Just say Christian

The National Review‘s David French thought it was kind of silly that I and others took issue with Heidi Cruz embracing theocracy on behalf of her husband this week. In his telling, it isn’t at all problematic for Cruz to have said that her husband will govern  with a “combination of the law and religion” because, well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be:

The Christian flag flying over the American flag, via WBTV

The Christian flag flying over the American flag, via WBTV

In reality, Heidi Cruz’s comment represents a standard (and accurate) expression not just of Evangelical beliefs, but also of American history…As for Cruz’s statement that our nation was built on “Judeo-Christian values,” only sheer ahistorical revisionism would downplay the role of the Christian faith and Judeo-Christian values not just with the Founders, but in the founding generation, and the generations that followed. Though there have been (and are) many notable and patriotic atheists who’ve made immense contributions to American life, atheism did not build the United States of America.

Moreover, it’s critical to remind Americans — especially when the media exalts and celebrates secularism — that, yes, our commitment to individual liberty is derived in large part because our earliest Christian settlers fled religious persecution and — ultimately — envisioned a nation uniquely dedicated to limited government and individual liberty — including religious liberty. The Establishment Clause, in fact, was envisioned as a guarantor of religious freedom — and not as it is used today, as a mighty hammer of state religious discrimination.

I agree with Heidi. A President Cruz would safeguard individual liberty because he’s a Christian, not in spite of his faith.

There’s a lot going on here, starting with the rather puzzling assertion that a President Cruz would protect individual (religious) freedoms after preaching a particularly intrusive and privileged brand of Christianity on the campaign trail. But perhaps even stranger is the way that French and Heidi Cruz both seamlessly transitioned between insisting that America was founded on “Judeo-Christian values” and reminding us that America has a particularly Christian (as in, not Jewish) character.

I’ve touched on this in a few other posts, but it’s time to give the term “Judeo-Christian values” a full hearing. The phrase lends the pretense of pluralism to an argument for the privilege of one particular faith. It is as deceptive as it is offensive.

I should start by acknowledging that both French and Heidi Cruz gave a fairly standard recitation of the conservative Christian defense of Christian privilege in the public sphere. It’s an argument that we’ve all heard before. It makes use of the term “Judeo-Christian values” to give a necessary nod to the religious pluralism enshrined in the Constitution before reminding us that we wouldn’t be here without Christianity in particular, since the Europeans who came to North America and founded what would eventually become the United States were Christians (fleeing persecution from other Christians, I might add).

As Heidi Cruz said, “this Christian God that we serve is the foundation of our country, our country was built on Judeo-Christian values.” When the nod to pluralism comes second, not first, its emptiness is made slightly more plain. Either way, the argument is the same: Despite the fact that the Constitution explicitly says that the government shall remain neutral in religious matters, Christians get to be slightly more equal than everyone else. In Cruz’s and French’s tellings, they earned it because they were here first.

I think this is a bad argument, but at least it’s coherent. However, if you really want to make the case that Christians deserve special privileges — such as the right to federally-funded discrimination in the name of their faith — then you’ll have to leave the Jews out of it. There’s a reason why you never hear Jews talking up the role that “Judeo-Christian” values played in forming our country: we know that, until relatively recently, we were carefully and systematically marginalized in American society by the same Christians who now use us as a crutch to hold up their own privilege.

To take just one example, you can trace the historical roots of our selective college admissions process to the exclusion of Jews. As Jerome Karabel documents in The Chosen: A Hidden History of Exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton, American colleges’ admissions processes were originally quite simple. Applicants would take an entrance exam — usually consisting of math, English and Greek and/or Latin — and if they passed, they were in. Then, in the early 1900s, elite universities were faced with a dilemma: the children of recent Jewish immigrants had started taking (and passing) these entrance exams, but the universities wanted to keep them out. Because they were Jewish. The solution that Harvard, Yale and Princeton came up with was to start considering things other than the entrance exam when admitting students — attributes like character, legacy, physical fitness and personal appearance. These were metrics on which Jews just so happened to be rated poorly. Columbia was one of the few elite institutions to resist this change, and to this day it is considered the Jewish Ivy.

The effects of Harvard, Yale and Princeton’s decision to start applying additional filters to screen the Jews out are still being felt today. Athletic scholarships associated with big-money college sports and legacy admissions are elements of our higher education system that are particular and integral to the United States, and they both draw their roots from anti-Jewish animus. And again, that’s just one example.

All this is to say that when one says that America was built on “Judeo-Christian values,” it would be more accurate to say that America was built on “anti-Judeo, Christian” values, which don’t sound quite as necessary to maintain privilege for. This being the case, it is particularly self-serving and offensive for conservative Christians to invite Jews to America’s founding party after decades of marginalization.

David French may be right to say that “atheism did not build the United States of America,” but neither did Judaism, and that’s because Christians intentionally and systematically made it difficult for non-Christians to openly and fully participate in American society. I happen to think this is a tradition we should be moving away from, not celebrating. Apologies to French if that offends.

So again, if you want to make the case that America is a fundamentally Christian nation, and that the government’s neutrality on religious matters doesn’t apply to Christianity the same way it applies to other religions, then go ahead make that case. If you’re going to argue that the Establishment Clause doesn’t mean what it says — if you’re going to argue that Jefferson’s wall of separation is just for show — then let your argument stand on its own merits. Don’t co-opt the United States’ ethic of religious pluralism to imply that one religious tradition should be placed above others, and don’t co-opt another religious tradition to do so without its members’ consent.

Just say Christian. We all know that’s what you mean.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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45 Responses to “Just say Christian”

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  2. Ol' Hippy says:

    If I wanted to get preached to I’d quit watching football and go to church. We certainly DON’T need a president shilling for church in office as head of state. These deluded fools make me sick thinking any of their happy horseshit will help them run this country. If that’s what they want they can watch Joel Olsteen and let the country be run by a leader that leaves church at the pulpit.

  3. basenjilover says:

    To paraphrase the Alaskan feral remark (on passing of Scalia) “Can I get a Hallelujah!”. Pretty much of how I feel about this immigrant’s son.

  4. 2karmanot says:

    Heidi-poo is ‘The Handmaiden’ s Tail.’

  5. newsriffs says:

    When Christians want some discriminatory policies based on their religious prejudices, they always drag the Jews into it, to share the blame. Like, “Let’s persecute Gay people, not because we’re hateful Christians, but because the Judeos made us do it.”

    If they mean that according to their interpretation, they pray to the same “sky god”, then they should also acknowledge that it’s “Judeo-Islamic-Christian” tradition with which they wish to hit us over the head with. Since Muslims also believe they’re praying to the same “sky god”.

    It’s like when Christians call the Bible, the “Old Testament”…..excuse me, you can call your book whatever you wish, but to us, that Bible is the Bible, not an “old” anything. Because I am sure that the Christians who want US law to match their religious law, don’t acknowledge the Koran as the “New, and Improved” Bible, anymore that they would acknowledge that the Book of Mormon is the “Newest Testament”.

  6. RepubAnon says:

    The actual Republican position is that a Democratic President cannot make appointments… period.

  7. The_Fixer says:

    When I say that I don’t shut up, what’s meant is that I contest those who wish to impose their belief system upon me, and/or wish to turn government into a religious affair.

    Yes, I don’t shut up simply because they don’t shut up. The way to get one’s point across is not to acquiesce through silence. I feel that the Dominionists have nothing less than full control of the government in their sights, and it is important to fight that – not only for my own sake, but for those folks who may be what I term “benignly religious.” The Dominionists are convinced that theirs is the only true religion, to the exclusion of all others and non-believers as well.

    Hope that clears it up.

  8. Don Chandler says:

    I don’t think Christians built this country. Neither did Atheists. It was Secularists that built this country.

  9. Don Chandler says:

    Funny you should mention lies and Christianity…Ted Cruz is probably the biggest liar running for Christian president. At one point in the republican debate, they were all calling each other liars. Ofc, they are all right about the universal lies. Ted says he’s going to filibuster ‘any’ supreme court nominee by Obama to fill Scalia’s spot. He’s saying a president can’t make appointments after 3 years of a term–this is bullshit and a “Christian Cruz Lie”. At least Trump said he’d nominate a supreme court justice in his last year of a presidency. So Cruz is running for a 3 year term of president–he’s such an idiot.

  10. RepubAnon says:

    It’s only certain flavors of Christianity, too. Catholics, for example, are not considered as true “Christians” by these folks – and don’t get them started on Mormons.

    Were they to observe to commandment forbidding them to lie, they’d change the name from “Judeo-Christian values” to “Bigoted Christian values.”

  11. Don Chandler says:

    He was a so called ‘originalist’ and that meant he got to decide what the framers meant…a lot of nonsense. Yeah, like yourself, I would have been happy to see him retire, but tyrants deserve harsh critics. Scalia was a tyrant, and he loved the role.

    So, I’d read awhile ago that Ginsburg didn’t want to resign because she didn’t think Obama could get a liberal judge through congress to replace her. Well, originally, the framers intended that the president would chose the supreme court nominee and congress would ratify the nominee if they were law abiding citizens. That should be an ‘originalist’ position. Hah! Congress will exceed their ‘intended’ authority and reject Obama’s choice…and I hope they pay for it.

  12. BeccaM says:

    Saw that. Justice Scalia is dead, age 79, died at his Texas ranch this morning.

    I won’t say I wished him dead, but for at least the last 10 years I’ve been wishing fervently he’d just frickin’ retire.

    His passing is not a great loss for America nor for the Supreme Court, given his propensity for ignoring precedent and basically contorting the law to mean whatever he wants it to mean at any given time. Religious freedom for Christians…but not for anybody else. And then there’s the Citizens United decision, his votes to overturn the PPACA on irrational grounds, and his worst vote of all, the one which put George W. Bush in the White House despite losing both the popular vote and a fair counting of Florida’s votes.

  13. Don Chandler says:

    Big news in Texas.

  14. Don Chandler says:

    I’m pretty sure that the national review is only interested in bringing Christians and Jews together for voting purposes. These days, the national review is just an extended GOP propaganda org. At one point the nr had real debate but now it’s merely promoting voter discipline–no dissension/discussion tolerated.

    Incidentally, the term Judaeo-Christian isn’t very old:

    The earliest use of the term “Judeo-Christian” in the historical sense dates to 1829 in the missionary journal of Joseph Wolff,[2] and before that as “Judeo Christian” in a letter from Alexander M’Caul dated October 17, 1821.[3] The former appears in discussions of theories of the emergence of Christianity, and both are used with a different sense from the one common today. “Judeo-Christian” here referred to Jewish converts to Christianity.[4]–wikipedia.

    Ofc, the Judeo-Christian terminology has been used in culture wars and is now being used to undermine our Constitution. Considering that the national review likes the idea of ‘ecumenical’ processes to garner ‘christian votes’, they most certainly want the “jewish vote” too….

    Like so many folks here, I’ve never heard a Jewish person use the Judeo-Christian term without some level of contempt. It’s use by shameless politicians peaks during election year.

  15. keirmeister says:

    “Our earliest Christian settlers fled religious persecution and — ultimately — envisioned a nation uniquely dedicated to limited government and individual liberty — including religious liberty.”

    The Salem Witch Trials.

    Enough said.

  16. hiker_sf says:

    I guess you missed stories about our founding fathers dining on matzo-ball soup and gefilte fish. :-)

  17. Houndentenor says:

    That’s always an odd sort of logic. Christian teaching (except of the most radical sort) up until the last 200 years or so taught “the divine right of kings”. It’s not unlike Dominionism now that I think about it. God put certain people in power and we have no right to question their authority! Fortunately there was some loosening of those ideas in the Enlightenment and voila revolutions first in the US, then in France and by 1848 pretty much throughout Europe. But none of that was based on traditional Christian teachings.

  18. Houndentenor says:

    This happened to all sorts of out groups, Catholics in particular. Religious tolerance for most of US history meant that the Methodists and the Presbyterians could be civil to each other in public.

  19. Houndentenor says:

    I’ve never heard a Jew say the term “Judeo-Christian” in reference to anything. Not even in almost a decade of being in Temple almost every Friday night and hearing over a dozen different rabbis speak. Not once. Has anyone? It’s a way of sounding inclusive without actually being so. (I did however hear one rabbi talk about how Judaism and Islam are the only monotheist religions. He considered the trinity to be polytheistic. Take that, Christians!)

  20. rmthunter says:

    It was quite common in the ancient Middle East for groups — tribes, towns, nations — to have one god out of the pantheon as their particular patron. Somewhere along the line the ancient Israelites seem to have taken that a step farther.

  21. rmthunter says:

    Ironically enough, the Establishment Clause was at least in part a nod to the Baptists, who were one of the persecuted minorities at the time.

    As for the “Christian God” — I’ve never heard an explanation of how the idea of “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” which implies that the other gods exist but are to take secondary roles, became “Thou shalt have no other gods.”

  22. rmthunter says:

    “Do the Christian Right followers who hide behind the term “Judeo-Christian” think that people are too stupid to realize that?”

    Short answer: Yes.

  23. rmthunter says:

    Actually, the idea of one man dying for the people is much older than the Greeks: it’s the ancient archetype of the Sacrificed God found in Indo-European and Near Eastern mythologies going back to the beginnings of civilization and before: Adonis, Osiris, Baldur, Dionysus, Siva, and on down the line.

    The (heavily mythologized) life of Jesus is simply another telling of the tale of the Hero: miraculous birth accompanied by signs and portents, precocious accomplishments, banishment/wandering away from the people, defeating monsters, return to transform the society.

    As for the “values” part, I’d really like one of these “Judaeo-Christian” enthusiasts to lay out specifically what those values are — on that part of it, they’re pretty much mum.

  24. rmthunter says:

    Sorry, but in the main French is flat-out wrong. There’s nothing in the “Judaeo-Christian values” much touted by the right that is specifically Jewish or Christian (unless you want to argue that xenophobia, genocide, and a tendency toward authoritarianism are somehow essentially American) — the better parts are pretty much common to all religions. He’s merely arguing demographics as guiding principles. It’s not historical revisionism to say that the United States is a child of the Enlightenment, and owes much more to the philosophers of the 18th century than it does to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay.

  25. Bill_Perdue says:

    Cultists and other religionists promote anti-scientific ignorance, wars of aggression if their country is committing them, slavery and the plunder of the wealth of others and colonialist aggression. They also promote misogyny and gay hating.

    They have no redeeming features and should be taxed until they fall and can’t get up. the goal of the left is to to abolish them.

  26. hauksdottir says:

    “I am the Lord your God, and thou shall have no other Gods before me” rather explicitly claims that there are other gods.

    Perhaps every group has their own God, but Jews have this particularly jealous Dog-in-the-manger, which Christians co-opted and triplicated. The three Peoples-of-the-Book *supposedly* share a belief in the same deity. However, supporters of the Christian God have this superiority complex, bolstered by bloody crusades and mass conversions at the point of the sword, as well as modern extermination pogroms.

    They say their Sky Daddy can whip the other Sky Daddies, because they have been so efficient at demonizing and killing other peoples. A thousand years ago, Christians defeated the Moors. Now that asymmetrical warfare has risen in effectiveness, followers of Allah are widening cracks in that shell of superiority.

    Humans create gods in their own image.

    The “Face of God” envisioned by Heidi Cruz is an even more monstrous face than that of her patriarchal overlord, aka husband.

    I shudder.

  27. nofauxnews says:

    Cruz-boy is a dominionist who believes the US should be a fundamentalist christian theocracy. He believes that he has been “ordained by god” to lead the country towards that goal.

  28. UncleBucky says:

    I’m the same way.

    It’s like a control system. Bzzzzttt, here comes a “christianIST” and “THWACK” comes my flyswatter.

  29. UncleBucky says:

    He wants people to call him “Pastor Cruz, President of the New United States”…

    Not gonna happen, “Calgary Cruz”, you got a lawsuit comin’ at ya.

  30. UncleBucky says:

    The Christian God is meant to insinuate that Allah and God and YHWH are not the same, because “Christ” or some such blather. No, I know. It’s because ONLY with “Christ” do you get the “ticket to heaven” just for saying the magic words.

  31. BeccaM says:

    Absolutely. As everyone here has been noting, nobody but Christians use the term Judeo-Christian and it’s always in the context of them wanting to seem religiously inclusive of just one faith other than their own, and so they fall on the cultural predecessor of Christianity.

    But let’s make no mistake: In America, for a very long time it was nothing but bare tolerance and sometimes even that. My own mother-in-law (now passed on) used to tell us stories of being turned away repeatedly for jobs as an RN. Reason? More than once she was told it was because she was pardon the term “a Jewess.” (Actually she and her entire family were Lutheran and had been for as many generations as anyone knew. But she had dark curly hair and a large nose, and that was enough to qualify as a Jew in Wisconsin in the 1930s and 40s.) And a lot of folks forget that rampant anti-Semitism wasn’t limited to just the one country in Europe at the time. It was way big here in the States.

    In way, this reminds me of the critical distinction someone once made (sorry, wish I could remember who exactly, but I can’t) between tolerance and acceptance, with regard to gay people. Acceptance is when your sexual orientation is irrelevant and you’re seen as 100% equal as a human being. Acceptance is support for full LGBT rights, including protection from employment discrimination, marriage equality, etc. Tolerance, on the other hand, is usually the best we get from the religious fundamentalists, where they’re not saying we should be tossed into prison, but they still think LGBT people are morally defective and therefore really have no business demanding equal rights and full integration into culture and society.

    Put bluntly, many of these fundamentalist Christians merely tolerate Judaism. If you ask them, they’ll state flat out that because Jews haven’t been ‘saved’ by Jesus, they’re going to Hell when they die, a situation supposedly made worse by the fact they know about Jesus but refuse to convert to Christianity.

    If you believe other people are going to be punished and tortured forever and ever because they don’t believe as you do, that’s tolerance at best not acceptance.

    So yeah, the ‘Judeo-‘ prefix is meaningless. In practice, for those who insist America is a ‘Judeo-Christian’ nation, they don’t actually mean to include the Jews, save as a tolerated but still eternally-damned people.

  32. lawrence090469 says:

    Who are all these Judo Christians, and why can’t they just do regular American karate like Chuck Norris?

  33. nicho says:

    And one more thing. Christian “values” are more closely connected to the Greeks and specifically Greek Stoics. The idea of one man dying for the people is not Jewish, but Greek. The notion of a sacred meal in which you devour the god — again Greek. The idea of sex for nothing more than procreation — specifically Stoic. In Jewish thought the Messiah wasn’t supposed to be a god — just a guy who brings about a change in the world. The Christus myth, which was around for a long time before Jesus, is Greek. Heaven and hell? Not Jewish at all. You don’t hear a lot of Jews saying “Judeo-Christian.”

  34. nicho says:

    The Christians who came here did not come seeking “religious liberty.” They came here specifically to set up a theocracy — without individual liberty – and having a small, but very rigid government. The early years were extremely oppressive, which is exactly why the Founders built a wall between religion and the public sphere.

    Anyone who wants to know more should read “The Godless Constitution” It’s a short, but very informative book that explains the whole issue.

    Big government didn’t come along until the corporations declared themselves persons and corporations started to get bigger and more powerful. Anyone who wants to shrink government needs to shrink the size and power of corporations first. Anything else is suicide.

  35. FLL says:

    The conflation of Jews and Christians in American history that fundamentalist Christians typically use is profoundly hypocritical. The Jews that have interacted with Americans since the founding of the republic have not been ancient Israelites, but rather Jews of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Now take a minute to consider that during these centuries of the early modern and modern historical period, Jews in Western countries have been overwhelmingly in favor of the secularization of Western society, whose impetus was the French and American revolutions. That continually placed them in opposition to the forces of Christian theocracy—whether Roman Catholic or Evangelical Protestant—that have fought against secularization throughout those very same centuries. Christian theocrats everywhere in the Western world also vigorously fought against the legal emancipation of Jews. Do the Christian Right followers who hide behind the term “Judeo-Christian” think that people are too stupid to realize that? My guess is that the term “Judeo-Christian,” as opposed to “Christian” became popular among Christianist theocrats only as a pretense of religious pluralism. The track record of the last three centuries of history in the U.S. and the Western world belies that transparently hypocritical strategy.

  36. J. Gravelle says:

    “…atheism did not build the United States of America…”


    Neither did “people who did not golf” build the USA, nor “folks who don’t swim”, or “citizens who don’t play cribbage”. I don’t think these points can be oversold, but they ARE sadly lost on too many who buy into the converse narrative…

  37. jgcarter56 says:

    Your comment about “…Christians fleeing persecution from other Christians…” is very important in that it goes to the heart of what the separation of church and state is all about; namely, it is to protect religious groups from each other as much as to protect religion from government and vice-versa.

    Also, Heidi Cruz’s comment about “…this Christian God…” implies that there is more than one God and Christians aren’t supposed to believe that.

  38. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    “Which is why Atheists like myself don’t shut up.”

    You don’t shut up, because they don’t shut up? That doesn’t make sense to me. Will you explain further?

  39. The_Fixer says:

    Their entitled to their fantasy, as long as they leave me out of it. But the very nature of their belief system says that it must spread – much like a cancer.

    Which is why Atheists like myself don’t shut up. I think it’s a harmful fantasy to the believer, and worse for the non-believer living under a government led by them. It’s bad enough that they are tax-exempt, they want to run the whole show and I want nothing of that.

  40. Brian Westley says:

    I read some years back that whenever you see “Judeo-Christian”, you can change it to “Christian” without changing the meaning.

  41. dcinsider says:

    It’s Judeo-Christian just without the Judeo.

  42. dcinsider says:


  43. 2karmanot says:

    “The Christianists have never given up in spite of history, facts and logic.” Exactly so, their entire foundation is an imaginary, make believe, fantasy oriented lie at worse and a totally deluded mental illness at best.

  44. 2karmanot says:

    Can we say Ayatollah Cruz now?

  45. The_Fixer says:

    Absolutely correct. Jon, I know that you can’t speak for all Jews, but I suspect that your attitude on this reflects that of most Jews. Although I am not Jewish, I would think it’s patronizing and offensive to be lumped in with the far-right Christians. The “Judeo” part of “Judeo-Christian” was likely added as an afterthought – history shows us that Jews in America have not been given much consideration in public policy, and have been subject to discrimination (at the very least).

    Speaking of history, David French’s statement:

    Moreover, it’s critical to remind Americans — especially when the media exalts and celebrates secularism — that, yes, our commitment to individual liberty is derived in large part because our earliest Christian settlers fled religious persecution and — ultimately — envisioned a nation uniquely dedicated to limited government and individual liberty — including religious liberty.

    is at best, an incomplete relating and understanding of the history of the country. Yes, Pilgrims and other early settlers came here to escape religious persecution, but promptly went about religiously persecuting those of the “wrong” faith or those whom they assessed to be not faithful enough.

    People like French ignore the fact that most of the colonies, prior to the founding of the nation, had their own state religions (which doesn’t sound like limited government to me). Secularism was a condition of joining what was to become the United States simply because not doing so would start an impossible-to-win debate over whose was the “correct” religion. It would take the nation’s attention away from the things that a budding nation needs to do in order to survive.

    Which is where we’re heading now, it seems. The Christianists have never given up in spite of history, facts and logic.

    No, Heidi Cruz’s words mean a great deal, and they are something to which we should pay attention. Their version of a “Judeo-Christian tradition” only involves the Jews when it suits their purpose.

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