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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Faith as a Source of Tolerance

An article on Europe's battle with anti-Semitism notes the strong role that the European Christian church has played on both sides. It would be wrong to attribute NAZIism to Christians or the Church but there is a long history.
It was "Christian Europe" that had institutionalized expulsions, forced conversions, and persecution of Jews. Though it's a slander to draw a straight line from Christian-Jewish antagonism to the Holocaust — Nazism was explicitly and violently anti-Christian — it's also true that many religious leaders failed to help those fleeing Hitler's death camps. Indeed, the Germans couldn't have been as efficient in their roundup of Jews without significant local "help," including the passivity and occasional collaboration of priests and ministers. Earlier this year, in fact, Pope John Paul II officially apologized for the behavior of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust.

Prejudice and sectarianism are indeed part of the history of the Christian church, but Europe's leaders see these failings as its defining features, and as a rationale for marginalizing religion from public life... No incident during the Second World War, however, illustrates more powerfully the moral vigor of Christian ideals than what occurred at Le Chambon. Led by Protestant minister Andre Trocme and his wife, Magda, a poor mountain hamlet became the most effective Jewish-rescue operation in France under the Nazis. During four desperate and destitute years, 1940 to 1944, the entire village opened its homes, farms, and cellars to Jews on the run.
Regardless of human failings within Christ-based institutions there is still love taught and held.
It wasn't secularism that turned an occupied people into a stubborn remnant of non-violent resistance and rescue. It wasn't the rational values of the Enlightenment that made them, as one villager put it, "toujours prete a servir" — always ready to help. It was the Christian ideal of love of neighbor, taught from the pulpit and lived out in family and community life. As Hallie tells it, the believers from this Huguenot village considered the Bible a book of absolute truths and commandments — not mere opinion and suggestion — to be obeyed no matter what the cost.
Let's recall that freedom of religion and freedom of politics inspires the best in both.

Another note is that even Jacque Chirac, a being I personally villify, opposes anti-semitism but he credits blank, faceless, abstract humanist principles as the inspriation for mercy in the face of hatred. History, at least in the scope of the sanctuary he cites, shows him to be wrong.

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