Honors Thesis Spotlight: The Jewish Civilization Samuel P. Huntington: A Critique of “Judeo-Christian” Civilizational Values

Samuel P Huntington describes the term Judeo-Christian in his paper titled Clash of Civilization, wherein he groups together Judaism and Christianity and classifies Israel as a western country due to the assumed commonalities the two religions share. However, the commonalities they share lack evidence of actually being similar. This thesis suggests that Harrington inaccurately groups these two religions based on the assumption that Christianity is the extended version of Judaism; in reality, they are far from similar and have been since their origin.

            The author provides two lenses for the reader to properly understand the “Judeo-Christian” relationship. This first one is based on history and religion and focuses on the teachings of Christians from the early church and how they targeted jews. The second one is also based on history and demonstrates what struggles the Jewish people have gone through in the twentieth century and how Christians were at the hands of that struggle. Both allow for the author to further

            In Clash of Civilization, Huntington believes in shared “Judeo-Christian” values which is their only reason for classifying Israel as a western state. Huntington assumes that, since Judaism and Christianity share a religious document and have the same land of origin, they have no significant differences in ideology. Huntington’s definition of “Judeo-Christian” has numerous historical meanings, but Huntington refers to it as a set of western beliefs and heritage. However, this definition is rooted in the common misunderstanding of the difference between the Jewish and Christian faith. It is assumed that the common scripture both religions share is interpreted the same, which is not entirely true. The Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament are identical texts interpreted in different ways. The Hebrew bible is supplemented by the Torah and the Oral Torah, allowing rabbis overtime to give the Torah a living, breathing value. Collectively, they give instructions to become righteous Jews by upholding the Torah and living by God’s commandments. For Christians, the Old Testament provides rules or commandments to achieve salvation, and even in following these rules, humans have a nature of sin and can never achieve perfect salvation without Jesus.

            Not only do both religions differ in their interpretations of sacred text, but they also differ in religious observation. While observant Jews follow kosher dietary restrictions and respect the sabbath on Saturdays, most Christians are free to eat what they want and only need to attend a church service on Sundays. Also, the initiation process for both religions differs greatly. Young Christians get baptized with holy water while Jewish baby boys get circumcised as the beginning of their spiritual journey. Both of these religions originated from the middle eastern holy land and patriarch of Abraham, yet Huntington does not describe these religions as “Abrahamic.” Although an equally inadequate adjective in describing the three religions’ relationships, it allows for a shared quality to stand out and includes Islam as part of Abrahamic values. However, the author relates the lack of Abrahamic as a direct attack on the Islamic religion as it sets up a dialogue of us (western states) versus Them (Muslims) dialogue.

             This is not the first time Judaism and Christianity developed this type of attitude. Us vs. them attitude was present in the twentieth century in the rise of antisemitism. Through supersessionism or replacement theory, European Christians sought to eradicate Jews from the bible, the origin story of Jesus, and the world. The anti-semitic feelings coming from the church did not come overnight. It began with the beginning of the church and grew as Christianity grew into an established religion. Fuel was later added to the fire when theologians like Martin Luther wrote a book titled The Jews and Their Lies, advising people to set fire to Jewish homes and remind their Jewish counterparts that they are the devil incarnate. This and many other similar attitudes formed the ideology of the Third Reich. German nazis used Christianity as a weapon for Jewish hatred by promoting ideas like the Aryan Jesus and taking to their advantage the neutrality of the Vatican during the second world war. Since the Vatican chose to remain neutral throughout the war, the Nazis took the passive answer as a form of approval of their eradication of Jews. Hoffman points out that European Christians were well aware of the persecution going on well before the second world war, and the time for Christians, specifically Protestants and Catholics, was ten years before the war. The lack of outrage from Christians also paved the way for antisemitism in America. The idea that Judaism was just outdated Christianity and there was no longer a need for it was spreading. Throughout the civil war, Jewish people were discriminated against as Sunday was seen as the only holy obligation day of rest, and they were not allowed access to rabbis, only priests. These actions grew into hatred on a political scale and allowed for open anti-Semitic dialogue throughout the 19th century fueling the genocidal behavior of the 20th century.

            Overall, Huntington’s description of “Judeo-Christian” values is not enough to call Israel a western civilization as it incorrectly groups Christianity and Judaism together. Judaism flourishes outside of its nation-state of Israel and the United States in Asia, North Africa, and various countries in the Middle East, thus invalidating the idea that Jewish civilization is westernized. Ultimately, the term Judeo-Christian is an insufficient term to group two religions that are both their own and, at their core, have almost nothing in common.

Dominique Rebekah Hoffman graduated from the College of Social Sciences at Florida State University. This post is based on Dominique’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP blog intern Camila Levy. You can learn more about Dominique’s work here. You can learn more about Dominique here.

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