Looking for examples of Jewish groups taking offense at things Christians have said about Jews.

The this week’s chapter from the my book beta-test was intended to have a brief discussion of Christian-Jewish relations, but on re-reading what I initially wrote, I began to wonder whether my take was quite accurate, and also got worried about a lack of good examples of what I had in mind. Instead of posting what I initially wrote, I’m going to start off by quoting from the post I did two months ago on Mormon baptism of the dead:

Since a lot of the outcry about the Mormon baptism thing is coming from Jews, it’s worth noting that (from what I gather) plenty of Jews are quite sensitive to the fact that many Christians expect them to burn in Hell. The reason we’re hearing so much about Mormon baptisms right now probably has a lot to do with Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

But why don’t people check to see if Christian presidential candidates belong to churches that preach nasty things about non-Christians? I suppose that, even for people who feel the way I do about the issue, there’s a sense of resignation, that that’s not a fight that can be won. And as for the Jews who are speaking out against Mormon baptism, maybe a lot of them really are taken in by the professions of bigoted preachers that they support Jews (not realizing that translates, “we support Israel to help usher in the Second Coming, at which point Jews will have the choice to convert or burn.”)

I think everything I wrote there is strictly speaking true, but on the other hand the examples that spring most readily to mind of Jews getting upset about the “all non-Christians are gonna burn in Hell” thing come from individual, very secular Jews (namely Al Franken and Mikey Weinstein). With Jewish groups that are in the business of trying to call out antisemitism, though, it can sometimes seem like they have an implicit bargain with Christians along the lines of “you can think we’re eternally damned as long as you don’t say so too loudly.”

One example (though I feel not quite the best example of what I want to illustrate) comes from a controversy that happened in 2001 over an installment of the comic strip B.C., which at the time was drawn by fundamentalist Christian Johnny Hart (after Hart’s death in 2007, it passed on to his daughter and grandsons.) From an LA Times story that ran at the time:

Johnny Hart’s Stone Age comic “B.C.” usually spoofs the human condition, but this Sunday’s solemn panels are devoted to the last words of Jesus Christ during crucifixion. The comic strip depicts the candles of a menorah being extinguished one by one until the Judaic symbol is finally transformed into a cross.

The strip, which can be seen on the Internet, already has disappointed and angered some readers, religious leaders and newspapers, many of which are writing about the controversy and soliciting reader feedback. Critics argue Hart’s message is that Christianity replaced Judaism as a viable religion 2,000 years ago, in much the same way as Judaism supplanted paganism in the ancient world.

Now I can understand objecting to the message (if it was the intended message) “that Christianity replaced Judaism as a viable religion 2,000 years ago.” What I can’t understand is acting like it’s a big shock that a Christian would believe this. Of course Christians believe this; Romans and Acts are pretty clear on the idea that things like circumcision and keeping kosher ceased to be important after Jesus came.

I mean, I grew up in a pretty liberal church where the confirmation class required us to learn about other religions, but I was taught that message even there. If you soften the meaning of “viable religion” in a way so it doesn’t entail people without viable religions are going to burn in Hell for eternity, I’m not even sure I find the claim all that horrible (though obviously I think no religion is the true religion, and when the controversy happened Hart had already been quoted as saying, “Jews and Muslims who don’t accept Jesus will burn in hell.”)

All that makes me think that the objection there wasn’t to Hart’s beliefs, but that he dared so much as hint at them in such a public way. But I don’t really know. Maybe other people can point me towards evidence that Jewish groups mostly take the sane position on this issue (i.e. that the people who say Jews are going to Hell are insane). But maybe there are even better examples than the Johnny Hart case confirming my suspicions. I’m asking for people’s help on this one.

Peter van Inwagen’s argument for Christianity
What arguments are popular among liberal Christians?
Why I’ve decided to start deleting jerky comments more often
From the archives: Gary Gutting on Mackie, Plantinga, and the problem of evil
  • Sas

    One case that came to mind, I’m not sure if it’s as clear-cut motivation-wise as you’re looking for:

    Jewish Groups Condemn, Boycott Ann Coulter

    • http://www.facebook.com/chris.hallquist Chris Hallquist

      Oh, that’s actually perfect:

      “Ms. Coulter’s assertion that Jews are somehow religiously imperfect smacks of the most odious anti-Jewish sentiment,” said AJC President Richard Sideman.

      Mr. Sideman here comes off as very unaware of the most odious things that have been said about Jews.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    This will require more digging than I’m prepared to do right now, but at least some historiographers assert the stories of a tolerant “Golden Age” of Muslim/Christian/Jewish harmony in medieval Cordoba were promoted and exaggerated by 19th-20th century Jewish historians as a rebuke to contemporary Christian chauvinism.

  • josh

    I think you’re right that there is a taboo about explicitly stating some beliefs that implicitly follow from standard Christian doctrine. Christians are pretty much by definition required to believe that Christianity is an improvement on Judaism, or that modern Judaism is essentially a wrong turn on the ‘correct’ path of religion.

    Also, and this is irrelevant to your question, but it really bugs me that someone wrote ‘much as Judaism supplanted paganism’. No, absolutely wrong. Christianity in some sense supplanted paganism when it spread through the Roman Empire and then the European world by missionaries and conquest, but Judaism was and remained a minority, tribal religion at all times.

    • http://thewrongmonkey.blogspot.com/ Steven Bollinger

      Thanks, josh, that bugged me too.

    • Dana

      not sure why it bugs you… but you are factually correct.

  • anat

    To my understanding, Jewish objection to posthumous baptism by Mormons was intensified when it became known some of the ‘baptized’ were Holocaust victims. I think it is less about Mormons (or other Christians) revealing openly their belief that Jews are hell-bound but that the Mormons are attempting to erase an identity people died for, and paid a high price to maintain.

  • Annatar

    I was raised Jewish, and when I was still practicing I had a convo with my best friend who at the time was a conservative Christian (we are both atheists now). I asked him if he thought I was going to hell. His response was “Well, we both know that the Jews are God’s chosen people, so maybe God has a special spot for you.” Obviously, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by that response.

    A less personal example would be Ann Coulter (that paragon of rationality) saying that Christians don’t want to kill the Jews, but just “want them to be perfected,” or something like that. While obviously an incendiary remark, I can’t help but think that that IS what Christianity says about the Jews.

  • josh

    On the flip side, religious Jews tend not to play up the ‘we are the Chosen people’ aspect when it would bring out the obvious implication ‘you are not chosen’ to outsiders. Given the rather murky and varied Jewish beliefs on the afterlife, that’s perhaps not as incendiary as the hardcore Christian’s “see you in hell!”, but it’s an inherently exclusivist doctrine that doesn’t mesh well with the sort of glib cosmopolitan pluralism that people think of as polite society.

    • anat

      Well, the believed choseness of the Jews is one of those things that is perceived differently by insiders and outsiders. Outsiders tend to think Jews see their believed choseness as a claim for superiority or as something good. Jews say ‘look at our history and decide if you want to be chosen for this’ (though some believe in their own superiority independently).

      • josh

        Egyptians say ‘Look at your version of our history and tell us if it isn’t better to be chosen than unchosen.’ Ditto for Amalekites, Philistines, etc. etc. And then or course we have modern day Palestinians.

        I’m not trying to say that Jews are especially arrogant compared to any other group of people, but their beliefs aren’t a great deal better. The ‘Oh, you wouldn’t want to be chosen, it’s a burden’ line is spin, used to justify a fairly ugly doctrine. It’s akin to modern, liberal Christians who say “Hell is just a
        separation from God that you choose for yourself” ; it’s a way for generally nice people to rationalize a malign dogma.

        Look at traditional Messianism. Essentially, it’s the belief in a coming annointed leader or prophet who will cast down the enemies of the Jews and establish them as the preeminent people of the world. It’s not like the Christians pulled their eschatology out of thin air. Again, I stress that, even among the religious, not all Jews explicitly believe this or focus on it, much as many Christians aren’t obsessed with an imminent apocalypse or watching pagans burn in hell, but it’s kind of implicitly there. The notion that Jews are regarded differently from all other people by god is not an egalitarian one, and it’s not like they call themselves the Accursed.

  • http://thewrongmonkey.blogspot.com/ Steven Bollinger

    “as for the Jews who are speaking out against Mormon baptism, maybe a lot of them really are taken in by the professions of bigoted preachers that they support Jews (not realizing that translates, ‘we support Israel to help usher in the Second Coming, at which point Jews will have the choice to convert or burn.’)”

    I don’t think they’re taken in. On the contrary. Why would bigotry be less obvious to its objects than to most other people?

    “With Jewish groups that are in the business of trying to call out antisemitism, though, it can sometimes seem like they have an implicit bargain with Christians along the lines of ‘you can think we’re eternally damned as long as you don’t say so too loudly.’”

    Different groups have different agendas and make different sorts of bargains. I don’t know exactly which groups you have in mind. I think it’s obvious that in the US in the past several decades, some conservative Christians and some conservative Jews sometimes have pretended to like each other, including each other’s religions, much more than they really do, for the sake of some common economic or political goals. For all I know, that sort of hypocrisy might be just as common among religious groups sharing non-conservative political orientations.

    But why should anybody care what anybody else thinks, anyway? Worry about what they do, and to a somewhat lesser extent, what they say. Why should I worry if X secretly hates me with a burning passion, if it never leaves his head? In that case, as far as everyone else in the world but X is concerned, that hatred might as well not exist.

    But I think it generally stands to reason that the less well-received bigoted speech against a certain group is, the less acceptable more tangible forms of discrimination and aggression will be. I think ethnic or gender discrimination generally escalates from bigoted speech to more overt aggression. Not always, of course, but generally. When it becomes more acceptable to say that someone is less than, or is the enemy, or in some substantial way “the other,” when it isn’t objected to as strongly. then perhaps it’s only reasonable for that someone, even if they’re happen to be “very secular Jews (namely Al Franken and Mikey Weinstein),” to worry that the acceptability of acting on those notions is coming closer.