Catholic Book Reviews
Catechetics & Prejudice
:
How Catholic teaching materials view Jews,
Protestants, and racial minorities

by John T, Pawlikowski, O.S.M.

Reviewed by Gordon Nary


 

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As we see increasing reports of hatred and violence against various minority, ethnic, and religious groups in the daily news, many of us try to better understand the sources of prejudice and teach our children that everyone is equal and infinitely loved by God,  Recently, there have been increasing studies on the possible genetic factors in prejudice, with one study postulating a genetic basis for prejudice in rhesus monkeys which was subsequently retracted by Scientific American.

There is. however. another study that is far more practical. There was a landmark study in the 1960s by St. Louis University, in cooperation with the Institute of Human Relations of the American Jewish Community that demonstrated how many Catholic schoolbooks portrayed American minorities - especially Jews,  In 1973. Father John Pawlikowski brought this important study to a wider audience with this book and significantly helped address how the subtext of some of our books may have contributed to and/or reinforced some prejudice in our children and adults considering the Catholic faith. Even though many of the original texts are no longer used or have been revised, it is important that catechetists and parents understand their responsibilities in reviewing all teaching material to assess whether they include any direct or indirect prejudicial texts or subtexts.

In the forward to this book, Father William J Tobin, who was Assistant Director of the National Center of Religious Education, pointed out that " Prejudice seems to be linked so closely with our human condition that it is the last factor frequently to be acknowledged and confronted. It is a label that we so easily can attribute to others while absolving ourselves of any failing." Unfortunately, this observation is as true today as it was in 1973 when this book was published.

Father Pawlikowski cites many of the positive portraits of racial and ethnic groups in the study that addressed African-Americans, American Indians, Asians, Hispanics, and Jews, as well as a few of the negative portraits. In his focus on Judaism, , Father Pawlikowski points out that " Judaism is not just a religious phenomenon. Jews combine both an ethnic and a religious aspect around a common core of peoplehood and this facet of Judaism is probably the one that Christians find most difficult to  grasp."  He then comments on "the new immigrants" and states that " The situation of the New Immigrant group in America has taken on a renewed importance in the American social situation." That statement could have been taken from the daily news headlines.

Father Pawlikowski has chapters titled the  Portraits of Racial and Ethnic Groups, Portraits of Non-Catholic Religious Groups, Findings Regarding Judaism, and Christian Education and the Jewish People and cites the positive and problematic statements on these topics in the studies reviewed, In his chapter titled Conclusions,  Father Pawlikowski states that "A particularly troublesome point in Christian-Jewish relations has been Paul's  apparently passionate hostility to the Torah after his conversion.". Further on he points out that "recent biblical and extra-biblical scholarship has done much to explain the antagonism which emerges from a simplistic reading of the New Testament by providing a contextual framework for understanding, say Paul's attack on the Law, or the struggle between Jesus and the Pharisees." as well as comments on other problematic Biblical texts

Another conclusion that is unfortunately a continuing expression of prejudice, hatred, and violence is his reflection in the section titled Judaism and Israel in which he points out that " If Christian students are to receive an authentic understanding of Jews and Judaism in today's world, that understanding must encompass the Jewish sense of personhood and identification with Israel." And in the opening of his concluding paragraph, he states "Some people who have been active in the struggle for brotherhood and intergroup understanding are discouraged at recent events." This observation demonstrates that why this book is as relevant today as it was more than forty years ago.