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Americas Judeo-Christian tradition

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Recently I wrote a column mentioning our Judeo-Christian tradition. A few people objected to my use of that phrase to describe America so I wanted to state specifically why I used the phrase Judeo-Christian tradition.

In that column I did not either directly or by inference state, as Barack Obama did in an April 6 news conference with Turkey’s president, that we are not a Christian nation or secularism is what makes America great.

"That’s something that’s very important to me," Obama said. "And I’ve said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is – although as I mentioned we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

Looking back in history our Founders viewed themselves as heirs to the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible as much as the New. They also identified strongly with the Jews.

Many of America’s early statesmen and educators were schooled in Hebraic civilization. Hebrew and the study of Hebraic laws and institutions were an integral part of Yale’s as well as of Harvard’s curriculum. Much the same may be said of King’s College (later Columbia University), William and Mary, Rutgers, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Brown University. Hebrew learning was then deemed a basic element of liberal education.

During the colonial and constitution-making period, the Americans, especially the Puritans, adopted and adapted various Hebraic laws for their own governance. The legislation of New Haven, for example, was based on the premise that "the judicial laws of God, as they were delivered by Moses, and as they are not ceremonial, shall generally bind all offenders …"

Thirty-eight of the seventy-nine statutes in the New Haven Code of 1665 derived their authority from the Hebrew Bible. The laws of Massachusetts were based on the same foundation.

Much of the construction of our government is based on Hebraic tradition. The House of Representatives represents 435 districts of the United States, where the people of each district elect one person to represent their views and interests. The idea of district elections is implicit in the Torah. The Senate represents the 50 states of the Federal Union; it therefore represents the Federal principle. But the idea of federalism goes back to the Torah and the twelve tribes. Each tribe had its distinct identity, its own governor and its own judicial system.

This in no way diminishes the contributions of political philosophers such as Locke and Montesquieu but it does illustrate our Founding Fathers used many different principles, including religious principles, in the establishment of our government.

Our nation’s motto: "In God We Trust" is found on all our coinage, engraved on walls of both houses of Congress, and every session of Congress begins with a prayer by its chaplain, the Capitol’s prayer room has a glass window depicting Washington in prayer surrounded by a quotation of Psalm 16:1. Just over the head of the Chief Justice the Ten Commandments are emblazoned on the wall in the Supreme Court as evidence they are a symbol of the source of all our laws. Biblical quotations are etched on and in the Washington Monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Library of Congress and many other official buildings. Our Pledge of allegiance is to the flag of "One Nation under God."

Surely, no intellectually honest person can deny our nation exists on the bedrock of biblical Christianity and has so prospered. Now strangely, and in spite of our strong spiritual heritage, as so often happens when man becomes prosperous, he ignores early teachings, turns his back on God and begins to create an immoral society for his own pleasure.

Several basic understandings are shared between Judeo-Christian tradition and rights-thinking. These include: All humans have inherent human worth. Individuals are responsible for their own actions, and are not in any way predetermined on a course of action or a place in society. There exists a right and a wrong. There are universal values and there is at least an underlying universal morality (as opposed to culturally-bound morality or individual morality – humanism). The individual, rather than the community, the family, the tribe, is the main referent (basically individualistic way of thinking).

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