Sunday, March 14, 2010

Judeo-Christian Tradition: No Such Thing

          Some of my readers criticized my last blog for referring to the Christian Ten Commandments instead of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. Judeo-Christian? No such thing. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the Christian tradition, which interprets Christianity as the fulfillment and completion of Judaism. Judeo-Christianity merges Judaism and Christianity within a Christian world view. Judaism, however, is its own independent religious tradition. Similarly, the Old Testament is a Christian term that suggests the New Testament is the second part of a two-volume story. Jews read the Hebrew Bible, not the Old Testament.
          The American Ten Commandments debates usually involve battles among Christians about the proper interpretation of the Jewish text. The fact that different groups of Christians argue about the Jewish text confirms that the government has no business posting any version of the commandments on public property. Sadly, the politicians and some judges refuse to learn that lesson and continue to support Protestant Christian versions of the monuments.
          All the Supreme Court cases involving the Ten Commandments have involved texts taken from the Protestant King James Bible. Justice John Paul Stevens explained in his dissent in the Texas Ten Commandments case that Protestants and Catholics have long disagreed about the proper wording of the commandments. He acknowledged, moreover, that the King James version of the Sixth Commandment states "Thou shalt not kill," while the Jewish version says "You shall not murder." Justice Antonin Scalia scoffed at Justice Stevens' distinction, rejecting the sectarian dispute regarding text, if serious, [as] not widely known. Scalia doubt[s] that most religious adherents are even aware that there are competing versions with doctrinal consequences ([he] certainly was not). Scalia repeatedly votes to uphold commandments displays by refusing to recognize that the government privileges one interpretation of religion over others in these monuments.
          It is time for Justice Scalia and others to reconsider the constitutional significance that there are at least four separate versions of  the ordering of the Ten Commandments: Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran, and general Protestant. A neutral, non-sectarian version of the Ten Commandments is as fake as the Judeo-Christian tradition. There is no such thing. Over at the new Law, Religion, and Ethics blog, Professor Steven Smith has suggested that it is more accurate to call the U.S. a Judeo-Christian nation than a Christian nation. The Judeo-Christian term is worse. It suggests inclusion but fails to include Jews or any other non-Christians in the American tradition.  

1 comment:

  1. I've long had issues with the phrase "Judeo-Christian" as it seemed to have claimed inclusion while still excluding. Thank you for articulating the reason.