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We do in large measure because values based on God and the Bible have been replaced by secular values.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.