Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What does Judeo-Christian mean?

There is probably no term used so often without any explanation, description, or definition than the term Judeo-Christian. What does it mean? A search on the internet shows that few writers clarify the meaning of this term. Dennis Prager, the conservative commentator, is an exception. With the claim that Judeo-Christian values are under attack, might one explain what those values are? And what is Judeo-Christian about our civilization?

Let’s consider what Prager says: “Along with the belief in liberty — as opposed to, for example, the European belief in equality, the Muslim belief in theocracy, and the Eastern belief in social conformity — Judeo-Christian values are what distinguish America from all other countries.” For Prager, the Judeo-Christian is not liberty itself, but along with liberty, it is a distinguishing characteristic of our culture. What is it?

Prager believes the founding fathers saw themselves as Jews and “probably studied Hebrew, the language of the Jewish Bible at least as much as Greek.” Actually, they studied Latin to get into college and read the Ancient Latin authors in addition to the Greeks as their core liberal arts curriculum. Roman Republicanism was in vogue with authors singing their editorials with names such as Publius (for the Federalists) and Cato (for the anti-Federalists.)

Prager believes the founders modeled themselves on the Hebrews, which “accounts for the mission that Americans have uniquely felt called to — to spread liberty in the world. … It is why those who today most identify with the Judeo-Christian essence of America are more likely to believe in the moral worthiness of dying to liberate countries — not only Europe, but Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.” Apparently the founding fathers were neo-conservatives with an altruistic mission to “make the world safe for democracy,” to use Woodrow Wilson’s phrase.

While I give Prager credit for addressing the issue, his description of our culture eliminates the centrality of individual liberty. Our posture abroad has traditionally been one of self-defense: avoiding entangling alliances, hesitant of becoming the global policeman, shying away from conquering nations and establishing colonies, etc. His commentary on American principles is wanting. But back to the main question, is Prager correct in his definition of Judeo-Christian?

The term itself is only one hundred years old. It appears to be a replacement for “the West,” “the American way,” “the free world,” or, for some, Christendom. The rationale is clear: to define an alternative to communism, which is atheist and materialist in nature. But the problem with communism isn’t that it is non-Christian – so were Aristotle, and Cicero – but that communists were collectivist and dogmatic utopians. Their pseudo-science was a rejection of science and reason; they concept of collective will was a rejection of natural law; their concept of democracy was everything the Ancients (and founding fathers) hated about democracy: mob rule.

Prior to the phrase Judeo-Christian, our Protestant heritage in general, and Calvinism in particular, was often touted as a key to the uniqueness of the Anglo-sphere. Instead of atheism let’s play Devil’s Advocate and ask if Catholicism is a problem.

In the last two centuries, Catholic nations have been poor bulwarks against tyranny. All the major Catholic nations have succumbed to dictatorship. Italy had Mussolini; Spain had Franco. Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico had dictator after dictator. Mussolini invented the term totalitarianism. Italy was clearly not anti-religious nor did we see anything like the anti-clerical hysteria of the French Revolution. Argentina, one hundred years ago, had the same standard of living as America and given its climate appeared to be our southern mirror image.

Would we not say that Catholic nations are Judeo-Christian? If excessive immigration (i.e. beyond the assimilation rate) from south of the border threatens our culture, then it can’t be because Latin Americans aren’t Christian. Is it because they aren’t Protestant? Clearly not!

It would be better to ask what is it about the British culture that has spawned so many civilized off-springs: the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, etc. That’s an ambitious topic but let’s note the tradition of law, liberty, private property, and an empirical disposition. Most of all, it is individualism: self-responsibility, self-reliance, independent spirit, and individual liberty. Without an explanation and extensive exposition these notions can only hint at the total picture.

Surely someone has written a better defining article of the essence of Judeo-Christianity. Has anyone found one?

Update: Michael Marriott takes issue with the idea that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles because he says they were found on Enlightenment principles. It isn't clear that he defines Judeo-Christian. Does he need to?

Update2: Dictionary.com defines Judeo-Christian as "of or pertaining to the religious writings, beliefs, values, or traditions held in common by Judaism and Christianity." Isn't that just another way of saying Jewish? Does Judaism and Christianity both have Jesus in common? Does a Judeo-Christian founding mean Jesus' teachings have no influence on our country's founding?

22 Comments:

Blogger Weingarten said...

As Jason says, the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ lacks explanation, description, or definition. I have not found Dennis Prager helpful in this regard, who only seems to say that the founding fathers were influenced by the Bible, and often had positive views toward the Jews. Thus ‘Judeo-Christian’ would appear to be a politically correct term indicating that America is not strictly a Christian nation, but also one that accepts Jews.

However, I believe that there is validity to the term. America was founded on Biblical aspirations. It is true that our government employed much that was derived from the Greeks and the Romans, but our culture was essentially Christian. Even those founders who were atheists or deists spoke with a Christian idiom, and most importantly were supported by their public on that basis.
If we view culture as more fundamental than government, and recognize that ‘aspirations’ are the essence of culture, why not simply say that America was then, and is now, a Christian nation? Here, we are led to the difference between Christianity in America and elsewhere. In other nations, Christianity had the quality of imposition, of forcing its way of life onto others. In particular, it was reactive to Judaism. So if to the Jews the Sabbath was on Saturday, for the Christians it became Sunday; if the Jews wore hats to show obedience to God, the Christians removed theirs, etc. In America however, Christianity focused on conscience, and on permitting others to be free to be different. Moreover, government was separated from religion, as in “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The above maintains that America is a Christian nation, as a consequence of its fundamental aspirations, which is differentiated from other Christian nations, by using the term “Judeo-Christian”. How does this relate to Jason’s position? It concurs with his view that the founding fathers learned much from the Greeks and Romans, particularly with regard to government. The Americans followed the Hebrew mission “to spread liberty in the world” but it was not by force, but by example and suasion, as was eloquently expressed by George Washington and John Quincy Adams. (The neo-cons, Woodrow Wilson, and Dennis Prager did the opposite.) The founders’ rationale was not to define an alternative to communism, but to permit the summa bonum for the individual. (Yes, “Catholic nations have been poor bulwarks against tyranny” but they are not Judeo-Christian.)

Now Jason emphasizes “the British culture that has spawned so many civilized off-springs” as well as “individualism: self-responsibility, self-reliance, independent spirit, and individual liberty.” That is all true, yet America developed these within a Christian framework that did not oppose its Judaic roots.

This is not to claim that all was well either in Judaism or in Christianity. I submit that our social-democracy draws upon the self-sacrificial Judeo-Christian view of loving thine enemy, and turning the other cheek. However, we have been discussing what has been, and still is, not what might be preferable. Yet, even if we were to aim at providing a different civilization, we would still have to provide our own summa bonum and aspirations, and understand where America is today, in order to influence it.

1/9/07, 5:17 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

You state many “question begging” assertions. You mention “Biblical aspirations” but give no examples of what such an aspiration is. You say the “culture was essentially Christian” but you don’t say what that means. You come closer with “conscience” which suggests a moral sense but you don’t say what the morals are.

You say something of substance with “The Americans followed the Hebrew mission “to spread liberty in the world” but it was not by force ...” Do I assume that you see Judaism and Christianity holding and advancing the idea of liberty? That is a claim worth considering.

Finally, you say “I submit that our social-democracy draws upon the self-sacrificial Judeo-Christian view of loving thine enemy, and turning the other cheek.” This would be an example of the influence of Christianity. Is this your candidate for the “Biblical aspirations,” “conscience,” and “essentially Christian” nature of the culture? And if that’s so, do I understand that you offer this as a criticism of the Judeo-Christian influence?

I want to be clear on your answer not so much to agree or disagree but to see if this is or can be a generally accepted idea of what people mean when they talk about the Judeo-Christian influence. What do others think?

1/9/07, 6:32 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch Two said...

Jason,
I think that Weingarten has made an excellent point, and I agree with it:

‘Judeo-Christian’ would appear to be a politically correct term indicating that America is not strictly a Christian nation, but also one that accepts Jews.

Prior to the advent of the term, what terms were used? Christian? Biblical? Protestant work ethic? I think I've read the usage of those terms somewhere, in older writings.

Maybe "Judeo-Christian values" means values based on the Ten Commandments, combined with "Love thy neighbor as thyself." The latter implies to me that freedom is that which allows one to live freely so long as he doesn't interfere with another's freedom.

Over time, I think that "Judeo-Christian" became synonymous with the Western ideals of individual and civil freedom, somehow tied into what the Declaration of Independence stated--including limitations on government. Is that document truly "Judeo-Christian"? Probably not in the literal sense.

My comment is lame, I know.

You're right, Jason: the term is bandied about without defining it.

1/9/07, 7:49 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Your comments aren’t lame, AOW, I think you may have captured some sense of how the term is used and how it came about.

Perhaps people like the feel of the word since it refers to a moral base even if everything is left vague.

1/9/07, 8:00 PM  
Blogger Always On Watch Two said...

Jason,
My brain is mush today--first day back to classes after five weeks of break. I'm flattered that you don't think my comment is lame.

Perhaps people like the feel of the word since it refers to a moral base even if everything is left vague.

I think that's exactly it!

With the Islamic threat looming, I feel that defining "Judeo-Christian values" in a specific way is critical. After all, in any debate an understanding of definitions is the first step.

1/9/07, 8:59 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason, I am surprised that you found my assertions questionable. I thought it was understood that the founders and their public were Christians, with Biblical aspirations, and that they held to advancing liberty. (As an aside, my mention of social-democracy was a criticism of a part of the Judeo-Christian influence. I thought this clear from my preface that "This is not to claim that all was well either in Judaism or in Christianity.")

One can find extensive coverage of the above in such documents as “The Federalist Papers” where Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were making their case for or against what was going to become the Constitution. About a month ago, Newt Gingrich had a one hour television show that gave similar quotes as in his book “Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History and Future”. The Acton Institute (via Lord Acton) frequently discusses the role of Religion in early America. The Jewish and Christian religions are replete with the importance of such aspirations as: truth, justice, responsibility and freedom, and of course the need for law.

I would cite particulars, but might perhaps be insulting your intelligance, for I am sure that you are familiar with such Christian aspirations. I presume that you are questioning something other than what I have in mind. I cannot imagine that you believe for example the American people were guided by the aspirations of Greece or Rome, rather than by those of Moses and Jesus.

1/9/07, 9:02 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

With regard to the first paragraph, I was just making sure I understood.

I have no doubt that the vast majority with perhaps a few rare exceptions fully believed what they were doing was in harmony with their religion. It is hard to imagine otherwise. The Loyalists also believed that they were right and righteous. Would it be surprising that they believed they were acting as good Christians? The same can be said for both sides of the Civil War. While the Union was singing “His truth is marching on” the Confederates were singing “God Save the South.”

It’s not odd that a religious person would express their moral confidence in religious terms. It does not actually mean that they’ve derived their position from theological considerations any more than the antithesis, held by one’s opponents, is derived from theological considerations. Going through the Federalist Papers one sees copious references to the lessons of history. This is as it must be since legal theory is best refuted or confirmed by actual history. Scripture isn’t a source of constitutional theory. Does God want a Republic and not a Monarchy?

Of course "truth, justice, responsibility and freedom" were classical values. The question remains: what is the specific theory of truth, justice, or freedom in each case. A theory of justice defines each different political theory even if the theory is false. From the Federalist it looks like it is the "truth of history" not "revealed truth." As to justice, Locke's notion of property wasn't the traditional Divine Right of Kings.

The colonial viewpoint on the interplay of morality and political theory is complex. So it is not an insult to my intelligence to be specific. By the way, the penultimate line from the “Battle Hymn” is “As He [Christ] died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!” There is Christ and there is Caesar. Where does the twain meet?

1/9/07, 9:53 PM  
Blogger Cubed © said...

"It would be better to ask what is it about the British culture that has spawned so many civilized off-springs. . ."

Precisely, Jason. As the birthplace of the Enlightenment, Britain did indeed spawn many civilized offspring. In a sense, I view Britain and the spread of Enlightenment thinking around the world in much the same way as I view Alexander the Great and the spread of Greek philosophy around the part of the world he conquered.

It is certainly the thinkers of the Enlightenment who studied human nature and advanced and clarified the concept of human rights, and established the validity of many of the ideas that you note - "note the tradition of law, liberty, private property, and an empirical disposition. Most of all, it is individualism: self-responsibility, self-reliance, independent spirit, and individual liberty."

I can only think of two reasons why one would say of a nation "This is a (insert name of religion) nation." One would be that the religion in question is the official state religion, or that the majority of the population practices a particular religion.

The United States has no state religion; in fact, the Constitution, the first governing charter of the United States, makes no reference to any deity at all, Christian or otherwise. In fact, the only references to religion of any kind in the Constitution are a prohibition against the government establishment of a religion, and the prohibition of any religious test as a "qualification to any office or public trust..."

Prior to the Constitution, there were many documents specifically invoking Christianity of one kind or another, but none of these were governing documents of the United States. Not even the Declaration of Independence was a governing document. There was none until the ratification of the Constitution.

The fact that the Constitution was godless was no accident; that very omission was hotly debated during the ratification process. It was deliberate, and enthusiastically supported even by Baptist preacher John Leland, who recognized that if the force delegated to the government were ever harnessed by a particular religion, then his own freedom to believe would be threatened.

An important part of the decision to keep religious belief and the force of government separate also lay with the work of pre-Revolutionary writer Robert Molesworth, who was a student of tyranny (a group of his friends later wrote the series of pamphlets called "Cato's Letters" that were considered pivotal to the justification for the Revolution). Molesworth pointed out that wherever religion and government were fused, government was regarded as an agent of god rather than a product of the human mind, and any criticism of government could be regarded not as honest intellectual disagreement, but as a moral transgression, a sin.

Certainly, many, if not all, of the Framers believed in some deity who, at the very least, "kick-started" existence, but their references to a such a power were not to the orthodox concept of the Judeo-Christian god. They referred instead to "Nature's God" or "The Creator."

The enormous scale of existence, without which the concept of time is meaningless (time is a measurement of movement, which presupposes an existent which moves), was difficult to comprehend. Time must be, a priori, in existence; existence is not in time. Existence is forever, and requires nothing to "kick-start" it. It's just a metaphysical "is."

Some believe that The Ten Commandments, revered by me as an early attempt to codify proper human interaction, was the foundation of the Constitution.

In fact, at least five of the ten Commandments are not enforceable under the terms of the Constitution. "You shall have no other gods before me" and "You shall not make for yourself a graven image... you shall not bow down to them and serve them." Clearly, these admonitions are not enforceable in a court of law in the United States. Neither is the one demanding that "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain," or "Remember the Sabbath Day," or "Honor your father and your mother," or "You shall not covet...anything that is your neighbor's."

Thomas Jefferson himself asserted at length in his writings that our government, our law, our Constitution, have their roots in British common law, and that neither the Ten Commandments nor any other aspect of Christianity were incorporated into British law, either by adoption or by legislation.

In a treaty with Tripoli, written by Thomas Barlow at the time of the problems with the Barbary pirates, stated "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian Religion."

The treaty was signed in November of 1796, and sent to the Senate by President John Adams in 1797. It was ratified unanimously, even by the Senators from the State of Tennessee, William Blount and William Cocke.

It is tragic that the secular Constitution, which is responsible for the unprecedented freedom to think, and the unprecedented freedom from compulsion, that all citizens experience to this day is not properly appreciated.

In my opinion, it is the greatest document ever conceived.

No wonder George Washington requested Congress to declare the last Thursday of November, 1789, to be a day of Thanksgiving in gratitude for the ratification of the Constitution!

1/9/07, 11:28 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

“It is certainly the thinkers of the Enlightenment who studied human nature and advanced and clarified the concept of human rights” – Cubed

That is clearly true if one judges from the Federalist Papers. There are 26 references to “experience” in the index of my copy. Eleven of them concern experience as a guide. Here’s one: “Experience is the oracle of truth” from #20. There are 3 references to God and #20 gives thanks to heaven. There are 11 references to Rome, 17 to Greece, 58 to Great Britain, etc. Experience was “their oracle.” They studied human nature thoroughly. That’s part of the empirical disposition that I mentioned.

However, many of the sources for their ideas aren’t cited by name. When reading books by historians they try to ascertain the origin of ideas they have great difficulty. But it can be done.

It's clear that religion was private -- no it wasn't banned from public life -- but it wasn't cited to resolve disputes. I don't remember any references in the Federalist Papers or Anti-Federalist Papers where religion was evoked to settle an issue. No one saw the constitution as anti-religious, of course. It gave protections to religion -- protections from the state. What more could one want?

1/10/07, 7:00 AM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason writes that often the same foundation, such as Christianity, can be used for different purposes. That was precisely my point about America being Judeo-Christian, where for example in contrast to the pogroms in Europe, America was without them.

Next, he writes that expressing a position in religious terms “does not actually mean that they’ve derived their position from theological considerations any more than the antithesis.” That is true, and one relies on his judgment as to the motivations of the author. Yet let us note that when an author justifies his view in this manner, he does so in order to appeal to the public, who apparently took their Bible seriously.

Jason continues “From the Federalist it looks like it is the "truth of history" not "revealed truth." Yet note that the phrase “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” acknowledges both sources. Sometimes one is guided by the dictates of fact, while at other times by his aspirations. Perhaps the difference I have with Jason is my view that * ‘aspirations’ are more fundamental than ‘evidence’, for they motivate, interpret, and implement the dealing with evidence*. Consider the sentence “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” This is an expression of aspirations, rather than a statement of evidence, which might read ‘We support this Declaration by the quality of our reasoning, where the evidence indicates the likelihood of a sound return on our investment in this venture.’

Jason’s point, and I agree, seems to be that very little derives strictly from revealed truth. He then concludes “There is Christ and there is Caesar. Where does the twain meet?” Let us first note that at issue is not what the correct interpretation of Christianity is, but what was the interpretation given by America (which has been called ‘Judeo-Christian’). It appears to me that our founder’s approach was to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God's.”

Cubed notes the influence of British culture including the many values under consideration. Somehow, she does not note that Britain was also a Christian country, where many of its philosophers had a religious orientation. (This is reminiscent of her argument that our Declaration of Independence lacked such an orientation.) Apparently, it was just a coincidence that America and Britain were Christian; they could have been Hindu or pagan with the same appreciation for the values she states.

Her position is that one could only view a nation as having a certain religion if that were the “official state religion, or that the majority of the population practices a particular religion.” America was based on not having an official state religion, precisely because the prevailing view was that the state should be separated from religion. This was written by those who in general attended Church services. Even if this was hypocritical, for public consumption, it indicates the Christian standing of the public.

Surely a Judeo-Christian nation could not require a specific religion. That view has only been held by a Christian people. (Note that atheist nations do not permit freedom of conscience.)

America was more of a Christian country in 1776, than it is today. Yet even today, after all of the non-religious influences, about 80% of the public (according to some polls) view themselves as Christian. Perhaps Cubed would require for it to be 100% before she could consider that a majority of Americans practiced Christianity? Similarly, she might say that since Jewry is composed of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and atheist groups, they cannot be considered Jewish (for there is not a majority which practices a specific denomination) and consequently we could not explain their behavior by reference to Judaism.

I agree with Cubed that “the secular Constitution, which is responsible for the unprecedented freedom to think, and the unprecedented freedom from compulsion, that all citizens experience to this day is not properly appreciated.” However, she presumes that this is less appreciated by Christians than by others. Perhaps the second greatest lack of appreciation (after Muslims) is by secularist liberals.

In sum, I agree with Jason and Cubed as to the virtues and contribution of rationalism and secular government. However, I thought the issue was the meaning of the term “Judeo-Christian” which refers to the culture of America, rather than to its government. If Jason and Cubed believe that America is not Christian and never was, then neither referring to it as a ‘Christian’ or a ‘Judeo-Christian’ country makes any sense. If that is their belief, it would be helpful if they would clarify what constitutes America today and in the past. I would also appreciate it if they would relate the roles of aspirations and empirical reasoning, since they appear to believe that the latter is the primary desideratum.

1/10/07, 12:06 PM  
Blogger Cubed © said...

"As to justice, Locke's notion of property wasn't the traditional Divine Right of Kings."


Jason, I do wish that the Founders had picked up on this point better when the Fifth Amendment was written; unfortunately, they didn't, and the result, among other things, was the Kelo decision.

The "Right of eminent domain" is a relic of the "Divine right of kings," and illustrates a tragically incomplete understanding of the nature of both man and rights.

1/10/07, 2:25 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Were I to ascertain the nature of a country, I would not take the vogue politicized approach of examining its government, but would primarily examine its culture, and in that context examine its government, This is because I view culture as having the role of uplifting man, which is by voluntary means, and government as having the role of curtailing man, which is by coercive means. Here, I would examine such institutions as family, education, literature, museums, libraries, music, sports, business enterprises, the economy, and dare I say it, houses-of-worship. To illustrate but the first component, if the marriage ceremony were done in the name of Allah, involved a fourth wife, resulted in the birth of a boy named after Mohammed, I would not conclude that the country involved was Christian.

On the positive side, all of our founder’s had Christian-names (pun intended). Note that the name given to a child often represents one’s highest aspiration. As we read the Christian-names of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it is evident that many were named after Saints (Thomas, John, George, James, Nicholas,…) and others after Biblical figures (Samuel, Benjamin, Abra, Joseph, David,…). Nathaniel was a disciple of Jesus (but nobody was named ‘Jesus’ (Heysoos) because they excluded Puerto Ricans, and ‘Jason’ would not have been permitted either.

1/10/07, 3:06 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Apparently, it was just a coincidence that America and Britain were Christian; they could have been Hindu or pagan with the same appreciation for the values she states.

Since it was pagan Rome that developed natural law, the answer is yes, a pagan culture can develop the values, or more correctly, the aspirations. It was a revival of classical culture, the Renaissance, and its continuation, the Enlightenment that gave us America. But Christianity gets credit for its ability to ultimately allow that revival to flourish. Islam couldn’t go the whole way. I think that’s the important point.

Surely a Judeo-Christian nation could not require a specific religion.

Why? Most European nations had established churches. France and Spain were founded as Catholic nations. The Church of England is, well, the Church of England. America is the exception. But it has precedence in Rome. Rome is the first example of a nation that allowed freedom of religion to any religion that was tolerant of other religions.

Now I agree with Weingartan (and Cubed) that the American people are Christian, for the most part. But this is just one influence on the culture. But the important question is: what is this influence? How has it influence the culture? Prager had his answer. It is clearly lacking.

In terms of our founding, I’ll suggest that Christianity, as it is written in the NT, isn’t a political religion but has a focus on salvation and the afterlife. This made it capable of being privatized and created few constraints on political theory. Islam isn’t so lucky. Perhaps if Mohammad died on the way to Medina …

1/10/07, 5:44 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

The "Right of eminent domain" is a relic of the "Divine right of kings," and illustrates a tragically incomplete understanding of the nature of both man and rights.

I didn't know that. You keep bring up great points.

1/10/07, 5:46 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason is of the view that it was just a coincidence that it was the Christian nations that created the rights that were promulgated in Britain and America. He believes that it could have been pagan Rome or perhaps Islam. Well, that’s his theory, so the fact that it was only Christian nations and never non-Christian nations that provided those rights cuts no ice. Would he not concede that if only pagan nations and never Christian nations provided them, his would be a better argument?

In my view the story that God directed Moses to free his people from tyranny had an effect; and Britain and America were influenced by the Bible to abolish slavery, and seek the promised land. I would also note the biblical vision in the Negro spirituals.
http://www.negrospirituals.com/ writes that negro spirituals are Christian songs, most of them concern what the Bible says and how to live with the Spirit of God. For example, the “dark days of bondage” were enlightened by the hope and faith that God will not leave slaves alone…So, even at work, slaves could sing “secret messages”. This was the case of negro spirituals, which were sung at church, in meetings, at work and at home…The meaning of these songs was most often covert. Therefore, only Christian slaves understood them, and even when ordinary words were used, they reflected personal relationship between the slave singer and God.

So, I do not think it a coincidence that the Bible was employed by those seeking freedom, nor that it was a vision of God, rather than natural law, that was employed as justification. However, theories as to what explains the outcomes of history would take us far afield. I would only add that had it turned out that only pagan nations had implemented individual liberty, my theory would not simply dismiss this as a coincidence.

Next, Jason believes that a Judeo-Christian nation could require a specific religion. OK, would it be a denomination of Judaism or Christianity that constituted the Judeo-Christian nation?

Finally, he claims that Christianity is “just one influence on the culture”. Would he spell this out in “such institutions as family, education, literature, museums, libraries, music, sports, business enterprises, the economy, and dare I say it, houses-of-worship.” (And let me add hospitals, cemeteries, orphanages, adoption practices, and reformatories). I submit that from this perspective Christianity would constitute a 90% influence, rather than say the 20% influence implied by Jason. However, given Jason’s view that Christianity is just one influence, the bottom line is that he cannot find any sense in America either being a Christian or a Judeo-Christian nation.

I believe that the Objectivists, in revering atheism, underestimate the potential of religionists to be on their side. One might imagine that if there were Objectivists in 1945, they would have expected to find more supporters among the atheist Russians than among the Christian Americans. Yet today as then, sustaining civilization will depend upon the Christians. Unless the Christians of America defend their freedom (and they will do so only on the basis of their beliefs) civilization is doomed.

Now characterizing America is an analytic task, rather than one of public relations. So I would not want anyone to fudge an analysis. Yet were one to do so on its merits, he would consider not merely the foibles of religionists, but the decency in their cherished aspirations.

1/10/07, 9:57 PM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Here is a 20 year old article on "Judeo-Christian" that seems to be tilting at the same things folk here are.

1/11/07, 3:57 AM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

It looks like were asking the same questions that Martin E. Marty asked 20 years ago in the link Beamish provided.

I suspect that Judeo was added to include Jews and to explicitly show respect for the influence of the Old Testament on Christianity. If there were Romans alive today and living in America, I suspect the phrase Romano-Judeo-Christian would be bandied about given the Roman influence on our culture. And if my ancestors didn’t convert to Christianity we’d have a Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian neologism. Why not a Egypto-Babylonian-Greco-Roman-Judeo-Chriatian? Oh, that’s right, the Iroquois wouldn’t be happy. Too bad, the wrap-around doesn't work in the pop-up box!

1/11/07, 8:20 AM  
Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Well, Martin Marty's take on "Judeo-Christian" wasn't all that supportive of defining the term in a specific way. Hostile, actually.

For the most part, I disagree with what he said. Some of his conclusions are drawn from errors in recounting the history and religious character of America's founding fathers, and this I think unravels his diatribe.

He shouldn't contend that the term is undefinable and defined incorrectly at the same time.

1/11/07, 9:29 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ducky said...

I would think you would be one of the first to agree that our underpinnings are much more "Greco - Roman" heritage than "Judeo - Christian".

Your frequent citings of Cicero as an example. Those influences are much easier to find that anything "Judeo-Christian".

1/18/07, 4:58 PM  
Blogger Jason_Pappas said...

Yes, I believe a rights-oriented philosophy is essentially Greco-Roman with an emphasis on Roman. Others have come around but the work done by the Stoics – Greek and Roman – was a major contribution. I’m critical of the Stoic philosophy but they deserve credit for pushing this issue.

Cicero, by the way, was critical of the underlying Stoic philosophy and he skewers it mercilessly in De Finibus. But in his other works he relies on and even furthers the applied aspects of rights-theory even while he rejects the meta-ethics of the early Stoics. Cato, the younger, his contemporary was a Roman Stoic (who Washington admired.)

Now, that doesn’t mean that Jewish and Christian thinkers couldn’t be partial to rights-theory. The fact that Cicero’s work survives is proof of that. Most of the Stoic and Epicurean works in philosophy were lost. For example, Chrysippus wrote over 100 books and they are all lost. We know of those schools to a large extent from Cicero.

I’m suggesting that religion is far more flexible (for better and worse) than most people like to think. This means it hasn’t been a bulwark against tyranny even if one doesn’t accept that it had a role in making things worse. Philosophy influences culture far more than people realize: both religious and non-religious people.

I believe philosophical concepts can be argued and accepted by everyone who is open to reason and evidence.

1/18/07, 5:47 PM  
Blogger Weingarten said...

Jason advocates a rights-oriented philosophy, and views religion from this perspective. Objectivists, by so doing, demonstrate the limited influence of religion, for it is not competitive as a philosophy. However, let us consider a different vocabulary, and differentiate between why something is done (via one's aspirations) and how it is carried out (via one's philosophy).

To illustrate, suppose one aspires to be a mathematician, and to do so follows the philosophy of science. The aspiration comes first, for if instead one aspired to be a good parent, he would follow a very different philosophy for carrying it out.

Religion (or use the term 'poetry') is geared to providing ultimate aspirations. This process employs philosophy, but is not reducible to it. It is intuitive, and only indirectly validated by its long range influence. Directly, it is a subjective experience that goes beyond what can be derived scientifically.

My question to Jason is not how to compare religion with a rights-oriented philosophy, but how to relate aspirations and philosophy, or why something is done vs. how it is done. Note that one would not say that we compare the 'why' and the 'how' in terms of the 'how'.

Of course an Objectivist might say that his philosophy provides the aspiration. Yet how could a philosophy have developed to begin with, were there not the aspiration that led him to do so? More pertinent is not the theoretical question, but how it works in reality. Aspirations do not derive from knowledge per se, but through a sense of what ought to be. One may note that the science of economics presupposes the subjective utility of the individual. Here, the primary mover is what the individual desires, without which there would be no economics or philosophy thereof.

Finally, one can say that when playing chess, philosophy could demonstrate the best move to make, such as what will result in mate. However, that would not address why one wants to win (and it is of course possible that one would prefer to lose). Yet even if philosophy demonstrated that winning would lead to beneficial results in someone’s life, there is the more fundamental question as to whether one desires those benefits or others. The point is that when one asks why, and why again, he eventually comes up with the ultimate why (or summa bonum). It is that quest which is addressed by religion, rather than the subordinate ones that lend themselves to philosophy.

1/19/07, 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Merrill EHB Franklin said...

Judeo-Christian means that we both believe in the same God of the Old Testament....

.... - the Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah....

.... - that's the only difference - the Jews' Messiah has not arrived as yet....

.... - but, it is the same God of the Old Testament....

.... - and for Christians, it is still the same God of the Old Testament - but, for us Christians, it is also the God of the New Testament....

.... - but for us Christians, our God is the God both of the New Testament and the Old Testament....

.... - and so, there you have it, the Judeo-Christian God - OK?

mehbf@yahoo.com

6/20/11, 7:51 PM  

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