Human Purpose and Identity, the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Independence Day, and the Left

Torah with American flag in background - Judeo-Christian tradition

Leftists, who are not the same as liberals, have a natural enemy in the Judeo-Christian tradition of Western culture and government. We should not be surprised to see them attack that tradition persistently and comprehensively. This natural hostility reaches to the early pages of the Old Testament, the very foundations of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and to some famous words in the Declaration of Independence.

For today, because we can’t dive into the deep end of every pool in the neighborhood at once — this is an essay of modest length, not a book — I’ll ignore some things and assert others without detailed discussion. Each of these deserves careful consideration, but it won’t happen in this essay:

  • Is the expected attack under way, perhaps even well advanced? There may be few more important questions in our culture and politics, but I’m avoiding this question today, for economy’s sake and because I hope people with differing views of this question will read this essay.
  • I assert without discussion here that American liberals and leftists are not the same; they too are natural enemies. At the simplest level, when the labels make sense, liberals seek liberty. So do American conservatives. Leftists seek power.
  • I’m ignoring the extreme Right in the United States. They exist, but they are virtually irrelevant at present, except in Leftist rhetoric, and they occupy no significant place in the hearts and minds of most Americans, including the vast majority of conservatives. Moreover, the extreme Right’s goals closely resemble the Left’s; the major difference is branding. Much of what I say here about the Left would apply to the extreme Right as well.
  • I note without detailed discussion some concerns of religious and secular observers alike, including scholars. They point to increasing challenges among the rising generation of American youth and young adults, including an unusual lack of purpose and identity and a lack of hope for the future. (If one happens to believe the Left’s expected attack is well advanced in the US, one might see these unfortunate trends as highly convenient or even intentional.)
  • I assert without writing a book about it that the Left by nature works to destroy culture, the rule of law, and every traditional moral and social restraint, and to divide people into warring factions. This is their theoretical and historical path to seizing comprehensive power amid the rubble.

If your comfort requires you to read this discussion as purely theoretical and hypothetical, feel free. But if you happen someday to notice the American Left attacking the Judeo-Christian tradition — in real time or in history — you’ll know it is simply being true to itself, doing what so many Lefts have done before. It is using its power, when it has power, to attack its chief cultural rival.

All of that said (or evaded, as the case may be), we need a slightly larger foundation before we proceed.

Freedom and Power

There are many facets of human activity. I have my own economic activities, political activities, and religious and philosophical beliefs and activities, to name a few. I have my own travels, amusements, and avocations. Someone — some individual or institution — controls all of this. We have different words for this control, depending on who exerts it.

To the extent that I control my own activities, we call it freedom and say that I am free. To the extent that others control my activities, we call it power and say they have power over me. It’s a zero-sum game. My freedom and others’ power over me add up to 100 percent of the available control over me. If others acquire power over me, I have less freedom. If I achieve greater freedom, it comes at the expense of someone else’s power over me. One of our names for all this is politics. Another is goverment.

As we will see, the Judeo-Christian tradition in religion, culture, and government is a strong foundation for freedom, and therefore a natural target of those who prefer to amass power.

There are always people who seek power over others. In monarchies power is usually justified by birth, and a notion of divine right is the frosting on the cake. In right-wing tyrannies the fact of possessing power, or the capacity to seize it, is enough to justify the power, though there is often a veneer of concern for justice or fairness and for the people’s welfare. The Left prefers to divide society into oppressors and victims, assert the victims’ right to seize power over their oppressors, and then set up an elite (based on credentialed expertise, vast wealth, or mere happenstance, plus a raging sense of entitlement and superiority) to exercise comprehensive power over the masses — for the masses’ own good, of course.

Even as I wrote these generalizations, the distinction between Left and extreme Right grew fainter, but that is a topic for other days.

A Dark Vision

The Left seeks overwhelming power; this is axiomatic. If it’s not too terrifying, imagine for a few moments that you are a Leftist.

Imagine the power you might wield to remake society — and to rule it in splendor and perpetuity — if you could control or even strongly influence the people’s senses of identity and purpose. Here’s how you’ll do it.

You’ll silence, drown out, or discredit rival voices.

Moral confusion is painful, moral vacuums more so. You’ll use this. Detach the people from the principles and attributes to which generations have anchored identity, purpose, and character. Unmoor them, especially the young, from God, family, and country.

Take away their role models, living and historical. Erase, rewrite, or simply refuse to teach their real history. Exalt emotion over reason as their best guide for behavior and belief. Then most will welcome whatever you offer them to fill the vacuum. (You will helpfully supply any knowledge or reason you think they need.)

Teach the masses effectively that the self is the center and purpose of the universe, that family commitments are unnecessary and oppressive, and that anything imperfect in their lives is someone else’s fault, and justice demands recompense. Divide them by race, class, and any other available characteristic. At least minimally safeguard their comfort, amusement, and convenience in the process. (Bread and circuses, anyone?) Soon they will sense instinctively, if not always consciously, that the self is a hollow goal and a shallow purpose, and they will be so desperate for higher meaning that they will eat your ideology out of your hand.

People drained of traditional purpose and identity and filled with the Left’s dogmas may even beg for you to take their power over themselves — their freedom — from them. “In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, Make us your slaves, but feed us” — a chilling moment in a chilling chapter of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s last novel, The Brothers Karamazov.

Add the dispiriting but motivating doctrine that humanity is doomed in the short term unless they embrace and act decisively on what you teach, and they will do more than believe. They will march to your drummer. In your name they will attack those who resist you and anyone else you label their enemy. They will help you dismantle and bury society, culture, history, science, and economic life, and they will believe in their own righteousness as they do so — because we humans need to believe in our own righteousness.

I know this is a dark vision. As with the rest of today’s discussion, we can treat it as hypothetical if you like. In any case, feel free to stop imagining you’re a Leftist now; that exercise is finished. And I do think there is light at the end of the (hypothetical) tunnel.

An Obvious Target

We now turn to some well-known passages in the first three chapters of Genesis. Genesis is the first book of the Old Testament, which Christians and Jews alike revere as scripture. We are at the very wellsprings of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I’ll use the King James Version of the Holy Bible, not the Jewish Bible or a later Christian translation, because that’s what I usually use, and because of its influential place in American cultural history.

“In the beginning”

The trouble starts in the very first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

To assert that there is a Creator — God — is to imply that he created the earth for a purpose. Leftists and other authoritarians would prefer we didn’t ask about God’s purpose in creating the earth. It’s so much less troublesome if we believe the earth just happened somehow — as a moral blank slate, if you will, leaving us free to invest it, ourselves, and each other with whatever purposes we find convenient.

The next 25 verses tell of the creation of day and night, rivers and seas, plants and animals, and so forth. Then, on Day Six of the project as here described, we get bigger trouble. We’ll study it one piece at a time.

“In the image of God created he him”

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26-27).

God creating humans in his image and likeness suggests purpose too — and strongly suggests that a key part of human identity is a resemblance to God.

Authoritarians at both extremes, including the modern American Left, would rather I didn’t ask, “What was God’s purpose in creating me?” It’s too likely to lead me to seek God’s will rather than the state’s, and to resist the authoritarians when the two sides conflict. One thing both authoritarian extremes share with Jews and Christians is the Old Testament’s first commandment, which both God and the tyrannical state proclaim in the first person: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

Simply put, if you and I have are to have a sense of purpose and identity, the Left would prefer to provide it. God just gets in the way.

“Have dominion”

Now let’s look at some text I replaced with an ellipsis above, to help us focus on one point at a time. I’ll emphasize a recurring phrase:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. . . . And God blessed them, and God said unto them, . . . [S]ubdue [the earth]: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28).

That’s awkward. Humans are intended to have dominion over the earth and other life on it? We’re not equal or inferior to every other species in the biome? If you think about this too much — this and the idea that God created the earth for humans to inhabit — you might question the modern Leftist dogma that the dominion of humans is incompatible with the continuation of earth.

I’m not suggesting that “have dominion over” means “rape, pillage, and pollute at your pleasure.” Knowing that God created the earth and sensing that he had purpose in doing so, we naturally incline to a sense of responsible stewardship. But responsible stewardship in the service of God is not the modern Left’s path to ultimate power. They need us to believe that the only way to save earth and humanity alike is to grant them comprehensive power to remake everything — power, that is, to rule everyone.

“Male and female”

I’ve still left out some words. Let’s focus on them now.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. … And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-28, emphasis added).

There’s all sorts of trouble here. Believing these words would make us skeptics of the modern Leftist doctrine that the “gender binary” is mere socialization or prejudice. And it sounds like having children is a high priority with the Being who created us and the earth. It’s not just a choice some birthing people make for their own selfish gratification, against the welfare of humanity and the earth.

The Left knows how these things affect our senses of identity and purpose, and therefore our behavior. Of course they work to discredit and destroy them.

It gets worse. In the next chapter God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden, declares it’s not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and puts Eve there too. You have to squint really hard not to see that they were married.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:24-25).

So marriage is more than an instrument of patriarchal domination and white supremacy, more than a bigoted cultural accretion. It started with God, and he seems to have meant something by it.

“In the sweat of thy face”

There’s a well-known episode which leads to Adam and Eve’s exit from the Garden of Eden. It includes some inconvenient words from God: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (Genesis 3:19).

Someone inclined to believe this might see in it the necessity of work. One might wonder, what is God’s purpose in that?

Wondering such things doesn’t help the Left.

We’ve Come a Long Way in Six Pages

The Bible in my hands (not at the precise moment I type this) runs to about 1,600 pages. We’ve barely skimmed the first six pages here, but we’ve accumulated a good list of major headaches for the Left — targets for the Left, things a Leftist revolution must overcome to succeed in its program of converting our freedom to its power.

How much better it would be for authoritarians who would rule us, if we didn’t ponder these principles and consider how to align our purposes with God’s! How inconvenient for them, if we read our Bibles and resist their campaigns to demoralize, discredit, divide, and destroy! How unfortunate for them, if we sense we are in some degree born with identity and purpose, and we don’t need their comprehensive state apparatus to provide it!

These core Judeo-Christian principles must fall, else we weigh our divine purpose and identity against the Left’s core devotions: worshipping the self while serving the state; pursuing comfort and amusement within the context of their power; avoiding responsibility, inconvenience, and sacrifice; and resenting and attacking those who choose otherwise.

If allowed to build our lives on Judeo-Christian principles, we could scarcely remain children or sheep forever. We might strive toward the splendid, borderline ungovernable, full flowering of the divine humanity in us, and the Left could have no power over our hearts and minds.

Each Individual, not the Tribe

Something even more consequential begins to emerge from these texts. It is arguably the Judeo-Christian tradition’s most innovative and powerful contribution to Western civilization and American freedom. It grows more obvious as the Old Testament and (for Christians) the New Testament unfold.

If I am created in God’s image, another thought is inescapable: So are you. So is everyone you and I will ever meet. Among other effects, this awareness of every person’s human dignity can inoculate whole peoples against the Left’s divisive, dehumanizing tactics.

This bears emphasis. Nothing is more toxic to the Left’s aims to weaken us by division, and then to conquer and enslave, than a clear sense of the individual worth and dignity of each God-created, God-imaged human soul. This Judeo-Christian legacy above all must be exploded, or the Left cannot succeed.

The Left will preach and even enforce unity within groups, but not the grand unity of all humans. The people must be divided into groups, and the groups set against each other, with some groups offered the opportunity to dominate others, so the people as a whole are less likely and less able to unite against the tyrant’s accumulation of power.

Small wonder that identity politics are central to Marxist doctrine in every era. New and old Marxisms teach us to divide ourselves into groups and to value our group, our tribe, above all other groups and the individual. Anything that goes wrong in our lives we can blame on another group; we need not identify a specific individual who is guilty.

As we might (hypothetically) have seen once or twice, the Left values even the mob over the individual, as long as it’s the Left’s mob.

If I have succeeded here, you see clearly the natural enmity between the Left’s program for humanity on one hand and the most basic texts, principles, and traditions of Judaism and Christianity on the other. So if you happen to see the Left attack the Judeo-Christian foundations of Western civilization, you won’t be surprised.

Independence Day

It would be perfectly natural for the (hypothetically hypothetical) modern American Left to dislike our Independence Day too — and they do. That celebration is steeped in the religious, cultural, and political tradition of Jews and Christians. There’s as much for the Left to despise in these celebrated words and the people who proclaim them as there is in the early chapters of Genesis:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration of Independence).

Truly, July 4 in the United States is harder on committed Leftists than it is on dogs (who hate the fireworks). But perhaps we non-Leftist Jews and Christians could find it in our hearts to be compassionate. It won’t make them love us, and it won’t stop them working to oppress us, but it will be good for our immortal souls.

Good grief. We have immortal souls. That’s a sore subject with the Left too.

Something We Can Do

We are not at the end of the tunnel, but I fancy we can glimpse some light and hope in the distance — at the very least, something we can do.

Hypothetically (cough), if we were in a hostile environment where Leftist destroyers roamed free in the minds and hearts of our nation and wielded massive cultural, economic, educational, and political power, how could we rebuild what they have destroyed and defend whatever remains intact? I turn again to the Old Testament.

In 587 BC the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s temple, and took many Jewish survivors captives into Babylon. In 537 BC Cyrus, King of Persia and the Medes, decreed that the Jews might return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. He even supplied construction materials. In the next century the Persian ruler Artaxerxes decreed that Nehemiah could return and rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, a mission that proved both literal and symbolic. He likewise commissioned Ezra to take with him to Jerusalem any Jewish exiles who wished to return to their Holy Land, and to appoint judges and magistrates there. Nehemiah had held a high position in Artaxerxes’ court; Ezra was a prominent priest and scribe.

Ezra’s returning exiles seemed to want to be Jews but, whether they knew it or not, they had largely forgotten how, or they had never learned. Ezra and Nehemiah (as we see in their books) took upon themselves the essential task of teaching them. Among other things they read the Torah, “the book of the law of God,” publicly and explained the meaning as they proceeded (Nehemiah 8:8). Historically speaking, this open, public reading of the Law was an innovation. Its effect was to establish the Law as the cornerstone of Jewish life.

There is accumulating evidence that many in the rising generation in the United States were never properly taught to be Americans, at least not in a way the Founders or even my parents or grandparents would recognize. Many in the preceding generation were poorly taught too. Small wonder so many who were well taught — or weren’t but learned anyway — now find America increasingly unrecognizable.

Our situation differs in some respects from Ezra and Nehemiah’s. The mass exodus from blue cities to red states notwithstanding, we cannot flee from a larger population with just the people who yearn to be Americans. And unlike the Jews of that time, we are not presently ruled by people who would be sympathetic and helpful to the cause. But perhaps there is power in doing what they did. And there are tens of millions more of us than there are of them.

To teach Jews to be Jews, they “read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the meaning” (Nehemiah 8:8). To teach Americans to be Americans, perhaps we might read to each other the books of God, the books of our Founders, and the documents of our Founding, “and give the sense, and cause [each other] to understand the meaning.”

If we want to remain Americans, we’ll need to engage each other in discussing and understanding how to do that and why it’s desirable, and in doing whatever else reveals itself as necessary and appropriate. If we succeed, we ought not be surprised. If we fail, it won’t be because we didn’t know the way.

You might say we have an abundance of light. If we stop forgetting it, stop ignoring it, stop hiding it, it will do what light does. It will light the world. It will light our world again.

The Left calling us nasty names as we do this will be no surprise, but their passion won’t make those names true.

If you’re reading this at Independence Day, there’s an obvious place to start. Let’s read the entire Declaration of Independence together.

Hmmm. That gives me an idea.

Image generated by DALL-E with prompt “photo of Torah with blurred american flag in background”

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