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The arrogance of values: Judeo-Christian values, Part XIV

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I am arguing in this series of columns titled, “The Case for Judeo-Christian Values,” that Judeo-Christian values — as developed and expressed specifically, though not only, in America — constitute the finest value system in the world. If you care about goodness, justice and compassion prevailing in an often evil, unjust and cruel world, you should hope that Judeo-Christian values predominate on earth.

Is such an attitude, that there is a best value system, arrogant — or even chauvinistic or racist?

Let’s first deal with the charge of “racism.” It is difficult to overstate the absurdity of this charge. How can values that are universal — i.e., for people of all races — be racist? The charge is meaningless since people of all races affirm Judeo-Christian values. In fact, outside the United States, whites, being largely secular, are the race least likely to affirm these values.

What about “arrogant” or “chauvinistic”?

Though not as obviously so, these charges are equally meaningless.

If one does not deem one’s value system superior to others (at least the others that one is aware of), it is not a value system. It is a series of personal habits that one happens to prefer. Moreover, it is very hard to find anyone who upon a moment’s reflection really believes that his values are not superior.

Do those who believe in freedom believe that freedom is not a superior value to tyranny? Do those who believe in human equality believe that this value is not superior to the belief that one race is superior? Is the “honor killing” of daughters a value equal to that of allowing daughters to marry whomever they want? The list is almost endless.

The very implication of a “value” is that it is superior to any other. If you value monogamy, you are saying it is superior to polygamy. If you value tolerance, you are saying that tolerance is superior to intolerance.

All people are equal, but that does not mean that all values are equal. The statement, “All people are equal,” is itself a value, one which holds that human equality is superior to any value that demeans or denies the intrinsic worth of other human beings.

But many of the best educated (and therefore least intellectually clear) will counter, why can’t people hold that their values are superior only for themselves?

The answer is that it is not only a misuse of the term “value,” it betrays a complete misunderstanding of the concept. To return to the examples offered above, do those who believe that freedom is superior to tyranny believe that freedom is only superior for them? Can you imagine someone arguing: “I happen to value the ability to speak, write, worship and assemble freely as a value for me, but I do not believe that such freedom is better for anyone else”?

I am arguing that the Judeo-Christian value system as developed on the basis of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and developed largely by Christians, and especially in America, is the best value system ever devised. I believe it is superior to all other value systems with which I am familiar. I believe that as a moral system for a society, it is superior to that of the secular/socialist values that dominate Europe and the left in America, and to any other religion. And as I argued in Part VIII, Judeo-Christian values are even larger than Judaism or Christianity alone.

Is this insulting to members of these groups? Of course not. Is it in an insult to Republicans that Democrats think their party has better values?

The reason this is not insulting is that decent and intelligent people understand that better values do not mean that all those who carry the same name as those values are better people. I think Judeo-Christian values are superior, but I would have to be a fool to believe that all Jews and Christians — or even all people who say they subscribe to Judeo-Christian values — are better than everyone else. All human beings must be judged according to their behavior, not according to the value system they are associated with.

I fully acknowledge that there is a real danger of arrogance associated with having values. The moment you believe in a value, you believe that value is superior to some or all other competing values. And this can lead to arrogant thinking: “Everyone with my values is wonderful; everyone else isn’t. And I have nothing to learn from people with other value systems.”

That is why those who adhere to Judeo-Christian values must carry them with genuine humility. There are wonderful people in every religion and wonderful people who are atheists, and there are awful people in Judaism and Christianity and among individuals who claim to hold Judeo-Christian values.

But it is simply intellectual cowardice to deny that one’s value system implies anything but its superiority to some or all other values.

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