Take the Words “Judeo-Christian” Out of Your Damn Mouth

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Recently on Twitter, human-shaped windsock Senator Marco Rubio was victimized by a gang of grieving teenagers from Parkland, FL, so he tweeted out some very wounded word salad, which included this sentence: “We claim a Judea-Christian [sic.] heritage but celebrate arrogance & boasting.” In response, Rabbi and author Danya Ruttenberg tweeted, “This might be a good time to note that ‘Judeo-Christian’ is not a thing and we Jews would like you to stop conflating our tradition with your American Christianity.”

This is a very simple concept. No Jew has ever used the term “Judeo-Christian,” because like the Sinbad movie Shazaam, it does not actually exist. We, the Jews, would like you to please stop fucking using it.

I could stop this article there. That’s all I should have to say—and all Rabbi Ruttenberg should have had to say. It’s a small appeal to basic decency, like “please wash your hands” or “don’t fart in an elevator.” But because Twitter is to basic decency as hydrogen gas was to the Hindenburg, noted collared-shirt-wearer Ben Shapiro, decided that no, the Rabbi was wrong about Judaism. He tweeted that what she had said was “nonsense,” and proceeded to explain to her, and to his 1.22 million followers, that “Judaism and Christianity are deeply intertwined. American Christianity has generally had a deeper love for the Old Testament than European Christianity. And the vast majority of religious American Christians see the Jews as the root of the tree of Christ.”

So now we have to unpack this fragrant bullshit. First of all, the word “intertwined.” An interesting choice! I think from now on I will think of Jesus as “intertwined” with the cross, and while he was up there, the crown of thorns as “intertwined” with his skull. I feel less bad for Leonardo DiCaprio, knowing he just wound up “intertwined” with that bear in The Revenant. I mean, I might have gone with something a little more descriptive, like “systematically brutalized for 2000 years,” but maybe Ben was running low on characters?

I’m going to just pass over the mention of the “Old Testament,” because Ben, being Jewish, knows how irritating that term is to Jews (I mean, we’re still using that book, but we can’t help it, we’re early adopters). He just doesn’t care. I mean, I get it, you have to have a thick skin when you’re selling out your people to the religious right.

But I’m going to dig in to that last line, where Ben definitely thinks the goyim are making a nice compliment! “The roots,” they call us! And you know, Ben, I get it: I definitely like to think of us as the lowest, most primitive rung on the evolutionary ladder of religion. I don’t know about you, but whenever I read about Jewish cemeteries being desecrated, or Nazis out for a nighttime stroll shouting “Jews will not replace us!,” it definitely soothes me to think of how lovingly American Christians have tended to those roots throughout our history. I am sure that the nine hundred Jews on the USS St. Louis in 1939 were deeply reassured, even as their ship was forced to turned away from the lights of Miami and head back to Germany, to know that someday they would be remembered as fertile soil for the “tree of Christ.”

I guess it’s easy to think of us as the roots when they’ve buried so fucking many of us, Benjamin.

Now look. I understand that dunking on an amoral dipshit like Ben Shapiro is rather like trash-talking a small child you have vanquished in a go-kart race. But the fact that this simpering shanda has never had an original thought in his life means that the stuff that falls out of his mouth mirrors what many, many Americans believe. And the reason they believe this particular toxic thing is because it has been parroted by politicians of virtually every flavor and make.

Many, many people use the word “Judeo-Christian.” Most of these people are very nice! I’ve probably used it, too! English is a rich tapestry, full of terms we use unthinkingly, like “rule of thumb.” Most people who aren’t Jews probably think it’s fine, even benevolent. But that’s exactly what makes “Judeo-Christian” so insidious—it sounds benign because it purports to involve Jews in the conversation. As if they’re doing us a favor by remembering we exist. But the people who do it the most, like Mike Pence, view that existence as a necessary evil: 77% of US evangelicals like him believe that the Rapture will come in their lifetimes, and their explicit goal is to route all the Jews back to Israel so it can happen. This is well-documented.

And even when they aren’t zealots like Pence, there are only two reasons why people like Rubio and Shapiro insist on saying “America is a Judeo-Christian nation.” One, because they want to say “Christian” country, but they don’t want to piss off AIPAC donors, or two, because they really want to say “white,” or “not Muslim.” I guarantee you that they also do not mean to include Sephardic Jews, and they definitely don’t mean to include Black Jews. Everything about the term is predicated on bad faith. It needs to die.

Striking a term from a national vocabulary isn’t easy, especially when that term carries a false veneer of respect. But it’s worth trying. Whether you mean it or not, to say “Judeo-Christian” is to conscript Jews into a vision of a Godly, purified America, and that has never, ever, ever worked out well for us. It’s co-opting, it’s colonizing, and it’s condescending. It has comprehensively infected our national political discourse, but so did syphilis, once upon a time, and we figured out how to cure that.

Saying “Judeo-Christian” is like saying “post-racial.” It allows Christians to think that everything’s fine with the Jews now, that we’re cool. That we’ve forgotten.

We have absolutely not forgotten. We are not cool.

Stop fucking saying it.

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Feature image by Christian A. Schröder, via Wikimedia Commons.


Samuel Ashworth's fiction, essays, and criticism have been published in Barrelhouse, Catapult, Nylon, the TLS, Roads & Kingdoms, and The Brooklyn Rail. An MFA student in fiction at George Mason University, he's currently working on a novel about the life and death of a chef, told through his autopsy. Find him being overenthusiastic about stuff on Twitter at @samuelashworth. More from this author →