Monday, June 14, 2010

"Judeo-Christian": A Controversial Term

I hoped to use, on this blog, the term: "Judeo-Christian." I knew this term carried some baggage, some controversy.

Here's what the term "Judeo-Christian" means to me. I grew up in wildly diverse state, New Jersey.* Our family doctor was Chinese, from China. My first boss was a Hindu Indian woman. I had Muslim friends. Jewish friends visited the house frequently. I left NJ and traveled the world.

It's impossible to miss, when you look at world traditions from a world perspective, that Judaism and Christianity share significant and unique foundations, quite different from other world traditions.

But, as I constantly repeat to my students, "a fish doesn't know it is in water." If you've grown up in the West, without intimate contact with any tradition other than Judaism or Christianity, without intimate contact with any population but Europeans, you will focus on the differences between Judaism and Christianity, and miss the more important shared and unique foundations, including a transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving, eternal, sole, God who created one universe one time as an act of love, and who feels love for, and hopes for a loving relationship with, his creations, human beings.

More controversy surrounds the term "Judeo-Christian" than one might hope. Wikipedia offers an excellent survey of the terrain. Rather than focusing on concrete, shared foundations, some commentators veered off into attempts to second guess whom God will invite into heaven. I was heartened and proud of my natal church when I read this:

"The 2006 United States Catholic Catechism for Adults states: 'The covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.'"

But chagrined to read further:

"In June 2008 the bishops decided by a vote of 231-14 to remove this from the next printing of the Catechism, because it could be construed to mean that Jews have their own path to salvation and do not need Christ or the Church. In August 2009, the Vatican approved the change, and the revised text states:

'"To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his Word, 'belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.'"

I greatly admire many behaviors undertaken by people of many faiths: charity, fasting and other self-disciplines, teaching, creating art to uplift the soul and glorify God, struggling to understand the big answers to the big questions. I think that devoting time to deciding whom God is going to pick to go to heaven is one of the least worthy uses of time for any person of any faith. Better you should spend your time debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or why, when you drop a piece of bread, it's always the buttered side that hits the floor.

Thank the Lord that no one has ever asked me who is going to heaven and who is not. Me, I'm not God, and, I suspect, neither are the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. That being the case, how is it their job to decide?

In any case, "Judeo-Christian," to me, is not a statement about who will be sharing what real estate in the hereafter; rather, it's merely an acknowledgment of the shared, unique foundations of Judaism and Christianity, which are undeniable and of undeniable world historical import.

Discussion of "Judeo-Christian Tradition"

The Bishops Weigh In

Dual Covenant Theology

What about that buttered slice of bread? A Rabbi's perspective.

Physicists' take on buttered bread.

Angels Dance on Head of Pin

* New Jersey's Diversity:

"New Jersey is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse states in the country. It has the second largest Jewish population by percentage (after New York);[25] the second largest Muslim population by percentage (after Michigan); the largest population of people from Costa Rica in the United States; the largest population of Cubans outside of Florida; the third highest Asian population by percentage; and the third highest Italian population by percentage according to the 2000 Census. African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and Arabs are also high in number. It has the third highest Indian population of any state by absolute numbers.[26][27][28][29] Also, it has the third largest Korean population, fourth largest Filipino population, and fourth largest Chinese population, per the 2000 U.S. Census. The five largest ethnic groups are: Italian (17.9%), Irish (15.9%), African (13.6%), German (12.6%), Polish (6.9%)."


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