Christianity and Anti-Semitism
To the Editor:
We must be grateful to A. Roy Eckardt . . . for pointing out in his review [Books in Review, March] some of the severe flaws in Fried-rich Heer’s recent book, God’s First Love . In my opinion, Heer the scholar is highly inventive, the thinker muddled, the writer careless. He is so much in the grip of emotions that he rarely sees the use to which his historical combinations can be put. . . .
Take, for instance, this passage quoted by Mr. Eckardt: “Christendom today stands close to the abyss of self-destruction through nuclear weapons. This suicide follows in historical terms logically from the practice, stretching over fifteen hundred years, of killing the blood relations of the Jew Jesus, the son of the Jewess Miriam, Mary. It is being prepared at deeply concealed levels of the subconscious. This subconscious is aware that Christendom has failed in its attempts to liquidate the Jews and to conquer the world.”
Heer’s interpretation reminds me of Humpty-Dumpty’s boast: “I can explain all the poems that ever were invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet.” Where is Heer’s Christendom located? Are the United States, Great Britain, and France, as atomic powers, its representatives? Are China and Russia part of it? Again, were Chairman Mao to unleash a nuclear war, would he be acting under the compulsion of a death-wish because Christendom did not succeed in liquidating the Jews?
What disturbs me about the paragraph quoted above—one of a number of similar ramblings—is not so much Heer’s watery logic, which flows downstream and upstream, nor his foolish self-assurance in reading the subconscious of others, but his childish incredulity in the face of dynamite. He does not believe that it is dangerous, hence he will not cease playing with it.
Wrapped up in fantasies that make him link events entirely unrelated to one another, Heer does not foresee the possibility of someone giving his already twisted analysis a new, anti-Semitic twist. A physics professor of my youth, not very bright but a stalwart nationalist, may be a case in point. The name Einstein gave him “the creeps.” At the thought that matter may be “frozen” energy, his own heart froze. That our means of measuring time and space are relative, he was ready to admit only when under the influence of too much beer. In his “lucid” moments, however, he was convinced that the “Theory of Special Relativity” was subversive, part of a “Bolshevik plot.” His only evidence—he needed no other—was the fact that Einstein was a Jew.
It is my nightmare that a man of like prejudice will be tempted by Heer’s somersault to try a leap of his own. The man I see in my dreams says to Heer: “How can you say that the nuclear threat is nothing but a Christian death-wish? Is it not rather the sign of Jewish revenge? Were not Jews decisively involved in the building of the atomic bomb? Were not some of the scientific pathfinders like Lise Meitner, Max Born, James Franck, Jews? Was not the man who convinced President Roosevelt of the need for manufacture of the dreadful weapon, a Jew by the name of Alexander Sachs? Were not quite a few members of the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Energy Commission, like Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neumann, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and others, Jews?” The material is all here. . . .
Convinced though I am of Heer’s compassion with, and righteous anger at, the agonies of the Jewish people, his other passion—that for finding hidden motives and tying together unconnected issues or events—makes his thought process and psychology come close to those of the anti-Semite. Moreover, the murder of the Jews has become such an obsession with him that he gives the State of Israel, that triumph over Hitler’s “Final Solution,” but little attention. As far as I can see, there is in this book of over five-hundred pages only one positive affirmation of the State of Israel. . . .
Heer’s book is full of non sequiturs and half-truths, overstatements and omissions. But none of these trouble me as much as the unredeemed character of his book. It is meant to be a Catholic’s answer to Auschwitz, indeed to all the anguish of the Jews. In my opinion, it is a poor one. An entirely different answer has been given by a Jew, one who did not learn of the horrors from reports but experienced them in his own flesh and soul. The book is small in size but rich in meaning. I wish that everyone, reader of Heer or not, would let Phoenix over the Galilee by Yehiel De Nur (who writes under the pseudonym Kat-zetnik 135633) cleanse his heart. Heer’s account is verbose, evil is never allowed to speak to the reader without the author interposing himself. De Nur’s book is a masterpiece of word painting. The reader meets evil face to face; still, he is not crushed. Heer’s book begets despair. De Nur’s leads to hope and rebirth.
(MSGR.) John M. Oesterreicher
Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies
Seton Hall University
South Orange, New Jersey
To the Editor:
. . . A. Roy Eckardt’s review of God’s First Love: Christians and Jews over Two Thousand Years by Frederich Heer falls so far below the standards which COMMENTARY has generally maintained that I wonder if the editors gave the review, and its significance, the careful attention it deserved.
It is shocking that the magazine became a vehicle for such thoughts as these: historic Christianity teaches that “To be a Jew is to deserve to die. It is an ineluctable truth that historic Christian thought has preponderantly agreed that the devil and the Jew are one . . . [that] the Jew was no longer a human being. Adolf Hitler could quite correctly see himself as simply carrying out what the Church has for centuries preached and practiced against the Jews.”
Mr. Eckardt also treats readers to the thought that Hitler’s helpers and sympathizers were found especially in the churches, and that anti-Semitism is due to a primordial conspiracy of Christendom with demonic powers. Finally, he argues that Christendom turns to self-destruction as it has failed to liquidate all the Jews.
This is such fearful rubbish that I am genuinely sorry that it appeared in the pages of COMMENTARY.
This seems to be a time when writers ventilate their frustration on any handy institution, without regard to fact. The quotations above, only a sampling, blindly attribute the vices of a morbid few to whole communities. Surely, in personal pique, men have called, and do call, one another “devils.” A handful may even mean it. But to attribute this to “historic Christianity” is just preposterous. Where in the mainstream of Christian literature can you find the argument that Jews were not human beings and ought to be killed? A George-Lincoln-Rockwell type writing in the 9th century was no more representative of God-fearing Christianity then than he was in the 1960’s. A community with criminals in its midst is not a criminal community.
It is time that our “historians” reexamined the inventive history that places Nazism and Catholicism on the same side of the street. The briefest look at the facts will remind them of the hostility and incompatibility of the two. Catholic leaders clearly saw the pagan assumptions of the Nazis and, long after political opposition had been crushed, continued their social and cultural resistance to the Nazis; Pope Pius IX in 1937 wrote an encyclical clearly condemning Nazi theory and practice; Catholic youth groups refused to affiliate with the Nazis and were dissolved by them; Dachau and other prison camps held thousands of priests who died with the others. An author may dislike Catholicism but he ought not to dislike history.
The fact that Dr. Heer, the author of the book under review, allegedly encouraged these thoughts is no excuse for giving them currency. . . .
(Rev. Msgr.) Eugene V. Clark
Director of Communications
Archdiocese of New York
New York City
A. Roy Eckardt writes:
Where Monsignor Oesterreicher’s commentary is not redundant, it is irrelevant, and through its irrelevance it compounds Christian perversity. Part of his letter simply parallels my critique of Dr. Heer’s study; most of the rest of the letter simply fails, or refuses, to face up to Heer’s argument.
Chairman Mao’s compulsions can hardly be utilized to negate Heer’s assertion of the intimate link between Christian anti-Semitism and the death-wishes of the Western world. The cogency of that assertion is, of course, subject to debate, but only by assessing the theory on its own merits and not by falling, as Monsignor Oesterreicher does, into obscurantism.
Monsignor Oesterreicher’s fantasy that Heer ties together events “entirely unrelated to one another” points to more than a nominalistic bias respecting history. Monsignor Oesterreicher cannot grant that the machinations of the devil constitute an indivisible fabric. Why is the Monsignor totally silent on Heer’s essential argument: the indictment of the Christian Gospel, historic Christianity, and Western and Eastern Christendom—realities that infinitely transcend the acts of “Christians”—for insuring the suffering and death of millions of Jews?
The allegation that Heer does not foresee that his analysis can be given an anti-Semitic twist reflects a superficial and unfair reading of God’s First Love . Heer’s entire exposition reveals a scholar and a man who knows well that any and every disclosure of anti-Semitism is easily put to the service of anti-Semites. Evidently Monsignor Oesterreicher does not see that his very allegation against Heer is given embodiment in his own letter. For by furnishing information about the place of Jews in the development of atomic weapons, Monsignor Oesterreicher provides anti-Semites with very convenient data.
The Monsignor laments Heer’s lack of attention to the State of Israel, yet nowhere does he acknowledge that the churches, through their complicity with the enemies of Israel, have acted to prevent Israel from becoming a decisive triumph over Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
The charge that Heer’s work is possessed of an “unredeemed character” is a corrupting, if unwitting, service to Christian anti-Semitism. At this point Monsignor Oesterreicher is not only immensely more utopian than Heer (at least Heer has the good sense to recognize that the Christian church’s redemption from anti-Semitism still lies in the future); but the Monsignor’s foolish conclusion that “Heer’s book begets despair” indicates more than ignorance of the author’s theology of hope. The conclusion could be uttered only by someone who does not know the depths and power of the devil’s conquest of the church, and hence the total revolution that is required if the anti-Semitism of Christianity is to be purged away.
Unlike Dr. Heer, Monsignor Oesterreicher is obviously incapable of bearing the truth that historic Christianity is inherently anti-Semitic. His complete silence respecting Heer’s massive demonstration of the causal relationship between the Christian Gospel and anti-Semitism reflects his well-known, traditionalist presupposition that anti-Semitism is merely an aberration of Christianity rather than of the essence of Christianity. Few things give greater aid and comfort to Christian anti-Semites than the assurance that the church is redeemed. Monsignor Oesterreicher could have celebrated the prophetic contribution of a fellow-Christian scholar in the comprehension and melioration of anti-Semitism. (His ad hominem insinuation against Heer for “learning of the horrors from reports” is beneath contempt.) Through his silences the Monsignor only helps to perpetuate the ungodly self-defensiveness of the church respecting the satanic disease of anti-Semitism.
It is difficult to take Monsignor Clark’s “fearful rubbish” seriously. . . . He carefully twists much of my reporting to make it appear that Dr. Heer’s pen and mine are one and the same. With Monsignor Oesterreicher, Monsignor Clark conveniently hides the author’s climactic expressions of hope for the church, as made clear in the review. In addition, Monsignor Clark irresponsibly suppresses my lengthy critique of the volume and charges Heer with conclusions that he never reaches. On these various counts, Monsignor Clark’s response is seen to be very largely ludicrous.
More seriously, Monsignor Clark, with many American clerics, is so markedly retarded in his historical knowledge that his attempt to excuse the church is pitiful indeed. I suggest that, as proper penance, the Monsignor be required to study and digest Friedrich Heer’s faithful chronicle of the church’s age-long anti-Semitic behavior. There is surely no evidence in his letter that Monsignor Clark has the slightest first-hand acquaintance with Dr. Heer’s book. The penitential exercise I propose will not guarantee, of course, that Monsignor Clark will stop wishing to invent history to suit his own purposes.
Most seriously, in this time after Auschwitz nothing but revulsion is fitting in the presence of those whose efforts to alter history are explicitly directed to the defense or rescue of the Christian church. Here is living evidence of our unregenerate refusal to face the truth about the church’s place in the persecutions and murders of human beings, including, most horribly, her complicity in the Holocaust. There appears no other way to explain Monsignor Clark’s rejection of the overwhelming lessons of historical scholarship. Rather than castigating Dr. Heer and his colleagues, Monsignor Clark and other Christians ought to be celebrating the contribution of this great Austrian Catholic Christian and his courage in summoning the churches to repentance. That Monsignor Clark chooses instead to vilify Friedrich Heer, and to slight through Heer the Jewish victims of our sins as Christians, is a telling vindication of a judgment made by Heer since the publication of his book: The present Vatican establishment is a “sect that has excommunicated itself, closed itself off from the process of the progressive humanization of mankind.”
As adjudged in my review, Heer’s study is “a powerful work of the first importance.” The hope that his book will gain wide circulation, careful study, and significant influence is given additional moral urgency by the identity of those who now seek to discredit him.