During the 1940’s, before television, my brothers and I listened to the radio. We had our favorite programs, of course, one of which was The Shadow. It began: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” And the answer came in a deep, mysterious voice, ‘The Shadow Knows!’
The radio show ran from 1931 to 1954, and for a couple of years in the late 30’s Orson Welles played The Shadow; Lamont Cranston was his alter ego. I mention that in case you are ever asked the question: who was The Shadow’s alter ego. “Why that was Lamont Cranston,” you would say without batting an eye.
As recently as 1994 there was a movie version of The Shadow with Alec Baldwin. It was a flop.
So, here’s the question: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men…and women and children?
Who knows the evil in the hearts of teen aged boys who take guns to school and shoot classmates and teachers?
Who knew what evil was lurking in the heart of Robert Hanssen, a devout Catholic, a dedicated father, a faithful husband–an FBI agent for 27 years?
The Gospel of John has Jesus say, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
This is, of course, a famous Bible passage, and it has been used as a text for thousands of sermons.
It’s a typical text for a Unitarian Universalist sermon, the nub of which is this: we are often in bondage to things inside of us which are unresolved. We are in bondage to fear, for example. We are in bondage to anger, or old resentments, or to feelings of inadequacy; we are in bondage to a sense of failure; we are in bondage to guilt feelings–a natural response when we have said or done things we regret, or failed to say or do things we promised.
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” It’s a G-rated passage, by itself. Nothing very upsetting, really.
But let’s look again at that famous passage from the Gospel According to Saint John, shall we?
What comes just before and just after the famous statement about knowing the truth and the truth setting you free is not G-rated. Indeed, I must warn you, it is X-rated. You may want to stop listening or reading at this point.
That warning, like the one they give before some television shows, is a trick to perk your ears, make you want to listen/read all the more. At least we hope so.
John 8: 31 says:
Then Jesus said to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
They answered him, We are Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, You shall be made free?
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. I know that you are Abrahams’s seed; but you seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you….you are of your father the devil…he was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in truth because there is no truth in him, and because I tell you the truth you believe me not.
“He that is of God heareth God’s words: you therefore hear them not, because you are not of God…
The key thing here is that the Gospel of John has Jesus say to the Jews who would not accept him as the Messiah, “You seek to kill me.”
When was this written? It was written many years after the death of Jesus. These are words that the Gospel writer puts in the mouth of Jesus.
Who killed Jesus? According to the Christian Scriptures, the holy word (it’s in the book…the book on which the President puts his hand while being sworn in to office) the Jews killed Jesus. The unbelieving Jews killed Jesus. Christians, who later came to believe that Jesus was God, say again and again that the Jews killed God.
The Holy Book says, again and again, that the Jews killed Jesus–who was God, taking human flesh to pay for the sins of the world.
Christian theologians have said it, again and again. Christian clergy, for nearly two thousand years repeated it over and over: the Jews killed Jesus. What’s the result of this assertion?
Rabbi Orkand tells about his grandmother’s dread of Easter Sunday, when she, as a Jew living near Minsk, would hide with her family, in fear of their lives. It was common practice for Christians who heard the Easter sermon to kill a Jew for their having killed Jesus.
Christian theologians explained to their congregations that Christ continues to be killed by Jews who refuse to accept him. By denying Jesus as the Christ, they said, and some still say, the non-believers are killing him again.
“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”
Psychologists talk about the ‘shadow’ as that part of the human psyche which is hidden, but which could and should be moved from the unconscious to the conscious mind.
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” You shall move the hidden parts of the psyche from the unconscious to the conscious mind; until you do so, you will not be free.
The shadow, the psychologists tell us, is that part of ourselves that we keep hidden. It’s not simply the bad part of us–the negative part. According to Jung’s idea, the shadow also contains positive parts which we’ve kept hidden, for whatever reason; undeveloped aspects of the personality which we’ve kept ‘in the dark.’ The shadow is the hidden part of our own psyche.
A lot has been written about the shadow.
I don’t remember if the old radio show, The Shadow, was scary or not. I do remember hearing that voice ask the question: who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, and then hearing the answer: the shadow knows. I don’t remember how or why The Shadow knew, but he did. I came to realize that the shadow, as a psychological term referring to the hidden things in ourselves, can be scary.
While my brothers and I were listening to The Shadow on the radio in the early 40’s, Jews were being put into the ovens; millions of Jews were being systematically and methodically murdered.
That event, which we now refer to as the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews and others by the Nazis during World War II, happened in my lifetime. That’s scary.
Since I first began to learn about Hitler and the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi’s, I’ve been asking ‘How did happen, and why? What was the role of religion in the Holocaust?’
To paraphrase Jesus, You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you very uncomfortable, long before it makes you free!
Christian Scripture and Christian theology is filled with references to the Jews killing Christ. Not the Romans, but the Jews, were responsible for the death of Christ, who the Christians later said was not a man, but God Himself.
The Gospel of John has Jesus tell the unbelieving Jews that they are ‘from the devil.’ Jews who believe on him, as the Gospel of John puts it, are saved. Jews who do not believe on him, as all too many Christian preachers are still saying, will burn in hell for all eternity, which, as we all know, is a very long time.
Of course the concept of eternity has nothing to do with time, as we know it in this life of ours. But we won’t go there, now.
The idea of an all-knowing God who send some of his creatures to an everlasting hell is, of course, repugnant as well as absurd. If it were not so offensive it would merely sound silly.
Now here’s the point: James Carroll’s astonishing book, Constantine’s Sword: the Church and the Jews, traces the foot prints of anti-Semitism in the Gospels, in Christian theologians and the Vatican all the way from the Holy Roman Emperor Constantine’s creation of a new religion, to Auschwitz.
James Carroll is a believing, practicing Catholic, as well as a courageous, articulate historian.
As I understand it, his purpose–or at least one of his purposes in writing this extremely important book–is his belief that until his church acknowledges its complicity in the Holocaust it will not be truly ‘free.’
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free…but not before it makes you very uncomfortable.”
Let me tell you some of my own discomfort:
For years I’ve preached Palm Sunday sermons, using the Bible’s account of Jesus coming in to Jerusalem with cheers of Hosannah, only to have the same people shout, “Crucify him,” a few days later when he doesn’t deliver what they want. What they wanted, I’ve said, was a messiah or savior who would liberate them from the Roman occupation.
He didn’t deliver, so they, the Jews, called for his crucifixion.
I now realize that by perpetuating that notion I have become an unwitting accomplice to anti-Jewish attitudes and anti-Semitism.
In those sermons I suggested that this is just what we do with one another: when someone doesn’t deliver what we want, even someone about whom we have shouted our own version of Hosannah, we turn around and shout our own version of ‘crucify him, or her.’
In any case, this is how I’ve been an unwitting accomplice to the terrible and erroneous notion that the Jews killed Jesus. Jesus was a Jew. There has never been a Judaism where all Jews are in agreement. In the time of Jesus, as in our own time, there are various sects of Judaism which vehemently disagree with other sects. (See sermon ‘Arguments for the Sake of Heaven,’ October 8, 2000.)
What is the Christian religion’s role in the Holocaust?
James Carroll pulls no punches–he traces Christianity’s footprints from Constantine to Auschwitz.
Shortly after World War II when people started asking how the Holocaust could happen, and why, Hannah Arendt wrote a book called The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). In that book she suggested that so-called modern anti-Semitism as seen in Germany during the Third Reich was fundamentally different from “the old religious Jew-hatred.”
The Holocaust, according to Hannah Arendt’s thesis, is that the anti-Semitism in Germany was a peculiarly modern phenomenon. It was, she said, a horror that was spawned because of vast, complicated and colliding social forces: “…the rise of the nation-state, the collapse of old systems of class and rank, and the emergence of explosive new technologies of propaganda and mass destruction.”
Constantine’s Sword is a powerful, I would even say ‘shocking’ rebuttal to Arendt’s thesis.
James Carroll is an award-winning novelist and journalist, a Catholic and a former priest who feels his religion deeply. His disturbing book is a confession as well as an allegation.
Carroll calls his book, “the story of the worst thing about my Church.” For that reason, this book could only have been written by a Christian, and preferably a Catholic, as Carroll is.
One reviewer says that Constantine’s Sword is “…the story of how Christianity’s early self-definition in opposition to Judaism matured into the simmering hatred that allowed believing German Catholics to participate prominently in Hitler’s regime and caused the official Church to stand silently by — despite all the assistance proferred by individual Catholics to hundreds of thousands of individual Jews — as Nazi practice escalated from mere organized viciousness to the phantasmagoria of evil that was Auschwitz. It is a story that Carroll offers both as an act of penance and as a call to deal forthrightly with the surprisingly many vestiges of anti-Semitism to be found in the foundational texts and practices of Christianity.”
Toward the end of his book James Carroll writes: “This has been the story of the worst thing about my Church, which is the worst thing about myself. I offer it as my personal penance to God, to the Jewish dead, and to my children. The Christian conscience — mine — can never be at peace. But that does not say it all. This tragic story offers a confirmation of faith, too. God sees us as we are, and loves us nevertheless. When the Lord now turns to me to ask, “Will you also go away?” I answer, this too with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall I go?”
James Carroll is the kind of scholar and soul we would welcome here with open arms. He obviously believes that famous line from the Gospel of John: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” He’s willing to cause us to feel uncomfortable in order to reach spiritual freedom.
I’m sure there are many in his church who wish he would go away, or that he had never come down the pike.
A Catholic priest with whom I spoke said, “That book is an attack on our church!” He wasn’t pleased.
I thought to myself, “An attack? Yes. To attack a problem is to go to work with vigor, and a sense of purpose. We attack an infection with medication, and anti-Semitism is a virus deep in the soul of Christianity. It needs to be attacked!” I didn’t say it out loud to my colleague, who hadn’t actually read the book, but had only read about it. Too bad.
Carroll asks, implicitly: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? We must ask that question of ourselves.
Who knows what evil lurks in a spy’s secret world? Robert Hanssen, we’ve been told, was a trusted FBI agent for 27 years, a devoted husband and father, a devoutly religious man.
Who knows what evil lurks in a teen-aged boy’s heart who takes a gun to school and kills classmates, teachers and others?
We’ve come a long way, and we have a long, long way to go toward the necessary goal of knowing the truth.
We learned the truth about tobacco’s deadly effects and we’re just beginning to free ourselves from it–to free our children. We have a long way to go.
We’re learning the truth about the guns that some say we have a right to own, but we have a long, long way to go before the bloodshed will stop.
We’re learning the truth about the development of the adolescent brain–or the lack of development before a certain age when boys, especially, are prone to the insanity we’ve seen again and again.
And each of us is learning truths about ourselves, about what makes us tick as individuals, and most of us have a long way to go before we can say we are ‘free.’
We often quote the first line of our statement of affirmation: love is the spirit of this church. We sometimes quote the next line: and service its law, as a way of promoting social action. Today I have emphasized the line in our covenant: to seek the truth in love.
To be free, in a religious or spiritual sense is to be capable of moral discernment. To be free is to be free from prejudices which lock us into old narrow-minded ways of thinking. To be morally free is to be freed from anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, sexism and all the other isms that prevent the soul or the human spirit from realizing our connection to the Divine Spark which is in us and which connects us to all Life on the planet, and by extension to All that is, to the One-ness of God.
It’s appropriate, then, to conclude this difficult sermon with a statement of hope. The poet Langston Hughes provides it in his poem, Dream a World
I dream a world where man
No other will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn.
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every (one) is free,
Where wretchedness will hang it’s head,
And joy, like a pearl,
Attend the needs of all mankind,
Of such I dream–