I offer the single most politically incorrect statement a modern American — indeed a modern Westerner, period — can make: I look first to the Bible for moral guidance and for wisdom.
I say this even though I am not a Christian (I am a Jew, and a non-Orthodox one at that). And I say this even though I attended an Ivy League graduate school (Columbia), where I learned nothing about the Bible except that it was irrelevant, outdated, and frequently immoral.
I say this because there is nothing — not any other work, religious or secular, or body of work — that comes close to having played a role like the Bible’s in forming the moral basis of Western civilization and therefore the basis of nearly all moral progress in the world.
It was this book that guided every one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, including those described as “deists.” It is the book that formed the foundational values of every major American university. It is the book from which every morally great American from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to the Reverend (yes, “the Reverend,” almost always omitted today in favor of his secular credential, “Dr.”) Martin Luther King Jr. got his values.
It is this book that gave humanity the Ten Commandments, the greatest moral code ever devised. It not only codified the essential moral rules for society, it announced that the Creator of the universe stands behind them, demands them, and judges humans’ compliance with them.
It gave humanity the great moral rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It taught humanity the unprecedented and unparalleled concept that all human beings are created equal because all human beings — of every race, ethnicity, nationality, and both male and female — are created in God’s image.
It taught people not to trust the human heart, but to be guided by moral law even when the heart pulled in a different direction.
This is the book that taught humanity that human sacrifice is an abomination.
This is the book that de-sexualized God — a first in human history.
This is the book that alone launched humanity on the long road to abolishing slavery. It was not only Bible-believers (what we would today call “religious fundamentalists”) who led the only crusade in the world against slavery, it was the Bible itself thousands of years before that taught that God abhors slavery, that legislated that one cannot return a slave to his owner, and that banned kidnapping for slaves in the Ten Commandments. Stealing people — kidnapping — was the most widespread source of slaves, and “Thou shall not steal” was first a ban on stealing humans, and then on stealing property.
It was this book that taught people the wisdom of Job and of Ecclesiastes, unparalleled masterpieces of world wisdom literature.
Without this book there would not have been Western civilization, or Western science, or Western human rights, or the abolitionist movement, or the United States of America, the freest, most prosperous, most opportunity-giving society ever formed.
For well over a generation, we have been living on “cut-flower ethics.” We have removed ethics from the Bible-based soil that gave them life, and we think they can survive removed from that soil. Fools and those possessing an arrogance bordering on self-deification think we can long survive as a decent society without teaching the Bible, and without consulting it for moral guidance and wisdom.
If not from the Bible, from where should people get their values and morals? The university? The New York Times editorial page? Those institutions have been wrong on virtually every great issue of good and evil in our generation. They mocked Ronald Reagan for calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” More than any other group in the world, Western intellectuals supported Stalin, Mao, and other Communist monsters. They are utterly morally confused concerning one of the most morally clear conflicts of our time — the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and other Arabs. The universities and their media supporters have taught a generation of Americans the idiocy that men and women are basically the same. And they are the institutions that teach that America’s founders were essentially moral reprobates — sexist and racist rich white men.
When the current executive editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, was appointed to that position, she announced that “in my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion.” The quote spoke volumes about the substitution of elite media for religion and the Bible in shaping contemporary America.
The other modern substitute for the Bible is the heart. We live in the Age of Feelings, and an entire generation of Americans has been raised to consult their heart to determine right and wrong.
If you trust the human heart, you should be delighted with this development. But those of us raised with Biblical wisdom do not trust the heart. So when we are told by almost every university, by almost every news source, by almost every entertainment medium that the heart demands what is probably the most radical social transformation since Western civilization began — redefining marriage, society’s most basic institution, in terms of gender — it may be wiser to trust the Biblical understanding of marriage than the heart’s.
My heart, too, supports same-sex marriage. But the heart alone is a terribly flawed guide to social policy. And it is the Bible that has produced all of the world’s most compassionate societies.
This, then, is the great modern battle: the Bible and the heart vs. the heart alone.
— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His most recent book is Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He is the founder of Prager University and may be contacted at dennisprager.com.