As 2020 comes to a close, Mosaic is looking back at the work we published this year. On Monday we looked at Jewish responses to the coronavirus pandemic, and yesterday we highlighted Mosaic’s writing on Israel and the Middle East. Today, we focus on Jews and Christians, and in particular on American Jews and American Christians and the ways they’ve influenced each other.
Jews and American Religion
American Christianity is bound up with Jewish ideas, which means that the latter can be heard in the dominant chords of American cultural memory. The scholar Daniel Slate reminded us that Jewish ideas were even present in the formative history of America that predates the establishment of the United States. Americans were then, and remain, an unusually religious people. So it makes sense that, soon after independence, the Bill of Rights would codify the protection of religious freedom. This year, we hosted the eminent jurist Michael McConnell to discuss the state of religious freedom in the American judiciary, and with the lawyer Jeremy Rozansky we looked at contemporary efforts in the academy to redefine religious exercise in a way that disadvantages American Jewry. For America’s Independence Day, Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver explained how religion in America relates to patriotism and civic belonging.
Jews and American Secularism
A religious population that is confident in itself is also confident in its future. As America’s traditional religious attachments have become attenuated they’ve lost some of that future-oriented hopefulness—something that the editor and writer Jonathan V. Last noted in his explanation of why Americans are having fewer babies. Of course it’s not only a shaken inner confidence but also a more aggressively hostile secularism that challenges traditional Jews and Christians, particularly on the college campus. Our Krauthammer fellow Tamara Berens explained how Columbia University student activists maneuvered to organize yet another boycott against Israel, while the distinguished scholar of Russian literature Gary Saul Morson wrote about the troubles of Northwestern University’s Jewish president.
Back to the Solution
But Jews, and Christians too, are nevertheless sustained by the same ideas and religious patrimony that, centuries ago, inspired America’s puritan fathers. The Princeton University political scientist Robert George—a proud member of the Catholic Church who brings his faith into the American public square—explained how he’s been instructed and formed by the example and wisdom of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Meanwhile, the Tikvah Fund’s executive director Eric Cohen’s “The Message from Jerusalem,” our monthly essay back in January, explored how Jerusalem—the city and the idea—holds an answer to the crisis of meaning that American society is facing. In an effort to pass through that crisis, in the United States at least, Christians have today grown closer to the Jewish people than they’ve been in thousands of years. And this astonishing, world-historical fact was the subject of the historian Wilfred McClay’s beautiful essay “What Christians See in Jews and Israel in 2020 of the Common Era.”