Why “Judeo-Christian?”

Some readers have inquired why we often use the term “Judeo-Christian” to describe Western culture, instead of just “Christian.” The reason we do so has nothing to do with modern Israel or present-day Judaism. Rather, like much on traditionalRIGHT, it reflects historical accuracy.

Western culture has often been described as a product of Athens and Jerusalem, Athens standing for reason and logic and Jerusalem for monotheism and a moral code. Athens and Jerusalem have often been in tension with each other, and that tension has been one of the sources of Western culture’s dynamism.

While Jesus Christ’s earthly life centered on Jerusalem, the West’s moral code finds its origins there long before he lived. That moral code, including the Ten Commandments, traces to ancient, Old Testament Judaism. So, of course, does monotheism. Western culture is unimaginable without either, much less without both. Hence we describe it as “Judeo-Christian.” Honesty about the historical record demands we do so.

The New Covenant Christ established changes the basis for salvation from following the law laid down in the Old Testament to faith, i.e., accepting Jesus Christ as the Messiah and our Savior. However, the Old Testament remains important to Christians as a moral guide. Christ came, as He reminds us, not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. The Ten Commandments remain mandatory for Christians, as do many other broad rules in the Old Testament, such as charitable giving. It is only narrow rules, such as those pertaining to ritual purity or forbidden foods, that fall away. While the New Covenant supersedes the Old Covenant, it also incorporates important elements of the Old, enough so that our culture remains Judeo-Christian. Again, that is the clear historical record.

Understanding Western culture as Judeo-Christian is especially important for conservatives because it is perhaps the central reason conservatism rejects fascism (and fascism’s sub-set, National Socialism). At its root, fascism was an attempt to abolish the whole Judeo-Christian heritage of Western culture and return to the value system of the ancient world, where power was the highest good. Athens might have been too soft for fascism; Rome and Sparta were more its inspirations. What astonished the ancient world about Christianity was not that its Savior died and rose from the dead; that was claimed by many mystery cults. What was astonishing, indeed incomprehensible to the ancients, was that Jesus Christ said he came to serve, not to be served. That stood the entire ancient world’s hierarchy of values on its head.

Historical accuracy and intellectual honesty—both enemies of cant—are among traditionalRIGHT’s most important values. Appropriately to this topic, they spring from both Jerusalem and Athens. They are Western, and we uphold them for the same reasons we uphold the rest of the West’s heritage: because they are true, because they are good, and because they are ours. May they always remain so, all ideologies to the contrary.