Book Notes: God Is Not a Christian by Desmond Tutu: Our Salvation is of the Jews


I read God Is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations by Desmond Tutu, and it is one of the most amazing books I have read. I greatly recommend it, whatever your religious beliefs. Desmond Tutu, arch-bishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa has won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, fought against the apartheid, and is incredibly out-spoken concerning issues of tolerance, oppression, civil and human rights. I want to quote ever single page, but I’m trying to limit myself. Today I’ll be sharing my favourite quotes from the chapter, Our Salvation is of the Jews:

“In South Africa, I have spoken as a religious leader who has had that sort of formation. In other parts of Africa and in other parts of the world, my campaign, my passion, my zeal in seeking to speak up against evil and injustice had had that as a basis. And when I eventually visited the Holy Land last year, the things that I saw are things that I will not keep quiet over. That is when I said, If I am going to be accused of being anti-Semitic for saying them, then tough luck. And it’s not out of an insensitivity. It is to say that I will not for myself accept that there is any government in the world that can claim to be infallible. If it is a human government , then it is a government that is likely to be making mistakes and can therefore, if it makes mistakes, be liable to criticism. 

I speak as a black person who comes out of an experience of suffering because I am black. And therefore I know a little bit about what it means to suffer. My people know it. It doesn’t matter that I hold the highest position in our church; in the land of my birth I am nothing because I am black. And therefore I speak out of that kind of experience of suffering. I saw things in the Holy Land and I was told things – things that have been reported widely, that you’ll know of. I have not said so in public, but I have seen things there that shocked me. I mean, they’ve done awful things in South Africa, but I have not yet known of this practice that happens in the occupied territories: when a child in a home is suspected or let us say has been found to have thrown stones, the home of that child is bulldozed or that home is sealed. Now I would want to ask you whether, just as caring people, you approve of the things that the Israeli government does.”

“The important thing is that where there is injustice, we should be able to say together, Yes, that is an unjust occurence, and not quickly say, Because So-and-So criticizes that aspect, therefore they are anti-Semitic. I mean, I criticize Mrs. Margaret Thatcher fairly sharply, but I’ve not usually been called anti-British for doing so. At home we walk arm in arm with rabbis when we go on demonstrations against apartheid, and I would hope that we would agree that the things that hold us together are far, far greater than the things that conspire to separate us.”

“We don’t know the exact truth because the Israelis won’t let the media in. What are they hiding? But perhaps, more seriously, why is there no outcry in this country at the censorship of the media? For you see, what now is going to happen is that you will frequently be shown the harrowing images of what suicide bombers have done, which is something we all condemn unequivocally, but you don’t see what those tanks are doing to the homes of ordinary people.”

“I say, Why are our memories so short? Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten the humiliation of wearing yellow armbands with the star of David? Have my Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten the collective punishment? The home demolitions? Have they forgotten their own history so soon? And have they turned their back on their profound, noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that their God, our God, is a God who sides with the poor, the despised, the downtrodden? That this is a moral universe? That they will never – they will never – get true security and safety from the barrel of a gun? That true peace can ultimately be built only on justice and equity?

We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and if Arab children are taught to hate Jews, we condemn the corruption of young minds too. But we condemn equally unequivocally the violence of military incursions and reprisals that won’t let ambulances and medical personnel reach the injured; that wreak unparalleled revenge, totally imbalanced, even with the Torah’s law of an eye for an eye – which was designed actually to restrict revenge to the perpetrator and perhaps those supporting him. It is the humiliation and desperation of an occupied and hapless people which are the root causes of the suicide bombings. The military action of recent days – I want to predict with almost absolute certainty – will not provide the security and the peace the Israelis want. All it is doing is intensifying the hatred and the resentment and guaranteeing that one day a suicide bomber will arise to wreak revenge.”

“Sometimes people ask, “Does this mean you are pro-Palestinian?” And my brother Naim Ateek has said what we used to say too: I am not pro-this or that people; I am pro-justice. I am pro-freedom. I am anti-injustice, anti-oppression any-and everywhere that it occurs. But you know as well as I do that somehow the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal, where to criticize them is immediately to be dubbed anti-Semitic – as if the Palestinians were not Semitic. I have not  been even anti-white, despite all the suffering that that crazy group inflicted on our people. No! How could I be – if I wasn’t even anti-those who did that to us – anti-Jew? Because that is actually the term that ought to be used: Are you anti-Jewish? Not anti-Semitic. And then you would have to say the same thing to the biblical prophets, because they were some of the most scathing critics of the Jewish leadership of their day. We don’t criticize Jewish people. We criticize, we will criticize, when they need to be criticized, the government of Israel.” 


1 Comment


    1. Writer’s Wednesday: God Is Not a Christian by Desmond Tutu « Becky's Kaleidoscope

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