Conservative politicians frequently boast that America is a product of Judeo-Christian ethics to satisfy Jewish Americans even though they reject the compliment. Jewish intellectuals ridicule the concept on the premise that it is unhistorical and antisemitic. Others claim that the use of this slur erases Jewish identity by obscuring distinctions between Judaism and Christianity. Despite the sycophancy of American Christians, Jews have relentlessly emphasized religious tensions.
Early in its evolution, Christianity clashed with Judaism, due to religious and cultural differences. Indeed, it is well documented that the writings of pioneer Christian intellectuals are laced with critiques of Judaism. In reinforcing Christianity’s turbulent relationship with Judaism some have suggested that Christianity is a critical source of antisemitism. For centuries Christians blamed Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and this bred animosity between the two groups. Moreover, Jews fed Christian hatred by refusing to embrace Jesus as their Messiah. Apart from sharing the Old Testament, both religions have been diametrically opposed to each other since Christianity’s inception.
Christians and Jews were competitors rather than allies. These groups preached different messages, with Christianity extolling universalism, in contrast to the ethnocentrism of Judaism. Christians wanted to bring the world into their fold, but Judaism remained a particularistic religion for chosen people. The discriminatory beliefs of Judaism were held in contempt by Christian intellectuals, primarily St. Paul who became a fervent opponent of Jewish ethnocentrism. St. Paul resented the reluctance of Jews to extend their faith to Gentiles.
Agreeing with Paul, scholar James Dunn lashes the exclusivist attitude of orthodox beliefs:
It is a kind of fundamentalism which can only safeguard the correctness of its belief by persecuting those who disagree or seeking to eliminate (through conversion or otherwise) those who hold divergent views…It was that sort of attitude to the law that Paul came to abhor.
That Christianity and Judaism hold antithetical positions is evident, though it’s less obvious that Jewish intellectuals have been fiercely deconstructing the myth of Judeo-Christian ethics.
Writing in Commentary Magazine in 1969, Arthur Cohen brutally denounced the mythology of Judeo-Christian ethics. Cohen argues that the myth has been used as an ideological ploy to unite Western society during episodes of chaos. Quite pointedly, his summation of the link between Judaism and Christianity eviscerates the thesis that they are intimately connected:
The Judeo-Christian tradition is a construct, an artificial gloss of reason over the swarm of fideist passion. But this too is not enough. What is omitted is the sinew and bone of actuality, for where Jews and Christians divide, divide irreparably, is that for the Jews the Messiah is yet to come and for Christians he has already come. That is irreparable.
Also in Commentary Magazine, the scholar Jacob Taubes declares that due to incontrovertible differences Christianity and Judaism are not only separate faiths, but the former is irrelevant to the latter. Similarly, more recent writers find the notion of Judeo-Christian ethics to be offensive and demeaning to Jewish identity. Emily Burack claims that the term was popularized after America entered World War 11 in 1941 to build religious solidarity in the fight against fascism. But it really exploded during the Cold War years, when America’s political establishment appropriated religion as a weapon to combat the atheism of the Soviet Union.
Jewish writer Adam Zagoria Moffet is even more strident in his denunciation of the myth:
There is practically no precedent whatsoever for understanding Judaism and Christianity as sharing a common core of beliefs, practices, or morals. Moreover, there’s a good argument to be made that the entire foundation of Western civilization (which is more or less co-terminus with Christendom) is based on opposition to Judaism and its values.
But these criticisms are tame in contrast to the analysis of Susannah Heschel who likens Christianity’s embrace of Judaism to intellectual colonialism.
Jewish intellectuals oppose perpetuating the myth of Judeo-Christianity; therefore American politicians should desist from propagating the lie that the Western intellectual tradition is rooted in Jewish ethics. The Judeo-Christian rhetoric is pernicious because it marginalizes the importance of Christian philosophy in fostering liberal ideals. Arguing that religious freedom, secularism, and the rule of law, emerged in the West due to Christianity has become a cottage industry. Further, although America’s founding fathers did not envision a Christian state, Christianity had a tremendous influence on their intellectual thoughts with the Bible playing a prominent role in shaping constitutional ideas of the founding generation.
In fact, Daniel L. Dreisbach quoting a study by Donald S. Lutz reports that from 1760-1805, the Bible was the most cited text in political literature. Jewish philosophy was not instrumental to America’s founding, however political elites admired the design of governance found in the Hebrew scriptures. But beyond this component, Judaism did not contribute philosophically to the founding of America.
Therefore since Judeo-Christian philosophy is a myth and Jews are contemptuous of the concept, it’s time to discard it.