Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Judeo-Christian"

This is something American Creation has yet to really touch. Hat tip First Things to this article. As it notes, the term was not invented until around the 1950s. President Eisenhower summed it up:

“Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”


But as a commenter at First Things noted, George Washington and the other "key Founders" anticipated this concept, citing Washington's letter to the Jews. Yet, Washington also believed Muslims and unconverted Native Americans worshipped the same God Jews and Christians did, suggesting the need for a broader, more inclusive term like "theism" or "Providentialism."

22 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

See also Paul Harvey & Randall Stephens' blog, which traces "Judeo-Christian" to a seminal event in WWII, where Protestant Catholic and Jewish clergymen gave away their life jackets and perished along with the ship.

http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2011/05/tri-faith-america.html

My own digging gets the term back to the 1920s or earlier, as the Catholic Problem roped in the Jews as well into a "Judeo-Christian" American ethic.

As I think of it, "Judeo-Christian" is a uniquely American term, no?

Although it's a "neologism," a new term coined much later to describe something that came into existence in the past, I'm a supporter of the term. It's even inclusive of unitarian Christianity, since Jews don't believe Jesus is God either.

And keep in mind, "The Enlightenment" is a neologism, too, and iirc, only dates to 1910 or so. [Pls do correct me here.] The Founding was "Judeo-Christian" in many ways, but neither they nor "The Enlightenment" used such terms to describe themselves.

[As you can see, Jon, I meself have indeed been working on this, but haven't "touched" on it formally on our mainpage. But I think my facts are essentially correct and solicit further refinements.]

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I'm unfamiliar with Washington equating Allah with Providence and/or The Almighty, as he did with Jehovah and "The Great Spirit," Jon. Pls supply source if you can.

Accuracy on our factoids is of paramount importance. We don't let David Barton get away with it, so we must hold ourselves to the same uncompromising standard.
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Heh heh. ;-)

Jonathan Rowe said...

You were in on the conversation not too long ago:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2011/04/evidence-that-gw-believed-jews.html

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you, Jon. It would have been ok to post the orig quote here, for those who came in late.

Accuracy would demand that you put it that Washington wrote [to the Muslim ambassador] "May that God, whom we both adore..."

My original comment stands:

It's an error to assume that what Washington said as a statesman and president is necessarily a personal belief.

I'm not just quibbling. This blog tears new anuses for any politician or pseudo-historian who overstates his evidence.

We are not advocates, not culture warriors at this blog. Hey, we each have our POV, but first and foremost must be accuracy and credibility. My intervention was only by-the-by, but surely we can write "wrote" instead of "believed" next time this comes up.
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As for the main thrust of yr post, Jon, "Judeo-Christianity," it does have a more complicated history predating Eisenhower. It's a 20th century neologism, and I rather liked the point that "The Enlightenment" is one, too. Upon further research, it seems to take off informally in the 1800s, but a 1910 American author still felt the need to explain it as an unfamiliar term.

The application of the term to a particular historical period was greatly influenced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's lectures on the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history from the 1820s, and his usage was widely imitated in German histories of philosophy and of literature. The French term for the period—siècle des lumières—suggested a more elastic understanding of the period: a century of "lights" rather than a single movement. English usage followed the German, but lagged behind it, with the Enlightenment replacing the Illumination as a label for the period only in the waning years of the nineteenth century. As late as 1910 the Princeton philosopher John Grier Hibben, in the first book in English to use the term consistently, treated the term as a neologism in need of explanation. Indeed, for much of the twentieth century age of reason remained a widely used alternative.

http://www.bookrags.com/research/enlightenment-eoph/sect3.html

I'm just saying we should show our work, Jon. Barton doesn't do it often enough, but neither do his critics.

[Our old pal OFT nailed our mutual friend Fea twice in the past week, one on a factoid (an Abigail Adams quote misattributed to John), and a rhetorical exaggeration of the number of unitarian Founders. If we're going to hold everybody's feet to the fire, well, charity begins at home.]

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Westpoint's honor code says, "We don't lie, cheat or steal and we don't tolerate those who do..That means that tolerance is an American value, but not to intolerance.

The problem with exclusive religous claims, which montheism is, is the problem of tolerance. We can't risk American liberty for trusting those that don't trust us, because our lifestyles do not match theirs, which defines us as "infidels"...

Schleiermacher (the Father of liberalism) wrote something similar about the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man....and his belief of a "feeling of absolute dependence on God" was his defining mark of belief....

Free societies make the religious of any stripe that take their religion seriously anxious...for fear of denying God, or some other fear...these fears are not prone to make the religous tolerant. And thier minds are made up, they don't change easily, even when they desire to...because their identification is so tightly bound to their relgiious opinion, which they think is absolute and real...that God exists and is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him....etc...religious texts bind the conscience, and such consciences are not tolerant either...

Jason Pappas said...

What is Judeo-Christian? I asked this once at my old blog and never got a clear answer.

Some seem to think it is Judaism and Christianity (which would mean it is two things). Others seem to think it emphasizes that Christianity is an outgrowth of Judiasm (which would mean it is just Christianity since Judaism can’t then be such an outgrowth). To my surprise, some claimed that Catholics weren’t Judeo-Christian since only Protestantism gives the greater emphasis to the Old Testament required for the hyphenated expression. Still others saw it as Unitarianism since the more inclusive group doesn’t require a belief in the divinity of Jesus. Others tell me it is the intersection of beliefs and nothing more than the ten commandments (forget Moses' other 613 commandments).

I gave up. Define for me Judeo-Christian and I’ll define for you Greco-Roman.

By the way, Immanuel Kant wrote an essay “What is Enlightenment?” in the 18th century. The term was used self-consciously as was the “Age of Reason.”

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jason,

It's interesting you mention Kant and Enlightenment. I did a little private (not yet blogged about) research on the origins of the term "Enlightenment." When did folks self consciously realize they were living in an "Enlightenment." It, apparently, traces to Kant.

Daniel said...

Jonathan Rowe said...
" When did folks self consciously realize they were living in an "Enlightenment." It, apparently, traces to Kant."

Although I am not aware of any Enlightenment era use of "Enlightenment", Voltaire (and I think others) did describe the preceeding era as dark, implying that an age of light had come.

Joe Winpisinger said...

America does not exist without its laws. In other words, our laws draw a line around the land that they apply to and say "this is ours and that is yours".

The part that is ours was heavily influenced by the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures. This is in both the national and state governments.

I think Jon has good points that all were welcome. But to turn that around and say that all had the same influence is simply not true.

Christian tolerance allowed people of other beliefs to feel welcome in America. Tom has hit on this repeatedly with no solid retort from anyone that I can remember.

Pinky said...

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I heard a woman in Georgia call in to the C-Span program this morning refer to Israel as a Judeo-Christian nation.
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Jason Pappas said...

One of the problems I have with the use of the term Judeo-Christian is that it tends to be used by those that see our culture as unique and separate from all others. There is a high correlation between those who describe America as Judeo-Christian and those that want to protect our culture from immigration, especially Mexican immigration.

If Wikipedia is correct, 83% of Mexicans are Catholic and 97% of those attend church weekly. I would have thought that Christians would seek to open the flood gates and wave in fresh stock of devout Judeo-Christians from south of the border. Thus, either Catholics aren’t Judeo-Christian or our culture is best described as something else.

What am I missing?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jason,

I find your comment at 4:57 AM on the possible meanings of "Judeo-Christian" apt.

The FFs were theists and put their theism into America's political theology. However, it wasn't exclusive in the idea that Jews and Christians worship the same God, Muslims (Mormons? Swedenborgs?) a different one. The idea that Jews and Christians were united in a way that excludes Muslims was totally alien to the Founding.

I've also seen some orthodox Trinitarian fundamentalists use "Judeo-Christian" as a synonym for their orthodox Christian fundamentalism. A number of them have told me Nicene Trinitarianism (of which a religious Jew would disagree with every word) is "Judeo-Christian." For them, the "Judeo" means Jews have a place in their theology and politics because a) Judaism is an antecedent of orthodox Christianity and b) some interpret biblical eschatology as requiring orthodox Christians to support the state of Israel and, therefore, to have a pro-Jewish political theology. Hence the term "Judeo-Christian" works conveniently for them.

But this most certainly was NOT the "Judeo-Christianity" of America's Founding political theology.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Although it's a "neologism," a new term coined much later to describe something that came into existence in the past, I'm a supporter of the term. It's even inclusive of unitarian Christianity, since Jews don't believe Jesus is God either.

This needs to be a test case. Mormons, JWs, modalists, those who don't believe Jesus is God, the idea that Jews believe the OT divine, but none of the new. As I see it a lot of the Christian promoters of the term "Judeo-Christian" don't understand these things should "load" into the term. Those that DO understand these things -- like James White -- tend to reject promoting the term for that reason.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re the Enlightenment I think it's a good idea for future blogging to study the history of the "meme." There is no question, after examining Philip Hamburger's paper on liberality, we see FFs using such adjectives and qualifiers as "rational," "reasonable," "benign," "benevolent," "enlightened," "light of reason" or "light of nature." And these in turn were part of the Enlightenment parlance. But I think it was Kant who first created the meme of the Age of Enlightenment. And he, in turn, appropriated the American Revolution as an "Enlightenment" event.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Jason,
The reason our people don't want immigrants invading our land, is that our resources are at stake...all humans need certain things to survive, and our people see our nation's viability and their way of life being trampled under foot, in the name of some "alturistic", "universal" or "humanistic" claim/ethic.

Some that don't deny others their rightful life, seek to support another nation's development, but this is a personal call of commitment, choice and value...our nation should not be divying out our resources, when there is so much need at home for economic development...we won't be able to help anyone if we don't care for ourselves first...this is not "selfish", it is common sense..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As to Enlightenment, man was understood to have his own conscience, and not under another's rule. The Dark Ages was when the Church ruled over men and government. We were the first nation without a special place for religious authorities, though we allowed for religious conviction/opinion....

Jason Pappas said...

Jonathan,
You make the case that the FF broad religious acceptance is different from those today that use the term Judeo-Christian as a narrow reading of the tradition by so-called fundamentalists. I hadn't found a clear explanation of the latter but your sources seem to give one that seems to describe a good segment who like the label.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Kevin Schultz, author of Tri-Faith America, replies in the comments below that the term "Judeo-Christian" dates as far back as 1890s France.

http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2011/05/tri-faith-america.html

Exc stuff.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom:

Front page post?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Jon. I prefer to put only my own personal research into source docs on the mainpage, which is why I don't post so much.

I recalled that the Dreyfus Affair was in the 1890s with all its attendant anti-Semitism. Bingo! Historian Mark Silk sez "Judeo-Christian" was used as a defense by the Dreyfusards against the charge that Capt. Dreyfus was part of some anti-Catholic conspiracy.

http://www.spiritual-politics.org/2011/01/hating_on_the_judeo-christian_tradition.html

This history stuff is really cool sometimes. Beats the hell out of crossword puzzles for those Eureka! moments.

Pinky said...

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his history stuff is really cool sometimes. Beats the hell out of crossword puzzles for those Eureka! moments.
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Plus, it gives those of us that aren't so good at searching out our own sources the benefit of your efforts. Just in case you thought your efforts were not appreciated.
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Thanks to everyone for the work each one of you do.
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Pinky said...

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Uh, that would be does.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Why thx, Phil. Yes, it is about the sharing, after you spend an hour or an afternoon on something. Where they take it from there is up to them.