Skeletons in our Cupboard

Review: Hated Without a Cause

A review of Graham Keith's book Hated Without a Cause?

Skeletons in our Cupboard

For half a century the spectre of anti-Semitism has haunted the Church in western Europe. Jewish and avowedly Christian scholars have not hesitated to lay the blame for the Holocaust at the door of the Church. Some have gone further and see within the four Gospels, notably John's Gospel, the seeds of anti-Semitism which took root in a Gentile church, leading inevitably to the greatest act of genocide in human history.

The standard Christian response to charges of anti-Semitism in the Church is that the perpetrators of atrocities against the Jews were not "true Christians" because no "true follower of Jesus" could hate the Jews. In this respect Martin Luther has proved somewhat embarrassing. We revere him for his stand "God helping him" against the ecclesiastical and civil might of the Roman Church and his fearless proclamation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. We would rather forget that in later life Luther was counselling the civil authorities to "practise a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few" by expelling the Jews and burning down their synagogues.

What is of particular interest about Graham Keith's book Hated Without a Cause? is that it is the work of an evangelical scholar. But, unlike some other evangelical surveys of anti-Semitism, Hated Without a Cause? refuses to sweep the accusations of Christian anti-Semitism under the carpet or to whitewash Luther.

Defining terms

It is fashionable to label the New Testament as anti-Semitic. Rosemary Ruether goes so far as to question whether, within a New Testament framework, it is "possible to say Jesus is Messiah without, implicitly or explicitly, saying at the same time and the Jews be damned". The Gospel of John and the Pauline epistles have been singled out for particular criticism and Keith exposes the shallowness of the critics' understanding of the objectionable texts. The New Testament, he admits, is certainly critical of the Jewish people but, then, it is critical of everyone. Not only that, the Old Testament often criticises the Jews in language which makes the criticisms of John's Gospel appear tame in comparison!

Graham Keith differentiates between anti-Judaism, opposition to Jewish religion, and hatred of Jews. One may be critical of Jews, Judaism and the state of Israel and not be anti-Semitic. Quoting Charles Lock and Rodney Stark, Keith suggests that anti-Semitism is "the hatred and persecution of Jews as a group; not the hatred of persons who happen to be Jews, but rather the hatred of persons because they are Jews".

He detects three basic types of anti-Semitism: religious, political and racial, each with its own particular policy of dealing with what it perceives as the Jewish problem. During the Middle Ages Christendom saw the Jews as Christ-killers and demanded conversion, not only from Judaism but also from Jewishness. With the Enlightenment, the Jews were emancipated from the ghettos on the condition that they proved themselves worthy of the new order. If they failed to match up to expectations the new secular worldview regarded this as an inherent perversity. Thus the ground was prepared for later racial theories.

Whatever the failings of the Church, the Jewish community has suffered most under secular and pagan regimes. The Jewish writer Raoul Hilberg has observed, "The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live amongst us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The German Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live." The policy of the medieval Church was conversion; the policy of European secular states, expulsion; and the policy of the Nazis, the Final Solution which was annihilation.

The antidote to anti-Semitism

Though secular forms of anti-Semitism have been worse than their Christian counterparts Graham Keith does not attempt to whitewash the guilt of the Church. He suggests, in fact, that anti-Semitism is a Satanic ploy to hinder Jewish people from considering the claims of Jesus. There is some justification for this suggestion as missionaries to the Jewish people can testify. It is not unusual to hear Jewish people say that they have "six million reasons for not believing in Jesus".

Keith sees the evangelisation of the Jews as the antidote to Christian anti-Semitism. If gentile churches "forget that the Jewish people are beloved of God and their election is irrevocable, inevitably they will slip into anti-Semitic attitudes and practices. On the other side of the coin, to ignore the reality of Jewish unbelief and the fact that it makes them enemies of God means that the Jewish people will be deprived of the greatest service the gentile Christians can give them: the testimony to Jesus of Nazareth as the Saviour of Israel."

Inevitably, Hated Without a Cause? has attracted criticism from inter-faith groups. It remains, nevertheless, a sane and sensitive examination of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in which the author does not hesitate to indict true Christians for the part they have played in establishing patterns of prejudice against the Jews. Keith's research is extensive and he concludes this excellent and readable survey of anti-Semitism in a way unlike other "Christian" books on the subject. Other writers have concluded that Judaism should be respected as a living faith and that the church should call a halt to the evangelisation of Jews. Graham Keith, on the other hand is convinced that, whatever the failings of the Church, the Jewish people need to be told of their Messiah and be encouraged to serve him in an authentically Jewish way.

Hated Without a Cause? A Survey of Anti-Semitism
Graham Keith. Paternoster Press. 301 + xii pages

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