learning about Holocaust education, and I haven’t wanted to post anything. Why? Because I was going to put it on goodlittlechurchgirl.com, which I imagine will one day be discovered by family, and I didn’t want to be too identifying or mean. But today, I reached a tipping point.
For the record: Israel is amazing. All politics aside, the food is incredible, I love the Old City and also Tel Aviv, and after Nazareth and Capernaum and the sexy tour guide whom I want to give me a ten-day tour–oh, baby!–I am in love with this place.
More importantly, I am (mostly) surrounded by incredibly smart, passionate teachers, from all over the United States, as well as the staff of Yad Vashem. I’ve heard two survivors of the Holocaust speak and am learning so much that my brain overflows as my heart breaks.
Today, we learned about the Final Solution, and I couldn’t match my evangelical family’s perky text-messaging. When I finally replied to a robust group message by mentioning what we had just studied, my sister’s reply was not anything about the horror of the millions of lives lost, but rather, “Are there any believers there?”
Friends, it took every bit of self-control to not reply, at the very least, with a sarcastic, “You mean Jews, whose cultural heritage almost led to their total annihilation?”
Oh, no; I’m too afraid of conflict for that. Rather, I ignored her at first to share what I had learned, and then offered the neutral reply that the majority of our presenters were Jewish in heritage because I AM IN ISRAEL, NO KIDDING. I also added that while many Jews have a strong connection to their heritage through family, participation in Jewish holidays often derives more from tradition than an individual relationship with God.
I feel sketchy saying these things since I am not Jewish, but basically, it is something that I love about the Jewish community. My education began when living abroad, in a Communist country, where I met up regularly for awhile with agnostic Jews and academic Protestants among whom evangelicals stick out like sore thumbs (see: “Some Christians Be Spies,” from last year). I was delighted to learn from this community that a) debate about what the Scriptures say is the norm, with no one needing the last word on truth in a way that threatens hell; b) Jews do not really believe in hell; and c) The faith in general is much more communal than about “an individual’s relationship with God,” the Americanized version of Christianity that dominates the landscape in which I grew up. This last issue is a serious problem, as Samantha P. Fields explains, because it basically exculpates the individual from any sense of communal guilt or injustice.
Lest I be labeled a fool by any practicing evangelical, let’s address the white elephant in the room. My sister–the LESS religious one, for the record–was merely being consistent with her beliefs. Unfortunately, if you take the way I was raised at its word, every one of those poor 5-6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are in hell.
Yup. That’s the truth. If the people of the European Jewish community, after they were targeted by a sociopathic failed artist, dared to remain loyal to their faith or to note that God certainly didn’t seem to give a shit that they were dying–basically, if they didn’t look at the darkest side of human depravity and spontaneously decide that it displayed a loving God and that the Jesus they’d been taught was a rabbi could, in fact, save them in the afterlife–they were destined for a place worse than the gas chambers, because it doesn’t end.
I spent years uncomfortably aware of the dichotomy between what I believed and what it meant for my non-Christian friends. When younger, I prayed fervently in an act called intercession that they might be “saved.” As the inconsistencies and outright bigotry of my original faith became more and more clear, though, I became aware that in my heart of hearts, I thought that a) my friends were find just the way they were, and b) it really wasn’t any of my business what they thought about their eternal destinations.
This, of course, interferes seriously with the evangelical message. In it, we are all destined for hell unless we a) repent, and b) accept that Jesus is the only way to heaven, because c) he died on the cross for us to appease … his father in heaven, who was also him.
Natch, one might ask why God didn’t just forgive us all on his own, instead of demanding a blood sacrifice*, but anyhow…
Every time, every day, that I come to write on this blog, I feel a bit horrific. Not because I don’t believe these things, but because my family does, and this induces two types of profound guilt: one, that they will discover these words, and I will cause them an immeasurable amount of pain; or two, that they never will, and I will go through my life without the guts to confront them.
But as today illustrates, I can only take so much. I only hope that I can one day explain why it is so insulting, so inappropriate, and so just morally wrong to ask whether Jews slaughtered by the Nazis in World War II–or those presenting about it in modern-day Israel… identify/ied as Christian.
*Christians will say that God is holy, so no sin can be in his presence, so he demanded a sacrifice. This is weird, since Jesus himself spontaneously forgave people of their sins and didn’t say on the side, “As soon as I die for you!”
In addition, as this whole Jew and Christian dilemma brings up, there is the whole issue of how Jews, God’s chosen people, aka the faithful before Jesus, get to heaven before his sacrificial death. There’s some esoteric discussion about “Abraham’s bosom,” and Catholicism has a bit about purgatory, but since evangelicals believe that Catholicism is the Great Satan or a cult (take your pick; I’ve heard both), that doesn’t solve the problem for Protestants. Because if you believe in original sin and individual salvation–again, ignoring bits in the Bible about how a man “and his whole household” were saved–those before Christ were essentially condemned to hell.
The only honest discussion of this I’ve ever read was an Anne Graham Lotz bit on how, if original sin as a doctrine is taken to its fullest extent, it means that millions of aborted babies are also going to hell. This hints at another troublesome Christian theology–the “age of accountability,” this magical solution for dying kids that evangelicals came up with to handle the fact that they don’t like infant baptism.
Essentially, kids aren’t held accountable for their own sin until a vague age at which they become aware of their own disgusting nastiness before God. If they die before then, they don’t go to hell. This idea appears nowhere in the Bible, but it makes Christians feel better.
The implications of this are fascinating since those with Down syndrome or diagnosed with psychopathy or narcissistic personality disorder may never be able to acknowledge the reality of their own wrongdoing–but there’s a blatant problem with this, too.
If original sin is real enough that Christ had to be born of a virgin, then it shouldn’t matter when we become aware of it. According to evangelical theology, you’re screwed until you repent because you’re sinful anyways. What the hell does awareness have to do with it? Thus, my side-eyed respect for Lotz’s position: at least she is consistent.
The only position I see that is consistent at all is the universalist belief that Jesus died for all, and that all are thus saved–but that still leaves the problem of a) those who died before Him, and b) the idea that Hitler and Osama Bin Laden might be in heaven with me one day, which isn’t exactly comforting or just.
And so the cycle continues, until one steps off the hamster wheel, has the guts to say “I DON’T KNOW!”, and reminds the world that the focus of the Holocaust and even today when being educated about it is NOT whether the people being slaughtered or their descendants….are Christians.
Can I get an “Amen”? 😉
- the Christian blame of Jews for Christ’s death (yup, using Wikipedia) and blood libel
- The relationship between Hitler, the Nazis and Christianity
- A discussion of why the hell the church didn’t do something during the Holocaust (or, to be more tactful, of the “unfolding relationships between Jews and Christians”)
- A more nuanced discussion of German churches’ response to the rise of the Nazis