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AUGUST 20, 2008 6:59PM

The Judeo-Christian Lie

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ten commandments"Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values and principles."

-John McCain, Saddleback forum with Rick Warren, August 17, 2008

Despite what many say, the US was not founded on Judeo-Christian values. If it was founded on any religious values, it was purely Christian ones.

The term Judeo-Christian has a benign history. It was popularized by liberal groups in the 1920s and 1930s to forestall anti-Semitism. But it has nothing to do with the history of the founding of the US.

Liberals repeatedly whining about this is not convincing to most people, so perhaps you'll listen to the US Supreme Court.

The case is Van Orden v. Perry (2005). It involved a privately donated Ten Commandments display (see photo above) situated on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol (public property). The Supreme Court upheld the display as sufficiently secularized by the 21 other monuments, both secular and religious, scattered throughout the grounds.

Part of the reasoning was that the Founders themselves approved of the display of the 10 commandments in a variety of settings, and thus the Constitution must mean to allow for this kind of display.

I want to focus your attention on this passage from Justice Stevens' dissent:

Many of the Founders who are often cited as authoritative expositors of the Constitutions' original meaning understood the Establishment Clause to stand for a narrower proposition [than what the court holds].  Namely, many of the Framers understood the word "religion" in the Establishment clause to encompass only the various sects of Christianity. [Justice Scalia's] inclusion of Judaism and Islam is a laudable act of religious tolerance but it is one that is unmoored from the Constitution's history and text and moreover one that is patently arbitrary in its inclusion of some, but exclusion of other (e.g., Buddhism), widely practiced non-Christian religions.

Basically,  Stevens is saying, "Are you kidding me? If you're going to interpret the Constitution like the founding fathers meant, then be honest about the fact that there was no "Judeo" involved here. It was all just "Christian.""

 

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It's amazing how many times I have heard that expression, "Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values and principles." I think you have done some great detective work here to expose the origins of it.
"Basically, Stevens is saying, 'Are you kidding me? If you're going to interpret the Constitution like the founding fathers meant, then be honest about the fact that there was no "Judeo" involved here. It was all just "Christian."'"

So if the establishment clause were interpreted strictly according to the "original intent," then it seems that the government could, for example, use taxpayer money to promote Buddhism, since Christianity was the only religion included in the original intent. Isn't that the case?
Mishima, pure original interpretation would mean:
- the prohibition against establishment would only apply to the federal government, so NY could adopt a state religion, and private actors could discriminate on the basis of religion (states, employers, etc)
- the government wouldn't be able to establish one branch of christianity over another, so yes, it could use moeny to promote all Christianity or Buddhism or any other religion.

Pure originalist interpretation, without any tweaking, is one that is simply incompatible with our current world.

Scalia, in his McCreary dissent, tries to expand original intent to monotheism (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), basing this on the fact that the founders often used the word "God" rather than "Jesus Christ," but that is some shaky ground, considering not a single founding father was Jewish or Muslim, and it may very well have been the style of the time. Alternatively, they used that language to support their Deism, but then Scalia's house of monotheistic cards collapses, since Deism has little to do with Christianity, Judaism or Islam.

Moreover, the fact that the founders explicitly excluded any reference to God from the Constitution or the Bill of Rights is strong evidence against Scalia's interpretation of what they meant by the Establishment clause or its limits to monotheism, especially considering how many things they explicitly included in those documents, and how often they talked about God outside of these documents.
I think it's also telling that I've never heard of any jews demanding the 10 Commandments be displayed anywhere.

I love this Kurt Vonnegut quote: "For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, be posted anywhere."
Thank you, Madame, for highlighting Justice Stevens' use of the term unmoored in his criticism of Scalia's reasoning. I believe we have yet to see a Supreme Court Justice as unmoored from the Constiution's history and text as Scalia has been during his tenure. He, above all else, seems to decide on an outcome he wants and tries to shoehorn some gibberish reasoning into an argument that sounds like strict constructionism. What an intellectual fraud.
I contend that the term Judeo-Christian is apt, simply beause Christianity rests upon a foundation of Judaism. Jesus certainly saw himself as a Jewish reformist, and the entire concept of a messiah comes from the "Old Testament."

It's sorta a chicken-egg thing.
Interesting and well thought out. So...now what?

(By the way, shouldn't we really call it Sumerian/Babylonian/Pagan/Judeo-Christian...oh, never mind.)
Interesting post--I don't have the legal training to offer a comment that would add value from a legal perspective; but from a religious perspective---I'd echo Wayne's point---there IS no Christianity without Judaism.

Of course I ws brought up as a Christian by a Mom who recently authored a book titled "Jewish Renewal in America"---so I might be coming at this from a pretty different perspective. (PS--Lots of copies of the book available from her garage!)
I have to agree Wayne. It is the Christian belief that the Old Testament (or covenant) was fullfilled in Jesus Christ and thus a New Testament (or promise) begins through him. The two are inseperable to a Christian.
The shorter NeilPaul?

AIPAC
john walker, Chicago Guy and Wayne Gallant have all got their categories mixed. No one would deny that Christianity in all its forms historically comes from Judaism. But that does not justify drawing a line around these two religious traditions and pretending that they form some sort of privileged unity. The only purpose of the expression is to exclude and condemn what is outside it.

Incidentally, Islam also comes from Judaism. Why do you think they have Abraham, Moses and Jacob?
A couple years back, during our annual "War on Christmas," I remember reading a letter to the editor in my local paper proudly declaring that saying "Merry Christmas" was part of our Judeo-Christian heritage.

Yeah.

I'll let you locate all the myriad problems with that statement yourself.
Matthew:
All labels both the ones we give ourselves and the ones we give others are all about those whom we include and those we exclude.
This is not a rap that you can hang only on the religious.
I'm a Canadian and really quite ignorant of American civics/history, but it wouldn't surprise me if the country actually was founded on Christian and (by coincidence) Judaic values, since the essence of those values (as opposed to belief systems) are the same values.
However, "founded on Judeo-Christian values" is just one more bullshit PC soundbite (ditto "family values") that politicians love to throw around because it has apparently gotten them the reaction they want in the past. When Obama, on the other hand, utters a thoughtful, non-standard view on true values, it's a feeding frenzy from the fake self-righteous media who KNOW how Joe Middle America loves to kneejerk react to his nuanced statements.
The truth is exactly what Neilpaul said: "'Judeo-Christian' is just a sop to Jews, *a group that has been known to defend its rights when marginalized* [yeah, that's the important bit, isn't it?]."
What next? someone asked. It'll never happen, but what's really required is a constitution based on what we now call spiritual values, which -- whaddaya know?-- are the exact same values in all the world's major religions (minus all the bullshit overlay of rules, of course -- which were invented by corrupt politicians they used to call "clergy").
Hey Matthew-- when we did the data gathering for the UCC "god is still speaking" initiative one of the things we measured was the anger at religion. And it was off the charts. More people are more angry at church than they are at government, lawyers, health care---really anything. So if, by chance, you're angry---you're in a pretty large group.

Dig slightly deeper, and what we found was that the idea of "catagories"---specifically as they relate to exclusion (you're out---I'm in) was a prime driver of that anger.

This perception of exclusion lead to our "Bouncer" commerical. If I knew how to paste it in I would---sorry. But it's on you tube if you search for "Bouncer UCC" . Now remember---if you go look--its a COMMERCIAL. 30 seconds. But the message is that there are groups of Christians who have at their absolute heartfelt core---the practice of what we call the "extravagant welcome." Which in practice means the exact opposite of what you've experienced.

At our church we share space with a Jewish Renewal Community who's core values are very much in line with ours.

My point is not that all Christians share this value. They don't. Some, maybe even MOST Christian groups are all about exclusion. But we really are not. Nor are our neighbors.

Painting all Christians with the same brush communicates a bigotry in much the same way that painting ANY group of people, a gender, or nationality communicates bigotry. And it fuels the problem.

So, come by if you're ever in Chicago. You'd find a room full of disorganized, VERY imperfect people from across the spectrum of belief. A lot of us are "questioning believers."

As to the common roots of the 3 Abrahamic faiths---you might have already read the book "The Tents of Abraham" which traces the common threads of all three faiths. If not---it's a great read.
Wayne, you write: "I contend that the term Judeo-Christian is apt, simply beause Christianity rests upon a foundation of Judaism. Jesus certainly saw himself as a Jewish reformist, and the entire concept of a messiah comes from the "Old Testament.""

If that is what is meant by that term,
(1) it seems redundant, since the Judaic origins of Christianity are already incorporated into the term "Christian." The Old Testament is part of the Christian Holy Bible. It's like saying a female woman.
(2) then the term really just means "Christian," since it only means to include "Judeo" inasmuch as Christianity originates from Judaism.

In any case, however, I think it's obvious that that's not what the term means. The term is used explicitly to include Jewish people, not just Christian people and Christianity's Judaic origins.

And what this term does is bring Jews "into the club" of "founding origins," thereby legitimizing their American-ness and religious traditions, but it also consequently includes all other religious traditions from the club, implying somehow that those traditions are less worthy of inclusion and respect in America, that they appeared only after the founding, and are therefore of second class.

People used to say "Christian values" but with the wane of anti-Semitism in the western world, they felt it would be more polite to include the Jews also. Like Stevens says, that's very sweet and all, but it has nothing to do with the historical reality of the Founding, so stop trying to put lipstick on this pig.

Even though I'm ostensibly included by the "Judeo" part, I am offended on behalf of everyone else, and on behalf of my atheist self.
Typo:

And what this term does is bring Jews "into the club" of "founding origins," thereby legitimizing their American-ness and religious traditions, but it also consequently ***EXcludes*** all other religious traditions from the club, implying somehow that those traditions are less worthy of inclusion and respect in America, that they appeared only after the founding, and are therefore of second class.
Calm down, Chicago Guy. I did not say a single word against Christians or any other religious people. I object to the term "Judeo-Christian." Call yourself a Jew or a Christian all you like. It doesn't bother me. And I am happy to believe your religion brings you something good.