There is much talk these days about something called “Judaeo-Christian values.” This is the name that is invariably assigned to the morality to which America is supposed to have traditionally subscribed. America, we are told, is a “Judaeo-Christian” nation, a nation “founded” upon “Judaeo-Christian principles” or “ideals.”
Now, it is, of course, true that there is an especially close relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The latter spun out of the former. The first Christians were Jews, and the Man whom the Christian world —approximately one-third of the planet’s population — recognizes as the incarnation of God Almighty was a Jew. To those writings that Jews regard as sacred Christians attach the same importance. In fact, though he doesn’t often think of himself in exactly these terms, if pushed, the Christian would be the first to acknowledge that he is indeed a Jew, but a perfected Jew, a Jew who lived to witness the coming of the Messiah — the Christ.
Yet for all of these similarities, the expression “Judeao-Christian morality” is, ultimately, a fiction that does an injustice to both Judaism and Christianity.
The “values,” “principles,” or “ideals” encompassed by “Judaeo-Christian morality” are to the traditions from which they have been abstracted what a portrait is to the whole life of the person of whom it is a depiction. The values, principles, and ideals of “Judeao-Christian morality” stand in relation to the faiths from which they’ve been distilled as the principles of a grammar stand in relation to the living language to which they belong. Just as a portrait and a grammar derive their value from their usefulness in summarizing the vastly more intricate phenomena to which they owe their being, so too are “the principles” of any morality nothing more or less than bloodless, lifeless abstractions, static abridgements of the living tradition of which they are CliffsNotes.
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Jack Kerwick, Ph.D. (photo)