That does not sound good, does it? Oh, and if you feel inclined to spank me for using the “n-word” then I’ll let you know right away, you can keep that opinion to yourself…. been there, done that. The important thing is that I got your attention and made you cringe.

Listen. When I was a child, in Catholic School, I was told (by the nuns, older kids in school, and some other adults) not to trust the Jews. It was literally true that the Catholic rhetoric in this small but significant city in an an Eastern US state was that “The Jews killed our God.”

I was told to not go near the Jewish Temple, especially on Friday or Saturday, because it would be too easy to stumble on a ceremony. In second grade, I was told that if I saw a Jewish Ceremony, as a baptized catholic, I would turn to a skeleton. I am not making this up.


None of these overtly racist antisemitic conversations happened inside my family. Nor did the conversations I heard on the street about African Americans or gays. But these were assertions made on a regular basis in school, on the street, and in a variety of settings involving a variety of people with authority. The role models were training me to be anti-semitic and racially discriminatory.

Here, I mostly want to stick with the antisemitism. This is because even though overt and explicit antisemitic rhetoric did not come from my family, even there I heard the indirect insidious form of it. The phrase to “jew someone” (or “jew someone down”) was commonly used by my parents and other adults who otherwise spoke out against discrimination. “The Jews” had a special place in the local culture and economy, and with it a special reputation. All young Jews wanted to become lawyers or doctors, but it was known that all Jewish Mothers thought their son to be the Messiah. And these jokes seemed to be accepted as normal even among our Jewish friends. Looking back I do not believe this was really accepted, and certainly it was not acceptable.

I remember an incident when I was about 22. My best friend owned a bookstore. One day she was a bit upset about something, and related this story: A mutual friend of ours, who was ethnically Christian/Italian, had been in the store earlier that day and in reference to some transaction impending in her life (buying something from someone) she used the term “I’ll try to jew him down.” This upset my friend (who was Jewish, but who would have been upset anyway) a well as my wife (who was Jewish but would have been upset anyway). More upset than anyone were my friend’s Goyim husband and me. We all knew our mutual friend was not particularly antisemitic, but needed to find a way to tell her that she had to unlearn this knee-jerk phrase. We worked it out, eventually. I tell this story only because it is an example of the length of time over which anti-semitic phrases clung to culture, even in a counter-cultural liberal/Democratic philosophically aware (‘PC’) community.

Today, the same thing happens with the term “atheist” at least to some extent. The North Carolina Senate race has reinvigorated a more public conversation about anti-atheism and faith-biased thinking that many of us are always involved in or seeing the effects of. You know, today, my daughter is taking a huge risk in school. The assignment in social studies: Find a current news story that involves discrimination and write a page and a half on it. She picked the Dole/Hagan comments regarding atheism and “godless money.” When I think of how her rather snarky (but I think pretty good) social studies teacher is going to handle this, I laugh. Ha!

Is there anything about the following that diverges significantly from the viewpoint of 90% of American Christians today?

This is basically a Christian Nation. But we ‘tolerate’ Jews and occasionally allow them in, or even welcome them to, important positions of responsibility especially having to do with money. We do gripe occasionally about the Jewish Conspiracy and all, but since it seems mainly to be a conspiracy to a) make lots of cool Hollywood movies and b) support Israel which is the enemy of our enemies, the Jews are OK most of the time. Muslims, we tolerate to a degree, but we would really like it if the passive Muslims would do more to acknowledge that the Koran is a book of violence and that all their fellow Muslims are walking around with bombs strapped to them. The Hindus and Buddhists are colorful and cute and as long as they obey the laws about soliciting donations on the streets and airports, they don’t seem to be doing much harm.

But at least all these people have faith, even if it is the wrong faith. The faithless … the godless … that is an entirely different story….

I think not.

I think this has to end.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrew
    October 31, 2008

    My understanding is that you turn into a pillar of salt, not a skeleton. In any event, point taken.

  2. #2 Stephanie Z
    October 31, 2008

    Go, Julia!

  3. #3 Michelle
    October 31, 2008

    Even today, we see Jews in high places in the federal government primarily in the Treasury and the Fed. Perhaps a bit of a self fulfilling prophesy, but the self-fulfilling part comes from expectations (read: racism).

  4. #4 TimJ
    October 31, 2008

    I’m sure the Catholic schools have changed their rhetoric regarding the Jews. But probably not the Atheists.

  5. #5 Anon, FCD
    October 31, 2008

    “… we would really like it if the passive Muslims would do more to acknowledge that the Koran is a book of violence …”

    That is OK as long as we also acknowledge the truth about the rest of the so-called ‘holy’ scriptures.

  6. #6 Joshua Zelinsky
    October 31, 2008

    A few remarks. Firs the plural of “goy” is “goyim” and it shouldn’t be capitalized. (The word has an interesting history: “goy” in Hebrew literally means nation. After the Jews no longer had a nation it became a way of referring to those who did (i.e. those who were not Jewish). Thus, some Jews object to the term in general because there is once again a Jewish state).

    The term “jew” as a verb also makes more sense than you give immediate credit for. During much of the middle ages, Jews were responsible for the moneylending and many of the economic functions (since Christians could not charge each other interest). Thus, in an odd way this term is a compliment. If it weren’t for the Jews the economy of Europe would never have functioned. At minimum the use of the word “jew” as a verb is not nearly as negative as the use of the word “nigger”. The equivalent would probably be “kike”.

    Etymology aside there is what is arguably a double-standard here: it is ok for Jews to make jokes about how all Jews are lawyers and doctors but it is somehow less ok for non-Jews to do so. I can understand that emotionally but it doesn’t make much sense logically. Somehow the distinction between self-deprecating racial jokes and racism is based in part on who is telling it.

    I don’t think that atheists are going to become widely accepted in the United States for the foreseeable future. If someone is a Muslim a Christian can maybe say “well, they believe in the same God.” That sort of rhetoric doesn’t work with the atheists. There’s so much cultural baggage associated with atheism. And it isn’t like anti-atheist views are uniquely on the right-wing end of the political spectrum. There’s a lot of anti-atheist attitudes on the left. See for example, Tikkun Magazine which is a primary magazine of “progressive Judaism” and seems to have a serious problem with atheists and agnostics (almost as much of a problem as they do with people who vote Republican). And Tikkun is not the only example of that. Witness the Democrats recent interfaith conference in which atheists and agnostics were not invited (heck it seemed from some remarks that even deists weren’t welcome). And that’s before we get to the matter of how much the alternative medicine crowd (which is tied more and more to the political left) really doesn’t like atheists.

    Still, there is some cause for hope. The fraction of the US population which identifies as atheist or areligious is growing. If the fraction becomes large enough it won’t be possible to treat such people as a punching bag.

  7. #7 NoAstronomer
    October 31, 2008

    Joshua said:

    Still, there is some cause for hope. The fraction of the US population which identifies as atheist or areligious is growing. If the fraction becomes large enough it won’t be possible to treat such people as a punching bag.

    First we have to get over the hump of being a large enough group to be used as a handy target, but still small enough to not have any actual political power.

  8. #8 Elizabeth
    October 31, 2008

    The “fraction” of the population that is atheist/agnostic is currently greater than the number who are Jewish and Muslim combined in the United States. There are more Atheists/Agnostics than African Americans, Native Americans, or GLBT’s. How large does the “fraction” have to grow before it becomes valid?

  9. #9 DV82XL
    October 31, 2008

    I too was educated in a Catholic school(in my case in the 60′s) and I confirm your reports of teaching bigotry in the classroom. They didn’t just vilify Jews but Protestants as well.

  10. #10 Nick
    October 31, 2008

    I would have probably been treated better by my extended family had I come out as a homosexual instead of an atheist. But it wouldn’t have come up but someone said something incredibly stupid and I had several glasses of wine in me and I couldn’t bite my tongue. Now they completely ignore me, so it worked out just fine.

    Also, the number I see thrown around a lot is 20%. Which, if true, means there are about 60 million irreligious people in this country. Yet we have no representation at the federal level. I hope that all the Sarah Palins out there can finally rouse the sleeping giant. But I fear that the Richard Dawkins of the world will erode support from religious moderates. No matter what happens the next 50 years are going to be very bumpy.

  11. #11 Science Avenger
    October 31, 2008

    Greg’s point is well taken. I recall an incident years ago when my atheism came out at a social function and caused a stir. My poor ex spent several frustrating minutes explaining to her otherwise left-leaning friends that yes, I could have morals, and no I don’t eat babies. “Atheist” in some circles is synonymous with “evil”, which is why when we tell these people that atheists are not evil, that tend to look at you as though you just said fish aren’t aquatic.

    I’m still waiting for evidence one that the Richard Dawkins of the world erode support from religious moderates, or anyone for that matter. I think the people saying that are missing the point of the exercise. We aren’t trying to get people to like us. We just want acceptance as normal citizens like everyone else. The fact that none of the outspoken atheists have any of the sordid vices we are all accused of having (except perhaps Hitchens) surely will speak volumes to the undecided/disinterested middle. Showing is more powerful than saying.

    You can think we’re arrogant, and condescending, and all the other bullshit atheists get tossed at them when we apply logic to religion, all you like. Just acknowledge that we are citizens capable of good and evil through our choices as is everyone else, and I’ll be happy.

  12. #12 eddie
    October 31, 2008

    As Greg said in another post – “I want a filibuster senate, but not at the expense of my human rights”.

    Although I want dole out of office, I think it’s wrong for atheists to contribute to hagen’s campaign as such a large minority, with above average spending power as we have, has better ways of getting heard.

    Howabout we get a TV ad of our own. Would the sensible Baldwin front it?

  13. #13 Zeno
    October 31, 2008

    My Catholic school must have been a model of enlightenment during the late fifties. All I can recall is that we should feel sorry for Jews and Protestants because they were all likely to go to hell, with rare exceptions. I was fascinated by the idea of exceptions and the possibility that there might be loopholes in all of the black-and-white pronouncements of Catholic dogma. I don’t think Muslims (or “Moslems” as it was more commonly rendered back then) were ever even mentioned, but perhaps I just don’t remember.

    And I think that Bertram Russell was considered to be the only atheist in the whole world back then. They otherwise did not exist. (Madalyn Murray O’Hair had yet to win her Supreme Court case about teacher-led prayer in the classroom.)

  14. #14 eddie
    October 31, 2008

    Sorry. That (paraphrased) quote should have read “filibuster proof majority”.

    I am blaming Opera mini browser that don’t do cut’n'paste.

    On the jewish thing: I don’t like religions. They make me nauseous.

  15. #15 Joel
    October 31, 2008

    Yeah, I remember when my atheism came out and I was kicked out of the Army, I remember when I disclosed my atheism on a form for giving blood, and I was turned away and received a letter days later saying I was permanently barred from giving blood, I remember my co-workers finding out I was an atheist and started receiving threatening phone calls, messages and notes, I remember getting my ass kicked as a teenager because I was suspected as being an atheist…Atheist? Oh, never mind.

  16. #16 Kevin
    October 31, 2008

    “The fraction of the US population which identifies as atheist or areligious is growing.”

    and the portion of the population that believes in the invisible sky fairy is growing increasingly antagonistic about suddenly having to defend their superstitions.
    Life was much easier for them when they could go through life with their beliefs unchallenged.

  17. #17 greg laden
    October 31, 2008

    Joel: Do you advocate for just leaving things as they are? Are yo somehow hurt by the prospect of my daughter’s teachers or fellow students treating her the same as the other kids even though she is an atheist? Do you have some kind of fucking problem with that?

  18. #18 Mara
    October 31, 2008

    Joel: I think you’re mired in the idea that worrying about one kind of discrimination means we don’t care about any others. Me, I’m a female bisexual Jewish atheist! Believe me, I can worry about multiple forms of discrimination at one time.

    It doesn’t do any good to sit around and say “We’re more discriminated against than this other group because…” I don’t think anyone here is going to argue that homophobia isn’t a problem.

    We need to oppose *all* kinds of discrimination whether it’s based on religion (or lack thereof), sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity…or whatever else the bigots can come up with.

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    October 31, 2008

    Mara, thanks for the more reasoned response that I gave.

    I should note that it is often the case that the activist Atheist are the first to show up as allies for others being discriminated against.

  20. #20 Jennifer A. Burdoo
    October 31, 2008

    “Me, I’m a female bisexual Jewish atheist!”

    Me too, actually! Well, maybe not the bisexual thing, I think I’m more transsexual. Or something. Can never remember the right medical term.

    I liked Cuttlefish’s poem in an earlier post. Notice that many of these ‘combinations’ can and do actually happen:

    “I proudly am an atheist
    I proudly am a Jew
    I proudly am a Christian,
    And I知 proudly Muslim, too.
    I知 proud to be both Gay and Straight
    I知 proudly Black and White
    I知 proudly Man and Woman
    And I値l proudly join the fight.
    I proudly am Humanity,
    Whatever that is worth;
    There is no group below me,
    Or above me, on this Earth.”

  21. #21 mark
    October 31, 2008

    In my town, Catholic kids were not warned not to go near the synagogue, but they were admonished not to go into Danford’s stationary store (that store sold magazines with pictures of nekkid women). For years I believed my Catholic friend who told me that when they went to confession, the person that listened was the neighborhood gossip.

  22. #22 Grammy
    October 31, 2008

    Greg, thank you for describing the mindless prejudices that surrounded me as a child in the ’40s and ’50s. I’ve never been able to summarize the atmosphere so well. Those words were, and still are, embedded in our language and culture.

  23. #23 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    October 31, 2008

    Your sarcasm hits a truth, Joel. It is rather common for people to hold our hurts as being more important than others. Gays and atheists face many of the same sorts of discrimination, and the right to live free and without fear of being damaged by ninnies is going to be a continuous battle.

    I feel your pain, believe it or not, but we all have it and discussing the way that Dole is treating atheists doesn’t mean that we forget about gays.

    Check this out. I Love the Gays.

  24. #24 Andrew Wade
    November 1, 2008

    Etymology aside there is what is arguably a double-standard here: it is ok for Jews to make jokes about how all Jews are lawyers and doctors but it is somehow less ok for non-Jews to do so. I can understand that emotionally but it doesn’t make much sense logically. Somehow the distinction between self-deprecating racial jokes and racism is based in part on who is telling it.

    Well sure; who is telling the joke can go to the emotional meaning/intention of the joke. This is then reinforced by feedback between what the people telling the jokes intend, and the interpretation of the listeners.

    So yes, there is a double-standard. But not one worth worrying about.

  25. #25 Andrew Wade
    November 1, 2008

    Oh, and if you feel inclined to spank me for using the “n-word” then I’ll let you know right away, you can keep that opinion to yourself…. been there, done that. The important thing is that I got your attention and made you cringe.

    This comes off as awfully dismissive.

  26. #26 Nemo
    November 1, 2008

    I’d honestly never heard of the expression “jew him down” until just a few years ago — never when I was growing up. I’m 39.

  27. #27 Azkyroth
    November 1, 2008

    First we have to get over the hump of being a large enough group to be used as a handy target, but still small enough to not have any actual political power.

    I think there’s more to it than that; the number of practicing Jews is, as I understand it, about an order of magnitude smaller than the “Non-Religious” and yet in the last generation or two they’ve gone from being to a convenient target to a group that almost no politician would dare publicly disparage.

  28. #28 Roman Werpachowski
    November 1, 2008

    Don’t belittle antisemitism: there was a pogrom in New York as recently as in 1991.

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    November 1, 2008

    This comes off as awfully dismissive.

    Not nearly as dismissive as I meant it to be, but it serves the purpose.

    Nemo: This may have had something to do with where you grew up. I think the expression is still in use.

  30. #30 Joel
    November 1, 2008

    Greg, certainly I don’t advocate the status quo and I am all in favor of your daughter being treated the same as anyone else.

    Mara and Mike seem to have understood most my point.

    Gay men and women have been told for a long time now that now is not the time, be patient, the country’s not ready, the candidate really supports you but cannot vocalize it so they can be elected, they’re just trying to make the Christians feel better…

    Somewhere along the line this election I think one of your posts had expressed the idea that in order to win the election, gay marriage would have to wait just a little longer. Try as I may, I couldn’t find it, maybe I was wrong.

    In any case, welcome aboard, we’re on the same boat now.

  31. #31 greg laden
    November 1, 2008

    Mara and Mike seem to have understood most my point.

    No, Joel, I understood it. I just responded to snark with snark, and Mara and Mike were more polite than me. Although that is a little unusual for Mike.

    You are right about my comments regarding gay marriage vis-a-vis the current candidagtes, and the same thing applies to atheism (as has also been discussed here).

    Thi, by the way, is a great argument in favor of party politics. If you look at the Democratic party platform, it is totally pro-gay rights.

    I am now going to make a promise: Next opportunity, the Minnesota DFL platform will have a statement in it about atheism. This can be done with some basic grass roots organizing.

    ARE YOU WITH ME?????

  32. #32 Stephanie Z
    November 1, 2008

    You know, Greg, if anything can make me give up my political independence, it might just be that. It wouldn’t have been at one time, but there’s nothing quite like having lies told about you to solidify your identity.

  33. #33 Joshua Zelinsky
    November 1, 2008

    Perhaps it isn’t just the fraction of the population that is atheist as what matters? Many people who are areligious may just not care one way or another or may be more agnostic. The fraction of atheists that actually care enough to function as part of a coherent demographic group is very small. There is the old cliche about herding cats. On the other hand, the same could easily be said about Jews and again the fraction there is much smaller.

  34. #34 David
    December 9, 2010

    I don’t want to spank you, I want to slit your throat

  35. #35 StevoR
    October 22, 2011

    That title : WHOAH! O-o

    Yeah, that gets attention. The ‘n word’ sure has beecome is todays taboo.

    I was told to not go near the Jewish Temple, especially on Friday or Saturday, because it would be too easy to stumble on a ceremony.

    Oooo, shock, horror a *ceremony* – how umm .. not scary at all.

    In second grade, I was told that if I saw a Jewish Ceremony, as a baptized catholic, I would turn to a skeleton. I am not making this up.

    What the ..?! For real. Like, really for real?! Yowser.

    (In a particularly articulate mood today.)

    Didn’t that kinda imply that the Jewish God was much more powerful and could easily beat the Catholic one or something? ;-)

    On the less amusing note – anti-Semitism (Judaeophobia) seems to be making somewhat of a comeback these days especially among the political Left wingers who seem very quick to blame Israel (&/or the Elders of Zion “Jewish lobby”) for everything and often thinly veiled as support for the Palestinians. The Muslim world is also deeply stepped and riddled rotten with anti-Semitism too. :-(

  36. #36 StevoR
    October 22, 2011

    D’oh. Typos.

    That’s :

    The ‘n word’ sure has become todays biggest taboo.

    &

    Anti-Semitism (Judaeophobia) seems to be making somewhat of a comeback these days especially among the political Left wingers who seem very quick to blame Israel (&/or the Elders of Zion “Jewish lobby”) for everything often thinly veiled as support for the Palestinians. The Muslim world is also deeply steeped in & riddled rotten with anti-Semitism too.

    The odd alliance or near alliance of the Political Left with Muslims who openly call for the oppression of women, the elimination of homosexuals, genocide against Israel, death penalties for mockingor changing religuion, excessively brutal sharia law punishments, etc .. is pretty hard to explain and rather troubling.

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    October 22, 2011

    I never thought of it that way. I had assumed that it was the Catholic God punishing me for see the ceremony.

    Boy, those nuns really had the wool pulled over my eyes!

    And thank you to the Spammer from Turkey who accidentally redirected attention towards this post!

  38. #38 daedalus2u
    October 22, 2011

    I remember when I was about 10, being told by another boy my age that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their Passover rituals.

    Being someone who knew my Bible and a skeptic even then, I knew that could not be correct because Passover pre-dated Christianity. There couldn’t be a tradition of using Christian blood in Passover because there would be no Christians for the first Passover and for a long time after that. Also, blood is never kosher and human blood especially.

    He was completely serious, he did believe it.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    October 22, 2011

    I’m imagining this conversation with a 7 year od daedalus2u and some kid…..