Every year around this time I prepare to go to Oklahoma to visit my wife’s family for Christmas. I’ve known my wife for twenty years, and you would think that after a couple of decades, I would run out of jokes. But, like the very best things your loved ones can give you, Oklahoma is the gift that keeps on giving. Once upon a time, the fact that the state has one senator who believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated for profit by the Weather Channel, another senator who thinks Schindler’s List is just too sexy to show on TV, and a state legislature that banned imaginary jihadists from implementing imaginary sharia law would have meant that Oklahoma was on the far right fringe of American society.
It’s not anymore. Opinions that were once funny when spoken in the half-speed Oklahoman dialect are now in mainstream of the right. Sure, they’re still funny at the speed of normal human speech. Until you actually think about them. Because there’s so just so much bullshit. In keeping with the proud Native American traditions of Oklahoma, they use every part of the bullshit.
Take for example a recent proposal to build a chapel in the statehouse. In supporting his idea, Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon adds a candy coating of reasonableness to his nutty center by claiming that the chapel would honor the state’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage. Let us pause for a moment. I was raised Jewish. I have been to Oklahoma. Do you know how you know if you’re in a place that has no Jewish heritage? When people can recite the names of all the Jews they’ve ever met. And they ask if you know them. This happens ALL THE TIME in Oklahoma. If you’ve never been, Oklahoma is the kind of place where people say Christ’s name reverently, and never use his middle initial or hyphenated last name.
Thus, I have no idea what Judeo-Christian heritage Shannon is talking about. But it’s not just him. Conservative folks talk about Judeo-Christian heritage and “traditional Judeo-Christian” values all the time. Rick Santorum does it, which right there should tell you it’s a stupid thing to say. I should note that it’s not stupid because Jewish values and Christian values are different. They might be. I have no idea, because I went to Hebrew School for five years and didn’t learn a thing, save for “Holocaust! Boooo! Israel! Yayyyyy!”
It’s stupid because the right wingers are trying to look inclusive by welcoming the smallest possible group they could find. According to the 2010 census, Jews are 1.8% of the population. Here’s a fun fact: the number of adult Jews in the United States is almost the same as the number of people still using AOL dial up. Judging by my family, that might be the same 2.5 million people. Why do conservative Christians in 2013 want to throw their arms around people connecting to God at 56kbps? There’s a whole big internet of fast, Java-enabled God out there. I suppose It might be to give them street cred. Jews could be like the Black friend that racists always insist they have after they say something ignorant.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to be invited to the club. I remember my brother once insisting that he wasn’t white. I thought this was nuts: given the opportunity, I most definitely want to be part of the winning team. Does anyone get called up to the Yankees and turn them down out of loyalty to the Akron RubberDucks?
Which brings us to the other part that’s so stupid about all of this. You can’t simultaneously say “traditional” and “Judeo-Christian” when talking about American values. You’ve only been willing to let us on the team in the very recent past. Before that, your grandfathers and great-grandfathers were limiting Jewish access to higher education, cracking down on immigration, and accusing Jews of being a fifth column aligned with an international finance conspiracy. You hated us. This is why I never miss an opportunity to high five Irish people. We went from dirty immigrant outsiders to members of the ruling class! All right! Let’s get some corned beef and laugh at Latinos and Muslims!
If we’re being honest, when it comes to white Christian values in the US, the only thing that’s traditional is excluding as many people as you can. The problem is that they don’t make white people like they used to. By which I mean that white Christian people simply aren’t making white Christian babies at the rate they used to. So, if you can’t make white Christians in the traditional way – some zinfandel, Carole King’s Tapestry, and missionary for 35-45 seconds – you have to change the way you count. Fudge the numbers. With some slight of hand, and you can hyphenate in the Jews. Presto! “Judeo-Christian” is born, and lest anyone raise an eyebrow, you can throw a “traditional” in there to act like we were there this whole time. Just like your Black friend.
Again, I’m happy to be on the team. But I feel like I’m being used. The only time I hear “Judeo-Christian”, it’s to justify installing the Ten Commandments in a public place, or to keep gays from getting married, or as Paul Ryan did, to oppose the Affordable Care Act. Those things all sound suspiciously like traditional right-wing evangelical Christian values. What about traditional Jewish values, like, um, guilt trips, terrible wine, and deli trays?
The last time I heard “Judeo-Christian” in the news, it was Bill O’Reilly making the claim that not acknowledging Christmas is an affront to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Again, Jews aren’t so concerned with Christmas, Bill. You know we love sales, and this year Chanukah was long over before we could find really good deals on a new TV.
All these guys sound awfully defensive, like the Christian right knows they’re going to lose. Which brings me to another fun fact: in 2010, the second biggest religious identity in the US after Christians was unaffiliated, agnostics, and atheists. Crap. We finally got to the big leagues, and realized it’s the XFL.
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