See the previous installments in this ongoing discussion about American values, Left vs. Right, Biblical morality, and New Media activism:
Part 1, by Michael Lumish on October 13: Politics Vs Theology: Beginning A Debate With David Swindle. “Why we should not frame political issues as a matter of Good versus Evil.”
Part 2, by David Swindle on October 20: Secular Political Ideology Vs. Biblical Moral Values: Continuing a Debate with Michael Lumish. “Why I don’t care much about Left vs. Right anymore. And four more points of disagreement.”
Part 3, by Michael Lumish on October 27: Debating America’s Ideological Origins: Part III in Lumish Vs Swindle. “A disagreement about the founding fathers and classical liberalism.”
I appreciate your continued enthusiasm for this debate. I’m enjoying it too and hope we can continue. But I admit that I’m starting to worry about how fruitful our discussion can be. That this dialogue even began and that it now continues is primarily due to you following a common progressive bad habit: rather than engage with conservative arguments and ideas on their own terms, you evade them by distorting the point, rewriting the concept in different words to transform the meaning. You battle straw man arguments. You do this over and over again, as virtually all progressives I ever dialogue with do also.
I would certainly like to continue a great public exchange with you, but if anything worthwhile is to grow from these talks first I’m going to have to fertilize the ground with the ashes of the straw men versions of my ideas you set after in your rebuttal. I’ll give you two examples.
1. Well Duh. Of course Classical Liberalism has more influences than just the Bible.
Your previous piece began with your supposedly more complete understanding of America’s founding ideology. You quoted the sentence from me that you took issue with, then rewrote it to change its meaning, and then proceeded to lecture to your straw man about the numerous influences on the founding fathers. I wrote, and you quoted me,
the founders’ philosophy of classical liberalism that forms the foundation of our government is just the political expression of Biblical values.
But rather than make issue with this statement, you instead dissent from an absurd claim that I did not make:
I must disagree that the founders’ philosophy of classical liberalism derives just from the Bible.
It is obvious that the philosophy of classical liberalism had a number of influences and the founders drew from sources beyond just the Bible. You summarize a number of them (though not all) and I hope you don’t think me so ignorant as to be unaware of them.
Perhaps the meaning of what I wrote can become more apparent if I reverse its formulation: one who believes in Biblical values expresses them through defending classical liberal governments and public policies.
There is a very important relationship between the Bible and the revolutionary, John Lockean liberalism that took root in the the minds of a colonial population steeped in what David Gelertner describes in his book Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion as “Old Testament Christianity.” That you name Locke in the same company as Rousseau and Voltaire suggests to me that you do not understand the difference between the French secular Enlightenment tradition (that led to the French Revolution’s Guillotines) and the British monotheist tradition (that led to our American freedom.)
The difference between the two competing Enlightenment ideologies is most apparent in how each responds to the Judeo-Christian value system…
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To understand what Biblical values are, it’s necessary to understand what the values were in the ancient world what existed before the rise of the Judeo-Christian Civilization. It looked like this:
Ancient man understood the forces of nature as his gods. He performed human sacrifices and wild rituals to try and appease the unpredictable, cruel deities of mother nature. In this world human life was no more valuable than any other plant or animal. The Law of the Jungle was the only code.
The story of Abraham in Genesis rejects this, laying the cornerstone for Western Civilization. God staying Abraham’s hand from the sacrifice of his son Isaac is symbolic of a religion built around rejecting human sacrifice, thus elevating man’s status and value to above nature. From the start of Genesis the paradigm has already been reversed. Unlike the gods of the surrounding tribes, the God of Israel was not a part of nature. He created nature. He was transcendent, above, beyond, always being, always to be. The idea of a God who could not be seen or named was something new then. (And a lot of people are still angry at the Jews for coming up with it!)
Compounding the mystery, this unknowable God we cannot see created both nature and man in his image. Then having breathed life into man he set him in charge of nature. So now instead of worshiping nature, man was called to dominate and rise up, being more like God, and less like nature. So a Biblical value system looks like this, an inversion of the previous Pagan, polytheistic value system:
The side effect of this valuing of life is that all human beings become equal — no human being is divine and no one has the authority to dominate over another. We’re all created in the Image of God. Thus each human being has rights. Perhaps this sounds familiar?
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This is what I mean when I say that classical liberalism is just the political expression of biblical values. It is a Biblical concept that all human beings are created equal and thus no man has the authority to enslave or Guillotine another.
But though we can escape being physically enslaved to another, much more difficult is overcoming our own mental and spiritual enslavement to bad ideas and destructive cultures. Michael, when I have to burn down a progressive straw man version of my ideas once then I regard that as just “the cost of doing business.” But when I have to correct the same idea three times then I really start to get concerned. If you can’t get your head wrapped around the basis of my original critique of you then we’re really not going to get anywhere with this.
2. I never suggested you write about cooking or sports instead of Israel and antisemitism. (Not that it’s an either-or choice.) I suggested you write for a bigger purpose than just trying to convert your fellow secular progressive Jews to your new political ideology.
Michael, I was frustrated to read what you wrote here:
I recognize, David, that I have not even begun to address your five central points of apparent disagreement. I will certainly do so as we continue forward in this conversation. One of those points is that my focus tends to be too narrow and, thus, limits a broader appeal. So long as I write about the Long Arab War Against the Jews of the Middle East, I honestly do not know what to do about that.
I could write about the culinary world, because I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and did, in fact, cook for a living for a number of years. Or I could write about my love of baseball and the New York Yankees of my childhood which included figures like Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, and Thurman Munson.
But, I don’t.
How at this point in the discussion can you be saying “I honestly do not know what to do about that”? I’ve been telling you very clearly what you can do about that: write about Israel to try and reach more people than just your fellow liberal/progressive secular Jews! Expand the goals of your New Media activism and broaden your audience.
But I now see that any attempts by me to persuade you from this course will be largely fruitless. If those paragraphs made clear that all of my points to you so far had gone in one ear and out the other then the next one explained why. We both may be strong supporters of Israel but we have very different motivations behind it, seeing the war through totally different moral lenses:
“I write about the Arab-Israel conflict because I worry about the well-being of my fellow Jews in the Middle East. The reason that I do so is because I see an enormous amount of genocidal hatred leveled at those people by the much larger Arab-Muslim majority in the region. I also see many political elements in the west justifying that hatred and supporting it and that, my friend, scares the holy crap out of me.”
You see this as an “Arab-Israel conflict” and you are primarily drawn to the issue out of concern for “my fellow Jews in the Middle East.”
In other words, you primarily care about the war Muslim states have declared on Israel because those who share your culture/religion are the ones dying. This sentiment is the flip side of when my progressive friends, perplexed by my outspoken Zionism, insist on asking me, “Why do you worry so much about Israel when you’re not Jewish?” I wrote one answer here and will now give another.
During the past few years I’ve befriended a number of Jews living in Israel and I care very much about them and their country. But I’m just as concerned about the Muslim boys being indoctrinated to hate Jews and become suicide bombers in madrassas in Saudi Arabia. I’m just as concerned about the vast majority of Egyptian Muslim girls forced to undergo female genital mutilation. And I’m just as concerned about all the human beings living throughout the world whose lives are threatened by the proliferation of Islamist ideologies and Muslim Brotherhood groups, both violent and stealth. We never know when suicidal Jihadists will decide to capture a mall or an elementary school, take a bunch of hostages, and then broadcast online the videos of them torturing their victim to death.
Israel is not at the forefront of my concerns because I share your belief that it is part of an “Arab-Israel conflict”. Rather, I believe that we are in World War IV — the free West vs the Marxist-Islamist criminal slave state alliance –and Israel is the battlefield on the front lines. The Jihadists and their criminal Marxist allies in the Kremlin know that Israel is just the test case. If they can conquer the Jewish state then Europe and America will surely fall too.
The “Long War Against the Jews of the Middle East” is a much bigger war than the narrow terms you choose to write about it suggest. The War is against not just the Jews, but all who worship the God the Jews gave the world, all civilizations who revere Him and His commandments to honor human life. And it’s fought against us by more than just radical Muslims for many reasons. We have to articulate these truths to everyone who will listen — not just those who come out of the same culture as us — and with goals more sophisticated than naively thinking we can convert others to our ideology.
Michael, it looks like the further we get into this discussion, the deeper our differences appear. I hope that in your next response we can find some common ground and there will be fewer straw men for the compost heap. It appears that our contrary new media tactics reflect not just our differing moral values but also the broader paradigms in which we interpret the world.
image courtesy shutterstock / Sergey Kamshylin