Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Why isn't Cross Current Celebrating the decline of Christianity?

It is hard to overstate just how terrible Alderstein’s latest post is. Once again, we have a supposed representative of the rabbinate and Torah Judaism, forgetting his history and falling to his knees in homage to Christians. At Cross Currents they have been doing this for more than 12 years and still the obsequious awfulness of it takes my breath away. Here’s the fisk I promised (sorry about theformatting)

**The Museum of the Bible (MOTB), the largest privately-funded museum in America, opened to the public on Saturday, November 18th. It was not a Jewish project; the people behind it are largely evangelical Christians. Yet, traditional Jews have a stake in this enterprise.**
While I see the potential appeal of this museum to those of us who have a secular interest in history what stake do traditional Jews have in an institution that offers exhibitions such as (1) the Stations of the Cross (2) Christmas Illuminated (3) The World of Jesus of Nazareth (4) New Testament Theatre and (5) The Art of the Gospels? While there is a bit about the Hebrew Bible, they are entirely overwhelmed by the Christian exhibitions.

**Its opening is welcome news. It is both a powerful voice that reminds Americans of the importance of belief in a Higher Authority, and a showcase for the interconnection of Jews, Judaism, and the Land of Israel.**

Not all higher authorities are created equal. The belief in a Higher Authority professed by the Christians who planned, funded, built and will visit this museum, is the belief in Jesus. Jesus’s teachings are not God’s teaching. The demands he makes of his followers are not the demands the God of the Jews makes on Us. Aldertsein muddles this important distinction at our peril

**America needs this museum, and traditional Jews need an America that is enriched by this project.**

Why does America need a museum that encourages people to put superstition ahead of science, and the parochialism and narrow-mindless of Christianity ahead of the tolerance of the First Amendment? From the Jewish perspective, what exactly will be enriching about any film likely to be shown at something called the New Testament Theater? For us, what is enriching about a museum wing dedicated to Jesus?

**Religious belief and practice in the United States – still one of the most religious countries in the Western world – is not what it used to be. Attendance at religious services is down. **

Meanwhile, traditional Jewish belief and practice in the United States is at all-time high. Orthodox synagogues are packed, and Orthodox communities are bursting at the seams. Isn't this welcome news, Rabbi Alderstein?

While it might be fallacious to link the decline of Christianity with the rise of Judaism, surely we can agree that it is irresponsible and short-sighted to bemoan the weakening of a faith and a culture that has, for thousands of years, been at best a poisonous thorn. More to the point, Orthodox Judaism is flourishing. Why should I worry about the Christians and their problems?

**The fastest-growing religious group, according to Pew, is the “nones,” those who respond to pollsters that they identify with no religious group at all. Christian retention rates (the percentage of those who remain in the religious group in which they were born) range from unacceptable at the upper end (65% for evangelicals) to abysmal (45% for mainline Protestants).**

Given that this group has always been friendly to the Jews, and far more likely to respect the promises of the Bill of the Rights, I fail to see any reason for concern. Liberals don’t try to turn Jews into Christians. They don’t force us to pray to false Gods. They don’t fill the public square with Jesus propaganda. They simply ask us to extend to others the same tolerance that the Constitution has historically guaranteed to our community.

**Even more significantly, the mood of America has shifted. A plethora of lawsuits that would restrict rights of religious people, especially when they run counter to new PC orthodoxies, threatens to shrink the area in which constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion operate. **

Without examples, I can’t respond directly to this complaint. But I will say that I entirely certain that when he talks about lawsuits that “restrict the rights of religious people” what he really means are “lawsuits that seek to prevent religious people from discriminating against gays, woman and non-Christians.”

**First Liberty Institutes’ Undeniable documents 1400 religious liberty incidents. **

As I suspected the first few mentioned in the “Cases” section of their website are exactly the sort of frivolous law suits I described. A teacher wants the right to religiously indoctrinate her public school students. A church wants to break federal law and deny insurance to its employees. A store wants the Jim Crow-era prerogative to deny service to customers the manager considers sub human. These aren’t cases of religious people being denied their rights, but of religious people being required to act like good Americans.

**Behind this is an attitudinal change that augurs for more serious moves away from religion in the future. More than half of all Americans now believe that one does not need to believe in G-d to be moral or have good values.**
Does Alderstein have a counter-argument? Because to me it seems blatantly self-evident that a belief in God does not correlate with good values and good behavior. Like all of you, I know far too many believers with horrible personal morality; meanwhile the few atheists I know tend to be humble, well-mannered and not likely to engage in Catholic-church style pedophilia or Hasidic Judaism style welfare fraud.

**The rapid about-face of Americans regarding gay marriage speaks of a large shift towards autonomy, and away from authority. This has fed a rise in atheism, and hostility to strongly-held religious values.**

Again, I must point out that not all authorities are created equal, and that resisting certain authorities is a moral imperative. Likewise, it can be a moral imperative to resist certain religious values, no matter how strongly they might be held. The fact that, eg, your odious idea about woman or minorities or some other vulnerable minority can be connected to your religion does not entitle it to special protections. If it’s a horrible idea, playing the God card must not be allowed to save it.

**The culture wars are over, claim some people. Religion has lost. There has been much hand-wringing in conservative Christian circles. This is nonsense. I like to call it the Binary Error – as if life can be reduced to decisions between two options, with winner-take-all consequences. The thinking runs something like this: The spiritual cargo that the Mayflower unloaded at Plymouth Rock continued to dominate America, until the US Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. That reversed things. Paganism scored a knockout; the champ was unseated and shamed; the godless now rule the West
This is crude and untenable reasoning. Belief/disbelief is not a toggle switch. No matter what some shapers of our culture preach, the fact remains that the hundreds of millions of Americans who professed belief in a Creator a few years ago did not vanish into thin air. It is true that they are not yet accustomed to function as part of a sometimes-detested minority, and that they face tough cultural and political challenges ahead. **

More than 70 percent of Americans say a belief in God is an important part of being American, while nine in 10 report that they believe in God. Those “hundreds of millions of Americans who professed belief in a Creator” are not in danger of becoming a minority – detested or otherwise – anytime soon. Alderstein needs to turn off the alarm. Beleivers don’t seem to have any immediate political worries either. The Congress and the Courts are both in the hands of bible thumpers and while the current president, unlike his predecessor, is an adulterer and a pagan with terrible personal morality he remains beloved by evangelicals.

** It is also true that one of the most difficult challenges is the undercurrent of so much of contemporary culture that mocks and derides as primitive anything seen as old. (“Old” generally refers to something that predates the latest version of the iPhone. It contrasts with words like “ancient” and “prehistoric,” which apply to things as old as the Beatles.)**
Lots of things that are old are also primitive. While I agree that designation shouldn’t be made automatically, I also must protest Alderstein’s atttempt to provide special protections to older ideas and practices. Something is not good merely because it’s been around for a while. If that were true, we’d still have slaves and chamber pots, and people dead of plague in the streets.

**No one knows with certainty where this will all lead – whether to a further descent into a swamp of moral decay,**

Further descent? Moral decay? Sorry, but this idea that we are less moral that out ancestors can’t survive even a second of scrutiny. Like most sloppy thinkers of the right, Alderstein chooses not to remember how far we’ve come. Moral atrocities of the past such as slavery, child labor, rampant prostitution, epidemics and sewage-filled rivers are forgotten. (This chart shows how ludicrous it is to suggest that our era is one of moral decay)

Instead of appreciating this progress, he dwells on the glorious Values our ancestors were said to possess -- never once stopping to wonder why those glorious Values did so little to prevent the wars, poverty and plagues that made life in the good old days such a screaming misery. Those miseries only began to vanish as Christianity began to weaken, and only a fool would wish to go backwards.

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