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What really gets my goat....

EVERY SOCIETY, IT SEEMS, NEEDS A scapegoat. In some primitive societies, a live goat was chosen upon which a shaman or religious leader placed his hands while imploring heaven to take away that society's sins. The unfortunate goat was then slaughtered, and, for a time, all was well.

We are, of course, an enlightened people who will not tolerate such mumbo jumbo, but we can't seem to get along without a scapegoat of some kind.

The predominant scapegoats in the history of the United States have been black Americans. Torn out of their homeland roots, sold into slavery, denied education (even attempting to read a book often earned severe punishment for a slave), U.S. citizens finally "emancipated" the slaves while doing their best to assign them to a permanent economic underclass.

Ironically, the victims--those whom the majority have discriminated against so disgracefully--became the scapegoats and were blamed for a wide variety of social ills. How convenient it is for the rest of us that, like the shaman of old, we can pass away our sins on the heads of black Americans.

Making scapegoats of black Americans is only a few centuries old. The Jews have been scapegoats for others for more than 20 centuries. The recent, extraordinary PBS documentary "The Longest Prejudice" traced the history of anti-Semitism exhaustively if in a sometimes oversimplified fashion.

The true history of anti-Semitism is long and cruel. Over centuries, the Jewish people were imprisoned without guilt, deprived of their property and other rights, humiliated publicly, tortured, even slaughtered in "Christian" wars, such as the Crusades, and in Nazi death camps.

Just as American leaders with popular support countermanded the unjust imprisonment of Japanese American citizens and the theft of their property during World War II in the name of patriotism, the preposterous rationale for the persecution of the Jews in Europe over centuries was nominally religious. "The Jews were Christ killers," these rapacious, so-called Christians absolved themselves as they committed unspeakable crimes against the descendants many times removed from the time of Christ's life on earth.

The nature of anti-Semitism in the United States has differed from the historical bias in the rest of the world. Probably because we cherish (or, at least, claim to cherish) freedom of religion, we Americans have found an economic excuse with which to pass our sins on to the Jews. "The Jews are too successful in business," the American anti-Semite is wont to say, all the while envying that success.

In the PBS documentary, brief reference was made to the "radio priest," Father Charles E. Coughlin, whose anti-Semitic tirades during the 1930s could only be described as disgraceful. But, as I watched, I wished that the program had had time to tell the Coughlin story more fully.

In the early years of his Sunday radio broadcasts, Coughlin was a crusader for social justice. For the most part, his early speeches reflected the social teachings of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI and paralleled the reforms that the New Deal was enacting in the country. And he did indeed become enamored of some eccentric monetary doctrines that contributed to his later decline.

But Coughlin was an extraordinary orator, and his following mushroomed. Letters and contributions poured in and enabled him to build a splendid parish "plant" in Royal Oak, Michigan.

After a well-publicized break with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the radio priest made an embarrassing run for election to the U.S. presidency in 1936 and turned terribly sour. He found a scapegoat--the Jews--and began to blame them for everything but the measles and the mumps.

His anti-Semitic fulminations scandalized Catholics and others, and the archbishop of Detroit told him to knock it off. To his credit, Coughlin accepted this discipline and returned to the ranks.

I remember asking Msgr. Edward Hickey, the chancellor of the Detroit diocese at the time, what had become of the now-silent orator. "He's doing his job as a good parish priest," I was told.

But, sadly, anti-Semitism continues in the United States as elsewhere. It's a terrible irony that we followers of Jesus, whose mandate was that we love our neighbors as ourselves, continue to call ourselves Christians as we arbitrarily exclude from our love whole groups of people who "annoy us," or "bother us," or "who look different than we do."

"You can tell they are Christians by their love." Ha!
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Title Annotation:discrimination against African Americans and Jews by Christians
Author:Burns, Robert E.
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1994
Words:730
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