Sunday, October 17, 2010

Answering Rabbi Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who supports the Christian Right in its efforts to weaken separation of church and state in this country, had a column in a recent issue of the Jewish Press. My online reply is as follows:


Rabbi Daniel Lapin's essay is based on a speech he delivered at last month's Glenn Beck event. Glenn Beck is not one to let facts get in the way of his Bible thumping and his simplistic solutions to America's social problems and neither, it seems, is Rabbi Lapin. America never was severed from its Judeo-Christian roots. Each of us is free to practice any religion or none. Separation of church and state is written into our Constitution by design. The courts have been interpreting it more strictly than in the past; that suits me fine, as it probably would have suited Thomas Jefferson, who stated in 1785,“". . . it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. In neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."” Let us examine each of Rabbi Lapin's three M's” in turn. On marriage he asks rhetorically, "Does anyone really suppose that marriage evolved naturally?"” Well, I and most scientists do, since it is a "cultural universal,"” meaning it is present in just about every culture on earth, even those that never heard of the Bible until Christian colonizers, imperialists and missionaries brought it to them. Tremendous advantages accrue to children who grow up in a stable two-parent home, advantages that enhance their probability of surviving and having children of their own. Marriage is still the norm, so much so that even gay men clamor to marry one another. Money - We all learned in Economics 101 that money is a medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value, not a "spiritual vision."” Every culture has norms for ownership of property, whether private or communal. Every culture prohibits stealing. That too is a cultural universal. Rabbi Lapin asserts that, "without the Bible, we would all be living in . . .equal poverty."” What does he make of Japan, China and the other Asian "tiger economies" whose people are doing quite well for themselves and are neither Jewish nor Christian, nor do they consider our Bible holy to them? Most of us, no matter our religious persuasion or lack thereof, never mugged a little old lady or held up a convenience store. We acquire our money by honest work and are good with God or good without God. Manners - Rabbi Lapin finds their roots in the Biblical account of God creating humans separately from animals, and recalls his mother telling him not to "eat like an animal."” Well, my mother would tell me not to eat like a particular species of animal, namely a pig, to which most Jews have a visceral aversion and which supposedly likes to wallow in dirt. Rabbi Lapin here is simply repeating a tired canard that the modern outlook on human origins encourages people to "act like animals."” Well, as every pet owner knows, dogs act like dogs and cats act like cats - and pigs act like pigs. Why shouldn't humans act like humans? Humans are highly social primates who for most of our history competed with other species that are larger, stronger and faster than we. Social cooperation was the only way to successfully compete, and even today when we no longer run down big game with primitive weapons we cannot manage without getting along with one another. Every culture, Judeo-Christian or not, possesses a set of social mores, manners if you will. It does not really matter what those manners are, and behavior that is de rigueur in one culture might well be taboo in another. Every society's set of rules fosters group identity and group cohesion, which in turn enhances survival. Whole books have been written on the probable evolutionary origins of human behavior, a fascinating topic known as sociobiology.

Pirke Avot enjoins us to "correct yourself and then correct others."” Our Orthodox community has plenty of social pathology, and we need to work on ourselves rather than shove our religion down the throats of others. Would Rabbi Lapin return to the pre-1960 halcyon days when a Jewish boy with a kippa was a walking target for physical attack by rowdy Gentiles who learned in their parochial schools and in their homes that we killed their god? When students, including Jewish ones, in public schools were taught to recite Protestant prayers and sing Christmas carols? When Jewish shopkeepers could not keep their shops open on Sunday if they so chose? When children died of a host of diseases that have since been conquered by modern science? When one in ten Americans could not be served at lunch counters and other places of public accommodation, could not live in certain neighborhoods even though they could afford to, could not attend certain colleges even though qualified, could not even drink from public water fountains, simply because their skin was dark? I will take modern America with all its imperfections any time, thank you.
Zev Stern, Ph.D.

My printed reply, shortened due to space limitations, appears here.

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1 Comments:

Blogger cipher said...

Zev, the replies to your letter, along with Lapin's article and the comments attached to it, demonstrate the intellectual poverty that now passes for Orthodoxy. The tolerant, relatively intellectually open Modern Orthodoxy with which you grew up no longer exists, and it isn't coming back. Frum people keep telling me that Orthodoxy represents the future, that the frei Yidden will intermarry out of existence - and have you noticed that they never seem to be upset by the prospect? Meanwhile, Orthodoxy and Reform have each been predicting the other's demise for two hundred years. Everyone is still here, but Orthodoxy is now at a watershed. The criminals and lunatics against whom you so justly rail, along with their mindless sycophants, are destroying it. The Haredim have a generation left, two at most. Modern Orthodoxy has no strong, outspoken leaders - apart, perhaps, from Avi Weiss, and he's too liberal for most of you. I simply can't see any prospects for survival.

Thu Nov 11, 06:59:00 PM EST  

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