THE ROOTS OF ANTI-SEMITISM

14 Jul

Anti-Semitism has plagued the Jewish Semites for much longer than any of us can remember and it’s irrational and largely unfair. Now, this opening paragraph has been written after I composed the rest and re-read it and wondered if I ought to share it with anyone. These days you’ve only got to criticise one tiny aspect of Jewish life to have accusatory fingers pointed at you and be called Anti-Semitic by those baying for your blood. But read on. After all, I mean no offence to anyone save, perhaps, the Pope.
One of the joys of religion has been the knowledge of church leaders that they only have to mould the mind of a young child and they’ve got that person for life. It doesn’t always work that way, of course, some of us shake off the shackles of pre-school mind-shaping and actually learn to work things out for ourselves. But the only reason, in my opinion, that any religion has survived over the millennia is because of the “give me a child until he’s five and I’ll show you the man” reality. It doesn’t have to be everyone, but just enough to be persuasive.
This much has been known for ages. It formed the minds of masses over centuries, and in times when religion, say Christianity but it could be any religion, was much more dominant in daily life the spread of irrational belief down the centuries was almost complete. Such was the power a few centuries ago that men and women were burned alive because they espoused one flavour of God opposed to a slightly different one. And the draconian treatment of lesser mortals by the monarch was justified because he or she was God’s representative in the land. Monarchs weren’t ordinary mortals and even they believed it.
But it’s not just belief in gods and fairies.
I got to thinking this way because I was thinking of anti-Semitism this morning as I lay in bed quietly waiting for Dorothy to emerge from slumber. It’s horrible. It’s a dislike and even hatred for a people because of the accident of their birth, and it’s irrational like gods are irrational. And as I thought about things I think I hit on the answer… or if not answer, the reason.
When I was knee-high to a grasshopper in school I was taught a lot of scripture. I guess it was getting towards the tail-end of the real dominance of religion within education, when the word secular made bishops shake with fear. And one of the phrases I learned to parrot was the fact that there were Jews and Gentiles, the Jews being the good guys and the Gentiles being the rest. The Jews were God’s chosen people and the Gentiles weren’t, and I, for my sins, was a Gentile.
I’m not sure who foisted the gobbledygook that is Christianity, a bastard branch of Judaism, on to the rest of the world but I guess it was the Romans in the fourth century AD. So I’ve no intention of blaming that horror on the Jewish people. Nor am I going to blame them for imagining a deity into existence a long time ago and using a perfectly natural human foible as described above, continuing to believe in it. As a race or tribe or people they are entitled to clothe themselves in whatever traditions please them. It’s when it spreads to the rest of the world through no fault of their own that trouble begins, and because their religious texts became part of the Christian sect’s sacred writing (a minor group if ever there was one, but enough people adhered to it for it to work its way to Rome) and because those texts still included the certainty that Jews were the chosen people of the religion being espoused by them, the rest of us got to accept our Gentile status – or else.
And in the vital way that religions work, that made us inferior.
And if a people start to believe that they’re inferior they start to feel irritated because despite what it says in the good book, they don’t feel inferior. And as an adjunct it’s just possible that if people read that they are superior it might in some way colour their relationships with others because a corner of their mind believes it.
I could be misrepresented here as someone blaming the Jewish people for their own problems, but I think I’ve made it clear I’m actually blaming a colonial power that has long ceased to exist outside the Vatican. It was fourth century Rome that stole a minor Jewish sect and made it its own, pinched texts, even sorted out which texts to keep and which to consign to obscurity and thus mould a religion that was already becoming different from its origin. But they kept the Jew/Gentile distinction, in black and white and reprinted in every language under the sun, and that has been the downfall of a people largely blameless for the inevitable and nasty and very ancient Anti-Semitic outpourings that have marred humanity for much too long.
Maybe people living in that corner of the world would be much happier and at ease with each other if some ancestor many centuries BC hadn’t hit on the nonsense of a god, complete with its absurd garden of Eden with a talking serpent, the certainty that women are so inferior to men as to be virtually a separate species, non-human and thus not eligible for Heaven, and the nonchalant accepting of slavery, and then wrapped the whole kit and caboodle up as a religious-cum-political catch-all philosophy that eventually and I suppose inevitably leaked beyond their borders. But their god has now gone everywhere and has spread from being a small nuisance in the Middle East to a world-wide threat to peace and even the future. If the concept of a deity and a son of that deity could be squeezed back into its bottle and revert to becoming no more than a hippie cult on the fringes of Jewish society it would be all right by me. But that Jewish homeland is the one place you don’t find too much Christianity, and I find that bloody annoying!
And finally, there’s got to be some innate weakness in our evolved and evolving mentalities to require any kind of god at all. Maybe it’s the uncertainties of being or perhaps knowledge of our very mortality that sends us seeking for a second chance at living, but there are still churches and cathedrals where voices are raised in melodic song in praise of a whisper in the ancient desert airs of long, long ago.

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