Rabbi Daniel Lapin
It is easy for superficial signs of tranquillity to lull us into complacency. This is especially true when we desperately want to believe that the thunder of distant guns is really nothing but the sound of summer rain. Guardians of a culture should be constantly vigilant especially when things seem to be improving. Perhaps cheerful graphs are camouflaging America’s real war.
My wife Susan and I struggle joyfully to raise and care for our seven children. Not ten miles from us lives Helen who, like Susan, is also home with her offspring. Her pathetically neglected children, each of whom was fathered by a different and long forgotten boy friend, sprawl before a blaring TV. Helen drifts in and out of a drug induced stupor, while my wife lovingly educates her children. Although almost a caricature of contrasts, both Susan and her counterpart each represents two different lifestyle trends and countless other women. Statistics ecstatically proclaim the good news: Hear ye, hear ye, fifty percent of women with seven children are now off welfare and are at home, caring for their well nourished children.
This statistic may be accurate but it is not the whole truth. There are basically only two architects of the blueprints that produce the next generation: God or Government. Telling the whole truth means admitting that the government model produces many more Helens than the God model.
Many Americans still regard as an ideal, the Biblical blueprint of one man married to one woman, dedicated to one another and to their children. Yielding some of their individual autonomy to the responsibilities of family, they derive all the benefits that family life brings and unwittingly bestow benefits on the community. This is simply to say that you and I are better off with God-centered and intact families as neighbors. Just for a start, their sons are less likely to prey on our property or on our daughters.
However, we must remember that many other Americans embrace the seductive vision of the individual as the basic unit of society. This vision grants the indulgence of anonymity, while it also exacts the price. It also tragically legitimizes the trend toward self destructive lifestyles that are the natural and eventual legacy of humanist philosophies. Grouping us all together for purposes of statistical analysis merely camouflages the sad news that we are two separate nations based upon two incompatible philosophies.
Yes, I know that during the past ten years there has been a drop of ten percent in the number of college freshmen who think that premarital sex is O.K. If you think this to be true across the board in all American universities, you will remain oblivious to our biggest national problem—we are two nations separated by incompatible moral visions. In reality, at conventional public colleges and universities, the overwhelming majority of freshmen indulge in premarital sex. Just ask them; they will not be embarrassed to tell you. At the same time, on dozens of campuses dotted around America, almost none of the unmarried students engage in that indulgent behavior that harms future married life. It is a serious mistake to ignore the religious nature of the schools that teach and encourage self restraint. It is equally mistaken to ignore the faith of the families who raised those students with the necessary character strength. Statistics that tell us that only 42% of all students think premarital sex is O.K., conceal what we really need to know. It is far more important for us to recognize that at U.C.L.A and Princeton, nearly all students feel that way, while at Brigham Young and Regent University, almost none do. In one America, things are getting worse while in the other America, they are getting better. Averaging the figures fools us into believing that we are all on the mend.
Crime down since 1990? Of course that sounds wonderful but the improvement is not equitably distributed. The majority of crime is still committed by young males raised without real fathers. Children raised in broken homes and provided with no religious education are increasingly likely to behave criminally. Children of intact homes are still as unlikely as they ever were to engage in criminal activities. If construed to mean that children of all American families are 15% less likely to engage in anti-social activity than they were ten years ago, the figures mislead us.
Illegitimacy? Figures indeed do show that five years ago, one in every twenty unmarried women had a baby, while this year it takes twenty two unmarried women to produce an illegitimate child. This almost negligible change conceals two vital pieces of the puzzle. One is the incredibly high number, rising annually, of illegitimate births still afflicting our nation each year. Second, it conceals the information, crucial to responsible public policy, that illegitimacy is overwhelmingly the problem of secularized America. There are two Americas; one, deriving its model from God, suffers very little illegitimacy while the second, believing in Government, enjoys a virtual monopoly on that civilization-threatening scourge. There are shameful attempts to define these two Americas in terms of race or economic success. That is not true. The two Americas are separated only by the same moral dichotomy that has separated people since Jerusalem first challenged Athens.
Long-term welfare dependency, abortion, drug use, and adolescent suicide show similar small declines. These are not causes for celebration. The declines are too small to offer relief and are probably a statistical anomaly due, chiefly, to the polarizing of America.
Years ago, the stereotype of a vast middle-of-the-road America with a small number of doctrinal secular humanists at one end and an equally small number of “Bible thumpers” at the other, may have been accurate. Today it no longer reflects reality. Americans have migrated from the center creating ever larger teams at either end of the tug-of-war rope. For decades, secular Americans had been more politically involved than Evangelical Christians. That brought about the frightening changes in our cultural landscape during the past thirty years. The Left has never been satisfied with its victories in its ongoing crusade to separate America from its Judeo-Christian origins. Using a Supreme Court decision to convert abortion from a shameful activity into the cultural mainstream was only the beginning. The Left pressed home its advantage by insisting on tax revenue being used for abortion providers and by heaping scorn upon those who expressed even the faintest whiff of disapproval. Converting lust for sodomy into a civil right was only the beginning. Pushing for widespread acceptance of homosexual marriage is today’s agenda. This relentless campaign to convert our culture finally awoke the sleeping giant, America’s Christian conservatives. It is their joining the cultural struggle today that is skewing the statistics, suggesting that we have turned the corner.
Recent election results demonstrate only too clearly our newly polarized nation. Instead of viewing last November as a national referendum, more information can be gleaned by regarding it as dozens of individual tussles fought on a local level. Through this lens it becomes clear that enormous advantage was won by candidates and issues that were clearly and strongly identified with either the Right or the Left. Candidates and initiatives that were strongly for or against abortion, racial rights, and confiscatory taxation, did better than those that exhibited weakness and lack of conviction. The myth that moderation wins American elections is just that — a myth. Once it was true; now it is obsolete. What is also true is that this year, Democrats were far more committed to the doctrines of the Left than Republicans were committed to doctrines of the Right. As a result, religious conservatives remained home in droves; there was little passion to draw them to the polls.
Has America turned a corner? No! We shall have turned the corner once we recognize that two powerful ideas are competing for the soul of America. We must surely engage on the primal level of cultural conflict that acknowledges that humans have always had to choose between good and evil, between life and death. Americans who seek social salvation in secularism are not evil, but their doctrines most certainly are. The cruel policies and lamentable lifestyles bred by these evil ideas have brought misery to millions. Turning a corner means replacing evil ideas with good ones. Turning a corner means taking a better road, not merely a different road. It means winning America’s Real War.
Lapin, Rabbi Daniel. “America is Splitting Apart.” Toward Tradition, 1999.
Published by permission of Rabbi Daniel Lapin.
Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Daniel Lapin