There Really Are People Who Dream Of A World Without Jews — Many Call Themselves “Republicans”

Jews know what it’s like to be “tolerated”. It’s not the most comfortable place to sit. The ground beneath is unreliable. It can shift at any second. Black and brown and Asian people in America all know what that’s like, too. That’s why some of us try to assimilate. We want to transition from “tolerated” to “accepted” by the larger, white society. In America, Jews have benefited somewhat from our “white adjacent” status — we look just enough like white people on the outside to get slightly better treatment from them; for one thing, Jews were permitted to accumulate and keep most of the wealth we accumulated here in America. Black people especially have not had that experience. Their wealth has been continually stripped from them. For what it’s worth, if the Jews were still living in the Old Days of Europe? They’d know exactly how Black Americans feel about that, too.

In the Old World, the pattern was “allow the Jews to accumulate wealth while holding the nation’s debt (usury being completely un-Christian) until such a time as the Kingdom seizes all the Jews’ wealth and nullifies any debt legally owed them. That was probably what kept Old Europe from coming to a Final Solution earlier. They were like the guy in the old joke who tells the psychiatrist his crazy brother thinks he’s a chicken. They’d take him to therapy to try and help him but they need the eggs. They might have gone and wiped out all the Jews but then, who’d do the dirty but necessary business of holding their debt?

Every human culture on earth has, within it, the potential for greatness. Every human culture — if given the same chances to learn, imagine, innovate and create would, in time, solve most of our problems because human beings, by their nature, are problem-solvers. While a few of us are a tiny bit smarter than all the rest of us (and a good thing too), most humans, left to their own devices, would, in time, muster the brain power to figure it out. It’ll be that or die. Some cultures have continually excelled at figuring things out while others have figured things out for a brief, golden moment before sinking back into confusion.

In his lecture “Beyond Belief”, given back in the early 2000’s in the aftermath of 9-11, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson made a whole bucket of excellent, interesting points. He talked about “naming rights” after then president George W. Bush insisted that white culture had named the stars. No, actually, a lot of the stars have Arabic names since they were first identified by Arab navigators who were inventing celestial navigation. DeGrasse-Tyson reminds us that between 800 – 1100 AD, Baghdad was the center of world learning, an “open city” where people of every stripe came to trade spices and goods but also ideas.

Algebra was invented then. It’s an Arabic word. Same goes for algorithms. Medicine advanced significantly during that period. And then, as DeGrasse-Tyson tells it, a Muslim cleric named Al-Ghazali shows up and makes the pronouncement that “Mathematics is the language of the Devil”. The man literally demonizes math. Nothing good whatsoever can come of that — and, intellectually speaking, that denial of math would ripple through Arab culture for a thousand years and counting. The dogma of its faith over-rode the greatness of its thinking. This is not the first time that’s happened, is it?

Jews, on the other hand, DeGrasse-Tyson points out, did not succumb to any sort of religion-caused mass hysteria event (like a papal schism or a holy war or a Crusade). They put their minds to solving problems and answering perplexing questions. Plenty of them happily spoke the language of math. They won plenty of Nobel Prizes for their hard work. DeGrasse-Tyson points out that relative to their size relative to the human population as a whole, Jews have won an inordinate number of scientific Nobel Prizes (hundreds) while Arabs (a far larger part of the human family) have won three. DeGrasse-Tyson’s point isn’t to denigrate Arabs and their culture, it’s to point out that thinking scientifically is not alien to them — not at all. That, given the chance, Arabs would almost certainly have represented themselves better than they did.

There are plenty of cultures that value education above almost anything else. They recognize that the best way to give their children the best chance to succeed is to educate them. Americans don’t necessarily agree. Correction — some Americans. While not all cultures fight to make secondary education a part of all Americans’ education, it’s only white people who actively work to to deny secondary education to huge swaths of the population. First, they actively work to keep it expensive (the student loan business is incredibly lucrative). Then they work to keep it exclusive. If you don’t think some Americans would bring slavery back if they could, you’re looking at some other America.

Take Black people out of America, you don’t have America. Though slavery will forever be a blight on the idea of America, we need to celebrate — and learn from — how African Americans reacted to being enslaved here. White America could learn a lot about perseverance and loyalty to an idea. They could learn a lot about what America is really about, too — and what it means to actually BE American. In spite of being treated, well, like slaves, Black Americans have given American life vitality, art, innovation, scientific breakthroughs and all around greatness. So has Latino culture and each of the various Asian cultures. That diversity, in fact, is what makes America “America”. It’s at the heart of American Exceptionalism — a very real thing when allowed to shine.

America IS exceptional because something happened here that never happened anywhere else on the planet before. Whereas it took French people the better part of a thousand years to slowly transition from a bunch of tribes living in what’s now “France” into “French People” (same goes for every other country in Europe), aside from Native Americans (and if not for European diseases wiping them out, they might still be part of this equation), America had no slowly evolving local culture to call its own. All the nations of Europe actively engaged in exploring the planet saw the potential for profit in America. That’s what they came here in search of — not some democratic ideal or notion of human self-government.

The idealism beneath America’s founding — stripped of its White Guy’s Only worldview — drew every other nation’s people. America represented something revolutionary — the very real potential for self-reinvention (provided one was rich enough or willing to work hard enough). That was the draw — not white guys and their money. The potential do be whatever you want to be — whoever you are.

A few years back we regularly did “Days Without Latinos” to demonstrate to white people what their lives would be like if all the Latino men and women vanished from them. Spoiler alert — it didn’t go so well for the white people. An awful lot of our fruits and vegetables get picked by Latino migrant labor. Alabama learned the hard way a few years back what happens when you’re stupid (racist) enough to stop all that migrant labor from picking your crops: they don’t get picked. Theirs is a job most Americans refuse to do. Alabama lost an entire crop in 2002. The financial hit was brutal. How did Forrest Gump put it? “Stupid is as stupid does”? Yeah — that.

America would be a fourth world dump without the contributions made by Black people. And Latino people. And Asian people and Jewish people. America needs every contribution from every tribe here in order to do what it does and be what it is. The Republican Party would deny every bit of it.

That’s the funniest part of the joke (though it definitely isn’t haha funny) — white supremacy begins with the entirely false premise that white people could be “supreme” — better than all others. Um, no. Sorry, white people — you’re not “supreme”. That’s not to say you, too, haven’t made some very good contributions to humanity and human history. Hey — penicillin? A white guy (English) invented that! The telephone? White guy (Scottish)! The Ponzi Scheme? A white guy (named Charles Ponzi)!

Republicans have it in their heads that “they alone can fix it”. I’d focus in on the word “fix”. What does a Republican mean by “fix it”? “Fix” how and fix “what”?

All of us who aren’t white people look at white people differently from how white people look at us. For starters, we don’t look at white people like they’re cockroaches; that’s a luxury we don’t have. And, unlike white people who imagine a world free of us, we don’t imagine a world free of them. Frankly, it’d be impossible — there’s just to many of them.

But, confession, some of us do contemplate a world less dominated by white people and their racist way of seeing everything. “Jews will not replace us” is a strange chant to begin with. Replace them doing what? I bet, given a shot, most every Jew could replace them — that’s why they’re chanting. Frankly, it would be nice to live in a world where white racism, bigotry and ignorance didn’t feature constantly.

That’s the world the rest of us wish we could experience — if just a little: a world without white people — abusing the rest of us.

This Atheist Has No Quarrel With Jesus; It’s Christians I Have Issues With…

Growing up Jewish in a mostly Christian world (here in America, back in the 60’s) was like living inside a giant non-sequitur. Growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust (I was born in 1959, 14 years after the camps were liberated) added extra non-sequitur-iness. My tribe was hated to the point of genocide by the German tribe because…

Jews owned all the banks? Jews owned all the newspapers? Jews were destroying German culture? Gosh, if German culture was that easily destroyed, there must not have been much to it. By German culture, the Nazis meant their brand of Christian culture. But all Christian cultures seem to have one thing very much in common — Jew hatred.

Considering who Jesus was — born a Jew, lived a Jew, died a Jew (and died because he WAS a Jew) — the first leap every Jew-hating Christian has to make is that Jesus (somewhow) “wasn’t” actually Jewish. Ah, but that assumes most Christians actually care about Jesus. They do — the way McDonald’s cares about Ronald McDonald.

McDonald’s could cut Ronald free tomorrow. And, while it might cause some consternation among the McDonald’s faithful for a few microseconds, no one goes to McDonald’s because they love the clown. No, they love the food. They love the buttons McDonald’s food pushes inside them. And if McDonald’s shitcanned Ronald, after bitching and moaning for ten minutes, they’d be right back in line with their lunch order.

Back in the 1970’s an actual bible scholar (as opposed to the bible college brand of bible scholars whose scholarship is dubious at best) named Robert Funk formed The Jesus Seminar. Their mission — to coax an historical Jesus from the New Testament texts — to apply modern critical thinking so as to find the actual, flesh-and-blood Jesus in the sometimes conflicting stories the early church fathers painted of Jesus.

What, The Jesus Seminar wanted to know, could we reasonably say that Jesus did in fact say? What was Jesus’s actual message to the world.

The majority of the NT is Paul (mostly) creating the mythos of Jesus. We know Paul existed — he wrote letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians and the Ephesians and the Philippians and the Colossians and the Thessalonians. Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus and Philemon and the Hebrews. We have receipts for Paul — in which Paul is literally laying out what this new-fangled church HE invented actually “believes”.

Paul never met Jesus, remember. He met members of Jesus’s family — Jesus’s brother James — who all had profound differences with Paul and what he was doing, using Jesus’s name. They, unlike Paul, had heard Jesus speak and teach. They knew what Jesus said because they’d heard him.

Paul, on the other hand, was trying to make an actual human — who lived a particular life — fit into the story structure required of a prophesied messiah. The messiah prophesied in the Jewish texts “Acts” and “Isiah” has to come from King David’s bloodline and and had to be born in Bethlehem et cetera et cetara. Keep in mind — those prophesies were written by human beings with lots of hope in their hearts but no actual knowledge of events in their heads.

Paul was mythologizing Jesus to make him fit into a pre-existing myth. Read Paul — he’s a genius! He invented a product that we’re still talking about. “Believe in the story I’m telling”, says Paul, “And you can beat Death!” That’s the sales pitch. For real. Eternal Life thru Believing A Story.

And the story has nothing to do with the actual human whose story it supposedly is.

If we could go back in time and look Jesus in the eye — and if we told him what had happened subsequent to his death in his name, he’d be flabbergasted.

That’s because Jesus never, in his wildest imagination, ever set out to invent 1) a religion and 2) a whole church to preach it. Everything about Jesus was Jewish — including the core philosophy the Jesus Seminar concluded was his. Jesus’s ministry can be summed up in three words: “Do Unto Others”.

That’s it. It’s why Jesus’s message has endured despite the myriad ways the church established in Jesus’s name has tried to undermine it. “Do Unto Others” is way bigger than them. Anyone who wants to “do unto others” — an atheist, for instance — doesn’t need a church to help them. They can just “do unto others”.

Cost nothing — feels great!

Jesus recognized this fact about his core philosophy — it started and stopped with each individual person. That’s a very Jewish message by the way. Jews are taught to take responsibility for the world — not to convert it, to look after it. To make it a better place to live in. And because each of us must take responsibility for how we act toward others, we really don’t need a church looking over our shoulder.

In fact, Jesus taught that one doesn’t need churches at all — or the preachers running them. “Speak directly to the father”, Jesus said. Talk directly to God. Well, if the faithful can do that, what do they need a preacher for? Why do they need to pay for that preacher’s church — the physical structure?

What Paul built was genius. Can’t argue. But what Paul built was invented by Paul and the early church fathers who chose to tell one version of events over other versions. I recommend a fantastic book called “The Other Bible” which contains all the texts that didn’t make the cut into either the canonical OT or the canonical NT. Just knowing that there were texts that “didn’t make the cut” raises a shitload of questions about the “veracity” of the NT as a source for “truth”. Not like it should ever have been a question.

Jesus spoke to his followers’ spirituality. The church Paul created aspired to do that — using Jesus as a kind of mascot. To belong to a church, you have to follow its rules & believe what they need you to believe so that the church remains relevant — for instance, that the person your church is built on rose from the dead.

Which is why they keep asking if anyone’s heard the good news?

The Most Frustrating Thing About Anti-Semitism Is What It’s Based On: NOTHING

I’ve said here before that I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust — in a Jewish suburb of Baltimore just 20 years after the camps were liberated. Many survivors lived in my community. I can tell you from experience — it’s damned hard for a little kid to wrap his young mind around that much hatred for who he is when, as far as he knows — he’s done nothing to deserve it.

The Nazis didn’t invent anti-Semitism, of course, they merely industrialized it — finding ways to make money off the hatred via forced labor and even body parts. If Spain had had similar technology at its disposal, I’m sure the Spanish Inquisition would have been even ghastlier and more gruesome & cruel than it was.

In between the Spanish Inquisition (well before it too) all the way up to the Holocaust, anti-Semitism saw plenty of other outlets — pogroms and other mass murders of Jews often when the Christians decided they didn’t want to pay back the money the Jews had loaned them. The church made it hard for anyone other than Jews to lend money. Follow that? The Church made it illegal for anyone except Jews to lend money — though the Church also understood that the lending & borrowing of money was essential to the Church’s economic survival. Massive churches don’t pay for themselves to be built — or kept up.

The Church made anti-Semitism part of its economic strategy. In a perverse way, it was genius.

But where did the Church’s Jew-hatred start?

Jesus — if he existed in any way as the person we think he was — did not invent Christianity. He was born, lived and died a Jew. Back in the 1970’s, Bible scholar Robert Funk put together The Jesus Seminar — a group of about 50 critical biblical scholars and 100 laymen who wanted to tease out a historical Jesus from the Gospels. That Jesus taught a very simple message: Do Unto Others.

He also taught that one did not need a temple or its high priests to speak to Yahweh (the God character’s actual name). One could go to “the father” directly.

So where did a “church” come from? Where did Christianity come from? That’d be Paul — the former Saul of Tarses. If Saul never has his moment on the road too Damascus, Christianity never gets invented — because Paul’s the guy who invented Christianity.

The bulk of the NT is Paul’s work — his epistles to the far flung churches HE was nurturing and encouraging. But encouraging to do & believe what? What was Paul selling? Paul tried hard to sell his version of Jesus to the Jewish community except they weren’t interested. Paul never met Jesus. Never heard his voice or heard his teachings directly. But Paul did have an agenda — and after the Jewish community rejected him (and what he was selling), he turned his attention to the Helenized-Roman Gentile world.

Paul needed to sell Jesus as The Messiah. And Paul’s Messiah (here’s Paul’s genius) was the answer to “But what do we do about death?” Paul promised that belief in Jesus would allow the believer to live forever. This was all based on a strange re-imagining of strange Jewish mythology. To justify Jesus being the Messiah, Paul and the early Church fathers (picking up the myth-making where Paul left off) created a hodgepodge of texts and documents that told a muddled, confused story.

It wasn’t until the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD) that the church itself tried to make sense of its own confounding, contradictory story. That’s the problem: IT WAS ALWAYS A STORY.

It’s a little like having your tribe be hated because of something Ron Weasley said in the Harry Potter books.

Jews have had the damnedest time defending themselves against anti-Semitism because it’s impossible to argue against bullshit. Bullshit always have the luxury of being bullshit. It never has to worry about being true or real. It never has to justify itself. It never even has to defend itself. It just falls apart and blows away.

It’s a strange experience to have another person look you in the eye and insist that you and your tribe are evil and deserve to be hated, tortured, killed and reviled because of a story. Even stranger? Knowing the person looking at you with all that hate knows less about their own religion than you do.

99% of Christian churches only ever treat Jesus as a mascot anyway. He’s Ronald McDonald selling forgiveness for your sins instead of Big Macs. Jesus — if he could rise from the dead — would never stop being disgusted by what Paul did in Jesus’ name to Jesus’ own tribe.

I Grew Up A Child Of The Holocaust

I was born in 1959, 14 years after the Nazi concentration camps were liberated. 

You might think such an awful memory — so close in our rear view mirror — would have made my community so horrified that they couldn’t bear to discuss it. We went completely in the opposite direction. I wouldn’t say we “embraced” the Holocaust so much as we “owned it”. As my community tends to do, we made it a teachable moment.

There’s a famous photo of a group of Jews being rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto by the occupying Nazis –

From the first time I saw the photo, I became that boy in the lower right. I bet a lot of Jews my age did.  We saw and felt that boy’s terror, his helplessness.  His confusion: how can they be doing this to you just because you were born Jewish?  You’ve done nothing wrong to anyone on the planet – yet the planet wants you dead. 

“Never Again” became as integral a part of my “religious education” as chanting the ‘Shema’.  The past hurt.  That was not going to be our future. 

In our guts, my community has always known this was lurking somewhere in the American Character. You can’t cram peoples’ heads with that much bullshit and expect the bullshit not to screw them up. Bullshit always screws people up – cos it’s bullshit. When you cram a nonsense, hateful mythology into peoples’ heads that actually runs counter to your religion’s core message (and its core messenger) — don’t be surprised when the nonsense becomes the message.

It sucks being despised because of a total fiction. It sucks worse being killed over it.