Our Judeo-Christian Tradition

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Corners of the blogosphere have been atwitter with a remark made yesterday by House minority whip Eric Cantor to the annual conference of John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel; to wit:

Reaching out to the Muslim world may help in creating an environment
for peace in the Middle East, but we must insist as Americans that our
policies be firmly grounded in the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian
tradition upon which this country was founded.

What, Dan Gilgoff and Steve Benen want to know, would such a Judeo-Christian foreign policy look like? According to Jonathan Chait, Cantor should be understood as proposing a faith-based alliance between the U.S. and Israel.

I’d put it somewhat differently. From it’s inception as a term of rhetorical art during World War II, Judeo-Christian was designed to differentiate “us” from “them.” Originally, “us” meant Jews and Christians; “them” meant the Fascists–whose anti-Semitic ideology often resulted in the use of “Christian” as an identifying mark. During the Cold War, “they” were the (Godless) Communists; “Judeo-Christian” was the sacred banner under which all Americans–Protestant, Catholic, Jew–marched. During the past generation, the religious right has made the term its own, waving it against its domestic foes–Democrats and other secularists who would allegedly remove religion from the public square.

Cantor’s game, then, has nothing to do with identifying any particular Judeo-Christian beliefs on which to ground American foreign policy. It’s to identify “us” as Jews and Christians, “them” as the Muslim world. To that extent, Chait is right. So much for “Abrahamic” common ground.