Like many of you, I’m sure, I have been being thinking way more about Donald Trump than I would like these past few days. I vacillate between thinking he is so bombastic that he is dangerous, and thinking he is so absurd he is ridiculous. However, after reading this New York Times article [Words that Killed Medieval Jews], I’m becoming more and more convinced of the former–and you should be, too.
The article, written by Sara Lipton [her new book is Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography], discusses what happened in the Middle Ages, when there was a change in crucifixion iconography and the theology around Christ’s death. She notes that before 1100, the Christian church focused on Christ’s victory over death and his divine nature; therefore, images of Jesus on the cross typically depicted him as “alive and healthy.” Around 1100 however, there was a shift, focusing attention instead on Christ’s pain and suffering on the cross, and his human nature. Along with this, then, went a renewed focus on his killers, the ones who tormented him–the Jews [so went the thought at the time].
Lipton details how sermons became filled with anti-Jewish rhetoric, and images of the evil hook-nosed Jew proliferated at this time. Not coincidentally, then, “the first records of large-scale anti-Jewish violence coincided with this rhetorical shift.” She notes how this pattern was repeated through the Middle Ages: polemical rhetoric followed by outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence, which then Christian officials were surprised about and unable to restrain. [Right.] The upshot? “History tells us that violent speech leads to violent acts.”
This is how she concludes the article: “Today’s purveyors of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-police, and anti-abortion rhetoric and imagery may not for a moment intend to provoke violence against Muslims, immigrants, police officers, and health care providers. But in the light of history, they should not be shocked when that violence comes to pass.”
So, those of us who care about all violence, especially religious violence, need to stand up and speak out against the kind of hateful rhetoric that uses religion as a shield for exclusion and oppression; fabricating fear and mistrust in order to demonize a few for the illusion of security for the many. Multiple media sources report that the current climate is more anxious than any time since 9/11; and no one makes good decisions based on anxiety. We are safer, stronger, and better together, rather than divided; and one of the most important responsibilities of a “majority” is special care and protection for the “minority”–religion, race, etc. It is incumbent upon us to exercise our responsibility now–before it’s too late, and we find ourselves on the other side of religious persecution, wondering how we let it happen.