Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service. The views expressed in the commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.
Last spring, Steve Bannon opined to reporters that the just completed Mueller investigation had gotten in the way of a national imperative to combat the “existential threat” of China. “Eventually we’ve got to unite the Judeo-Christian West and Russia is part of that, and now that’s going to take many, many, many decades,” said President Trump’s sometime chief strategist.
To the extent that Trump possesses a strategic vision of the world, Bannon is its theorist. And as such, he is responsible for the fourth iteration of Judeo-Christian ideology in American politics.
Let’s review the sequence.
In the 1930s, when anti-Semitism was on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic, Judeo-Christian language began to be used by interfaith organizations such as the National Conference of Christians and Jews to indicate a common religious cause. It served to signal opposition to America First anti-Semites, who were giving their organizations such names as the Christian American Crusade, the Christian Aryan Syndicate, and the Christian Mobilizers. During World War II, “Judeo-Christian” became more common, standing for liberal democratic values against Fascism.
After the war, the term gained widespread popularity, as pastors, politicians, and pundits seized on it to mobilize the spiritual forces of America against “godless” communism. As Daniel Poling, president of the Military Chaplains Association of the United States, asserted at the association’s 1951 convention, “We meet at a time when the Judeo-Christian faith is challenged as never before in all the years since Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees.”
Over the next couple of decades “Judeo-Christian” began to pall, seeming to some like an empty cliché, to others the emblem of a civilization losing its way in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and to still others as insufficiently inclusive for a society that was becoming more and more religiously diverse. Its revival was due to the Christian right, which burst onto the American scene at the end of the 1970s.
In his best-selling 1980 manifesto, Listen America!, Jerry Falwell, Sr. praised the refusal of the state of Alabama to participate “in any conference that did not establish traditional Judeo-Christian values concerning the family.” Now the enemy was secular humanism, embodied in such causes as feminism, gay rights, and stricter separation of church and state, and symbolized above all by the issue of abortion.
That Judeo-Christian cause remains alive and well, and Trump’s speechwriters know how to generate applause with it, as when he told the Value Voters Summit in 2017, “We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values” and proceeded to launch an attack on people who do not say “Merry Christmas.”
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Source: Religion News Service