Commentary Magazine

Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism, by Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark

“Reasonable” Bigotry

Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism.
by Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark.
Harper & Row. 266 pp. $8.50.

There is something terribly American about the solemnity, and the optimism, of this study. It begins with the discovery that despite everything we have learned from the Nazi experience, anti-Semitism remains a problem—not only in the world at large, but right here in America; and it concludes with the high-minded conviction that this evil can be eradicated at its source.

Anti-Semitism, according to Glock and Stark, is rooted in Christian belief and has been inspired, to some degree, by the preachings of the pulpit and the teachings of the Sunday-school. Christians tend to be anti-Semitic not just because Jews are “unbelievers,” but because to a certain extent Jews and Christians share a common tradition, to which the Jews are not outsiders, but apostates, and in one context of which they are deicides. Ever since the early church fathers, Gospel-interpretation has consistently emphasized the peculiar role of the Jew in the Christian drama. Thus, there is not only a strong connection between Christian dogmatism and anti-Semitism, but a sequential, causal relationship, in which a high degree of orthodoxy and religious particularism tends to produce hostile beliefs, hostile feelings, and even a propensity toward hostile action. There may be other sources of contemporary anti-Semitism—social, economic, ethnic—yet the religious factor, Glock and Stark insist, displays a stubborn independence.

Sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, this book is the first in a series of studies on anti-Semitism in America undertaken by the Survey Research Center of the University of California. Almost all the hypotheses to be tested in this highly rigorous and scientific study were carefully rendered “operational” in terms of questions that could be asked on a questionnaire and that could be expected to elicit unequivocal, unambiguous, and classifiable answers, clear-cut patterns of response. Three-thousand church members of a variety of denominations in the metropolitan area of northern California received such questionnaires; results were then checked against a national sample. In collecting, collating, and analyzing this survey, the study shows a certain impressive solidity. Most Jews, I think, will not be much surprised by the results; many Christians may be. In any case, it is good to have the details.


Yet the limits of the study are rather appallingly narrow. As Glock and Stark themselves note at the outset, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism is beset by ambiguities. Then, in almost flagrant disregard of that truth, they proceed to give us a study which is designed to banish all conceptual ambivalences and which deliberately avoids whatever is contradictory, many-sided, or contrapuntal in the phenomenology of anti-Semitism. The result is inevitably a stunted and unsatisfactory performance. Even on the level of methodology, the authors' deliberate avoidance of intensive personal interviews prevents them from probing more deeply into the significance of results garnered in their impersonal, anonymous questionnaires. And toward psychology and history—subjects they cannot altogether avoid, although they obviously find them distasteful—their attitude is extremely brusque and impatient.

“. . . In the main,” we read, “prejudice is a rational pattern of behavior” (authors' italics), from which it follows that a good deal of Freudian speculation on this subject suffers from “misplaced irrationality,” that is, a misplaced concern for irrational motives. “Considering many of the beliefs that have a long tradition as anti-Semitic stereotypes, it would be an irrational man indeed who thought such things were true of Jews without disliking or even hating Jews for being this way.” In other words, most people, even most anti-Semites, are basically rational. “They do not think of themselves as bigots, because a bigot is, of course, a person who unreasonably hates, and very few persons see their own feelings as unreasonable.” Although this is surely a curious notion of bigotry, I suppose the suggestion that “reasonable” hate might well be the mask for some deeper, truer motive would be dismissed by Glock and Stark as “misplaced irrationality.” Of course, as soon as one places one's faith in the “reasonableness” of bigotry, however anomalous that might sound, the next step is to believe that bigotry may be corrected by reason. Goodwill lends itself to instruction, where as the irrational, needless to say, is notoriously resistant to therapy.

Given the particular relationship between Christianity and Judaism, which the authors themselves acknowledge, it seems strange that they insist on dismissing the extremely suggestive insights into the psychology of anti-Semitism afforded by such Freudian conceptions as repression, displacement, projection, guilt, and the return of the repressed. Judaism, after all, was the parent religion. After Paul, Christians may have been relieved of some aspects of the old Jewish laws, but this was never true, for instance, of the Ten Commandments. Christian thought merely internalized the negative Commandments, so that a man who lusted after a woman in his heart was as “guilty” as one who actually committed adultery. And not only was the old law internalized, it was invested with awesome sanctions—with the power of eternal damnation in the vivid enormity of the Christian Hell. The Jews were “responsible” for starting all this, but what was even worse, they opted out at the crucial moment, disregarding what Christians believed to be their own prophecies. Throughout the Middle Ages, the overt moral code which imposed “Thou shalt not” upon the Christian child was ubiquitous, powerful, and protected by all the authority of this world and the next, while off in the corner, strange and sinister, sat the Jew, apparently free.

Nevertheless, the Christian attitude toward Jews was always ambiguous. Judas the betrayer, in Christian folklore the archetypical Jew, is not without some moments as a kind of second Christ. The Wandering Jew (of the ballad which Glock and Stark refer to as an instance of belief in God's punishment of the Jews, and therefore as a justification for anti-Semitism) also assumes in some versions of the ballad a Christlike role. His punishment is part of the redemption of mankind; the Son of Man, too, had “no place to rest his head.” For centuries, moreover, Christian expectations of the apocalypse depended upon the conversion of the Jews. Of such ambiguities as these, Glock and Stark take no account.


The authors seem to associate religious tolerance (a “growing” tolerance, as though there had been steady progress) with the spread of scientific method, with the Enlightenment and the increasing respect for reason that they see originating in the secularizing trends of the Renaissance. Generations of historical research on the Middle Ages seem to have left them still believing in a “long night” of dark superstition and religious persecution. Now, it is unquestionable that there were indeed pogroms during the Middle Ages, especially during the times of the Crusades, but surely the plight of the Jews during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation was far worse. The secular state, which endowed scientific societies, sponsored academies, and absorbed the haute bourgeoisie into its concerns, was also known to have tortured Old Believers, burned witches, and murdered Jews with an abandon that exceeded the wildest dreams of the “long night.” Nor were the “scientific intellectuals” of the Renaissance the first to introduce notions of religious toleration or William of Ockham, as the authors suppose, their only precursor. St. Augustine himself argued for secular tolerance (if not ideological coexistence) on the ground that “those who are today our enemies may yet tomorrow be our friends.”

It is true, of course, that secular absolutism paved the way for the nation-state, which eventually emancipated the Jew from the ghetto. Surely this was an immense step forward and a great liberation; but just as surely it gave the Jews not greater security and tolerance than they had enjoyed before, but less; for it is at this point that modern anti-Semitism, which is political rather than strictly religious, really begins.

Given their emphasis on the preeminence of the religious factor in anti-Semitism, and given also their bias in favor of the modern secular state, it is not surprising to find that Glock and Stark believe that the more orthodox and particularistic a Christian is, the more anti-Semitic he will be. This tends to be true, the authors say, not only of individuals, but also of denominations as a whole. As they themselves point out, however, Catholics are a clear exception to this tendency, if only in part. As a group, Catholics may adhere more closely than a given Protestant denomination to religious orthodoxy and particularism and at the same time show fewer anti-Semitic propensities; among individual Catholics, however, the more orthodox and particularistic tend also to be the more anti-Semitic. Glock and Stark attribute this phenomenon to a tradition of religious libertarianism in American Catholicism, which can be explained by the fact that the Church spoke for a minority group which was for a long time under attack and suspicion. While there is obviously something to this, it is by no means demonstrated to be the crucial factor. No foreign church is used as a standard of comparison, although there are a few glib references to Guenter Lewy's COMMENTARY article1 on the German Catholic Church and the Nazis—but the Church was in the minority in Germany, too—to Latin America, and to the Inquisition. Whatever the official position of the Church as a whole with regard to the Jews (and that has changed only recently, and not as drastically as some of us had hoped), Catholic attitudes must vary a great deal from country to country—they are surely not the same among the Uniates of the Ukraine as they are in Italy. The criterion here may be the degree to which Catholicism is associated with nationalism, or with resistance to nationalism (so that one might expect anti-Semitism to be relatively strong in the Polish Church, relatively weak in the French). In any case, I can see no inherent reason for treating the Catholic Church in America as a monolith, without any attempt to investigate the cultural, ethnic, or national background of its members. Nor should it be overlooked that at the heart of the Church's concern with history is the conception of its role as mediatrix between time and eternity and (need one add?) between the believer and his forbidden desires. It may also be that Catholics are more prone to fill out questionnaires the way they think their pastors want them to.


A number of different Protestant denominations are linked together for purposes of the study under a category called “sects.” The propensity toward anti-Semitism within this category is very high, because, in the authors' view, it includes the most orthodox, the most particularist, and the most “fundamentalist” of American Christians. But the list also seems to include such “Judaizing” sects as the Seventh-Day Adventists (who follow the dietary laws and observe Jewish holidays) and militant pacifists like the Jehovah's Witnesses. Are they anti-Semitic too? And what about the Quakers and the Christian Scientists and the Mormons? There is no reason to assume that the closer a Christian “orthodoxy” is to Judaism, the less anti-Semitic its members tend to be—the history of the Reformation has refuted that assumption once and for all—but it is possible that the teachings of that orthodoxy might serve to modify the intensity with which anti-Jewish feelings are held.

Perhaps it is because the prospect of hellfire is no longer a real one, and strict obedience to the councils of the elect is no longer so sternly required, that the Congregationalists of northern California are so much more tolerant of the Jews than were their New England Puritan ancestors. The waning of hellfire may have also made feelings of tolerance psychologically possible for Calvinists, who have traditionally been ill-at-ease with the image of Christ and much more at home with the God of the Old Testament (but with the Christian Hell at His disposal), who gave their children Old Testament names, founded a “City on a Hill,” emphasized the “Ark of the Covenant,” the “Compact” (later called the Constitution), and the letter and logic of the Law. Whatever the precise significance of all this, it is something which the first volume of what purports to be a truly major study of anti-Semitism in America cannot afford to have overlooked.

“The past can only be remembered,” we are told, “not changed. And it is hope for change that is the basic motive of our inquiries. . . .” Thus, according to Glock and Stark, the past may have been unhappy, but it is definitely over. Their “hope for change” is based on the conviction that anti-Semitism can be “educated out” of Christian beliefs by a determined process of rational instruction. One need not advocate bigotry in the churches or a revival of religious particularism to take cold comfort from the program of blandly tolerant, homogenized secularism, spreading from pulpit to Sunday-school, that the authors of this study seem to propose. Until we live in a society without repression, the past will always be with us.


1 “Pius XII, the Jews, and the German Catholic Church,” February 1964.

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