Christian Religion and Antisemitism in the Netherlands 1990

A Social Scientific Study



Ruben Konig

This is an abstract of a book:

The relationship between Christians and Jews in the Low Countries has never been immaculate, though not as bad as in the neighbouring countries. But, since World War II many positive changes have occurred in the official Christian Churches. The impact these changes have had on the "average believer", however, cannot be derived from existing historical research. Also, existing empirical social-scientific research cannot answer the question as to how Jewish-Christian relations have developed in the Netherlands since World War II. The little empirical research into the relationship between Christian religion and antisemitism that has been conducted in the Netherlands, leads only to the conclusion that a relationship still exists. Much insight into this relationship is not provided. To fill in this gap in empirical research in particular, and considering history, the present study on the relationship between Christian religion and antisemitism was initiated. An attempt was made to find out why followers of the Christian religion hold prejudice against Jews. We considered the possibilities of this being due to the Christian religion itself, and of this being accounted for by extra-religious factors.

To answer the research question, data from the national survey Social and Cultural Developments in the Netherlands 1990 (SOCON90) were used. The SOCON90-survey is a joint project of the universities of Nijmegen and Tilburg. During the winter of 1990-1991, 1,185 respondents were asked questions concerning - among other topics - anti-Jewish prejudice and Christian religion. This group of 1,185 respondents comprised an approximate representation of the Dutch population. Nevertheless, the final statistical analyses were executed for a subgroup of only 783 respondents, as part of the respondents did not answer all of the questions. However, the composition of this subgroup did not strongly deviate from the composition of the total group of respondents. Therefore, the conclusions based on the data of this subgroup are interpreted as valid for the whole Dutch population.

First, a theoretical model was drawn up in order to explain the observed positive correlation between Christian religion and religious and secular antisemitism (respectively r = 0.29 and r = 0.24). Secondly, it was tested whether this model fitted to the empirical correlations that the SOCON90-data revealed. Linear structural modelling was used to conduct this testing. Finally, the model was revised on a few minor points - the result of which is shown in the figure below - and conclusions were drawn.

[figure on page 133 of the book]

Legend: u = unchurched; c = Catholic; r = Reformed; rr = Re-reformed; I = higher-grade professionals; II = lower-grade professionals; III = routine non-manual employees; IV = small proprietors; V&VI = skilled manual workers; VII = unskilled manual workers

Statistics: chi2 = 41,71 with 39 degrees of freedom (p = 0,35); AGFI = 0,96; n = 783; explained variance: narrow perspective = 52%, Christian belief = 62%, social disorientation = 70%, religious antisemitism = 32% en secular antisemitism = 56%; total coefficient of determination = 84%

In accordance with Glock and Stark's classic theory on Christian beliefs and anti-Semitism, the Christian religion can still be pointed out as a source of antisemitism in the Netherlands at the beginning of the nineties. Because the Christian religion traditionally claims a universally valid truth, the believers may arrive at the conclusion that other religions preach a "false" truth. In this respect, Christians pay special attention to the Jews, because the Jews are of special interest to the Christian teachings. In the Netherlands we find that a stronger traditional Christian belief still fosters grudge against the Jews as crucifiers of Christ and resentment of their denial of Jesus as the Messiah. In turn, accusations of this kind easily lead to other, secular, accusations against the Jews. Christian belief therefore not only leads to religious prejudice against Jews, but indirectly to secular prejudice as well. Jews are also accused of money-grubbing, a craving for power, and the like. To be clear, the influence of Christian belief on religious antisemitism is not strong and therefore neither the effect on secular antisemitism.

Church attendance and denomination indirectly influence antisemitism through Christian belief. If one attends Church more often, one tends to more strongly believe, and therefore is more strongly religiously and secularly prejudiced against Jews. As for denomination: members of the Re-reformed Churches (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland) have a stronger Christian belief than members of the Reformed Church (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk), which is partly accounted for by the higher frequency of Church attendance by the members of the Re-reformed Churches. In turn, members of the Reformed Church have a stronger Christian belief than the Catholics and the Catholics have a stronger Christian belief than the unchurched. Consequently, the Re-reformed should be most religiously and secularly prejudiced against Jews, followed by the Reformed, the Catholics, and as the least prejudiced, the unchurched. This applies to religious antisemitism, though the differences between Catholics, Reformed and Re-reformed are negligibly small. However, this does not apply to secular antisemitism. Using Glock and Stark's theory, one overestimates the antisemitism of the Reformed and especially the Re-reformed. Independent of Christian belief and religious prejudice, a direct effect of denomination on secular antisemitism exists. This effect results in Protestants not scoring higher than the average Dutchman on secular antisemitism. The Catholics do score higher. The most probable explanation for this result concerns the way in which Jewish-Christian relations are discussed within the Catholic and Protestant Churches. Within the Catholic Church, this theme is almost exclusively discussed by the clergy and few especially involved lay-members. Within Protestant Churches this theme is discussed in much broader circles. This much wider interest in Jewish-Christian relations within the Protestant denominations, probably forces subsequently more protestants to think about the Christian roots of the Shoah and the origin of the secular prejudices about Jews. Considering such matters, the chance of one arriving at the conclusion that these secular prejudices stand on shaky grounds, is great.

An explanation of the relationship between Christian religion and antisemitism that is at least as important as the previous explanation, uses the concept "breadth of perspective". People who interpret the world using only their own narrow cultural or local community as a frame reference, who make moral judgements based on the traditional values of their own community only, and who uncritically conform to the norms of their community, have a narrow perspective on social reality. In contrast, people who can see beyond the borders of their own cultural or local community, and who recognise that reality can be interpreted different from the way that is customary in their own community, have a broader perspective on social reality. Consciousness of a large array of different but equal world-views and valuesystems indicates a broad perspective. In this study localism, normconformity and authoritarianism - concepts that, in literature, are often linked to Christian religion and antisemitism - are interpreted as indicators of a narrow perspective. The traditional world-view and valuesystem of our western culture are reified, which means that they are used as an invariable frame of reference.

People with a narrow perspective on social reality often have a narrow perspective on Jews as well. They perceive prejudiced beliefs about Jews as more plausible than do people with a broader perspective. After all, these prejudices are traditional prejudices that often concur with the narrow world-view of the community. For centuries they have comprised an integral part of the Christian culture. Furthermore, people with a narrow perspective tend to categorise more rigidly because they are barely aware of the fact that social reality can be perceived in a large variety of ways. Therefore, social comparison of ingroups and outgroups results in much more definite prejudices in people with a narrow perspective than in people with a broader perspective. People with a broader perspective on social reality display more caution in categorizing their fellow human beings in ingroups and outgroups, and in linking attributes to these groups. So, to people with a narrow perspective, anti-Jewish prejudices are not only more plausible, they will also apply these prejudices with less reservation. They more easily contra-identify with Jews.

This was theoretically expected and empirically found as well. A narrow perspective on social reality engenders religious and secular antisemitism. Theoretically, we also expected the effect of a narrow perspective on religious antisemitism to be stronger for churchmembers than for the unchurched. We expected that the anti-Jewish prejudices would be more plausible for churchmembers, because we expected the knowledge about the traditional Christian way of looking at Jews and Judaism to be greater among members of this group, than among the unchurched. However, empirically this could not be shown to be true. At the same level of Christian belief, the effect of breadth of perspective on religious antisemitism is the same for both groups. Independent of Christian belief, churchmembership is of no consequence with respect to knowledge of the traditional Christian view on Jews and Judaism.

As a matter of fact, the effect of breadth of perspective on religious antisemitism is stronger than the effect on secular antisemitism. This is interpreted as an indication that a widening perspective undermines the plausibility of religious prejudices against Jews more strongly than that it undermines the plausibility of secular anti-Jewish prejudices. In the secularised Dutch society of the nineties, religious antisemitism appears to be less persistent than secular antisemitism.

Breadth of perspective also has an effect on Christian belief. The narrower the perspective on social reality, the stronger the traditional Christian belief of a person tends to be. It appears to be difficult to combine a traditional Christian faith with a broad perspective on social reality. People who de-reify social reality because of a broad perspective, no longer believe in a "true" interpretation of social reality, and that of course is fatal to the traditional Christian faith, which provides such a "true" interpretation of social reality. This effect, however, is less strong for churchmembers than it is for the unchurched. The plausibility of the traditional Christian faith is undermined less strongly for churchmembers, than it is for the unchurched. Still, the Christian belief of churchmembers with a broader perspective on social reality is less strong.

Breadth of perspective influences Christian belief as well as religious and secular antisemitism and therefore brings about a correlation between Christian belief and both forms of antisemitism. So, the correlation investigated in this study can also be explained by the non-religious factor breadth of perspective. Moreover, this explanation is far more powerful than the explanation that points at the Christian religion itself as the primary source of antisemitism. Breadth of perspective is responsible for half the correlation between Christian belief and religious antisemitism, and it is responsible for two-third of the correlation between Christian belief and secular antisemitism. The Christian religion itself is responsible for less, respectively far less of the correlation with religious and secular antisemitism. In the past, Christian religion may or may not have been the prime cause of antisemitism. At the end of the twentieth century, Christian religion does still correlate with antisemitism, but this should be attributed mainly to non-religious factors. People subscribe to the traditional Christian tenet and to anti-Jewish prejudice because of a narrow perspective on social reality. Especially with respect to the correlation with secular antisemitism, the Christian religion hardly plays a causal role.

A third theoretical explanation with social disorientation did not prove to hold on empirical grounds. There is no suppressing effect of Christian belief on antisemitism through social disorientation. The theory was disproved as to this matter

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