What are ‘Judeo-Christian values’? Analyzing a divisive term

My school’s mission statement features the phrase “rooted in Judeo-Christian values,” which I understand as well-meaning term that’s intended to be open and inviting — good values for a Catholic college with a National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education. (I’ve attended many very meaningful academic, artistic, and memorial events and took my kids to hear speeches given by Holocaust survivors.)

However, during a break-out session during the fall opening workshop, the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” made me think.

It reminds me of the cultural construct of “North America,” as created by Canadians reveling in their appreciation for icons of American pop culture like William Shatner, Michael J. Fox, Jim Carey and Pamela Anderson, all of whom were born in Canada. When Canadians use term “North America” they are not thinking of Mexico or other countries that are part of the North American continent. American culture is far more visibly influenced by the activity along our Southern border, so I before I enrolled at the University of Toronto I had encountered no particular need for a term to describe the shared culture of Canada and the United States. Often when I said “America,” or “American,” even in casual conversation, a non-trivial number of people would bristle and politely insist that I was wrong, that I should instead say “The United States.”  (That happened often in a class on American literature of the South, when often the point of the stories we were reading was that the states were not at that time united).

Language evolves, and perhaps it’s time to reconsider “Judeo-Christian values,” or at least re-contextualize it as a product of its time.

My group and I didn’t completely agree with all the points made in this article, but its a good introduction to the debate around the term.

For conservatives from Bannon to Kasich to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the term is a building block of American society. ­But for critics of how the term is used today, Judeo-Christian is vague, historically flawed and even inflammatory. These opposing views reflect a deep rift in American society and illuminate very different fundamental political beliefs.

“This is a term defined by exclusion,” said Shalom Goldman, a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, arguing that the term is often used to reject secular values and Muslims.

“It’s essentially saying our values are not the values of the Enlightenment or the Constitution, but instead our values are the values of the Bible,” he said.

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, called the term a “generalization” and said it is one “Christians in particular use to put a patina of universality on a certain Christian culture in the United States.”

“Whatever the term may have meant in the 1930s and in the 1950s, what it now means is the religious right — and you can’t ignore that,” he said.

Although there is not necessarily one definition of the term among conservatives who use it, they often mean the fundamental values of Western society that, they believe, come from both Judaism and Christianity. —Washington Jewish Week

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