Is Judeo-Christian Philosophy a Farce?

The term “Judeo-Christian” has alway been particularly troubling for me.  Christianity can claim a kind of philosophical lineage to Judaism by virtue of Jesus being a Jew.  However, after Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the Mediterranean, Christianity was no longer one of many Jewish factions in the turmoil of Roman occupied “Palestine.”  Christianity took on a life of its own, both demographically and philosophically, totally separate of Judaism.  Unless you discuss Judaism and Christianity only in terms of universalities, the two religions are more dissimilar than similar.

The most blaring example of the difference between the two faiths is Jesus.  At the end of the day, Christianity is about Jesus and the eternal human state of sin, which can only be absolved through belief in Christ.  On this topic, Judaism couldn’t be different.  Judaism places the responsibility of turning from sin in the hands of the individual who chooses to live a righteous life, rather than outsourcing the responsibility of his sin by redefining the human condition as sinful and in turn looking to Christ who accepts responsibility of sin for all.

Another example of the disunities between the two religions is the concept of “turning the other cheek.”  In the Sermon on the Mount, the fundamental Christian doctrine of “turning the other cheek” is expressed.  It argues that the moral behavior when being oppressed is not to resist, but instead to offer your other cheek in passive resistance.  Judaism views this act as essentially immoral.  Within the Jewish legal system, one actually has the responsibility to proactively resist an oppressor whose intension is harming you.

This being said, there are similarities between Judaism and Christianity, but they are almost all religious universalities.  Both religions teach peace, love, treating your neighbor respectfully, the immorality of murder and stealing, but who argues against those things?  Why do we not instead say, Judeo-Buddhist philosophy?  Because the terminology “Judeo-Christian” really just means “Western.”  It is an ethnocentric term which makes the assumption that non-western faiths to not hold by even the simplest moral universalities.

I would never argue that all religions shouldn’t work together to create a more just world, but grouping them into categories disallows us to view each religion in its own beauty and uniqueness.  By saying Judeo-Christian, we stop thinking about Judaism and Christianity as separate and interesting belief systems in their own right and start confusing the philosophical frameworks each religions has independently created.  We also are implicitly ethnocentric by assuming Judaism and Christianity are the only religions who abide by moral universalities like the prohibition of murder and stealing or loving your neighbor.

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2 Responses to Is Judeo-Christian Philosophy a Farce?

  1. Jordana says:

    “Why do we not instead say, Judeo-Buddhist philosophy? Because the terminology “Judeo-Christian” really just means “Western.” It is an ethnocentric term which makes the assumption that non-western faiths to not hold by even the simplest moral universalities.”

    This is a strong point for the term “Judeo-Christian” being essentially meaningless. It seems the only when/where that the term is applicable would be during the lifetime of Jesus among his followers… during which time there was some ambiguity as Christianity was not a religon yet.

    When the term is used to imply moral values it is inherently ethnocentric. If Judeo-Christian is a term used to imply similarity in religious practice, it is being used inaccurately.

  2. I’m currently overhauling the blogroll at Jewschool.com and this blog was recommended by one of our readers. Glad I found it!

    Have you read the book “God is Not One” by U of Boston religion professor Stephen Prothero? It came out last year and its thrust is to demolish the idea that all religions are simply different paths up the same mountain. His point is that it’s more harmful than helpful to claim that all religions are essentially the same. He does this by going through what he calls the 8 most influential world religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Yoruba, Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism–and a 9th section called “A Coda on Atheism.”) To drive the point home, he titles each section “The Way of…” so it’s like “Christianity: The Way of Salvation,” “Islam: The Way of Submission,” etc.

    It’s great fun. I gave it to everyone for Chanukah this year.

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