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Judaeo-Christian

14 September 2008

Diesel, over at the Mattress Police, comments on stupid words and phrases in The unbearable dumbness of being. Among these is the term “Judaeo-Christian, or Judeo-Christian if you prefer, though I tend to agree with Diesel, who says:

I’ve met Jews, and I’ve met Christians, but I’ve never met a single Judeo-Christian. Judaism and Christianity are two separate, and very different religions, folks. There aren’t any “Judeo-Christian” churches or annual conventions of Judeo-Christians. Not even ethnically Jewish Christians refer to themselves as “Judeo-Christians.”

Most Jews I’ve discussed it with find it offensive (though “offensive” is another word that Diesel dislikes).

I first came across “Judaeo-Christian” in Sociology I, and it was one of the things that convinced me that sociologists were evil manipulative social engineers. That was probably because most of the sociologists at that university at that time were of the functionalist school (I never heard about the functionalist school in Sociology I, the lecturers in the Sociology Department were not members of a particular school, they were the Voice of Science). It wasn’t until I met sociologists of different schools that I began to see sociologists as something other than evil manipulators, and only when I read Stanislav Andreski’s Social sciences as sorcery did I realise that some of them at least could be self-critical of their own discipline.

Anyway, back to Judeo-Christian. The last paragraph was just to show that most of my antipathy to the term arises from my own deep-rooted prejudices against sociology, and therefore needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Diesel goes on to say

It’s true that Christianity grew out of Judaism, but so did Islam. And as far as I can tell, Islam and Judaism have more in common than Christianity has with either of them. Where are the Judeo-Islamic values?

Well that’s easy enough — the sociologists who concocted the term “Judeo-Christian” were American, and Islam was “unAmerican”, so there was no need to mention it. These sociologists flourished in the 1930s and 1940s, and as far as they were concerned American religion was threefold — Protestant, Catholic, Jew. The function of all three was to ensure the cohesion of Society (which to the sociologists meant American society) and therefore it would enhance this function if they were treated as basically one religion, and so the term “Judeo-Christian” was born.

For the sociologists, naturally, there was no actual truth in any of the things believed by the actor (“actor” was their term for religious people, or any other social microbes they examined through their social microscopes with true scientific detachment). The beliefs of the “actors” do not have to be “true”, because “truth” is entirely unrelated to their function of ensuring the cohesion of Society. One could question the truth of the beliefs of the “actors”, but the one thing one could not question was the desirability of the cohesion of Society.

I was therefore quite surprised when some Jewish friends took out their hostility to the term “Judeo-Christian” on me. They saw it as an evil scheme concocted by Christians to co-opt Jews for their own nefarious purposes. I saw it as part of an evil scheme concocted by secularist sociologists to co-opt different religions for their own nefarious purposes, as servants of the great god Society.

But whatever its origin, I agree with Diesel — it is a really stupid term, and the sooner it disappears from our vocabulary, the better.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 15 September 2008 3:46 am

    Hmm. Christians – at least in the US – have a really muddy view of the distinction between the two. This especially turns up in the strange fog that surrounds the difference in relationship between the believer and the New Testament and the believer and the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps as a result of the inerrancy wars, Christians seem to find it heretical to admit there is anything in the Old Testament that they don’t believe and obey, which results in a terribly awkward and selective view.
    Thanks for these thoughts.

  2. Porlock Hussein Junior permalink
    23 September 2008 9:32 am

    Oddly, I’ve always perceived the term very differently, as a sort of early concession — 1940s, plus or minus, for obvious reasons — that not every decent person in the USA is a Christian, and that’s OK, pretty much. I’m speaking of vernacular usage here, in the country where I’ve observed it.

    At that time the tripartite division of religion here was a statistical reality, if you omit the unbelievers, which Americans have always done, once the Founders were safely dead.

    So, in my version people learned to stop talking of Our Christian Values, replacing that with a broader term. It should not be forgotten that being incljusive toward Jews was a sort of progress, like having a high growth rate in an economy that starts in dismal poverty; keep it up and in time you get somewhere. A sort of failed progress, given the past 50 years. And thoughtlessly patronizing to the Jews, a fact which doesn’t seem to have come to people’s attention till recently.

    BTW the term first appears in 1899 according to the OED, which doesn’t help my thesis, but origin and popular use aren’t the same thing. Intriguing quote, too: “The total abandonment of the Judæo-Christian ‘continuity’ theory.” An early one more relevant here: “The Judaeo-Christian scheme of morals” from 1939 in England. But I still think my version of the vernacular usage is fairly accurate.

  3. 25 September 2008 4:35 am

    I suspect there is a self-serving element in it. The overwhelming majority of evangelicals in the USA are enraptured with premillenialism. Several groups have a finger in the pie. Evangelicals use it to cast themselves as friends of Jews – of a literal Israel – and paper over the grim side of that ism’s view of Judaism. Neo-conservative politicians use it to keep evangelicals happy, which gives neocons the electorate they need to keep Israel a pro-America walled fortress in the Middle East.
    Zionists use this alliance to build further allies in the astonishingly effective hush-up of anything anti-Zionist in the USA.
    Seems like everybody’s into “Judeo-Christian” for a reason that isn’t the reason they pretend!

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