Category Archives: TEN COMMANDMENTS

No. 11 Bookworm Podcast: The Left is returning us to the horrors of tribalism

In their desperate grab for power, the Left is abandoning the unity of America’s ideas in favor of tribalism, with all its attendant violence.

(If you prefer listening to reading, the companion podcast is embedded below, or you can listen to it at Libsyn or at Apple podcasts. I’m trying to make a go of my podcast so, if you like it, please share it with your friends and on social media. Giving it good ratings helps too.)

One of the books I’ve recommended for some time now is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. The title pretty much says it all: We live in a safer, less violent world than at any time in human history. It’s the kind of book people should read if the news is getting them down. While our media operates on the “if it bleeds it leads” principle, the real world operates on an “it’s never been better” principle even in the worst parts of the world.

Pinker wrote the book in 2012, before the world felt the full effect of Obama’s lead from behind policy in Syria, his attack on Libya, and his passivity regarding the Arab Spring, all of which turned large parts of the Middle East and North Africa into blood-soaked hellholes, with Angela Merkel then helping the violence to leak into Europe, which means that his book is based on a less violent time than the one in which we live. Nevertheless, his greater point is still a good one: Over the centuries . . . no, over the millennia, we humans have become less violent. We’ve become less violent in warfare, less violent in daily life, less violent in dealing with criminals, and less violent in entertainment.

Just think that a “mere” 2,000 years ago, the Romans were the apex of civilization, complete with their “Pax Romana” (or Roman Peace). For those who forgot to pay attention in Roman history class, the Pax Romana was a relatively peaceful period from about 27 B.C. to about 140 A.D. when there was minimal strife within Rome itself.

Of course “minimal strife” is a relative term. Rome expanded rapidly during this period, so there was actually constant warfare. Indeed, it was during this time — in 70 A.D. — that the Siege of Jerusalem took place and it proved to be one of the bloodiest wars in which the Romans engaged. Josephus, who wrote the history, believed that over 1.1 million non-combatants died in Jerusalem alone. He was probably exaggerating, but a good guess is still about 350,000 non-combatant deaths.

This was also the time during which Tacitus said of Rome’s conquering tactics, “They make a desert [or desolation] and call it peace.” In other words, it was not “peace” as we think of it.
This so-called peaceful time also saw crucifixion — which is one of the cruelest forms of execution — routinely used as an ordinary punishment, including against Jesus. Entertainment during the Pax Romana consisted of up to 80,000 Romans gathering together in the Colosseum to watch gladiators fight each other to the death or, for a change of pace, enjoying the spectacle of seeing wild animals tear apart prisoners who had been sentenced to death. During big celebrations, thousands of people would die before a delighted crowd. (The same was true 1,500 years later under Aztec rule.) And of course, there were the depraved Roman emperors, who delighted in torture, especially sexual torture.

Cruelty was the name of the game — yet, as I said, Rome was the apex of world culture and its idea set European standards for centuries to come.

(As an aside, I’m very tempted to buy Jerry Toner’s new book, Infamy: The Crimes of Ancient Rome, which takes a close, and apparently very colorful, look at just how awful the Roman empire was for those not lucky enough to live at the very topmost rungs — and given how frequently emperors were assassinated in Rome’s waning days, even the topmost rungs weren’t very nice places.)

Outside of Rome, life was just as awful. Large chunks of the world — most of Europe outside of Rome’s borders, the Americas, Asia, Africa — were tribal.

Of course, given the Left’s relentless attack on Western civilization, that’s not what our children learn. In schools today, our children are routinely taught that Native America tribes were peaceful tree huggers. They were not. Sure, there were some tribes that really were peaceful harvesters (the coastal Miwoks in Northern California, for example), but for most of them, life was a series of endless battles with other tribes over scare resources.

Beginning with one of the proto Leftists, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was in love with the idea of the “Noble Savage,” and continuing with early anthropologists such as Margaret Mead who, in the wake of WWI and WWII, were in love with the idea of anti-civilization, we’ve been instructed that Stone Age tribes, especially the indigenous people in the Americas, were peaceful compared to modern man. And this is the point at which I loop back to the start of my post, to Steven Pinker. He addresses the type of violence attendant upon Stone Age tribes, whether 10,000 years ago or 5,000 years ago or, in the Americas, even 200 years ago (and do keep in mind that Native American tribes were devoid of writing and books, devoid of math and science, and devoid of smelting and metallurgy — in other words, they were Stone Age).

Pinker begins by noting that it’s easy to think of Stone Age tribes as relatively peaceful. In our imagination, neighboring tribesman face off against each other across a river, trash talking and shooting a few arrows. A couple of men are wounded or die and then the two sides retreat, having proven their honor and honored the process. As one historian, William Eckhardt, wrote, “Bands of gathering-hunters, numbering about 25 to 50 people each, could hardly have made much of a war. There would not have been enough people to fight, few weapons with which to fight, little to fight about, and no surplus to pay for the fighting.”

Those are all assumptions, though — and they are all wrong. In fact, Stone Age tribes were exceptionally deadly, opting for unending stealth warfare with an appallingly high attrition rate:

A party of men will slink into an enemy village before dawn, fire arrows into the first men who emerge from their huts in the morning to pee, and then shooting the others as they rush out of their huts to see what the commotion is about. They may thrust their spears through walls, shoot arrows through doorways or chimneys, and set the huts on fire. They can kill a lot of drowsy people before the villagers organize themselves in defense, by which time the attackers have melted back into the forest.

Sometimes enough attackers show up to massacre every last member of the village, or to kill all the men and abduct the women.

In North America, William Bradford, who arrived on the Mayflower, described how the Native Americans dealt with their enemies:

Not being content only to kill and take away life, [they] delight to torment men in the most bloody manner that may be, flaying some alive with the shells of fishes, cutting off members and joints of others by piecemeal and broiling on the coals, eat collops of their flesh in their sight while they live.

Pinker provides other examples of indigenous people brutality, whether the Yanamamo’s in Venezuela in the 1930s, the aborigines in Australia in the early 19th century, or the Inuits in the early 20th century.

So how bloody was all this tribalism — that is, one tribe fighting for resources or vengeance against another tribe? Pinker has the answer to that: Very, very bloody. While modern societies have killed in greater numbers, simply because we have a larger population, the percentage likelihood of death in pre-modern tribal society was tremendously greater. Men of fighting age had a 25% chance of dying in some form of tribal warfare.

For society as a whole, Pinker tries to give a relative sense of the risk of violent death. In pre-2015 Europe, before Merkel’s migrants raised the violence rate, Western Europeans had a homicide rate of about 1 per 100,000 per year. America, at its most dangerous in the 1970s and 1980s, had an average homicide rate of about 10 per 100,000 per year, with Detroit leading at 45 per 100,000 per year. (In 2107, by the way, Baltimore had a murder rate of 56 per 100,000, which is why President Trump characterized it as a hellhole for those poor people trapped within its borders.)

Pinker notes that a society with a rate of 100 homicides per 100,000 would mean that “violence would start to affect you personally: assuming you have a hundred relatives, friends, and close acquaintances, then over the course of a decade one of them would probably be killed.”

With the above numbers in  mind, what does Pinker was happening in non-state tribal societies, i.e., tribal societies? “The average annual rate of death in warfare for the nonstate societies is 524 per 100,000….” Oh, my!

Pinker devotes a lot of time and words to explaining how and why violence has dropped. One of the main reasons was the creation of the state, which did away with constant Hatfield-McCoy types of revenge killings.

Another reason is one that Pinker doesn’t address, but that Nicholas Wade did in A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, the book that got him fired from the New York Times. In his book, Wade explains that Western society has bred out some of its most violent DNA. Because we created civil societies with the rule of law, violent people (especially violent men) ended up either imprisoned, executed, or simply socially disfavored, which prevented them from passing on their DNA. Meanwhile, in societies that remained tribal, violence continued to be a survival advantage, meaning it was also a genetic advantage.

Even though tribalism was eventually constrained by the state in most parts of the world, it continued in the form of nation-state battles. Across Europe, tribal battles were the norm, although they were on a grander, national scale. England and France were at war with each other for hundreds of years. The Serbians fought the Croatians, the Russians fought the Poles, the Italians fought the Yugoslavians and, of course, the Germans fought everyone. . . . The list of intra-European battles to death is the history of Europe.

The same is true for Asia — China versus Japan versus the Koreans versus the Vietnamese. . . .

And Africa! Oh, my Lord! Don’t get me started on Africa. The reason the African slave trade thrived was because Africans were busy selling their tribal enemies to Muslim traders who then sent those prisoners of war out to the rest of the world as slaves.

All of this was tribalism, which can be summed up in the Bedouin expression, “I, against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.”

There is something, though, that can stand against tribalism and that is the binding ties of ideas. And once again, this takes me back to Steven Pinker.

One of the things Pinker does not discuss in his book about violence is the rise of the Judeo-Christian ethic as an antidote to violence. To the contrary — in his first chapter, Pinker devotes a lot of pages to describing the terrible bloodshed in the Bible. He’s right that the early chapters of the Jewish Bible describe an a society riven by violence, but that’s because the stories are a history of pre-modern Stone Age societies. When it comes to the Biblical world, we don’t have to try to divine the past from bones and fragments of pottery. We can just read about it.

Take as just one example the story of Dinah: The son of a neighboring tribal leader rapes her, but then offers to marry her. Her brothers agree, provided that all the men in the other tribe get circumcised. Then, when the men are disabled by the procedure, Dinah’s brothers slaughter everyone. That’s Stone Age tribalism with a vengeance.

But the Bible is really two books. One of the books is a history of pre-modern man, a violent, bloody, vengeful, often extremely ugly history. The other book is the history of ideas, primarily those ideas expressed in the Ten Commandments. These are transcendent ideas that are not tied to tribes. Indeed, the Bible makes clear over and over and over again that the role of the Jews is to bring these transcendent ideas to the rest of the world. They are ideas about justice and the mandate for human goodness. When applied to society, any society, that society will be a better, more stable, safer society in which to live. It will be an imperfect society, because humans are imperfect, but it will be raised above a Stone Age, lawless society.

It may take centuries for people to incorporate the ideas into their day-to-day lives, but eventually they’ll back away from the norm of Roman violence and figure out Enlightenment civility. In this regard, let me point out that the worst violence in modern history — the 20th century violence of Nazi Germany and the endless, aching Cold War played out in one country after another — was triggered by nations that affirmatively rejected the Judeo-Christian doctrine in favor of what Americans once called “Godless communism.” (And need I point out that the Nazis were socialists and fiercely hostile, not just to Judaism, but to traditional Christianity, preferring instead their own version of Germanic paganism?)

In America, as an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, we had another blinding burst of binding ideas. Our Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, is not written for Germans or English or Irish or or blacks or whites or Asians or Hispanics. It was written as a set of abstract principles that could apply in theory — and have applied in fact — to all people, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, or country of national origin.

I’m not arguing that imperfect men sought to deny these abstract principles to various peoples over America’s history and more shame to them. I’m just saying that the principles are color blind and sex blind and creed blind. Like the Ten Commandments before them, they are ideas that any people can embrace and, if they embrace them properly, all people will benefit from them.

That’s been the amazing compact of America: If you come to our country and embrace our creed, nothing else about you should matter. If you go to Switzerland and, slowly and laboriously, finally gain Swiss citizenship, you’ll still be an American, albeit one with legal rights unique to Swiss citizens. However, if you’re a Swiss citizen and you gain American citizenship — voila! you’re an American. By embracing our ideas, your DNA, your lineage, your natal land, all are irrelevant.

It’s that binding force of American ideas, though, that allows the Left to engage in the ridiculous fiction that there’s some homogeneous white mass of people in America that are all alike in their privileges and hatreds. Tell that risible fiction to every white Britisher, Frenchman, Dutchman, Pole, Russian, American, and Belgian who died at the hands of a white German. Tell that to every white Serb who died at the hands of a white Croatian. What unites white people in America isn’t skin color; it’s Americanism — it’s embracing the truths that we hold self-evident.

The same holds true for people of other races in America: Leftists try to tell us that blacks are just as homogeneous as whites, but we have only to look at Africa’s history to know how ridiculous that is. As I noted above, African slavery was made possible by the hatreds of African tribalism. It wasn’t black racism that caused the Tutsis to slaughter the Hutus. It was tribalism pure and simple. But here, if blacks will embrace the American credo, tribalism is irrelevant.

Given the violence inherent in tribalism, the Leftist desire to divide Americans once again by race, color, creed, sex, etc., is utterly appalling and, indeed, quite evil. Leftists are inviting onto American shores the horror that most Americans gratefully abandoned when they waved farewell to blood-soaked Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa (at least those Africans who, in recent years, have come voluntarily), and headed for America.

Whenever tribalism has set foot in America, whether whites against blacks, blacks against whites, established whites against Irish whites, blacks against Hispanics in the inner cities, or any other tribal combination, bloodshed has followed. It’s only when we’ve embraced the notion that we, the American people, are one nation, indivisible, that we have thrived and achieved a level of peace and success that has made America the envy of the world.

We must reject the Left’s tribalism in favor of American homogeneity, or we are doomed to relapse into a history all of us should be grateful we’ve left behind.

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Religion should look like and act like religion — or why bother?

There’s nothing like trying to find a good synagogue to teach you that, when religion seeks meaning in pop culture not God, it no longer serves mankind.

Would any of you argue with me if I opened this post by saying that traditional religion is under attack in the West? No, I didn’t think so. Some religions, though, or at least some branches of the Judeo-Christian faiths, didn’t wait to be attacked. They just surrendered. They thought that, by surrendering, they’d stay alive, but they merely hastened their deaths. I have a few examples, and then I’ll see if I can use those examples to help prove my point.

On April 19, 2019, just as the sun is setting, Jews around the world will begin to celebrate Passover. According to tradition, Jews have been celebrating the Exodus story, and their escape from slavery, for more than 3,300 years. Even if one doubts tradition, it’s certain that they have been celebrating it for over 2,500 years.

As with all serious rituals, Passover follows a strict form. For thousands of years, in Israel itself, in Europe, in the Americas, in Asia, in Africa, and in the Middle East, in Australia and New Zealand, in whichever part of the world Jews have settled, they have taken seriously the admonition that they must commemorate the Exodus story. It’s a story that began when Moses, on behalf of an enslaved people, faced down the most powerful monarch in the world, a feat he accomplished because God was at his side and had his back. In different countries, there will be differences in food, language, clothes, furnishings, and music, but the core ceremony is always the same. Whether I go to a traditional seder in England or Argentina or Israel, I will feel at home.

Regular readings know that I grew up in a non-religious, yet highly Jewish, household. My father grew up in an orthodox German orphanage and then, having escaped the Nazis, spent the next two decades in British Mandate Palestine/Israel. My mother grew up the child of a mixed marriage, but from the age of 13, interrupted only by her years in a Japanese concentration camp, lived in British Mandate Palestine/Israel. For both, Jewish education and observance went without saying.

When my parents moved to America, though, they still thought that “being Jewish” went without saying. They were wrong. In America, if you want your kids to know Judaism, you must belong to a synagogue. It never occurred to them, though, to join one and, given my Dad’s long-standing communist tendencies, he would have resisted if my Mom had suggested they join. Moreover, given that my Mom’s favorite holiday was Christmas (remember that mixed marriage, right?), a wholly Jewish lifestyle wasn’t going to happen.

Nevertheless, in an interesting way, my childhood still managed to be wholly Jewish. Despite my Mom’s mixed DNA, she identified 100% as Jewish, as did my Dad. Having both been in the Israeli military during the Israeli War of Independence, they identified 100% as supporters of the world’s only Jewish state. With only one or two exceptions, all their friends were Jewish. My parents were steeped in Jewish history, values, and culture, which inevitably found its way into my psyche. Even in silly ways, we knew we were Jews. As kids, my sister and I could identify every old-time Hollywood star who was secretly Jewish (Leslie Howard, Lauren Bacall, June Allyson, John Gilbert, Edward G. Robinson, Theda Bara…. I can still list most of them).

Most importantly, although we did not observe the High Holidays (that would have involved paying to belong to a synagogue, plus Mom would never fast because, as she said, “I have low blood sugar”), we did celebrate Passover. Oy, did we celebrate it!

Given that my parents were bilingual in Hebrew and English (they were, in fact, multilingual, but that’s another story), we did the whole service in both Hebrew and English. Also, we sang all the songs twice. Why twice? Because my parents grew up knowing different versions. They always fought over which was the “correct” version, so we always did both versions.

In my memory, the Passover dinner lasted eight or ten hours, but I think, more accurately, from the moment we sat down until we kids went hunting for the afikoman, the meal ran about three hours. Still, though it was long, I loved certain parts of it. I loved the four questions, I loved placing drops of hyper-sweet, purple-red Magen David wine on the plate to commemorate the ten plagues, I loved singing the songs (both versions), and I loved, really loved, the haroset, which is a wonderful blend of chopped apples and walnuts, flavored with honey, cinnamon, and a dash of lemon (or sweet wine). The haroset more than made up for having to take (tiny) bites of maror, the bitter herb to remind us of the pain of slavery. (Our maror was horseradish from the local grocery.)

Every year, Passover was a ritual observance. Every year, we children were reminded of the Passover story and the glories of individual liberty. Year after year, Passover carved out a very specific place in my memory, the only place in my childhood deliberately reserved for God.

My seders stopped when I ceased to be a child in my parents’ house. I had almost no Jewish friends and it never occurred to me to take the lead in my own Jewishness. Eventually, I married a man who had been raised in a house even less religious than mine and he viewed Passover as anathema because he believes it celebrates of mass murder. (His views, along with the views of other Jews hostile to Passover, became the genesis for my annual Passover post.) I decided that it was better to raise my children Passover-free rather than have an annual fight over whether Passover is a good thing or a bad one.

However, in the interval between leaving my parents’ home and having my own, I attended two memorable Passover dinners, courtesy of Jewish friends. Both seders departed from tradition in significant ways, and both made me wonder why, if you take traditional values out of religion, including God, you should even bother with the pretense of being religious.

The first memorable seder occurred when a college friend invited me to share her Passover. Because the family attended a southern conservative synagogue, I was worried that their seder would be even longer and more religious than the ones from my childhood. I need not have worried.

Although my friend’s family could not have been more welcoming (I still consider my friend and her family among the best and nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing), their approach to Passover dismayed me. They rushed through every prayer, skipped the songs, and wouldn’t stop talking about everything but Passover through the entire, very abbreviated ceremony. That was when I — the most non-religious person in the world and, at that time, an avowed atheist — concluded that, if you’re going to do religion, do it right. Otherwise, why bother? This ceremony was just a long dinner. It had no greater meaning.

Around five years later, I was working in San Francisco, so at least 1/5 of my friends and colleagues were gay. One of those gay colleagues very kindly invited me to his Passover celebration. I was the only straight person there. To be clear, the host and his other guests made me feel incredibly welcome and the food was traditional and delicious (more traditional, in fact, than my mother’s would have been). Moreover, unlike the seder with my southern friends, this seder followed closely the framework of a traditional Passover service.

What made the whole thing peculiar, though, and left me feeling very distant both from my childhood Passovers and from the Book of Exodus itself, was the fact that the attendees recast the ceremony entirely. It was not about God freeing the Jewish slaves and preparing them for the Land of Israel. Instead, it was all about the gay struggle to come out of the closet. God really had no place in this service. I left well fed and having had a good time, but believe me when I say that “Nearer my God to thee” was not the refrain playing in my head. The louder song was probably “YMCA.”

Not long after that second Passover seder, I attended two weddings within two weeks. One couple belonged to a deeply conservative Christian faith and participated in the most traditional service I’ve ever attended; the other couple had one of their friend gets a mail-order New Age ministry certificate in order to perform their “joining ceremony.” In the first ceremony, the couple made a series of covenants to each other, each of which had God as the central figure in the covenant. In the second ceremony, the couple said they liked each other and vowed to hang out together as long as they continued to like each other. I was pretty certain that the first marriage would last. I knew, however, that the second wouldn’t last and, indeed, it was over less than a year later.

All of which brings me to today, when I had three reminders that one should look to religion for one’s values, as opposed to demanding that one’s religion look to pop culture for its values. The first reminder came about when I went looking online for a synagogue. It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a regular sabbath service and, for varying reasons, I decided now was the time.

Based upon my “If I’m doing religion, I’m going to do the real thing,” I looked for a conservative synagogue. As far as I’m concerned, based upon attending innumerable bar and bat mitzvahs over the years, reform synagogues are way too kumbaya for me. There’s lots of hand holding, clapping, and navel gazing, but a peculiar absence of religious rigor. I therefore searched for a “conservative synagogue” in my area.

The top hit billed itself as a “conservative synagogue.” Nevertheless, I felt a little worried when I saw it boasting that it is “egalitarian” and conducts an “alternative” service, whatever the heck is. The website didn’t explain either of those terms, but they sound suspiciously like virtue signaling to me.

I thought that I might learn something by reading the rabbi’s bio. The rabbi turned out to be Harvard-educated, which is already a clue that this synagogue probably has a non-traditional edge. Sorry, but I’m biased.

Reading further did not change my instinctive take about the rabbi. Before becoming a rabbi, he worked trying to push a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Hmmm. Harvard he may be, but that position doesn’t argue well for his intelligence. While Leftists relentlessly push for a two-state solution, Palestinians are very clear that they want a one-state solution: their state, built on the bloodied bodies of dead Jews. As far as I’m concerned, those who keep insisting that Israel “negotiate” with people who openly want Israelis dead are not very bright.

But you know what killed it for me? And I mean absolutely killed it: At the end, of the rabbi’s little bio, the bearded man (there was a photo) who boasted about his lovely wife and children, included his pronouns. Given that the congregation is allegedly conservative, I should have been grateful that his pronouns were “He/ his/ him” but I wasn’t grateful. I was disgusted.

Just yesterday, a tweet reminded me that the Old Testament is old-fashioned in that it posits a binary world:

While God may have a male and female element (since both men and women were created in his image), we’re not supposed to. We’re not gods. We’re just created in his image, with God having separated his male and female identities into two distinct parts. Thus, as with so many things in the Old Testament, the world is clearly divided: Clean and unclean, holy and profane, man and woman. A manifestly male rabbi in a conservative synagogue should not be suggesting otherwise. (I have since decided that I’ll go to the local Chabad house.)

And then, just to round out today’s thoughts about religion functioning as religion, rather than as a soothing gloss on top of pop culture, I saw a post at PJ Media: Nuns Should Look Like Nuns, not Real Estate CEOs with Dolled up Hair and Hoop Earrings. The author, Thom Nickels, writes about a parochial school childhood in which nuns dressed like nuns, complete with traditional habits. He then describes his experience a few years ago, when he found himself in conversation with a nun:

Several years ago I had the privilege of talking to a modern St. Joe’s nun when I went to a friend’s Vesper memorial service at Rosemont College.

At the reception, I sat beside a neatly coiffed woman whom I assumed was a college administrator or bank executive. She wore an emerald broach, amber earrings, a silk scarf, as well as a perfume I’ve often smelled while walking through the women’s department in Macy’s.

While slicing into a lamb chop, I asked the woman, “What do you do for a living?” When she told me that she was a St. Joe’s nun I thought of the old nuns in my parochial school with their towering headgear and veils. What a difference forty years makes.

“You’re really a nun?” I said. In my own way, I was showing her that I disapproved of her lay clothing.

I looked in vain for a microscopic lapel cross pin that might indicate Sisterhood, but instead found the broach that indicated Macy’s.

Nichols was dismayed and, in writing about that dismay, he makes a very important point:

While many Catholic women’s religious orders ditched the habit after Vatican II, many orders did not. It’s also true that some religious orders have returned to the traditional habit. It may seem odd, but surveys indicate that “secular dress” orders like the St. Joe’s nuns are experiencing a decline in membership, whereas convents where the traditional habit is worn are experiencing huge membership booms.

I’ve always believed that visual symbols are powerful because they relay a message.

[snip]

At my parish church, St. Michael Archangel Orthodox church in Northern Liberties, I had my first interaction with an Orthodox nun from the famous St. Martyr Princess Elisabeth Monastery founded in 1999 in the Minsk region of Russia. This particular sister was touring the States to give a lecture on the work of her convent and school, a boarding home for children and adults with special needs, and a homecare facility for mentally challenged children.

The sister in question wore a full, traditional habit, standard operating procedure for nuns in the Eastern Church.

The same might be said of the Dali Lama, who travels the world dressed as a Buddhist monk, and who has never gone to Brooks Brothers or Macy’s in order to be outfitted in secular clothing or jewelry of any kind so that he can “fit in” and disappear.

When you have a message to deliver, it pays to stand out.

It’s not just that it pays to stand out, of course. If you’re neither willing to walk the walk nor talk the talk (nor dress the dress), you don’t seem to believe in your own message. And if you don’t believe in your message, why should I? Instead, you’ve just got a job like any other job and why in the world should I care.

It’s no surprise that religious institutions that pander to pop culture are failing, while those that don’t have continuing vitality. Religion, by standing apart from other institutions, serves vital functions: Most importantly (to my mind), it reminds us that we are not animals. Sure, we’re mammals, and we share DNA with monkeys and worms, but the fact is that we are very, very special animals because we have cognitive abilities and existential awareness that other animals lack.

No matter how clever or smart animals are, no matter their extraordinary skills, no matter their ability to feel love, joy, hate, and fear, I will stake my life on the fact that no animal asks “Why am I here?” or makes the philosophical statement “I think, therefore I am.”

As I told my son when he was a very little boy, lions are not “bad” because they kill. They kill because that’s how they eat. They don’t have the cognitive ability to reshape alternative food sources to satisfy their nutritional needs nor can they question the righteousness of what they do. They just do.

(In the same way, as an aside, all those Marvel superheroes are boring, because their super powers mandate success and make courage meaningless. A man throwing himself onto a bomb to save his comrades, knowing he will die, is brave. A superhero doing his/her superhero thing is as mindless, in a way, as that lion.)

The moral component of religion is incredibly important, and this is where the pop culture pandering is such a problem. Religion creates standards.

A healthy religion is predicated on recognizing every individual’s divine spark. Based upon that premise, it sets out rules for living that optimize healthy relationships at both the broadest and smallest reaches of society. In that regard, I highly recommend Dennis Prager’s 10 Commandments videos, for they explain how the Commandments are just irritating prohibitions against letting people “be free,” but are, instead, the surest pathway to a free, safe, and successful society. The Ten Commandments set out abstract principles that, once properly understood, can and should apply to all people regardless of race, color, country of national original, sex, sexual orientation, etc. Once a society catches on to this, you will not find a better place or time on earth to live.

In the same way, an unhealthy religion, rather than recognizing that we are all God’s creatures, instead creates unhealthy hierarchies that confer special status upon the few and then allows those few to do whatever they need in order to bring the rest of humankind to heel. Morality isn’t based upon abstract ideals that guide all people. Instead unhealthy religions have myriad, often constantly mutating, rules that enforce the hierarchy, that are often random in application, and that can be incredibly cruel (and equally random) in effect.

Leftism is one of those unhealthy religions. And Islam, if practiced in perfect accordance with Mohamed’s teachings, is unhealthy as well.

Healthy religions can become unhealthy if those in charge decide that, to remain “relevant,” they must abandon their larger, traditional principles and, instead, look to pop culture and Leftism for guidance.

Matthew writes that Jesus warned against the folly of building a house on sand:

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Those faiths that choose pop culture as their moral guide (i.e., He / him / his), aren’t building their house on sand, they’re building it on sewage. When the rains come and those houses collapse, they won’t just be washed away, they will be drowned in a cesspit of ideas drawn from a grotesque amalgam of Hollywood and Leftism.

I understand that religions grow and change with the times. (For example, while I find this wedding tradition fascinating and rather beautiful, especially considering that it probably hasn’t changed in 250 years, it would not be for me and I’m grateful that there are less intensive alternatives.) Reform can be a wonderful and, in same cases, a necessary thing.

But if that reform takes you away from central principles and even away from God himself, I ask again: Why bother? You don’t want religion; you just want to force a traditional institution to make you feel good about yourself. Worse, you’re willing to destroy the institution — and the benefits that accrue to society if the institution is an inherently healthy one — to reach that end.

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