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The Cross and the Swastika

February 5, 2002

When the Communist Party seized control of Russia more than 80 years ago, it tried to eliminate two things: Christianity and “anti-Semitism.” Tens of thousands of priests and bishops were murdered, ancient churches were razed to the ground, believers were forced to worship secretly, and atheism was taught to children in the state schools. Though “anti-Semitism” was never precisely defined — like many key terms in the Soviet vocabulary — whatever it was, it became a capital crime.

In the democratic West we are seeing a renewed conflation of Christianity and “anti-Semitism.” A flood of books and articles have tried to blame anti-Semitism (still vaguely defined) on Christian doctrine, especially Catholic doctrine. Many of the attacks focus on Pope Pius XII, who has been called “Hitler’s Pope.” Some actually blame Christianity for the murder of six million Jews.

The latest and most audacious entry in the campaign to equate Catholicism and anti-Semitism is that of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of the forthcoming book A Moral Reckoning: The Catholic Church during the Holocaust and Today, to be published by Knopf. A long excerpt has just appeared in The New Republic.

Goldhagen goes far beyond the now-routine charge that Pius XII was culpably “silent” during the Holocaust. This charge, by the way, falls under the heading of Virtual Truth — a falsehood repeated so often that it becomes futile to refute it. During World War II, the New York Times praised Pius for being the only major figure in Europe who was not silent about racial persecution: “a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent.” Today you get the impression that he was the only one keeping silent — though “heroes” like Winston Churchill, who was silent on the subject even in his postwar memoirs, are given a pass.

But Pius XII isn’t Goldhagen’s ultimate target; Christianity is. He contends that the central Christian doctrine — the doctrine of the Crucifixion — is anti-Semitic! After all, the Gospels mention a Jewish role in that event. Goldhagen seems to imply, without explanation, that this is factually false.

[Breaker quote: Are they the 
same thing?]In Goldhagen’s mind, the Cross begot the Swastika. Nazism was the updated spawn of the earliest Christian teachings and the Holocaust was their fulfillment.

If this is true, it would seem that the Communists were right to try to eliminate Christianity. Goldhagen never quite says this, but it follows from what he does say. He notes that the oppression of Jews in Russia ended when the Communists came to power; but he also resents any suggestion that Jews played any role in Soviet Communism (that’s anti-Semitic too). You get the impression that Communism was led by well-meaning gentiles. (One gets that impression about many things these days.)

Goldhagen uses the word anti-Semitic so loosely that his charges can’t be falsified. How can you disprove a charge when you don’t even know what it means? This too is a principle of Soviet jurisprudence: an impossible burden of proof falls not on the prosecution, but on the defendant.

If Christianity has always been anti-Semitic “at its core,” as Goldhagen says, why didn’t the Holocaust occur when Europe was still Christian? And if anti-Semitism is a Christian doctrine, why was it so fervently embraced by people who rejected or were indifferent to all other Christian doctrines? The Church taught that fornication was immoral, but that didn’t seem to stop people from fornicating, especially after they lost their faith.

True, the Church also condemned murder, which would seem to rule out the mass murder of Jews, but Goldhagen actually says that this teaching was “barely known”! The Ten Commandments — “barely known”? Some Protestant bigots have charged that Catholics are forbidden to read the Bible, but Goldhagen takes the cake for malicious ignorance.

You would think that an anti-Semitic Church would at least censure the Jews in its creeds, its formal doctrines, its papal encyclicals. You would expect its leaders to warn the faithful against Jewish influence. You would certainly expect its official condemnations of Communism to mention the Jewish role in Bolshevism, as such Catholics as Hilaire Belloc and Father Charles Coughlin did.

But none of this happened. In fact, the Second Vatican Council specifically repudiated the notion that all Jews bear the guilt of the Crucifixion. Goldhagen, a virtuoso of aspersion, finds even this anti-Semitic!

Self-absorption can go no further. Goldhagen has produced a monument of intellectual ethnocentrism and paranoid slander.

Joseph Sobran

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