Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Jan/09

15

On Judeo-Christian

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I’ve recently triggered a round of discussion on several weblogs around the interwebs relating to the term “Judeo-Christianity,” especially when it comes to definiting the civilization of the West (as in, “our Judeo-Christian culture”).   I started the discussion here, to which Ross Douthat responded with his disagreement (also, my response to Ross, of a sort, here). Noah Millman and Sam Goldman lean toward my side, though with reservations.  James Poulos stayed neutral.  At Taki’s Mag I tried to show that the debate might have the faintest of relation with current events, while Richard Spencer responds with, Is Christianity Western?, where he considers some of the arguments in The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity.  A quick answer to Richard’s query would be that though I would not say Christianity is necessarily Western, I do believe that the West as we understand it is necessarily Christian or post-Christian.  Even if we are not religious, I would say that Christianity is the religion we are not if we are Western.  Similarly, if one is Japanese, and not religious, Buddhism is the religion one is not, if you get my drift….

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24 comments

  • » in my discussion about the term judeo-ch … Talk Islam · January 16, 2009 at 12:53 am

    [...] my discussion about the term judeo-christian (see latest link roundup) a common problem seems to emerge. you have three religions, christianity, islam and judaism. the [...]

  • Ploni Almoni · January 16, 2009 at 1:42 am

    I cast my vote for Razib’s position, 100 percent. The West and America in particular were and still are Christian. The term “Judeo-Christian” is a typical weaselly-polite American white lie. Poulos has a valid and banal point that “Judeo-Christian” could mean “Protestant,” but if so, then why not just say Protestant? When people describe America as Judeo-Christian I sometimes reply that it’s a Christian country. When people describe America as Christian I sometimes reply that it’s a Protestant country.

    Re Razib’s comments about Israel: At some other internet forum, a Jewish one, I once said that Israel, where I live, is at a deep level more Christian than Jewish. It didn’t go over well. In a way it’s saying that it’s Western. And by the way, that includes Jews of Middle-Eastern origin every bit as much as those of European origin.

  • Author comment by David Hume · January 16, 2009 at 1:47 am

    When people describe America as Christian I sometimes reply that it’s a Protestant country.

    Anglo-Protestant would be the most accurate description for the USA IMO. I referred to my belief that American Catholicism & Judaism are substantively, if not stylistically, Anglo-Protestant.

  • Tulse · January 16, 2009 at 7:20 am

    What is the origin of the term “Judeo-Christian”, and what was its purpose? Was it just a PC sop created when Americans decided in the ’50s that Jews were acceptable (at least in terms of commerce)? Was it designed to make US support for Israel more palatable? If it doesn’t accurately reflect the moral/political foundation of the US, what other purpose was it created to serve?

  • Grant Canyon · January 16, 2009 at 7:40 am

    I’ve always though that there was some truth to the notion that at least half the time when “Judeo-Christian” is used, the speakers mean “Christian”, by which they mean “Protestant”, by which they mean “fundamentalist”, by which they mean the kind of narrow-minded, thoughtless biblical literalism that makes the term a pejorative in common parlance.

  • Richard Spencer · January 16, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Yes, I agree with Razib and Ploni (whose presence at the Takimag comment boards is missed): in its mores and outlook, America is most definitely an Anglo-Saxon Protestant country; and Europe or “the West” as a whole is informed by Christianity more generally defined. A lot of this discussion reminds me Carl Schmitt’s _Political Theology_, as well as his student Reinhart Koselleck’s historical expansion on this book, _Crisis and Critique_. Basic worldviews form a kind of deep structure to any civilization and inform how cultures collectively answer the questions, Who’s sovereign? (i.e. who decides?), What’s public and private? What justifies violence? and much else.

  • Brent Michael Krupp · January 16, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Isn’t there some joke about the atheist being asked by the believer “but which God is it that you don’t believe in?”

  • Author comment by David Hume · January 16, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    “When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?””

    (Quentin Crisp / 1908-1999)

  • Zena · January 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I realize I’m late to the play here, and someone may have already said this, but doesn’t the “Judeo-” in “Judeo-Christian” refer to the Jewish ancestry of Christianity? Doesn’t it make sense to acknowledge that many aspects of Christianity most influential on Western culture are in fact inherited from a different faith? In particular when this connection is so often denied or forgotten?

  • Author comment by David Hume · January 16, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    but doesn’t the “Judeo-” in “Judeo-Christian” refer to the Jewish ancestry of Christianity?

    not necessarily. often it is alluding to the shared living culture of jews & christians together in the west. my point is i don’t really think substantively there is such a think, it is the culture of christianity (or post-christianity) which jews are now integrated as full partners (along with other religious minorities and unbelievers).

  • Ploni Almoni · January 17, 2009 at 12:39 am

    David Hume :

    David Hume

    When people describe America as Christian I sometimes reply that it’s a Protestant country.
    Anglo-Protestant would be the most accurate description for the USA IMO.

    Sure, it’s just a matter of symmetry. “Protestant” is to “Christian” as “Anglo-Protestant” is to “white Christian” or “European Christian.”

    Calling America “Protestant” (or even more, “Anglo-Saxon Protestant”) instead of “Christian” is more subversive than it first seems. It emphasizes that many Americans are Protestantized by assimilation, not by birth. Americanness may not be “propositional,” but it’s not genealogical or confessional either. As an American Jew I’m always a little bit uneasy when I hear America called a Christian country, although I agree that it is and should be. My reaction is, “and therefore…?”. I don’t feel uneasy when I hear it called a Protestant country, because no one anymore believes that non-Protestants aren’t real Americans. Like it or not, calling America a Protestant, rather than a Christian country is in line with lots of neoconservatives like Samuel Huntington.

  • Ploni Almoni · January 17, 2009 at 12:48 am

    @Richard Spencer
    Thanks for the kind remark. I was actually thinking more of James Kurth (“Protestant Deformation”) than Carl Schmitt, but yeah, I guess it could all be filed under political theology. Not so much related to the title essay of PT though, it seems to me, because Schmitt was looking only at correspondences between political and metaphysical concepts. I don’t see Catholic vs. Protestant metaphysics as all that relevant here, offhand, but I haven’t really thought about it and I may be missing something obvious.

    Thanks for the tip on that book Crisis and Critique. I’ve read most of Schmitt’s books, but political theology as a subject just seems too daunting to me. I don’t think I’d ever even want to be educated enough to be able to really evaluate its claims.

  • Ploni Almoni · January 17, 2009 at 12:52 am

    @Brent Michael Krupp
    There’s also a remark attributed I think to Ben-Gurion or some other famous Jewish atheist: “The synagogue which I don’t go to is an Orthodox synagogue.” I subscribe to that too. I’m a convert from Reform atheism to Orthodox atheism.

  • Grant Canyon · January 17, 2009 at 7:14 am

    “As an American Jew I’m always a little bit uneasy when I hear America called a Christian country… I don’t feel uneasy when I hear it called a Protestant country, because no one anymore believes that non-Protestants aren’t real Americans…”

    That’s interesting. As an atheist who was raised Roman Catholic, I find America being described as a “Christian country” I would find it offensive, but intellectually. If someone were to describe it as a “Protestant country”, those are fighting words to me. Old habits die hard, I guess. But here’s the kicker, the arguments I would employ (about America being a secular country, etc., etc.) would be exactly the same.

  • Robert Hume · January 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I think Judeo-Christian is just a way for Christians to get Jews from fighting against Christians referring to the US as Christian. By saying Judeo-Christian the Jews felt accepted enough to let us have at least a partial right to describe our history accurately.

  • Robert Hume · January 17, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Also, it is true that Abraham Lincoln’s first name was Abraham. That did reflect the profound true belief of colonial and Federal Christians that the religion grew out of Judaism. But this view is problematic today with the insistence of Jews among us that we are wrong about Jesus. I guess that’s the reason that Christians no longer adopt Jewish first names.

  • Author comment by David Hume · January 18, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Also, it is true that Abraham Lincoln’s first name was Abraham. That did reflect the profound true belief of colonial and Federal Christians that the religion grew out of Judaism. But this view is problematic today with the insistence of Jews among us that we are wrong about Jesus. I guess that’s the reason that Christians no longer adopt Jewish first names.

    colonial & early american naming conventions were regional. new englanders tended to have hebrew names, southerners far less so (lowlanders would naturally have cavalier names such as charles or william). and of course christians still have jewish first names. here’s the top 10 boys names for 2007
    1. Jacob
    2. Michael
    3. Ethan
    4. Joshua
    5. Daniel

    6. Christopher
    7. Anthony
    8. William
    9. Matthew
    10. Andrew

  • Ed Marshall · January 18, 2009 at 10:38 am

    My problem with the term is that’s it’s used almost entirely by dispentationalists. I find dispentationalism dangerous, and it’s one of a number of factors why in the 21′st century we are fighting with Muslims. Most evangelicals are dispentationalists (though they don’t know what it means), they have no idea how new and odd this theological formulation is.

    The only times I can remember Jews using it is at the big, nutty, end times, we *heart* Israel rallies. It seems that they know better or even would find it insulting if the evangelicals weren’t useful idiots.

  • Lorenzo · January 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Surely Judaeo-Christian was, in part, a step towards a less specifically one-religion characterisation of Western civilisation. (Not to mention a linguistic blow against anti-Semitism.)

  • Lorenzo · January 18, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    @Ed Marshall
    Surely that gives dispensationalism far too much credit. In its first 1000 years Islam aggressed against every culture it came up against. It only stopped (to the extent it did) because it came up against better predators. Said predators have (mostly) withdrawn, so modern forms of old patterns are re-asserting themselves. After all, is not as if the West are the only people having a few problems with Muslim militants.
    http://chromatism.net/bloodyborders/

    Islam has, alas, a certain uncomfortable logic to it
    http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/warby/2008/12/the-legacy-of-jihad

  • Ed Marshall · January 18, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Eh, no, that’s stupid.

    I’m not clicking on your links. I see bloodyborders as the end of your URL and I don’t need to see someone mangle Clash of Civilizations. I know all these arguments. I also know how you need to be a complete, blank-slate, ignoramus to take them seriously.

  • Nate W. · January 20, 2009 at 12:06 am

    @Tulse: Judeo-Christian was a term chosen in the ’40s or thereabouts, and it was meant to differentiate the US from both godless Communists on one hand and fascists on the other (who had referred to their countries as “Christian nations”).

  • Nate W. · January 20, 2009 at 12:14 am

    I think the following would be helpful in understanding the usage and meaning of “Judeo-Christian”:

    In the beginning, “Judeo-Christian” had served only to designate connections between Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. Its first appearance, according to the Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, occurred in the Literary Guide in 1899: a Judaeo-Christian ‘continuity’ theory” postulated the development of Church ritual out of the practices of the Second Temple. Not until some decades later did the term begin to be used to refer to values or beliefs shared by Jews and Christians, to a common western religious outlook. Writing in 1934, the American communist Joseph Freeman spoke of “Judeo-Christian asceticism” and of seeing “Greek paganism . . . through Judeo-Christian spectacles.” George Orwell, in a 1939 book review, remarked that not acting meanly was a thing that carries no weight in the Judaeo-Christian scheme of morals.” The dates and the politics of the authors are significant, for what brought this usage into regular discourse was opposition to fascism. Fascist fellow-travelers and anti-Semites had appropriated “Christian” as an identifying mark; besides Father Coughlin’s Christian Front, there were such organizations as the Christian American Crusade, Christian Aryan Syndicate, Christian Mobilizers, and Christian Party, and publications like the Christian Defender and Christian Free Press. “Judeo-Christian” thus became a catchword for the other side. In its 1941 handbook, Protestants Answer Anti-Semitism, the left-liberal _Protestant Digest described itself(for the first time) as “a periodical serving the democratic ideal which is implicit in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

    Mark Silk, Notes on the Judeo-Christian Tradition in America, 36 AMERICAN QUARTERLY 65, 65–66 (1984).

  • Secular Right » Religious diversity & its discontents · November 1, 2009 at 12:09 am

    [...] trichotomy of “Protestant, Catholic, Jew”. The term “Judeo-Christian” is another fiction which nevertheless exhibits some fidelity to the reality that the Reform and Conservative movements [...]

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