The Origins of “Judeo-Christian”

HerbergTed Cruz wants to restore the United States to it so-called “Judeo-Christian” roots.  (So did Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee before they all dropped out of the 2016 presidential race).

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a Jewish scholar about the history of this phrase “Judeo-Christian” as a way of describing American culture.  Neither of us knew its origins.  I was thus glad to run across Gene Zubovich‘s recent piece of Aeon titled “The Strange, Short Career of Judeo-Christianity.”

According to Zubovich, the phrase “Judeo-Christian” did not really get any traction in the United States until World War II.  Since then, it has been co-opted by evangelicals concerned with forging a Christian nation.

Here is a taste of his essay:

In its very brief history, the concept of Judeo-Christianity has taken on several meanings. Originally it denoted a cultural and theological pluralism, meant to unite Americans against Nazism. For this reason, it was widely celebrated by liberal advocates, many of whom ignored Judeo-Christianity’s anti-secular implications, and gave little thought to their relation with Islam and other world religions. Once the implications became clear, many liberals abandoned the term.

Today, the religiously unaffiliated make up about a quarter of the US population and Muslim Americans are becoming an increasingly visible and vocal community. The notion that the US is a nation bound together by civic principles enjoys a more distinguished history than the recently coined idea of the Judeo-Christian nation. It is also obvious that the US is more than a nation of many faiths. No wonder, then, that today Judeo-Christianity has few defenders apart from members of the Christian right, who use it to undermine the legitimacy of Muslims and the rapidly growing body of religiously unaffiliated Americans. The short career of Judeo-Christianity has already lasted too long.

Read the entire piece here.

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