 2005


Yes, ok, but point (a) really has nothing to do with this speech since the person who made it may be Jewish but is American. To confuse Jewish with Israeli, or simply with somehow an American with less than a full loyalty to the US, is a big problem. So Foxman's take on the separation of church and state is completely germane and has to be criticized on other grounds if you want to criticize it.

Point (b) is equally difficult to parse, since it not only seems to hold Foxman accountable for the entire history of the Abrahamic religions, it also suggests that we could magically think ourselves outside of the history that you find problematic. Don't get me wrong, I've got plenty of problems with the damage done by monotheism, but again, I'm not sure how it's a useful criticism of Foxman's speech. I know plenty of Christians who are adamant about the separation of church and state. I also don't know what the world would look like without Christianity, but I don't think that it's transparently obvious that it would be a better place either politically or religiously.

It seems as if you're letting your disdain for religion get in the way of seeing this as a welcome speech, rather than as an opportunity for schadenfreude.
posted by OmieWise at 10:45 AM on November 18, 2005


That's a pretty fair critique, Omie. It's true that not all Jews are supporters of Israel's policies; hell, it's true that not all Israelis are supporters of Israel's policies.

With respect to your second point, I see the relationship between Jews and Christians as similar to like a distinguished professor and his burned-out pothead son. The former is interested in debate and the gaining of knowledge for its own sake; the latter simply believes himself to be right in all things and that's that. Scholarship-heavy Judaism gave birth to anti-intellectual Christianity and I suppose that I unfairly blame Judaism for that.

In addition I've never been too impressed with early Jewish texts: they're weird and barbaric, half-polytheist and half-monotheist, jumping from some really nice stuff to bullshit cop-outs like "you weren't here when I was hanging the motherfucking stars, so sit your ass down and listen."

I had a whole bunch of other stuff here about Lieberman, Feingold, and Wellstone, but it was unsupported by evidence so I'm letting it go. :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:32 AM on November 18, 2005


Optimus Chyme writes "I see the relationship between Jews and Christians as similar to like a distinguished professor and his burned-out pothead son."

Heh heh. I'm neither but think the description is apt.
posted by OmieWise at 11:48 AM on November 18, 2005


OC:
Except that "Judaism" as we know it didn't "give birth" to Christianity. Both Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity were Hellenistic developments from ancient Israelite religion as reflected in the Hebrew Bible. They're siblings, not parent and child.

To read the inter-communitarian polemics in the New Testament and the early rabbinic literature is to see two nascent religious movements struggling for control against the backdrop of the priestly temple cult. It was only after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE that the two could compete without the temple as a mediating institution. And scholars are beginning to see, based on evidence of synagogue iconography and demographic data, that the rabbis didn't become intellectually dominant within the Jewish community until quite late...after the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century.

Ironically, if you were to read some of the rabbinic polemics against emerging Christianity, you'd probably find that they agree with you on the subject of "Christian death cult." As Christian authors have long perceived, Judaism as an alternative tradition of reading and interpreting the Hebrew Bible demonstrates the fundamental contingency of Christian truth claims. Evangelicals realize this and continue to see Judaism as an obstacle to their triumphalist establishment of Christianity in the political domain. It's precisely this freedom to dissent that Foxman is fighting to preserve.
posted by felix betachat at 9:58 PM on November 18, 2005


excellent post and discussion, thanks everybody.


Anyone that believes your nation will either convert or die to spend an eternity in hell is not your ally.

yes and no. they certainly don't like you, no matter what they say in public, because of the reasons that Mel Gibson so cannily explained in his recent film. BUT: if you don't believe in God, you can simply savor the irony of being financed and supported and armed by a bunch of insane, anti-semitical fucks who think Matthew 27:25 is a historical transcript instead of being the actual first draft of Mein Kampf.

Israel getting the Xtian fundies' love is the ultimate irony. and the perfect scam, in a way.
posted by matteo at 7:08 AM on November 19, 2005


Israel getting the Xtian fundies' love is the ultimate irony.

Yeah, except that that "love" emboldens the militarist Israeli right and helps encourage an uncompromising line toward even Palestinian moderates. The Christian right helps keep Israeli society militarized because their eschatological scenario demands an apocalyptic war in the "Holy Land". Without that influence, Israel would be obliged to be much more conciliatory at the bargaining table.
posted by felix betachat at 8:24 AM on November 19, 2005


I don't agree. they do pour gasoline on the fire, but "much more conciliatory" is wishful thinking. heavy evangelical funding of Israel is a relatively recent phenomenon. before that, the Israeli right was already in pretty good shape
posted by matteo at 9:18 AM on November 19, 2005


But matteo, the Romans killed Christ. That means God hates Catholics, right?
posted by davy at 9:48 AM on November 19, 2005


And felix_betachat, please post/send a bibliography?
posted by davy at 9:51 AM on November 19, 2005


Okay.

For the study of Jewish/Christian origins, a good starting place is probably Hershel Shanks' Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism: A Parallel History of Their Origins and Early Development.

The classic works are Martin Hengel's Judaism and Hellenism, Victor Tcherikover's Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews and Emil Schürer's monumental The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. All of these are a bit old and quite dense, but the essential historical framework of the relation of the two communities in antiquity is traced out in these books.

More recent (and tractable) overviews are G.W.E. Nickelsburg's Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins: Diversity, Continuity, and Transformation [pdf] and J.D.G. Dunn's The Partings of the Ways Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity.

A more modern work by an exellent scholar is Shaye Cohen's The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties [pdf]. Pretty much everything Cohen writes is golden and you could do a lot worse than following up on Shanks' book with this one.

For the more ideological or theological (depending on your preference, I suppose) side of things, two classic studies are Alan Segal's Two Powers in Heaven and Michael Stone's Scriptures, Sects and Visions. I have found Marc Hirshman's more recent book, A Rivalry of Genius: Jewish and Christian Biblical Interpretation in Late Antiquity [pdf] to be very helpful.

Funnily enough, though, you'll probably get the best sense for how Jews and Christians differ on these fundamental issues by reading Martin Buber's classic Two Kinds of Faith. It's basically a Jewish interpretation of classical Christian texts. Beautifully written and very stimulating. Buber Judaizes Jesus and attributes the parting of the ways to Paul, a model I find quite convincing.

On the subject of the relatively late rise of the rabbis, I was alluding to a new book by Seth Schwartz called Imperialism and Jewish Society : 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. . It's quite controversial and the dust has far from settled on the topic. But Schwartz is the go-to guy. The other side of the controversy is adequately represented by Lee Levine's The Ancient Synagogue [pdf].

Finally, on the subject of rabbinic polemics against early Christianity, you can read most of the primary texts from antiquity here. The other side of the argument is found in Robert MacLennan's Early Christian Texts on Jews and Judaism. The broad overview of the critical issues can be found in Jeremy Cohen's Essential Papers on Judaism and Christianity in Conflict: From Late Antiquity to the Reformation.

Sadly, the best polemics are not to my knowledge found in English. There is a new edition of the Mikra'ot Gedolot (classic medieval commentary on and text of the Hebrew Bible) in preparation by Bar-Ilan University in an edition called "HaKeter". For the Isaiah fascicle, a lot of rich medieval polemical material has been restored. The Book of Isaiah was a source of central Christian prooftexts for Jesus' divinity and the medievals struggled mightily to fight against Christian interpretations. Later printed editions of the medieval interpreters of Isaiah tended to be bowdlerized, cutting out most of the polemics because publishers feared being shut down (or worse) once Hebrew-literate Christians read what the medieval interpreters had to say about Jesus. Now that Talmuds and other sacred books aren't being burned, scholars at Bar Ilan are going over early manuscripts and restoring most of the redacted material. But it's not (and probably never will be) available in English. Somebody will probably write a good book on it some day, though.
posted by felix betachat at 8:26 AM on November 20, 2005


Excellent post, felix, thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 11:39 AM on November 20, 2005


likewise
posted by amberglow at 11:41 AM on November 20, 2005




Thanks felix_b. (and everybody who forwarded me the link in email). I've actually just printed out that comment.
posted by davy at 8:23 PM on November 22, 2005


"Land-grabbing Yids"(digby)--... The Christian right sure gets its panties in a bunch when Jews act without their permission. Recently, a speech by the ADL's Abe Foxman denouncing the Christian right's theocratic agenda provoked a Gangland-style threat from James Dobson minion Tom Minnery -- "If you keep bullying your friends, pretty soon you won't have any." Then, in response to Ariel Sharon's Gaza pullout and subsequent formation of a new, centrist party, Tim LaHaye's Left Behind Prophecy Group leapt into the fracas with some good, old-fashioned anti-Semitic slurs.

In an article entitled "Will the Goyim Win?" ...

posted by amberglow at 9:32 AM on December 4, 2005


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