Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Watching My Language... Though Not in That Way

I try to do my best to help raise consciousness with the words that I choose to use when I speak or write, whether it's substituting "humanity" for "mankind" or "child of Christian parents" for "Christian child". Recently, I was emailed by a Jewish individual who politely pointed out an interesting presumption behind the word "Judeo-Christian". Christianity may claim to share some things in common with Judaism, but the difference between the Christian god and the Hebrew god is the difference between polytheism and monotheism. Even in other areas where Judeo-Christian is often used, such as 'Judeo-Christian values', Christians seem to actually reject the Judeo portion.

For example, the ten commandments are argued by many evangelical Christians to be the Judeo-Christian foundation of our American legal system. But how many of these same believers will observe the Sabbath? The ten commandments are treated like a historical relic, and Christians will freely admit they are no longer under the old law, because of Jesus' sacrifice. Thus, the "Judeo" prefix seems more like an attempt to either be politically correct after centuries of Christian oppression of Jews or it's intended to give the illusion of something being generic, as opposed to strictly Christian.

In the case of the latter, it is especially relevant that "Judeo-Christian" has been almost exclusively invoked in the United States. Perhaps the reason for this may be the separation of church and state in our country. Many on the Religious Right seem to think that if something can be generally applied to all religions, it somehow does not violate the Establishment Clause. Hence, "Judeo-Christian" might be used to mask the truth of some issue being sectarian, or strictly Christian.

Of course, not all usages of "Judeo-Christian" are problematic. Referring to the emergence of Christianity, it may be well suited to consider some things as "Judeo-Christian" in the sense that they actually do have elements common to both religions. Early Christians who abstained from certain foods and still observed the Hebrew law can rightfully be called "Judeo-Christian", I think, as they were partially Jewish in their views. You'd be hard-pressed to find such types among Christians today, though.

While there are some appropriate uses for the term, I believe "Judeo-Christian" should be used more carefully. This probably isn't an issue for most people, but as a former Christian and ex-apologist, the word has lingered in my vocabulary. It does seem harmless too, which is all the more reason to bring these things to consideration.


  1. I don't think you can divorce Christianity from Judaism so easily. The belief in Jesus as the Messiah is derived from the prophecies of the Old Testament.
    In the New Testament you can find passages where Jesus makes references to those prophecies (John 12:37-41; Mark 7:6), claims that his God is the same God of the Jews (Matthew 22:32) and even keeps the same commandments of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17-19; Mark 10:19; Luke 16:17).
    Even if Paul (Romans 10:4) unilaterally decided that Christians are not bound by Mosaic Law (which goes against what Jesus said according to the Gospels), he acknowledged that Christians are the heirs of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), and that Mosaic Law was indeed given by God (Galatians 3:23).
    Thus, I'd say Christians - who take the Bible at face value - do believe their God is the same of the Jews, it's just the Jews who believe that Christians are not following their God. The term "Judeo-Christian" is appropriate from a Christian standpoint, but not from a Jewish standpoint.

  2. From a Christian standpoint, yes, but that's why I'm no longer using the term. Just because something seems appropriate from a certain perspective doesn't mean it truly is either.

  3. From an atheist standpoint this is a subject open to interpretation. In my case, I think Christians are being taught to uphold several Jewish values, such as believing in one single jealous God and all 10 commandments, even the Sabbath if they are "Sabbatarian" Christians. If you consider official Catholic doctrine, Sunday is the "Sabbath" (or that's what Pope John Paul II said in his "Dies Domini" apostolic letter).
    I doubt you can find a universal criteria to judge the appropriateness of a term, atheist or not. As an atheist, I find enough reasons to think "Judeo-Christian" describes Christian values correctly, since I cannot think of a Christianity without links to Judaism.

  4. Hi,
    I think my comment is totally unrelated to your post.. but is a way to contact you. I've seen your video: " My exodus from Faith" and I totally identify myself with you: I was raised in a christian enviroment my whole life, and started into physics in the same way you begin to introduce yourself in evolution, wanting to know the truth .. so far, I'm an agnostic.
    I'm still honestly searching, and I have many questions that I entirely don't know how to solve.
    This may sound very stupid, but one of my fears is what happens to the idea of good and evil , afterwards if there is not a "God" or a "divine justice" behin to support it, how you deal with it?.
    hm.. I don't know exactly how to phrase a proper question; but for example we both know that cheating someone is wrong, is a damage to the other .. but this time you cannot use the "eternal condammantion" as an argument not to do it, your argument is simply not to damage the other... but for me, this seems really weak compared to the "divine justice" argument that prevents you from it, I honestly don't know if there is an equivalence, and if there is not, how do u rationalized this.. I mean, rationalizing stuff how can you avoid to think selfishly?.

    Sorry, It seems like my comment makes not much sense, I just hope you somehow understand what I mean.. anyhow, thanks for posting stuff! =)

  5. I'm not sure why you think "divine justice" or "eternal condemnation" are such 'strong' arguments for good and evil. I believe they're appealing to people who want a sense of comfort and certainty, but there's really no evidence that it's true.

    Morality as we're talking about it is a specifically human thing - it's how we interact with one another and how we determine the choices we make. If you insert a third party, like a god, into the mix, then good and evil become arbitrary laws, given to us by something that is not human and may not understand the plight of humanity that well. Outside of religion, we can appreciate morality for what it is. I don't think it's selfish to generally take the feelings of others into account when you think about how you want to be treated. It's how we've learned to get along on this planet for centuries. Often times the fighting has come from people who pretend they have 'divine edicts,' handed down from heaven.