Tuesday, December 06, 2005

'Judeo-Christian'

This post at "The Little Professor," on a discussion about Harold Bloom, started me thinking about the phrase "Judeo-Christian". On the one hand, I think it's admirable that people try to think in terms of the unity, or a unity; on the other, I think it's clear that most Christians who use it know so little about Judaism that it ends up meaning 'Christian with some verbal modifications we think might make it more palatable to Jews'. Then again, I think a great many people, while right to recognize a certain amount of kinship, really do think that Christianity and Judaism differ in only a few details -- important details, but just a few; and, of course, that makes it difficult to take properly into account that 1900 years or so of both traditions going their own way. (And, of course, it's sometimes the case that the reason for this is that the people using the term know almost nothing about Christianity as well.) I think it would work fine if people were to see it as what it is: primarily a regulative, not a constitutive, concept. That is, if it's seen as a platform for cooperation, not so much the identification of an actual fact. (It's used in this way by some Jewish supporters of a Judeo-Christian program, e.g., Toward Tradition.) The phrase really began coming into its own in the U.S. after WWII, as a way to unite Christians and Jews together against anti-Semitism as a common enemy. And it seems to have been useful in this regard, however clumsily it might have been used at times. If Christians think of themselves as in a sort of unity with Jews (which they should) they are less likely to find anti-Semitism tempting. The real remedy against abuse is to make sure people are better informed about Judaism.

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