WHY WOULD A RABBI ALLY WITH RELIGIOUS CHRISTIANS?America Is Indeed Imperiled. We Just Disagree with One Another About
What the Source of the Danger Is.
Acaptured prisoner of war is required to declare only his name, rank, service
number, and date of birth. This is because all the truly profound
information about him is already revealed by his uniform. That distinctive
garment eloquently proclaims the side for which the warrior is fighting.
It equally effectively reveals those values for which the soldier is willing to risk his
Although not a prisoner of war, I am among those engaged in a fierce American conflict. It may be the fiercest internal conflict in American history since the Abolitionist
movement in the 1800s. It is certainly deeply consequential. And I am in the heart of it. This book is my uniform.
In addition to the information contained in my uniform, the U.S. Military Code of
Conduct grants you the right to the equivalent of my name, rank, service number, and
date of birth. Here is the vital data: I am an Orthodox rabbi. I am the son of a famous
Orthodox rabbi and the brother of two more. My teachers were the great scholars who
headed the Gateshead Talmudic Academy in England, some of whom were uncles and
cousins. I became a disciple of my great-uncle, the revered Rabbi Eliyahu (Elijah) Lopian (the original family name) during my many years of study at the theological academy (or yeshiva) of Kfar Hassidim in Israel. Although I often fall short, I do my best to live my life and raise my children according to the laws of the five books of Moses, our holy Torah, and the customs of Moses and of Israel.
Because it is so unusual these days for a rabbi to say nice things about Christians, I
consider it necessary to explain that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian. I
profess no special expertise of the books known as the New Testament. Being infatuated with Judaism and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I dedicate my study time to expanding my familiarity with Jewish theology. In the midst of a lifelong love affair with the searing truth of the Torah, I reject any notion of theological compatibility between Judaism and Christianity; I do not believe a Jew can also be a Christian without betraying his Judaism. One faith, Judaism, has produced the longest-lasting, continuous culture in the history of the world, while the other, Christianity, has been responsible, among other things, for the founding of America, the greatest civilization the world has ever known, and for making America great. This book will describe how a weakened Christianity in America threatens all Americans, including Jews.
WHY I FIGHT THIS BATTLE
My defense of a religion other than my own has earned me considerable hostility from
many Americans. This book will also describe why so many secularized Americans and
so many Jews wrongly fear Christianity in America today.
Why have I willingly volunteered to fight this battle? Why have I subjected my wife
and children, as well as my friends, to all the disruptions, difficulties—and yes, dangers—of this struggle? I find myself driven to defend American Christian conservatives for three compelling reasons.
The first is because I desperately want my children, and one day (God willing) my
grandchildren and their descendants, to have the option of living peacefully and productively
in the United States of America. I am certain this depends upon America
regaining its Christian-oriented moral compass.
The second reason is that I am appalled by the great injustice being perpetrated by
those Jewish organizations that engage in anti-Christian bigotry. Although many of them were founded explicitly to fight bigotry, and for many years did just that, today the shrill rhetoric and hate-filled propaganda found in their direct mail is discriminatory and divisive. The very same Jewish organizations would be the loudest protesters were anything even remotely similar being said by non-Jews about Jews. Justice demands that a member of the group doing the defaming also does the defending. God’s blueprint clearly included the emergence of Christianity. After all, Christianity has brought monotheism to more people than any other force during the past two millennia. American Jews in particular, owe a debt of gratitude to Christians for the safe haven America has been since its founding.
Third, I wish to counter the chilul Hashem, the desecration of God’s name, that is
caused when His words are misrepresented. Organizations and individuals, many of
whom claim to speak in the name of Judaism, are inflicting enormous harm on America
by promoting policies that traditional Judaism finds abhorrent. I want to help both
Jewish and non-Jewish Americans differentiate between Jewish positions and positions
held by some Jews who are more devoted to secularism than Judaism.
In defending Christianity in America, I am not suggesting that Jews ought to
embrace the Christian faith. I believe that all Jews should actively embrace traditional
Judaism; I have spent many years of my life helping to bring that about. But I am suggesting, at the very least, that Jews should stop speaking and acting as if Christian
America is their enemy. I feel that all Americans who love freedom, whether or not they
are religious, should be reassured, not frightened, by the reawakening of earnest
Christianity throughout the land. I shall try to establish that Jews as well as other minorities have the most to fear from a post-Christian America.
A NATION IN CRISIS
I believe America is in decline—not compared to five or ten years ago, but when compared to the years following World War II up until the early sixties. Most Americans who can remember back thirty-five years or so sense that life has become more squalid, expensive, and dangerous. Some attribute this to inadequate government attention to social problems, while others lay the blame on a more fundamental spiritual malaise. One thing is clear however: fewer and fewer Americans remain unaware of, or indifferent to America’s decline. Whether it is in the hollow expressions on the faces of some youngsters, the vulgarity of entertainment, or the many other little signs that all is not well in America, most of us are at least concerned about the future.
There is a tug-of-war going on for the future of our country. Some are enthusiastic
pullers for one or the other side. Many other Americans remain uncommitted to the
entire agenda of either side but feel the need to make their voices heard one way or the other.
What do the two ends of the rope represent? I believe the basic question is whether
America is a secular or a religious nation. The very question sizzles with tension. Almost everybody has an opinion on this one. Furthermore, it is becoming less of an opinion and more of a deeply held fundamental worldview. Whichever view people hold, they do so with utter conviction.
One end of the rope is anchored by those who ask, “How can any intelligent, rational
person late in the twentieth century view America as a religious nation?” Some put it
this way, “Do you really want to live in a theocracy? Look at Iran.” To people on this end of the rope, Judeo-Christian tradition represents primitive tribalism and intolerance, the most damning indictment of our age.
The folks on this end of the rope are joined by many citizens who used to occupy
the undecided middle ground. While lacking a doctrinal embrace of secularism, these
Americans have come to feel that religious America poses the real threat to our continuity, so they instinctively migrate to the end of the rope opposite from religious conservatives. Although not committed to every nuance of secularism, they consider it the lesser of two evils and lend their not inconsiderable weight to the left of the rope.
Across the field on the other end, are those Americans who feel increasingly alienated
by this “enlightened” perspective which denies the importance of America’s history
and culture. These religious conservatives are joined by many other Americans who,
while admittedly unenthusiastic about religion, are even less enthusiastic about the
changes that secular liberalism has brought about in their towns and communities.
In the pages following, I will argue that America is a religious nation and the corresponding interpretation of our history and culture is the correct one. But I shall go much further than that. America is not just religious but is rooted in one particular religious tradition. As an Orthodox rabbi, I will make a compelling case for America as a Christian nation and the need for our nation to be based on Judeo-Christian ethics in order to survive. Despite the fact that Judaism and Christianity have totally differing theologies, there is still one Judeo-Christian ethic. Which is to say that how people order their lives and societies; how they organize their families and behave toward one another turns out to be more similar than different. The origins, legal system, ethos and moral sense of America are entirely Judeo-Christian.
A Jew and a Christian at one end of the rope have more in common with one another
in terms of vision for this country than each may have with his coreligionists at the other end. This is because the tug-of-war is not about theological or philosophical differences but about real life disagreements about things like taxes, crime, welfare, and family life. No matter the philosophy of belief that brings us to our view of how things ought to be, we tend to agree with others holding the same view regardless of the belief that brought them to that view.
But this begs another question asked by well-intentioned but worried Americans.
Many of those pulling for the secular side of the tug-of-war may concede that there is at least some truth to the Judeo-Christian religious foundation of America. At the same time they argue that nowadays a new secular public policy posture has become necessary because of America’s increasing diversity. Otherwise, they argue, America will become intolerant of its minorities who may not share in our founding ethic. The question for those who take this position is not, “Is America a Christian nation?” but “Should America be a Christian nation?” As a non-Christian myself, I still insist the answer must be yes. I shall try to demonstrate that the choice is between a benign Christian culture and a sinister secular one.
I feel that although they may seem unrelated, almost every social pathology and
nearly every sign of civic disarray can be traced to one thing: the extirpation of religion
from American public life during the past three and a half decades. Very little tells us as much about a culture than how it views the transcendent questions of life. A culture’s
prospects for success and durability are best revealed by examining what it considers the purpose of life, what is death, how sex should be treated, and similar questions that most of us answer in one of only two ways. Either we consult the traditions of our faith, or, rejecting faith, we seek emotionally satisfying answers. Sometimes we later buttress the answers we have already chosen.
WHAT WILL LIFE BE LIKE FOR OUR CHILDREN?
One of the great gifts of serious religion is the idea of hierarchy. Some things are better than others and some things are more evil than others. It is a greater good to bestow charity on a poor man by offering him a net along with instructions for its use rather than to fling him a fish. Attacking a passerby in order to steal her purse is a greater evil than smoking a cigarette. We must renew our confidence in making moral judgments. We have to be able to identify the direction in which trends are moving. If there is moral movement in each generation, we need to know the direction and the velocity of the movement. This helps us understand what tomorrow might look like, and it helps us decide whether we welcome that particular vision of tomorrow for our children. If our culture is changing rapidly, as I think it may be doing, and if we are changing by becoming coarser and more subject to the tireless ministrations of a government determined to become ever more involved in every corner of citizens’ lives, then I experience great concern. It means that we are further under water than we were last generation. And if nothing is going to change that course, what will life be like for our children?
This great American civilization, perhaps the greatest the world has ever known, is
not facing imminent extinction. However, life deteriorates significantly long before the
very end. And it usually deteriorates fastest for those most dependent on society’s civilizing institutions. Those not big and fearsome enough to defend themselves suffer more than others when city streets and parks become menacing. Those not wealthy enough to afford private schools for their children suffer most when public education fails. Those who live from paycheck to paycheck are most vulnerable to creeping and constant tax increases. Those trying to raise children who will honor their parents and their parents’ values are most hampered by antifamily legislation and antifamily entertainment. Those trying to build new business enterprises find themselves crippled by confiscatory taxation and crippling regulation.
Are you Jewish, Christian, or neither? Are you indifferent to religion, fervently for, or
ardently opposed to faith? It matters little. As long as you devoutly wish for America to
remain a beacon of hope and freedom in this troubled world, I appeal to you. Ideas do
have consequences and big ideas have big consequences. If there exists an idea bigger than God, I do not know what it might be. What Americans feel about God probably has greater impact on our national future than what we think about almost anything else. Or to put it another way, what we really think about God deep down within our hearts is likely to influence what we think about almost everything else.
I intend to show you how changing attitudes about God have almost entirely
reshaped America during the past three or four decades. Furthermore, I want to show
how virtually every one of us has been a participant, sometimes unwittingly, in allowing
these changes to take place. Some of us have actively helped to bring these changes about in the belief that we have been improving society. Others have been swept along by the loud enthusiasms of the changers and our passive acceptance of each small step has allowed these big changes to envelop our lives.
I intend this book as a guide to what we have done, to what we have allowed to take
place, and to where it all might lead. Those readers who applaud the changes will smile
knowingly as I identify the milestones on our road downhill. Those who tremble at what
we have come to accept as normal will see my words as a road map for retracing our steps and regaining the right path to continue the great story that is American history.
America is indeed imperiled. We all know that. We just disagree with one another
about what the source of the danger is. Some think religious fervor threatens while others feel that secularism is the danger.
Excerpted from AMERICA'S REAL WAR by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.