Once upon a time in St Louis, there lived a husband who yearned to vacation in Los Angeles while his wife craved a few days in New York. Averaging their desires and finding the midpoint, the couple went to Kansas City. Averaging doesn't always work.
Averaging doesn't work when you are dealing with two very different things like Los Angeles and New York or like traditional Americans and those of the secular fundamentalist persuasion.
Now, in one of the best examples of wrong-headed averaging, this week the London Times gleefully reported on a new study according to which, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.
Obviously thrilled by the double whammy of declaring that not only is America in trouble but that it is all God's fault, the Times dug up a piece in an obscure academic journal published by the Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha.
Here are some of the more flagrant quotes from the London Times:
I don't know what Rabbi Myer Kripke would think of this study, but let me tell you what Rabbi Daniel Lapin thinks of it. I think it is a willfully dishonest distortion of America's reality. It is also a distortion of the 'non-religious, pro-evolution' Europe that gave us both Communism and Nazism, the killers of over 100 million innocent humans.
Sadly I will concede that America does have a problem, as the study claims, with high rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion. However I emphatically challenge the assertion that higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with these ills.
How do I reconcile an America of these undeniable problems with an America which is the most Christian country on earth? I do so in the same way that back in the 18th and early 19th centuries I would have reconciled an America that believes slavery is evil, with an America using the sweat of slaves. It was really two Americas then, and it is two Americas now. We resolved it then by terminating slavery with the War Between the States. We are resolving it now with another civil war. Happily not one fought with guns and knives but one fought with sermons and speeches, and with books and arti cles, and ultimately with votes on Election Day.
My problem with the Pledge of Allegiance is of course not with the phrase "Under God" but with the phrase, "One nation." We are no longer one nation. A nation is not a racial grouping but a grouping of people with common beliefs and value systems. That makes us two nations occupying the same piece of real estate.
One America regards Judeo Christian values as vital to our nation's survival. The other America regards them as primitive relics obstructing progress. My America believes in one man married to one woman and both dedicated to their children. The America of secular fundamentalists believes in zero restraint on sexuality.
My America believes that creative work is Godly and our avenue to personal independence. The other America believes in self-fulfillment whatever that means. My America believes that we need God whose help we invoke with regular prayer. The other America views this as unconstitutional and believes we need only government's help. I stress that this divide is not about skin color --I lecture all the time to beautifully integrated churches. The divide is about values. There are blacks and whites on both sides just as there are men and women on both sides.
In my America, religious America, for the most part families are intact, the crime rate is negligible, and children do not drop out of school and give birth to children. In my America, abortion is not an acceptable form of birth control, and in religious communities, both Jewish and Christian, people still leave doors unlocked. In the other A merica, secular America, many social ills are prevalent.
Mainstream media regularly resuscitate the hoary old myth that divorce plagues the Bible belt at higher than the national average. They do so, again, by averaging out the entire population of those states they consider to be the "Bible belt." In reality, some of the citizens of Alabama and Mississippi are religious while others are secular. It doesn't surprise me that secular citizens in the south divorce more than their secular northern counterparts. Economics does play a role in divorce.
Of course you are free to average out the crime rate across both Americas and I can understand why advocates of secularism would want to do so. It would be hard for them to face the virtual monopoly of dysfunctionality they have created. We would stand a better chance of repairing the other America if we faced up to the t ruth.
The truth is that if religious America were its own country, its crime rate, its illegitimacy rate, and all other indicators of trouble would be only a tiny fraction of those figures for England, Sweden, France, and Germany. If secular America were also its own separate country, its indicators of hopelessness would be completely off the scale and vastly outpace the same figures for most of Europe. Viewing us Americans as just one country and averaging all the figures together still makes us look only a little worse than other countries. America is pulled down by its dysfunctional secular half.
How desperate that half must be to conceal the evidence of its failure by dishonest averaging.
How fervent must be the faith of secular fundamentalists that they prefer the disease to the cure.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, is President of Toward Tradition. Toward Tradition is America's leading bridge-builder between Jewish and Christian communities; spanning the divide between Christians and Jews by sculpting ancient solutions to modern problems in areas of family, faith, and fortune.
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