Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Unicorns and Judeo-Christians

cross on star of David tattoo
His clients are "devout Judeo-Christians" averred the attorney -- orally and in filings here (first page, Introduction) and here (page 1, Statement). No one laughed out loud, but during the hearing I put a an index finger and thumb to my chin and saw puzzled glances elsewhere in the courtroom.

This not only appeared repeatedly in the Mad Dad case in federal court. This specious and oxymoronic epithet turns out to have been brought back from a well-deserved death several times. Today, like a golem, it is serving its extremist masters politically.

You don't need to look very far on the Net or in a library to get your fill of Judeo-Christian values, Judeo-Christians, and Judeo-Christian worldview. Its coinage and usage have been as first a propaganda device and more recently as a political/public-relations gimmick. Today, it really is camouflaged code for increased theocracy disguised as merely wanting to maintain positive moral teaching.

Most citations are on right-wing Websites and many of these include calls for theocratic political aims. A few are way out there. There are Judeo-Christian tattoo sites (the one above taken from one), dating connections, jewelry selections, and a health center. The most bizarre take on the term surely has to be from a Ku Klux Klan site. While many racists seem to like the phrase, this group goes beyond disdaining Judeo-Christian. They deny that the Ahrahamic patriarchs -- and even Jesus -- were Jewish (that would be lowercase on their site).

Curiouser and curiouser...

In this clutter, there are a few understandable uses. That clinic in Tampa, for example, is the project of a Presbyterian minister who just wants to help the poor. He subsequently found support from other clerics, including rabbis. Hence, he expanded the name to be inclusive.

Likewise, some UU and UCC ministers, mostly older ones, use the term synonymously with Abrahamic to describe inclusive religion evolving from the Torah. the Christian Bibles and Koran. It is not unusual for Jews to attend and belong to UU churches and for liberal rabbis to swap pulpits on occasion with their UU counterparts. This has even led to some of them using the term Jewnitarian to refer jocularly to the affinity. Here in Boston, the Arlington Street Church had a rabbi-in-residence, Howard Berman, who had retired from the biggest synagogue in Chicago.

Certainly there is no church or denomination or seminary of Judeo-Christianity. It is instructive to see how the term became woven in the weft of American life and how the right came to appropriate it.

A wonderfully succinct recap is available on NPR as a sound clip. Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman tracked down its origins and subsequent submersion and resurfacing.

Reframing the Framers

Our fabulous, famous Founding Fathers and framers of our U.S. Constitution did not know from Judeo-Christians. To a one, even if they did not strongly identify as Christians, they described this as a Christian nation. By that, of course, they mean Protestant. As Waldman said, Judeo-Christian "was not a term the Founding Fathers or their grandchildren would have understood."

Yet well over 200 years later, we recently find articles, sermons, sites and speeches holding forth to proclaim that those who wrote our Constitution used Judeo-Christian values and standards, which, of course, must be restored through these organizations' political actions.

Consider Rev. Jerry Fallwell on Ronald Reagan: My Christian Hero. "He was pro-life. He affirmed the Judeo-Christian values of our Founders." Further, the Stop Activisit Judges group became Vision America and reflects the use of the term clearly in its self-description:
Our mission is to inform, encourage and mobilize pastors and their congregations to be proactive in restoring Judeo-Christian values to the moral and civic framework in their communities, states, and our nation.

No other organization exists exclusively to involve, represent, and serve pastors and their congregations in the realm of reforming culture and government from a traditional Judeo-Christian perspective.

Christian involvement in civil government is not optional. It is an essential part of our calling from God to be salt and light in a dying culture. God’s people in Christ must address the great moral issues now before the nation. The church has been entrusted by Almighty God with the tools necessary to reverse America’s moral decline and effect lasting change if only she will engage in this momentous struggle before it is too late!
This is typical of what a search for the term shows. The Christian Coalition of America has a similar call in its belief statement, including, "...we continuously work to identify, educate and mobilize Christians for effective political action! Such action will preserve, protect and defend the Judeo-Christian values that made this the greatest country in history. " It prepared a pastors' handbook for this purpose, which takes the media to task for failure to acknowledge:
  1. public policies offend or oppose Christian values;
  2. Christians have a right to be involved;
  3. the media is failing in their constitutional responsibility to inform the electorate by promoting their agenda;
  4. erosion of Judeo Christian values, which is the basis of our morals and civility is not good for society;
  5. our cause is right and will preserve the future of this country for our children.

Jews? Muslims?

It should be no surprise that we don't see Judeo-Islamic-Christian or Abrahamic in this catchphrase. It goes beyond destruction of the World Trade Towers. In fact, it is easy to find right-wing denunciations of Muslim associations, such as they had nothing to do with the Constitution (David Limbaugh; Church State Separation as a Weapon) and are our enemies (Franklin Graham; "Islam has attacked us.")

The real irony is that having said or written Judeo-Christian, these groups suddenly forget the Jews. Those sites citing the term invariably mention it in passing and then go on at length only about Protestant values and aims.

A literature or Net scan shows a preponderance of works describing the irrationality, oxymoronic nature and historical fallacy of Judeo-Christian. Theologians in general and Jewish scholars in particular point out in detail how meaningless and even offensive the term is. For example, consider a lits of belief and practice differences and one of many articles describing The Myth of a Judeo-Christian Tradition.

There were certainly Jewish Christians in the first 50 years of Christianity (although they had a hard sell in conversion as they demanded male circumcision, including adults). Today, we have such small groups as Jews For Jesus too. It would be fun to ask a winger if these were the groups they mean by the term.

Nazis and Commies, Oh My

How we got to today's gimmicky use Judeo-Christian is easy to trace. In 1984, Trinity College Professor Mark Silk researched the term and found that it served both WWII and Cold War propaganda purposes.

In WWII, the Nazis began referring to "our Christian civilization" as part of their justification for pogroms, death camps and imperialism. Religious News Service writer Mark O'Keefe revisited this with Silk. "'Judeo-Christian,' which in 1952 looked like an incredibly inclusive term, doesn't look very inclusive now," said Silk. "So we probably need a new term."

The U.S. Government was also quick to repurpose the term for the next generation. During the Cold War, it came to mean our tolerant society in contrast to godless communism.

"More recently, conservative Americans have adopted it as a way of promoting a pro-religion agenda without seeming exclusivist or scary," said Waldman.

So, what we see from self-described Judeo-Christians is an effort to implant their particular politics into government at all level. Beware of Judeo-Christians bearing petitions!

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