There is no “Judeo-Christian” side of the culture war

The trouble with “Judeo-Christian morality” is that it is meant to be the counterpart/opponent of secular morality, but on every issue that divides Christians from atheists, Jews overwhelmingly side with the latter.  A 2012 poll found that 93% of American Jews supported legalized abortion in most cases, 80% supported gay marriage, and they are more favorably disposed to Muslims than to conservative Christians.  Thus, it is a pretty valid generalization that Jews support Leftism, especially in its most immoral and anti-Christian aspects.  To claim that our side is “Judeo-Christian” is to employ a dishonest marketing ploy, a despised minority (Christians) attempting to get credibility for its beliefs by associating it with a revered minority (Jews) who in fact despise those beliefs.  In fact, most Jews find claims that they have some deep commonality with Christianity deeply insulting.  Given their opinions of us, our civilization, and our sexual mores, this is understandable, and I don’t understand why my philosemitic brethren insist on needlessly antagonizing the Jewish people with such claims.

Of course, being a mere Christian, I realize I am unworthy to comment on my Church’s relationship with our exalted Elder Brothers.  Fortunately, an actual Jew has laid it out at length and clarity, so that even readers with the thickest goyeshe kop will get the message.  (My thanks to Steve Sailer and his always excellent blog for pointing this out.)

Klinghoffer should read Arthur Allen Cohen’s The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Harper & Row, 1969), which questions the appropriateness of the term, theologically and historically, suggesting instead that it is an invention of American politics.

Cohen thinks that there is simply no such thing as Judeo-Christian tradition. He points to the fact that the two religions have had separate theological agendas for the last two thousand years.

Or, if Klinghoffer prefers a gentile’s opinion:

The label “Judeo-Christian” tends to assume, at the expense of Judaism, that Christians and Jews believe essentially the same things. Besides glossing over the very real and important theological and liturgical differences, it tends to subsume Jewish traditions within an umbrella that is dominated by Christian ideas and practices. (Religion and the Workplace: Pluralism, Spirituality, Leadership, by Douglas A. Hicks; Cambridge University Press, 2003)

Let’s be clear: Far from “sharing” one tradition, Orthodox Jews are prohibited from marrying Christians, setting foot inside a Christian church—and we can’t even drink from an open bottle of kosher wine that has been used by a Christian. We reject the Christian idea of salvation, we abhor Christian divine teachings on every subject, and we are repulsed and outraged by incessant attempts by Christian missionaries to bring us into their fold.

It is particularly disturbing when Klinghoffer makes statements which reveal his complete assumption of elements of New Testament Pauline ideology, for instance, the requirement that wives submit to their husband’s authority. There is no mandate on precisely how a woman should behave with her husband—Jews expect the happy couple to work it out for themselves. Also, while divorce may be a tragedy, and God cries, it is in no way banned—in Judaism, that is. The story in Christianity, and Klinghoffer’s “Judeo-Christian Biblical America,” is different.

Incidentally, we have more in common with Muslims than we do with Christians; Jewish law permits Jews to enter a mosque… but not a church.

To insist that we have some kind of bond with religious Christians because of similar core values, is to propagate a terrible lie…

Jews and Christians differ on every single fundamental principle—even on the meaning of core Scriptural texts. More crucially, Christians rely on the Old Testament for legal delineation; whereas Jews rely solely upon our rabbinic tradition. We never, ever turn to our Bible for legal guidance, only to our rabbinic literature. To suggest that our Sages had anything at all in common with the likes of Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Carter or Pat Robertson is a slap in the face of 2500 years of scholarship.

“Judeo-Christian” is as valid a concept as happy-joylessness, or tall dwarves. Klinghoffer’s yearnings for this repugnant “ideal” is a deviant phenomenon without a trace of commonality in traditional Jewish thought, ancient or modern.

I have deep respect for religious leaders active in the interfaith arena, who seek to communicate and cooperate with Christians on political and social issues. But I resent Klinghoffer’s attempt to erect an ideological partnership between Christianity and its blameless victims.

There you have it.

28 Responses

  1. Somehow I had always assumed that the phrase referred to the continuity of OT Judaism and Christianity.

  2. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I prefer to employ a bulky phrase “religion of the Old Testament/the Church of the Old Testament” instead of “Judaism” when speaking of Biblical Israel, because of the danger of equivocation.

    I believe all this “Elder brothers” talk is factually incorrect.
    If anything, we’re maternal brothers.

  3. P.S.
    First cousins, I suppose.

    Sorry for being silly and breaking up the comment.

  4. As Bruce and Georgy and Bonald say, this is an intentional equivocation on “our” part. There is, in fact, a Judeo-Christian morality, tradition, etc. Similarly, “Jesus was a Jew” isn’t a lie, exactly. It’s just that the guys with the black hats and dreads are not Jews but Talmudists.

    We, the Catholic Church, are the new Israel, and the old Israel is no more. We have the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies. We have the altar on which sacrifice pleasing to God is offered. We have the priesthood. They have their pride. Our elder brothers indeed.

  5. I just did a quick search for the phrase “Judeo-Christian” in an electronic database of historical newspapers and journals. In the nineteenth century the phrase was used very rarely, but when it was used it denoted either early Christians who were Jewish or current disputes between Jews and Christians (e.g. “Judeo-Christian controversy”). The first usage remotely similar to today’s meaning appears in The American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger in 1911, and this is a strong protest against “Judeo-Christian Choirs,” which is to say “non-Jewish singers in Jewish choirs” (incidentally, the writer does not object to Jewish singers in Christian choirs). The phrase next appears in an article in the New York Herald Tribune from 1940, which reports that “New York City’s rabbis devoted their sermons yesterday to the Judeo Christian teaching of the universal brotherhood of man,” this being their kick-off to “Brotherhood Week,” a “nationwide campaign for cooperation among all faiths” organized by Protestants, Catholics and Jews. The phrase appears again in the Boston Globe, in 1941, in an article entitled “’Jesus versus Hitler,’ Topic of Sermon by Rabbi Wise.” Speaking to a Protestant congregation, Rabbi Wise proclaimed that “the war today is a conflict between Judeo-Christian ethics and Hitlerism,” that “the aims of the Nazis were to blast out of existence the teachings of Christ,” that Jesus was “the supreme teacher of . . . Judeo-Christian ethics,” that “the Nazi attack on the Jews” was “the spearhead of an attack on the world-wide Judeo-Christian ethic,” and that the teachings of Jesus might be finally realized “if the Judeo-Christian culture should emerge triumphant from the war.” By 1945 the phrase had become a byword for liberal democracy. For instance the New York Times quotes a report of the Central Conference of American Rabbis that speaks of the “Judeo-Christian tradition that human brotherhood must be unqualified,” and that therefore called on the United States to outlaw “all forms of jim-crow practices and segregation.”

    Obviously one could dig much deeper into this, but it appears that the notion of a “Judeo-Christian” tradition was produced by Jews in the 1940s as a way to rally Christians behind the Second World War and liberal democracy. The Jesus they were willing to acknowledge was, essentially, the Jesus of Unitarians and liberal Protestants, a great humanitarian whose principle doctrine was the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. Now that the phrase has served its purpose, it’s not surprising to see that it is being repudiated.

  6. It seems to be used mainly by Fox News/mainstream Republican types, now.

  7. Most nominal Christians are also pretty bad at anything that looks like morality. And the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ values was not meant to give despised Christianity a cool, jewish gloss either. it was meant to reflect a kind of ecumenical ‘Catholic, Protestant, Jew’ American civic religion mindset.

    I have no particular brief for the phrase, but your two main arguments against it both fall wide of the mark.

  8. If you’re claiming that there’s no difference between Jewish and Christian attitudes on these issues, that’s just false. Christians (especially if you separate the strongly identifying ones) certainly do not support abortion and sodomy overwhelmingly like Jews do (and the Jewish stats are no doubt even worse two years later).

    Also, I’m not interested in how the phrase “Judeo-Christian” might once have been used. I’m talking about how it now is used. I haven’t just said that Jews find it offensive. I’ve quoted a Jew saying it and quoting others to the same effect. Remember, Jews see Christians as basically little different than Nazis. How would you feel having Nazis constantly invoking “Chisto-Nazi values” in favor of conquest and genocide?

  9. I was drafted by a couple of students into sponsoring the Young Republicans club. They had their first interest meeting today and the girl who is the club president talked about the kinds of things they would discuss at future meetings, which seemed to be primarily “the situation in Israel” and the “dangers that Israel is facing”. I was taken aback. I spend so little time discussing politics or watching the news. Why on Earth does this little 17 year old Christian girl consider this the sine qua non of conservatism?

  10. Bonald,

    The Jew you quoted seems to subscribe to Rabbinical interpretations (i.e. Talmudic Judaism). You’re correct in saying this characterizes most Jews, since a majority of Jewry belong to lineages that subscribe to this Rabbinical stuff.

    I’m not an expert on this, as I just discovered this detail of my lineage recently and am trying haphazardly to educate myself about it, so some of what I’m saying could be inaccurate, but bear with me as I do my best to explain:

    The minority of Jews who don’t subscribe to Talmudic Judaism aren’t necessarily just ideological dissenters. Karaites, for example, have always rejected Rabbinical interpretations, and insist instead upon independent straightforward readings of Torah. Karaites also claim to be the oldest form of Judaism still in practice, and they constistute their own distinct ethnic group.

    Even if one does not subscribe to the idea that Jesus is truly the messiah, it takes a lot of Rabbinical handwaving to claim that the New Testament is not foreshadowed in, and built on top of, the Torah.

    Thus, to me anyway, and possibly to at least one whole sect of Jews, the term Judeo-Christian is rightly neither offensive nor obsolete. I also agree with Adam G that it reflects a kind of American civic religion mindset, and to me that passes the Occam’s Razor test for a common vernacular definition.

    By the way, I don’t see Christians as Nazis. I think Christians are responsible for most of the good men have done for one another in the world.

  11. I’m with Bruce, I always took the phrase to refer to our spiritual heritage.

    Similar to the ‘Jerusalem’ term in the phrase ‘Jerusalem and Athens’.

  12. 1. Jewish support for leftism is real, but highly contingent. The ultra-Orthodox don’t support it. The State of Israel has been tacking hard to the right, though perhaps more in a fascistic than traditionalist direction. (Being surrounded by vast hordes of hostile Muslims will do that to you.)
    1a. It is important to distinguish between Jewish ethnicity and Jewish religion. Purely ethnic Jews are certainly overwhelmingly leftist. But, then, they have quite clearly repudiated their ancestors’ religious beliefs.
    2. There wasn’t been much cross influence between Christianity and Judaism from the early centuries A.D. until the last couple hundred years. The influence of Rabbinic Judaism on Christianity, and Western culture and civilization generally, has been negligible.
    2a. Nonetheless, because both communities have taken the Old Testament as their base and origin, there are at least some broad similarities between the two traditions. Therefore, much (not all) of traditionalist Christian culture is amenable to traditionalist Judaic culture and vice versa.

  13. What we have here is a secular Jew who doesn’t want his favoured ethnic group associated with those icky Christians. So, he’s creating artificial difference between them.

  14. It is false to compare non-religious ethnic Jews to devout Christians. As Adam G. notes the more apt comparison is to nominal Christians, or even just non-devout gentiles.

  15. It may be possible for conservative Christians and Jews to work together politically–for instance in trying to slow the advance of the sexual revolution–but they would be doing this because they are conservatives, not because they are Christians and Jews. But it would be, in any case, foolish to ground our united political opposition in a “Judeo-Christian” ethic because that would make it a religious argument that has no status in liberal discourse.

    If Judaism of any variety is correct, Christians are horrible blasphemers, and we can only hope that God will have mercy on our souls. If Christianity in any orthodox variety is correct, religious Jews have rejected God, and we can only hope that God has mercy on their souls. No one should gloat over this, but we have no authority to declare that the division is illusory.

    The only solid content I’ve seen given to the phrase “Judeo-Christian” ethic (as I wrote above), is that God the Father implies the universal brotherhood of mankind. Do Judaism or Christianity actually teach such a doctrine? As for Judaism, this may wink out from time to time in some of the prophetic books, but it is everywhere mixed with fierce ethnocentrism. Christianity actually speaks of brotherhood in Christ. When it comes to mankind, it speaks of swords that will divide families, sheep and goats, wide and narrow gates.

    “Judeo-Christianity” is an invention of liberal Jews and Christians who wished to espouse liberal democracy in a religious idiom. It might make sense to those people who have a hard time telling the difference between the cross and the American flag, but to actual Christians and Jews, it should make no sense at all.

  16. “If Judaism of any variety is correct, Christians are horrible blasphemers”
    but does Judaism has any theology, any concern with non-Jews and their beliefs?
    I get this idea that there is nothing very much solid in Judaism now, except an idea that man is to continue with the co-creation of the world i.e. fulfill the commandment given to Adam in Eden.

  17. Vishmehr24@ I don’t see how any theology could have no concern with people who believe in another theology. Even if it is the theology that maintains that all religions are mere avatars of an underlying divine reality, it will have to teach that recognition of this fundamental unity is a higher understanding than any of the particular symbolizations of that underlying reality. If we descend from that level (which I, by the way, think false), we find that any representation of God will appear to persons subscribing to another representation, not only as wrong, but as impudent and demeaning to God. In other words, blasphemous. To a Jew, Jesus blasphemed when he claimed to be divine and Christians blaspheme when they worship him as a person in the Trinity. I disagree with the premise of their resigning, but, granting that premise, quite understand their attitude. A person who believes the earth is flat does not, thereby, insult the earth. The earth is not the sort of thing that can be insulted. A person who believes that God is a monkey sleeping in the branches of a coconut tree insults God, and arouses righteous indignation (of course, he might hold this view for non-culpable reasons, and be the object of pity and correction rather than scorn).

  18. The Jews have totally lost the plot, because the plot is Jesus Christ, son of God.

  19. JMsmith,
    Jesus blasphemed because He was a Jew. The Sanhedrim would have had no authority over a non-Jew.

    That Christians, Jews and Muslims worship a common God, is a peculiarly Catholic idea. I do not know if Judaism holds to this.

  20. Vishmehr24@ It is true that the Sanhedrin had no authority to punish a non-Jew for blasphemy, but a non-Jew could still perpetrate blasphemy. In the Old Testament, when the Jews were not constrained by Roman authority, they routinely chastised non-Jews for blasphemy–the specific charge being idolatry. In fact, the Jews seem to have been the first people to take offense at the religious practices of other people because this is inherent in monotheism. Critics of monotheism often point to the inherent intolerance of monotheism, and I think they are correct. About the intolerance, that is, not about the monotheism.

    The question whether the Abrahamic religions worship the same God comes down to semantics. If I say I am worshiping the “one God,” I have (in they eyes of other monotheists) correctly identified one property of God–his oneness. But if everything else I say about him–for instance, that he wears checked golf pants and sings with a baritone voice–is incorrect, it is at the very least questionable whether I am worshiping the “same God” as they. There is also the question of what counts as “worship.”

  21. Many Jews unfortunately–though I am not qualified to say with what amount of theological legitimacy–believe that Christians worship God incorrectly (say, by splitting Him into three incarnations) and thus commit idolatry, but I don’t think this means that the God that Jews believe Christians are idolizing is not the same God of Abraham. Any sane reading of scripture, in my opinion anyway, makes it pretty clear this is the same God.

    Muslims do not worship this same God. The simplest evidence is that the God of the Bible gives us his name (YHVH, or Yehovah) while Muslims worship a God whose professed name is Allah. To think that Jews and Christians worship the same God as Muslims, you have to believe that God engages in double-talk, giving one name to one group of people and another name to a different group.

  22. @NZ Some of the Apostles had two names (Nathaniel=Matthew, IIRC.) And Jesus has several monikers: Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Son of Man, Lamb of God, etc; and Our Lady’s various designations and titles are too numerous for me to count. None of this implies double talk.

  23. @tlk244182:

    You’re describing earthly people in the Bible (Nathaniel, etc.), not God. People are imperfect and can of course have multiple names or be known by multiple nicknames. There are earthly places in the Bible that go by more than one name too.

    This simply reflects what was customary among people at the time the scriptures were written. But nowhere in scripture does God give more than one personal name for Himself. He is occasionally referred to by title rather than by name, but never by more than one name.

    Several people in the Bible even have their names changed by God–most notably Abraham (from Avram) and Israel (from Jacob). So, while God only goes by one name, He has the ability–the authority–to change people’s names. We, on the other hand, do not have the authority to change His.

    As for Jesus’s name: as I understand it, while Christians see Jesus as the literal son of God, they simultaneously see him as fully human. (I think the Trinity is truly the most complicated part of Christianity, and I’d bet many Christians agree.)

    The Bible makes clear that when Jesus was born, he was named by his mother. So, not only is Jesus an earthly human capable of being called multiple names, his first and most important name was given to him by another worldly human!

    Furthermore, you’re referring to figures who were known by multiple names but within one religious text. Even if God went by multiple names within the Bible, the Bible itself could still be treated as one consistent work and thus be free of contradiction. God is never called “Allah” anywhere in the Bible, however.

    “Jesus”, by the way, is a mispronunciation of the Hebrew “Yeshua” via the Greek “Iesous”. Christians can translate Jesus’s name into different languages with different pronunciations and still worship him just fine, though, because he is an earthly human as well as the son of God.

    (When Christians worship God Himself, they, like most Jews, do not use or even try to use His formal name as it’s written in Hebrew–roughly estimated, since the Hebrew lacks vowels–but instead use titles and references like “Lord”, “King”, and “God”–the latter of which is itself merely a reference.)

    “Allah”, on the other hand, is not an Arabic pronunciation of God’s name as written in Hebrew. It is simply the name of the Muslims’ own distinct (false) god.

  24. Allah is cognate with Elohim.

  25. I’m pretty sure “Allah” is just like our word “God”. And for a being like God (for whom substance=essence), the distinction between proper nouns denoting Him and common nouns denoting His type must be fuzzy (i.e. refers to what aspect we are emphasizing rather than a real distinction).

  26. Oops, I was mistaken. The Man Who Was and Bonald, you are both correct that Allah is a title, not the literal name for the god of the Koran.

    However, it is also apparently true (according to Wikipedia, sorry) that this god goes by 99 different names, all of which point to one “Greatest Name”. None of these 100 names are the same as or even cognates of the name of the God which Jews and Christians worship.

    Even if these very 100 names are actually all references or titles, then it is still true that no cognate for the Hebrew spelling of God’s name appears anywhere in the Koran.

  27. This is not a fair comparison. American Jews are overwhelmingly non-religious. There are cultural/national Jews and there are religious Jews. This survey does not take into account the latter. It only represents Jews in whole – which is a sad state in America. In Israel, and amongst religious Jews, these numbers would be COMPLETELY and utterly different.

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