I was six years old the first time I learned how Christianity oppresses. A Christian told me I deserved to die because I killed Jesus. The person informing me of this was ten. What made it especially disconcerting was how she said it so nicely. It was a fact of life, as basic as breathing. Jews killed Jesus and therefore we all deserved to die. Therefore if you meet a Jew, why not tell them where they stand? That little girl wasn’t being unkind, she was being informative. She wasn’t going to be the one to get her hands dirty. Someone else would do it someday. Oh, and by the way? Jesus loved me!
That was my introduction to Christianity. Prior to that moment, I really had no idea Christians even existed. I grew up surrounded by Jews – in a Jewish family that lived in a Jewish neighborhood. Wasn’t everyone a Jew?
Not my young friend. Not only wasn’t she Jewish, she had some truly terrible ideas in her head about Jews. Where did my young friend’s terrible ideas spring from? Why, from her religious education, of course – from the formal one she got at church school (if she had any formal church schooling) and from the informal one she got in her house from her parents and family.
Now, I went to Hebrew School from ages six to fourteen. I has a bar mitzvah and was confirmed (though I’m still not sure what being “confirmed” means). The year of my bar mitzvah, instead of going to summer camp, I went to Israel for two months as part of a youth group. I have been very well educated in my culture, in my culture’s religious faith and in my culture’s long, long history. In fact, I would put my religious education – and its heft – up against the religious education my young friend got. At least I got to ask questions without fear of physical reprisal from angry nuns.
In fact, my religious education encouraged me to ask questions – even if my questions threatened my religious faith. Hell, I don’t even have to believe in Yahweh to be considered Jewish (“Yahweh” is God’s actual name, btw; “god” is Yahweh’s job description as in “Q – What does Yahweh do for a living? A – He’s a god”).
My young friend’s religious education wasn’t nearly so intellectually rigorous, I bet. But then, it wasn’t designed to make her think, it was designed to make her spit back what they told her.
Magical Thinking v Thinking
How the hell did the Christian church turn “Do unto others” into “Do what we say or else?” That, certainly seems to be American Christianity’s nature as we speak today. In its defense, Christianity is just an idea (a whole bunch of ideas actually, many contradictory). It can’t think itself or manifest itself into reality. Actual Christian oppressors like my young friend – guided by their church or their parents and their church – have to do that.
There’s one question I would ask my young friend (if I could go back in time, that is) if she told me again that I deserved to die for killing baby Jesus: “Whatever are you talking about?”
If I could go back in time, I would do my best to educate my young friend in the true history of her religious institution.
Jesus Christ, Oppressor
Understand, we didn’t talk about Christianity as a religion in Hebrew School. We didn’t pop open our NT’s to point at this verse or that as proof of something (the way Christians do; for starters, Jews see the New Testament as a rewrite no one needed). Rather, we talked about how Christianity oppresses. We talked about fifteen hundred years of ass kickings and ghettos (the first ghetto was made for the Jews in Venice, Italy) and brutality and forced isolation from Christian Europe and pogroms and expulsions and massacres. And we talked about the Holocaust. The Holocaust, understand, was fifteen hundred years of the very worst anti-Semitism rolled up into one giant, industrialized piece of genocide.
In The Shadow Of The Holocaust
I was born in 1959, fourteen years after the camps were liberated. My first grade Hebrew School teacher – Mrs. Lederkranz – had a number tattooed into her arm. My community wasn’t shy about explaining how that number got there, even to six year old kids. Six year old kids got numbers tattooed into their arms too.
When I asked my parents what my young friend had meant, they did their best to mitigate its harm. Fully explaining what she meant and why she said it would have required a lot more time, energy and nuance. Whatever answer my parents provided must have solved the problem for the moment but the question never went away. As I began to think for myself – especially where matters of faith and spirituality were concerned (and, again, my religion and culture encouraged me to question everything), I returned to my young friend’s latent hostility toward my tribe. Where did that come from?
The Christian “Story”
When you plunge into Christianity looking solely for information, you get a picture few Christians ever see about their faith: its true history. It’s fascinating. It’s the story of an idea slowly taking flight. It deserves more attention and credit than the church itself thinks. But then, if the church told its story honestly, all its believers would see how the sausage got made. For some reason, the institutional churches don’t want that.
It’s amazing how many logic problems a religion has to solve at its founding. That’s probably why they never actually solve any.
Most Christians believe their faith and its texts plopped down from the sky exactly as they are today. They’re oblivious of the role Paul played in creating Christianity. They’re unaware of the duopoly of Peter and Paul or that the canonical New Testament was the product of centuries of editing a wide variety of texts with conflicting stories and messages into a “cohesive” narrative that spelled out precisely what the burgeoning church believed (and didn’t believe). Ask most Christians what happened at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and they couldn’t tell you. For the record, the First Council of Nicaea was a huge event in the church’s history. That’s when the church fathers made it official that Jesus and God are made of the same stuff. It’s also when Christianity officially stopped being monotheistic but, why quibble?
The Birth Of Jew-Hating
Among the ideas that eventually found their way into Christianity was anti-Semitism. Christianity, don’t forget, began its existence as a bunch of Jewish sects created during a period of extreme political tension with Rome and within itself. Jesus’s radical idea wasn’t “Do unto others”, that’s a very Jewish ideal (it flows from the concept of “Tikkun Olam” which commands every Jew to make the world a better place simply for having been it it). It was Jesus’s rejection of the corrupt temple and its corrupt priests. It was his rejection of corruption period. If you want a relationship with God, said Jesus, “All you have to do is talk directly to him”.
That was why the temple authorities despised Jesus. He never envisioned inventing a new religion. He wanted Judaism to be better – less corrupted by its human elements. Jesus’s followers similarly thought of themselves as Jews committed to bettering their faith – not making a new one. Paul was the one outlier. He was the one willing to take Judaism out to the Gentiles – a radical departure all its own.
In Jewish mythology, Jews are God’s “Chosen People”. He chose us, we didn’t choose him. The deal Abraham makes isn’t “believe this book of rules and regs and then we’ll talk”, it’s “accept me as the one deity worth believing in (Yahweh never claims the others don’t exist) and I will give you a great piece of real estate right on the ocean where your family and tribe can become a great nation. See the directive? Yahweh doesn’t say “now that YOU believe in me, you must make EVERYONE believe in me”. At no point in Judaism’s history, was converting people to believe what Jews believed part of being Jewish. The Apostle Paul is the first exception: he was a Jew selling Judaism to non-Jews. Even so, Paul had to alter Judaism (eliminating circumcision) to make it palatable to outsiders.
Take Jews out of the equation and Christians never happen. Strange, isn’t it, that Christians keep behaving like they wished Jews had never happened – as if Jews never happening wouldn’t preclude Jesus happening?
Even a perfunctory investigation – Wikipedia, say – presents a compelling picture of how ideas evolve and how the Christian idea evolved out of Judaism and then turned on it. The blood libel that my friend dropped on me emerged at some point during the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD after Christianity’s Apostolic age but before the Council of Nicaea formalized the Christian faith and its rules. At some point during that 2oo year patch, Jesus went from Jewish teacher to advocate for the murder of all Jews.
That’s an amazing leap. It changed “Do unto others” and “You don’t need a church” into a church institution with a bottomless blood lust for the people who produced the church’s inspiration. Abra cadabra! Have ya heard the good news? The Prince of Peace is now Inquisitor General.
That’s some pretty toxic magical thinking.
Yeah, Christianity oppresses all right.
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