With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year's Day, coming on Sept. 23, it's time for my semi-annual look at the continuing dialogue between Jews and Christians. Today, three observations:
First, it's good to see American Christians once again supporting Israel in its latest battles against Hezbollah and other terrorists. Often, though, that support is combined with ignorance of past wars and the reasons why some Israeli politicians thought that building a barrier between Israeli and Palestinian territory would solve Israel's problems.
Readers who want to understand more about the divisions within Israel might look at a fine Israeli history book, Neill Lochery's The View from the Fence (Continuum, 2005). Those who want an in-depth look at past military actions should check out Chaim Herzog and Shlomo Gazit's The Arab-Israeli Wars (Random House, 2004).
Second, it's good to see that Jews becoming Christians have a choice of traditions with which to align themselves. Some want to embrace Christ but also remain part of Judaism, the religious system developed by rabbis after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem; they typically worship in Messianic congregations.
Others, including those with a Reformed understanding, add spice to regular Protestant churches, and those Christians will find value in a book by pastor Baruch Maoz, Judaism Is Not Jewish: A Friendly Critique of the Messianic Movement (Christian Focus, 2003). Maoz criticizes that movement from a Reformation perspective that emphasizes faith alone and grace alone.
Third, it's good that a scholarly book this year demolished the recent No. 1 Jewish objection to considering the claims of Christ: Nazis were Christians, weren't they? University of Calgary professor emeritus Karla Poewe's New Religions and the Nazis (Routledge, 2006) shows that those who developed the Nazi religion "were decidedly anti-Christian because they saw Christianity as a Jewish phenomenon . . . in the 1920s to the 1940s to be anti-Semitic meant being anti-Christian and vice versa."
Poewe shows how influential pro-Nazi ideologues like Jakob Hauer saw Christianity as "a foreign faith and psychology imposed on Germany." They praised "Aryan religion" that did not place good and evil in opposition and attacked "the absolutism of Christianity." One key developer of Nazi theology, Hermann Mandel, complained that "the Pauline-Augustinian-Reformed teachings about original sin [are] insulting to the ethical and moral feeling of the Germanic race."
Nazis, Poewe notes, "learned their anti-Semitism outside of the church, then hated the church because it would not affirm their anti-Semitism, and finally developed their outright rejection of Christianity." Some people cite an aged Martin Luther's criticism of Judaism and call him a Nazi forerunner, but Poewe quotes a statement of the pro-Nazi German Faith Movement: "We have no point of connection with Luther, for we have no sense of a relationship to the Bible as a godly holy book, nor to Christ as a Messiah-Savior."
Poewe also explores in depth Hauer's attacks on "Jewish-Christianity" and his romanticism concerning "the Indo-Germanic faith-world [that] included Hinduism, Buddhism, and a pre-Christian Germanic Faith." Hauer particularly admired the Bhagavad Gita, the most influential Hindu scripture, because it has the avatar Krishna telling the warrior Arjuna to kill his cousins and be psychologically detached from the deed. Poewe writes that Hauer's interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita as emphasizing "innate duty" influenced Heinrich Himmler: "There can be little doubt that Himmler saw his destruction of the Jews in that light."
Hitler himself wanted to kill not only all Jews but also fervent Christians who would not bow to him. He said, on April 7, 1933, "Nothing will prevent me from eradicating totally, root and branch, all Christianity in Germany." In that way he was like many of today's Islamo-fascists: They are out to kill Jews but also Christians and other Muslims.
The twisted history that leads many Jews to equate Christianity with Naziism contributes to an antagonism especially evident in Israel: With the small country fighting for its life, it's sad that ultra-Orthodox Israelis in the southern Israel town of Arad are persecuting Messianic Jews there ("Igniting intolerance," Oct. 22, 2005).
Maybe this new year will bring a change. The traditional Hebrew new year's greeting is "L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem," which means "May you be inscribed and sealed [in God's Book of Life] for a good year." Not a bad message for all of us who know that we rely on God's providence.