I’ve encountered anti-semitic Catholics off and on all my life, but it was only last year that I began to see them really crawling out of the woodwork. I wrote about my experience with one group of right-wing Catholics, in which I was specifically harassed and targeted because of my last name:
I had a run-in with one of these recently. I admit, I was trolling a Facebook group made up largely of right-wing Catholics, because I’d been alerted to the anti-semitism of the group admin. Remember that old ethics question from philosophy class, about lying to Nazis? Well, I have always proudly defended my moral right to lie to Nazis, and I will also cheerfully enter their Facebook groups, on occasion. If they don’t like it, they can kick me out. Curiously, this particular charming specimen decided it was more fun to keep me in the group and regale me with anti-semitic slurs. None of the Catholic members of this Catholic group stopped him or called him on it. One delightful little fellow even chimed in. Then the admin began private messaging me insults, putting my name in parentheses.
(((Weiss))), ironically, is not my birth name, but is rather the name of my Nordic / Germanic husband, who enjoys the sort of blond-beast handsomeness and raw physical strength that these fanatics of masculinity only dream of. I am Jewish, however, by birth, and as a Catholic Jew, I have occasionally – as mentioned earlier – been exposed to prejudice from members of my own faith – but, hitherto, only occasionally.
(The comments on that article, by the way, only served to confirm the problem of anti-semitism)
In the category of “nothing new under the sun” anti-semitism among Christians ranks high. It has emerged and re-emerged over time in different settings, for different bad reasons. Some may argue that it only seems to be re-emerging because the internet makes it more obvious. I am sure the internet is connected – but not simply in the sense of showcasing what already existed. Internet connections allow those who were hitherto silent and secretive to make contact with one another, bolster their febrile certainties, and swell their ranks via recruitment of the easily brain-washed. Trumpism is a factor, and the enabling of the Alt Right, and probably a dozen other factors intermingling, including some from deep in the more sordid recesses of our own history.
It’s a troubling fact that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, radical traditionalist Catholics – or right-wing reactionaries, as I prefer to call them – may form the largest body of anti-semites in the nation:
A three-year investigation of this subculture by the Intelligence Report has found that these Catholic extremists, including the Gibsons, may well represent the largest population of anti-Semites in the United States. Organized into a network of more than a dozen organizations, scores of websites and several extremist churches and monasteries, radical traditionalists in the U.S. are preaching anti-Semitism to as many as 100,000 followers. A few, such as the lawyer for Terri Schiavo’s family, Christopher Ferrara, are even movers and shakers in important right-wing Republican circles.
I’ll save you a click, though I recommend following the link for more information: the dozen organizations listed are as follows: Catholic Apologetics International, Catholic Counterpoint, Catholic Family News, Culture Wars / Fidelity Press, The Fatima Crusader, Legion of St. Louis, OMNI Christian Book Club, The Remnant, Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Joseph Forum, Mount St. Michael, and Tradition in Action. Individuals responsible for corrupting the truth of our faith with the disease of anti-semitism include E. Michael Jones, Robert Sungenis, John Maffei, John Vennari, Fr. Nicholas Gruner, and Michael Matt. These organizations and individuals draw heavily on the works of noted anti-semitic writers past, including the heretical Fr. Leonard Feeney.
While it’s certainly important to understand why anti-semitism is on the rise again, and to learn how to distinguish it in its many guises, my purpose in this post is to talk about why we as Catholics must combat it, and how.
First of all, do not make the mistake of thinking that this is another “internal squabble” among quarrelsome Catholic bloggers. This is not a dispute between lovers of Novus Ordo and devotees of the Extraordinary Form. This is not a discussion about what’s more important, pro-life or social justice. The anti-semitic factions represent an ethos that has no place at all within the otherwise very large and generous compass of Mother Church. Anti-semitism is heretical. It has been condemned by the church.
Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
We have an absolute obligation, not to make excuses for these organizations, but to state clearly that they are appropriating the Gospel for nefarious ends. Yes, we should pray for the repentance of the individuals involved, but that doesn’t mean pretending that what they are promoting is very morally serious, indeed. And what a terrible witness it is, if we make excuses for evil, simply because it happens to be found within “our tribe.”
But how do we deal with this? I’m not just talking about casual anti-semitism. I’m talking about far-right Catholics whose Facebook pages are plastered with images of Anglo Saxon Virgin Mary, in between Alt Right memes of Emperor Trump, and denunciations of conservatives who are soft on Jews as “cucks.” Forget about the fact that Jesus and Mary were Jews. Or about the fact that, by their standards, St. Joseph would be subjected to that specific slur directed against a man “weak” enough to care for his wife’s child of different paternity.
There are two extremes we have to avoid.
First of all, we must stop enabling this movement by pretending it’s not a problem, or only a problem in small creepy corners. The new anti-semites are no longe justr toothless hicks with swastika tats next to their confederate flag ones – nor leering skinheads. They are sharp, professional, and may seem quite normal or respectable. Antisemitism is being normalized right under our noses. Persons responsible for spreading anti-semitic propaganda may even seem quite nice. They may go to your church. They might be devoted parents.
Many of the original Nazis were very nice people, too. Remember the “banality of evil”? Villainry rarely comes with a billowing black cloak and an exciting title like Lord Voldemort. It often comes because otherwise decent people learn to be blind to evil.
But we have to avoid the opposite extreme, too. Partially because, if we are Christians, we are commanded to love our enemies, even if they happen to be neo-Nazis. But also because, an overly hysterical reaction might be playing right into their game. Ryan Holiday writes about the danger of doing exactly what the Alt Right trolls want:
You’re worried about “normalizing” their behavior when in fact, that’s the one thing they don’t want to happen. The key tactic of alternative or provocative figures is to leverage the size and platform of their “not-audience” (i.e. their haters in the mainstream) to attract attention and build an actual audience. Let’s say 9 out of 10 people who hear something Milo says will find it repulsive and juvenile. Because of that response rate, it’s going to be hard for someone like Milo to market himself through traditional channels. His potential audience is too spread out, and doesn’t have that much in common. He can’t advertise, he can’t find them one by one. It’s just not going to scale.
But let’s say he can acquire massive amounts of negative publicity by pissing off people in the media? Well now all of a sudden someone is absorbing the cost of this inefficient form of marketing for him. If a CNN story reaches 100,000 people, that’s 90,000 people all patting themselves on the back for how smart and decent they are. They’re just missing the fact that the 10,000 new people that just heard about Milo for the first time. The same goes for when you angrily share on Facebook some godawful thing one of these people has said. The vast majority of your friends rush to agree, but your younger cousin has a dark switch in his brain go on for the first time.
He goes on to say:
I realize there is legitimate fear of normalizing repulsive behavior. I’m not suggesting anyone give credence to real Nazi doctrine. However, historically, it’s usually true that banning and blocking usually has the opposite of its intended effect. Effective counterinsurgency usually involves bargaining, partnering and the reestablishment of norms—not hardlines. And this is already happening, Politico Magazine’s profile reveals that the jockeying for power and mainstream acceptance is pitting various factions of the alt-right against each other.
Holiday perhaps dismisses the danger of the Alt Right a bit much, referring to it as farce rather than fascism. But he has a point. Extremist groups always veer, ultimately, towards the absurd. This is what I think of at the corollary to the Banality of Evil: the tackiness of it. It leans ultimately towards ugly art, bad hairstyles, absurd histrionics, and a moral vacuousness that tries to cover itself with shiny externals. I am reminded of Dante’s depiction of the damned as “those who have lost the good of the intellect” – and the further down Inferno you go, the more nasty and stupid the souls there. Dante’s Satan is no sexy gothic rebel, like Milton’s Lucifer: he’s a three headed monster embedded in ice, speechless, chewing on the bodies of traitors. Not so glamorous.
The far-right extremists love to denounce those who oppose them as “snowflakes.” So let’s not give them the pleasure of thinking that their dumb memes and racist caricatures frighten us, that we need them to be silent because we’re scared of them, in particular. Yes, anti-semitism itself is a terrifying thing, especially with the horror of the Holocaust so recent in memories, but we should emphasize, instead of fear, our faith in the endurance of the human spirit and – if we are Christians – in the redemptive love of Christ. Share tales of survivors and heroes. Commemorate the lives of those who perished. Share art and poetry and philosophy by Jews. Welcome dialogue with your local synagogues. Expose the anti-semites among us, but don’t dwell on them for longer than needed. Or, better yet, try to convert them, if possible.
But do go ahead and make fun of Nazis. Because Nazis are ridiculous.
(By the way, THEY went Godwin first, posting their heil Hitler memes. Don’t blame me)
image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antisemitism_in_Berlin_1933.jpg