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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel. Before CUFI, Brog worked in the United States Senate for seven years, rising to be chief of staff to Senator Arlen Specter and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has also served as an executive at America Online and practiced corporate law in Tel Aviv, Israel and Philadelphia, PA. Brog is the author of the new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity.
FP: David Brog, welcome to Frontpage Interview. Share with us what inspired you to write In Defense of Faith.
Brog: As the title indicates, this was largely a defensive maneuver. I used to think that all the talk about a “war on faith” was nothing more than exaggerated conservative cant. But my experience working closely with the faith community over the past few years has taught me otherwise. The fact is that religious faith is being attacked, and these attacks are taking a toll.
Among other recent assaults we’ve seen a series of mediocre books attacking faith being released to the orgasmic approval of the mainstream media. Every night on television some new pundit is smugly ridiculing the beliefs or statements of religious leaders. And, with limited exceptions, Hollywood continues to portray people of deep religious faith as crazed villains.
I probably wouldn’t pay very much attention to these attacks if they ultimately didn’t change minds. But they are changing minds. Church walls are not impervious to the culture – they never have been. More Americans than ever before are identifying as atheist or agnostic. More Americans than ever before are abandoning church and synagogue. Our young people in particular are turning their backs on our Judeo-Christian heritage, convinced by these attacks that it offers nothing of value for them or the world.
If we who value faith want to ensure that the next generation at least keeps an open mind to our religious heritage, we need to respond to these attacks. And, even more importantly, we need to respond to these attacks on the same plane on which they are being made. The critics of faith employ history and logic to appeal to our reason. Defenders of faith must do likewise. Merely asserting the superiority of faith will not speak to this lost generation.
FP: Why is the assault on religious faith increasing with such intensity?
Brog: My pet theory is that most of these “new atheists” were inspired by a stunningly simplistic reaction to 9/11. On 9/11, people of faith attacked us. People of deep religious conviction were the ones who knocked down the twin towers and killed over 3,000 Americans. Therefore, some concluded, faith must be the problem. If we could only eliminate religious faith, they argue, there would be no force left that could drive men to commit such terrible, irrational acts.
I think part of this “all or nothing” mentality towards faith has actually been exacerbated by moral relativism. We are not permitted to judge between faiths, right? So therefore if one interpretation of one faith (Islam) leads to such violence, then all faiths must be equally guilty and dangerous. Because militant Muslims commit suicide bombings, we are told, we must be equally wary of devout Quakers and Bahais. It is a strange relativism indeed that can condemn all religious faith. But then again, even more consistent relativists typically make exceptions for ideologies they don’t much like such as Christianity, conservatism, etc.
Ultimately, the answer does not lie in the impossible goal of rejecting all beliefs and “isms.” Instead, we must do the hard work of sorting the good ideas from the bad. We have no alternative. And when we do this hard work, we will realize that the Judeo-Christian tradition has done a miraculous job of eliminating violence in furtherance of the faith. We will likewise realize that so many of our most cherished values are not just floating out there in the atmosphere, but flow directly from this faith tradition. And we will also realize as well that those who take this tradition most seriously – believing Christians and Jews – have been at the forefront of our greatest human rights struggles.
FP: What is the source of our morality in your view?
Brog: Our morality comes almost entirely from our environment i.e. the lessons we are taught by our family, faith and culture. Yet these powerful cultural forces act upon certain moral instincts with which we are all born. So we must start with these shared moral instincts to fully understand the ways in which our environment ultimately influences us.
Even the most superficial review of society and history will demonstrate that we’re born inherently selfish. To the extent we have altruistic instincts at all, they extend only to our blood relatives and those in our “ingroup,” however defined, be it our tribe, nation or race. This innate compassion does not extend to those who are outside our ingroup. Indeed, the greatest failing in human nature is our ability to turn with ferocity upon those in “outgroups” the minute our interests clash with theirs – and such clashes are inevitable. This is why slavery, war and genocide have been constants of human history.
I’m hardly alone in reaching this pessimistic conclusion. Today there is a universal consensus among religion, social science and hard science that we’re born selfish. Christianity has always taught that we’re born selfish through the doctrine of original sin. Judaism has always taught that we’re born selfish through the concept of our “evil inclination.” And even a leading atheist such as Richard Dawkins has concluded through his study of evolutionary biology that we’re born inherently selfish, although he locates the source of the selfishness at the genetic level. Dawkins claims that we’re born with “selfish genes.”
Just because we’re born selfish, however, doesn’t mean we’re doomed to remain selfish. We have the ability to transcend our impoverished human nature and embrace a bigger love if we are taught to do so. This is where culture and faith can play an elevating role. And this is where the Judeo-Christian tradition has made its greatest contribution to our civilization.
FP: What is the “Judeo-Christian” idea, and what has it contributed to the West’s morality?
Brog: What I call the “Judeo-Christian idea” is the beating heart of Judeo-Christian morality. And it is one of the most revolutionary ideas ever introduced to humanity. It is the two-part idea that (1) all humans are of equal, inestimable value, and (2) we must not merely recognize the value of our fellow humans, but we must love them and act on this love by serving them. The Judeo-Christian idea provides a path towards transcending our impoverished genetic morality. It is the antidote to our selfish genes.
Growing up in the heart of a society that has embraced the Judeo-Christian idea so completely – at least in theory — we forget how stunningly revolutionary this idea was and continues to be. Think about it — the Judeo-Christian idea teaches us that the richest king in Europe and the poorest child in Africa are equal in the eyes of God. This radical egalitarianism stands in stark contrast to all previous ways of viewing humanity. Under the Code of Hammurabi, it was a far greater offense to kill a wealthy man than a poor man. The Greeks viewed most non-Greeks as inferior beings who could and should be enslaved. The Romans viewed females as inferior and often killed their baby daughters at birth in their quest for sons. The Enlightenment philosophers created the concepts of race and racism. I could go on at length.
Those who believe we are born believing in the Judeo-Christian idea are making a common but quite dangerous mistake. They are confusing the moral lessons they were taught from birth with their innate morality. They fail to see that they never would have arrived at these moral insights in the absence of such lessons. They thus fail to recognize that if we don’t continue teaching these lessons, future generations will not necessary ascend to the same moral heights.
FP: What does the historical record tell us that happens when humans reject the Judeo-Christian idea?
Brog: As you indicate, we don’t need to hypothesize about what happens when we reject the Judeo-Christian idea. The experiments have already been conducted, and the price has already been paid in human blood. We should at least have the decency to learn the lessons.
As discussed above, we’re born inherently selfish. We may care about ourselves and those in our ingroup, but this innate compassion has never extended to outgroups. When we are taught to transcend this innate selfishness we can rise to heights of humanity. But when this innate selfishness is celebrated and even empowered, tragedy ensues.
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