Monday, August 31, 2009

Judeo-Christian Values

When people say that our country was founded on "Judeo-Christian values", what exactly does that mean? I'm sure it means different things to different people. I'll tell you what I think it means.

First, the concept of property, while not solely the province of Judaism and Christianity, is certainly acknowledged. Were it not, we wouldn't have the commandment about stealing. Additionally, Christ recognized slavery in his time, and we're commanded to be charitable with the poor--something that could not be done unless some owned more than others.

Yes, our laws could arguably be said to be based on several of the 10 Commandments, but so could the laws of many countries and societies. I'm not convinced that that enough is sufficient to warrant the "Judeo-Christian values" moniker.

For that, we need to realize one of the tenets that sets Christianity apart from other religions, and that is the idea that man represents the pinnacle of God's creation. Flowing from that idea are the related ideas that all men (humans) are created equal--because in God's eyes, we are--and that all men (humans) are endowed with inalienable rights granted by the creator by virtue of their being the pinnacle of creation.

The Declaration of Independence is thus begun.

The Judeo-Christian values meme is not, and should not be intended, to imply or state that religion is a function of government, or that our government should be run according to the Bible. The justification for our system of government is derived from Judeo-Christian beliefs, but it is not a Christian government; rather, it is a tolerant secular government that recognizes its heritage.

I'm interested in your comments--whether you agree, think I haven't gone far enough, or think I'm way off base.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Say whatever you want about how the U.S. is a Judeo-Christian society, and I can quote something from the bible that directly contradicts it.

For example, Deuteronomy 7:6 is not compatible with "all men are created equal."

Leviathan said...

The Declaration of Independence uses words like Natural Law and Nature's God, Creator, Divine Providence. The Constitution contains none of those words.

What is surely missing is Jesus, Lord, and Christ.

To Hobbes' natural law was "a precept, or general rule, found out by reason".

Locke was an advocate for natural law and natural rights based on reason. He thought since we cannot know perfectly the truth about all differences of religious opinion, there can be no justification for imposing our own beliefs on others. He defended a broad toleration of divergent views.

I too struggle with the meaning of "founded on Judeo-Christian values". I don't think they are mutually exclusive with other moral teachings.

Tim said...

I'm not sure you've said anything with which I disagree, but Christianity for all of its merits has a very weak political theory in comparison to other religions, especially the other Abrahamic religions. In part this is because during their religion's theological infancy, Christians were a persecuted minority and didn't need to develop a robust idea of how power should be exercised -- they didn't have it, and weren't getting it anytime soon. The first centuries of Christianity were also occupied by a belief in the imminence of the end times, so why worry about who the earthly kings were?

So most of the first 300 years of Christianity was consumed instead by abstract controversy over the nature of Christ -- man, God, both? -- not "society" in general. There is almost nothing in the Gospels about politics, other than "render unto Caesar," which is a riddle, or an empty vessel into which we all pour our own bias.

It was only later, during the medieval period, that Christian thinkers turned to hard questions about temporal matters like justice and power, and that borrowed more from the available Hellenic writings than from the Bible itself.

In a sense, the Christian sects that eschew political action or involvement, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, are probably the true heirs of "Christian values" as far as government is concerned -- because good government is irrelevant to people who balance the concerns of this brief life against the possibility of eternity. This is a point lost on people who argue about the Christianity of the Founding Fathers -- why not ask instead about the political theory of the Church Fathers? Personally, I think both groups would find the entanglement of religious controversies and governance controversies to be bad for both institutions.

BTW, Christianity is not unique in viewing humans as the pinnacle of Creation. The account of the fall of Iblis (an Islamic analogue to Lucifer) has him cast out of heaven because he refused to acknowledge Adam as superior to the angels because he (unlike the angels) possesses free will.

Guy McBloke said...

And yet the first Christians were communists. They held all wealth in common.

And the idea that all men are created equal is not something that can be upheld using the Jewish religious book. Any book that says it is OK to own slaves is going very firmly against the idea of equality. Indeed, slavery as an instiitution was defended using Biblical references.

As for the Ten commandments, most of them would be either unconstitutional or unenforcable if they were enacted as laws.

Darren said...

Geez, anonymous, not *every* requirement of Mosaic Law need be followed for us to say that the founding principles of this country are Judeo-Christian in origin.

Mrs. Widget said...

Judeo-Christian always struck me a you have an obligation to your fellow man. If he is your worker treat him with justice, if he is sick treat him with hope, if he is poor treat him with compassion and if he is somehow weaker than you treat him with mercy.
Where as Buddhist or Hindi, a person's lot is karma and that is his fate. Or Roman, where the strong ruled.

Anonymous said...
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Darren said...

Comments of idiocy will not be entertained.

Ellen K said...

I could be said that the phrase "we know they truths to be self evident" refers to the Biblical acceptance of all people being created equal. Not that they applied that very much in the colonial days, but at least the intentions were good.

Anonymous said...

http://www.adherents.com/gov/Founding_Fathers_Religion.html

Guy McBloke said...

Where do you get the idea that "All men are created equal" is Biblical? I don't see how you can tally that along with the Bible's acceptance (indeed, promotion) of slavery? Especially slavery based on race, as with the way that Gentiles were treated differently and more harshly.

MiaZagora said...

"Any book that says it is OK to own slaves is going very firmly against the idea of equality."

Slavery in Bible times was quite a bit different than African slaves in America. Some were political slaves from defeated nations. Some became slaves for a time in order to pay off debts - but they were set free every seven years (year of Jubilee, I believe it was called). There were specific guidelines given on how to treat slaves.

Some decided not to be freed, because they loved their work and masters/bosses so much, so they stayed on...of their own free will. They had a ceremony and a hole was bored in their ear. Sorry, but I have forgotten what this kind of slave was called.

Not that it was a perfect system and there was NEVER abuse. It's just it was looked on differently back in those times.

Darren said...

Guy, read the problem:

"Flowing from that idea are the related ideas that all men (humans) are created equal--because in God's eyes, we are--and that all men (humans) are endowed with inalienable rights granted by the creator by virtue of their being the pinnacle of creation."

Guy McBloke said...

Mia:
NO. The only slaves that were set free every seven years were the Hebrew slaves. The gentile slaves were not. Again, more evidence that the idea of all men being equal is NOT biblical.

And Darren:
But the issue is that such a claim is an astoundingly new one. Indeed, at any time before the enlightenment, such an idea would have been almost, if not entirely, heretical. Christianity was used to support such ideas as the divine right of kings, slavery, denial of rights for women and so on and so forth. And looking in the Bible for support for people being equal is somewhat tricky given that book's support for slavery.

Darren said...

Guy, I say AGAIN: we're all equal in God's eyes. Bringing that belief a little closer to earth is a wonderful product of the Enlightenment.

Guy McBloke said...

How do you KNOW you we are all equal? That is not an idea found in the Bible. It is not an idea found in the majority of Christian theology or practice. It is an enlightenment, not a Christian or Jewish idea.

Darren said...

You are truly dense. Yet *again* I say, We are all equal in God's eyes. Unless you can show me how God's going to judge the Pope by different standards than He judges me, please "read the problem". RTP. RTFP.

Guy McBloke said...

The problem is that you believe God views all men equally despite the fact that his "word" in the Bible treats them differently based on their race.

Anonymous said...

yes, because He chose a race to be a special one to Him, viewed in a familial way. If you read the Old Testament, they are always referred to as "The Children of Israel" or as a wife. So, they are special to God in the same way your family would be special to you and you would treat your family better than someone else's. But, God's "disdain" for Gentiles didn't have to do with their race. It had to do with the fact that they worshipped other gods. So. . not racism.

Tim said...

Darren and Guy are talking past each other. Guy's mistake is in thinking that "Judeo/Christian ideals" are only those for which there is support in the text of the Bible. There are many things that are Judeo/Christian that are not biblical.

Darren's mistake is in thinking that products of the Western tradition are necessarily attributable to the Judeo/Christian tradition whenever we like them enough to credit them to God.

Personally, I think Darren's mistake is less serious, because it's a humble thing to take the best products of the human mind and attribute them to divinity. Both mainline Christianity and reform and conservative Judaism managed to develop an equality concept DESPITE the absence of it from their sacred texts, and people of faith are free to say that the appearance of that concept is divine revelation of a sort.

But I have to also agree with Guy that there's precious little support for the concept of "equality" in the biblical text. The most telling thing is that Paul says some pretty unkind things about women, and yet the Western tradition somehow evolved an idea of the basic equality of the sexes. That tends to indicate that the Western tradition evolves morality beyond the biblical text, then immediately tries to justify the principal using biblical norms. We shoot an arrow at the side of the barn and then paint the Bible around it.