The United States military is integrating artificial intelligence into military weapons systems to kill without a live human pulling the trigger (RAND). This creates huge ethical concerns. If an autonomous military drone kills civilians without being controlled by a human, could anyone be held accountable? How would you write code and establish rules to ensure that pilotless weapons systems don’t commit atrocities? In July, Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard G. Moore, Jr. claimed there is no cause for concern since the U.S. military always acts ethically. Why? Because, Moore explained, “ours is a Judeo-Christian society, and we have a moral compass. Not everybody else does” (Washington Post). Judeo-Christian values, according to Moore, are enough to stop the Pentagon’s killer robots from inflicting mass civilian casualties or committing war crimes with no accountability.
Days after Moore’s comments, the Florida Department of Education approved the right-wing propaganda outfit PragerU as a school materials vendor. PragerU publishes slickly produced YouTube videos downplaying slavery, celebrating the War on Drugs, and denying the existence of climate change. Conservative talk show host Dennis Prager founded PragerU to inculcate students with conservative “Judeo-Christian values” (Slate). Though politicians and pundits in the United States frequently reference a supposedly shared “Judeo-Christian” tradition, the term’s exact meaning is “fuzzy at best, and historical analysis shows that it has long been used and abused for political ends” (The Conversation). Today’s article unpacks the contested concept of “Judeo-Christian values.”
What does “Judeo-Christian” mean?
“Judeo-Christian” refers to Judaism and Christianity (including Catholicism and Protestant denominations) being fundamentally connected and sharing core values. It implies that similarities between branches of Judaism and Christianity are more important than differences between them. Notably, it leaves out Islam, a religion linked to Judaism and Christianity. Saying that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation implies that it belongs to Christian and Jewish people as opposed to people of other faiths.
How old is the concept of a “Judeo-Christian” tradition?
The term “Judeo-Christian” became widely used in the mid-20th century. But the idea that Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic Americans are all on the same team is a new idea. There’s a long history of anti-semitism and anti-Catholic discrimination in the United States. Many European-American Christians considered Jewish people “non-European” outsiders throughout the 19th century. There were anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic laws in many parts of the United States (History, The Guardian). The Puritans founded Massachusetts as a Protestant religious theocracy. They didn’t believe they shared a religious tradition with Jewish people or Catholics, whom they despised. That’s why the idea that the United States is a Judeo-Christian country didn’t appear until a few decades ago.
How did “Judeo-Christian” get popularized?
The term “Judeo-Christian” really boomed after the end of WWII. The United States government wanted to emphasize its role in the Allied victory that ended the Holocaust and underline its differences with the “godless Communist” Soviet Union during the Cold War (Encyclopedia).
What does this term leave out?
After the Cold War, politicians cited “Judeo-Christian” values to support the disastrous “War on Terror.” Religious studies scholars describe Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as Abrahamic religions: monotheistic faiths whose believers worship the God who made a covenant with Abraham (PBS). “Judeo-Christian,” unlike “Abrahamic,” excludes Islam, allowing politicians to stir up anti-Muslim hatred (The Conversation). In reality, many African people enslaved in colonial America were Muslim (NPR). The idea of an exclusively “Judeo-Christian” heritage erases African and Indigenous religions as well as faiths like Buddhism and Hinduism that have millions of adherents in the United States (Pew). The term suggests that Jewish and Christian Americans are not only especially American but also uniquely moral in a way that non-believers or people of other religions are not.
Will Judeo-Christian values restrain military AI?
Zeeshan Aleem points out that the United States is currently supplying weapons to be used against Russia, itself a “Judeo-Christian” country whose government has close ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. Moreover, Aleem points out that “Judeo-Christian” values might have made wars even more inhumane. Some wonder if President George W. Bush’s “faith only intensified a morally abhorrent foreign policy that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents” (MSNBC).
The millions of civilian victims (Brown) of recent U.S. wars weren’t protected by the “values” of U.S. military leadership. It will take more than these same “values” to protect civilians from the even more terrifying weapons currently being developed by defense contractors and universities today (Truthout). We need to defund and demobilize the military-industrial complex, the interconnected system of weapons companies, schools, and political institutions that continue to grow the largest and most lethal military in human history.
We also need to end religious exclusion and intolerance. U.S. residents practice dozens of faiths, with the U.S. population becoming more religiously diverse over time. This includes a significant and growing population of religiously unaffiliated people. It is incredibly disrespectful for the U.S. regime to advertise its religious freedoms while disrespecting faiths that don’t fit into a “Judeo-Christian” mold. We must fight religious bigotry to create a society that truly supports us all.
• A “Judeo-Christian” tradition was used to justify the Cold War and War on Terror.
• The concept excludes non-Jewish and non-Christian faiths while obscuring historical antisemitic and anti-Catholic biases.
• U.S. moral values haven’t been sufficient to stop hundreds of thousands of recent civilian deaths.