I have been listening to the Phil Vischer podcast lately and doing as I do, I have to go back and listen to ALL of them because that’s the sort of thing I do. Phil is the creator of Veggie Tales and though the entire company was wrested away from him some time ago for many reasons of which you will read in his book, “Me, Myself, and Bob” he has started afresh with a new project called Jellyfish Labs and its internet channel (?) Jelly Telly through which he has promulgated new characters, shows, books, and games.
The podcast’s description includes the following: “a fast-paced and often funny conversation about pop culture, media, theology and the fun, fun, fun of living a thoughtful Christian life in an increasingly post-Christian culture.”
Now don’t misunderstand my purposes here, I am all for this post-Christian proposition, all for it, 100% on board. I totally support the abandonment of the fundamentalist and especially unthinking cultural Christianity which causes liberals, atheists, other religions, and basically the rest of the world to look at America as backward. I would perhaps say that a fundamentalist asks “what does the Bible say?” while the Christian life begs the question “What does the Bible mean?” It’s the difference between a literalistic legalistic litigious religious framework and what Christianity really is. We absolutely need fewer fundamentalist culture-warrior cultural Christians and more Christians who take the meaning of the Gospel and the Christian life seriously and follow Jesus in humility and contemplation.
And in large part I say that Phil is doing this and doing a wonderful job. However, as with many a good thing, there are some hiccups. One is that all three hosts seem to be conservatives, or at least moderately conservative and one of them is very much so, having worked in Washington D.C. during the Reagan administration. I have found Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani both to be a breath of fresh air (myself having just lived for eight years in Arkansas) though perhaps not going quite far enough in my non-Bible Belt personal view. Christian Taylor (the Mississippi born Republican) however has been a regular source of frustration for me because she seems to hold the traditional (and I mean American Bible Belt traditional) views on things, the culture warrior, the government is too big and bad at everything, politically Republican views that have nothing directly to do with being a Christian yet are often preached as if they are one in the same. Sorry Christian, I am certain you are a wonderful person but your political views make me want to weep and gnash my teeth. On the other hand, the thought occurs to me, if the reader is one of my very many politically conservative friends, you’ll probably identify with her and hopefully be indoctrinated to some of the more introspective and less overtly political views of Phil and Skye. At any rate, please do subscribe to the Phil Vischer Podcast, watch the podcast on YouTube, or find it at Phil’s website at philvischer.com. I wholly support Phil’s work whether or not I wholly agree with him or his co-hosts on every point.
Okay, so I got way off topic there, but I want to bring it back around with the number two hiccup with the Phil Vischer Podcast which is related to number one and that is the constant callbacks to that American Cultural Christianity, specifically the idea of “Judeo-Christian” things. And understand, I’m not criticizing Phil (and particularly Skye for constantly using this term) and the podcast. This is an issue that has been stewing in the considerable volume of my brain (I have a very large head) for quite a number of years. Skye’s use of the term has caused me to revisit the idea and hopefully to formulate a good case for my point of view.
As in my usual poor form, I’m going to state the conclusion first and then make a case to back it up. This has gotten me into trouble in the past because people think “hey, you’re working from a preconceived conclusion and just trying to make the facts fit your case.” No, that’s not what I’m doing. Usually what happens is that the conclusion will be in the first paragraph because usually nobody reads very far in so I put the conclusion at the top so you know what I think and if you are a thinking person you’ll continue reading whether or not you agree, and if you are not a thinking person, you’ll probably disagree and quit reading and I’m okay with that. No need to make you read into something to which your mind is not open. I can’t open your mind. Anyway, since we’re already in the middle of this already lengthy post, I guess it doesn’t matter.
Okay, so here it is. If you live in the USA and have any sort of engagement with people or media or read books or anything, you have probably come across the term “Judeo-Christian” in some sort of context with values or laws or morality. It is used extremely commonly especially in Christian and conservative (not the necessarily same thing) circles. But my case is this:
There is no such thing as “Judeo-Christian.”
While I cannot be sure at this point, I believe the term is birthed and rebirthed in the Christian Zionist and Christian fundamentalist movements. If it did not originate with them, it is certainly where it is most often repeated today. There’s this idea that Christians are the new Jews or that Jews are incomplete Christians, and so if we lump them together, we can gain rhetorical force for our arguments. Or the case may be that we are Christians and parts of our scriptures are the Jewish scriptures. In any case, I want to say that there is no such thing as “Judeo-Christian” because Jews and Christians are fundamentally different things. And I want to do it partially by comparing Islam to Christianity as Christians compare Christianity to Judaism.
Okay, so let’s look at it like this: Islam teaches that Jesus and all the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets were Muslims and prophets of Islam. In a way, just as Baha’ism claims to be some sort of continuation of Islam and Christianity and Judaism, Islam claims to be the true and undistorted extension of Christianity and Judaism. And I say that the term “Judeo-Christian” is the Christian’s attempt to be the continuation and perfection of Judaism. Now I am not going to explore whether or not that point is true, because as a Christian, I do believe that Christianity is the fulfillment of what was the original Judaism. But that doesn’t make me a Jew, and that doesn’t mean I believe the same things Jews do and therefore the term Judeo-Christian is entirely inappropriate when describing any part of my Christian belief, just as a Muslim would be totally wrong in describing Jesus as a prophet of Islam and a Muslim.
Trying to rope Jews into the belief-net of Christianity is something many Jews are very uncomfortable with. They are fundamentally different things. A Muslim believes he is correctly worshipping the Christian and Jewish God. A Christian believes he is correctly worshipping the Jewish God. But the Jew says “Hey, that’s not the God I worship. My God is not Jesus and never spoke to Muhammad.” The Christian says “Jesus is God, and God didn’t speak to Muhammad, and Jesus’ death on the cross means Christians are not under the Jewish law.”
A Christian doesn’t think a Muslim’s claims about Christianity are legitimate, what makes a Christian think they can claim their views about Judaism are legitimate?
We know those claims exist, but please join me in understanding that the term “Judeo-Christian” is an imposition and an interpretation. From my research on the topic, I know for a fact that there are Jews who do not like it. So let’s have the humility to understand and communicate that a Christian is a Christian, a Jew is a Jew, and a Muslim is a Muslim, and the claims of each are mutually exclusive. Do you think in a majority Jewish country that the Jews use the term “Judeo-Christian” or perhaps “Christo-Jewish?” No. The term is one of power, position, and culture. It only works when the majority is Christian.
We are entering the post-Christian era in the United States. And conservatism being what it is by simple nature is clawing tooth and nail to try to maintain its privilege and influence and if we are to be the cultural influencers that Christ and the Apostle Paul called us to be, we must learn to live in the same sort of milieu that they did, being the minority with no political or coercive power and yet all the ultimate power. The more we grasp for the political and coercive power, the more we lose the ultimate power. Part of living in a post-Christian society correctly is embracing post-Christianese. In doing so, we must abandon the term “Judeo-Christian.”
In closing, let me relate an old Jewish joke:
A gentile professor of Judaic Studies in Iowa finds out that to really learn the Talmud he must go to the Boro Park section of Brooklyn and find himself a teacher. The professor flies over and knocks on a basement door and this little Jew comes out. Upon seeing him, the professor asks to be taught the Talmud, but the little Jews says, “I can’t teach you Tal-mud, you got a goyeshe kop (literally “non-Jewish head”), you just don’t think Jewish.”
The professor insists. The little Jew says, “OK, solve this problem, and I’ll teach you:
“Two people go down a chimney. One stays clean, the other gets completely schmutzig, filthy. Which one washes up?”
The professor eagerly answers, “The dirty one, naturally.”
The little Jew wails: “Goyeshe kop, goyeshe kop! I told you I can’t teach you anything. Listen, the schmutzig guy sees the clean guy. Schmutzig doesn’t see any problem. But the clean guy sees the schmutzig guy and figures he must be just as dirty, so he goes and washes. I told you, you got a goyeshe kop. I can’t help you.”
The professor begs for another chance, and the little Jew gives in, suggesting a new problem to solve:
“Two people go down a chimney. One stays clean, the other gets completely schmutzig. Which one of them would wash up?”
The professor says, “Sure, I know this one, it’s the clean fellow.”
At this, the little Jew wails, “Goyeshe kop, the clean one takes a look at the dirty one and says, Moishe, you’re all schmutzig, go wash already! Enough. I really can’t help you, mister, you got a goyeshe kop.”
The professor begs for one last chance, and the little Jew says, “Fine, one last chance, I’ll give you a completely new problem, then you’ll leave me alone:
“Two people go down a chimney. One stays clean, the other gets completely schmutzig. Which one of them washes up?”
At this point, the poor professor from Iowa freezes, unable to decide which of the two conflicting solutions to choose. The little Jew can’t stand it anymore and interjects, “Goyeshe kop, who ever heard of two people going down a chimney and only one of them gets schmutzig?”