Authoritarianism and Antisemitism

Jewish humor typically pokes fun at the Jewish character. In the process it reveals some of the basis of antisemitism.

Consider the following joke:

Morris: “Have you heard the new cantor? He sings like an angel.”

Seymour: “So what? If I had his voice, I’d sing just as good.”

Seymour is saying, ” Fundamentally as a person, no one deserves to be regarded as my better.”

The story of the Jewish people is filled with examples of how Jews, even on pain of death, refuse to bow down to any personage, image or idol. Jews bow their heads only to God.

While Evangelicals claim to regularly converse with the Almighty, who amazingly always confirms their personal thoughts and biases, as far as I know, the last time God uttered a word to a Jew was four thousand years ago in Egypt when he ordered a reluctant Moses to round up the posse and skedaddle.

Jews believe no person can claim to know God’s thoughts, represent His authority or speak for Him.

Unlike Christianity, whose main appeal is the promise of a gift of a heavenly reward, Judaism aims to create a heaven on Earth where, by respecting and treating each other fairly and kindly, they express gratitude to God for the gift they have already received. The gift of this mortal life. Many scholars believe such a utopia was what Jesus meant when he referred to the “kingdom of heaven,” a world where people resided with God in their hearts and were pious, ethical and kind to one another. It was no fancy resort in the sky with Jesus as maitre d’ who, if you grease his palm, washes away your guilt and gives you a table regardless of what a dastardly person you might have been.

To Jews, guilt is a good thing. It can’t, and shouldn’t, be absolved. We grow into better people by admitting mistakes and learning from them. Healthy guilt motivates people to act responsibly, to pursue self improvement and to be more empathic, accepting and supportive of others.

Unlike Roman Catholicism, which is much like a political organization with an aristocracy and a supreme ruler, Judaism does not have a hierarchical structure. The attitude of Jews? “Pope-Schmope. He puts his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else.”

I have never heard of a Rabbi, outside of a psychiatric ward, claiming he had a conversation with the Almighty. Christian leaders routinely seek to enhance their authority by claiming to speak personally to and for God.

A growing number of Americans (currently around 30 percent) are willing to undermine democracy and follow authoritarian leaders. It is no coincidence that a significant component of this cadre is comprised of born again Christians or that their rise has been accompanied by increasing anti-semitic sentiment.

The Altemeyer Right Wing Authoritarian Scale identifies such people as “high RWA.” They are characterized by the following (which will sound very familiar to you:)

1. Highly submissive to authoritarian figures, they consider this a moral virtue even if the authority figure is dishonest, corrupt or inept. They dismiss evidence of that corruption as false and inconsequential, believing authorities can do as they please (as long as it advances priorities they embrace) even if they break the law to do it. (Paradoxically, they are otherwise big on “law and order.”)

2. Conformist in thought and behavior.

3. Adherence to social conventions endorsed by their particular established authorities.

4. Willingness to act aggressively in support of authority figures against people with opposing values, views and lifestyles they define as morally degenerate.

5. Belief everyone should be converted to their points of view. They reject diversity and the idea that norms are arbitrary and that those of others could be equally valid as their own.

6. Logic challenged, thus have difficulty evaluating factual evidence, understanding complex issues, nuance, metaphor and paradox. They see the world in concrete terms.

7. Dogmatic. Evidence that does not reinforce their bias only makes their bias stronger even if they admit the evidence is factual.

8. Ignorance of general knowledge and current events which dovetails with impaired logical thinking.

9. Easily disgusted with what and with whom they disapprove of.

In a game, “Global Change” low RWA players get a result of world peace. High RWA players achieve nuclear holocaust.

For Jews the Bible, though revered, is seen as largely metaphorical, not as completely factual or a final authority. It is but a guide that stimulates introspection and rational evaluation of ethical and philosophical matters while inspiring awe and humility in the face of the vast and mysterious universe. Nothing but the Creator is absolute or deserving of subservience. Certainly no person is.

Contrast this with the rigid attitude of fundamentalist Christians who regard the scriptures as the literal word of God, immutable, unchangeable, to be interpreted entirely literally and to be imposed universally. And often quoted out of context to support a personal agenda or bias. (Or with conservative Supreme Court Justices who, happening also to be highly devout Christians, similarly cite their rigid, outdated, “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution to rationalize their pre-conceived ultra-conservative agenda.)

It’s understandable that, as a group, Jews tend to support minorities, social progress, liberal causes and vote Democratic. This does not endear them to high RWAs.

One of the reasons the growing cadre of high RWA people in the nation promulgate or tolerate anti-semitic views is that they see Jews as unwilling to conform to traditional conservative values. They are too independent and not vulnerable to manipulation or control the way high RWA people are. Thus they are seen as outsiders, not “real Americans,” and a threat to the status quo. I personally suspect that the fact Jews regard Christian dogma as highly dubious at best, niggles at the doubts believers foster in themselves and, raising the possibility death is final, scares the bejesus out of them.

Negative attitudes toward Jews has been the norm everywhere in the world ever since, five thousand years ago, Abraham departed Sumer. That kingdom had a culture that regarded individuals as nothing but cogs in a timeless wheel of constantly repetitive events. Individuals were of no value except to serve the powerful. They were pawns to the destiny assigned to them by the gods as interpreted by the high priests and ruling class and were entirely interchangeable.

Abraham didn’t just submit to God. He bargained with Him. Then he went off to pursue his own destiny and that of his people. He invented the concept of linear time, the concept that, with time, the world moves inevitably forward, always evolving and changing. Correspondingly each individual is unique and worthy to be free to pursue their own journey through life. The movement he founded planted the seeds of modern democracy.

Though today’s Republicans trumpet the sanctity of “freedom,” they endorse it only for those who conform to their rigid beliefs and values. They resent anyone who has the audacity to disagree with them or to live a life they do not see, in their narrow view, as morally worthy.

Understandably, high RWAs, in particular religious fundamentalists and authoritarian leaders and their governments, find the attitude of Jews threatening and annoying.

If you wonder why antisemitism is on the rise in this nation today, you need wonder no longer.

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