Thursday, January 06, 2005

Judeo-Christian Values for Dummies

Dennis Prager has taken on the task of explaining Judeo-Christian values to the masses, including Judeos, Christians, and Atheists alike:

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.


While I find this an admirable project, and will try to follow each installment at the Daily Duck, there are a few questions that immediately come to mind. Why should the majority of Christian and Jewish believers need to have their own values explained to them? Are the churches and synagogues, cathechism classes and Sunday schools doing so poor a job, or is it just that Dennis Prager thinks that since many Jews and Christians don't seem to abide by them, then obviously they haven't had these values explained to them? Or is it that, by the nature of the values being commanded by God, that understanding them is optional, but obedience mandatory? Do God's wishes have to be found rational by human standards? Is Prager's project an attempt to substitute reason for faith?

Another nit to pick is this assumption that the battle of values systems necessarily must lead to a single set of values triumphing, with the world embracing it over the others. I find that outcome highly unlikely. More likely is a continuation of multiple values systems existing in a state of tension, evolving and mutating with new social, economic and technological realities over time.

To continue:

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."


His last paragraph convicts secularism for the sins of moral equivalence between human and animal life. Why does he think that such a values confusion requires athiesm as a necessary precondition? By his own admission most of the students he has asked whether they would save a stranger or their dog would choose to save their dog. But Americans are believers in God by a margin of from 4 to 1 up to 9 to 1, depending on which poll you consult. So, even if every atheist student he interviewed chose their dog over the stranger, it would mean that upwards of 50% of the remainder who chose their dog were religious.

To answer Chesterson's "prediction" - it is not that the nonbeliever will believe in anything, but that he will believe in something other than God. Chesterson's statement gives the impression that the unbeilever is some fickle, untethered, gullible hick in the big city of dubious philosophies, falling for the spiritual equivalents of the shell game or the Brooklyn Bridge scam. Of course, such secular scams are out there - communism, junk science faiths like environmentalism or Gaia worship, Scientology, etc. But more often than not the "anything" is a theistic or spiritualistic scam foisted upon believers - cults such as the People's Temple, Hare Krishnas, or good old fashioned Christian scams such as faith healing or Elmer Gantry preach and fleece traveling Gospel shows. Chesterson thinks that believing in God is some kind of single, unified concept, but it is the supernatural world, or God, that can literally be anything to the believer. There is no feedback loop to correct religious faith. At least secular systems have to deliver physical results or be discredited by their failure.

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.


I applaud Prager for making a rationally persuasive case for his values. The irony is that by making a persuasive case that a secularist can embrace, he necessarily will be defining a values system that can stand on purely secular grounds.

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