The “Christianization” of Israel and Jews in 1950s America

Κατὰ ἕνα καταρχὰς παράδοξο τρόπο, ὁ ἀντικομμουνισμὸς τοῦ Ψυχροῦ Πολέμου, καὶ ἕνα ἀπὸ τὰ βασικὰ ἰδεολογικὰ ἀποκούμπια τοῦ παραδοσιακοῦ «συντηρητισμοῦ», ὁ Στρατός, ὁδήγησαν τὶς ΗΠΑ καὶ τοὺς Ἀμερικανοὺς στὸν θρησκευτικὸ «οἰκουμενισμό» -κι ὄχι ὁ ἀντιναζιστικὸς πόλεμος (ὄχι, δηλαδή, ἡ ἀντίληψη «ὁ ἑβραῖος ἐχθρὸς τοῦ γερμανοῦ ἐχθροῦ μου εἶναι φίλος»). Ἄλλωστε κατ’ ἀντιστοιχία, στὶς τάξεις καὶ τοῦ δικού μας, Ἑλληνικοῦ, Στρατοῦ βρίσκει κάποιος οὐκ ὀλίγους φιλοπαγανιστὲς καὶ ὁπαδοὺς τῶν ἀπόψεων περὶ ὁμάδας Ἔψιλον. Πιὸ παράδοξο εἶναι τὸ γεγονὸς ὅτι ἐνῶ οἱ μεσοπολεμικὲς ἀπόπειρες γιὰ δημιουργία ἰσραηλινοῦ κράτους ἔγιναν ἀπὸ σοσιαλιστὲς καὶ κοσμικιστὲς Ἑβραίους, οἱ ἀμερικανοὶ Προτεστάντες ποὺ προωθοῦσαν τὸν θρησκευτικὸ οἰκουμενισμὸ εἶχαν κατὰ νοῦ τελείως ἄλλου τύπου Ἑβραίους. Στὶς μέρες μας, βλέπουμε μιὰ ἄλλη ἀντίστοιχη μεγάλη ἰδεολογικὴ σύγκρουση, τὸν ἀγώνα νὰ ἐνταχθεῖ τὸ Ἰσλὰμ μὲ τὸν α ἢ τὸν β τρόπο (ἀπὸ τὴν Ὕστερη Ἀρχαιότητα ἕως τὸν δυτικὸ Μεσαίωνα καὶ σήμερα) στὸν λεγόμενο «δυτικὸ πολιτισμό»· ὁ ὁποῖος ἔχει ἤδη ἀπωλέσει τὴν οὐσία του: τὸν ἑλληνορωμαϊκὸ Χριστιανισμό.

M. Mart, The “Christianization” of Israel and Jews in 1950s America, Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, 14.1 (2004) 109-147:

The religious message of the Cold War that saw the God-fearing West united against atheistic Communists encouraged an unprecedented ecumenism in American history. 2 Moreover, Jews, formerly objects of indifference if not disdain and hatred in the United States, were swept up in the ecumenical tide of “Judeo-Christian” values and identity. Jews and Christians were partners in a “Judeo- Christian” civilization. Jews, thus, were “Christianized” in popular and political culture. Not surprisingly, the popular embrace of Judeo-Christian identity and the concomitant “Christianization” of Jews also affected attitudes toward the State of Israel. The biblical roots of the Jewish state elevated it to a special status. In the popular and political imagination, Israel was formed by the “Chosen People” and populated by prophets, warriors, and simple folk like those in Bible stories. The popular celebration of Israel also romanticized its people at the expense of their Arab (mainly Muslim) neighbors. Battling foes outside of the Judeo-Christian family, Israelis seemed just like Americans. A discussion of this cultural narrative is not meant to deny that other factors—including the longstanding sympathy among some Protestants for Zionism and the strategic calculations of securing a pro-Western ally in the Middle East—contributed to American support of Israel in the 1950s. Nevertheless, the embrace of the Judeo-Christian concept and the cultural images that came with it powerfully reinforced historical precedent, Cold War strategy, and other political factors. […]

What was new was the celebration of internationalism in the public culture beginning with World War II. Internationalism reshaped religious identity and its connection with national identity. From an internationalist perspective, Americans had to assume an identity beyond that of their own church. That encouraged ecumenical alliances. As one religion scholar has observed, the mid-twentieth century was a time of “formal ecumenical advance unmatched in previous centuries.” The National Association of Evangelicals formed in 1942, the World Council of Churches in 1948, and the National Council of Churches in 1950. The ecumenism of the postwar years and the belief in the universality of Christian values convinced Protestant leaders that their religion could be the blueprint for an international postwar order. […] since postwar dangers seemed so great, many Americans were motivated to seek religious alliances outside of the Protestant faith. […]

The idea of a Judeo-Christian identity took on new importance in the 1950s. The move to turn American spiritual values into universal moral values rested on an assumed triad of religious identity, “Protestant-Catholic-Jew.” Sociologist Will Herberg explains the label in his 1955 book of the same name; Americans saw the three religions, he argues, as “three diverse, but equally legitimate, equally American expressions of an over-all American religion standing for essentially the same ‘moral ideals’ and ‘spiritual values.’” […]

The idea of a Judeo-Christian heritage predated the Cold War but was not widespread before then. In the 1930s, the term was a social and political description used mainly by intellectuals and social critics after fascists and anti-Semites appropriated the term “Christian” to describe themselves. […]

it was the armed forces during World War II that led the way in making Judeo-Christian identity a common assumption. Equality in the treatment of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism, and an effort by chaplains to reach out to people of all faiths, became “standard operating procedure” in the military. Training for chaplains emphasized ecumenism, with the clergy bunking together, sharing their backgrounds, and learning about other religions. Soldiers were affected when they were required, for example, to attend ecumenical programs on their bases or to celebrate religious holidays that might otherwise have been ignored. Moore observes: “Wartime politics and the need for unity . . . brought religion closer to universalist political ideologies.” […]

while the social consequences of the military’s policies were significant, many Americans in the military appeared reluctant to embrace the Judeo-Christian heritage and its legacy of tolerance as their own. As Moore observes, not all chaplains or enlisted men subscribed to the ecumenism of the military bureaucracy. For example, when a rabbi was chosen to dedicate the marine cemetery following the Battle of Iwo Jima, some of the other chaplains objected and pressured the divisional chaplain to cancel his plans. 28 Such examples of anti-Semitism were repeated numerous times. In fact, anti-Semitism in the United States reached its height at the end of the war. Yet, just a few years later, the Cold War, especially in the 1950s, helped to bring the wide- spread cultural and political acceptance of Jews, who were finally seen as part of a Western Judeo-Christian heritage in a world threatened by atheistic Communism. […]

The wartime military, then, led the way to the embrace of Judeo-Christianity, … the military led the way in postwar civil rights with its 1948 desegregation of the armed forces and affirmative action practices […]

The inclusion of Jews in the Judeo-Christian brotherhood was surprising, considering the anti-Semitism of the early twentieth century, which was based on religious, economic, political, and racial prejudice. For example, numerous criticisms of Woodrow Wilson’s nomination of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court included the plea to have only “white men” on the court. In the decade after World War I, anti-Semitism rose, buoyed by the stereotype that Jews were radicals just like those who had led the revolution in Russia. Henry Ford also helped to popularize anti-Semitism in the 1920s in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, and its series “The International Jew.” The paper’s circulation grew dramatically in the years of this intermittent series, and it garnered praise and contributions from many. Also in the 1920s, numerous restrictions against Jews were enacted. Discriminations included closed housing markets, employment ads that called for “Christians only,” and quotas limiting the numbers of Jews at universities. Immigration law was also changed to keep out many Jews and other “undesirables.” And while anti-Semitism worsened in Europe during the 1930s, it also increased in the United States. More than a hundred anti-Semitic organizations were created in the decade. By the end of the 1930s, more than 60 percent of respondents to a national poll had a negative view of Jews, including the idea that they were greedy, dishonest, and aggressive. […]

Before the 1950s, Christian leaders and movements usually mirrored the cultural emphasis on assimilation and sometimes shared the anti-Semitic beliefs of many Americans. Anti-Semitism could be found among all religious groups, including liberal Protestants, who preached tolerance but hoped for general assimilation and accommodation. It was equally common among Catholics […]

the beginning of the Cold War changed the views of many evangelicals who “shift[ed] . . . the central Antichrist focus from Jews, modernism, or Catholicism to communism, in the process making alliances with conservative, McCarthyist Roman Catholics and, in conjunction with the prophetic importance of the state of Israel, with Judaism.” […]

Many fundamentalist church groups supported the Jewish claims to the city because they believed that the Jewish return to the Holy Land was the necessary prelude to the Second Coming. […] But other liberal Protestants, such as the editors of the nondenominational weekly Christian Century, opposed Zionism and favored an international Jerusalem. Some of the anti-Zionist Protestant leaders based their views on a missionary background and work with Arab educational institutions or oil companies. […]

The inclusion of Jews in this shared heritage was ironic. Previously, the Christian image of Jews was dominated by negative views of their religion and unflattering social stereotypes. In the 1950s, that image was superceded by the idea that the Jews were the founders of Western monotheism. […]

The Judaism of The Prodigal, like Judeo-Christianity in the twentieth century, appeared to be based on true spirituality, ideals, and ethics, while the pagans of the film—and the modern Soviets—reduced everything to a physical, materialist equation. […]

Amid Cold War pressures to diminish differences among Western peoples, Jews were effectively “Christianized” in the public culture.

Γιὰ τὸν προτεσταντικό (καὶ κατ’ ἐπέκταση Ἀμερικανικό) ψευδοϊουδαϊσμό, βλ. κάποιες σκέψεις ἐδῶ (μεταξὺ ἄλλων).

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