Author: Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, New York, N.Y.
Reviewer: Aharon ben Anshel
When The Jewish Press reviewed the original (hardcover) edition of "A Moral Reckoning" nearly two years ago, Daniel Goldhagen was already well-known for his first book, Hitler`s Willing Executioners. His second book, A Moral Reckoning, engendered an unimaginably vitriolic response from the "defenders of the faith" whom Goldhagen chastised. The current popularity of Mel Gibson`s The Passion, as well as a newly updated edition of the book, justifies another look. The paperback edition of A Moral Reckoning contains a new chapter and afterword not in the first edition. Much of our first review follows, with additional remarks: Having grown up in America, together with many Irish and Italian Catholic friends, I never quite understood why my grandmother used to spit in the direction of a Catholic church whenever she passed one on the street. After I read Daniel Goldhagen`s book, A Moral Reckoning, I am beginning to understand. The short basis of the whole story is that Roman Catholicism and some Protestant denominations have taught their adherents a theory of supercessionism: that Jews cannot attain "grace" unless we submit to the acceptance of the worship of a Jewish carpenter as the "son" of G-d.
Many of us have never explored the canons of other religions and may be unaware of their teachings. Catholicism, which accepts our Bible only as their "Old Testament," only adheres to literal interpretations, vastly misconstruing many of the commandments and writings which have been explained and interpreted in the Oral Torah. Even after the Shoah, Catholic schoolchildren were still being taught that the Jewish community of two millennia ago condemned Jesus of Nazareth to being crucified and killed by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. According to Church teachings, they not only demanded his condemnation and eventual death but also accepted his blood on their own hands and on those of their still unborn children and their descendants. Aside from the falseness of many of the details, this ignores the fact that the Torah, accepted by Christians as their "Old Testament," explicitly exempts children from being blamed for the sins of their parents.
Goldhagen, who is also the author of Ordinary Germans and The Holocaust, places the primary responsibility for the Holocaust at the hands of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church for having created an atmosphere of intolerance toward Jews throughout Western history. Not only has the Roman Catholic Church taught their adherents, and especially their young children, to hate and despise Jews; they promulgated special laws and rules that kept Jews locked away in ghettos and treated them not even as second-class citizens, but as non-entities. One of the first things that Goldhagen demands of the Church is admission of past errors as a first step toward remission. Unfortunately, as A Moral Reckoning makes clear, so far the Church has an unfulfilled duty of repair. He says that there are some good people of the Church who would like to do the "right things," but that "politics" are preventing their efforts from coming to fruition. He takes to task such halfhearted attempts to deal with their transgressions as "Vatican II," and berates the Church for their steps toward at beatification and appointment to sainthood of some of their luminaries such as Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) — to whom Goldhagen attributes primary responsibility for sins of omission during the Shoah.
The book is divided into four parts: Part One delineates the issues; Part Two describes the actions and inactions (the acts of commission and of omission); Part Three weighs the responsibility of the players ("agents") and Part Four calls for material, political and moral restitution. There continues a steady stream of Holocaust literature, well after more than half a century after the close of the event, including many apologias sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church and others.
Strangely, there are few apologists for the primary perpetrators — the Germans who spawned the Nazi government which wiped out more than one-third of our people. Anti-Semitic speech and actions are civil and criminal offenses in Germany, which has provided many millions of dollars in restitution to the Jewish people (basically in the form of payments of support to Israel). Must we ask any less from the Roman Catholic Church? First — an abject admission of guilt and an authentic apology; then, restitution. Perhaps they could even give us back our Temple Menorah and other objects that were stolen from Jerusalem, and which are reputed to currently reside in a Vatican warehouse. In the paperback`s Afterword, Mr. Goldhagen describes some of his experiences after the publication of A Moral Reckoning, including attempts at interfaith dialogue with representatives and officials of the Catholic Church. He comes away very disappointed that although he has found many people of good will, many prelates and Church fathers still maintain positions and anti-Semitic attitudes he considers to have been a basic cause of the Shoah. Basically, Goldhagen accuses the New Testament gospels of untruthful testimony. He notes that the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations have continued to rely on these false testimonies to engender the continuation of prejudice and hate against the Jewish people. Whatever agenda the early Church fathers may have had in their attempts to gain supremacy for the new Christian faith, that agenda should certainly be rescinded as dishonest in its implication of the entire Jewish people in the crucifixion, torture and death of Jesus. Similar to our need to be able to reply to other false testimonies, such as The Protocols of The Elders of Zion (see Dismantling The Big Lie, Jacobs & Weitzman, 2003, Wiesenthal Center, New York, NY), we need to be prepared to respond to the lies perpetrated by the gospels of the New Testament. It is unfortunate that when a Christian promises to tell "the Gospel truth" he or she is relying on a metaphor of truth based upon a falsehood.