My solution to the problem of religious diversity

In a couple recent posts, I’ve criticized the American notion of freedom of religion.  Having done so, it’s only fair that I lay my cards on the table and present my own solution to the problem of religious diversity.  My solution comes from a common practice in the Middle Ages.  (I know what you’re thinking:  this is going to involve stakes and fire, isn’t it?  As a matter of fact, no.  The Middle Ages had other tricks up its sleeve.)

During the Middle Ages, both Christians and Muslims were forced to deal with the problem of large religious minorities.  After Rome converted, the Christian empire was faced with a large number of pagan and Jewish subjects.  After the Arab conquests, the Umayyads found themselves ruling over a majority of pagans, Christians, and Jews.  Both Christians and Muslims reached basically the same conclusion about how to handle such a situation.  First, God’s sovereignty and a concern for the spiritual common good demand that the state itself adhere to the true religion.  The state should promote truth and discourage error whenever it can practically and ethically do so.  Authority in the state should only be held by those professing the true faith.  Second, a distinction was made between pagans and people “of the Book” who worshipped the true God in some sense.  The former had no legitimate public existence.  The latter could be allowed some corporate recognition.  How, though, is this to be done?  How can Jews have a public collective life in a Christian polity, or Christians in a Muslim polity?  This brings us to the third and most important principle, segregation.  The American way is for Jews and Christians to live together by making both religions not publically matter.  This is practically equivalent to forcing both religions to live under atheist rule.  The medieval way is for the two religions to live separately so that each can have its own distinct public life.  Hence, the Jewish ghetto.

Now, Jewish-Christian, Muslim-Christian, and Muslim-Jewish relations during the Middle Ages weren’t exactly cheery, I’ll grant you.  Let’s ask ourselves, though, whether the elimination of the ghettos caused interreligious relations to improve or deteriorate.  During the nineteenth century, the Jews were “emancipated” through most of Christendom.  Christians in Muslim lands were “emancipated” a little later.  Now, it’s a fact that these emancipations were followed, over the next century, by the most horrific massacres of European Jews and Turkish Christians in all history.  Is this a coincidence?  In fact, it was quite predictable.  Elimination of the ghetto meant that there was now only one public space rather than two, so it would have to be a fight to the death to see who would control it.  Throughout Europe, the Jews allied themselves with the most vicious anti-Christian forces.  We should not blame them for this; it was strategically necessary.  Once the Jews had no public space of their own, their corporate survival demand that the Christian public space be destroyed as well.  Equally inevitable was the Christian response to the Jacobin-Masonic assault, to which–Christians couldn’t help but notice–the Jews had allied themselves.  We shouldn’t be scandalized when we read of nineteenth-century Christians stating the obvious fact that the Jews were their enemies.  In any event, the Christians weren’t responsible for the worst of what followed.  In attacking their nations’ historic culture, the Jews angered not only the Christians, but also the incipient nationalist movements.   It was secular nationalism that devastated European Jewry (and Turkish Christianity).  Then, in post-WWII Europe, the victorious liberal and communist forces justified their destruction of public Christianity on the need to make the world safe for anti-Christian Jews.  This is how emancipation had to end–in the destruction of at least one, and in this case both, of the rival faiths.

This story has, I think, important lessons for us today.  If we Christians wish  to survive, we must recreate the ghetto, this time for ourselves (since now we are the minorities).  This presents two challenges.  First, we have to build communities, and we have to make ourselves independent of atheists.  We have to stop watching television and recreate viable local (ghetto) cultures.  We have to acquire all the expertise that a community needs to be autonomous.  The second challenge is legal.  Even if we could create Christian ghettos, the government wouldn’t let us.  It is, after all, arguably unconstitutional.  We must convince the Supreme Court to allow local religious establishments.  All of this is very difficult, perhaps impossible, but  I don’t see any other path to long-term survival.

14 Responses

  1. “The second challenge is legal. Even if we could create Christian ghettos, the government wouldn’t let us. It is, after all, arguably unconstitutional.”

    Are the old “Catholic ethnic” ghettoes in the U.S. a plausible model? I find local establishment of religion to be an unrealistic and possibly undesirable goal, but simple self-segregation is probably do-able and necessary.

    Page through old Catholic newspapers and you’ll find many ads for houses within walking distances of churches or for businesses seeking Catholic employees. Both types of ads are now banned by U.S. law.

    An intermediate step would be to loosen such laws. Even just being able to advertise a house is near church x in both religious and secular newspapers would be an advance. At present, religious papers are deprived of the advertising income and the community-forming benefits of such ads.

  2. Over at VFR we have been examining the Jewish question, and Larry has been opposing paleoconservative anti-Semites. Since you said that Nineteenth-Century Christians were justified in seeing Jews as their enemies, the obvious question is, Do you see Jews as still being enemies of Christians, and, if yes, in what sense?

  3. Hello KJJ,

    You can’t advertise that a house is near a Church? I didn’t realize that. It’s really perverse. I like your suggestions; they sound like very good first steps in the legal battle for re-segregation. You’re also probably right about local religious establishments not being feasible, but I would like to continue to hold them out as an ideal. My reason is that a healthy society requires vigorous censorship, which can only happen if people can confidently say, “THIS is what WE believe HERE; don’t publicly attack it unless you want to find a new place to live.”

  4. Hello AR,

    As long as religious segregation is not allowed, Jews and Christians are structurally forced to be enemies, in the sense that they necessarily have opposing interests. Christians (rightly) want a society that reflects what they believe is true; Jews think (correctly) that this would make them second-class citizens. The conflict is tragic, in the sense that it is the virtues, not the vices, of both sides that are driving the conflict. It’s not that the Jews are sinister or that the Christians are bigots. Nor is it the case that Jews and Christians will have opposing interests in any social order. Ironically, it’s the ideology of anti-discrimination that has set us against each other.

    It’s my opinion that the paleoconservatives should be Zionists, because Israel is nothing but the Jewish ghetto writ large.

  5. I am very willing to be convinced of the historical points you raise on the Jews allying themselves to the most anti-Christian elements in society and with the Masons, especially since if you convince me, I have a very dear loved one that I want to convince in turn. He tends in the traditionalist Catholic direction and is very anti-Masonic, but is of Jewish extraction and believes that the Jews of Europe were always totally passive, sat in their ghettos, good as gold, and never did anything to or affected anyone else ever. Therefore, the moment a traditional Catholic says anything even remotely negative about the Jews in European history he gets very upset.

    I am afraid that I don’t know very much about history except for the “mainstream” liberal version (or the Jewish version – for example, I was recently shocked when I discovered that other people besides Jews were killed in the Khmielnitzky massacres and that the Jews were only incidental to the Khmielnitzky Uprising, because I only knew of it from books on Jewish history), and but if you can recommend any articles, books or websites I would very grateful.

  6. Hello Brock,

    I would strongly discourage you from picking an argument with your friend over this issue, since, after all, beliefs about the conduct of the Jews are no part of the Catholic faith. As far as I know, no Church documents have ever addressed this, so there isn’t even the issue of defending the Church’s record. The appearance of animosity towards the Jews can, however, cause scandal. Perhaps I was even wrong to bring up the subject.

  7. Believe me, I have no intention of picking an argument. What is happening is that he is standing on the the threshold on the Church, attending Mass regularly, and is being scandalised by comments made by a few other traditional Catholics, not me. Because he currently believes that any claim that Jews in European history ever did anything anti-Christian or anti-Catholic is absolutely baseless, and that therefore people who make such claims are malicious anti-Semites, he is beginning to quote Matthew 7:18 to me about them.

    I am hoping that if I can demonstrate that these people, while unpleasant at times, are not making these claims up out of the whole cloth, that I can help remove this stumbling block from the path of my loved one.

    Right now, the best I can do is check out individual claims after he has already heard them in an adversarial context, from someone who is not his friend – so hearing me say something like “Yes, actually, it turns out the Jews of Amsterdam did provide non-trivial financial aid for the Glorious Revolution” is not really helpful. What I want is to be able to acquaint myself with the history in question so I might be able to go over this with him gently.

    If you’re not willing to put this in the blog, may I email you?

  8. Oh, and please pray for him.

  9. Brock,

    If I may but in here, I would recommend a book by Albert Lindemann called Esau’s Tears. The book concentrates on modern European anti-Semitism (basically the 19th century on), so it does not cover in detail events like the Khmielnitzky rebellion. What Lindemann seeks to do is to complicate the dominant simplistic narrative that all Gentiles (especially Christians) are anti-Semites, and that the Jews have never done anything to upset them. Lindemann, a Jew, blames Gentiles for certain atrocities, but is also willing to blame Jews for doing things that understandably upset their Gentile neighbors. He also looks at local conditions in many different areas.

    I’m sure there are flaws with the book, but at least Lindemann makes an honest attempt to try to understand how both sides felt.

  10. I’ve just been looking at preview pages of Esau’s Tears on Amazon and it looks fascinating. Thank you, Stephen!

  11. Hello Brock,

    I think you may get farther with your friend if you appear to take his side. It sounds like he’s been talking to some jerks who think that the conflicts between Jews and Catholics is just caused by Jewish wickedness, and they’re looking for some payback. Say flat out that they’re wrong and suggest my viewpoint, the tragic viewpoint, instead. Jewish-Catholic conflict is not cause because one side or the other is attacking the other without any reason (is such a thing even plausible, anyway?), but because 19th century liberal nationalism made public space a control-or-die affair. It’s too bad we can’t talk to the jerks and ask them whether bad-mouthing the Jews is more important to them than winning souls for Christ.

    I’m not a historian, but if I were to put together an argument that Jews have behaved adversarially toward Christians, I suppose I would proceed as follows. First, I would try to make the claim more precise by breaking it into two subclaims:

    1) Anti-Catholic, pro-Liberal sentiment is strong among the Jews
    2) Organizations claiming to act in Jewish interests have pursued unambiguously anticlerical policies.

    In defense of 1, I would first say that Jewish voting patterns are no secret. If someone replies that we Christians drove the Jews to their Leftism, I would say that that doesn’t affect my point. Leftism is necessarily anti-Christian, and most Jews are in favor of it. Second, I believe that there is survey data showing that anti-Catholic prejudice is particularly prevalent among Jews. I think this can be found in Andrew Greeley’s “An ugly little secret: anti-Catholicism in North America”. I haven’t read this book, but I’ve seen it referenced on this point.

    In defense of 2, I would consider the records of the most famous pro-Jewish organizations: the French Dreyfusards and the American Anti-Defamation League. The French example is particularly blatant. When in power, the Dreyfusards expelled large numbers of religious orders and shut down many thousands of Catholic schools, hospitals, and other associations. Their connection to Freemasonry is well established. One could say that the Jews themselves only cared about justice for Captain Dreyfus, but the cause was hijacked by the persecuters of the Church. Again, that doesn’t affect my point, which is just who Jewish interests ended up being allied with. (By the way, the Dreyfusard persecutions were doubly unjust, because the Church bore no responsibility for what happened to Dreyfus. It was the Army that framed him; the episcopate was quite properly neutral on the issue of his guilt; that some clerics honestly thought he was guilty hardly justifies persecuting the faith of most Frenchmen.) As for the ADL, most people will accept that it’s anti-Christian without asking for proof.

    By the way, a nice article on the pre-modern relationship between Christians and Jews can be found here:

  12. Thank you for the suggestions!

  13. Although if you have any more suggestions for pre-modern examples, it would be much appreciated. The person in question already dislikes the ADL and many other secular Jewish or even Modern Orthodox organisations in general – he thinks [i]corruptio optimi pessima[/i] applies here. I need examples of adversarial behaviour from Jewish comunities that are pre-Haskalah and/or unimpeachably Haredi.

  14. Dear Brock,

    I’m sorry. I’m not the one to help you there.

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