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Jew to Pope: ‘Re-Christianize Europe!’

What a remarkable short piece by David Gelernter in First Things. [1] Read on:

Not for many generations has the Church amassed as much prestige as it has under John Paul II and his successors. They underline (or have so far) the formidable quality of church leadership. Since John Paul II’s elevation in 1978, no nation on earth has been led better. That prestige ought to be used in an important cause, and one where it will matter. There is a desperate cause right under the pope’s nose. What is he doing in the Philippines and South America at a moment when, throughout Europe, Christianity is dying?

And once the fire is dead in Europe, the rest of the world will grow cold too, gradually but inevitably.

The pope must go to his own backyard and preach: to Berlin and Paris and London; must walk out into the center of Trafalgar Square, or some such place, and preach for his life and the life of Europe and Christianity and, ultimately, mankind. I understand that popes are not roving preachers; are not Franciscans, evangelicals, or preening curates in Trollope novels. But they are bishops, shepherds of the whole Christian flock; and a shepherd who sees this sort of catastrophe approach must do something. Worrying about the nuances of doctrine on homosexuality while Europe’s churches are converted one by one into restaurants and health-clubs and (who knows?) discount tire shops is a mistake.

The essay is short but passionately delivered. Gelernter clearly believes this should happen. I am grateful for Gelernter’s encouragement, but would love to know why it matters so much to a believing Jew that Europe should be re-Christianized. Jewish readers, care to hazard a guess? Is it fear of an ever more powerful Islam? Or is it fear of a Europe detached from Christian values? What is it? Whatever it is, I hope the Pope will take Gelernter’s advice.

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64 Comments To "Jew to Pope: ‘Re-Christianize Europe!’"

#1 Comment By Noah172 On February 8, 2015 @ 10:18 pm

Gelertner is a neocon who sees obsequious, “philo-Semitic” Christianity as Good For The Jews, or at least better for European Jews against ascendant Islam. He does not want white gentile Christians who are patriots and nationalists, who wave off political correctness, treat Israel like a normal country (not an idol, and certainly not something worth defending at the cost of blood when that is not in the national interest), and who dare to notice when Jews have disproportionate wealth and power, and the uses to which such power is put.

#2 Comment By Noah172 On February 8, 2015 @ 10:41 pm

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the evidence is strong that Stalin was largely pro-Jewish throughout his career, and was only intermittently and opportunistically “anti-Semitic” when such might suit his purposes. Jews were disproportionate among his top henchmen: Kaganovich; Yagoda; the cabal who, under Yagoda, created the gulags (Berman, Frenkel, Kogan, Rappaport); Yaroslavsky; the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee; et al.

The postwar Stalinist governments of Poland and Hungary, whose leadership Stalin personally appointed, were heavily Jewish: the 1956 Hungarian uprising was essentially a nationalist revolt against Jewish overlordship (Rakosi, Gero, Peter, Farkas); two of the ruling troika in Poland (Berman and Minc, along with Bierut) were Jews, and the secret police was heavily Jewish.

Stalin approved UN recognition of Israel. And let’s not forget that the Rosenbergs didn’t find Stalin’s alleged anti-Semitism too objectionable to provide his government with nuclear secrets.

#3 Comment By Jay On February 9, 2015 @ 1:03 am

Yeah, right. Proof? Have you read Mein Kampf? Any of the major Hitler biographies? Where is the link between Hitler’s antisemitism and, say, medieval Christian antisemitism?

Yes, actually, I have. Nazi antisemitism of the 1920s was merely channeling extant antisemitism (“Stab-in-the-back theory, etc”) which had been around almost continuously since before Luther. (Luther didn’t invent it, after all, just made it much more popular.) And, in any case, this ignores the religious theme embraced by the Nazi’s most enthusiastic collaborators in much of Europe.

As you certainly understand, whether some parts of the German Christian population ACCEPTED Nazi anti-semitism because of their own antisemitic attitudes is a completely different question. But that Nazi antisemitism was secular in nature is pretty obvious.

Your position only makes sense if you believe that the holocaust was committed only by the Nazi leadership, as opposed to being something embraced and committed by the entire German nation. The first position, I believe, is no more than self-serving revisionism.

#4 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 9, 2015 @ 8:11 am

Noah172 and Carlo, there’s a problem with the claim that early 20th century German antisemitism was of a different lineage than earlier forms. The pseudo-scientific race theories of Wilhelm Marr didn’t come out to the blue, they were informed by earlier prejudices recast into a secular milieux.

For example “Limpieza de sangre” was a feature of Spanish antisemitism back in the 1400’s. So the antisemitism of the Nazis seems like a branch off an old tree.

#5 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 9, 2015 @ 8:57 am

While the antisemitism topic is a relevant tangent, I never commented on the main topic.

I think an attempt to re-Christianizing Europe is likely to fail. We live in the age of consumerism where everything is viewed as a product. This includes religion, and Christianity is an inflexible brand that isn’t as malleable as its competitors (e.g. MTD). It’s hard to gain market share in that sort of environment.

#6 Comment By Jonathan On February 9, 2015 @ 9:02 am

OrthodoxJew,

Thank you for your reply
Ah! Rav Shalom Arush a Breslover. How interesting!

I am not sure that the American South was ever non-religious. And religious revivalism commences in specific areas before spreading its wings outward. A primary example of that is the Burn Over District in western New York. Southern revivalism may have preceded our war for independence.

Efforts to proselytize can also backfire causing resentment. People feel imposed upon by street preachers and their aggressive tactics. And they take offense when the proselytizer shows little appreciation for differing viewpoints. It could induce a reaction leading towards militant atheism and a call for legislation banning religious practices on top of what we have already seen with wearing the hijab in public, circumcision and religious dietary laws. We would have to be duly concerned with this potential push back that would make religious life that much more difficult.

Only through prayer, the contemplative life, and service can some hearts be won over. There are intentional communities that work with the needy and also maintain self sustaining communities. And there are oblates who dedicate their lives to helping monasteries flourish. But the process cannot be forced. One cannot impose or appear to impose his or her religious convictions on others without avoiding a backlash especially when the one evangelizing is from a poorly understood minority faith.

Fundamentally this world of ours is not divided by Jews and non-Jews. It is, however, an agglomeration of individuals – people bearing their own beliefs. If one approaches the matter from this false dichotomy (Jew and Gentile) perhaps he or she is feeding the fire of prejudice. People can be offended by such a distinction which may not bode well for Jews. Please do not take this as a threat or a warning but as a concern for what may be unforeseeable consequences. It may not be up to a minority religious group to undertake this rather herculean task.

A crowded market is the least effective place for introducing an ethic to the spiritual hungry. They are seeking instruction, place of meeting for worship and study, actual teachings, and leadership (hierocracy ideally free of abuse) Once this is in place then that establishment can search for ways to grow the membership. However it cannot be from a self-appointed elite coming from one ethnoreligious group seeking from its lofty heights to guide their inferiors, their seekers. Such an haughty attitude would not fly.

Here is are some questions for you: Is the first Noahide law commanding us to worship one God compatible with the Christian Trinity? Also, does it contradict in any way having a personal relationship with Christ who is regarded by many as God incarnate? Ultimately, would it be better to advocate for a distilled and what may be deemed as a seemingly sterile monotheism though true to its form that has no tradition but is obliged to improvise its liturgy, rules of conduct, and determination of canonic texts thereby trying to invent itself than appealing to existent forms of Christianity to make this revitalization of a God-centered ethics for society a possibility?

#7 Comment By Jonathan On February 9, 2015 @ 9:21 am

@Noah172
“when Jews have disproportionate wealth and power, and the uses to which such power is put.”
Do you mean all Jews?

“Stalin was largely pro-Jewish throughout his career,”

Appointing secular henchmen from an ethnoreligious group who disassociated themselves from that community did not make Stalin pro-Jewish any more than Hitler creating the Judenrot to single out families and individuals for extermination. And since you will disagree that comparison please take note that Stalin committed cultural genocide while Hitler physical genocide.

You speak about the Rosenbergs but what about the many who left the party because of the Doctor’s trials and the execution of
Yiddish writers?

You are certainly entitled to your understanding of history but I deem it worthwhile to add some balance and welcome others to do the same for the sake of the readership.

#8 Comment By OrthodoxJew On February 9, 2015 @ 10:58 am

Jonathan, thank you for your comments. I think there is certainly evidence that the South was largely unchurched before new religious movements (like Baptists and Methodists and others) evangelized the population.

I certainly agree that aggressive outreach efforts can cause resentment, and people need to be careful. But when you have vast swaths of America, and the rest of the world, who have little or no exposure to or appreciation for religion, then relying on individual interaction with the few religious people they might meet is not going to accomplish much at the large scale.

It’s true that people could be offended by Jews reaching out to non-Jews, since there is still anti-Semitism. But among Xians and atheists there is less anti-Semitism than ever before.

As to a small minority group undertaking a herculean task, some would say that was the original purpose of the Jewish people — bringing all of humanity to knowledge of God and His teachings. This universalistic message is found all through the Torah, in the first five books, the prophets, the psalms. Xianity and Islam have already done a lot of the work of bringing Jewish teachings to the world (though they have mixed a lot of problematic elements in there as well). Noahidism could accomplish the rest.

Eventually it may fall to the Messiah to bring the rest of humanity to a full relationship with God. But now we should at least try to get a head start. Perhaps the Messiah will only come when we have accomplished some of his work for him already (in terms of social justice and harmony as well as bringing knowledge of God to humanity). After all, we are taught that Moshiach will come at a predetermined time (we don’t know when), but earlier if we merit it.

To answer your questions, there are differing opinions on whether monotheism and the Trinity are compatible. Belief in Yoshka (as well call him) as God incarnate is not compatible with monotheism, or Noahidism. However, I would think it would be permissible for people to think of him as a great teacher at a very high spiritual level from which people should learn a lot, and after which people should model their lives (kind of like the role of a chassidic rebbe).

As for your last question, Noahidism does not have to be sterile and pared-down. Noahides have a wealth of Jewish and non-Jewish teachings to choose from. In fact, some (such as Chabad rabbi Tzvi Freeman) argue that Noahides should draw extensively from their own religious and cultural traditions in developing their own indigenous version of Noahidism (as well as drawing on the teachings of the many different schools of thought within traditional–that is to say Orthodox-Judaism). Of course this would be selective, putting aside teachings incompatible with the Torah, such as the idols of Buddhism, the many gods of Hinduism, the anti-Jewish passages in the Korean and Xian scriptures, etc. But there is still a whole lot left.

It is true that there are few rituals and institutions, but they are growing (there is a nice Noahide siddur, now, for example). Groups of Noahides oriented toward particular teachings (such as Chabad or Breslov, especially the teachings of R’ Shalom Arush) are beginning to form. Both Chabad and Breslov stress spirituality and joy and fervent prayer and meditation, which is anything but sterile. The Noahide movement is still small but ultimately I believe it will spread across the world (even though we may have to wait until Messianic times for that to happen fully).

In the meantime traditional religions like Xianity may have a more realistic chance of bringing devotion back to the demos. But I’m skeptical about whether this could happen — I fear that the ideology and practices of Xianity (such as its very counter-intuitive teachings about salvation and other matters, and its relative lack of concrete behavior requirements we find in Jewish law) may not be strong enough to effectively counter and withstand the pressures from, and appeal of, secular anti-traditionalism.

#9 Comment By Noah172 On February 9, 2015 @ 11:58 am

Jonathan wrote:

Do you mean all Jews?

I was making a generalization. It is a common fallacy to claim that a generalization is false because not every individual member of the group generalized fits the generalization. “Men are taller than women,” for example, is an accurate generalization, even though some women are taller than some men.

Appointing secular henchmen from an ethnoreligious group who disassociated themselves from that community

Kaganovich, Yagoda, Rakosi, et al.: not Jewish due to atheism.

Einstein, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Billy Joel, et al.: still Jewish despite secularism/atheism.

Which is it? I realize that the boundaries of Yiddishkeit can be at times murky, but the decisive factor in who is or is not Jewish should not be, bad Jews not Jewish, good Jews Jewish.

Stalin committed cultural genocide while Hitler physical genocide

Oh, Stalin did some physical genocide, just not of Jews. (Cossacks; Holodomor; the cleansing of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe after the war). BTW, Trotsky participated in the Cossack thing. (Was he one of those not-Jewish bad Jews?)

I deem it worthwhile to add some balance

That’s what I was doing. The anti-Semitic Stalin myth is a popular one, desperately in need of correction.

#10 Comment By Jonathan On February 9, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

Noah172

Then I will make a generalization. Most Jews are not that affluent. And, there are poor ones.

It is not a question of who is Jewish. Stalin appointed Jews to do his dirty work does not make him into a Judeophile.

Ah, but your balancing still requires balancing. 😉

#11 Comment By Noah172 On February 9, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

Then I will make a generalization. Most Jews are not that affluent

Wrong. Jews in the US as a group have much higher incomes than gentiles. Pew has done excellent survey research on religion in the US, in particular on Jews. (See here: [2], scroll down to page 42.)

Also, among the ultra-wealthy, Jews are overrepresented to an enormous degree (e.g., 2% of the general population, more than a third of billionaires).

#12 Comment By Jonathan On February 9, 2015 @ 2:39 pm

OrthodoxJew
“I think there is certainly evidence that the South was largely unchurched before new religious movements (like Baptists and Methodists and others) evangelized the population.”

Check out the following which shows other evidence to the contrary

[3] Also the great awakening impacted on the South during the mid 1700s [4]

“It’s true that people could be offended by Jews reaching out to non-Jews, since there is still anti-Semitism.”

It is not just Antisemitism but dislike for displays of perceived arrogance the thought being, “who are they to tell me how to live my life.”

“[s]ome would say that was the original purpose of the Jewish people — bringing all of humanity to knowledge of God and His teachings.”

But what exactly does that mean to be a nation of priests. How does one minister and what sort of a ministry?

“This universalistic message is found all through the Torah, in the first five books, the prophets, the psalms. Xianity and Islam have already done a lot of the work of bringing Jewish teachings to the world (though they have mixed a lot of problematic elements in there as well).”

Lest we forget that this universal message was buried in the TaNaCh. By in large, the message as understood by both the laity and scholars was inherently tribal in nature. It was Jesus who universalizes the message through Paul. Rather than being problematic it is quite clear when emphasizing the circumcision of the heart for instance.

“After all, we are taught that Moshiach will come at a predetermined time (we don’t know when), but earlier if we merit it.”

And there are problems with this as well. Can we ever force the hand of God? This notion had led to false messianism such as that of Shabbati Zevi and it is conflated with modern political Zionsim as in R. Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s concept of equating the cultivation of the land with hastening the coming of the messiah.

“Belief in Yoshka (as well call him) as God incarnate is not compatible with monotheism, or Noahidism. “

And this fundamental difference will be an obstacle in reaching people. For many, it would be insufficient merely to regard him as an historical personage who left a legacy. For his followers he is the way that through him one establishes a relationship with the Almighty. Taken from that standpoint he would have to be regarded as being more than a mere teacher. Therefore, Noahidism stands in competition with Christianity.

“Noahides should draw extensively from their own religious and cultural traditions in developing their own indigenous version of Noahidism (as well as drawing on the teachings of the many different schools of thought within traditional–that is to say Orthodox-Judaism).”

This would be quite a perplexing task in that the participants would have to invent a religion out of whole cloth cherry picking from salvageable pieces from lost traditions How would an artificially construed religion not soundly grounded in a tradition of revelation bear up?

“Both Chabad and Breslov stress spirituality and joy and fervent prayer and meditation, which is anything but sterile.”

But that is within the body of Judaism. We are discussing here a pastiche of teachings hobbled together from Judaism for outsiders.

“I fear that the ideology and practices of Xianity (such as its very counter-intuitive teachings about salvation and other matters, and its relative lack of concrete behavior requirements we find in Jewish law)”

Salvation is counter intuitive? What can be more intuitive than living with a sense of brokenness and finding wholeness in the Lord? It has been my experience that one may follow the divine will out of desperation. It is the inner turning of the human heart which complements the divine call. When God calls to Adam, “ayeka (where are you)” it is also Adam’s plea to find and connect with the Divine Presence. What can be possibly counter intuitive about that?

Well, we can agree to disagree. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments and questions and concerns. You have helped clarify my own understanding and beliefs.

Kol tuv
All the best.

#13 Comment By OrthodoxJew On February 9, 2015 @ 6:04 pm

Thanks for your responses, Jonathan. We can agree to disagree. Just a few more responses.

“Lest we forget that this universal message was buried in the TaNaCh. By in large, the message as understood by both the laity and scholars was inherently tribal in nature. It was Jesus who universalizes the message through Paul. Rather than being problematic it is quite clear when emphasizing the circumcision of the heart for instance.”

I wouldn’t say it’s not buried. For example, in God’s revelation to Avraham He says the whole world will be blessed through him. All Tanakh’s teachings about Moshiach involve the entire world coming to knowledge of God, so this is a very consistent message. Much of the Torah is specifically about the commandments relating to the Jewish people, but it is not solely “tribal” — it is ultimately a nation devoted to God that will bring the universal enlightenment of humanity. Paul certainly tried to universalize Judaism in a sense, but it’s not the only way to do it, and it arguably is quite distorted (the Xians burned the Talmud rather than respecting it and learning from it, for one thing — and there are a lot of things they could have learned from it (due process, for example, or the need for all men, even High Priests, to get married and raise families)).

“Can we ever force the hand of God?”

There’s nothing wrong with doing more mitzvos in order to hopefully inspire Hashem to have mercy on us sooner. I have no real problem with Rav Kook per se (though a small proportion of his present-day followers have adopted a type of radical nationalism that Rav Kook himself opposed).

“This would be quite a perplexing task in that the participants would have to invent a religion out of whole cloth cherry picking from salvageable pieces from lost traditions How would an artificially construed religion not soundly grounded in a tradition of revelation bear up?”

Well, it all depends on individual motivation. Plenty of people are happy to follow a Noahidism that is grounded solely in Jewish sources (and there is a ton of wonderful material in Judaism that is relevant to all humankind.) There’s nothing wrong with that.

But others who feel more connected to their ancestral faiths may choose to draw on them, and perhaps produce compilations with appropriate passages from their traditions. I don’t see that as being that difficult.

I wouldn’t see such a process as artificial. We believe that all humankind originally were pure monotheists, but that these beliefs were eventually corrupted in various ways (from polytheism to the errors introduced by Islam and Xianity). Removing falsehood picked up over time, people can get back to their roots, while benefiting from the valuable teachings their culture has produced over the centuries.

“But that is within the body of Judaism. We are discussing here a pastiche of teachings hobbled together from Judaism for outsiders.”

As I mentioned earlier, no pastiche is necessary (and this mixture proposal is only an idea proposed by a rabbi or two — not anyone’s official position). One can easily become a Noahide with no admixture from other religions. Plenty of Chabad and Breslov teachings (and other Jewish teachings) are universally-applicable.

“Salvation is counter intuitive? What can be more intuitive than living with a sense of brokenness and finding wholeness in the Lord? It has been my experience that one may follow the divine will out of desperation. It is the inner turning of the human heart which complements the divine call. When God calls to Adam, “ayeka (where are you)” it is also Adam’s plea to find and connect with the Divine Presence. What can be possibly counter intuitive about that?”

It is counter-intuitive that to achieve atonement for one’s sins, one must believe in a man-god who died for your sins. Such a theology also based on the false premise that humankind is destined to hell without such salvation. Judaism only believes in purgatory, not a permanent hell. We believe that one’s sins are forgiven through repentence, through Yom Kippur (for sins between man and God), through being forgiven by others, through forgiving others (and thus having the merit of being forgiven yourself), and if not through these methods, then though purgatory (and even if necessary through reincarnation, according to mystical Jewish schools of thought such as Kabbalah and chassidism). We are judged based on all our deeds and thoughts, not based on whether we believed in a particular person who was sacrificed on humankind’s behalf.

To some extent, sure, people are broken and in need of God, but this is because they have an evil inclination tempting us to sin. We fight against it by studying Torah, praying, doing acts of kindness, and striving our best to fulfill the commandments, improve the world and do the right thing.

So we don’t have (or need) the concept of accepting someone as our personal savior. We do re-accept God’s sovereignty, and God as our King, every Rosh HaShana, and we re-accept the Torah each Shavuot (when we commemorate the Jewish people’s acceptance of its permanent covenant with God — I say permanent because the Xians think God somehow broke His word and cancelled and superceded it). And some also bind themselves to a particular saint (“tzadik”) (or his teachings) as a way of advancing spiritually and achieving what one is meant to achieve in this world.

But these are still quite different from the Xian conception of salvation. God has always been amazingly loving and compassionate, and has never needed to sacrifice a human version of himself to enable him to forgive people’s sins.

Anyway, just some thoughts! Kol tuv!

#14 Comment By Jonathan On February 10, 2015 @ 7:52 am

OrthodoxJew

“it is ultimately a nation devoted to God that will bring the universal enlightenment of humanity.”

What is truly universalistic about it when tied to the specificity of one people?

“Paul certainly tried to universalize Judaism in a sense,”

Or, perhaps extrapolate what is universal from it as revealed to him.

“But others who feel more connected to their ancestral faiths may choose to draw on them, and perhaps produce compilations with appropriate passages from their traditions. I don’t see that as being that difficult.”

It is not the difficulty but the need at least for some for authenticity.

“It is counter-intuitive that to achieve atonement for one’s sins, one must believe in a man-god who died for your sins.”

I was referring that the salvific path as a way to be a witness to that which is beyond time. It is my understanding that not all Christians hold to this notion that belief in Christ guarantees atonement. Absolution is not in our hands. What is counter intuitive about this?

Reincarnation is problematic because one is led to the notion that he or she can postpone what is required into the indefinite future. Knowing or believing that this is the only life and judgment is continually now in the present may motivate one to make amends with a contrite heart cultivating virtue.

As to heaven and hell being counter intuitive – it only extends our sense of justice into the future making us culpable even after our demise here. Is such a model any less intuitive than an amoral one? Personally, I do not subscribe to such a dichotomy but regard mortality as a mirror that is constantly held up to my life. And the lake of fire for me is a metaphor for releasing or burning away all of our baggage. But this is my personal view.

“To some extent, sure, people are broken and in need of God, but this is because they have an evil inclination tempting us to sin.”

No argument here. But all religions provide paths for struggling against the yetzer hara. I am not one to assert that only one way is the right one.

“I say permanent because the Xians think God somehow broke His word and cancelled and superceded it). “

Since the Holocaust not all Christians hold to the doctrine of supersession.

“God has always been amazingly loving and compassionate, and has never needed to sacrifice a human version of himself to enable him to forgive people’s sins.”

It is not an issue of need. That would be anthropomorphizing. But there exists within the human imagination and historically demonstrated for many as the consummate response to theodicy bringing the faithful closer to the divine will. How could anyone deny them this opportunity?

Since I am over my head here:) any practicing Christian please step in to correct what I have said.

Shalom u’vracha
Peace and blessings