Not really, no. But this trope is repeated by the right with such frequency that even well-meaning individuals will use the phrase "Judeo-Christian" without understanding where it actually comes from. In short, the "Judeo-Christian tradition" is a manufactured tradition from the 1950s. It was at the time, and remains today, a right-wing political term, not at all a descriptor of any real, singular tradition, much less one that stretches back through the founding of the American republic and into the first century.
The invention of the "Judeo-Christian tradition" can be found in any number of treatments of the postwar period. Martin Marty's extensive Modern American Religion treats the subject in Volume 3: Under God, Indivisible, 1941-1960, in Chapter 20. The historian Mark Silk has a helpful article summarizing the creation of the term, which notes that it did not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until 1899, and even then referred to something far different than it does today (namely, the development of church ritual out of Second Temple practices). Only in the wake of fascism's rise in the 1930s did the term take off, coming to full realization under Eisenhower in the 1950s, as documented by Marty. Though Deborah Dash Moore has pushed its impetus back to World War II with the serving of Jewish GIs alongside Catholic and Protestant ones, its full political effect would come during the Red Scare, though not without some outcry. Even as early as the 1960s, Arthur Cohen was writing a series of essays that would eventually be published together as The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
The phrase was intended to extend past the more exclusive-sounding "Christian nation," especially in the wake of the Holocaust, but rather than celebrating pluralism, it came to be used to define America against godless communism. It was under the new influence of the "Judeo-Christian religion" that "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. It was also under this new ideology that 10 Commandments displays began cropping up all over the country in conjunction with legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille, whose movie by the same name contracted a fictional, Phoenician-style script that ended up on many of the monuments the Right now defend against lawsuits. Indeed, I've given papers that track the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition on most of the Biblical films of the 1950s, which seek to elide the differences between first century Christians and Jews and pit them against a godless, slave-holding state.
|The bogus Phoenician-style script, |
on a Ten Commandments display in Duluth, Minn.
Republican candidates (and even many Democrats) appear more informed by the narratives of these movies than by actual history, where the relationships between Christians and Jews frayed after disagreements over the conversion of Gentiles under Paul and soured further still each subsequent century. In light of that real and unfortunate history, one might be tempted to think of the "Judeo-Christian tradition" as a good thing -- a Jewish-Christian reconciliation that opens up the American heritage beyond Christianity to Jews as well, who have been a part of this country since the 17th century. But the phrase has not typically been used inclusively. Rather, it has been used exclusively, as a way to define America against atheistic communists or, more recently, against Muslims. Not to mention, most who use the phrase are Christian, and the "Judeo-Christian tradition" threatens to subsume Judaism into Christianity without remaining itself intact.
And, of course, the phrase is historically dubious. The founders based the republic more on classical models than Biblical ones, using noncommittal Enlightenment-era terminology for God (The Creator) if and when they deigned to mention him at all. That's not to say Christianity has not infused the culture of our country at all: it clearly has. But none of the founders would have recognized the phrase "Judeo-Christian," certainly not in the way it is used today, and they took pains to explain to other countries at the time that we were not a Christian nation, much less a "Judeo-Christian" one.
But then, Romney didn't use the phrase to make any semblance of an intellectual argument about the history of this country or either of the two faiths included in that hyphenation. No, he merely wanted to inspire a guttural, dog-whistle response among right-wingers who still see no place for atheists or Muslims in America, and who look no further back than the 1950s (and worse yet, its homiletic filmscape) in search of American heritage.