Kingdom of Priests

A reader of yesterday’s entry on the first anti-Darwinists challenges me, in effect, to explain why if secularism is so deleterious to social health, why does a more religious culture like America’s seem beset by problems from which secular Europe apparently suffers less? The reader asserts: “Acceptance of the theory of evolution correlates with less crime, better health, better education, etc.” He cites as authoritative a 2005 article by an independent (i.e., unemployed) sociologist, published in an obscure journal. It rang a bell with me because the essay, which bashed the Discovery Institute as a special target for noting Darwinism’s social consequences, picked up some prominent attention when it came out, including from the Times of London. 

It seems like a good time to revisit the subject. What about the challenge? Shouldn’t Biblical religion act as a kind of super-vitamin against all social ills? What exactly are the wage of faith, as the Bible itself presents them? I wrote a piece in the Forward on this. Except below:

The Bible itself never promises a super-vitamin.

Scripture’s true promise holds that individuals and nations in effect create their own moral realities. Cultures that put God nearer the center of their national life can expect Him to take a more active role in their existence, rewarding our good choices and correcting us, even painfully, when we make bad choices. Conversely, secular cultures are left to the workings of chance and nature.

Implicit in many biblical passages, the choice between accepting and rejecting God’s influence is expressed symbolically as a choice between “life” and “death.” In Deuteronomy, God offers the famous admonition, “See, I have placed before you today life and good, and death and evil… and you shall choose life” (30:15, 19). Moses affirmed, “You who cling to the Lord, your God — you are all alive today” (Deuteronomy 4:4). The prophet Jeremiah called the Lord “the God of the living” (10:10).

The Talmud expresses this idea when it teaches that those who choose God’s way, even after they experience bodily “death,” remain alive — while those who reject Him, even while still “alive,” may be called dead (Berachot 18a).

In biblical terminology, this “life” of the religiously committed in no ways implies a shield from tragedy. On the contrary, the more involved God is with us, the more closely He examines our behavior. King David himself found this out when, for the seemingly trivial sin of conducting an improper census of the Jewish nation, the people were struck with a deadly plague that carried off David’s own newborn child.

In “death,” on the other hand, there is freedom from such scrutiny. “I was reckoned with those who descend to the grave,” the Psalmist recalls, “among the dead who are free” (88:6).

So then why not choose “death” and thus be “free”? For one thing, because there is a vitality to religious existence that secularism distinctly lacks.

Indeed, while the vitality of American culture is world famous, “British vitality” and “Canadian vitality” are phrases that come less naturally to the lips. This may explain why so many Canadians, among others, look longingly toward America. Canada, with a little more than one-tenth of America’s population, loses almost four times as many of its people as immigrants to the United States each year as we send, from our own citizens, to Canada.

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