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Ben Shapiro and the Myth of the Judeo-Christian West
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Ben Shapiro, The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great (New York: Broadside Books 2019)

As the cathedral of Notre Dame burned in Holy Week, Ben Shapiro took time out to tell his vast social media audience that:

“If we wish to uphold the beauty and profundity of the Notre Dame cathedral, that means re-familiarizing ourselves with the philosophy and religious principles that built it.”

ORDER IT NOW

Shapiro went on to clarify that the cathedral was a “central monument to Western civilization, which was built on the Judeo-Christian heritage.”[1]https://twitter.com/benshapiro/status/1117867417831477248

The term ‘Judeo-Christian’ is a favourite of Mr Shapiro’s and appears with wearying frequency throughout his latest bestselling book The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great.

It took an Israeli paper, Ha’aretz to point out the obvious yet unmentionable:

“There certainly seems to be a degree of willful blindness, if not crass manipulation, in Shapiro setting up 12th-14th century France, when Notre Dame was being built, as embodying “Judeo-Christian religious principles,” when during that period France’s Jews were expelled (twice), their holy texts subject to public book burnings and their property confiscated by the crown (several times).

Look at the actual tangible built evidence of the cathedral itself, whose west front is adorned with twin statues: proud Ecclesia (the Church) and Synagoga (with head bowed, blindfolded with a snake, her crown at her feet and the tablets of the law falling from her hands), representing Christianity’s triumph over Judaism.”[2]https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-ben-shapiro...138947

The Times of Israel paper recorded elsewhere that a prominent and influential rabbi, Shlomo Aviner, considered one of the leaders of the religious Zionist movement, had suggested that the burning of Notre Dame could be divine retribution on Catholics. The piece reported:

““The first great Talmud burning happened in Paris, right there at the Notre Dame Cathedral square,” Aviner wrote. “It was the result of the Paris trial in which Jewish sages were forced to debate Christian sages, and the result was the burning of the Talmud. Volumes of Talmud were brought in 20 carts and burned there, 1,200 Talmud volumes. So [the fire demonstrates] ‘there is justice and there is a Judge,’” he wrote, the quote a reference in Jewish religious literature to divine justice.”[3]https://www.timesofisrael.com/radical-rabbi-says-not...rning/

Mass-burnings of the Talmud took place close to the cathedral in 1242 following the debates Rabbi Aviner mentions. The French-born rabbi further elaborated that Christianity

“is our number one enemy throughout history. [They] tried to convert us by arguments and by force, carried out an inquisition against us, burned the Talmud, expulsions, pogroms. Western anti-Semitism draws from Christianity’s hatred of the ‘murderers of God.’ It also had a role in the Holocaust.”

The disputations had arisen after another French Jew, Nicholas Donin, had converted to Catholicism and gone to see Pope Gregory XI in 1238 to warn him of the blasphemies contained in the Talmud and the danger the text posed to a Catholic culture. Among the charges Donin levelled against the Talmud was that it crudely blasphemed Christ and denigrated His mother (Notre Dame) and that it was the basis of a new anti-Christian rabbinic religion which was not the Judaism of the Old Testament, but rather a way of wrenching away the message of those books from their true fulfilment in the New. In so doing, the Talmud it deliberately kept Jews from the light of Christ.

This content of the Talmud was a revelation to most people in Christian Europe at the time. Subsequent scholarship, most recently by Professor Peter Schaefer of Princeton University[4]https://press.princeton.edu/titles/8383.html has largely backed what Donin had to say about the animus and blasphemies contained in the Talmud (primarily but not exclusively the Babylonian Talmud), with the Gospel of St John a particular target of ire. Schaefer and others highlight the extent to which these authoritative texts deliberately slander the holiest elements of the Christian sacred narrative.

More generally, Israel Yuval of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has done much to establish the conclusion that “The polemic with Christianity that gradually came to dominate the Land of Israel was not conducted openly, but in a convoluted and allusive manner. The Talmuds and midrashim do not explicitly state the name of the rival with whom they are struggling, but the shadow of Christianity nevertheless looms in these rabbinic texts.”[5]https://www.academia.edu/37618749/Israel_Jacob_Yuval..._50-74 Long before these debates, St Jerome was well aware of earlier Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament, which he set out to refute with Christian interpretations, producing an authoritative Latin version of the Bible for the purpose of confuting anti-Christian Jewish accounts.

None of this is even alluded to by Mr Shapiro, who goes on to quote the Talmud approvingly and who in the acknowledgements thanks (alongside John Podhoretz and David French, the man Bill Kristol endorsed for President), his “Talmudic study partner Rabbi Moshe Samuels” (Director of Israel Engagement at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York who “recently served as the Director of Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa a service-learning Masa program, spearheading the field of Jewish peoplehood and leadership training”).

It’s worth spending some time on this issue, because anyone who talks about ‘Judeo-Christian’ values, let alone makes the term central to his thesis about the decline of the West, needs to be asked some questions. This is not to deny that the term is sometimes used benignly to signify a willingness to work together with those of another Abrahamic faith on genuinely positive social goals. However, use of the term is suggestive of a political agenda which is in some areas far removed from what a well-informed defender of Christendom will see as worthy of support. As Mr Shapiro is continually hailed as an important ‘conservative thinker’, it is worth asking what his version of conservatism omits and what lies behind the terminology he promotes.

Judeo-Christian

The term Judeo-Christian has an interesting and varied history. A very early user of the term was Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860) who in his lectures on New Testament theology was concerned to understand how Christianity emerged from the religion of the Old Testament and retained certain features of that ‘particularist’ religion of the ‘chosen people’.[6]https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvbkk0mv This section relies on essays from this illuminating collection unless otherwise stated.

For this Protestant German idealist and advocate of higher biblical criticism, the term Judeo-Christianity was a theological term used to distinguish between competing schools of thought following Christ’s founding of the Church. Baur accepted supercessionism, though his further aim was to relegate Catholicism, tainted in his view by Judaism, in favour of a ‘Pauline Christianity’, which he saw as Protestant and uncontaminated by the ‘Judeo-Christianity’ of Catholicism.

This Hegelian approach to religious questions was to have an influence on major political question through Baur’s students at the Tubingen school. In Baur’s hands, the term had a negative meaning and, while it took seriously the Jewish/Hebraic roots of Christianity (especially in terms of a firm monotheism among faithful Hebrews), it in no way endorsed the idea that Judaism had not been superseded by Christianity. Baur’s view sounds odd today, for while Catholicism recognises its continuity with the religion of the Old Testament and the sacrifices of the Temple which would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ’s sacrifice and the Mass which re-presents that event, it has also historically regarded the post-Christ and post-Temple religion of Judaism, as formulated through the Talmud and rabbinic schools, as an enemy of Christianity and a locus of attraction for heretical ‘protesting’ sects.

Baur’s concerns were primarily theological, but at about the same time in France, the term Judeo-Christian took on a political meaning. Joel Sebban has emphasised the way in which the term arose following the French Revolution and Jewish emancipation in 1791. As part of this tradition, the term was taken up much later by Jacques Maritain who sought to build up a liberal Catholic understanding of Judeo-Christianity; this went together with some decidedly heterodox and indeed incoherent ideas of the relationship between Church and State[7]https://muse.jhu.edu/article/635981/summary as well as assigning Judaism a role in salvation history impossible to square with a traditional Catholic understanding.[8]So Maritain can say, for example, “In regard to what touches indirectly on the salvation of the world, [the Jewish people] obeys a calling on which, in my opinion, we should insist above all else and which gives the clue to many an enigma. While the Church is assigned to the work of the supernatural and supratemporal redemption of the world, Israel is assigned, in the order of temporal history and its proper ends, to the work of terrestrial activation of the mass of the world. Though it is not of the world, Israel is there to irritate it, to exasperate it, to move it. As a foreign body, as an activating ferment introduced in the mass, it will not leave the world at rest; it prevents it from sleeping, it teaches the world to be discontented and restless as long as it does not possess God; it stimulates the movement of history.” – a point which Paul Claudel rightly saw as definitely not a ‘Divine Calling’ as Maritain supposed. As one commentator puts it, regarding Claudel’s response, “Claudel found Jewish involvement in modern social unrest completely negative, subversive, and destructive.” https://maritain.nd.edu/ama/Royal/Royal05.pdf It was no coincidence that Maritain ecstatically praised the US Constitution when it came to Church and State relations. His political project was aptly summed up by Aurel Kolnai, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, who wrote of him,

“[Maritain] aims at a compromise, not between the Christian religious position and this or that extra-religious, worldly though naturally justifiable point of view, [but] between the Christian religious position proper, which he espouses whole-heartedly and is eager to make valid, and another position “religious” in nature: that of “temporal” Christendom, Christianity made into the quasi-religion of progressive democracy, Christianity inverted and secularized into the humanistic self-worship of the “person” and of the body politic…What he really has in mind is not an agreement, adjusted to what is attainable according to time and place, between Christ and Caesar, but a synthesis suffused with all the religious afflatus of the soul, between Christ and the idol of modernity: between Christ and His modern caricature; between the true Christ of faith and the substitute Christ of humanism; between Christ and Anti-Christ.”[9]AureL Kolnai, Between Christ and the Idols of Modernity: A Review of Jacques Maritian’s Man and the State collected in Privilege and Liberty and Other Essays in Political Philosophy edited Daniel J. Mahoney (Oxford: Lexington Books 1999) p.176-177.

The seeds of this political trajectory lay, however, much earlier, in the Reformation’s critical interest in the Hebrew Bible and its political implications, which continued through to the Enlightenment. As one scholar puts it,

“In the 16th century, primarily in Protestant milieu, the academic interest in other religions, both Christian and non-Christian, is facilitated by the political campaigns for tolerance and separation between Church and State as well as the search for a prisca theologica (an ur-religion). Evidence of this lineage are two students of John Selden (1584–1654), who wrote many renowned writings on the Hebrew Republic, James Harrington and Thomas Hobbes, both of whom also sought to draw political lessons from the Hebrew scriptures.”[10]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&...=false

As Sebban demonstrates, the concept of Judeo-Christianity certainly goes beyond the boundaries of theology: a fact which all of the authors who locate its origins in the period between the 17th and 18th century appreciate.

America

The US founders, largely Deists rather than orthodox Christians, did not use the term Judeo-Christian, and in the US, where Shapiro’s primary audience is based, the term Judeo-Christian has gone through a number of transformations, coming to the fore in the 1930s as a way of identifying values or beliefs shared by Jewish and Christian traditions with a common Western religious outlook[11]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&...=false. Deborah Dash Moore claims that the term “first came into the public lexicon as a symbolic vehicle of liberal Jewish and Christian leaders…looking to signal their contempt for (and provide an alternative to) pro-Fascist sympathizers and anti-Semites in the United States who had mobilized around the term Christian. Specifically, the term Judeo-Christian was intended to include Jews as one of the three “fighting faiths” of democracy. During the war years, as Moore puts it, “this new creed expressed a distinctive and essentially pluralist American religious faith that underpinned American democracy.”[12]https://thesocietypages.org/files/2013/03/One-Multic...ia.pdfThe term may also have been intended to distance the term ‘Jewish’ from its association with Bolshevism at the time.

By the 1950s, we are told, “Historians are confidently able to identify the precise day, nay, the precise hour, the term “Judeo-Christian tradition” achieved its vaunted victory over the term, “Christian tradition.” It was December 22, 1952, around noontime. On that hour of that day, then President-elect Dwight David Eisenhower made the following remark in the course of a speech: “[O]ur Government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply-felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us, of course, it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion that [teaches] all men are created equal.”[13]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&...=false On the eve of his first inauguration, Eisenhower thus stated clearly: our religion, our deeply-felt religious faith is “the Judeo-Christian concept.” In other words, according to Eisenhower, when the Declaration of Independence of the United States proclaimed that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” it did not allude to the Christian tradition, but to the Judeo-Christian tradition.”[14]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&...=false

During this decade, Moore points out that “one of the distinctive contributions of the Judeo-Christian advocates to the American religious-democratic worldview was their embrace of Jewish difference as a constitutive component of American pluralism…Judaism was for the first time claimed as an identity with cultural integrity and value of its own rather than a mere by-product of historical oppression.”[15]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&...=false

Public intellectuals such as Arthur Cohen, while dismissing talk of a ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ as a myth, at the same time called for co-operation and collaboration between Jews and Christians and for “an identification of common enemies, an abandonment of millennial antagonisms in the face of threats which do not discriminate between Judaism and Christianity; and these threats, the whole of the Triple Revolution—automation, the population explosion, nuclear warfare—these are the threats which evoke the formation of the myth.”

By the 1960s the term was utilized by Martin Luther King Jr as a way of defending his campaign for racial equality and the civil rights movement more generally.

By the 1980s and onwards, a survey of the term’s usage concluded that “Judeo-Christian was used in far more conventionally, culturally conservative ways than when it first entered the public lexicon in the middle of the century. The point here is not just that the term tended to be deployed more often by conservative commentators or associated with conservative positions on social issues; rather (or, perhaps, in addition), it is that the idea of Judeo-Christian tradition assumed the role of designating the mainstream cultural core of the nation for authors and commentators of all moral and political persuasions.”[16]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&...=false

Shapiro stands clearly alongside Dennis Prager in the tradition which identifies the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ with ‘the West’ and sees the US as the great achievement of the West, as distinguished from an increasingly secularised Europe. As one scholar sums up the views of Prager and others, it is the

“…United States, where the civil religion is considered to be Judeo-Christian because references to a Judeo-Christian foundation are part of the imaginary of the nation’s foundation. An example of this Judeo-Christian imaginary is the design of the Great Seal of the United State proposed by Benjamin Franklin: “Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand passing thro’ the divided waters of the Red sea [sic] in pursuit of the Israelites: rays from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the divine presence, … and command, reaching to Moses who stands on the shore and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to over whelm Pharoah [sic]”. Early Americans considered their flight from Europe as a new exodus and America as the new Promised Land, separated, according to Jefferson from the tyrannies and corruptions of the continent they left. Judeo-Christian values distinguish America from all other countries, Dennis Prager states. The Christians who founded America considered themselves heirs to the Hebrew Bible as much as to the New Testament. Americans identify with the Jews’ chosenness. “It is a belief that America must answer morally to this God, not to the mortal, usually venal, governments of the world.” If one day America will not be Judeo-Christian anymore, it will become secular and amoral like Europe, Prager warns.”[17]https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&...=false

Shapiro is, of course, one of the stars of Prager University, which promotes his videos and showers him with praise.

Both Prager and Shapiro use the term Judeo-Christian in a highly politicised sense, with Prager telling us a few years back,

“This sense of mission is why more Americans have died for the liberty of others than any other nation’s soldiers.

It is why those who today most identify with the Judeo-Christian essence of America are more likely to believe in the moral worthiness of dying to liberate countries — not only Europe, but Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. That is why America stands alone in protecting two little countries threatened with extinction, Israel and Taiwan. That is why conservative Americans are more likely to believe in American exceptionalism — in not seeking, as President Bush put it, a “permission slip” from the United Nations, let alone from Europe.”[18]https://www.dennisprager.com/what-does-judeo-christi...-mean/

Since 9/11, the term Judeo-Christian has increasingly been used to distinguish the ‘Judeo-Christian West’ from Islam and feed into the idea of a clash of civilizations. Such ideas, of course, deliberately ignore the plight of, for example, Palestinian Christians, whose leaders sign declarations against US supporters of Israel who seek to use the persecution of Christians to advance a defence of Israel in terms of the above ideas.[19]https://www.globalministries.org/palestinian_church_...4_1336 These Christians tell us,

“Your attempt to blame the difficult reality that Palestinian Christians face on Palestinian Muslims is a shameful manipulation of the facts intended to mask the damage that Israel has done to our community…we Palestinian Christians declare that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. The Israeli occupation is the primary reason why so many members of the oldest Christian communities in the world have left the holy land, Palestine.”[20]https://www.globalministries.org/palestinian_church_...4_1336

What is true of Palestinian Christians is also true of the numerous Christians impacted by US foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere, not to mention Jewish populations which also suffer from such reckless policies.

Judaism

Blessed Cardinal Newman noticed, in the 19th Century, how Judaism in the fourth century was a force which naturally sought to undermine Christian orthodoxy and ally itself with heretical sects, something which has carried on throughout history in relation to the Catholic Church (as can be seen in the work of Rabbi Louis Israel Newman).

Writing about the Arians of the Fourth Century Cardinal Newman was to observe

It is […] a question, whether the mere performance of the rites of the Law, of which Christ came as anti-type and repealer, has not a tendency to withdraw the mind from the contemplation of the more glorious and real images of the Gospel; so that the Christians of Antioch would diminish their reverence towards the true Saviour of man, in proportion as they trusted to the media of worship provided for a time by the Mosaic ritual. It is this consideration which accounts for the energy with which the great Apostle combats the adoption of the Jewish ordinances by the Christians of Galatia, and which might seem excessive, till vindicated by events subsequent to his own day. In the Epistle addressed to them, the Judaizers are described as men labouring under an irrational fascination, fallen from grace, and self-excluded from the Christian privileges; when in appearance they were but using, what on the one hand might be called mere external forms, and on the other, had actually been delivered to the Jews on Divine authority. Some light is thrown upon the subject by the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which it is implied throughout, that the Jewish rites, after their Antitype was come, did but conceal from the eye of faith His divinity, sovereignty, and all-sufficiency. If we turn to the history of the Church, we seem to see the evils in actual existence, which the Apostle anticipated in prophecy; that is, we see, that in the obsolete furniture of the Jewish ceremonial, there was in fact retained the pestilence of Jewish unbelief, tending (whether directly or not, at least eventually) to introduce fundamental error respecting the Person of Christ.”

It is a warning to be heeded, even today. St Paul, after all, had centuries before identified those Jews who rejected Christ with the sons of Hagar in the following passage from Galatians 4:

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law?22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman.23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise.24 Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one that dost not bear;
break forth and shout, thou who art not in travail;
for the desolate hath more children
than she who hath a husband.”

28 Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now.30 But what does the scripture say? “Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.”31 So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”

(Galatians 4: 21-28)

The promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs who followed are now seen as finding their fulfilment through those who demonstrate the faith of Abraham and follow Jesus Christ, – these are the true children of Abraham and Sarah. Jews who reject Jesus Christ are outside the covenant of grace and are to be regarded as children of Hagar (though as Paul makes plain, only too welcome at any time to be ‘grafted back’ into the spiritual children of Israel).

The theological absurdities of Christian Zionism, which relies on huge distortions of the biblical texts, are familiar to readers of Robert Sungenis in these pages and are well-documented by Stephen Sizer. These need little elaboration here, but contribute in the minds of many to the confusions surrounding the whole notion of ‘Judeo-Christianity’.

Who is Ben Shapiro?

Ben Shapiro is a media personality created by a Hollywood producer[21]https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/12/how-hollywoo...hapiro who has risen rapidly through associations with Breitbart, David Horowitz’s Freedom Centre and the Shillman Foundation, among others. The latter is funded by the “ultra-Zionist” tech mogul Robert Shillman, a board member of the ‘Friends of the Israel Defence Forces’ which in turn bankrolls the likes of Horowitz to spread fear of Islamo-fascism far and wide, and promote military interventions in line with what they perceive to be Israel’s interests, as well as persecuting academics insufficiently respectful of Israeli policy, while claiming to be champions of free-speech.[22]https://www.counterpunch.org/2005/04/11/david-horowi...jects/ This can coexist with the promotion of ‘conservative’ ideas insofar as these do not conflict with a neoconservative agenda – so quaint ideas like a just-war theory to which more than lip-service must be paid, defence of a confessional state, critiques of usury and contraception etc. tend to be excluded, while opposition to abortion is broadly supported. It is a little difficult to describe the agenda as neoconservative, despite the origins of the term, because Ben Shapiro seems clear that to use the term ‘neoconservative’ at all is to be guilty of an anti-Semitic slur.[23]https://www.salon.com/2015/12/16/patton_oswalt_glori...itism/

One has to admire the skills of publicists in transforming Shapiro into some kind of expert debater, concerned with ‘objective facts’ and valid arguments. Shapiro’s frequent incompetence in simple matters of logic has been well documented[24]See e.g. https://static.currentaffairs.org/2017/12/the-cool-k...sopher and Ben Burgis’s book https://www.amazon.com/Give-Them-Argument-Logic-Left...042100 but, like other low-level sophists such as Sam Harris[25]https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/10/being-mr-reasonable and Stefan Molyneux[26]https://mises.org/library/molyneux-problem, he is mistaken by his philosophically naïve audiences for a bona fide philosopher whose reasoning is impeccable.

Nor does he do much better with ‘facts’: even when he is right to call out some of the absurdities of gender theory, for example, his understanding of the subject is so lazy and ill-informed that he makes basic errors in setting out the positions of those he opposes, as well as confronting people in an unpleasant way. Indeed Shapiro’s entire approach to ‘reason’ is decidedly smelly. One reviewer of his book noted the following words of Shapiro as characteristic of his approach, when it comes to “unreasonable people”:

“Reason, in fact, is insulting. Reason suggests that one person can know better than another, that one person’s perspective can be more correct than someone else’s. Reason is intolerant. Reason demands standards. Better to destroy reason than abide by its dictates.”

The reviewer notes: “These are not the words of someone committed to reason out of a passionate love for the truth, as Plato would wish, nor out of a commitment to human excellence, as Aristotle encourages. Reason, for Shapiro, seems to be nothing more than an instrument for domination, an arena for reassuring himself and others that he is better and worthier than they.”[27]https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/06/the-west-acco...hapiro Hence all the titles of articles with Ben “destroying” other people in arguments and books about how to “destroy leftists”.

Having achieved a prominent position and a large audience, Shapiro was ready to transform himself into a serious thinker with this new book. Unfortunately, as part of the book’s promotion, he was interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil. Neil tactlessly brought up the fact that, given that the book was supposed to be about elevating discourse and advancing the cause of civilisation, these aspirations were in some tension with Shapiro’s history of making incendiary statements such as “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” When challenged, Shapiro reacted by claiming he had disowned his youthful statement, only to be reminded by Neil that he had simply re-applied it to the Palestinian people in general – a group he has also in the past called to be ethnically cleansed in the past (something ordinary Germans have deserved too).[28]https://www.lewrockwell.com/2017/11/paul-gottfried/b...sting/ It seems that Ben can be quite ‘collectivist’ when it suits.

Interestingly, when Neil then asked Shapiro precisely what he meant by Judeo-Christian values, Shapiro decided that he had had enough and walked out of the interview, having first denounced the somewhat neoconservative interviewer as a “leftist”.[29]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VixqvOcK8E

Aspirations

Shapiro’s book does appear to aim for something more elevated than this. He rightly reminds readers early on that we are all made in God’s image and that this truth, presented in the book of Genesis, is profound and has consequences. By page 17 he warms to his theme:

“The fusion of Athens and Jerusalem, tempered by the wit and wisdom of the Founding Fathers, led to the creation of a civilization of unparalleled freedom and replete with virtuous men and women striving to better themselves and the society around them. But we are losing that civilization”.

Shapiro later tells us that, “The Light that allegedly shone at Sinai incontestably illuminated the world”, dating the appearance of this light at approximately 131 BCE (Christ has been replaced to ‘Common Era’ in this text – there was a time when non-Christians still used BC and AD). This should be no surprise as Ben Shapiro not so long ago told Joe Rogan that “Jesus was a Jew who tried to lead a revolt against the Romans and got killed for his trouble, just like a lot of other Jews at that time who were crucified…” (sic).[30]Christ has been replaced by ‘Common Era’ in this text – although there was a time when non-Christians also were content to use BC and AD. More worryingly though perhaps not so surprisingly, Shapiro not so long ago told Joe Rogan that “Jesus was a Jew who tried to lead a revolt against the Romans and got killed for his trouble, just like a lot of other Jews at that time who were crucified…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2D_iyY4DGc Shapiro does not say who it was who called for His death and why, but merely reduces Christ to the level of a Jewish revolutionary. He does not say who it was who called for His death and why, but merely reduces Christ to the level of a Jewish revolutionary.

Shapiro sums up Judaism as follows: “First, Judaism claimed that God was unified, that a master plan stood behind everything. Second, Judaism stated that human beings were held to particular behavioural standards for moral, not utilitarian reasons – we were ordered to be moral at the behest of a higher power, even if God’s rules could benefit us in this life. Third, Judaism claimed that history progressed: that revelation was the beginning, but it was not the end, that man had a responsibility to pursue god and bring about a redemption of mankind, and that God could use a particular example – a chosen people – to act as a light unto nations. Finally, Judaism claimed that God had endowed man with choice, that men were responsible for their choices and that our choices mattered.”[31](p20-21)

But Shapiro’s description of Judaism makes no mention of Original Sin or man’s need for a Saviour. Indeed, Original Sin, as understood by Catholics, for example, has no place in the Judaism to which Shapiro adheres. Shapiro appears to concur fully with Melanie Phillips’ views expressed in her book The World Turned Upside Down which similarly attempted to put Christianity in the service of a neoconservative agenda.[32]https://www.amazon.com/World-Turned-Upside-Down-Glob...r=8-13 The review in Culture Wars by Israel Shamir is reproduced here: https://www.unz.com/ishamir/a-poison-cake/ Phillips told us, years ago, that:

“If the neo-cons aren’t really conservative, they differ even more strikingly from their Christian co-counter revolutionaries. For the neo-con view of the world is a demonstrably Jewish view. Christians see man as a fallen being, inherently sinful. The neo-cons have the Jewish view that mankind has a capacity for good or ill. Christians believe humanity is redeemed through Christ on the cross; the neo-con approach is founded on the belief that individuals have to redeem themselves. Christians believe in transforming fallen humanity through a series of mystical beliefs and events. Neo-cons believe in taking the world as it is, but encouraging the good and discouraging the bad. It is this impulse to tikkun olam or repair of the world, this belief that the world must not be allowed to fester but can be persuaded to change for the better, that gives the neo-cons the optimism that so distresses old-style paleoconservatives when the principles are applied to world affairs. For it was the neo-con belief that good can prevail over evil, that pre-emptive strikes against rogue states are justified and that regime change into democracy can transform a terrorist state into a model world citizen, that lay behind the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq.”[33]http://www.culturewars.com/2010/Squeamishness.htm#_edn32

As with Phillips, the notion of Original Sin, man’s fallen nature, the need for Divine Grace, and Redemption through joining oneself sacramentally to the Suffering Servant who is God are absent from Shapiro’s worldview. Shapiro glosses over the differences between Judaism and Christianity in his claim that:

“Christianity took the messages of Judaism and broadened them: it focused more heavily on grace, and successfully spread the fundamental principles of Judaism, as emended by Christianity, to billions of human beings across the planet.”[34](p21)

However, Shapiro is clear on the importance of monotheism versus polytheism and on the importance of the former for philosophical progress to be made. He is also clear on the notion that there is progress in history. As he puts it,

“The Bible immediately sets God in the context of a time-bound history: God exists outside of time, but He is intimately involved in creating progress…When God intervenes in the world, it is to better the lot of mankind, or to teach lessons. God inserts Himself in history by preserving Noah and his family; He restrains himself from stopping history ever again by destroying His creatures, no matter their choices. God manifest Himself to Abraham to send the first monotheist on a journey to a place Abraham doesn’t know – and God then makes a covenant with Abraham to build him up into a great and mighty nation, connected with a particular parcel of land: Israel. God chooses Abraham. He chooses Isaac. He chooses Jacob. And He chooses the people of Israel to act as exemplars of morality across history – to spread His word, with Moses as His prophet.”[35](p29)

What this does not address is what happens to the role of creating progress in history if the Messiah who (Christians believe) came in history was rejected by the very group he came to. What happens if such beliefs are wrenched away from a teleology which finds their meaning and fulfilment in Christ? Cardinal Newman explores these issues in his Grammar of Assent in the following way:

“Such was the categorical prophecy, literal and unequivocal in its wording, direct and simple in its scope. One man, born of the chosen tribe, was the destined minister of blessing to the whole world; and the race, as represented by that tribe, was to lose its old self in gaining a new self in Him. Its destiny was sealed upon it in its beginning. An expectation was the measure of its life. It was created for a great end, and in that end it had its ending. Such were the initial communications made to the chosen people, and there they stopped;—as if the outline of promise, so sharply cut, had to be effectually imprinted on their minds, before more knowledge was given to them; as if, by the long interval of years which passed before the more varied prophecies in type and figure, after the manner of the East, were added, the original notices might stand out in the sight of all in their severe explicitness, as archetypal truths, and guides in interpreting whatever else was obscure in its wording or complex in its direction.

And in the second place it is quite clear that the Jews did thus understand their prophecies, and did expect their great Ruler, in the very age in which our Lord came, and in which they, on the other hand, were destroyed, losing their old self without gaining their new. Heathen historians shall speak for the fact. “A persuasion had possession of most of them,” says Tacitus, speaking of their resistance to the Romans, “that it was contained in the ancient books of the priests, that at that very time the East should prevail, and that men who issued from Judea should obtain the empire. The common people, as is the way with human cupidity, having once interpreted in their own favour this grand destiny, were not even by their reverses brought round to the truth of facts.””

Without recognising these truths, Shapiro’s true statements about monotheism and progress become dangerous, for that which is promised in the Old Testament is distorted and becomes a toxic messianism cut off from its natural trajectory, something no longer living in any healthy way but rather in rebellion against its great fulfilment.

Athens

Shapiro, borrowing from Leo Strauss, wants to stress that ‘Western Civilisation’ relies not only on ‘Jerusalem’ but also on ‘Athens’ i.e. Greek thought as well as Hebrew Scripture. He proceeds to give us a somewhat breezy summary of Plato and Aristotle and talks of the importance of a teleological view of nature and the need for Logos. It is welcome that he emphasises the importance of teleology – that is, explanation in terms of final causes, ends or goals. He does so, however, in such a cursory manner that important distinctions are left largely unexamined – for example, the distinction between how such causes operate in natural processes in themselves as compared to through rational agency. (How, for example, is efficient causation supposed to relate to final causation, and is final causation to be understood as purposiveness not merely in relation to orientation toward a goal, but as importantly motivating that direction to the goal in terms of ‘goodness’ as perfective?)

While it would be unfair to expect a philosophical treatise from Shapiro, the reader of this section never gets a sense of the depth of Greek thought either metaphysically or ethically. Shapiro, as one reviewer has noted, tends to lump together Plato, Aristotle and on occasion the Stoics, when delineating their differences would have allowed for a deeper consideration of their contributions to philosophy and a profounder sense of what was happening when Enlightenment thinkers moved away from teleological notions and the idea of agents being motivated by the reality of objective goods and normative features of the world.

Shapiro goes on to praise Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but then rather undermines his good work by statements such as, “But Christianity, like all religions, focuses on the spiritual to the exclusion of the physical”.[36](p71) It is hard to think that anyone reading Aquinas could speak in such terms, so resolutely ‘physical’ is his metaphysics and ethics – hardly surprising given his Catholic belief in the Incarnation and the Transubstantiation. Few thinkers in history take the ‘physical’ as seriously as Aquinas. (That said, the history of the Catholic Church more generally might be seen as a refusal to get caught into a battle between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’, stressing instead the difference between the Uncreated and the Created in a way which honours both.)

Shapiro goes on to say “When it comes to communal capacity…the dominance of the Catholic Church provided a stumbling block. Neither Augustine nor Aquinas would have contemplated a separation between church and state in any real sense.”[37](p71)

This should come as no surprise to someone who can write,

“The founding ideology was the basis for the greatest experiment in human progress and liberty ever devised by the mind of man. But then again, it was an idea developed through Judeo-Christian principles and Greek rationality, molded and shaped over time by circumstance, purified in the flame of conflict. It was the best that men have done, and the best that men will do in setting a philosophic framework for human happiness.”[38](p90-91).

This startlingly Whiggish view, which sees the founding ideology of the US as the pinnacle of human achievement fits well with the views of the founders and the messianic zeal which motivated some. Those rejecting the Light of the World may still believe that a particular Nation may remain a Light to the World, though there is a price to pay for such hubris.

Some of the Founders whom Shapiro so admires were quite clear in their hubristic aims.

As historian Perry Anderson has pointed out, “The United States was unique among nations, yet at the same time a lodestar for the world: an order at once historically unexampled and ultimately a compelling example to all. These were the convictions of the Founders. The radiance of the nation would be in the first instance territorial, within the Western hemisphere. As Jefferson put it to Monroe in 1801: ‘However our present interests may restrain us within our limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our multiplication will expand it beyond those limits, and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws’. But in the last instance, that radiance would be more than territorial: it would be moral and political. In Adams’s words to Jefferson in 1813: ‘Our pure, virtuous, public spirited, federative republic will last forever, govern the globe and introduce the perfection of man’. Towards mid-century, the two registers fused into the famous slogan of an associate of Jackson: ‘the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and possess the whole continent that providence has given us for the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government’. For a land ‘vigorous and fresh from the hand of God’ had a ‘blessed mission to the nations of the world’. Who could doubt ‘the far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness’? The annexation of half the surface of Mexico followed in short order. Once the current boundaries of the United States were largely reached, the same sense of the future took more commercial than territorial form, looking west rather than south.”[39]https://newleftreview.org/issues/II83/articles/perry...perium

While Shapiro is rightly critical of aspects of the Enlightenment, especially its atheist and anti-teleological turns, he nevertheless bows down before John Locke, seeing him as an influence on the Founding Fathers and as someone who would shape “the foundations of the free market enterprise”, a viewpoint which would be deeply influential “in the formulation of the greatest economy in the history of mankind.”[40](p86-87).

What he does not seem concerned about is his hero Locke’s endorsement of rational individualism (otherwise known as ‘liberalism’) in which the world is seen as made up of autonomous units, with political philosophy given the task of devising a means to contain these units without altering their essence. By painting the ‘family’ in individualised terms, introducing the concept of contractual marriage and divorce, even hinting that the continuation of the family is problematic when children come of age, Locke is in fact a dangerous underminer of moral polity – even before we get to his dangerous definition of ‘personhood’ based on ‘capacities’ rather than on the inherent dignity of the human being.

Locke, of course, has no time for Original Sin, and, importantly, made the case (alongside Spinoza and various Deists) for religious toleration and the disestablishment of state religion. Into a disenchanted post-Hobbes word, Locke and others saw the chance to build a liberal democracy and to liberalise Christian churches, getting them to respect a strict separation of church and state. Indeed Locke, in The Reasonableness of Christianity had sought to emphasize the moral message of Christianity without conflict about doctrinal matters. Such an approach neutralizes Christianity, gradually making it a mere pauper looking for a modicum of accommodation from a State now guided by hostile forces – the working-out of Original Sin for those with eyes to see.

Such thinking contradicts the teaching of Pope Leo XIII which proposes that the Church stands as soul to the state of the body, united to form a single Christian community just as the union of soul and body forms a single person …Because the spiritual good served by the Church is a good of the whole soul-body union, but higher than that served by the state, the state, when Christian and ruled by the baptized, must be prepared to support the Church in spiritual matters, lending its coercive power to the Church, acting as the Church’s agent and on her authority – just as in deliberate human actions that serve the intellectual purposes of the soul, the body operates at the direction of the soul.”[41]https://www.academia.edu/32742609/Dignitatis_Humanae...o_XIII

For Pope Leo, the state should recognize the truth of the Catholic faith, for the state is governed, just as much as individuals are, by a duty, under natural law, to worship God in whatever way he directs and reveals.

For followers of the Americanist ‘Judeo-Christian’ religion this must seem anathema. And yet, the manifold problems Shapiro refers to in the latter half of the book – the evils of abortion, transgender ideology, moral nihilism, post-modernism, racism (and we might add, those of usury, reckless wars and militarism, neoconservatism, Israeli racism) are allowed to flourish precisely because the State, wrenched away from its natural position in relation to the Catholic Church founded by the Messiah Shapiro rejects, becomes, gradually or not so gradually, a locus for anti-Christ. Whether through Maritianian liberalism, the Lockean version, or what Shapiro admires in the US foundation, the results end up the same. When the Catholic Church is weak, the State is not going to uphold the Natural Law if separated from its soul.

The problem is particularly acute for Shapiro when he rightly rails against certain false philosophies. He denounces the Frankfurt school (“a group of German scholars”[42]p189) and its deeply subversive philosophy, but entirely ignores the Jewish roots of that particular subversion. He denounces racism yet is an uncritical supporter of Israel and is happy to defend the crimes of that state. This is a particular problem because his religious Zionism, furiously adhered to, refers to a deep transgression which is given ‘religious’ justification.

As the Israeli writer Yoav Rinon put it,

“viewing the founding of the State of Israel as a realization of the messianic implied a transgression of the boundary separating the metaphysical from the physical and, even more perniciously, attributed a positive value to this act. Both of these were potentially explosive from the outset, as each cultivated and nourished the other: The positive value ascribed to transgression relies on religious justification, and the religious-messianic component accrues strength and influence the more it is realized by means of acts of transgression of the boundary separating the metaphysical from the physical.”[43]https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZIN...338787

Shapiro is very much caught up in such messianic zeal and has proved to be an asset for neoconservatives in the current administration. Although he is right to decry some of the things he does, he is doing so in a cause based upon transgression and duping confused Christians into thinking that he is an ally across the board when it comes to Christendom. Ultimately, he throws his hat in with those who undermine Christianity – not in the way the Frankfurt School aimed to do, or as the ‘leftists’ he so often denounces, but as someone who seeks to displace Christ from any political order and replace Him with a false ‘Judeo-Christian’ model which is nothing more than cover for an essentially Jewish conception of America and Israel as a Light to the Nations.

Bishop Robert Barron when he spoke recently to Shapiro neglected to propose to him courteously the way out of this morass which is baptism and conversion. Could Shapiro transcend his post-Temple Jewish roots and look with a critical eye on the transgressions he has so far defended so insistently? Let us hope so. And while we are at it, let us hope that the Catholic Church will always care enough about Jews like Shapiro to seek to convert them, helping them overcome the many obstacles in their way for which they are certainly not alone responsible.

Notes

[1] https://twitter.com/benshapiro/status/1117867417831477248

[2] https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-ben-shapiro-glorifies-judeo-christian-values-and-absolves-its-anti-semitism-1.7138947

[3] https://www.timesofisrael.com/radical-rabbi-says-notre-dame-fire-retribution-for-13th-century-talmud-burning/

[4] https://press.princeton.edu/titles/8383.html

[5] https://www.academia.edu/37618749/Israel_Jacob_Yuval_Christianity_in_the_Talmud_Parallelomania_or_Palallelophobia_in_Franklin_T._Harkins_ed._Transforming_Relations_Essays_on_Jews_and_Christians_Throughout_History_in_Honor_of_Michael_A._Signer_Notre_Dame_University_of_Notre_Dame_Press_2010_50-74

[6] https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvbkk0mv This section relies on essays from this illuminating collection unless otherwise stated.

[7] https://muse.jhu.edu/article/635981/summary

[8] So Maritain can say, for example, “In regard to what touches indirectly on the salvation of the world, [the Jewish people] obeys a calling on which, in my opinion, we should insist above all else and which gives the clue to many an enigma. While the Church is assigned to the work of the supernatural and supratemporal redemption of the world, Israel is assigned, in the order of temporal history and its proper ends, to the work of terrestrial activation of the mass of the world. Though it is not of the world, Israel is there to irritate it, to exasperate it, to move it. As a foreign body, as an activating ferment introduced in the mass, it will not leave the world at rest; it prevents it from sleeping, it teaches the world to be discontented and restless as long as it does not possess God; it stimulates the movement of history.” – a point which Paul Claudel rightly saw as definitely not a ‘Divine Calling’ as Maritain supposed. As one commentator puts it, regarding Claudel’s response, “Claudel found Jewish involvement in modern social unrest completely negative, subversive, and destructive.” https://maritain.nd.edu/ama/Royal/Royal05.pdf

[9] AureL Kolnai, Between Christ and the Idols of Modernity: A Review of Jacques Maritian’s Man and the State collected in Privilege and Liberty and Other Essays in Political Philosophy edited Daniel J. Mahoney (Oxford: Lexington Books 1999) p.176-177.

[10] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=IS+there+a+Judeo-Christian+tradition&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnz5Xz7P3lAhVlqnEKHet4A_EQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=IS%20there%20a%20Judeo-Christian%20tradition&f=false

[11] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=IS+there+a+Judeo-Christian+tradition&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnz5Xz7P3lAhVlqnEKHet4A_EQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=IS%20there%20a%20Judeo-Christian%20tradition&f=false

[12] https://thesocietypages.org/files/2013/03/One-Multicultural-Nation-Under-God-Changing-Uses-and-Meanings-of-the-Term-Judeo-Christian-in-the-American-Media.pdf

[13] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=IS+there+a+Judeo-Christian+tradition&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnz5Xz7P3lAhVlqnEKHet4A_EQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=IS%20there%20a%20Judeo-Christian%20tradition&f=false

[14] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=IS+there+a+Judeo-Christian+tradition&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnz5Xz7P3lAhVlqnEKHet4A_EQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=IS%20there%20a%20Judeo-Christian%20tradition&f=false

[15] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=IS+there+a+Judeo-Christian+tradition&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnz5Xz7P3lAhVlqnEKHet4A_EQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=IS%20there%20a%20Judeo-Christian%20tradition&f=false

[16] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=IS+there+a+Judeo-Christian+tradition&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnz5Xz7P3lAhVlqnEKHet4A_EQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=IS%20there%20a%20Judeo-Christian%20tradition&f=false

[17] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d53UCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=IS+there+a+Judeo-Christian+tradition&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnz5Xz7P3lAhVlqnEKHet4A_EQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=IS%20there%20a%20Judeo-Christian%20tradition&f=false

[18] https://www.dennisprager.com/what-does-judeo-christian-mean/

[19] https://www.globalministries.org/palestinian_church_leaders_10_10_2014_1336

[20] https://www.globalministries.org/palestinian_church_leaders_10_10_2014_1336

[21] https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/12/how-hollywood-invented-ben-shapiro

[22] https://www.counterpunch.org/2005/04/11/david-horowitz-s-corrosive-projects/

[23] https://www.salon.com/2015/12/16/patton_oswalt_gloriously_smacks_down_ben_shapiros_absurd_cries_of_anti_semitism/

[24] See e.g. https://static.currentaffairs.org/2017/12/the-cool-kids-philosopher and Ben Burgis’s book https://www.amazon.com/Give-Them-Argument-Logic-Left/dp/1789042100

[25] https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/10/being-mr-reasonable

[26] https://mises.org/library/molyneux-problem

[27] https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/06/the-west-according-to-ben-shapiro

[28] https://www.lewrockwell.com/2017/11/paul-gottfried/ben-can-be-interesting/

[29] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VixqvOcK8E

[30] Christ has been replaced by ‘Common Era’ in this text – although there was a time when non-Christians also were content to use BC and AD. More worryingly though perhaps not so surprisingly, Shapiro not so long ago told Joe Rogan that “Jesus was a Jew who tried to lead a revolt against the Romans and got killed for his trouble, just like a lot of other Jews at that time who were crucified…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2D_iyY4DGc Shapiro does not say who it was who called for His death and why, but merely reduces Christ to the level of a Jewish revolutionary.

[31] (p20-21)

[32] https://www.amazon.com/World-Turned-Upside-Down-Global-ebook/dp/B0067NCQII/ref=sr_1_13?keywords=World+Turned+Upside+Down&qid=1561983710&s=gateway&sr=8-13 The review in Culture Wars by Israel Shamir is reproduced here: https://www.unz.com/ishamir/a-poison-cake/

[33] http://www.culturewars.com/2010/Squeamishness.htm#_edn32

[34] (p21)

[35] (p29)

[36] (p71)

[37] (p71)

[38] (p90-91).

[39] https://newleftreview.org/issues/II83/articles/perry-anderson-imperium

[40] (p86-87).

[41] https://www.academia.edu/32742609/Dignitatis_Humanae_continuity_after_Leo_XIII

[42] p189

[43] https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-neither-israel-s-nor-germany-s-slide-into-fascism-was-accidental-1.7338787

(Republished from Culture Wars by permission of author or representative)
 
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