[COMMENT: Prager has been a longtime defender of the alliance between Jews and Christians, recognizing that it is precisely that alliance which is the best protection for Jews. I would add that it is also necessary for the protection of Christians. We are in deep sin when we make trouble for the Lord's own people, or when we throw overboard our Old Testament heritage -- which is presupposed by all New Testament teaching.
Prager is right on the money when he seeks to give rational, reasonable expression to the Biblical worldview and values. God bless him. May many arise like him among Christians.
See my article, "Defining 'Oughtness' & 'Love'" showing that only in the Biblical worldview is there any such thing as a moral standard. E. Fox]
townhall.com January 4, 2005
With this first column of 2005, I inaugurate a periodic series of columns devoted to explaining and making the case for what are called Judeo-Christian values.
There is an epic battle taking place in the world over what value system humanity will embrace. There are essentially three competitors: European secularism, American Judeo-Christianity and Islam. I have described this battle in previous columns.
Now, it is time to make the case for Judeo-Christian, specifically biblical, values. I believe they are the finest set of values to guide the lives of both individuals and societies. Unfortunately, they are rarely rationally explained -- even among Jewish and Christian believers, let alone to nonbelievers and members of other faiths.
So this is the beginning of an admittedly ambitious project. Vast numbers of people are profoundly disoriented as to what is good and what is bad. Just to give one example: Take the moral confusion over the comparative worth of human and animal life.
The majority of American students I have asked since 1970 whether they would save their dog or a stranger have voted against the stranger.
A Tucson, Ariz., woman in late 2004 sent firefighters into her burning home telling them that her three babies were inside. The babies for whom the firemen risked their lives were the woman's three cats.
The best known animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), funded by the best educated in our society, has launched an international campaign titled "Holocaust on your plate," which equates the barbecuing of millions of chickens with the cremating of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. To PETA and its supporters, there is no difference between chicken life and human life.
Only a very morally confused age could produce so many people who do not recognize the immeasurable distance between human and animal worth. We live in that age.
We do in large measure because values based on God and the Bible have been replaced by secular values. The result was predicted by the British thinker G.K. Chesterton at the turn of the 20th century: "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything."
Yes, the moral record of Christian Europe is a mixed one -- especially vis a vis its one continuous religious minority -- Jews. And one has to be quite naive to believe that belief in God and the Bible guarantees moral clarity, let alone moral behavior.
But Chesterton was right. The collapse of Christianity in Europe led to the horrors of Nazism and Communism. And to the moral confusions of the present -- such as the moral equation of the free United States with the totalitarian Soviet Union, or of life-loving Israel with its death-loving enemies.
The oft cited charge that religion has led to more wars and evil than anything else is a widely believed lie. Secular successors to Christianity have slaughtered and enslaved more people than all religions in history (though significant elements within a non-Judeo-Christian religion, Islam, slaughter and enslave today, and if not stopped in Sudan and elsewhere could match Nazism or Communism).
In fact, it was a secular Jew, the great German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who understood that despite its anti-Semitism and other moral failings, Christianity in Europe prevented the wholesale slaughter of human beings that became routine with Christianity's demise. In 1834, 99 years before Hitler and the Nazis rose to power, Heine warned:
A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem harmless and carefree. Christianity restrained the martial ardor for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman [the cross] is shattered, savagery will rise again. . . .
What is needed today is a rationally and morally persuasive case for embracing the values that come from the Bible. This case must be more compelling than the one made for anti-biblical values that is presented throughout the Western world's secular educational institutions and media (news media, film and television).
That is what I intend to do. Events in the news will compel columns on those events, but I do not believe that anything I can do with my life can match the importance of making the case for guiding one's life and one's society by the values of the Bible. As a Jew, by "biblical" I am referring to the Old Testament, but this should pose no problem to Christian readers, since this is the first part of their Bible as well. Indeed, as the greatest Jewish thinker, Maimonides, pointed out over 800 years ago, it is primarily Christians who have spread knowledge of the Jews' Bible to the human race.
THE CASE FOR JUDEO-CHRISTIAN VALUES: PART II
Townhall.com January 11, 2005
For those who subscribe to Judeo-Christian values, right and wrong, good and evil, are derived from God, not from reason alone, nor from the human heart, the state or through majority rule.
Though most college-educated Westerners never hear the case for the need for God-based morality because of the secular outlook that pervades modern education and the media, the case is both clear and compelling: If there is no transcendent source of morality (morality is the word I use for the standard of good and evil), "good" and "evil" are subjective opinions, not objective realities.
In other words, if there is no God who says, "Do not murder" ("Do not kill" is a mistranslation of the Hebrew which, like English, has two words for homicide), murder is not wrong. Many people may think it is wrong, but that is their opinion, not objective moral fact. There are no moral "facts" if there is no God; there are only moral opinions.
Years ago, I debated this issue at Oxford with Jonathan Glover, currently the professor of ethics at King's College, University of London, and one of the leading atheist moralists of our time. Because he is a man of rare intellectual honesty, he acknowledged that without God, morality is subjective. He is one of the few secularists who do.
This is the reason for the moral relativism -- "What I think is right is right for me, what you think is right is right for you" -- that pervades modern society. The secularization of society is the primary reason vast numbers of people believe, for example, that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter"; why the best educated were not able say that free America was a more moral society than the totalitarian Soviet Union; why, in short, deep moral confusion afflicted the 20th century and continues in this century.
That is why The New York Times, the voice of secular moral relativism, was so repulsed by President Ronald Reagan's declaration that the Soviet Union was an "evil empire." The secular world -- especially its left -- fears and rejects the language of good and evil because it smacks of religious values and violates their moral relativism. It is perhaps the major difference between America and Europe. As a New York Times article on European-American differences noted last year, "Americans are widely regarded as more comfortable with notions of good and evil, right and wrong, than Europeans. . . . " No wonder. America is a Judeo-Christian society; Europe (and the American Democratic Party) is largely secular.
In the late 1970s, in a public interview in Los Angeles, I asked one of the leading secular liberal thinkers of the past generation, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., if he would say that the United States was a morally superior society to that of the Soviet Union. Even when I repeated the question, and clarified that I readily acknowledged the existence of good individuals in the Soviet Union and bad ones in America, he refused to do so.
A major reason for the left's loathing of George W. Bush is his use of moral language -- such as in his widely condemned description of the regimes of North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an "axis of evil." These people reject the central Judeo-Christian value of the existence of objective good and evil and our obligation to make such judgments. Secularism has led to moral confusion, which in turn has led to moral paralysis.
If you could not call the Soviet Union an "evil empire" or the Iranian, North Korean and Iraqi regimes an "evil axis," you have rendered the word "evil" useless. And indeed it is not used in sophisticated secular company -- except in reference to those who do use it (usually religious Christians and Jews).
Is abortion morally wrong? To the secular world, the answer is "It's between a woman and her physician." There is no clearer expression of moral relativism: Every woman determines whether abortion is moral. On the other hand, to the individual with Judeo-Christian values, it is not between anyone and anyone else. It is between society and God. Even among religious people who differ in their reading of God's will, it is still never merely "between a woman and her physician."
And to those who counter these arguments for God-based morality with the question, "Whose God?" the answer is the God who revealed His moral will in the Old Testament, which Jews and Christians -- and no other people -- regard as divine revelation.
The best-known verse in the Bible is "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). It is a reflection of the secular age in which we live that few people are aware that the verse concludes with the words, "I am God." Though entirely secularized in common parlance, the greatest of the ethical principles comes from God. Otherwise it is just another man-made suggestion, no more compelling than "Cross at the green, not in between."
January 18, 2005
Those who do not believe that moral values must come from the Bible or be based upon God's moral instruction argue that they have a better source for values: human reason.
In fact, the era that began the modern Western assault on Judeo-Christian values is known as the Age of Reason. That age ushered in the modern secular era, a time when the men of "the Enlightenment" hoped they would be liberated from the superstitious shackles of religious faith and rely on reason alone. Reason, without God or the Bible, would guide them into an age of unprecedented moral greatness.
As it happened, the era following the decline of religion in Europe led not to unprecedented moral greatness, but to unprecedented cruelty, superstition, mass murder and genocide. But believers in reason without God remain unfazed. Secularists have ignored the vast amount of evidence showing that evil on a grand scale follows the decline of Judeo-Christian religion.
There are four primary problems with reason divorced from God as a guide to morality.
The first is that reason is amoral. Reason is only a tool and, therefore, can just as easily argue for evil as for good. If you want to achieve good, reason is immensely helpful; if you want to do evil, reason is immensely helpful. But reason alone cannot determine which you choose. It is sometimes rational to do what is wrong and sometimes rational to do what is right.
It is sheer nonsense -- nonsense believed by the godless -- that reason always suggests the good. Mother Teresa devoted her life to feeding and clothing the dying in Calcutta. Was this decision derived entirely from reason? To argue that it was derived from reason alone is to argue that every person whose actions are guided by reason will engage in similar self-sacrifice, and that anyone who doesn't live a Mother Teresa-like life is acting irrationally.
[COMMENT: Ayn Rand, famous atheist writer (Atlas Shrugged), believed that the good is the rational (= the logically consistent). She is wrong. The good is always rational, but the rational is not always good. We can eliminate a lot of evil by merely being logically consistent, but not all of it. E. Fox]
Did those non-Jews in Europe who risked their lives to save a Jew during the Holocaust act on the dictates of reason? In a lifetime of studying those rescuers' motives, I have never come across a single instance of an individual who saved Jews because of reason. In fact, it was irrational for any non-Jews to risk their lives to save Jews.
[COMMENT: Here I would disagree. It would be irrational only if it conflicted with one's own beliefs and goals, i.e., was logically self-contradictory. Irrational means some kind of inner self-contradiction. Helping others at cost to oneself would not be irrational for a Christian or, I assume, a Jew. We are commanded to love our neighbors like we love ourselves, in both OT and NT. That self-giving is not self-destructive because our being, our identity, is in the hand of God, not dependent on anything the world can do. E. Fox]
Another example of reason's incapacity to lead to moral conclusions: On virtually any vexing moral question, there is no such a thing as a [missing] purely rational viewpoint. What is the purely rational view on the morality of abortion? Of public nudity? Of the value of an animal versus that of a human? Of the war in Iraq? Of capital punishment for murder? On any of these issues, reason alone can argue effectively for almost any position. Therefore, what determines anyone's moral views are, among other things, his values -- and values are beyond reason alone (though one should be able to rationally explain and defend those values). If you value the human fetus, most abortions are immoral; if you only value the woman's view of the value of the fetus, all abortions are moral.
The second problem with reason alone as a moral guide is that we are incapable of morally functioning on the basis of reason alone. Our passions, psychology, values, beliefs, emotions and experiences all influence the ways in which even the most rational person determines what is moral and whether to act on it.
Third, the belief in reason alone is itself based on an irrational belief -- that people are basically good. You have to believe that people are basically good in order to believe that human reason will necessarily lead to moral conclusions.
Fourth, even when reason does lead to a moral conclusion, it in no way compels acting on that conclusion. Let's return to the example of the non-Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe. Imagine that a Jewish family knocks on his door, asking to be hidden. Imagine further that on rational grounds alone (though I cannot think of any), the non-Jew decides that the moral thing to do is hide the Jews. Will he act on this decision at the risk of his life? Not if reason alone guides him. People don't risk their lives for strangers on the basis of reason. They do so on the basis of faith -- faith in something that far transcends reason alone.
Does all this mean that reason is useless? God forbid. Reason and rational thought are among the hallmarks of humanity's potential greatness. But alone, reason is largely worthless in the greatest quest of all -- making human beings kinder and more decent. To accomplish that, God, a divinely revealed manual and reason are all necessary. And even then there are no guarantees.
But if you want a
quick evaluation of where godless reason leads, look at the irrationality and
moral confusion that permeate the embodiment of reason without God -- your local
[COMMENT: Prager's thoughts move in the right direction, but he needs to clarify further just what "faith" and "reason" are. See The Authority of the Bible in a Scientific Age (available in Shopping Mall). E. Fox]
February 8, 2005
Would you first save the dog you love or a stranger if both were drowning? The answer depends on your value system.
One of the most obvious and significant differences between secular and Judeo-Christian values concerns human worth. One of the great ironies of secular humanism is that it devalues the worth of human beings. As ironic as it may sound, the God-based Judeo-Christian value system renders man infinitely more valuable and significant than any humanistic value system.
The reason is simple: Only if there is a God who created man is man worth anything beyond the chemicals of which he is composed. Judeo-Christian religions hold that human beings are created in the image of God. If we are not, we are created in the image of carbon dioxide. Which has a higher value is not difficult to determine.
Contemporary secular society has rendered human beings less significant than at any time in Western history.
First, the secular denial that human beings are created in God's image has led to humans increasingly being equated with animals. That is why over the course of 30 years of asking high school seniors if they would first try to save their dog or a stranger, two-thirds have voted against the person. They either don't know what they would do or actually vote for their dog. Many adults now vote similarly.
Why? There are two reasons. One is that with the denial of the authority of higher values such as biblical teachings, people increasingly make moral decisions on the basis of how they feel. And since probably all people feel more for their dog than they do for a stranger, many people without a moral instruction manual simply choose to do what they feel.
The other reason is that secular values provide no basis for elevating human worth over that of an animal. Judeo-Christian values posit that human beings, not animals, are created in God's image and, therefore, human life is infinitely more sacred than animal life.
That is why people estranged from Judeo-Christian values (including some Christians) support programs such as "Holocaust on Your Plate," the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign that teaches that there is no difference between the slaughtering of chickens and the slaughtering of the Jews in the Holocaust. A human and a chicken are of equal worth.
That is why a Tucson, Ariz., woman last year screamed to firefighters that her "babies" were in her burning house. Thinking that the woman's children were trapped inside, the firemen risked their lives to save the woman's three cats.
Those inclined to dismiss these examples as either theoretical (the dog-stranger question) or extreme (the Tucson mother of cats) need to confront the very real question of animal experimentation to save human lives. More and more people believe as PETA does that even if we could find a cure for cancer or AIDS, it would be wrong to experiment on animals. (The defense that research with computers can teach all that experiments on animals teach is a lie.) In fact, many animal rights advocates oppose killing a pig to obtain a heart valve to save a human life.
Belief in human-animal equivalence inevitably follows the death of Judeo-Christian values, and it serves not so much to elevate animal worth as to reduce human worth. Those who oppose vivisection and believe it is immoral to kill animals for any reason, including eating, should reflect on this: While there are strong links between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, there are no links between kindness to animals and kindness to humans. Kindness to animals has no effect on a person's treatment of people. The Nazis, the cruelest group in modern history, were also the most pro-animal rights group prior to the contemporary period. They outlawed experimentation on animals and made legal experimentation on human beings.
The second reason that the breakdown of Judeo-Christian values leads to a diminution of human worth is that if man was not created by God, the human being is mere stellar dust -- and will come to be regarded as such. Moreover, people are merely the products of random chance, no more designed than a sand grain formed by water erosion. That is what the creationism-evolution battle is ultimately about -- human worth. One does not have to agree with creationists or deny all evolutionary evidence to understand that the way evolution is taught, man is rendered a pointless product of random forces -- unworthy of being saved before one's hamster.
THE CASE FOR JUDEO-CHRISTIAN VALUES: PART V
Posted: February 15, 2005
Before continuing to make the case for Judeo-Christian values, it is time to answer a question frequently posed by Jews and Christians as well as others: How can there be such a thing as Judeo-Christian values when Judaism and Christianity have different, sometimes mutually exclusive, beliefs?
The most important answer is that beliefs and values are not the same things.
Of course, Judaism and Christianity have some differing beliefs. If they had the same beliefs, they would be the same religion. The very term "Judeo-Christian" implies that the two are not the same. The two religions have some differing beliefs and occasionally even some different values.
For example, Christianity believes in a Trinity that Judaism does not believe in. That is a major theological difference, but it has no impact on values. Likewise, Christianity believes that the Messiah has come, whereas Judaism believes that he has not yet come. As a Jewish theologian, I am fascinated by theological differences among religions. But I am far more preoccupied with real-life issues of good and evil, and that is where Judeo-Christian values come in.
Both religions are based on the Old Testament, which Judaism and Christianity hold to be divine or divinely inspired. Clearly, then, they will share values – unless one holds that the New Testament rejects Old Testament values. But that is untenable since, in addition to Christianity believing the Old Testament is God's word, Jesus was a believing and practicing Jew. He would not practice a religion whose values or Bible he rejected.
One way to understand Judeo-Christian values, therefore, is as values that emanate from a Judeo-based Christianity. Christians have always had the choice to reject the Jewish roots of Christianity (which, when done, enabled Christian anti-Semitism), to ignore those roots, or to celebrate and embrace them. American Christians have, more than any other Christian group, opted for the latter.
For much of Christian history, the majority of Christians either ignored or denied the Jewish origins of Christianity and the Jewishness of Jesus and the Apostles. That is how many Christians were able to rationalize their anti-Semitism, and that is why Europe self-identified as "Christian," not as "Judeo-Christian" as America has.
It is also true that as the centuries passed, some values differences, not merely theological ones, did arise. But it is the greatness of Judeo-Christian values that they combine the best of both religious traditions and cast aside some of their weaker aspects.
For example, the Christian emphasis on faith above works led often to faith without works. Meanwhile, the Jewish emphasis on works above faith has led to many Jews abandoning God and valuing only works – meaning, more often than not, the embracing of destructive secular radical faiths.
Judeo-Christian values combine the two religions' strengths – the Jewish emphasis on moral works in this world with the Christian emphasis on keeping God at the center of one's values and works.
Another example is the American Christian's ability to remain God-centered and hold onto traditional beliefs while fully participating in modern society. This has not generally been the case in Jewish life. Over the centuries, God-centered and Torah-believing Jews retreated from mainstream society. They did so because: 1) anti-Semitism forced Jews into ghettos; 2) Jewish ritual laws increasingly restricted contact with non-Jews; and 3) Jews are a people, not just a religious group.
On the other hand, Jewish rituals have kept Judaism and the Jews alive while the abandonment of ritual (for example, Sabbath observance) has hurt Christianity. And Jewish peoplehood has ensured action on behalf of persecuted fellow Jews while Christians usually did little on behalf of persecuted fellow Christians – as, for example, those many Christians terribly persecuted under communism; the Copts in Egypt; the Maronite Catholics in Lebanon; and the Christians of Sudan.
In sum, despite whatever differences they have, Jews and Christians need each other and Judaism and Christianity need each other. The Judeo-Christian values system has become a uniquely powerful moral force. Among its many achievements is that it is the primary contributor to America's greatness.
Dennis Prager, one of America's most respected and popular nationally syndicated radio talk-show hosts, is the author of several books and a frequent guest on TV shows such as "Larry King Live," "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Hannity & Colmes."
THE CASE FOR JUDEO-CHRISTIAN VALUES: PART VI
Liberal feeling vs. Judeo-Christian values:
February 22, 2005
With the decline of the authority of Judeo-Christian values in the West, many people stopped looking to external sources of moral standards in order to decide what is right and wrong. Instead of being guided by God, the Bible and religion, great numbers -- in Western Europe, the great majority -- have looked elsewhere for moral and social guidelines.
For many millions in the twentieth century, those guidelines were provided by Marxism, Communism, Fascism or Nazism. For many millions today, those guidelines are … feelings. With the ascendancy of leftist values that has followed the decline of Judeo-Christian religion, personal feelings have supplanted universal standards. In fact, feelings are the major unifying characteristic among contemporary liberal positions.
Aside from reliance on feelings, how else can one explain a person who believes, let alone proudly announces on a bumper sticker, that "War is not the answer"? I know of no comparable conservative bumper sticker that is so demonstrably false and morally ignorant. Almost every great evil has been solved by war -- from slavery in America to the Holocaust in Europe. Auschwitz was liberated by soldiers making war, not by pacifists who would have allowed the Nazis to murder every Jew in Europe.
The entire edifice of moral relativism, a foundation of leftist ideology, is built on the notion of feelings deciding right and wrong. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
The animals-and-humans-are-equivalent movement is based entirely on feelings. People see chickens killed and lobsters boiled, feel for the animals, and shortly thereafter abandon thought completely, and equate chicken and lobster suffering to that of a person under the same circumstances.
The unprecedented support of liberals for radically redefining the basic institution of society, marriage and the family is another a product of feelings -- sympathy for homosexuals. Thinking through the effects of such a radical redefinition on society and its children is not a liberal concern.
The "self-esteem movement" -- now conceded to have been a great producer of mediocrity and narcissism -- was entirely a liberal invention based on feelings for kids.
The liberal preoccupation with whether America is loved or hated is also entirely feelings-based. The Left wants to be loved; the conservative wants to do what is right and deems world opinion fickle at best and immoral at worst.
Sexual harassment laws have created a feelings-industrial complex. The entire concept of "hostile work environment" is feelings based. If one woman resents a swimsuit calendar on a co-worker's desk, laws have now been passed whose sole purpose is to protect her from having uncomfortable feelings.
For liberals, the entire worth of the human fetus is determined by the mother's feelings. If she feels the nascent human life she is carrying is worth nothing, it is worth nothing. If she feels it is infinitely precious, it is infinitely precious.
Almost everything is affected by liberal feelings. For example, liberal opposition to calling a Christmas party by its rightful name is based on liberals' concern that non-Christians will feel bad. And for those liberals, nothing else matters -- not the legitimate desire of the vast majority of Americans to celebrate their holiday, let alone the narcissism of those non-Christians "offended" by a Christmas party.
And why do liberals continue to endorse race-based affirmative action at universities despite the mounting evidence that it hurts blacks more than it helps? Again, a major reason is feelings -- sympathy for blacks and the historic racism African-Americans have endured.
Very often, liberals are far more concerned with purity of motive than with moral results. That's why so many liberals still oppose the liberation of Iraq -- so what if Iraqis risk their lives to vote? It's George W. Bush's motives that liberals care about, not spreading liberty in the Arab world.
Elevating motives above results is a significant part of liberalism. What matters is believing that one is well intentioned -- that one cares for the poor, hates racism, loathes inequality and loves peace. Bi-lingual education hurts Latino children. But as a compassionate person -- and "compassionate" is the self-definition of most liberals -- that is not the liberal's real concern. His concern is with an immigrant child's uncomfortable feelings when first immersed in English.
Reliance on feelings in determining one's political and social positions is the major reason young people tend to have liberal/left positions -- they feel passionately but do not have the maturity to question those passions. It is also one reason women, especially single women, are more liberal than men -- it is women's nature to rely on emotions when making decisions. (For those unused to anything but adulation directed at the female of the human species, let me make it clear that men, too, cannot rely on their nature, which leans toward settling differences through raw physical power. Both sexes have a lot of self-correcting to do.)
To be fair, feelings also play a major role in many conservatives' beliefs. Patriotism is largely a feeling; religious faith is filled with emotion, and religion has too often been dictated by emotion. But far more conservative positions are based on "What is right?" rather than on "How do I feel?" That is why a religious woman who is pregnant but does not wish to be is far less likely to have an abortion than a secular woman in the same circumstances. Her values are higher than her feelings. And that, in a nutshell, is what our culture war is about -- Judeo-Christian values versus liberal/leftist feelings.
THE CASE FOR JUDEO-CHRISTIAN VALUES: PART VII
Do you hate evil?
Judeo-Christian Values: Part VIII
Different theology, same morality
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Some Jews and Christians object to the term "Judeo-Christian." How can there be Judeo-Christian values, they argue, when Judaism and Christianity differ? In a previous column, I explained that one should not confuse theology with values. Theological differences are not the same as value differences.
Nevertheless, there are some value differences between the religions. But that is precisely the greatness of Judeo-Christian values: They are greater than the sum of their parts. That is why in this series of essays I have been making the case for Judeo-Christian values, not for all Christian values and not for all Jewish values.
The combination of Jewish Scripture (the Old Testament) and Christian thought and activism – as worked out mostly in America and mostly by Judeo-based Christians – has forged something larger and more universally applicable than either Judaism or Christianity alone.
Let me give two examples of specifically Jewish and Christian values that are not Judeo-Christian values.
As Judaism progressed, it developed a legal system (Halakha) that increasingly aimed to separate Jews from non-Jews. One purpose was to keep Jews from incorporating pagan practices and values into the one monotheistic religion. Over time, however, it was also a result of the constant decimation of the Jewish people by anti-Semites. Jews, for good reason, feared disappearing. Thus survival – in part through avoiding social contact with non-Jews – became the primary concern of Jewish life, not influencing the world. Whatever the reasons, Judaism retreated from the world. Judeo-Christian values bring Jewish values back into the world.
An example of a Christian value that is not Judeo-Christian is Christianity's traditional emphasis on faith above works and on an exclusive credo. Many Christians, including those who forcefully advocate Judeo-Christian values, believe that one must profess faith in Christ in order to be saved, that no amount of good deeds a person may perform, even if that person also has a deep belief in God (the Father), suffices in God's eyes. And though Catholicism has emphasized works along with faith, for most of church history, the importance of works was restricted to Catholics. Non-Catholics, no matter how good, were often denied salvation and frequently persecuted solely for their different faith (e.g., Huguenots and Jews).
Until the 20th century, European Christianity, as embodied in the church, de-emphasized its Jewish roots, and it usually persecuted Jews (though never ordered, indeed opposed, their physical annihilation – annihilation required a secular ideology, Nazism). No Christian state referred to itself as "Judeo-Christian." That identity arose with the Christians of America, who from the outset were at least as deeply immersed in the Old Testament as in the New. Rather than see themselves as superseding Jews, American Christians identified with them.
These American Christians chose a Torah verse – "Proclaim liberty throughout the land" – for their Liberty Bell; learned and taught Hebrew; adopted the Jewish notion of being chosen to be a light unto the nations; saw their leaving Europe as a second exodus; had every one of its presidents take the oath of office on an Old and New Testament Bible – and while every president mentioned God in his inaugural address, not one mentioned Jesus.
Of course, most Protestant Christians who hold Judeo-Christian values continue to believe that there is no salvation outside of faith in Christ. But precisely because they do hold Judeo-Christian values, they work hand in hand with others whose faith they deem insufficient or incorrect (e.g., Jews and Mormons). So while they theologically reject other faiths, evangelical Christians are the single strongest advocates of Judeo-Christian values.
They are what can be called "Judeo-Christians." Since they founded America, such Christians have recognized the critical significance of the Jewish text – the Old Testament – which forms the foundation of Judeo-Christian values. It provided the God of Christianity, their supra-natural Creator, the notions of divine moral judgment and divine love, the God-based universal morality they advocate and try to live by, the Ten Commandments, the holy, the sanctity of human life, the belief in a God of history and that history has meaning, and moral progress. All these and more came from the Jews and their texts.
But while the Jews provided the text, the Christians brought the text and its values into the world at large and applied them to a society composed of Jews, Christians, atheists, and members of other religions.
Those Judeo-Christian values have made America the greatest experiment in human progress and liberty and the greatest force for good in history.
And they are exportable. In fact, they are humanity's only hope.
©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Judeo-Christian Values: Part IX
Our Preoccupation with death
Even believing Jews and Christians are not fully aware of how much the rejection of death-oriented Egypt underlies the values and practices of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible held sacred by Judaism and Christianity.
Egyptian civilization was steeped in death. Its bible was the Book of the Dead, and its greatest monuments, its very symbols, the pyramids, were gigantic tombs. One of the Torah's first tasks was to destroy the connection between civilization (and, of course, religion) and death. That is the reason, I am convinced, for the absence of overt mention of the afterlife in the Old Testament – it was greatly concerned with getting humanity preoccupied with life. With a few noble exceptions, preoccupation with the afterlife has led to denigration of life. The Islamic terrorists and the cultures that support them are only the most recent examples.
One of the greatest insights of Sigmund Freud, who, his atheism notwithstanding, was perhaps the greatest mind of the 20th century, was that human beings have a Death Instinct, a death wish that is as strong as the Life Instinct. He wrote this decades before Nazism and the communist genocides of the 20th century proved his point.
Yet, he was only saying in psychoanalytical terminology what Moses had said in Deuteronomy thousands of years earlier.
The Torah began this transformation with its constant emphasis on rejecting everything Egypt stood for. The ban on eating or even owning bread during the seven days of Passover, the holiday commemorating the exodus from Egypt, the central Old Testament event after Creation, was primarily a symbolic rejection of Egypt.
As noted in the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Egyptians essentially invented bread as we know it. "The Egyptians apparently discovered that allowing wheat doughs to ferment, thus forming gases, produced a light, expanded loaf, and they also developed baking ovens." (Fermented) bread symbolized Egypt as apple pie or hot dogs might represent America. Moreover, fermentation is likened to sin and death in both Jewish and Christian understandings of the Bible.
The Torah also banned Jewish priests from coming into contact with corpses. I know of no other religious system that banned its holiest members from any contact with the dead. This, too, was to separate life – the role of the priest was to consecrate life – from death; and most of all, to separate Israelite values from those of Egypt, where priests were regularly involved in religious activities revolving around death.
The Torah's ban on sexual intercourse during menstruation is also a separation of that which represents life (intercourse) from that which represents death (menstruation). Biblically, menstruation had nothing to do with women being "unclean." In fact, nearly the entire body of Torah instruction (found especially in Leviticus, the least known of the five books) concerning what is incorrectly translated as "unclean" or "impure" is actually about that which is touched by death. Substitute "touched by death" for "impure" or "unclean," and you will have a far better understanding of the text.
The somewhat better known ban on eating meat together with milk, emanating from the law in the Torah – stated three times – that prohibits the boiling of a kid in its mother's milk, is another example of separating life and death. Meat (i.e., a dead mammal) represents death; and milk, the life-giving food of mammals, represents life. (Jewish tradition only later added chicken, a non-mammal, to the list of mammals not to be eaten with milk; and major Talmudic rabbis did eat chicken with milk.)
The biblical and Judeo-Christian transformation of human thinking from death- to life-orientation has been a staggering accomplishment – even though it has obviously not been entirely successful even in the contemporary Western world. The cavalier attitude about human life expressed among the leading opponents of Judeo-Christian values – such as PETA, which equates barbecuing chickens with cremating Jews; the Princeton ethicist who believes that parents can commit infanticide under various conditions; those in the non Judeo-Christian West who lack a moral problem with abortion for whatever reason; modern film and art that portray death as kitsch; and the secular culture's contempt for those who call themselves "pro-life" or believe that Terri Schiavo had a right to live – are all examples of the contemporary attempt to undo the life wish of Judeo-Christian values and affirm the natural death wish that resides in the human soul.
©2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
Judeo-Christian values, part XI
|Posted: May 3,
2005 1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2005 WorldNetDaily.com
Nothing more separates Judeo-Christian values from secular values than the question of whether morality – what is good or evil – is absolute or relative. In other words, is there an objective right or wrong, or is right or wrong a matter of personal opinion?
In the Judeo-Christian value system, God is the source of moral values and therefore what is moral and immoral transcends personal or societal opinion. Without God, each society or individual makes up its or his/her moral standards. But once individuals or societies become the source of right and wrong, "right" and "wrong" and "good" and "evil" are merely adjectives describing one's preferences. This is known as moral relativism, and it is the dominant attitude toward morality in modern secular society.
Moral relativism means that murder, for example, is not objectively wrong – you may feel it's wrong, but it is no more objectively wrong than your feeling that some music is awful renders that music objectively awful. It's all a matter of personal feeling. That is why in secular society people are far more prone to regard moral judgments as merely feelings. Children are increasingly raised to ask the question, "How do you feel about it?" rather than, "Is it right or wrong?"
Only if God – the transcendent source of morality – says murder is wrong, is it wrong, and not merely one man's or one society's opinion.
Most secular individuals do not confront these consequences of moral relativism. It is too painful for most decent secular people to realize that their moral relativism, their Godless morality, means that murder is not really wrong, that "I think murder is wrong," is as meaningless as "I think purple is ugly."
That is why our culture has so venerated the Ten Commandments – it is a fixed set of God-given moral laws and principles. But that is also why opponents of America remaining a Judeo-Christian country – people who advocate moral relativism – want the Ten Commandments removed from all public buildings. The Ten Commandments represents objective, i.e., God-based morality.
All this should be quite clear, but there is one aspect of moral relativism that confuses many believers in Judeo-Christian moral absolutes. They assume that situational ethics is the same thing as moral relativism and therefore regard situational ethics as incompatible with Judeo-Christian morality. They mistakenly argue that just as allowing individuals to determine what is right and wrong negates moral absolutes, allowing situations to determine what is right and wrong also negates moral absolutes.
This is a misunderstanding of the meaning of moral absolutes. It means that if an act is good or bad, it is good or bad for everyone in the identical situation ("universal morality").
But "everyone" is hardly the same as "every situation." An act that is wrong is wrong for everyone in the same situation, but almost no act is wrong in every situation. Sexual intercourse in marriage is sacred; when violently coerced, it is rape. Truth telling is usually right, but if, during World War II, Nazis asked you where a Jewish family was hiding, telling them the truth would have been evil.
So, too, it is the situation that determines when killing is wrong. That is why the Ten Commandments says "Do not murder," not "Do not kill." Murder is immoral killing, and it is the situation that determines when killing is immoral and therefore murder. Pacifism, the belief that it is wrong to take a life in every situation, is based on the mistaken belief that absolute morality means "in every situation" rather than "for everyone in the same situation." For this reason, it has no basis in Judeo-Christian values, which holds that there is moral killing (self-defense, defending other innocents, taking the life of a murderer) and immoral killing (intentional murder of an innocent individual, wars of aggression, terrorism, etc.).
But situational ethics aside, the key element to Judeo-Christian morality remains simply this: There is good and there is evil independent of personal or societal opinion; and in order to determine what it is, one must ask: "How would God and my God-based text judge this action?" rather than, "How do I – or my society – feel about it?"
That different religious people will at times come up with different responses in no way negates the fact that at least they may be pursuing moral truth. In secular society, where there is no God-based morality, there is no moral truth to pursue. The consequences may be easily seen by observing that the most morally confused institution in America, the university – where good and evil are often either denied or inverted – is also its most secular.
Secularism and the meaningless life:
Judeo-Christian values, part XIII
Posted: May 24, 2005 1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
As I have noted on occasion, there are three values systems competing for world dominance: Islam, European-style secularism/socialism and Judeo-Christian values. As the competition in America is between the second two (in Europe, Judeo-Christian values are dying, while Islam is increasing its influence), my columns on Judeo-Christian values have concentrated on differences between Judeo-Christian and secular values.
Perhaps the most significant difference between them, though one rarely acknowledged by secularists, is the presence or absence of ultimate meaning in life. Most irreligious individuals, quite understandably, do not like to acknowledge the inevitable and logical consequence of their irreligiosity – that life is ultimately purposeless.
Secular and irreligious individuals raise two immediate objections:
The first objection denies a fact, not a subjective judgment: If there is no God who designed the universe and who cares about His creations, life is ultimately purposeless. This does not mean that people who do not believe in such a God cannot feel, or make up, a purpose and a meaning for their own lives. They do and they have to – because the need for meaning is the greatest of all human needs. It is even stronger than the need for sex. There are people who lead chaste lives who achieve happiness, while no one who lacks a sense of purpose or meaning can achieve happiness.
Nevertheless, the fact that people feel that their lives are meaningful – as a parent, a caregiver, an artist, or any of the myriad ways in which we feel we are doing something meaningful – has no bearing on the question of whether life itself is ultimately meaningful. The two issues are entirely separate. A physician understandably views his healing of people as meaningful, but if he does not believe in God, he will have to honestly confront the fact that as meaningful as healing the day's patients has been, ultimately everything is meaningless because life itself is. In this sense, it is far better for an individual's peace of mind to be a poor peasant who believes in God than a successful neurosurgeon who does not.
If there is no God as Judeo-Christian religions understand Him, life is a meaningless random event. You and I are no more significant, our existence has no more meaning, than that of a rock on Mars. The only difference between us and Martian rocks is that we need to believe our existence has significance.
Now to the second objection, that you don't need religion or Judeo-Christian values, just a belief in God or, as is more popular today, in "spirituality" to imbue existence with meaning. Theoretically, one can posit the existence of the God of Judeo-Christian religions without actually believing in any of those religions or in any of their holyworks. There is, however, some absurdity in believing in the God made known through texts whose authenticity one rejects. "I believe in the God made known to the world solely through the Old Testament, but not in the Old Testament" is not logically compelling. Whatever the logical inconsistencies or theoretical arguments in either direction, the fact remains that while secular individuals can believe that their own lives have meaning, secularism by definition denies that life has meaning. The consequences have been devastating to mental health and to scial order.
Among thse have been increased unhappiness and depression, increased reliance on drugs and numbing entertainment to get people through life, moral confusion, belief in nonsense (such as Marim, fascism, communism, male-female sameness, pacifism, moral equivalence of good and bad societies, and much more), and perhaps most ubiquitous, political meaning as a substitute for religious meaning.
Given that the need for meaning transcends all other human needs, its absence must create havoc individually and societally. In government, secularism is a blessing; but most everywhere else it is not.
[COMMENT: Prager is wrong here, I think. Secularism is not a blessing in government. There is only one government -- based on his own observations that there is meaning only under God. Meaning and moral distinction are the same thing. Moral distinction is what government relies upon to make its laws. That is the ONLY way they can have authority (see Defining 'Oughtness' & 'Love' and also Freemarket of Ideas...).
Legitimate government is about bringing the use of coercive force under the law and grace of God. Without God there is no legitimacy, just as there is no meaning. Ironically, it would seem, it is God alone who can legitimize freedom, such as we have in our American Constitution. So secularists want something (moral and political guarantee of freedom) which they can have only at the cost of something they are unwilling to grant (law of God). E. Fox]
>> NOTE: Parts XIV through XIX not installed <<
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Judeo-Christian Values: Part XXII
The Feminization of Society
Tuesday, September 13, 2005 © 2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
As a result of the repudiation of Judeo-Christian values, we are witnessing the ascendance of the feminine in Western society.
There are two reasons for this. One is the overriding belief in equality, which to those who reject Judeo-Christian values means sameness. Judeo-Christian values emphatically affirm the equality of the sexes. In fact, given that the creation story in Genesis proceeds from primitive to elevated, the last creation, woman, can easily be seen as the most elevated of the creations. Every man knows how much a good woman helps him transcend his animal nature.
Judeo-Christian values do not conflate equality with sameness. But the Left rejects any suggestion of innate sexual differences. That is why the president of Harvard University nearly lost his job for merely suggesting that one reason there are fewer women in engineering and science faculties is that the female and male brains differ in their capacities in these areas. A secular liberal who advocates affirmative action based on sex, Harvard's president nevertheless also has – or had, until his humiliation at the hands of his faculty – a belief in seeking truth.
And the truth is that men and women are profoundly different.
One of these differences is that women generally have a more difficult time transcending their emotions than men. There are, of course, millions of individual women – such as Margaret Thatcher – who are far more rational than many men; but that only makes these women's achievements all the more admirable. It hardly invalidates the proposition.
Far more common than Margaret Thatcher's rationality was the emotionality of the women jurors in the Menendez brothers' trials. All six women jurors in the Erik Menendez trial voted to acquit him of the murder of his father (all six males voted guilty of murder). A virtually identical breakdown by sex took place in the Lyle Menendez trial for the murder of their mother. The women all had compassion for the brothers despite their confessions to the shotgun murders of their parents.
To say that the human race needs masculine and feminine characteristics is to state the obvious. But each sex comes with prices. Men can too easily lack compassion, reduce sex to animal behavior and become violent. And women's emotionality, when unchecked, can wreak havoc on those closest to these women and on society as a whole – when emotions and compassion dominate in making public policy.
The latter is what is happening in America. The Left has been successful in supplanting masculine virtues with feminine ones. That is why "compassion" is probably the most frequently cited value. That is why the further left you go, the greater the antipathy to those who make war. Indeed, universities, the embodiment of feminist emotionality and anti-Judeo-Christian values, ban military recruiters and oppose war-themed names for their sports teams.
A sentiment such as "War is not the answer" embodies leftist feminine emotionality. The statement is, after all, utter nonsense, as many of the greatest evils – from Nazi totalitarianism and genocide to slavery – were quite effectively "answered" by war. (Virtually every car I ever have seen display the bumper sticker "War is not the answer" was driven by a woman.)
The response of one of the leading women professors who attended Harvard President Lawrence Summers' talk aptly illustrates this point. As the Boston Globe reported, Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "walked out on Summers' talk, saying later that if she hadn't left, 'I would've either blacked out or thrown up.'" It is difficult to imagine a male MIT professor, even another leftist, walking out of a lecture and saying that he had to lest he vomit or faint.
In the micro realm, the feminine virtues are invaluable – for example, women hear infants' cries far more readily than men do. But as a basis for governance of society, the feminization of public policy is suicidal.That is one reason our schools are in trouble. They are increasingly run by women – women with female thinking moreover. Such thinking leads to papers no longer being graded with a red pencil lest students' feelings be hurt; to self-esteem supplanting self-discipline as a value; to banning games such as dodge ball in which participants' feelings may get hurt; to discouraging male competition; to banning peanut butter because two out of a thousand students are highly allergic to peanuts.
In a masculine society governed by Judeo-Christian values (which include a masculine-depicted and compassionate God), feminine virtues are adored and honored. In a feminized society, male virtues are discarded.
Then both sexes suffer.
Just one more consequence of the war against Judeo-Christian values.
Dennis Prager |
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