Judeo-Christian Philosophy and the Founding of America

by | Feb 1, 2004 | Philosophy, POLITICS, Religion

A curious notion is mushrooming lately on programs such as “The O’Reilly Factor” and other current events shows. Certain commentators claim that the United States of America owes its existence to what is termed “Judeo-Christian” philosophy. Now I will not dispute that such a philosophy exists or that it has proved influential for the past […]

A curious notion is mushrooming lately on programs such as “The O’Reilly Factor” and other current events shows. Certain commentators claim that the United States of America owes its existence to what is termed “Judeo-Christian” philosophy. Now I will not dispute that such a philosophy exists or that it has proved influential for the past two millennia. I will further stipulate that many persons subscribe to this philosophy’s doctrines, both now and back in the 1700s. What cannot be accepted, either on a philosophical or historical basis, is that such a philosophy could, or in fact did, lead to the creation of the United States. This is because the political theory underpinning the creation of America is contradictory to every religious philosophy on earth. Thus Judeo-Christian philosophy is incapable of creating a country such as the United States. America exists in spite of Judeo-Christian philosophy, not because of it.

Others disagree. Bill O’Reilly has repeatedly argued that America would not exist or have developed as a country save for Judeo-Christian philosophy. On September 10, 2003, O’Reilly discussed this point with failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork:

O’REILLY: Now, I have always based my determination that the Ten Commandments and the Pledge of Allegiance and all this nonsense about the Boy Scouts are definitely wrong by saying that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian philosophy. All right? Philosophy. And that if you strike that philosophy from the public discourse, from the public discourse, you are basically turning your back on how the country was developed. Am I wrong?

BORK: No, you’re right. On the other hand if legislatures decided to turn their back on it, and the public approved of it, that would be one thing. But what is quite wrong is to have judges who are not elected, who are not accountable, decide to knock out these traditional values.

A few days earlier on September 3, 2003 O’Reilly argued with a guest, Professor Marcy Hamilton of Cardoza Law School, regarding the same point. Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News analyst, supports O’Reilly’s thesis. The topic under discussion is the removal of a Ten Commandments display in an Alabama state building being fought by Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore.

O’REILLY: They believe that there was no — and I believe this as well — that there was no imposition of religion by having a symbol of the 10 commandments, which is what Judeo-Christian philosophy is based on and vis a vis our laws are based on Judeo-Christian philosophy.

Discussion follows

O’REILLY: He (Judge Moore) says it was a reminder of what our law system is based upon.

HAMILTON: Well, he’s — actually, that’s factually wrong.

NAPOLITANO: That’s factually correct.

HAMILTON: No.

NAPOLITANO: It’s historically accurate. Everybody who wrote the constitution believes in the 10 commandments and they stated…

O’REILLY: Hold it. What do you think our criminal justice is based upon? Why don’t we have Islamic law here?

HAMILTON: It’s based upon the Magna Carta, the common law of England, the code of Hammurabi (ph) and a lot of other sources.

NAPOLITANO: One of which is the 10 commandments.

O’REILLY: Wait.

NAPOLITANO: No, the framers did not intend to impose any particular religion on this country because they…

O’REILLY: But it isn’t an imposition of religion to put in a plaque. All right now I don’t believe that our law system was based on the magna carta. Okay, I don’t believe that for one second. Not one second.

And I think your interpretation of that is crazy…

HAMILTON: Well, and you are…

O’REILLY: And I’ll tell you why.

HAMILTON: Well, and you are too.

O’REILLY: We fought a war against those people. No, I’m not. I’m right. We fought a war against those people because the magna carta was instituted in a hierarchical way. Our law is based on all men are created and have inalienable rights, not that the king can impose what he
wants.

HAMILTON: No. No. No.

O’REILLY: So you’re wrong on that, professor.

What exactly is Judeo-Christian philosophy? What are its basic tenets and principles and how do they apply to the founding of the United States? O’Reilly never provides a definition. This is a crucial omission as religions contain diverse strains of philosophical thought. For instance, within the Catholic religion one can find differing, even contradictory, philosophical elements. St. Augustine decried reason except when it was used to illuminate the word of God. St. Thomas Aquinas recognized the majesty of human reason to the point of again establishing philosophy as the proper tool for human study of the natural world. Outside of Catholicism one finds the teachings of Protestants as Martin Luther and John Calvin. To what version of Judeo-Christian philosophy does O’Reilly refer when he makes his assertions?

O’Reilly often refers to the central characters of the Bible as philosophers. Yet it is a stretch to consider two such characters, Jesus and Moses, as philosophers using any standard definition of the term. The Oxford Dictionary definition for philosopher is “one versed in philosophy or engaged in its study.” Neither Moses nor Jesus was a philosopher in this sense. Neither worked out (nor even attempted) an integrated philosophical system. Neither used reason to discover natural, or fundamental, truth. Moses presented the revealed word of God as contained in the Ten Commandments; Jesus was an itinerant preacher whose primary concerns were the impending end of the world and personal ethics. As Frederick Copleston wrote,


“He (Jesus) sent His Apostles to preach, not to occupy professors’ chairs. Christianity was

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Michael Marriott is a information technology entreprenuer, having founded several companies in the areas of computer software and consulting in the 1980s and 90s.  His current interest is in the area of Objectivist philosophy, where he is writing a book about fallacies and logical thinking entitled, Follow the Logic. Mr. Marriott has degrees in Computer Technology and Economics. 

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