The more things change . . .

I’ve been reading a book on Judaism (on which more later) when I came across a paragraph I found particularly interesting for its parallel to today:

“As Moses Mendelsson achieved fame, he acquired the admiring acceptance of many of the leading intellectuals of Germany.  They were ready to befriend this extraordinary person despite his Jewishness, but it bothered them that he clung to his Jewish ways and would not become a Christian like them.  In 1769, the philosopher Lavater published an open letter to Mendelsson, stating that now that Mendelsson had been accepted in Christian society, it would only be proper for him to return that acceptance and be baptized.  Lavater implied what many ‘enlightened’ Christian intellectuals were to say, that in a modern society Jews should not stick to the ‘medieval superstition’ that was Judaism.  In other words, the spread of Enlightment ideas was to be accompanied by the assimilation of the Jews into general society.  The Jews were expected to prefer a modern enlightened Christianity over their own traditional religion.” 

Substitute Christian for Jew and humanism/athism for Christian and that paragraph reads like something out of today’s op-ed page.  Can’t you just hear it — “in a modern society, Christians shoud not stick to the ‘medieval superstition’ that is Christianity. . . The Christians were expected to prefer a modern enlightened humanism over their own traditional religion.”  The more things change . . .

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  • Charles Martel

    Quixote, your comparison is apt, only I’d add that the Christian has now joined the Jew, rather than replacing him, in being importuned by the Enlightened Ones to change his silly ways.  

    If Jews were hoping not to get scapegoated or noticed in this era of rising anti-religious fervor, they’re out of luck. Ain’t nothing the statists, secularists and progressives are better at, when times are right, than a little Jew hating.

  • Ymarsakar

    At the time, Jewishness wasn’t connected to the Greek or Roman philosophers that sourced the Enlightenment. Thus Judaism was more connected to Arab tribalism and Islam given the region in question.
    Christians back then probably viewed Persians or Arabians the same way.

  • Ymarsakar

    I say at the time because now a days, European aristocracy and EU centrism is more related to the tribalism of Arab and Israel is more related to Western Enlightenment principles or Greek democracy.

  • jj

    There are, I suspect, huge differences.  Most of Charles’ “enlightened ones” were themselves born Christian – America is by a vast majority a Christian country, whatever the jug-eared jackass in the White House thinks.  It’s likely to remain so for a while, and the only difficulty is that said Christians are so determined to be accepting of “multiculturalism” and “diversity” and sundry other assorted forms of BS that they’ve placed themselves and their own practices in some danger.  Pretty remote danger – there remain more than enough of them to one day hit the wall, say: “that’s enough!” mean it, and make it stick – but danger nonetheless.
    That’s a different thing than what historically went on with the Jews.  Society – any society; every society – has always had difficulty with the concept of what in psychology is known as the “other.”  The point of having a society at all is that everyone more or less blends in, thinks the same, and all the oars in the boat pull in the same direction.  (A viewpoint our society seems to have given up, which is precisely why it’s in danger.)  Historically Jews have always held themselves somewhat apart and aloof, which has made them naturals to occupy the position of the “other.” That’s the position they have indeed occupied throughout most of history.  Regrettably, holding yourself somewhat apart and hewing to your own customs and traditions tends to accomplish two things: it makes everybody else suspicious, and it makes you an easily isolated target upon which to vent said suspicions.  Obviously not the result for which anyone would hope, but it does tend to be the sad historical fact.
    There have of course been plenty of other “others.”  In this country the Amish, Shakers, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Millenarians, Quakers, Mormons, and a whole pile of lesser sects and offshoots have mostly dealt with their own “otherness” by removing themselves from the greater society more or less completely.  They establish their own communities and don’t pretend to be involved with us, and they know they’re better off without trying to be.  (Though the Mormons have spent most of the last century mainstreaming, they remain most at home in their own community, and many of the “old” practices that have allegedly been outlawed are just fine and hale in Utah – once you get off the major highways and out into the Wasatch and Jordanelle valleys.)
    But there have always been more Jews, and through most of their history they haven’t had available what they regard as the only proper place to go.  (Right there another difference: they hew to the idea that there’s only one place.  Most “others” are willing to go pretty much anywhere, just to be left in peace.)  They have in consequence always been a lot more dispersed around the planet than any of the other “others,” who tend to be in one place.  It’s been a lot easier for these groups to go find their own territory and ignore the rest of us – there are a lot fewer of them.  When there are 50,000 of you, you find it’s a big world and you can hide.  When there are millions of you, the world isn’t so big and vanishing is a lot harder.
    Anyway, none of this is right, or what reasonable people would hope – but it is history.  I think the parallel between contemporary Christians and historical Jews, or other “others,” is inexact at best.  Very different situations, and contemporary Christians are put upon only to the extent they allow themselves to be.  It’ll be interesting to see what effect our illegal and unregistered democrat population will have, too, as most of them tend to be not merely Christian, but Roman Catholic, no less.  They come from somewhat simpler societies, too, without the burden of the PC BS, wherein the church is taken quite seriously indeed, and the Pope is not seen as kidding.  If anything, as more of them show up here, I suspect a coming Christian revival.

  • Don Quixote

    Thanks, jj, for the thoughtful reply — certainly more thoughtful and valuable than my original post.  Certainly, when viewed from the standpoint of the party receiving the criticism, the situations are fundamentally different.  However, I was viewing the matter from the party giving the criticism.  Then, as now, the party giving the criticism displays extraordinary arrogance.  They are convinced that the person they are criticizing (the believer in Judaism then, the believer in Christianity now) is intellectually inferior and unenlightened.

    Basically, Lavater was saying to Mendelsson, “For a smart fellow, how can you be so stupid to hold on to those silly beliefs.”  Isn’t that exactly what the atheist left is saying to the Christian right today?  Well, maybe except for the “smart fellow” part.  

    I’ll go one step further.  You are quite right that Jews have always set themselves somewhat apart and that makes them an easy target.  It’s easy to attack someone who describes his people as “Chosen” with the clear implication that they are somehow superior.  But, from the standpoint of the athist multi-culturalist, that’s what Christians and other conversatives are doing today.  They are saying that their culture is superior to at least some others, with the clear implication that, since it is “their” culture, they are superior, too.  Note well, I’m not saying that this is the actual belief of the Christian right, just that I can see it appearing that way from the point of view of a multiculturalist.  Note also that this goes beyond religion to politics, but those two things are never completely separate anyway. 

  • Ymarsakar

    It’s easy to attack someone who describes his people as “Chosen” with the clear implication that they are somehow superior.

    It’s only easy when you lack the military power to defeat or deter such attacks, DQ.
    Christians, meaning America, has the firepower to back up their claims of cultural superiority.


    They have in consequence always been a lot more dispersed around the planet than any of the other “others,” who tend to be in one place.
    Not so much dispersed as that may imply a choice, but expulled. It was also economic expulsion that led Jews to travel beyond their shetl walls. The historical irony is that it created a Jewish community in the world that spoke the same mother tongue, while becoming multi-lingual in many other languages, which only enhanced their ability to thrive and survive.