Franklin H. Littell, "Christendom, Holocaust, and Israel: The Importance for Christians of Recent Major Events in Jewish History," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 10 (1973) 496-497

Abstract by Jerry Darring


It is tempting for the Christian to be silent in the face of the Holocaust, but we must speak in order to avoid a consuming fire being shut up in our bones. What is needed is not so much a historian or a theologian as a poet, someone "who will lead us out of our terror and confusion into a new grasp on our present and future" (486). We need to recover the language of events, we need "a radical reworking of Christian teaching ... especially a definition of the Christian duty to resist illegitimate government and criminal acts by legitimate government" and "an affirmation of the Jewish right to self-definition and the repudiation of Judenmission, conversionist efforts directed at individual Jews" (487).

Certain negatives in church teaching must be transformed into positives: the replacement of the Jewish people by a 'New Israel'; the demand that Jews convert; the notion that the Jews crucified Christ; the completion of the work of the Holy Spirit with the end of the Apostolic Age; Jewry by the time of Jesus had become degenerate and apathetic; Jewish wandering and suffering, including the Holocaust, reflected God's displeasure with them; and the Jews as stubborn outsiders. These old myths can only be cast out by new myths, for the Holocaust is one of those events which cannot be contained by generalizations and abstractions. "The unremitting devotion of post-Enlightenment minds to the methodology appropriate to the 'hard' sciences, but of limited use in humanistic and religious studies unless checked by poetic imagination, a sense of the tragic, or by the memory of faith, has been the fertile source of the blindness of the educated to the significance of unique events" (491). It shows lack of artistic instinct and religious sensibility to regard the Holocaust as nothing more than an exaggerated example of human inhumanity. Likewise, antisemitism must be understood correctly: "Antisemitism is blasphemy, and its active implementation is rebellion against God" (492).

So the crucial question is how to understand the Holocaust in mythical terms, for "To give a careful, rational, precise description of a chair, or the manufacture of an automobile, is possible for the scientifically trained; to describe the Holocaust in the same cold-blooded way is not only impossible, it is dangerous to the soul" (493).

In the State of Israel the very basis for Christian antisemitism has been destroyed, for it announces that the Jewish people lives. "In the long haul, it is the restoration of Israel upon which the wicked will break their teeth, through which the believing will be purged of their false teachings and turned toward the meaning of God in history" (497).