“The whole of man’s history,” we read in one of the documents of Vatican II, “has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity” (Gaudium et Spes, 37, #2). So news concerning the “culture war” should not surprise us. But when an Orthodox Rabbi, Daniel Lapin, publishes a book with an evangelical press (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., c. 1999), urging the nation to return to its Christian moorings, it’s clear that a new coalition of religious believers is emerging. “As a Jew,” he says, in America’s Real War, “I am filled with profound gratitude for America” (p. 113). Here, as in no other country, Jews have freely flourished. Were the moral convictions which Christians have upheld in the United States to collapse, Jews would be among the first to suffer under the relentless jackhammers of secularism. So he writes both to encourage Christians to uphold their traditional ethical standards and to challenge his fellow Jews to support them!
We are engaged, Lapin believes, in the greatest cultural war since the Antebellum Abolitionists divided the nation over the question of slavery. Today the “basic question is whether America is a secular or a religious nation” (p. 13). The “core difference” between the two worldviews is found in their radically different “moral vision” (p. 49). He believes the U.S. was–until the 1960’s–a genuinely Christian nation, committed to biblical authority and traditional moral standards. Secularist forces, personified by Yuppies such as the Clintons, launched an assault which has, on many fronts, overwhelmed the Christian fortress. Copnsequently: “One of the most profound truths about America as we approach the end of the twentieth century is that we are no longer one nation under God” (p. 46).
Unfortunately, all too few Christians have rightly discerned this truth, and all too many Jews have joined the secularist forces in driving religion out of public life. Devout Christians too rarely saw the ugly innards of Liberalism. “They mistook the new policies”–whether the economic proposals of the welfare state or “no fault divorce” laws or the suppression of religious activity under the guise of “the separation of church and state”– because it all seemed, at the moment at least, non-threatening. Christians have misapplied Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek,” passively allowing God’s enemies to gain control of this nation’s cultural institutions. “Had they understood that the modernists’ intention was, in the words of English critic high priest of liberalism Lionel Trilling, ‘to subvert the classic Jewish, Christian and natural virtues . . . to insinuate that what Jews and Christians for centuries called sin is actually a high form of liberation,’ they would surely have rebelled” (p. 166). But few Christians cared to read Trilling or to do the demanding work necessary to understand what he and his accomplices were up to. They blissfully ignored what was happening to their culture. Now Christians–especially evangelical Christians–must wake up!
Jews, on the other hand, must acknowledge that the secularist agenda has been supported (and often led) by non-observant and “Reform” Jews. Their political and cultural endeavors, Lapin thinks, result from their refusal to abide by Jewish tradition, embracing “liberalism, often unconsciously, as a way out of their Covenant. This is the true purpose of liberalism, and Jews are its disproportionate champions because, more than anyone else, they desperately yearn for an escape from having to accept the seeming rigors of Jewish law” (p. 271). To escape obligations to eat kosher food, to observe the Sabbath, to restrict sexual congress to marriage, many Jews abandon the Way of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “Modern liberalism simply means becoming ‘liberated’ from the external authority of God” (p. 271). Thus secularized Jews “embrace a uniquely American form of atheism which applauds a lying, philandering, scandal-ridden president who leaves church with a Bible clutched under his arm only to rush across town and address a defiant, fund-raising gathering of ultra-Left Hollywood abortion activists. America’s unique form of atheism enables people to arrive at their houses of worship in order to participate in a gay pride service” (p. 271). Such Jews, Lapin says, must repent and return to God!
In addition to encouraging devout Christians and Jews to join hands in restoring a religious, moral culture in America, Lapin addresses a variety of issues he finds most pressing. One of the most important, clearly, is the condition of the family. “Nowhere is the tug-of-war for the soul of America more strikingly visible than in the area of marriage and family” (p. 177). As a boy, he was encouraged by his father to repair old clocks. His father thought everything had a moral message, so in time he told his son: “Although there are countless ways to reassemble clocks. only one way works. There are also countless ways of structuring familles and societies. Only one way works” (p. 70). Since the 1960’s, America has ignored the clocks’ message! There’s only one way! That one way stands preeminently revealed in the Bible: marriage matters and should be permanent; both mothers and fathers are necessary to rightly rear children; sexual activity should be restricted to married couples.
Lapin also deals with economic issues, the need to balance justice and mercy in “welfare” programs, education and entertainment, bringing a clearly biblical set of principles to his discussion of current concerns. The chapters in the book are short, easily read, and worth reading. He represents the rapidly-growing Orthodox Jewish community in America quite well!
Lapin’s concern for traditional marriage finds support in Glenn T. Stanton’s Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society (Colorado Springs: Pinon Press, c. 1997), one of the best, most thoroughly-referenced, data-packed sources available. As a dedicated researcher, Stanton’s notes and bibliography are as illuminating as his text.
“The thesis of this book is simple,” he says: “First-time, lifelong, monogamous marriage is the relationship that best provides for the most favorable exercise of human sexuality, the overall well-being of adults, and the proper socialization of children” (p. 11). Still more: “One of social science’s best-kept secrets is that marriage is much more than a legal agreement between two people. Marriage truly makes a difference in the lives of men and women” (p. 73). Tragically, this best of all relationships has been ruthlessly assailed and thoughtlessly neglected. Consequently, “Of all the social problems facing American civilization, the decline of marriage and the breakup of the family is unquestionably our most pressing problem” (p. 18). Statistical studies, scholarly analyses, anecdotal accounts all concur–there’s little good news concerning the traditional family! According to Professor Lawrence Stone, a Princeton professor of family history, “‘The scale of marital breakdowns in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of. There has been nothing like it for the last 2,000 years, and probably longer'” (p. 20). “The distinguished demographer Kingsley Davis correctly laments that at ‘no time in history, with the possible exception of Imperial Rome, ahs the institution of marriage been more problematic than it is today” (p. 25).
If such statements don’t alarm you, you need read no further! But if they do, Stanton fills in the picture. Cohabiting couples have increased more than 700% since 1970. Even our language has changed to accommodate them–few now refer to such folks as “living in sin” or “shacking up,” since someone’s feelings might be hurt! One-third of all babies are “now born to unmarried mothers” (p. 24). Concurrently, the divorce rate has doubled. All this means that increasing numbers of children suffer abnormal childhood, suffering from the loss of natural parents committed to each other and to their children’s welfare.
We’re now trying–in schools, courts, hospitals–to cope with the consequences of the “sexual revolution” which erupted in the 1960’s. A perceptive collegian declared that “‘The sexual revolution is over and everyone lost'” (p. 34). Everyone lost because folks believed a great lie! One of the most careful scholarly studies Stanton cites, Sex in America, sums up its findings with these sobering words: “‘The public image of sex in America bears virtually no relationship to the truth'” (p. 41). The truth is that good sex binds together married men and women, that virginity before marriage is the best way to prepare for it, and that very traditional sexual standards enable men and women to live wisely and well. Yet we allow movies and TV and women’s magazines and Playboy to peddle their untruths to unsupervised youngsters, who fall prey to the notion that sexual satisfaction abounds in nightly “hook-ups” and uncommitted “relationships.”
The truth concerning “domestic violence” must also be declared. First of all, it’s not a “male” problem, since women initiate as many violent encounters as men (p. 62). Secondly, only nine percent of the violent acts are by husbands. Some 65 percent of male violence is perpetrated by boyfriends or former husbands! “Wife beating” should be, more accurately, called “girlfriend beating.” Fatherless children are also at risk! Indeed, “even though boyfriends provide only about 2 percent of nonparental child care, 64 percent of all cases of nonparental child abuse are committed by boyfriends, with 84 percent of all cases of nonparental child abuse occurring in single-parent homes” (pp. 65-66).
Every child needs a mom and a dad! “What children need most is for their parents to be and remain married” (p. 100). Overwhelming evidence demonstrates the risks we impose on children in single-parent homes–poverty, promiscuity, delinquency, educational and vocational failure. Fathers, especially, are essential. Responsible men establish and enforce the rules which make good neighborhoods as well as good homes. “As David Blankenhorn explains, ‘We have too many boys with guns primarily because we have too few fathers. if we want fewer of the former, we must have more of the latter. This is little evidence to suggest that any other strategy will work'” (p. 113).
This means, of course, that we must somehow reverse the divorce rate. Adults who divorce may gain some relief from their problems, some improvement in their satisfaction with life. However, their gains are purchased with their children’s pain! Stanton cites the studies which have been mounting in this decade to show that divorce almost always harms children. Kids react differently, depending upon their age, but their reactions inevitably reveal their sufferings. And they are not helped when parents remarry! However much happier adults may be when they remarry, their children struggle to adjust to new “parents.” “Ironically, a growing body of research indicates that children might be better off in a single-parent family than living in a stepfamily” (p. 145).
Children need more than “adults”–even caring adults–in a house. They need their biological moms and dads. “Biology matters” (p. 148). Children “in stepfamilies experienced more developmental problems, were three times as likely to have sought or required psychological help in the last year, ranked a little lower in their classes at school, were nearly twice as likely to have repeated a grade, and were less likely to be described as being in excellent health when compared with children from intact families” (p. 148). Boys with stepfathers have a propensity to delinquency and violence, girls have a propensity for sexual promiscuity. Alarmingly, one study shows “that preschool children who live with one biological parent and one step-parent were forty times more likely to become an abuse case than children living in an intact home” (p. 153). Stepchildren not only are disadvantaged, they are seriously at risk! “Regarding sexual abuse, Michael Gordon, from the University of Connecticut, reports that a girl is seven times more likely to be molested by a stepfather than a biological father” (p. 154).
In view of all this, what should we do? G.K. Chesterton, nearly a century ago, saw the looming problem and prescribed this solution: “If we wish to preserve the family we must revolutionize the nation” (p. 159). First of all, we ourselves must wake up to the problem! For 40 years we’ve watched the disintegration of the family and done little to save it. Just as we have “defined deviancy down” in other areas, so we have rationalized the collapse of marriage and family. We consider “normal” what earlier ages clearly condemned. Alleged “compassion” has moved us to condone behaviors, such as divorce, simply because we fear offending people. So we must recover a sense of outrage, risk offending those whose acts merit condemnation, work to develop better laws which secure marriages and protect children, and try to revive this most ancient and most valuable of human institutions.
William Bennett provides ample data concerning America’s current conditions in The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators: American Society at the End of the Twentieth Century (New York: Broadway Books, c. 1999), a revised, updated version of a similar publication issued five years ago. The data reveal a mix of good and bad news. In some areas, there are encouraging trends: “reductions in welfare, violent crime, abortion, AIDS, divorce, and suicide; upswings in SAT scores and charitable giving” (p. 2). In other areas, the details are depressing: unwed mothers now give birth to nearly 33% of the nation’s children; the U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the Western world; STDs and drug use have increased; educational standards still slide.
What’s clear, Bennett says, is this: “In two generations, America has undergone dramatic and traumatic social change–the kind that one would normally associate with cataclysmic natural events like famine, revolution or war. Civilizations stand on precious few pillars, and during the last three and a half decades, many of ours have fractured” (p. 4). Consequently, “The nation we live in today is more violent and vulgar, coarse and cynical, rude and remorseless, deviant and depressed, than the one we once inhabited. A popular culture that is often brutal, gruesome, and enamored with death robs many children of their innocence. People kill other people and themselves, more easily. Men and women abandon each other, and their children, more readily. Marriage and the American family are weaker, more unstable, less normative” (p. 5).
These sobering generalizations are fleshed out with statistics, graphs, citations of official documents and scholarly sources. We get a picture of what types of crimes are committed, where they are most severe, and how punishment seems to have affected crime rates. The breakdown of the traditional family is clear when we see that “In 1994, for the first time in American history, more than half of all firstborn children were conceived or were born out of wedlock” (p. 53) and realize that only half of the children born today will grow up in two-parent homes.
Bennett, a former university professor, former Secretary of Education, has, understandably, a deep concern of American education. And the data concerning this nation’s public schools do not hearten him! While our elementary students do well in international competition, by the time they reach high school they have fallen woefully behind–ranking last, for example, in advanced physics tests. What’s needed is not more money (which has been significantly increased during the same time the schools’ failures became pronounced) but more attention to classroom instruction. Good teachers, less administrators, attention to truly academic subjects rather than peripheral concerns, would help a troubled school system.
Turning to the realm of “popular culture and religion,” we learn that the TV is on seven hours a day in the typical home, though significantly fewer folks watch the nightly newscasts. Of the 102 prime-time shows on the major networks, only 15 “included fathers as regular, central characters” (p. 163). We buy twice as many books as we did 50 years ago. About the same percentage of us pray, believe in God, and go to church as in 1947. “Teen churchgoing has remained relatively constant since 1980. About half of all teenagers attend a religious service in an average week” (p. 176). Some 90% of us believe in God; “90 percent believe in heaven, and 77 percent rate their chance of going to heaven as excellent or good; 73 percent believe in hell; 65 percent in the devil” (p. 176). And our convictions encourage our contributions. Charitable giving increased 38 percent in the 1990’s, with the bulk of it going to religious institutions. Southerners are the most generous. “Liberal” New Englanders are, quite notably, the least generous!
While Bennett’s list of “cultural indicators” cannot be considered definitive, it certainly focuses on some important factors which constitute the cultural life of a people, and this easily-grasped book enables us to understand something of what’s going on in our world.
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