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”:
- an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “All men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
- the preamble to the Constitution of Kentucky, which states, “We, the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberties we enjoy, and invoking the continuance of these blessings, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
- the national motto, “In God we trust”
- a page from the congressional record of Wednesday, February 2, 1983, Vol. 129, No. 8, which declares 1983 as the “Year of the Bible” and lists the Ten Commandments
a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan marking 1983 the “Year of the Bible”
- a proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln designating April 30, 1863, a “National Day of Prayer and Humiliation”
an excerpt from President Lincoln’s “Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible,” which reads, “The Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man.”
- The Mayflower Compact, in which the colony’s founders invoke “the name of God” and explain that their journey was taken, among other reasons, “for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith.”
- An earlier German use of the term “Judeo-Christian” in a decidedly negative sense, contrasting with the one prevalent in the twentieth century can be found in the late writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who emphasized what he saw as neglected aspects of continuity between the Jewish world view and that of Christianity. The expression appears in The Antichrist: Curse on Christianity, published in 1895 and written several years earlier; a fuller development of Nietzsche’s argument can be found in a prior work, On the Genealogy of Morality.
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.