Is Religious Illiteracy at the Root of Anti‑Semitism in France?

(Vandalized graves at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim near Strasbourg—Hadrian /

An alarming 74 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in France has focused the efforts of political and religious leaders to find a solution.

Home to more than a half-million Jews, France has the largest Jewish population in Western Europe, and recent acts of violence have had a tremendous impact of the country’s Jewish community. These include the stabbing of an 8-year-old schoolboy who was wearing a kippah; the murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, who was stabbed and burned in her apartment; and the desecration with swastikas of Herrlisheim Jewish cemetery.

Whatever the cause of the recent spike in these activities, in an article on Religion News Service, Philippe Marlière, a French national and University College London professor of French and European politics, states he believes religious illiteracy is at the root not only anti-Semitism but of religious intolerance in general in the country. He believes this stems from the strict separation of church and state, dating from the French Revolution, resulting in religion and religious history not being taught in schools.

“Religion is something that you’re constantly told to keep private, low-key, not something to openly talk about,” he said. “What really strikes me is the ignorance of French authorities, media, politicians and public intellectuals about Judaism.”

Günther Jikeli, an Indiana University scholar of anti-Semitism, credits French Islamist or Salafist Muslims for the increase in hate crimes.

“All the murders that were committed (in France) in the name of anti-Semitism made reference to Islamist ideology,” he said.

Even more basic than religious illiteracy is the lack of a concept of tolerance as a basic guiding principle in life. Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard included religious tolerance as one of the 21 precepts of The Way to Happiness, the common-sense moral code that has been adopted by millions of people of all faiths and beliefs:

Tolerance is a good cornerstone on which to build human relationships. When one views the slaughter and suffering caused by religious intolerance down all the history of Man and into modern times, one can see that intolerance is a very non-survival activity.
Religious tolerance does not mean one cannot express his own beliefs. It does mean that seeking to undermine or attack the religious faith and beliefs of another has always been a short road to trouble.
Philosophers since the times of ancient Greece have disputed with one another about the nature of God, Man and the universe. The opinions of authorities ebb and flow: just now the philosophies of “mechanism” and “materialism”—dating as far back as Ancient Egypt and Greece—are the fad: they seek to assert that all is matter and overlook that, neat as their explanations of evolution may be, they still do not rule out additional factors that might be at work, that might be merely using such things as evolution. They are today the “official” philosophies and are even taught in schools. They have their own zealots who attack the beliefs and religions of others: the result can be intolerance and contention.
If all the brightest minds since the fifth century B.C. or before have never been able to agree on the subject of religion or anti-religion, it is an arena of combat between people that one would do well to stay out of.
In this sea of contention, one bright principle has emerged: the right to believe as one chooses.
“Faith” and “belief” do not necessarily surrender to logic: they cannot even be declared to be illogical. They can be things quite apart.
Any advice one might give another on this subject is safest when it simply asserts the right to believe as one chooses. One is at liberty to hold up his own beliefs for acceptance. One is at risk when he seeks to assault the beliefs of others, much more so when he attacks and seeks to harm them because of their religious convictions.
Man, since the dawn of the species, has taken great consolation and joy in his religions. Even the “mechanist” and “materialist” of today sound much like the priests of old as they spread their dogma.
Men without faith are a pretty sorry lot. They can even be given something to have faith in. But when they have religious beliefs, respect them.
anti-Semitism France