Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tracing the growth of "Judeo Christian"

Reacting to Lawrence Auster's visceral reactions towards anyone on the right who is not viewed as sufficiently supportive of Israel, Dennis Mangan remarks that it was not so-called "Judeo-Christian" morality that shaped Western civilization, but simply Christian morality that did.

While Dennis' assertion would have gone undisputed in the fifties when he was a toddling around, time has steadily chipped away at its veracity, and there is no sign of a slow down. The following graph created via Google's Ngram viewer from books published in the US traces the ascension of the phrase over close to the last six decades. Prior to 1955, it was almost non-existent (click on the images for better resolution):

Unlike the hybridization that yokes Christianity to Judaism and American interests to those of Israel, plain old "Christian" is old hat, as it floats along sideways:

Look, both religions' moral foundations are found in the first five books of the Old Testament, and where would Americans be today without the admonition against coveting a neighbor's things? That American Jews concerned with Israel's well being have an enormous amount to gain by marrying the cultural and political aims of white Christian centrists and rightists in the US to their own is merely incidental! Similarly, that mainstream white Christians like Bill O'Reilly and Richard Land are able to pitch for "traditional" (ie, Christian) morality with only blunted disapproval from media gatekeepers who reserve far less vitriol for the promotion of Judeo-Christian morality than they ever could for Christian morality is just an unintended byproduct of the firm biblical basis for the phrase's essential invention in the sixties!


Ja said...

What do you mean it's almost non-existent before 1955? 1900-1910 has an even bigger spike than the 1950s.

Audacious Epigone said...


I looked at books published in the US exclusively. If the settings are changed to filter books more broadly ("English" rather than "American English"), it looks the phrase appears in the early 1900s (although as Ngrams states, those odd flat lines from 100+ years ago are sometimes errors) and then gets a bit of use starting in the mid-40s, a decade before it did in the US.

Razib said...

i'm not obsessed with the term as such, the problem is that it gives people a false impression of the role of jews in western society before 1850. as jews they had no role after the year 400 or so. the term 'judeo-christian' confuses that reality. i pointed this out to auster years ago, and he didn't want to concede that.

Luke Lea said...

"Dennis Mangan remarks that it was not so-called "Judeo-Christian" morality that shaped Western civilization, but simply Christian morality that did."

That strikes me as silly. Our ideas of political freedom (Exodus story), human equality (Creation story), and of social justice (later prophets) are all Jewish in origin.

What Christianity added was an ethic of self-sacrifice for the sake of the future (on earth as in heaven) which probably had something to do with establishing those liberal values, at least if you subscribe to some form of Weber's thesis on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.

Christian morality -- turn the other cheek, love your enemies, make your life a living sacrifice, etc. -- are really no part of contemporary morality. Belief in liberty, justice, and equality as universal values are.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe that anyone could say that they could read the Hebrew Bible and come away even slightly more inclined towards human equality (gotta love those Chosen People), political freedom (because that's what most of the kingdoms were big on and what was rewarded - this just about would work if you reworded it as "nationalist determination" though, but I don't think you'd come away with the idea that it matters for anyone but the Hebrews).

As for social justice, perhaps they inspired various "crusading" social reformer idiots (certainly, the Greek tradition, philosophical, political and religious, both concerned with a just society and giving rise to people who did try to change their societies, is not the source for the religious fervour and rhetoric these people have).

Frankly though, these values are not Jewish in origin, despite that their myths may have influenced our conception of them. They are either pan-human or Western specifically, and their main cause is social process, biology and increasing affluence, not Jewish myths.