The Rights Judeo-Christian Fixation – The New Republic

Second,Gaston reveals that Judeo-Christianitys ascendance was not powered by the liberalbelief that all religions should be equal in the eyes of a neutral government.Instead, Judeo-Christianity was most commonly the domain of fiery anti-secularists,who railed against any separation between church and state. Building off ideas developedin the interwar period, thinkers in this camp spent the 1940s and 1950s claimingthat religious teachings needed to dominate the public sphere. Limiting state supportfor religious schools or charities, they warned, would foster secularism, whichwould directly lead to nihilism and social anarchy. Indeed, in their minds, secularismwas the true core of totalitarianism; Hitler and Stalins regimes were notsimply oppressive, but were atheist plots to replace religious authority withsoulless states. Such anxieties even motivated thinkers later consideredprophets of tolerance, such as the influential Catholic theologian JohnCourtney Murray. While he vocally advocated for Catholic cooperation with otherfaiths and embraced religious liberty (a principle that the Catholic churchformally opposed until the 1960s), he also warned that limiting funding forreligious schools would send the United States down the path of Nazi Germanyand the Soviet Union. Judeo-Christianity, then, sometimes served as a tool ofanti-secular exclusion.

Thisexclusionary impulse only hardened after the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, aswriters began to understand Judeo-Christianity not only as a religioustradition, but as one with clear racial and sexual meanings. Up until the early1960s, progressive activists occasionally employed the term; Martin LutherKing, Jr., for one, claimed that Judeo-Christianity should engender racialequality. By the 1970s, however, anti-racist and anti-sexist activists condemnedthe concept as a source of Americas moral rot. Black radicals such as OssieDavis railed against white Western Judeo-Christian capitalist civilization. Feministwriter Mary Daly agreed, decrying in Beyond God the Father: Toward aPhilosophy of Feminist Liberation (1973) the history of antifeminism inthe Judeo-Christian heritage. Thinkers in this camp found little comfort intradition. Rather than providing the template for freedom, the United Statesalleged spiritual tenets had to be overthrown.

Conservatives,in response, doubled down on their insistence that the United States was an inherentlyreligious nation and appealed to Judeo-Christianity to challenge taxation andabortion. American values, wrote Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson in1973, called for Judeo-Christian charity, not big government. By the 1980s,the term encapsulated the rights powerful cocktail of white resentment,sexism, and anti-welfare rage. Judeo-Christianity, writers implied, was morethan a specific variation of American evangelism; rather, it was a timelesstradition whose defense necessitated opposition to affirmative action, equalityfor women and sexual minorities, and redistributionist policies. Jerry Falwell,for example, in his best-selling booklet Listen, America! (1980), replacedhis older language of Christian nationalism with praise for traditional Judeo-Christian values concerning thefamily. That same year, Judeo-Christianity made its first appearance in aparty platform, as the Republicans swore to defend it. It would reappear there insubsequent elections, an epitaph for the terms anti-egalitarian flavor.

Inthe conclusion to her book, Gaston wonders if Judeo-Christianity is approachingthe end of its journey. In the decades since the terms emergence, after all, thenations religious and ideological composition has changed substantially, fosteringnew political languages. This shift is especially pronounced on the Americanleft, where political coalitions have expanded not only to include religiousgroups beyond Christianity and Judaism, but also the religiously unaffiliated(the so-called nones). Barack Obama was sensitive to this reality when hebecame the first president to celebrate American atheists and agnostics. Trump, Gaston argues, has similarlybroken with Republican precedent, measuring righteousness not through piety butthrough military and economic domination. While the president may utter somehollow paeans to Judeo-Christianity, these are merely bones he throws hisevangelical supporters and their anti-secular fixations.

Thoughthis may be true, Imagining Judeo-Christian America spends less time than it could* on the termsmore recent adoption on the radical right. Perhaps because Gaston is focused onexposing Judeo-Christianitys anti-secularist bent, she is sometimes less attunedto its entanglement with racial politics and to its use by avowedethno-nationalists. Few represent this transmutation better than Steve Bannon, Trumpsformer senior advisor and a significant figure in the global alt-right. Hardlya practicing Christian, Bannon has often claimed that societies strengths lay in theirethnic homogeneity. This is why, he argues, nationalists must smash the powerof globalism, epitomized by international organizations, finance, andmigration. For Bannon, however, this nationalist revolution also has ageopolitical aspect, best captured through a religious terminology. The whitenations, he explained in a recent interview, constitute the Judeo-Christian West,which should to come together with Russia to defeat their Muslim and Chineseopponents. Indeed, Judeo-Christianity has been a long-standing obsession forBannon, who nostalgically waxed about the long history of the Judeo-Christian Wests struggle against Islam in a 2014 speech to a Vatican conference organized byreactionary Catholics. So enchanted hewas with this concept that in 2018 he sought to establish a new center in Italy for nationalist and populist teachings, the Academyfor the Judeo-Christian West.

Theradical rights embrace of Judeo-Christianity is more than a linguistic tic. Inusing this terminology, the new right replicates its predecessors ambiguousfeelings about Judaism, simultaneously depicting Jews as villains and allies. Theradical right remains haunted by the specter of Jewish financial control, ananxiety dramatically embodied in the conspiracy theories swirling around GeorgeSoros. And as the murderer in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting explainedin his violent manifesto, some also associate Jews with support for immigrationof non-whites, vilifying them as agents of white genocide. At the same time, Israeland Jews often loom large in the right-wing imagination as a powerful incarnationof Western values. Israels military clashes with Muslim neighbors and itsinsistence on preserving ethnic exclusivity, recently solidified in the 2018 nation state law declaring that the state belongs to Jewsalone, enchant the radical right. As the white supremacist Richard Spencer has gushed, Jews are, onceagain, at the vanguard, rethinking politics and sovereignty for the future,showing a path forward for Europeans. In all of this, the American right ishardly alone. Hungarys Viktor rban and Frances Marine Le Pen similarlytraffic in anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish global control while simultaneouslymusing on Judeo-Christian values and warmly embracing Israels BenjaminNetanyahu.

Thesedynamics matter not only when it comes to Judaisms status in American politics.They are part of the rights broader strategy to bolster hierarchies by using termsthat sound as if they foster egalitarianism. Freedom of religion, forexample, ostensibly a universal protection for worship, has been recentlyappropriated by American evangelicals in their crusade to protect Christianprayers in state-run events. The Trump Administration followed suit, and complementedits Muslim ban with the establishment of a special Religious Freedom TaskForce, whose goal was to defend conservative Christians right to discriminateagainst women and LGBTQ+ people (by protecting corporations and organizationsright to deny coverage for contraception and to fire individuals based onsexual orientation and gender identity). Similar dynamics have come into playwhen right-wing speakers have weaponized the right to free speech. In thehands of figures like Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro, free speech is mostly invokedto support the right to harass and insult women and people of color. Collegecampuses have drawn especially intense attention from conservatives, who, underthe banner of diversity of thought, demand spaces and resources for right-leaningfaculty and speakers. In the intellectual universe concocted by the Americanright, universities most urgent challenge is not to curtail crushing studentdebt, address savage budget cuts by legislators, or improve the representationof women and people of color; instead, it is to protect the opinions of the alreadyprivileged.

Inthis regard, Gastons brilliant book uncovers not only a fascinating history,but also a powerful template used in conservative politics today. She shows howeasily inclusive language can be mobilized for anti-egalitarian purposes. Bydoing so, her book further hints at the limited nature of many Americanconcepts of inclusion. The radical rights use of Judeo-Christianity, afterall, is not a brazen co-option or appropriation so much as it is an update of theterm, which has largely been used in an exclusionary way. A more egalitarianfuture cannot simply rely on reclaiming or rescuing historical concepts. Thereis little point on insisting that progressive agendas fulfill long-standingAmerican virtues, especially those that have become linguistic mainstays ofconservative politics. New realities are instead more likely to emerge by discardingsuch historical concepts altogether. And among the first terms to be retiredshould be Judeo-Christianity.

* The article originally stated that the book overlooks the terms more recent adoption on the radical right.

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The Rights Judeo-Christian Fixation - The New Republic

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