By Michael W. Lynch
Date: Thurs, March 18, 1999 7:15:17 PM
Subj: The Radical Rabbi's War
Everything in life--politics, art, culture, family relations, economic order--flows from the answer to this question: Where did human beings come from? "There are only two potential answers," Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition and author of America's Real War, told about 15 Washingtonians gathered at the Heritage Foundation Tuesday night.
One possibility is "over billions of years, in a process of unaided materialistic evolution, we evolved from primitive protoplasm into Bach and Beethoven," a proposition that elicited muted chuckles. "The other answer is God created us in His image and breathed the breath of life into us and made us the pinnacle of creation and put us on Earth." Rabbi Lapin continued, "How you run your life, and how you choose and make decisions throughout your life, flow directly from this." And, the rabbi contends, which side you choose in America's next civil war will hinge on this as well.
Politically active religious conservatives have been a bit down lately. Impeachment didn't go their way, prompting the coiner of the phrase "Moral Majority," Paul Weyrich, to declare that there is no such thing. Introducing Lapin, the always intense Joe Loconte, Heritage's William E. Simon Fellow for Religion in a Free Society, pointed to a post-impeachment Wall Street Journal op-ed by former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed as evidence of decline: "This is what Ralph says about the whole moral agenda in a 1,300-word op-ed: "Moral issues will require consistent attention. Not election-eve histrionics.'"
But Lapin, who was scheduled to speak on "Beyond Affluence, Decadence and Depravity: Focusing on the Road Back," is optimistic. At first it wasn't clear why.
A skilled orator, Lapin spent his first 10 minutes comparing the march of liberalism to that of Hitler's Europe and Japan's Pacific. "The left has managed to avoid waking the sleeping giant of American conservatism," said Lapin, after explaining how Hitler had done the same with France and England until it was too late. "It has taken victory after victory, gain after gain. It has managed to dominate stage by stage each and every institution of American society, until we look a lot like the Pacific looked before Gen. Douglas MacArthur began his return. Every island in our culture is held and dominated by the left: the schools, higher educational institutions, the courts, entertainment, the news media," he continued, later adding, "And at no stage have we been willing to take it seriously enough to go to war over it."
As I listened to Lapin, drinking my Coors and taking notes, two thoughts rambled through my head: This guy spends a lot of energy on war metaphors--and I hope they are metaphors--and his picture of America sure is bleak. I couldn't quite locate his optimism. But then he told us straight out: He's optimistic because good Americans, those who pick the second answer, at last know there is a war. "There is a war," he said. "And the war is between the people who recognize that there are two different Americas."
Only two? Yes, two. "There are two nations occupying the same piece of real estate. There is the America that listens to Tom Leykis and Howard Stern. And there's the nation that listens to Christian broadcasting, Dr. Laura, and Rush Limbaugh." To whom one listens, and few listen to both, is determined by the fundamental question: "Are human beings unique God-made creatures, or are they sophisticated animals?" Lapin recognizes there's a spectrum but claims the center is getting thinner and thinner, as Americans sort themselves based on their view of how they got here.
I found myself getting a bit nervous as the rabbi posed rhetorical questions. He said that we were among friends, but I began to feel like an unwelcome ambassador, perhaps a spy or an infiltrator, from the other America. And this was even before he posed the "Where do we come from?" question, which didn't emerge until the last third of his hour-long speech.
Lapin offered a choice of crowded elevators: "You are about to be stuck in a small elevator for eight hours with seven other people. You may choose if you want it to be with seven people with Hour of Power from Jerry Fawell or seven people from the audience of Jerry Springer. That's your choice. Which Jerry do you want?"
Obviously, one doesn't like either option--even Jerry Seinfeld would be better. But Lapin said we had to choose. And, I must say, I would take the Springer elevator: It holds more possibilities.
Stern or Dr. Laura? Not even a choice. So too with the rabbi's other question: "Would you prefer to live in parts of this country that bear the stamp of 35 years of left-wing socialistic experimentation? Or would you rather live in parts of this country that are still considered the Bible Belt of America--what I consider its safety belt?" I say unbuckle that belt and send me, by bus even, straight to San Francisco.
Lapin's speech was eclectic. One minute he was trying to make sense of a world where the "most appalling and gruesome concoction of unrestrained and unlimited pornograph[y]...Pulp Fiction, for instance," could exist alongside "the most beautiful and uplifting and noble Jane Austen movie." The next minute he was explaining, based on the answer to the central question, why public housing is uniform; why nonbelievers, if not "selfish bastards" or "thoroughly, horribly depraved," will be redistributionists; and why farmers are entitled to all of their cows' milk.
He also kept getting back to war, which made me and at least a few others in the room nervous. "I am absolutely convinced that God is far from finished with the story of the United States of America," he said by way of summation. "First of all, [there's] the matter of the little battle that must be fought, just as it was in the 19th century." There were, and are, "two incompatible moral visions for this country. We had to settle it then. We're going to have to settle it now. I hope not with blood, not with guns, but we're going to have to settle it nonetheless. The good news is that I think our side is finally ready to settle it. Roll up its sleeves, take off its jacket, and get a little bloody. Spill a little blood. We'll settle it. And we'll win. And then there's no holding us back."
Loconte, no religious or political squish, questioned the wisdom and morality of viewing one's political adversaries as "mortal enemies." The rabbi had a ready response: Liberals aren't evil, since they have good intentions based on a faulty premise, he reasoned. But that "doesn't mean I won't have to kill you," he said to nervous laughter, "because this is a war."