Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Judeo-Christian Tradition that is America

Our national motto
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has written a beautiful description of what I believe are the foundational principles of the United States. Which of late is referred to as the Judeo-Christian tradition. I could not agree more.

Therein he takes issue with Professor Kevin Shultz who had published his own perspective on this issue. Shultz’s pertinent point was described  by Rabbi Adlerstein as follows: 
Schultz claims that “theologically… ‘Judeo-Christianity’ doesn’t make much sense,” arguing that this phrase was conjured up only to serve the purposes of the Right. And the concept which he doesn’t believe in, he argues, properly belongs to the Left.
The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ arguably only makes sense … as a descriptor for the members of the original Christian church,” writes Shultz, who believes that some of whom cobbled together an amalgam of Jewish practice and Christian belief that did not survive the opening centuries of Christianity. 
This is the kind of criticism I often hear by people who scoff at the term Judeo-Christian. They will say that there is nothing Jewish about what religious Christian conservatives believe. They use that term as smoke screen to hide what they really mean -  the Christian tradition. 

But as Rabbi Adlerstein makes abundantly clear, that is clearly not how Christians who use that term mean it. And he should know because that is his job as Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. (As did my friend, the late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein who was in a similar position to know as founder and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.)

The idea behind the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which this country was founded has nothing to do with the theology of either. Which of course could not be further apart. It has to do with the shared values derived of a common source: our bible. (Which is their old testament.) Both faiths use that as the source of their values. Of course Christians use their new testament as well. But much of the values expressed there are based on our bible - their old testament,.

It might be true that the term Judeo-Christian is a relatively modern term. But that does not take away where those values were taken from. 

Only a cynic would say that Christians that use that term don’t mean it. They do. Even though they omitted the ‘Judeo’ part of the term in the past, they now recognize that the source of those values is the exact same source as ours. 

So the term Judeo-Christian is actually a more valid way to express the founding principles of this great nation than to simply call them Christian values. Especially when one considers that religious tolerance is the very reason for the existence of this country. 

What are the values we share that are Judeo-Christian? Rabbi Adlerstein lists some of them as follows: 
●        Man, as the pinnacle of deliberate creation, has special significance and special responsibility
●        There are ideas that are timeless and immutable. Not all matters are up for grabs and redefinition
●        There is wisdom in things that are old, and obligation to the past as well as to the future.
●        The demands that G-d makes upon Man are for Man’s benefit, not for G-d’s.
●        Human civilization is perfectible, and will indeed be perfected
●        The nuclear family is the best incubator for the next generation, and correlates with success, happiness, and achievement.
●        Man’s greatest happiness comes from giving, rather than receiving.
We indeed are a  nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles.What worries me however is the waning interest in religion in this country. The less religious one is, the more likely they will reject one or more of those values  - replacing them with the values of our time. 

The ideas of the bible are no longer considered timeless by at least half of the country. (Probably a lot more than half!) Which means that there are no obligations based on past biblical values if they conflict with modern values.The more one rejects religious values the more one would object to the concept of Judeo-Christian anything!

I fear that the momentum is away from religious values since it appears they are easily discarded these days. For example we have a culture that sees consensual sex between 2 adults as perfectly acceptable regardless  of how the bible feels about certain unions. The traditional family is in danger as more people opt to not get married.

I believe that this attitude is responsible for the deterioration of the family. Which is the backbone of American survival. 

More people these days opt to avoid marriage - the glue that bonds the family unit. Religious values encourage marriage. There is a far greater likelihood that the family unit that marriage creates will produce children. Those that do not see much value to religion are probably less likely to get married and less likely to have children – if they have any at all.

What the future holds is impossible to predict. Nevertheless, if the trend away from religion proceeds apace, America may eventually face an existential crisis. Time will tell.