Thursday, July 07, 2005

Judeo –Christian?

The term Judeo-Christian is commonly used to describe the nature of America’s religious system. The Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines the term Judeo-Christian:

having historical roots in both Judaism and Christianity

In that sense, America is a Judeo-Christian country, with the founders of the Constitution drawing inspiration from Christianity, and Christianity being a religion that, aside from its viewpoints concerning the Trinity, is composed largely of parallel values to those found in Judaism. Furthermore, America’s legal system has taken traits from Rome’s and the Talmud’s judicial process, such witnesses and lex talionis (an eye for an eye), as well as the death penalty, for example. Therefore, America’s system is a hodge-podge of Jewish, Christian, and Roman influence, and secular democracy (separation of Church and State) all mixed into one.

A slightly variant definition of term from defines “Judeo-Christian” as, “being historically related to both Judaism and Christianity; "the Judeo-Christian tradition." The term “Judeo-Christian tradition” signifies that the Jewish and Christian traditions are similar enough to be classified together in a hyphenated term, but this is not exactly the case; both Jewish and Christian traditions, and their theologies, are quite different from each other. To start, they do share common similarities, such as the belief in the One G-d, life after death, messiah, and the difference between good and evil, but suffice it to say that the fulcrum of Jewish theology (Torah) and the fulcrum of Christian theology (Jesus), alter the entire theological scope of each respective religion. In this light, the term “Judeo-Christian tradition” does a fairly poor job of actually delineating the Jewish and Christian traditions. While their traditions consist of some of the same liturgy and terminology, the definitions and concepts surrounding these similarities are vastly different.

Take, for example, the Jewish and Christian conceptualizations of sin. In Judaism, the Torah is the Divine blueprint for life with its Author and Fulcrum being G-d, and therefore, sin, or transgression, is the name for when a person violates a part of the Torah. This means that according to Judaism, each individual carries the ability to stay away from sin. Christianity’s notion of sin is derived from the Creation account of Genesis. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, they and their ancestors (humanity) entered into a perpetual state of sin, which keeps them from nearing G-d, necessitating the death of Jesus to free them from that impassible obstruction. Judaism’s “interpretation” of the Creation account of Genesis makes for an entirely different understand and theology – a difference as subtle as an interpretation is the cause of the very different theologies possessed by Judaism and Christianity. The differences are far-reaching and the term “Judeo-Christian” becomes an inaccurate one.

America is a Judeo-Christian country, which for all practical purposes, would be the same as saying that it is a Christian country. Whether America is or is not a Christian country is a whole other topic and I’ll probably write something about it sometime in the future. For the sake of the argument, Judeo-Christian means Christian, and this is why; Christianity is a religion, as mentioned earlier, that apart from its belief in the Trinity, has many behavioral parallels to Judaism. Since Christianity has its own interpretation of Jewish theological concepts and in its own mind is the completion of Judaism, to say “Judeo-Christian” is really to say “Christian.” For example, a person of the Christian faith would find this analogy agreeable; blue is to purple as Judaism is to Christianity. Blue plus red makes purple, and Judaism plus Jesus makes Christianity. A person of the Jewish persuasion would find this analogy agreeable; circle is to triangle as Judaism is to Christianity, the two are both shapes, but are otherwise unrelated.

An example of a Judeo country, or a Jewish country, would be Israel. In reality, all Christian countries can be titled Judeo-Christian countries, because Christianity itself is a Judeo-Christian religion. The same logic can be applied to the term “Messianic Judaism,” a redundant term given to the fact that Judaism is a Messianic religion, a religion that believes in the Coming of the Messiah (and that he is not Jesus). The Christian movement known as Messianic Judaism came up with that name with the intent to express its belief that Judaism is incomplete without a Messiah, and that he has already come. Therefore, the concept of “Messianic Judaism” repeats the ethos of the Christian religion in that Christianity is the completed form of Judaism, hence Messianic Judaism is really a “backwards reaching” form of Christianity.


For the same reason that we can say that Christianity is a Judeo-Christian religion, we can say that Islam is a Judeo-Christo-Islamic religion, a debate that will probably spread through America’s academic and intellectual circles very soon, if it already hasn’t started. A possible alternative to the meaning of the word “Judeo-Christian” is that America is a Christian country that has allowed much for the influence of Jews. Since Christianity was not a religion influenced by Islam, but vice-versa, America will only be considered to be a Judeo-Christo-Islamic country in the event that Muslims increasingly become a part of mainstream America.

In reality, as mentioned earlier, America is a country that allows for the free speech and influence of all groups, but is a country based in the separation of Church and State, a term which itself is semi-explanatory of Christianity's role in this country. For example, my personal experience from speaking to people from the majority populace of America, people who are not particularly religious but come from a Christian background, speaking about G-d makes them think of the Trinity or of Jesus, which in a Jewish mind are completely unrelated concepts. Seeing that America's Jewish population is 2-4% of the majority population, Jewish theology is an undercurrent in America, except for those who are educated in religion or theology.