Rabbi to the RescuePHILIP F. KELLY, JR.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, author of America's Real War, believes a heated war is being waged in America for the soul of the nation.
by Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Multnomah Publishers Inc. ISBN: 1576736555
There is a certain mysterious moment in human affairs when one passes the point of no return, that point at which no manner of exertion by the will is sufficient to reverse a determined course of action, or inaction. The ancient Greeks believed that, despite taming the seas for both trade and warfare, the point beyond which their boats dared not sail was the Arch of Hercules, the dividing line between primeval chaos and divine stewardship. While the human will is infinitely more elastic and powerful than a vessel of wood and pitch, even the indomitable will eventually reach a point when it is powerless to resist the course of events.
Daniel Lapin, Orthodox rabbi, radio talk show host, speaker, and founder of the organization Toward Tradition, thinks that the United States may very soon reach the point of no return, when it will no longer be able to resist the powerful cultural undertow that threatens it, and he sounds the alarm loud and clear in his new book, America's Real War. On the dust jacket of the book, two sets of arms are engaged in a strenuous tug-of-war with the American flag. Underneath this arresting image is the subtitle of the book, “An Orthodox Rabbi Insists That Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation's Survival.” Two things should strike the casual peruser of this book jacket: first, that the author believes a heated war is being waged in America for the soul of the nation; and secondly, that Christianity in America at the close of the 20th century needs an Orthodox rabbi to present the case for its relevance to the future of our democracy.
Fortunately for all people of faith in America Jews, Christians, Muslims, whatever Lapin does this in a very frank and compelling way. And, yes, he does forcefully make the case that America is a Christian nation, which is bound to cause a stir among his more secularized coreligionists and apostles of secularization everywhere but he does a great service to the United States by forcing all believers to confront the challenge they face to preserve the nation that allows them, among their precious freedoms, the free expression of their faith. The very fact that Christianity needs a rabbi to defend it today says a lot about the state of Christianity in America and the success of the vanguard of our popular culture in demonizing and delegitimizing it. Yet an Orthodox rabbi recalling America to its Christian roots to ensure its survival as a free nation is news, and Lapin boldly challenges believing Christians and believing Jews to fight for the America that was bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers.
Is Lapin right? Instead of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” we've all heard about this past year, is there really a vast left-wing conspiracy out there at war for the soul of America? Lapin says there is no organized campaign per se, but one of the most revealing anecdotes in Norman Podhoretz's Ex-Friends, his remembrance of former associates and colleagues, concerns his break with Allen Ginsberg over Podhoretz's refusal to join Kerouac, himself, and others in their attack on traditional (Judeo-Christian) American mores. When Podhoretz, repelled by the suggestion, refuses, Ginsberg stalks off and shouts, “We'll get you through your children!” Ginsberg did what little a poet can do in 20th-century America, but Hollywood and the education establishment were quick to take up the gauntlet. Today, it is virtually impossible to pass through our American public school system today without being assaulted by graphic sex education, condom distribution, and Planned Parenthood propoganda, a fact of life faithfully described in Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty. Throw in the PC academia and pop-culture icons, and, let's face it: From the time we sit in front of the television as toddlers until we graduate college, nowhere is safe.
Where did all this come from? Alexis de Tocqueville identified Descartes and his method of radical doubt a cudgel to “attack all that was old and open a path to all that was new” as the source for much of the modern world's thinking. In the 1830s, when he was observing America, de Tocqueville noticed that the people of America had managed to remain immune to such influences because, “It must never be forgotten that religion gave birth to Anglo-American society.”
That is precisely the point that Lapin wants to make in America's Real War. “The origins, legal system, ethos, and moral sense of America are entirely Judeo-Christian,” he says. The choice the tug-of-war for America's soul is between a “benign Christian culture and a sinister secular one” (italics added). Lapin is a remarkably straight-shooter; he is unafraid to say the things about the popular culture and its mandarins that many suspect but are too timid to articulate. Lapin trenchantly analyzes each of our society's ills, all of which, he believes, flow from our abandonment of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
“Ideas do have consequences,” he reminds us, “and big ideas have big consequences.” God is the biggest idea in the marketplace, of course, and what Americans feel about God has the greatest impact on our future. Changing attitudes about God “have almost entirely reshaped America during the past three or four decades . . . and virtually every one of us has been a participant, sometimes unwittingly, in allowing these changes to take place.” The importance of these two connected notions cannot be overestimated. Ideas do have consequences, whether popular ideas that shape culture or our own private thoughts. Although they seem innocuous enough when slowly absorbed through television or pop music, over time they can completely alter our way of understanding the world and ourselves. And, equally important, we are all responsible, ultimately, for the culture we inhabit, however unfavorably we may view it since most of us make little accomodations to the culture every day.
Lapin cites the 1962 Supreme Court decision banning prayer in schools as the opening battle in the contest between to put it frankly pro-God and anti-God forces. The terms are indeed stark, but he strongly believes that this is the fault line dividing our nation. Many on the other side seem eager to back him up a fact not always widely known. Some, like Madalyn Murray O'Hair, instigator of the 1962 school prayer lawsuit, were quite explicitly against God. O'Hair was revealed in her son's autobiography as an atheist and a hater of the United States who tried to emigrate to the Soviet Union. Another, Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard professor and leading evolutionist and media darling, concluded his comments on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program once by saying, “Now that we know we were not made in anyone's image, we are free to do whatever we wish.”
The other side of the debate is not some rarified neutrality, Lapin writes; it is the opposite of the Judeo-Christian tradition and pushes a definite agenda. And in this battle, our own innate “sense of decency and our belief in the Constitution” are tools that are frequently used against us.
Of course, Lapin is quick to acknowledge that not everyone in the anti-God camp is an ideologue. Many choose sides unconsciously, swayed by a “seductive canon of superficially appealing ideas” and a failure to appreciate the intimate connection between one's faith and public policy and the popular culture. Lapin cites the debut of the topless bathing suit in Los Angeles in the early '60s as an example. Brought to America from Europe, the hoopla surrounding the event featured grim-faced policemen escorting shapely young women wrapped in towels from the beaches; it all seemed titillating and daring, a “frivolous diversion,” but the steady accumulation of steps in fashion, in movies, and in music pulls us deeper into a vortex of degeneracy from which it becomes more and more difficult to extricate ourselves. St. Augustine warned against curiosity, while Nietzsche believed a dizzying look into the abyss was an integral bridge from the will to truth to the will to power. What we do and think matters: Virtue is a learned behavior, and we are paying an awful price for forgetting that lesson.
Animals don't know what virtue is, so some, beginning with the evolutionists, want to turn human beings into animals sophisticated animals, perhaps, but animals nonetheless who are prey to all the ungovernable instincts and impulses of other animals. The Peabody Museum at Yale, for instance, recently reclassified Homo sapiens to include certain species of chimpanzees, and enormous amounts of time and energy have been expended trying to get chimps to speak. These are all attempts to further undercut the God-given uniqueness of human beings.
Naturally, the biblically based, traditional family is a target, so Lapin examines our new acceptance of divorce, illegitimacy, single motherhood, day care for newborns, abortion, the clamor for homosexual marriage, and other like practices. For him, the Bible is “God's instruction manual” on how to live our lives. He uses its wisdom to dissect a host of current opinions. A last, lengthy section, is devoted to a brief demonstrating that Judaism and liberalism are not the same thing despite the claims of many prominent secular Jewish organizations and explaining how America, with its distinctly Christian foundation, has provided the greatest home for Jews in the history of the world.
However, Lapin is hardly calling for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Rather, he is calling for them and others to return to their ancient faith and to recognize that what makes America great is precisely the Judeo-Christian principles upon which it was founded. The book doesn't try to uncover the historical and philosophical roots to the problems it identifies; that's not its aim. Its aim is to be an alarm clock for all people of faith, and that it does very effectively.
Modern liberalism would replace the power of God with the power of the state. But Lapin reminds us that people of faith must always be people of faith, private and public, or they risk losing not just their freedom of religion, but all of their freedoms. The current apotheosis of rights coupled with an arid legalism cannot deliver justice because the very idea of justice is rooted in God's covenant with His people, Jewish and Christian. Those who would undermine belief in God and the Judeo-Christian tradition unwittingly undermine the delicate web that holds our democracy together, a democracy predicated on notions of freedom, nurtured on the virtues of charity and justice. Those who dream of a charitable and just world without Christianity suffer from a kind of Christian hangover: Sated by the Christian tradition's benefits, they have forgotten which cup they have drained.
Philip F. Kelly Jr.. “Rabbi to the Rescue.” Crisis 17, no. 6 (June 1999): 47-49.
Reprinted by permission of the Morley Institute a non-profit education organization. To subscribe to Crisis magazine call 1-800-852-9962.
America's Real War by Rabbi Daniel Lapin is published by Multinomah, in 1999, 362 pages, $19.99.
Philip F. Kelly Jr. writes on Christianity and the culture.
Copyright © 1999 Crisis
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