Ten members of the Christian medical team, six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton were gunned down in a gruesome slaughter that the Taliban stated they carried out; alleging the volunteers were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who recited verses from the Islamic holy book Qur’an as he begged for his life.
Team members included doctors, nurses and logistics personnel who were attacked as they were returning to Kabul after their two-week mission in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan province about 160 miles (260 kilometres) north of Kabul. Dirk Frans, director of the International Assistance Mission, which organized the team stated, they had decided to veer northward into Badakhshan province because they thought that would be the safest route back to Kabul. They hiked for more than 10 hours over rugged mountains unarmed and without security to bring medical care to isolated Afghan villagers until their humanitarian mission took a tragic turn.
The bullet-riddled bodies including three women were found August 6, 2010, near three four-wheeled drive vehicles in a wooded area just off the main road that snakes through a narrow valley in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, provincial police chief Gen. Agha Noor Kemtuz stated to the media. One of the dead Americans had spent about 30 years in Afghanistan, rearing three daughters and surviving both the Soviet invasion and bloody civil war of the 1990s that destroyed much of Kabul.
Dirk Frans stated the International Assistance Mission, or IAM, one of the longest serving non-governmental organizations operating in Afghanistan, is registered as a non-profit Christian organization but does not proselytize. Frans stated the team had driven to Nuristan, left their vehicles and hiked for nearly a half day with pack horses over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley where they travelled from village to village on foot offering medical care for about two weeks. “This tragedy negatively impacts our ability to continue serving the Afghan people as IAM has been doing since 1966,” the charity released in a statement. “We hope it will not stop our work that benefits over a quarter of a million Afghans each year.”
Frans stated the names of the other foreigners were not released until the bodies could be brought to Kabul for identification, Frans stated, “We are a humanitarian organization. We had no security people. We had no armed guards. We had no weapons.” Among the dead was team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who has been working in Afghanistan for about 30 years and spoke fluent Dari, one of the two main Afghan languages.
Little, along with employees from other Christian organizations, were expelled by the Taliban government in August 2001 after the arrest of eight Christian aid workers who were two Americans and six Germans for allegedly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity.
Frans stated he last talked to Little, over a scratchy satellite phone connection, on Wednesday evening August 4th. On Friday, August 6th, the Afghan driver who survived the attack called to report the killings. A fourth Afghan member of the team was not killed because he took a different route home because he had family in Jalalabad. The surviving driver, Saifullah, told authorities that team members stopped for lunch Thursday afternoon in the Sharron valley and were accosted by gunmen when they returned to their vehicles, according to Kemtuz, the Badakhshan police chief.
The volunteers were forced to sit on the ground. The gunmen looted the vehicles, then fatally shot them, Kemtuz the Badakhshan police chief stated. The Afghan driver who survived “told me he was shouting and reciting the holy Qur’an and saying ‘I am Muslim. Don’t kill me,’” Kemtuz stated. The gunmen let the driver go free the next day. A shepherd witnessed the carnage and reported the killings to the local district chief, who then brought the bodies to his home.
Authorities in Nuristan heard that foreigners were in the area and sent police to investigate, according to Nuristan Gov. Jamaluddin Bader. The police provided security for the final three or four days of the mission and escorted them across the boundary into Badakhshan, he stated. The escorts left after the team told them that they felt safe in Badakhshan.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid stated that they killed the foreigners because they were “spying for the Americans” and “preaching Christianity.” In a Pashto language statement, the Taliban also stated the team was carrying Dari language bibles and “spying gadgets.”
Little returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban government was toppled in November 2001 by U.S.-backed forces. Known in Kabul as “Mr. Tom,” Little supervised a network of IAM eye hospitals and clinics around the country largely funded through private donations. David Evans of the Loudonville Community Church, New York, who had accompanied Little on a 5,231-mile road (8,419-kilometre) trip to deliver the medical team’s Land Rover vehicles from England to Kabul in 2004 stated, “He was a remarkable man, and very committed to helping the people of Afghanistan.” “They raised their three girls there.
Little was part and parcel of that culture.” Little had been making such trips to Afghan villages for decades, offering vision care and surgical services in regions where medical services of any type are scarce. The work has long been fraught with risk, but Little was a natural for the job. He spoke the language, knew the local customs, and had the patience and diplomatic skills to handle sticky situations.
Another relief organization, Bridge Afghanistan, stated on its website that the group included one of its members, Dr. Karen Woo, who gave up a job in a private clinic in London to do humanitarian work in Afghanistan. A message posted last March on the Bridge Afghanistan website stated she was “flat broke and living in a war zone but enjoying helping people in great need.”
In a fundraising blog posted in July, Woo stated the mission to Nuristan would require hiking with pack horses through mountains rising to 16,000 feet (5,000 metres) to reach the Parun valley, a harsh, isolated area about 9,500 feet (3,000 metres) above sea level where an estimated 50,000 people eke out a primitive existence as shepherds and subsistence farmers. “The expedition will require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk but ultimately, I believe that the provision of medical treatment is of fundamental importance and that the effort is worth it in order to assist those that need it most,” Woo wrote. “The area we will reach is one of great harshness but of great beauty also. I hope that we will be able to provide medical care for a large number of people.”
Aid workers have been often targeted by insurgents. In 2007, 23 South Korean aid workers from a church group were taken hostage in southern Afghanistan. Two were killed and the rest were later released. In August 2008, four International Rescue Committee workers, including three women, were gunned down in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan.
In October 2008, Gayle Williams, who had dual British and South African citizenship, was killed by two gunmen on a motorcycle as she walked to work in the capital of Kabul. In late 2009, a French aid worker was kidnapped at gunpoint in the Afghan capital. Dany Egreteau, a 32-year-old worker for Solidarite Laique, or Secular Solidarity, who was seen in an emotional hostage video, was later released after a month in captivity.
Religion or Religious States versus Secular Societies
A state religion (also called an official religion, established church or state church) is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state. Practically, a state without a state religion is called a secular state. The term state church is associated with Christianity, and is sometimes used to denote a specific national branch of Christianity. Closely related to state churches are what sociologists call ecclesiae, though the two are slightly different.
State religions are examples of the official or government-sanctioned establishment of religion, as distinct from theocracy. It is also possible for a national church to become established without being under state control. The first national church was the Armenian Orthodox Church which was established in 301 A.D.
Types of Churches: The degree and nature of state backing for denomination or creed designated as a state religion can vary. It can range from mere endorsement and financial support, with freedom for other faiths to practice, to prohibiting any competing religious body from operating and to persecuting the followers of other sects. In Europe, competition between Catholic and Protestant denominations for state sponsorship in the 16th century evolved the principle [cuius regio eius religio - "states follow the religion of the ruler"] embodied in the text of the treaty that marked the Peace of Augsburg, 1555.
In England the monarch imposed Protestantism in 1533, with himself taking the place of the Pope, while in Scotland the Church of Scotland opposed the religion of the ruler. In some cases, a state may have a set of state-sponsored religious denominations that it funds; such is the case in Alsace-Moselle in France under its local law, following the pattern in Germany.
In some communist states, notably in North Korea and Cuba, the state sponsors religious organizations, and activities outside those state-sponsored religious organizations are met with various degrees of official disapproval. In these cases, state religions are widely seen as efforts by the state to prevent alternate sources of authority.
State church and State religion: There is also a difference between a “state church” and “state religion”. A “state church” is created by the state, as in the cases of the Anglican Church, created by Henry VIII or the Church of Sweden, created by Gustav Vasa. An example of “state religion” is Argentina’s acceptance of Roman Catholicism as its religion.
In the case of the former, the state has absolute control over the church, but in the case of the latter, in this example, the Vatican has control over the church.
Sociology of state churches: Sociologists refer to mainstream non-state religions as denominations. State religions tend to admit a larger variety of opinion within them than denominations. Denominations encountering major differences of opinion within themselves are likely to split; this option is not open for most state churches, so they tend to try to integrate differing opinions within themselves.
Many sociologists now consider the effect of a state church as analogous to a chartered monopoly in religion.Where state religions exist, it is usually true the majority of residents are officially considered adherents; however, much of this support is little more than nominal; many members of the church rarely attend it. But the population’s allegiance towards the state religion is often strong enough to prevent them from joining competing religious groups.
A denomination’s status as official religion does not always imply that the jurisdiction prohibits the existence or operation of other sects or religious bodies. It all depends upon the government and the level of tolerance the citizens of that country have for other religions.
Some countries with official religions have laws that guarantee the freedom of worship, full liberty of conscience, and places of worship for all citizens; and implement those laws more than other countries that do not have an official or established state religion.
Disestablishment: is the process of depriving a church of its status as an organ of the state. Supporters of retaining an established church call themselves “antidisestablishmentarianists”, meaning Secular state status
Canada: Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of religion. Progressively, case law has led to the overturning of specific laws that reflected religious observances (essentially Christian). Notwithstanding this, Roman Catholic schools are constitutionally protected and funded by taxes in some provinces.
England: In late-19th-century England there was a campaign by Liberals, dissenters and nonconformists to disestablish the Church of England which was viewed, in the period after civil Chartist activism, as a discriminatory organisation placing employment and other access disabilities on non-members.
The campaigners styled themselves “Liberationists” (the “Liberation Society” was founded by Edward Miall in 1853). Though their campaign failed, nearly all of the legal disabilities of nonconformists were gradually dismantled.
The campaign for disestablishment was revived in the 20th century when Parliament rejected the 1929 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, leading to calls for separation of Church and State to prevent political interference in matters of worship.
In the late 20th century, reform of the House of Lords also brought into question the position of the Lords Spiritual. Another issue of controversy is the Act of Settlement 1701 which determines succession to the British monarchy, under which the head of state is also the head of the Church of England.
Scotland: Despite some official documentation (marriage registrations being a common example) describing the Church of Scotland as the “Established Church” the Kirk has always disclaimed that status. This was eventually acknowledged by the United Kingdom government within the Church of Scotland Act 1921. Since it has thus never been legally Established it cannot be disestablished.
Wales: In Wales, four Church of England dioceses were disestablished in 1920, becoming separated from the Church of England in the process and subsequently becoming the Church in Wales.
Ireland: In Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom and where the majority of the population were Roman Catholic) the (Anglican) Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1869 (effective 1871).
United States of America: The First Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly forbids the U.S. federal government from enacting any law respecting a religious establishment, and thus forbids either designating an official church for the United States, or interfering with State and local official churches which were common when the First Amendment was enacted.
It did not prevent state governments from establishing official churches. Connecticut continued to do so until it replaced its colonial Charter with the Connecticut Constitution of 1818; Massachusetts retained an establishment of religion in general until 1833.
The Massachusetts system required every man to belong to some church, and pay taxes towards it; while it was formally neutral between denominations, in practice the indifferent would be counted as belonging to the majority denomination, and in some cases religious minorities had trouble being recognized at all.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1868, makes no mention of religious establishment, but forbids the states to “abridge the privileges or immunities” of U.S. citizens, or to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. In the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court held that this later provision incorporates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause as applying to the States, and thereby prohibits state and local religious establishments.
The exact boundaries of this prohibition are still disputed, and are a frequent source of cases before the US Supreme Court, especially as the Court must now balance, on a state (similar, but not equivalent to province) level, the First Amendment prohibitions on government establishment of official religions with the First Amendment prohibitions on government interference with the free exercise of religion. School prayer resulted in a controversy in contemporary US politics.
All current U.S. state constitutions include guarantees of religious liberty parallel to the First Amendment, but eight (Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) also contain clauses that prohibit atheists from holding public office.
However, these clauses have been held by the United States Supreme Court to be unenforceable in the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, where the court ruled unanimously that such clauses constituted a religious test incompatible with the religious test prohibition in Article 6 Section 3 of the United States Constitution.
Predominant (more than 90 percent of the population) religion in states which are secular;
Roman Catholic – Poland, Italy, Luxembourg, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela and East Timor
Lutheran – Sweden and Finland
Islam – Azerbaijan, Gambia, Maldives, Mali, Senegal, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
Buddhism – Burma
Present state religions: Currently, the following religions are recognized as state religions in some countries: some form of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
Christian countries: state church: The following states recognize some form of Christianity as their state or official religion (by denomination);
Roman Catholic: Jurisdictions which recognize Roman Catholicism as their state or official religion:
Some Cantons of Switzerland:
Vatican City (Holy See) – Roman Catholic State
A number of countries give a special recognition to Catholicism in their constitution despite not making it the state religion include;
Eastern Orthodox: Jurisdictions which recognize one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches as their state religion:
Oriental Orthodox: Jurisdictions which recognize one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches as their state religion:
*Armenia (Armenian Apostolic Church)
Lutheran: Jurisdictions which recognize a Lutheran church as their state religion:
Anglican: Jurisdictions that recognise an Anglican church as their state religion:
* England (Church of England)
Reformed: Jurisdictions which recognize a Reformed church as their state religion:
Old Catholic: Jurisdictions which recognize an Old Catholic church as their state religion:
Some cantons of Switzerland (Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland):
Political aspects of Islam, Sharia, Caliphate, Religious police and Islamism
Although the separation of church and state was first theorized by Averroes, most Muslim-majority countries recognize Islam as the state religion, but most of them do not place Sharia Law as the constitution itself.
Sunni Islam States:
Shi’a Islam State:
*Iran (as state-sanctioned religion)
Buddhism as state religion: Governments which recognize Buddhism, either a specific form of, or the whole, as their official religion:
Bhutan (Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism)
Cambodia (Theravada Buddhism)
Kalmykia, a republic within the Russian Federation (Tibetan Buddhism – sole Buddhist entity in Europe)
Sri Lanka (Theravada Buddhism) – The constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place,” but Buddhism is not recognized as the state religion.
Thailand (Theravada Buddhism)
Tibet Government in Exile (Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism)
Israel is defined in several of its laws as a “Jewish and democratic state” (medina yehudit ve-demokratit).
The term “Jewish“ is a polyseme that can relate equally to the Jewish people or religion. The debate about the meaning of the term Jewish and its legal and social applications is one of the most profound issues with which Israeli society deals.
At present, there is no specific law or official statement establishing the Judaism as the state’s religion.
However, the State of Israel supports religious institutions, in particular Orthodox Torah Judaism and recognizes the “religious communities” as carried over from those recognized under the British Mandate. These are:
The Government has allowed adherents of not officially recognized groups freedom to practice. In 1961, legislation gave Muslim Shari’a courts exclusive jurisdiction in matters of personal status.
Three additional religious communities have subsequently been recognized by Israeli law;
These groups have their own religious courts as official state courts for personal status matters ( millet system).
The structure and goals of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel are governed by Israeli law, but the law does not say explicitly that it is a state Rabbinate.
Non-recognition of other streams of religions is the cause of some controversy. As of 2010, there is no civil marriage in Israel, although there is recognition of marriages performed abroad.
Nepal was once the world’s only Hindu state, but has ceased to be so following a declaration by the Parliament in 2006.
The Philippines is constituted as a de facto Roman Catholic-state with religious freedom guarantees.
In one region of the country is the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which composed of all the country’s predominantly Muslim provinces, the Regional Assembly is empowered to legislate on matters covered by the Shari’ah. Such legislation, however, applies only to Muslims.
Many countries indirectly fund the activities of different religious denominations by granting tax-exempt status to churches and religious institutions which qualify as charitable organizations. However, these religions are not established as state religions.
Ancient State Religions
Egypt and Sumer: The concept of state religions was known as long ago as the empires of Egypt and Sumer, when every city state or people had its own god or gods.
However, Zoroastrianism persisted as the state religion of the independent state of Hyrcania until the 15th century.
The tiny kingdom of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia converted to Judaism around 34 AD.
Greek city-states: Many of the Greek city-states also had a ‘god’ or ‘goddess’ associated with that city. This would not be the ‘only god’ of the city, but the one that received special honors.
Roman Religion and Christianity: In Rome, the office of Pontifex Maximus came to be reserved for the emperor, who was often declared a ‘god’ posthumously, or sometimes during his reign.
Failure to worship the emperor as a god was at times punishable by death, as the Roman government sought to link emperor worship with loyalty to the Empire.
Many Christians and Jews were subject to persecution, torture and death in the Roman Empire, because it was against their beliefs to worship the emperor.
In 311, Emperor Galerius, on his deathbed, declared a religious indulgence to Christians throughout the Roman Empire, focusing on the ending of anti-Christian persecution.
Constantine I and Licinius, the two Augusti, by the Edict of Milan of 313, enacted a law allowing religious freedom to everyone within the Roman Empire.
The Edict of Milan cited that Christians may openly practice their religion unmolested and unrestricted, and provided that properties taken from Christians be returned to them unconditionally.
Although the Edict of Milan allowed religious freedom throughout the empire, it did not abolish nor disestablish the Roman state cult (Roman polytheistic paganism).
The Edict of Milan was written in such a way as to implore the blessings of the deity.
Constantine called up the First Council of Nicaea in 325, although he was not a baptised Christian until years later.
Despite enjoying considerable popular support, Christianity was still not the official state religion in Rome, although it was in some neighboring states such as Armenia and Aksum.
Roman Religion (Neoplatonic Hellenism) was restored for a time by Julian the Apostate from 361 to 363. Julian does not appear to have reinstated the persecutions of the earlier Roman emperors.
Catholic Christianity, as opposed to Arianism and other heretical and schismatic groups, was declared to be the state religion of the Roman Empire on February 27, 380 by the decree De Fide Catolica of Emperor Theodosius I.
Han Dynasty Confucianism
In China, the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) advocated Confucianism as the de facto state religion, establishing tests based on Confucian texts as an entrance requirement into government service.
The “Confucianism” advocated by the Han emperors may be termed as Confucian Legalism or “State Confucianism”.
Confucianism continued to be regarded by the emperors, with a few notable exceptions, as a form of state religion from this time until the overthrow of the imperial system of government in 1911.
There is a debate over whether Confucianism (including Neo-confucianism) is a religion or purely a philosophical system.
Empire of Japan
From the Meiji era to the first part of the Showa era, Koshitsu Shinto was established in Japan as the national religion.
According to this, the emperor of Japan was an arahitogami, an incarnate divinity and the offspring of goddess Amaterasu.
As the emperor was, according to the constitution, “head of the empire” and “supreme commander of the Army and the Navy”, every Japanese citizen had to obey his will and show absolute loyalty.
States without any state religion: These states do not profess any state religion, and are generally secular or laique. Countries which officially decline to establish any religion include:
Established or dominant religions within the populations and former state religions
Finland’s State Church was the Church of Sweden until 1809. As an autonomous Grand Duchy under Russia 1809-1917, Finland retained the Lutheran State Church system, and a state church separate from Sweden, later named the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, was established. It was detached from the state as a separate judicial entity when the new church law came to force in 1870.
After Finland had gained independence in 1917, religious freedom was declared in the constitution of 1919 and a separate law on religious freedom in 1922.
Through this arrangement, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland lost its position as a state church but gained a constitutional status as a national church alongside with the Finnish Orthodox Church, whose position however is not codified in the constitution.
In France the Concordat of 1801 made the Roman Catholic, Calvinist and Lutheran churches state-sponsored religions, as well as Judaism.
In Hungary the constitutional laws of 1848 declared five established churches on equal status: the Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox and Unitarian Church. In 1868 the law was ratified again after the Ausgleich.
In 1895 Judaism was also recognized as the sixth established religion
In 1948 every distinction between the different denominations were abolished.
The Polish March Constitution - Article 114 of 1921 declared the Roman Catholic Church to hold “the principal position among religious denominations equal before the law” (in reference to the idea of first among equals). The article was continued in force by article 81 of the April Constitution of 1935.
The Soviet-backed PKWN Manifesto of 1944 reintroduced the March Constitution, which remained in force until it was replaced by the Small Constitution of 1947.
The Church in Wales was split from the Church of England in 1920 by Welsh Church Act 1914; at the same time becoming disestablished.
A Judaeo-Christian-Muslim concept refers to the three main monotheistic religions, commonly known as the Abrahamic Religions. Formal exchanges between the three religions, modeled on the decades-old Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue groups, became common in American cities following the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords.
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has argued that the term Judeo-Muslim to describe the Middle Eastern culture against the Western Christian culture would be more appropriate in these days, claiming as well a reduced influence from the Jewish culture on the Western world due to the historical persecution and exclusion of the Jewish minority. There is also a different perspective on Jewish contributions and influence.
Usage has shifted again, according to Hartmann et al., since 2001 and the September 11 attacks, with the mainstream media using the term less, in order to characterize America as multicultural. The study finds the term now most likely to be used by liberals in connection with discussions of Muslim and Islamic inclusion in America, and renewed debate about the separation of church and state.
Use of term in United States law: In the legal case of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), the Supreme Court of the United States held that a state legislature could constitutionally have a paid chaplain to conduct legislative prayers “in the Judeo–Christian tradition.” In Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Supreme Court’s holding in the Marsh case permitting legislative bodies to conduct prayer in the “Chesterfield County could constitutionally exclude Cynthia Simpson, a Wiccan priestess, from leading its legislative prayers, because her faith was not “in the Judeo–Christian tradition.” Chesterfield County’s Board included Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy in its invited list.
It is used more by conservative thinkers and journalists, who use it to discuss the Islamic threat to America, the dangers of multiculturalism, and moral decay in a materialist, secular age. Dennis Prager, author of popular books on Judaism and antisemitism, Nine Questions People ask about Judaism (with Joseph Telushkin) and Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, and radio commentator, has published an on-going 19-part series explaining and promoting the concept of Judeo–Christian culture, running for three years from 2005 to 2008, reflecting the interest of this concept to his listeners.
Judeo–Christian generally refers to a set of beliefs and ethics held in common by Judaism and Christianity. The Judeo-Chrisitan “term” is under assault by an amoral and materialistic culture that desperately needs its teachings. America has always combined secular government with a society based on religious values. Along with the belief in liberty as opposed to the European belief in equality, the Muslim belief in theocracy, and the Eastern belief in social conformity, Judeo–Christian values are what distinguish America from all other countries. Prominent champions of the term also identify it with the historic Pilgrim–Puritan Protestant tradition.
The earliest uses of the term are cited by the Oxford English Dictionary of the terms “Judeo–Christian” and “Judeo–Christianity” date to 1899 and 1910 respectively. Both terms appeared in discussions of theories of the emergence of Christianity, and with a different sense than the one common today. “Judeo–Christianity” here referred to the early Christian church, whose members were Jewish converts and still considered themselves part of the Jewish community.
The term became particularly associated with the conservative right in American politics, promoting a “Judeo–Christian values” agenda in the so-called culture wars, a usage which surged in the 1990s. Hot topic issues in the battles over the Judeo–Christian tradition include, in a typical example, the right to display the following documents in Kentucky schools, after they were banned by a federal judge in May 2000 as “conveying a very specific governmental endorsement of religion”:
The present meaning was for the first time used on 27 July 1939 with the phrase “The Judaeo-Christian scheme of morals” in the New English Weekly. The term gained much greater currency particularly in the political sphere from the 1920s and 1930s, promoted by liberal groups which evolved into the National Conference of Christians and Jews, to fight antisemitism by expressing a more inclusive idea of the United States of America than the previously dominant rhetoric of the nation as a specifically Christian Protestant country.
By 1952 President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower was speaking of the “Judeo–Christian concept” being the “deeply religious faith” on which “our sense of government is founded”.
The Jewish conservative columnist Dennis Prager, wrote: “The concept of Judeo–Christian values does not rest on a claim that the two religions are identical. It promotes the concept there is a shared intersection of values based on the Hebrew Bible brought into our culture by the founding generations of Biblically-oriented Protestants, that is fundamental to American history, cultural identity, and institutions.”
Liberal secularists reject the use of “Judeo–Christian” as a code-word for a particular kind of Christian America, with scant regard to modern Jewish, Catholic or more liberal Christian traditions.
Supporters of the Judeo–Christian concept point to the Christian claim that Christianity is the heir to Biblical Judaism, and that the whole logic of Christianity as a religion is that it exists (only) as a religion built upon Judaism. Two major views of the relationship exist, namely Supersessionism and Dual-covenant theology. In addition, although the order of the books in the Protestant Old Testament (excluding the Biblical apocrypha) and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) differ, the books are the same.
The majority of the Bible is, in fact, Jewish scripture, and it is used as moral and spiritual teaching material throughout the Christian world. The prophets, patriarchs, and heroes of the Jewish scripture are also known in Christianity, which uses the Jewish text as the basis for its understanding of historic Judeo–Christian figures such as Abraham and Moses. As a result, a vast chunk of Jewish and Christian teachings are based on a common sacred Hebrew text.
In the American context, historians use the term Judeo–Christian to refer to the influence of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament on Protestant thought and values, most especially the Puritan, Presbyterian and Evangelical heritage. Some early colonists saw themselves as heirs to the Hebrew Bible, and its teachings on liberty, responsibility, hard work, ethics, justice, equality, a sense of choseness and an ethical mission to the world, which have become key components of the American character, what is called the “American Creed.”
These ideas from the Hebrew Bible, brought into American history by Protestants, are seen as underpinning the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Other authors are interested in tracing the religious beliefs of America’s founding fathers, emphasizing both Jewish and Christian influence in their personal beliefs and how this was translated into the creation of American institutions and character.
The interest of the concept Judeo–Christian is not theology but on actual culture and history as it evolved in America. These authors discern a melding of Jewish thought into Protestant teachings which added onto the heritage of English history and common law, as well as Enlightenment thinking resulted in the birth of American democracy.
Judeo–Christian concept in interfaith relations: Promoting the concept of America as a Judeo–Christian nation became a political program in the 1920s, in response to the growth of antisemitism in America. The rise of Hitler in the 1930s led concerned Protestants, Catholics and Jews to take active steps to increase understanding and tolerance.
In this effort, precurors of the National Conference of Christians and Jews created teams consisting of a priest, a rabbi and a minister, to run programs across the country, and fashion a more pluralistic America, no longer defined as a Christian land, but ‘one nurtured by three ennobling traditions: Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism.” “The phrase ‘Judeo–Christian’ entered the contemporary lexicon as the standard liberal term for the idea that Western values rest on a religious consensus that included Jews.
Law professor Stephen M. Feldman identifies talk of Judeo–Christian tradition as supersessionism: “Once one recognizes that Christianity has historically engendered antisemitism, then this so-called tradition appears as dangerous Christian dogma (at least from a Jewish perspective). For Christians, the concept of a Judeo–Christian tradition comfortably suggests that Judaism progresses into Christianity, that Judaism is somehow completed in Christianity. The concept of a Judeo–Christian tradition flows from the Christian theology of supersession, whereby the Christian covenant (or Testament) with God supersedes the Jewish one. Christianity, according to this myth, reforms and replaces Judaism. The myth therefore implies, first, that Judaism needs reformation and replacement, and second, that modern Judaism remains merely as a “relic”. Most importantly the myth of the Judeo–Christian tradition insidiously obscures the real and significant differences between Judaism and Christianity.”
Through soul-searching in the aftermath of the Holocaust, “there was a revolution in Christian theology in America (producing) the shift in Christian attitudes toward the Jewish people since Constantine converted the Roman Empire.”
The rise of Christian Zionism that is religiously motivated Christian interest and support for the state of Israel, along with a growth of philo-semitism has increased interest among American Evangelicals in Judaism.The scriptural basis for this new positive attitude towards Jews among Evangelicals is Genesis 12:3, in which God promises that He will bless those who bless Abraham and his descendants, and curse those who curse them.
Other factors in the new philo-semitism include gratitude to the Jews for contributing to the theological foundations of Christianity, and for being the source of the prophets and Jesus; remorse for the Church’s history of anti-Semitism; and fear that God will judge the nations at the end of time on the basis of how they treated the Jewish people. Moreover, for evangelicals Israel is God’s prophetic clock, “irrefutable” proof that prophecy is true and is coming to pass in their lifetime. Great numbers of Christian pilgrims visit Israel, especially in times of trouble for the Jewish state, to offer moral support, and return with an even greater sense of a shared Judeo–Christian heritage.
Public awareness of a shared Judeo-Chrisitan belief system has increased since the 1990s due to a great deal of interest in the life of the historical Jesus, stressing his Jewishness, throught “New Age” religions as Jewish Christians. The “New Age” Christian religion’s literature explores differences and commonalities between Jesus’ teachings, Christianity and Judaism.
In the 1930s, in the face of worldwide antisemitic efforts to stigmatize and destroy Judaism, influential Christians and Jews in America labored to uphold it, pushing Judaism from the margins of American religious life towards its very center. During World War II, Jewish chaplains worked with Catholic priests and Protestant ministers to promote goodwill, addressing servicemen who, in many cases ‘had never seen, much less heard a Rabbi speak before. At funerals for the unknown soldier, rabbis stood alongside the other chaplains and recited prayers in Hebrew.
In a much publicized wartime tragedy, the sinking of the USS Dorchester, the ship’s multi-faith chaplains gave up their lifebelts to evacuating seamen and stood together ‘arm in arm in prayer’ as the ship went down. A 1948 postage stamp commemorated their heroism with the words: ‘interfaith in action.” In the 1950s, “a spiritual and cultural revival washed over American Jewry” in response to the trauma of the Holocaust. American Jews became more confident to be identified as different.
Two notable books addressed the relations between contemporary Judaism and Christianity, Abba Hillel Silver’s Where Judaism Differs and Leo Baeck’s Judaism and Christianity, both motivated by an impulse to clarify Judaism’s distinctiveness “in a world where the term Judeo–Christian had obscured critical differences between the two faiths.” Reacting against the blurring of theological distinctions, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits wrote that “Judaism is Judaism because it rejects Christianity, and Christianity is Christianity because it rejects Judaism”. Novelist and theologian Arthur A. Cohen, in The Myth of the Judeo–Christian Tradition, questioned the theological validity of the Judeo–Christian concept and suggested that it was essentially an invention of American politics, while Jacob Neusner, in Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition writes “The two faiths stand for different people talking about different things to different people”.
Judeo–Christian concept in American history: Nineteenth century historians wrote extensively on the United States of America having a distinctively Protestant character in its outlook and founding political philosophy. It is only since the 1950s that the term “Judeo–Christian” has been applied to it, reflecting the growing use of that term in American political life. By some the term is used casually, simply as a commonplace term, or as an inclusive synonym for the religious. Others, including for example Prager, argue the term is appropriate in its own right, capturing a distinctively Old Testament dimension (though not necessarily that of Judaism) in the Puritan character of early American Protestantism.
The notion of a distinctive religious basis for American democracy and culture was first described and popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1840’s, in his influential book, Democracy in America. In Chapter Two, De Tocqueville describes America’s unique religious heritage from the Puritans. His analysis showed the Puritans as providing the foundational values of America, based on their strong Hebrew Bible view of the world, which included fighting for earthly political justice, an emphasis on laws and education, and a belief in the chosenness of the Jews which the Puritans identified with, giving them a sense of moral mission in founding America.
As de Tocqueville observed, the Puritan’s Biblical outlook gave America a moral dimension which the Old World lacked. De Tocqueville believed these Biblical values led to America’s unique institutions of religious tolerance, public education, egalitarianism, and democracy. The principles of New England now extend their influence beyond its limits, over the whole American world. The civilization of New England has been like a beacon lit upon a hil. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories.
Nathaniel Morton, the historian of the first years of the settlement, thus opens his subject: “we may not hide from our children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord; that especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen ( Psalm cv. 5, 6 ), may remember his marvellous works in the beginning.“
“The general principles which are the groundwork of modern constitutions, principles were all recognized and established by the laws of New England: the intervention of the people in public affairs, the free voting of taxes, the responsibility of the agents of power, personal liberty, and trial by jury were all positively established without discussion. In the bosom of this obscure democracy the following fine definition of liberty: ” There is a twofold liberty, natural and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good.”
“The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts: The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, among men themselves. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard not only of your goods, but of your lives, if need be.” I have said enough to put the character of Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the result ( and this should be constantly kept in mind) of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in frequent disagreement, but which the Americans have succeeded in incorporating to some extent one with the other and combining admirably. I allude to the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.”
This concept of America’s unique Bible-driven historical and cultural identity was developed by historians as they studied the first centuries of America’s history, from the Pilgrims through Abraham Lincoln. The statements and institutions of the founding generation that have been preserved are numerous, and they explicitly describe many of their Biblical motivations and goals, their interest in Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible, their use of Jewish and Christian images and ideas.
In the words of patriot Benjamin Rush, “The Old Testament is the best refutation that can be given to the divine right of kings, and the strongest argument that can be used in favor of the original and natural equality of all mankind.” James Witherspoon, president of Princeton, teacher of James Madison, and later a member of the Continental Congress, and one of the most influential thinksers in the colonies, joined the cause of the Revolution with a widely publicized sermon based on Psalm 76, identifying the American colonists with the people of Israel. Of fifty-five printed texts from the Revolutionary period, thirty-three took texts from the Hebrew Bible. Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, referred to God twice in Hebrew terms, and Congress added two more: Lawgiver, Creator, Judge and Providence.
These Judeo–Christian values were especially important at the key foundational moments of the settling of America, the War for Independence and the Civil War.
Perry Miller of Harvard University, wrote in 1956, “Puritanism may be described empirically as that point of view, that code of values, carried to New England by the first settlers. …the New Englanders established Puritanism- for better or worse-as one of the continuous factors in American life and thought. It has played so dominant a role…all across the continent…these qualities have persisted even though the original creed is lost. Without an understanding of Puritanism …there is no understanding of America.”
This view about American history and culture has been questioned in recent decades by multiculturalists. In 2007, one prominent multiculturist professor, Jon Butler, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and Howard R. Lamar Professor of American History, Yale University, published a book on religion in colonial America which, according to the reviews, explodes the myth that “the piety of the Pilgrims typified early American religion,” corrects the image of “colonial America as a type of grey, monolithic, uniformity”, is critical of the Puritans, and adulatory towards third-world contributions: “Butler explores the failure of John Winthrop’s goal to achieve Puritan perfection, the controversy over Anne Hutchinson’s tenacious faith, the evangelizing stamina of ex-slave and Methodist preacher Absalom Jones, and the spiritual resilience of the Catawba Indians.” In Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776, Butler argues against a “Europeanized” or predominantly British identity of colonial America, and underlines contributions by Ibo, Ashanti, Yoruba, Catawba and Leni-Lenape.
Michael Novak, a specialist in the religious beliefs of the founding fathers, argues that the promotion of multiculturalism, moral relativism, and secularism among academics results in academic censorship that affects information and analysis supporting the Judeo–Christian heritage.