More Judeo-Christianity


Razib rounds up the responses to his case against the term "Judeo-Christian." I should note that mine was not intended to be a full-throated defense by any stretch: Any utility the term has is either relatively narrow or extremely broad, and nine times out of ten I'm in favor of emphasizing the distinctions between religious communions, rather than inventing phony, ahistorical ecumenisms. I'm less certain, though, why Razib quite is so hostile to the term. In this post, written in response to mine, he writes that his "main concern as an atheist who lives in a progressively more religiously pluralist society characterized by liberal democratic values is to turn all religions into operational variants of mainline Protestantism," and thus he'd like "to destroy the grand orthopraxic claims which many religions make upon their adherents" and replace them with "casual demands" you see in liberal Protestant denominations. But then isn't a term like "Judeo-Christian," which can be applied lazily and tolerantly to all kinds of groups, arguably perfect for the religious landscape that Razib wants to see? Or put another way, wouldn't a renewed and serious emphasis on the distinctiveness of individual religious traditions, and the intellectual roots thereof, ultimately be the enemy of the kind of casual, mushy Protestantization that he's hoping for? Sure, the people who talk about the "Judeo-Christian tradition" may be doing a disservice to the two faiths' history and traditions, but it seems to me that Razib's goals require believers to cut themselves loose from history and tradition, the better to preserve the pluralist peace.

Indeed, the only real problem with the term for his purposes may be that it isn't intellectually lazy enough - that it doesn't create an umbrella big enough for liberal-Protestantized Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists to huddle under as well. And reading his post again, maybe that's what he's getting at: That we need Christians and Jews to "retain their distinctiveness in at least a notional sense," as he puts it, in order to make other faiths feel comfortable joining the liberal tent - rather than remaining outside out of fear that they'll be swallowed in a Judeo-Christian sea. But ultimately, he does want religious distinctions to be swallowed in a Judeo-Christian (or liberal Protestant) sea: He wants us to emphasize the distinctions between Christians and Jews in the short run, because that's the only way to de-emphasize the distinctions between Muslims and Christians or Jews and Hindus over the long run. No to Judeo-Christianity, in other words, but yes, eventually, to Judeo-Zensufi-Hindianity.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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