Regarding Religious Propaganda…

Thought  experiment:

Imagine yourself as a Russian Jew living in a ghetto in more or less continuous fear of Christian reprisals against your assumed beliefs and insults against their religion.  You actually have nothing against Christians personally, and you know many decent and friendly Christians out there, but the paranoid fringe groups associated with their religion are beyond the control of your Christian friends. All you can really hope is that no idiots among them find excuses for attacking you and your family.

Now imagine that a pamphlet is published in England (the country perceived to have the strongest Jewish influences in Europe) with the explicit purpose of insulting Christianity from a presumably Jewish perspective. It starts out telling of a group of priests who are having a party molesting choir boys together when they decide that they need to encourage their parishioners go destroy a few Jewish ghettos. Next it tells of a Jewish doctor and his family running and hiding from the angry mob, and the doctor explaining to his family how evil Christians are in general. The doctor in this tract then tells a story to his family of the birth of Christianity.

He starts out with Jesus’ mother being an underage prostitute, getting pregnant accidentally and knowing that her simple carpenter boyfriend is not stupid enough to believe that it is his. One of her clients, a Roman soldier (perhaps the biological father) tells her to convince this boyfriend that she is in fact still a virgin and that she is carrying the son of God.

Which stereotypes are you willing to reinforce?

From their it tells how this young man grew up to be an uncontrollable rebel, always being nasty to his respectable Jewish elders, frequently getting drunk, being a regular customer of prostitutes himself and trying to put together an underground militia to attack both the Romans and the Jews so that he will be king of the universe. Eventually both the Romans and the Jews realize that this little megalomaniac is not only crazy but dangerous and they have him killed,  but from there his followers start to claim that he was more powerful than death, and they start to commit all sorts of fresh atrocities in his name.  “That,” this fictional Jewish doctor tells his family, “is the essence of Christianity.”

Along the way this story is embellished with accounts of how Jesus bragged about his power while drunk, about outlandish promises he made to his favorite prostitutes, about how he liked to Sodomize children every now and again, and how he absurdly claimed to be more moral than any of the Jewish priests. All this presumably explaining the proper Jewish perspective on Christianity.

How would you, as a Jew at genuine risk of attack by simple-minded Christians, feel about such a pamphlet? You would of course know from bitter personal experience that it is will give rise to all sorts of attacks on your people. These attacks will not in themselves be justifiable, but at the same time you understand what there is about the pamphlet in question that would get the Christians upset. You realize that the picture that such a pamphlet paints of Christianity, while loosely based on Christian sources, is profoundly insulting and untrue. You would hope that your Christian friends would be smart enough to realize that this publication by no means reflects your attitude towards Christians nor the attitude of your people in general towards Christians, but you can’t safely assume such common sense among your neighbors.

Now imagine, to make matters worse, a radical Zionist Rabbi from the Netherlands declares that he is going to have a public reading of this pamphlet, followed by a show trial where Jesus can freshly be condemned to death.

This might quite literally make you sick. You would automatically know that nothing good can come of this. Why would anyone do such a thing?! Perhaps there are genuine radical Christian haters among your fellow Jews who feel that this is the best way to radicalize their brothers into action against the Christians. Perhaps they believe that drawing Christian mobs out into reprehensible violent reaction is the best way to further their cause. Or perhaps this whole thing is a forgery designed by anti-Semitic forces in Europe just looking for an excuse to incite mob violence against Jews.

Now imagine that before the inevitable bloodshed from this absurdity a peace-loving Polish Rabbi issues an official statement roundly condemning the publication in question, stating that it does not speak for him or his people and appreciating the level of offence that Christians could take at this vile attack against their faith. But as the violence over this absurdity spreads, radical Zionists accuse this Rabbi of apologizing for being Jewish and condoning the attacks on Jews around Europe. What can you say to such people?

In such a case there is no denying the evil of the Anti-Semitism that this pamphlet was designed to inflame, but does that mean that Christianity as a whole is inherently evil or warmongering? If moderate Christian leaders take a stand against such offensive propaganda against what they hold dear, does that make them guilty by association with the mobs that swarm and kill Jews over such an incident? Would there be any way of stopping this cycle of violence short of a full scale religious war?


In case you missed it, this is actually the story of the events in the Middle East last week (the second week of September, 2012), only the names and setting have been changed to protect the ignorant.

Be careful who you decide to condemn as inherently warlike, or weak, or unnecessarily apologetic in such cases.

Be careful how far you generalize the blame for the hateful actions of a few nasty radicals on each side.

Please choose not to buy the goods that hate-mongers are peddling .

Support efforts to bring those who cynically and intentionally cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent people for the furtherance of their causes to justice. What has been done here really is a few degrees worse than yelling “fire!” in a crowded theatre a hundred years ago.



Filed under Ethics, Politics, Religion, Tolerance

6 responses to “Regarding Religious Propaganda…

  1. Adrian

    Now I will tell you a real story .
    At the end of the 19th century a book appeared in Russia ( later on translated to various european languages. It was called ” The protocols of the Elders of Zion” .
    It was a very realistic description of a seccret organization of Jewish bankers who plan to run the world with their money , about jews who use blood of young christian children for the passover special bread , of jews kidnapping young christian girls , raping them killing them religiousely and eating their flash .
    It took about a decade to find out that the book was actually written by the Tzar secret police , but it does not matter . It is still published now in some muslim countries as a true description of judaism and zionism.

    It at the time lead to monstrous pogroms in Russia , Poland, Ukraina and surrounding between 1880 to the first WW.
    Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed , raped , expelled from their places . The local governments encouraged the masses either actively or passively ( the army and the police simply disppeared ).

    Jews were a minority everywhere . The muslim are more than 1 Billion people on the earth . They are the majority in over 40 countries , some of them among the biggest and the richest on the earth like : Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey , etc.
    Your comparison is at least very irrelevant .

    • Adrian, I am aware of the propaganda piece which you speak of, though I would disagree with the idea of it being realistic. Those with a rudimentary awareness of cultural anthropology are extremely unlikely to be taken in by such. My thought experiment would have to do with a Jewish counter attack against Christians, which fortunately none of them were dumb enough to do. I wish I could say the same for Islamophobic American evangelicals, etc.

  2. Adrian

    When I said realistic , I meant that the book was written , published and translated in dozen of languages and printed in millions of copies . The pogroms were also very realistic.
    I do not know who made that stupid movie in US . The last rumour talk about a Coptic christian . Most of them live in Egypt ( as a minority of about 10 million people) . I do not know what was the motivation of this guy , but insanity is answered with mob insanity.
    If you want a remote comparison , a young jew in 1938 killed a Geman diplomat in Czechoslovakia , after the Germans killed his family . The answer was ” The Krystalnacht ” in Berlin when all the Jewish shops where burned .
    The resemblance is remote because :
    a) the young Jew had a good reasons for revanche, and he made personal not general.
    b) The Germans already had plans do exterminate the jews . It was only an excuse to start.

    • I think you’ve missed my point rather entirely, Adrian: neither the film nor the response is morally acceptable. Just as the antisemitism of the Nazis and the Czarists does not represent the essential essence of Christianity, so the reactionary tendencies within the wannabe theocracies of the Middle East do not represent the essence of Islam. Intentionally inciting violent hatred among those ignorantly prone to such is morally inexcusable, especially when it is done by demeaning what others hold sacred through exaggerating absurd rumors in the sleaziest way possible. And when this is done with blatant disregard for human life, even the lives of one’s own people, there is no legal defense left, even in American law.

  3. It is hard to combat people’s inability to see what they are doing against the backdrop of similar events Historically when they do not read with any level of UNDERSTANDING. Their understanding is limitied to the ingestion of “facts” and they cannot see through the layers of (mis)representation that is going on.

    We might have many illiterates here in Africa, but I think we are resultantly saved from the loss of common sense which the alliterate suffers because of access to “ionformation” on, for example, the internet…

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