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Anti-Semitism, anti-leftism and anti-Christianity

5 February 2018

A friend recently posted a link to an article on antisemitism which claimed that antisemitism of the left was more dangerous than antisemitism of the right. I found the article biased and tendentious for several reasons. For one thing, the author seemed to characterise “the Left” in much the same way that antisemites characterise the Jews — with stereotypes based on innuendoes. Just as for antisemites there is no need to substantiate any accusations against “the Jews”, so for those authors there is no need to substantiate any allegations against “the Left”, because those are something that “everyone knows”.

When I pointed this out to the friend who posted the link, he said that the writer was writing about “the Left” in the American sense, and perhaps there is a great deal about American culture I don’t understand, and “Left” in the political sense means something different there. But it seems that terms like “Left” and “Right” in politics have become so meaningless as to be interchangeable, and not just in America. You pick one that you want to use to describe yourself, and ascribe everything bad to the one you didn’t pick. I’ve been aware of that tendency for some time, and have blogged about it before.

Yet I suspect that even in America there is some residue of the original meaning. Soon after seeing the antisemitism article, someone posted one of those quizzes on Facebook that purport to show whether you are left or right. Is it accurate? I don’t know, but I thought it would be interesting to do it to see what the quiz authors regarded as “left” or “right” characteristics, which can itself be revealing of social trends.

You can take the test here, and my results were as follows:

Of those I will comment that in addition to being solidly left-wing I am also solidly pro-life, meaning that I am anti-war, anti-abortion and anti-capital punishment. Most of those who claim to be pro-life are less than solidly so, and are rather full-of-holes pro-life. If you want a more accurate test to take your political temperature, try the Political Compass.

Be that as it may, very few of the characteristics ascribed to the left, either in the test or in the antisemitism article, appeared directly in the quiz questions. There was nothing about intersectionality (whatever that may be)  or “identity politics” (which sounds like a pretty right-wing thing to me). But there were quite a lot of questions about Christian values. One of a group of four that I opted for was “kindness”, because it came closest to the Christian value of love, though whether the test counted that as “left” or “right” I’m not sure, but I noticed that it does place the Christian value of forgiveness on the left.

The antisemitism article also has a significant comment on the Christian worldview — How Anti-Semitism’s True Origin Makes It Invisible To The Left – The Forward:

In addition to the belief in a shadowy group with the power to affect large-scale outcomes, conspiracy theories also reflect a worldview in which reality is the product of a timeless and cosmic struggle between good and evil. These kinds of dualistic narratives are especially enticing to groups that view themselves to be under existential duress, and as Elaine Pagels has shown, this has profoundly shaped Western culture. Jews under Roman occupation and early Christians under Jewish ostracism and gentile persecution developed theologies of the oppressed in which the devil and his demonic host squared off with God and his angels.

In the apartheid era in South Africa I, and I am sure many other South African Christians, opposed apartheid for precisely the reasons outlined in that paragraph. Because Christian theology is a “theology of the oppressed” (as the article puts it), we saw apartheid as a demonic ideology. I do believe that there is a cosmic struggle between good and evil, though I’m not sure that it is timeless. The Christian take on it is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the decisive battle was won by good, and we live in the last days of mopping up operations.

That worldview has been central to Christianity from its beginning, as can be seen from a historian’s account of how the Christian worldview first took root in the Graeco-Roman pagan society in which it first spread:

In antiquity, pagans already owed a debt to Christians. Christians first gave them their name, pagani… In everyday use, it meant either a civilian or a rustic. Since the sixteenth century the origin of the early Christians’ usage has been disputed, but of the two meanings, the former is the likelier. Pagani were civilians who had not enlisted through baptism as soldiers of Christ against the powers of Satan. By its word for non-believers, Christian slang bore witness to the heavenly battle which coloured Christians’ view of life (Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians 1987:30).

And the same worldview can be seen throughout the baptism service of the Orthodox Church. So, whether intentionally or not, John-Paul Pagano, the author of the antisemitism article, identifies Christianity with “the Left”, as the quiz also seems to do.

I also believe that Zionism is to Orthodox Judaism as Hellenism is to Orthodox Christianity. Both Zionism and Hellenism are offshoots of 19th-century romantic and secular central European nationalism, and have tried to coopt religion for their own purposes — more on that here, if you are interested. And it has generally been such secular nationalisms, rather than the “cosmic battle” worldview, that have encouraged the spread of conspiracy theories among Christians.

And this is where Orthodox Christianity, and the Orthodox worldview, tend to differ from that of both Western Christianity and Western secularism.

Western Christianity tends to be legalistic, to share the values of the Right rather than the Left, preferring punishment to forgiveness, and justice to kindness (in the left-right quiz mentioned above). It can be seen in the Western hostility to the Orthodox idea of hate the sin, love the sinner.  In Orthodox theology the Church is a hospital where sinners can be healed rather than a courtroom where they are to be judged.

But in much political rhetoric nowadays, we see that people love to hate the sinner and not just the sin. The American “right” hated Obama more than they hated his policies. And the American “left” hates Trump more than they hate his policies. They love to hate the sinner, and the sin often seems to be just an excuse for their hatred of the sinner.

One objection sometimes raised to the “cosmic battle” idea is that it is said to give people the excuse of saying “the devil made me do it”. But in Orthodox spirituality that is no excuse at all. What it does allow us to say is that “the devil made him (or her) do it”. It’s a third-person excuse, not a first-person excuse. It’s what opens the way for forgiveness and love for the sinner. As St Paul says, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness.

At the beginning of Lent is Forgiveness Sunday, when we ask for, and offer forgiveness to all who have offended us or whom we may have offended. It’s Forgiveness Sunday (a leftist value), not Punishment Sunday. And before receiving communion people acknowledge that our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.

So there is a cosmic battle, there is spiritual warfare between good and evil, but the line between good and evil is not primarily between states, between civilizations, between political parties, between races or ethnic groups, between classes or sexes or genders. It is a line that runs through every human heart, and above all mine. Western Christian sometimes speak of “spiritual warfare” in terms that are carnal, and apply it to flesh and blood enemies rather than spiritual ones. This can be seen in an exaggerated form in, for example, the novels of Frank Peretti, where spiritual powers are depicted as altogether material. For more on this aspect of spiritual warfare, see here.

And lest it seem that I am saying that the line between good and evil runs between Eastern and Western Christianity, making “us” superior to “them”, let me quote a Western Christian, G.K. Chesterton, on this:

The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor. A Christian may consistently say, “I respect that man’s rank, although he takes bribes.” But a Christian cannot say, as all modern men are saying at lunch and breakfast, “a man of that rank would not take bribes.” For it is a part of Christian dogma that any man in any rank may take bribes. It is a part of Christian dogma; it also happens by a curious coincidence that it is a part of obvious human history. When people say that a man “in that position” would be incorruptible, there is no need to bring Christianity into the discussion. Was Lord Bacon a bootblack? Was the Duke of Marlborough a crossing sweeper? In the best Utopia, I must be prepared for the moral fall of any man in any position at any moment; especially for my fall from my position at this moment.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert permalink
    5 February 2018 7:49 pm

    The left right is a conflict between choice and control. Liberal is from Roman Latin meaning, “born a free man!” Freedom classically is defined by making your own choices rather than someone else making them for you…slavery.
    If you have no choice then you are a slave and if you have choices then you are free.
    The Left wants the availability of choice and the right wants to restrict choices by authoritarian control.


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