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Why I Did Not Convert - by Lionel Blue

In his attempt to convert to Christianity, Lionel Blue came to the brink, but recoiled in horror. Here is an abridged chapter 13 of his book: My Affair with Christianity, which was reviewed in the last issue of The Scribe.

The main reason I didn't jump into the baptismal font was another experience.

This second experience happened during Lent 1951 in a church.

I sat listening to the readers in a vigil, occasionally dipping into those Gospels my friends had given me, when a wave of pent-up anger surged up in me and nearly drowned me in my own fury. I could hardly hold the book because I was trembling so much. Anger at the church I sat in, anger at the Gospels in my hand, anger against this appalling Christianity which had been responsible for so much murder. "His blood be upon us and upon our children!" (Matthew 27:25). The author could congratulate himself on a dramatic success, because the letters of the text in my hand dripped with the blood of persecutions, pogroms and burnings.

I thought of the way that murderous anti-Judaism had fed into Hitler's anti-Semitism. I wanted to retch as I saw the cattle trucks with their human cargoes of misery on their way to the camps, where sentimental guards sang 'Silent Night' at Christmas. Pious XII too neutral to mention the gas chambers, how decent people like my own family were turned into devils by crude Christianity (I'd experienced that at school). I thought of such Christian inventions as the ghetto and the Jewish badge of shame. The Nazis didn't have to go very far to pick up their know-how. I thought of the dirges sung in synagogues commemorating our expulsion from Spain, to which we'd given so much; of the innocent left on sandbanks to drown or sold into slavery. It was too much, too much, and I burst into tears not out of Christian piety as my neighbours thought but out of anti-Christian anger. How could I ever think of joining them after the Holocaust? How could I ever betray our terrible Jewish history under them? Where was all that vaunted love and kindness in this? Discrimination against Jews can be read in Thomas Aquinas, and insults against Jews in Martin Luther.

I looked around. Here they all were, in this very church, after our six-million died, unconsciously sowing the seed of horror again. I wanted to shout out but didn't dare.

And this Christian poison hasn't stopped yet. Later on, in Spain, I knocked on the doors of a convent to join the enclosed nuns in their early morning prayer. The nun porteress told me the sisters were on retreat, but before I left she called me back out of compassion and handed me through the grille a small pamphlet as consolation. It was another wicked 'testimony' to the blood libel!

After that, I ventured again into a London church at Easter-time. The priest, a pleasant old man, had still retained those awful anti-Jewish recriminations in the liturgy.

I despised myself for thinking of joining my persecutors. I felt like one of the 'trusty' Jewish police in the ghettos, who got a special deal for a while by sucking up to their Nazi tormentors.

I knew I would never be baptised, or ever become a card-carrying Christian. The Holocaust lay between me and them like a black cloud, a corpse, a dead weight.

What was the origin of all this pious dirt? I suppose it's so much easier making your own faith nicer by diabolising others.

Why am I speaking with such raw passion about people of long ago? Because, like most Jewish children, during the evacuation I was called a Christ-killer and was punished with a punch-up in the playground.

Later, a long time later, when I had recovered from this anger, I knew this couldn't be the end of the matter.

What would I have done if I'd been put to the test? Would I have risked my own life for people I hardly knew? Perhaps I would. Who knows? More probably, I would have looked the other way at best or become another apologist for evil at worst.

I remembered a childhood incident I had hidden in the recesses of my mind. In the thirties, when the Fascists were marching through London's East End and my mother pushed me into a shop doorway to hide, I rebelled inwardly. I longed for a drum and a black shirt to march with them - even though they were throwing Jewish oldies through shop windows and terrorising people. I didn't want to be on the losing side anymore. I was fed up with Jewish weakness, timidity and fear, with being on the losing side. I didn't want any more Jewish sentimentality and Jewish suffering. I was sickened by our sad songs. If only I could have changed sides. Thank God, I couldn't!

These lines were written by the early Zionist poet, Bialick. I felt the same!

But our Jewish God didn't get off scot-free either. The world He created, if He did, wasn't a pretty place. I got acquainted with it in 'All things bright and beautiful' that I sang at school, or the 'O God, you're wonderful, marvellous, so powerful, so bossy, so self-righteous' stuff they taught us as children at Hebrew and religion classes. The whole house of cards came crashing down.

As I remembered the honest, crude temptations of long ago, I winced. The self-righteousness oozed out of me. I was on the same level as the church. We were birds of a feather. So to change, to convert? Why bother!



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