The Slippery Slope of Secularism
by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Toward Tradition
07 May 2004
Trying to become educated without first acquiring a foundation of moral certainty is futile.
you ever tried to slow down your car by applying the parking brake? No, I'm
sure you haven't. But if you did try, you would be surprised to discover
that it has virtually no effect on your speeding car, whereas the lightest
tap on the foot brake immediately diminishes speed. This is why when you
drive off without remembering to release the parking brake, you drive three
blocks before noticing the warning light. However, with your foot on the
regular brake the car won't budge. Yes, that regular foot brake is a far
stronger device than the parking brake. This is Newton's First Law of Motion.
That great scientist observed that it is far easier to keep a stationary
car immobile than it is to bring a moving car to rest. Thus a relatively
weak parking brake is quite sufficient to keep a parked car stationary even
on a hill, but to bring a speeding car to a standstill at the red light you
need to stomp on a powerful foot brake.
Sir Isaac's First Law of Motion is hard at work here in the United States.
As a moving car resists efforts to modify its movement, so does a human system.
If a society is trending in a certain direction, absent any countervailing
forces, it will generally continue in the same direction.
For a while now America has been trending secular. Prior to that time, being
wise and educated meant knowing God. That is why most universities and schools
of earlier periods were established and attended by religious Christians.
The same is true in Jewish history. Until the 19th century education and
knowledge were inseparable from religion. Even the etymological origin of
the word "secular" is linked to the Hebrew word for a fool. (SaCaL as in
"Am sacal-oh foolish nation" Jeremiah V: 21)
This obvious link between God and education was clearly recognized in the
wording of that great document that accelerated the westward expansion of
the United States, the Northwest Ordinance of July 1787, which included this
morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness
of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
occurred to Thomas Jefferson and the other authors in the Congress of the
Confederation, that schools would not teach religion and morality and certainly
not that one day American schools would proudly proclaim themselves free
of religion and morality.
Archimedes said "Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the
whole world." Why did he include 'a place to stand' in his pithy little aphorism?
Why didn't he make it even pithier by saying merely, "With a lever I could
move the world"? Obviously because when one pushes against something without
a firm and immovable platform on which to stand, one's effort results in
a reaction. Instead of moving the world, no matter how long his lever, Archimedes
would have succeeded only in propelling himself backwards. A firm base allows
one to apply the action. Without it, one's effort merely produces a reaction
which will slide one backwards. This is Newton's Third Law of Motion.
Trying to become educated without first acquiring a foundation of moral certainty
is futile. It resembles trying to push a Zamboni machine off an ice rink
while wearing dress shoes. One would only slip and slide, make a lot of noise
and fall on one's face. Thus it is in our universities, the institutions
in which we exert most effort from the shakiest of platforms, that we frequently
find moral distortion and embarrassing foolishness.
Are religious Jews and Christians stupid or of low intelligence? Many secularists
would answer, "Of course they are." Are secular fundamentalists stupid or
of low intelligence? Of course they are not. Conservatives claiming they
are, betray misunderstanding of how secularism insulates even smart people
from reality. Even a genius is handicapped if he has been deprived of a religious
education. He uses logic like a witchdoctor might use a computer-as a type
of totem rather than as a tool.
Each passing year we slide further down the slippery slope of secularism
and each passing year we are a little less educated and perhaps a little
more foolish. Each passing year makes it harder to reverse or even slow the
trend, because as Newton explained, societies like vehicles tend to continue
doing whatever they are doing. It is no accident that like most brilliant
and educated men of his day, Sir Isaac Newton, was a deeply religious man.
Perhaps he became the 17th century's teacher of gravity, motion, and calculus
precisely because he stood on the platform of the moral absolutes of the
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I suggest slowing the slide down the slippery slope of secularism by firmly
placing our feet on the brakes. Let us put down our foot and confidently
contradict every smug secularist we encounter who tries to confuse faith
with superstition and religion with ignorance. Instead of compartmentalizing
faith and isolating it from education, we ought to recall the words-awareness
of God is the foundation of wisdom.(Psalms 111:10) At the very least we should
ridicule today's intense cultural hostility toward Biblically-based faith.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin is the Founder and Director of Toward Tradition, working to advance our nation toward the traditional Judeo-Christian values that defined America's creation.
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