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    What I did not know at the beginning of this exploration was that the Church's attitude toward Jews
    is so central to everything.
        -James Carroll, Constantine's Sword

    de·range (d-rnj) v. tr. de·ranged, de·rang·ing, de·rang·es.
        1.To disturb the order or arrangement of.
        2.To upset the normal condition or functioning of.
        3.To disturb mentally; make insane.

James Carroll is a former Catholic priest, a novelist and the author of a prize winning, but quite awful, memoir An American Requiem, which told the story of the differences between him and his Father, a chief of Military Intelligence, during the Vietnam War.  Here he's after even bigger game than his Dad and the military-industrial establishment, as he takes on the Catholic Church and Christianity itself.  His essential argument is that Christianity has been defined throughout its history by its anti-Judaism, that the resulting anti-Semitism led directly to the Holocaust, and that the failure to recognize and come to terms with these facts results in a continued, though perhaps unintentional, anti-Semitic aspect of modern Christianity.

    Auschwitz is the climax of the story that begins at Golgotha.  Just as the climax of Oedipus
    Rex--the king sees that he is the killer--reveals that the hubris that drove the play's action was itself
    the flaw that shaped the king's character, so we can already say that Auschwitz, when seen in the
    links of causality, reveals that the hatred of Jews has been no incidental anomaly but a central action
    of Christian character.  Jew hatred's perversion of the Gospel message launched a history, in other
    words, that achieved its climax in the Holocaust, an epiphany presented so starkly it can no longer
    be denied.  We shall see how defenders of the Church take pains to distinguish between
    "anti-Judaism" and "antisemitism"; between Christian Jew-hatred as a "necessary but sufficient"
    cause of the Holocaust; between the "sins of the children" and the sinlessness of the Church as such.
    These distinctions become meaningless before the core truth of this history : Because the hatred of
    Jews had been made holy, it became lethal.  The most sacred "thinking and acting" of the Church as
    such must at last be called into question.

Let me not dither about this : James Carroll is entitled to his opposition to the Catholic Church but the views he expresses in this book are deranged.

The book opens with a consideration of the controversy that arose when a group of Carmelite nuns sought to erect a cross at Auschwitz, to commemorate Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, and the Franciscan priest Maximilian Kolbe who were martyred there.  Stein, whose Carmelite name was Sister Teresa Benedicta, was made a saint in 1998.  In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the site and prayed for her and for Kolbe, and in his sermon referred to Auschwitz as "the Golgotha of the modern world."  Jewish organizations took exception to Christian prayers and symbolism at Auschwitz, with one group pleading : "Stop praying for the Jews who were killed in the Shoah.  Let them rest in peace as Jews."  Numerous subsequent controversies arose, but a large wooden cross remains in a field outside the walls of the camp.  This incident leads Carroll to the following :

    Here is the question a Christian must ask : Does our assumption about the redemptive meaning of
    suffering, tied to the triumph of Jesus Christ and applied to the Shoah, inevitably turn every effort
    to atone for the crimes of the Holocaust into a claim to be the masters of Jews in the other world ?

The book then is his intensely personal, and often incoherent, attempt to rid himself of every element of Christian belief that he thinks might somehow be interpreted as offensive to Jews, and to thereby atone for the Holocaust, which one feels compelled to observe was over by the time he was two.

As a threshold matter, this kind of quintessentially modern longing to atone for sins that we did not ourselves commit, really serves to destroy the concept of moral responsibility.  Carroll resembles Bill Clinton traveling through Africa apologizing for slavery.  Clinton, despite his many sins, is obviously not responsible for slavery, and his mea culpas are therefore both meaningless and self-serving.  Similarly, if Carroll really feels the need to apologize to someone, let him apologize for those things for which he actually merits some blame.  He could apologize to the Vietnamese boat people for his short sighted opposition to the Vietnam War or he could apologize to the millions of unborn children whose abortion he supported.  These are things for which he actually bears some moral responsibility and it might be a good idea for him to face the consequences of his oft-stated views on these topics in the same way he demands that Catholicism face up to the consequences of its views.  Instead he engages in the intellectually dishonest exercise of ostentatiously beating his breast over the Holocaust in such a holier-than-thou manner that the reader, this one at least, is unwilling to forgive the many occasions on which his faux guilt obstructs his capacity to reason.

It's a long book, so we can't tackle all of the dubious points he makes here, but let's look at a few :

In the first instance, Carroll is so anxious to blame Christians for the tension between Christians and Jews that he gives Jewish beliefs and history short shrift.  The most bizarre aspect of the book is that he treats Jewish history as if it had ended with the Holocaust.  It's not possible, nor proper, to diminish the horror of the murder of six million Jews, but if you examine Jewish history with any sense of perspective you would have to grant that the modern reestablishment of the state of Israel is at least as significant an event as the Holocaust.

But it's not just history that he glosses over, it's Judaism itself.  If you are going to take Judaism seriously you have to acknowledge that the belief in the ancient Israelites as God's Chosen people lies at the very core of Jewish belief.  And it is necessary to acknowledge that this belief, by its very nature, is exclusive and discriminatory.  To this day, Israel's religious laws only grant "right of return" to the children of Jewish mothers.  If not racist, this is at least racialist.  Carrying Jewish law to its ultimate conclusion would make the Jewish people a completely exclusive group.  While this can in no way justify any anti-Semitic behavior, it obviously has to have contributed to tensions between Jews and non-Jews.

Additionally, it is hard to believe that two religions which differ over the identity of the Messiah, who after all is the central figure in mankind's redemption, could possibly exist cheek by jowl without some level of tension between them.  We need not, and can not, determine which side is right in this dispute, but there is certainly no reason to believe Christians are more at fault for believing that Christ was the Messiah than Jews are for not believing.  But Carroll has predetermined that Judaism is blameless and Christianity is guilty, so he does not bother to consider actual Jewish beliefs.

Second, he treats anti-Semitism as some kind of isolated aberration in human history, as if it, and the Holocaust in particular, bear no relation to any other forms of prejudice, bigotry and genocide.  This requires him to ignore or dismiss the fact that the Holocaust, no matter how horrific, is just one in a series of mind-boggling mass murders perpetrated by various states over the course of the century.  Forget Stalin and his 10 million victims, Mao and his 20 million, forget Pol Pot wiping out half of the population of Cambodia, forget the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians, forget the Tutsi and the Hutus, forget the Serbs and the Croats and the Bosnians, forget the fact that Hitler was also busy murdering Gypsies and Slavs, forget them all--Carroll's guilt ridden mind only has room for the Holocaust.  And why ?  Because it's the one instance where he can blame the Church.

It's an uncomfortable-making topic, but one has to ask whether the Judaism of the Jews even mattered much to the Nazis.  As the series of slaughters above indicates, totalitarian states have frequently found it convenient to scapegoat a minority group and turn loose the frustrated fury of the downtrodden citizenry upon them.  Carroll himself seems to realize this when he dismisses ancient Roman persecution of the early Christians :

    The Christian Jews were punished not for what they believed or refused to believe, or for any
    political threat they posed, but because, as a readily identifiable and vulnerable group, consisting in
    all likelihood mainly of slaves and lower-class workers with whom other Jews seemed no to
    identify, they were useful to Nero in providing the angry citizens of Rome with another target for
    their hatred besides him.

Would that Carroll understood just this one sentence he has written.  Drop the word "Christian;" replace the later use of "Jews" with the word "Germans;" and replace "Nero" with "Hitler;" and he could have saved himself hundreds of pages of Church bashing.  What's most remarkable about all of the genocides of human history is how easily you can fit them into this sentence by just adjusting a few words.  As chilling as it may appear, the beliefs of the murderers and the victims don't really matter much, what matters is the nature of the states which commit these crimes.

In his invaluable book The True Believer, Eric Hoffer made it clear that all fanatical mass movements share certain characteristics; among these are the need to claim that the group to which they belong is uniquely excellent, that they make absolutist claims for their own beliefs, that they are driven to attack non-members of their group, and that they tend to run out of steam after an initial period of activism.  Taking all of these characteristics into account, it seems obvious that the Holocaust was a function, not of Christianity, but of Nazism.  It may well be true, as Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argued in Hitler's Willing Executioners, that German culture, thanks in large part to unfortunate warping of Christian teachings and traditions, was predisposed to a particularly virulent form of Jew hatred, but the fact remains that it was only the rise of the Nazis which unleashed the Holocaust.  Germans had hated Jews for hundreds of years without trying to exterminate them and by the early part of the 20th Century, Jews had been pretty well integrated into German society, despite lingering bigotry and tension.  The Holocaust does not represent one point on a Christian continuum; it is a necessary outcome of Nazism, rather than Christianity.

This is a third big problem with the book.  His obsessive focus on the Church blinds him to the true nature of Nazi Germany.  In his excellent new book, The Third Reich : A New History, Michael Burleigh makes it clear that the intent of the Nazis was to replace all of society's institutions with Nazism.  They did not view the Catholic Church as a collaborator in their exterminationist mission; they viewed the Church as a rival to the new state religion of Nazism.  Even the Church's most vigorous critics, of which Carroll is obviously one, would have to admit that mass murder runs counter to the fundamental teachings of Christianity.  Even if we concede that there is a significant strain of anti-Semitism within Christianity, it certainly does not take priority of place over the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, or the Sermon on the Mount.  A regime, like Hitler's, which hoped to perpetrate genocide on a massive scale, well understood that traditional religious and moral beliefs had to first be replaced by a new set of Nazi teachings.  The Holocaust was made possible by the demise of Christian morality and its replacement by Nazi imperatives.

As a general matter, the biggest problem with the book is that Carroll really just wants to use the Holocaust as a club with which to beat the Church.  His problem is not truly with the Church's anti-Semitism, it is with the Church itself.  The title of the book refers to Constantine's famous conversion to Christianity when he had a vision of a cross in the sky just before the battle at Milvian Bridge.  As Carroll sees it, this moment converted the cross from a benign symbol of quiescent Christian suffering into a belligerent symbol of Christianity rampant and triumphant : the cross became a sword.   From that moment forth, Christianity sought to impose its vision upon other peoples.  This is deeply troubling to Carroll because he apparently prefers the Jewish model, of a religion that is not evangelical but is instead completely restricted to an insular ethnic group.

In the final section of the book he calls for a Vatican III, to examine ways to reform the Church.  Among his proposals :

    -Include Protestants, Jews and members of other religions in the deliberations.

    -Do away with the doctrine of Papal infallibility

    -Replace the belief in salvation through Christ, with an image of Christ as merely representing a
    manifestation of God's love.

    -Acknowledge the holiness of democracy and reexamine the Church's historic relationship with
    non-democratic governments.

    -Repent for the Church's historic anti-Semitism.

Now some of this is fairly unobjectionable : as a Protestant, I find papal infallibility fairly dubious and it's fine by me if the Church wants to apologize for anti-Semitism.  The other elements though are simply ridiculous.  Why should non-Catholics have any say in these matters ?  Should Judaism convene a meeting and allow Christians to weigh in on Jewish beliefs ?  Guess what ?  Our first suggestion would be that they recognize that Christ was the Messiah.  Does anyone see how this would be at all helpful to Judaism ?

More foolish is Carroll's fetishization of democracy.  This is one point where his abysmal lack of historical understanding is graphically displayed.  He seems not to understand that the Holocaust was a democratic act and that anti-Semitism is a democratic prejudice.  As Goldhagen makes clear in Hitler's Willing Executioners, the Holocaust was not perpetrated by some aberrant little clique, it was perpetrated by the German people as a whole.  The murder of Jews expressed the will of the German nation.  In the same way, the other genocides of the century, slavery, Jim Crow, abortion, etc. all of these destructive pathologies of human society have reflected the popular will.

Religious belief is a necessary counterbalance to the unchecked impulses of democratic man.  Make the Church, and religion generally, more democratic and you will remove one of the last remaining checks on the tyranny of the majority.  Turn the great religions of the world into mere popular institutions and we will no longer have any moral standards to restrain our basest instincts.

Make no mistake, this is exactly what Carroll has in mind.  When he speaks of changing the Church's perception of the meaning of Christ, he makes this clear :

    ...a new Christology, celebrating a Jesus whose saving act is only disclosure of the divine love
    available to all, will enable the Church at last to embrace a pluralism of belief and worship, of
    religion and no-religion, that honors God by defining God as beyond every human effort to express

This is complete relativism.  Christ, God, and belief are all stripped of any meaning.  This pluralism would accept every interpretation, every belief, every definition.  Religion would be completely individualistic--whatever you believe would be as valid as what the next person believes.  This is not an attempt to redeem the Church and Christianity; it is an attempt to destroy them by emptying them of their core message.

Consider again the idea of Carroll calling for a similar reform of Judaism.  It would require Jews to abandon the idea that they are the Chosen people, to discard the Ten Commandments, kosher laws, etc., to abandon the very idea of one God.  What would be left of Judaism ?  Would we not have to consider someone who advocated these things to be anti-Jewish, if not anti-Semitic ?  After all, these proposals would amount to an end to Judaism more permanent than that achieved by Hitler and the Holocaust.  Is it not fair then to consider Carroll's proposals to constitute an attempt to destroy the Catholic Church and Christianity generally ?  Is it not fair to consider this book, which casts itself as an attack on anti-Semitism, to ultimately amount to little more than a prolonged expression of anti-Christianity ?

One of the darkest anti-Semitic practices of the Christian world was the blood libel, the baseless accusation that Jews used Christian blood in some bizarre Judaic religious rites (see Bernard Malamud's great novel The Fixer).  In its own warped way, this book is a kind of blood libel.  It accuses Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular of nursing a virulent form of Jew hatred at their bosoms, which found ultimate and inevitable expression in the Holocaust.  While it is indeed true that a persistent and destructive strain of anti-Semitism has accompanied Christianity right up until the present day, it is grotesque to seek to blame Christianity for the Holocaust.  Further, it is simply anti-historical, though the charge is here dressed up in the guise of history.  There are plenty of perfectly good reasons for someone to dislike Christianity, and confronting Christian anti-Semitism is a worthwhile task, but making the kind of baseless and inflammatory charges that Carroll makes here can serve little purpose except to stir up hatred.  The final disturbing irony of this book is that it resembles exactly the kind of baseless, hate-filled slander which has been the historic weapon of the anti-Semite, but directing the attack against Christianity instead of against Judaism does not make it any less of a hate crime.


Grade: (F)


Book-related and General Links:
        -ESSAY : An American Requiem : God, my father, and the war that came between us (James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly, April 1996)
    -EXCERPT : Elvis Disappears from An American Requiem (James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly)
    -EXCERPT : The Leap of Faith  from An American Requiem (James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly)
    -EXCERPT : A Defender of Justice from An American Requiem (James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly)
    -EXCERPT : Chapter Three from The City Below (James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY :  WHICH CHRIST IS BUSH'S MODEL? (James Carroll, Boston Globe - December 21, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Charting Boston's course (James Carroll, Boston Globe Magazine)
    -ESSAY : The truth about NATO's air war (James Carroll, The Boston Globe, June 20, 2000)
    -ESSAY :   We've Missed the Real Scandal (James Carroll, The Boston Globe, February 9, 1999)
    -ESSAY : Let's Get Real About Executions in America (James Carroll, Bostone Globe)
    -ESSAY : A Lesson Unlearned: War Makes Things Worse (James Carroll,  Boston Globe -April 6, 1999)
    -REVIEW : of Hitler's Pope : The Secret History of Pius XII by John Cornwell (James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O'Connell and the Catholic Church in Boston, 1859-1944 by James M. O'Toole (James Carroll, July, 1992, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion by Stephen L. Carter (James Carroll, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of JOAN OF ARC By Mary Gordon (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of LIVES OF MORAL LEADERSHIP By Robert Coles (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Memoir My Life and Themes. By Conor Cruise O'Brien (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of AND THE SEA IS NEVER FULL Memoirs, 1969- . By Elie Wiesel (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE BOSTON IRISH A Political History. By Thomas H. O'Connor (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Markers By Sidney Zion (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of TABLE MONEY By Jimmy Breslin (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BLACK ROBE By Brian Moore (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of WHAT I LIVED FOR By Joyce Carol Oates (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS By Lionel Davidson (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BUFFALO SOLDIERS By Robert O'Connor (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of PROVIDENCE By Geoffrey Wolff (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Good Morning, Merry Sunshine : A Father's Journal of His Child's First Year. By Bob Greene (James Carroll, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW : Story of My Life : James Carroll talks about his memoir, An American Requiem, winner of the 1996 National Book Award for non fiction. (Atlantic Monthly)
    -INTERVIEW : AN AMERICAN REQUIEM :  James Carroll received the National Book Award for nonfiction last month for his book An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War That Came  Between Us. It tells the story of a family that embodied the conflicts of the nation during the war with Vietnam. Elizabeth Farnsworth has a conversation with Carroll. (Elizabeth Farnsworth, Online Newshour, January 3, 1997)
    -INTERVIEW : with James Carroll (One to One -- Henry Tischler, Interview Central)
    -INTERVIEW : FATHER & SON, GOD & COUNTRY :  An interview with James Carroll (John D. Spalding, 05/23/97,  Commonweal)
    -PROFILE : Vichy Catholic : A Boston-based columnist who still insists that he is a Catholic has risen to prominence through his repeated attacks on the Church (C. J. Doyle, Cathic Net)
    -ESSAY : Liberal disagreement : The Times' Anthony Lewis vs. the Globe's James Carroll (Dan Kennedy, Weekly Wire)
    -Reader's Guide: James Carroll, An American Requiem (Houghton Mifflin)
    -REVIEW : of AN AMERICAN REQUIEM God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us By James Carroll (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of AN AMERICAN REQUIEM God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us. By James Carroll (Gustav Niebuhr, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of PRINCE OF PEACE By James Carroll (Webster Schott, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : FAMILY TRADE. By James Carroll (Alan Cheuse, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of SUPPLY OF HEROES By James Carroll (Maeve Binchy, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The City Below by James Carroll (Martin Green, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of THE CITY BELOW By James Carroll (Thomas Adcock, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of MEMORIAL BRIDGE By James Carroll (Donald E. Westlake, NY Times Book Review)
-International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life (Brandeis)
    -BOOK SITE : Constantine's Sword : The Church and the Jews: A History by James Carroll (FSB Associates)
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Contantine's Sword
    -EXCERPT : Sign of Folly from Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History by James Carroll
    -REVIEW : of Constantine's Sword. The Church and the Jews: A History  By JAMES CARROLL (ANDREW SULLIVAN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Constantine's Sword: The Church and Jewry by James Carroll, (Thomas F.X. Noble, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of Constantine's Sword by James Carroll (George Neumayr, American Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, by James Carroll (Charles R. Morris, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Constantine's Sword (Karen Armstrong, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Constantine's Sword by James Carroll (Robert S. Wistrich, Commentary)
    -REVIEW : of Constantine's Sword (YONAT SHIMRON, News-Observer)

    -ESSAY : Catholic Heroes of the Holocaust (Elizabeth Altham)
    -Resources for the Study of Antisemitism and the Holocaust (Theology Library)
    -Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
    -The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    -Literature of the Holocaust (Al Filreis, English 293, U of Penn)
    -Holocaust Denial : Jewish Student Online Research Centre
    -Holocaust Educational Trust (UK)
    -Imperial War Museum's Holocaust Exhibition (UK)
    -REVIEW: Was the Holocaust a unique evil that must be studied for its lessons, or a promotional tool used to mobilise support for Israel? David Cesarani weighs up two points of view: THE HOLOCAUST AND COLLECTIVE: The American Experience By Peter Novick & THE NAZI TERROR: Gestapo, Jews & Ordinary Germans By Eric Johnson (London Times)
    -REVIEW: of Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Convicted of the Wrong Crime  (John J. Reilly, Culture Wars magazine)
    -REVIEW : of BOUND UPON A WHEEL OF FIRE Why So Many German Jews Made the Tragic Decision to Remain in Nazi Germany. By John V. H. Dippel (Peter Gay, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Nazi Terror The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans. By Eric A. Johnson (Barry Gewen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE LOGIC OF EVIL The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933. By William Brustein (James Sheehan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of EXPLAINING HITLER The Search for the Origins of His Evil By Ron Rosenbaum (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of EXPLAINING HITLER The Search for the Origins of His Evil. By Ron Rosenbaum (Michael Marrus, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of READING THE HOLOCAUST By Inga Clendinnen (Daphne Merkin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Between Dignity and Despair Jewish Life in Nazi Germany. By Marion A. Kaplan (Deborah E. Lipstadt, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of PLOTTING HITLER'S DEATH The Story of the German Resistance By Joachim Fest (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)

CONSTANTINE (280?-337):
    -BIO : Constantine the Great (Catholic Encyclopaedia)

    -Roman Catholicism (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ESSAY : Can Christianity Be Purged of Anti-Semitism Without Changing the Gospels? (Ben Birnbaum, Moment)
    -ESSAY : Contrition in the Age of Spin Control (Mary Ann Glendon, First Things, November 1997)
    -ESSAY : Turko-Armenian War Brews in Ivory Tower (Christopher Shea, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Pius XII and the Jews (David G. Dalin, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of  CATHOLIC MARTYRS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY A Comprehensive World History By Robert Royal (Lauren F. Winner, Washington Post Book World)
    -ESSAY: Due Process: Do you want peace? Do justice, and you will have peace. Pope Pius XII (Michael Novak, Forward)
    -ESSAY: Moscow's Assault on the Vatican: The KGB made corrupting the Church a priority. (Ion Mihai Pacepa, 1/29/07, National Review)