Thursday, April 15, 2010

Judeo-Muslim Values

The term "Judeo-Christian" has been tossed around quite a bit during my lifetime. I always viewed it with suspicion, its use generally marshaled in support of some politico-religious agenda, usually accompanied by bombast and flag-waving. A cursory examination of the history of the phrase reveals that its meaning has evolved quite a bit since first coined in 1939. A recent column by Dr. Paul Gottfried, here, reveals that there is even less than meets the eye with the term.

Jewish himself, Dr. Gottfried makes a number of important points. First, he bemoans use of the term in "unqualified generalizations about adherents of Islam." He finds that he has more in common and feels safer with his Muslim friends than he does, with say, American Pentecostals. Beyond that, he notes, the following:

1. The issues Jews had and still have with Christians are theological and cultural....the central Christian beliefs, that God became man in Christ and atoned on the cross for human sins, are utter blasphemy from a Jewish or Muslim perspective.

2. Muslims have never represented for Jews the religious problem posed by Christianity because the theological and ritual differences between Jews and Muslims are far less significant. Maimonides (pictured above) pointed out in the 13th century, Jews may pray to Allah because the Muslim and Jewish conceptions of the Deity are the same.

3. Until the eruption of hostilities between Jews and Muslims over Israel, Jews in the West continued to speak far more favorably about Muslims than they did about Christians.

4. Jewish organizations here and in Europe view Christians as people whose exaggerated guilt over the Holocaust can be channeled into support for the Israeli government. Prominent Jewish nothing but indifference or hostility to the continued existence of Christian institutions in what used to be Christian countries.

Gottfried concludes that Jewish distaste for Christianity is so deep-seated that it cannot be written off as a legacy of Christian anti-Semitism. Indeed, he finds more real meaning to a common Judeo-Muslim rejection of core Christian teachings than he does any alternative reality Jude0-Christianity used to demonize all Muslims.

Well said.


Steve Hayes said...

I always thought that the term "Judeo-Christian" was invented by American sociologists of the 1930s and 1940s who were looking for sources for an American ethos and system of values, and came up with the idea that the three religions of the US were Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism.

But perhaps I thought that because I first came across the term in a sociology text book.

margaret said...

I too found it first in a sociology text. I took it to be a pretentious way of referring to the common morality of the 10 commandments in an era when Islam was a far away thing. Speaking as one who grew up in an albeit secular Jewish home I’m not sure that Israel is the main divide between Jews and Muslims althought it is certainly marketed as such today. There was at least one significant massacre of Jews in the Holy Land in the 20s and, given that the Arabs were allied with the Nazis until the spring of 1945, plans to build a gas chamber at Ramallah to rid the middle east of its ‘Jewish problem’. I suspect the enmity between Jew and Muslim goes back to Hagar although clearly there are always times when the circumstances of life in the here and now override that.

Samn! said...


I would say that tensions between Arabs (both Christian and Muslim) and Jews in Palestine in the 20's and 30's was within the context of Zionist settlement that had started since the late 19th century.... By the 1920's, the Arabs of Palestine were quite aware of the plan among European Jews to establish a homeland on their land and were pretty well wigging out about it.....

Basically until then, Islamic lands were usually where Jews went for refuge from Christian persecutions. Examples of this would be Thessaloniki's enormous Spanish-speaking Jewish population under the Ottomans and the majority of the Jewish population of Palestine prior to Zionist settlement. By and large, on the religious level, the differences Judaism and Islam are not ones of significantly differing practice or mentality. Both are profoundly religions of text and law-- the difference between halakha and shari'a are in the details, not the basic idea. I think that in the west our image of Judaism is rather too much influenced by the experience we have of the Jewish culture that came out of assimilation to modern Germany prior to the Holocaust and this takes into account the world of non-European Jews.....