Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kauft auch bei Juden

Don’t know if you’ve ever seen those pictures of the Nazi thugs breaking shop windows and parading down the street with their flags and their Hitler salutes.  “Kauft nicht bei Juden!” the signs said.  “Don’t buy from Jews!”

Germans!  Defend yourselves!  Don't buy from Jews!
It was my first encounter with evil.  With bigotry.  And with the idea of scapegoating, something I would in later years come to study academically as “othering,” a concept from the field of group psychology that marked an ugly human tendency to divide the world into “us” and “them.”  The roots of war and genocide and the worst kind of unspeakable barbarism and human tragedy.

Because this could take place in Germany, a country filled with philosophers and musicians and artists and skilled workmen and people who loved to dance and sing and eat well, people who made good wine and cars and cameras, I have wondered from early on if it could happen here.

We’ve certainly got the raw material.  After all, we did pull off one of the great genocides in human history.  Most Americans know little about that story.  We know more about slavery and segregation, but even there we tend to see those things as aberrations, and not as part of the essence of who we are, just as the traditionalists of the Roman Catholic hierarchy talk about the Inquisition, the Indulgences, the long history of cooperation with dictatorship regimes as aberrations, ignoring the inherent tendency to go with the status quo and against the historical trend toward human rights.  We’ve all got more than a little fascism in us, just under the surface.

Every once in a while it pops to the surface, though.  We went to war in Vietnam and fought it with chemical weapons.  An estimated one million people suffer from the after-effects of Agent Orange, including 100,000 disabled children.  The people responsible for that war should be in jail for crimes against humanity.  Instead they enjoy taxpayer-supported pensions and the title of “elder statesmen.”

We did it again in Iraq, went to war against a people, scattered millions of refugees, killed tens, possibly hundreds of thousands, and the people responsible for this are being spoken about today as possible candidates for president.

I think, though, that the real cause for concern has never been those who come to power through ambition, but the rest of us who don’t do our homework and become the enablers of the Dick Cheneys and Donald Rumsfelds in our midst.  We watch the John Yoos of the world make law to justify torture and, instead of piling them on the trash heap of history, we give them jobs at the University of California.  We invite them on talk shows and make them into celebrities. 

In the long run, though, we are still doing pretty well figuring them out and keeping their power limited.  What worries me more than bad guys in charge is our own gullibility.  Our own cluelessness.  The fact that millions of Americans can be manipulated by their fears into voting for these guys.

It’s Christmas time again, and that means we get to watch the annual Fox News frenzy over the made-up “War on Christmas.”  Jon Stewart did a brilliant take-off on this phenomenon just recently.  

And just as I was yucking it up over his brilliant satire, I got one of those e-mails from a relative who sends me right-wing junk from time to time.  I usually toss it, but this time I took a look.  It was a YouTube link to “a new Christmas carol,” and it goes
If you don’t see ‘Merry Christmas’ in the window
No! You don’t go in that store.
If you don’t see ‘Merry Christmas’ in the window
Yes! You walk right by that door.

Oh, it’s all about the little baby Jesus
and my Savior’s day of birth
It’s the one and only reason
That we celebrate the season.
If you don’t hear ‘Merry Christmas when they greet you
When you’re walking through their store
Simply turn and say “It’s very nice to meet you”
As you walk right out that door
I remember as a kid the campaign against using X as shorthand for Christ.  “Merry Xmas” the signs said.  “No, not Xmas,” the good Christian folk responded, “Keep Christ in Christmas.”  We then went off on a silly argument about whether the X wasn’t suitable after all because in Greek Christ begins with an X and wasn’t the New Testament written in Greek?   Modern day arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Then there was the effort to get back to the baby in the manger and cut out the Christmas tree and the Yuletide log and the mistletoe and all that pagan stuff.  And to short-circuit the displacement of Christ onto Santa Claus and the commercialism and the partying with too much alcohol and on and on.  That all went nowhere because the Christians no longer had exclusive use of the holiday. It was now in the hands of the culture, which Christians often forget.

This song sheds light on how these arguments have evolved over time.  The fuss over the X in Christmas seems to have gone by the wayside.  And so has the objection to mistletoe and egg nog.  Now it’s about Republican party politics and the use of religion to frighten good Christian folk into thinking the liberal demons are out to destroy the faith.  Bishop Timothy Dolan says insisting women have a legal right to birth control information is an attack on the Roman Catholic church.  Given that an estimated 95% of Roman Catholics practice birth control makes this one of the most idiotic statements of all time, but you’ll have to take that up with Timothy directly.  And for Protestants, it's a line in the sand over creches in the public square.

There are two layers of manipulation at work here, one mean and sinister, the other merely clueless.  There are those who calculate ways to manipulate the vulnerable and see religion as a tool.  Nothing new about that.  Religion has always been a ready tool for political manipulators.  The clueless are the sweet LOLs and others who love this catchy tune and the thought they are doing their part to defend their faith against atheists and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and those ferocious Buddhists who would destroy their faith.

The clueless are misdirected on two levels.  First, they don’t see that the moves to prevent religious displays in public places are not an attack on religion, but a defense of religious equality.  Christians, no more and no less than members of any other faith, are free to practice their religion unhindered anywhere they like in private places, where others will not be made to feel like second-class citizens and there will be no suggestion of state endorsement of a particular religion. 

Secondly, they have no appreciation for history.   How soon they’ve forgotten the “Kauft nicht bei Juden” signs.

Don’t shop with people who don’t display signs of Christmas, the song tells you.

Jews, for example.  “Don’t shop at the Jew store.”  Walk right out that door, the song says.

I’m not going to make the argument that this is fascism lurking just below the surface.

It’s surely much more a case of cluelessness than of evil.

The problem in the song is its either/or world view.  We live in a both/and world.  People who know you’re Christian should wish you a Merry Christmas.  Hell, people who know you’re not Christian but enjoy the holiday should wish you a Merry Christmas.  For that matter, even Christians speaking to non-Christians, should wish them a Merry Christmas as a way of sharing their faith.  And in return, you need to allow those who think differently to act differently without having their stores boycotted.

The fascist way is "Kauft nicht bei Juden - Don't buy from Jews."  

Here, it's different.

Here we do a simple word replacement.  We replace "nicht" (not) with "auch" (also).

It's the American way.

Pardon my patronizing condescending tone.

But you really ought to know better, oh writer of catchy Christmas tunes.

Oh, and by the way...

Merry Christmas!

 photo credit

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