Ross Douthat (also, James Poulos) makes an intelligent, well-informed defense of the term using the general framework that I began with (as opposed to some people who simply insist on digressing immediately to forward their own position). There are also intelligent comments below. Instead of responding in a point-by-point fashion to Ross’s rejoinder in this post, I’ll just elaborate in the comments here and below. Rather, I want to tack to a different issue. My main concern as an atheist who lives in a progressively more religiously pluralist society characterized by liberal democratic values is to turn all religions into operational variants of mainline Protestantism. Implicit in this is that the extinction of organized religion will not occur in the near future, so in a pragmatic sense religion has to be take as one of the parameters which define our society.
As an atheist all supernatural constructs are nearly interchangeable to me, but obviously religious people don’t view it the same way. Additionally, like a liberal who has an attachment to his family’s Republicanism, or a conservative who remains a Democrat in name despite sympathies with the Right, people are strongly attached to the label and specific symbolisms which come down to them through inheritance. American Catholics whose religious outlook is fundamentally no different than that of Protestants balk at the suggestion that they should become Episcopalian. Reform Jews whose supernatural beliefs are minimal still remain attached to the rituals and customs hinged around the claims of Jewish supernaturality. This is human nature. For me my main concern is to destroy the grand orthopaxic claims which many religions make upon their adherents with the casual demands of mainline Protestantism and an emphasis on private (or at least ingroup) orthodoxy. One can not be a Hindu in the United States in a way that one could be a Hindu in India (in fact, one can not be a Hindu in urban India the way one can be a Hindu in rural India!). More pressingly, one can not be a Muslim in the West in the way that one can be a Muslim in the Muslim world. Protestant European society forced Jews to change their practices if they wished to integrate into the mainstream after the dissolution of the ghettos. This resulted in secularization and Christianization, but also a reformulation of Jewish religion which was palatable to mainstream. This allowed Jews to retain their distinctiveness in at least a notional sense, which has important proximate psychic utility. How does this relate to the term to Judeo-Christianity? I hope some of my comments below make it clear why I think people with an intellectual orientation and interest in these topics that isn’t superficial (granted, this is a very small set) should shift their terminology, and has to do with undermining the very way people view how these categories relate to cultures and history.