Someone named Schvach Yid left an irritated comment in response to my post about the term Judeo-Christian. He also sent me a short email clearing up the fact that Judaism is more than legalism, and that it is steep to consider Jews non-Western. I think addressing these questions is worthwhile insofar as others might wonder what business a blog whose central theme focuses on evolutionary genetics has with venturing into topics such as the discussion of the history of Judaism and Christianity.
First, the blog is an expression of my interests. My interests are rather broad. Though I tend to put more weight into my evolutionary preoccupations on this weblog, I do like to occasionally touch upon other issues. As I told Schvach Yid I am interested in animal behavior. Jews and Christians are animals whose behavior I wish to understand in greater detail. My copious posts where I discuss religion as a natural phenomenon should indicate my interest in this topic. Why does the human animal behave as it does? Ultimately I believe that Nature is One. There are practical reasons that disciplines are clustered the way they are, but cross-fertilization often allows us to sharpen our perceptions.
In regards to the specific post regarding “Judeo-Christianity,” it was more than just semantical, rather, I think that information was being loss via the term. Let me be clear: the issue here is that I think that if many Westerners understood that Islam resembled Rabbinical Judaism a great deal then they could comprehend more accurately the nature of the religion. As it is, the tendency to conflate Islam with “eastern” religions set against Judeo-Christianity results in the loss of this information because the assumption is that Islam will naturally be an outgroup. Many people are well acquainted with the analogy between the Catholic-Protestant divide and that between Shias and Sunnis. Similarly, I think some “free” information can be imparted by understanding that many Muslims conceptualize their relationship to the West as Satmar Hasids might. Except you increase the numbers by at least an order of magnitude.
Finally, about Jews being Western. I do not believe that Rabbinical Jews were part of Western culture, nor do I believe they contributed appreciably to it so that its overall character would have been changed if you removed them from the equation. Obviously Judaism is part of the character of Western culture, but that Judaism is not the Judaism which finds its expression in the Babylonian Talmud. Rather, it is the Judaism from which Christianity emerged in the centuries before the redaction of the Oral Law. Though I think the Pharisaec Jews who were the direct cultural ancestors of Rabbnical Judaism were the dominant element during the period when Christianity arose, I think it is plausible that Christianity arose in the alternative subcultures of various Hellenistic Jewish communities and the gentiles with whom they associated. In this formulation Rabbnical Judaism and Christianity are both descendants of the Judaisms which existed before the destruction of the Second Temple. Though Jews were in the West, I do not believe that before the 19th century they were of the West. Ashkenazi Jews were not full participants of European cultures as the Jews of medieval Spain were. They were a people apart. The assimilation of Jews as a Western people during the 19th century after emancipation was concomitant with the emergence of “liberal” and Reform movements within the faith and the wholesale secularization of much of the European Jewry, as well as the abandonment of the ritual associated with Rabbinical Judaism which set them apart as a nation. To use an analogy, to say that the Jews were a Western people because they lived in the West is to say that the Gypsies are a Western people because they lived in the West. This just isn’t so.