Monthly Archives: December, 2006

Environmental Fundamentalism is a Religion

December 19th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 5 comments

With little attention, Television Week and Variety, the Hollywood trade magazine, recently announced something that simply fascinates me here: Sundance Channel, which is a joint venture of actor Robert Redford, NBC Universal, and Viacom’s Showtime Networks will soon launch Sundance Channel Green, a weekly show on environmental topics. I wasn’t shocked to read that Sundance Channel claims to be the first network with regular programming dedicated entirely to the environment. And, in my view, “dedicated” is exactly the right word because it sounds religious. And religious is exactly what we’re talking about here.

You see, it is my firm conviction that much of the environmental project is almost an inevitable pantheistic response to a post-Christian culture. Created as we are with a deep instinctive psychological drive to give of ourselves, I see western elites happily preaching self-deprivation as modern secularism’s expression of the animal sacrifices of Biblical times. Turn down the thermostat; ditch your SUV in favor of a silly little electric car that resembles a flashlight on wheels; hobble American industry by means of vague ‘international’ protocols and all the other many examples are really little more than chest-beating displays of moral virtue. Of course every ostentatious exhibition of virtue requires sacrifice in order to resonate with authenticity.

All of this environmental hysteria has another enormous advantage from the point of view of its high priests—it requires action from other than the individual. By contrast, Judeo-Christian traditions require devotion and dedication from the individual but Environmental Fundamentalism demands action from government, or better yet, a federation of governments, say, the United Nations. With the possible exception of the sacred sacrament of secularism—recycling—environmentalism demands little of the individual, which makes it a rather comfortable and seductive faith. Whereas devotees of the Biblical faiths see redemption from the big ‘G’ of God, Environmental Fundamentalism sees redemption coming from the little ‘g’ of government. It interests me that, knowing this full well, Environmental Fundamentalism has recently recognized the compelling need to locate some figureheads with conventional religious credentials to come aboard.

Each morning I give thanks to God for His gift of Scripture and his requirement that I serve Him and sacrifice in accordance with His wishes only. This saves me from feeling a lot of unnecessary guilt and making a whole lot of sacrifices of dubious utility.

Northwest Storm by Susan Lapin

December 18th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

I am trying to count my blessings. We’re all in good health; we have warm clothing to wear, a gas stove which lets us have hot food, and a house that wasn’t damaged. The temperature hasn’t dipped too low and we have friends with whom we’ve been sharing food and companionship.

But while I’m aware of all those things, I am also beginning to feel tired of being cold, of having to find a Starbucks or Tullys in order to work, and simply of life being disrupted from its normal flow. Instead of breakfast taking the one minute and twenty-eight seconds to prepare as it usually does in the microwave – during which time I bring in the Wall Street Journal and start unloading the dishwasher – I’ve been spending half an hour cooking grilled cheese sandwiches and omelets on the stove. (The fact that we can still use our eggs and cheese gives you some idea of the temperature in the house) Reading for a few minutes before falling asleep has turned into a chore with trying to balance a flashlight and turn pages without taking my hand out from beneath the blanket. Getting dressed in the morning has become less a matter of dressing to suit a mood and the day’s activities, and more of trying to figure out how many shirts and sweaters will fit under my coat. And not being able to do laundry has less the feel of a vacation and more of a punishment. While I’m grateful for my friend Julie’s invitation to shower at her (powered) apartment, and I took her up on her offer, it meant that taking a shower became an afternoon’s activity.

I’m ready for a return to normal after our storm. And vividly aware of how fortunate we are to live in a time and place where the normal condition of life is safe and warm, and where even when a relatively major disruption takes place, as it did for us last Thursday, our community is filled with honest, caring people who band together to make an unpleasant situation less so.

Treeless in Seattle

December 11th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

Jews Strive to Restore Sea-Tac Airport’s Christmas Trees

By Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Well here we go again. It is so utterly predictable. Like clockwork. It’s December and time for another skirmish in the annual battle against Christmas. What compels me to comment is that this time it’s not the usual secular fanatic who’s responsible for doing things that evict Christianity from the culture. No, on this sad and alarming occasion it’s a deeply religious, well-intentioned rabbi who has unwittingly stumbled into a situation that will place his denomination (and mine)—Orthodox Judaism—in a terrible, negative light.

For at least ten years, Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle has displayed several large, beautifully decorated Christmas trees each December. With lawyer in tow, a local rabbi recently threatened to sue the Port of Seattle if the airport didn’t add a Chanukah menorah to the holiday display.

Yielding to the ultimatum was not an option for airport management, skittish at the best of times since 9-11. Understandably, they interpreted the rabbi’s threat as only the first. It would not be hard to imagine Seattle’s Islamic community stepping forward with their own lawyer to demand a Moslem symbol be included as well.

With deft turn of phrase, Sea-Tac public affairs manager Terri-Ann Betancourt explained that at the busiest travel time of the year, while Sea-Tac was focused on getting passengers through the airport, she and her staff didn’t have time “to play cultural anthropologists.”

Threatening a lawsuit, I feel, violates the Jewish principle known in Hebrew as Kiddush HaShem, interpreted in the Talmud, part of ancient Jewish wisdom, as an action that encourages people to admire Jews. One need only read the comments on the Internet following the news accounts of the tree removal, to know that most people are feeling indignant and hurt. They certainly are not feeling more warmly toward Jews as a result of this mess.

Here I disclose that I know the rabbi involved, am friendly with him, and am sure that he didn’t intend this outcome. I like him, which makes it painful for me to point out that when one throws a punch (which is what bringing a lawyer and threatening to sue is equivalent to) and one gets decked in return, one cannot plead that one didn’t intend that outcome.

The outcome, whether intended or not, is that now vast numbers of passengers, most of whom are probably Christian, will be deprived of the cheerful holiday sight of pretty Christmas trees. What is more, they will know that their deprivation was caused by a Jewish rabbi. The rabbi’s lawyer told a television reporter, “There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch.”

No, Mr. Lawyer, it is not that Jews will be “portrayed” as the grinch. Sadly, now we are the grinch. You made us the grinch.

Now what is to be done? I have three requests:

I am asking every reader of this column to sign a petition on the Toward Tradition website beseeching Sea-Tac management to restore the Christmas trees.

I am asking every reader of this column to forward it to others who might be willing to sign this petition.

I am asking Jews in the Puget Sound region to join national radio host, Michael Medved, and me in offering our volunteer labor to Sea-Tac. We hope they will allow us to provide the labor necessary for replacing the trees so that airport staff need not be deflected from their important duties.

Why am I, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, so concerned about a few Christmas trees? Not for a moment do I believe that American Christians will react to this insult with a flurry of anti-Semitic activity. But I do feel certain that perhaps in some small way, expelling Christmas symbolism from the airport makes it just a little harder to protect America’s Christian nature.

For centuries, we Jews suffered in a Europe governed by ecclesiastical authority. We suffered no less under the secular tyrannies of communism. Now, in post-Christian Europe, where both government and population are increasingly secular, anti-Semitism is dramatically on the rise. In short, we have never thrived under religious government or within secular cultures.

During the past two thousand years of Jewish history Jews have never enjoyed a more hospitable home than we enjoy here in the United States of America.

This is because we have a religiously neutral government and a largely religious Christian population. Most American Christians love Jews and support Israel unconditionally because of their commitment to the Bible and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Evidence from across the Atlantic persuades me that our lot will deteriorate if America’s population gradually becomes secularized and removing the Christmas trees makes that disturbing likelihood, over time, more probable. Yes, public symbols are very important.

Years ago we Jews advocated for full equality. Today, with thirteen Jewish United States senators, over thirty Jewish congressmen, two Jews on the Supreme Court, and disproportionate Jewish representation in media and entertainment, one could reasonably say we have achieved it. But back then, the only culture in America was Christian. Today, however, America is home to many faiths, not all of them friendly towards Judaism.

Today, agitating for Jewish religious representation in the culture inevitably results not in equating Judaism with Christianity but the removal of both Judaism and Christianity. In other words, pushing for the menorah means removal of the Christmas tree and the triumph of secularism. Europe, both past and present, teaches us that if America becomes secularized, Jews suffer.

For fifteen years I have insisted that for Jews to oppose Christianity in America is a mistake. The world today is populated by millions who harbor festering hatred for Jews. There remains one group of people who love and support us and they are America’s Evangelical Christians. What possible sense does it make to fight your friends by stripping their symbols from sight?

When the Moslems invaded Spain, one of their first actions was the removal of all Christian symbols from public view. Secularism’s invasion of America is attempting exactly the same strategy. I implore American Jews not to ally themselves with this ill-fated campaign.

We are less than a week from the Jewish holiday of Chanukah during which our most important religious observance revolves around the blessings we say over the Menorah. In doing so, we oppose the still prevalent and ever more dangerous force of secularism.

When times change, unlike dinosaurs, wise organisms adapt. We should recognize that we all have a stake in protecting Christian symbolism in the village square (or the airport). The only alternative will be no religious symbolism at all and make no mistake, secularism’s rise is Judaism’s decline.

I spoke to the rabbi involved today and he is genuinely unhappy with the decision of Sea-Tac airport. I invited him to join the Toward Tradition petition and I hope he will do so. I urge you also to do whatever you can to help bring back Sea-Tac Airport’s Christmas trees. Let us all show that we care.

Exactly thirteen years ago, a brick was thrown through a Jewish home’s window in Billings, Montana because inside that window was displayed a menorah. Within days, over six thousand Christian homes in Billings protested that anti-religious bigotry by displaying menorahs in their windows.

I am not suggesting that Jews express their support by displaying Christmas trees in their windows but I am suggesting that Jews fulfill the spirit of Chanukah by supporting public expressions of the other Biblical faith. I don’t think that the airport was guilty of anti-religious bigotry but a weakening o
f Christianity in America could become a huge threat. For a start, let us try to restore Sea-Tac Airport’s Christmas trees.

Sign Petition: www.towardtradition.org/restorechristmas

No snow; no school by Susan Lapin

December 7th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Our city’s schools had two snow days last week but there were no red cheeked children outside building snowmen, no peals of laughter as sleds raced downhill and no snowballs hurtling through the air. Why not? Well, there was no snow – or nothing more than a dusting on bushes and roofs.

I’m not criticizing the decision to close. Many of the classroom teachers come from a distance, and the areas around us truly were snowed in and roads were treacherous. The school board had no choice but to act as it did. But I couldn’t help recalling a passage from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, These Happy Golden Years, in which she describes a dilemma she faced as a young teacher. When two half-frozen students came three minutes (!!!) late to class after laboriously breaking a path through newly fallen snow, Miss Wilder could see how they had struggled on their mile long hike. But, after all; that didn’t change the fact that they were late! Should she or should she not mark them as tardy?

The very fact that such a question could be asked rings alien to modern ears. Yet that teacher from over a century ago not only asked the question, but answered it by seeing no choice but to truthfully mark the record, while at the same time inviting them to sit close to the stove.

As a mother and grandmother I have no desire to return to the days when a difficult trek to school was not unusual or when classroom heating in the winter was insufficient. But it is a human characteristic to not appreciate what we too easily obtain. And when education was not easily or universally available and sacrifices were demanded of families and children in order to access that education, learning was valued in a way that simply isn’t often found today. In all the (in my opinion) ridiculous discussions of how little we spend on education perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone. Let’s dismiss all custodial staff and have the students mop the floors, clean the bathrooms and take out the trash. We can save dollars and instill appreciation at the same time.

The fact that no one- even I- thinks that this proposal stands a chance of being considered is one piece in a complicated puzzle that explain why most eighth grade graduates of Laura Ingalls Wilders’ days had greater knowledge of history and civics and more developed English and math skills, not to mention greater moral development, than too many college students of today.

I Warned You that Ancient Jewish Wisdom Discouraged Investing in Sirius Satellite Radio

December 5th, 2006 Posted by Thought Tools 2 comments

Don’t you just hate it when people proudly proclaim-“I told you so!” Don’t you hate it even more when they were right? Well, I told you so! Two years ago I said Howard Stern’s move from free radio to subscription-based satellite radio was going to bomb for Sirius which paid Stern about half a billion dollars to get him to move his show to Sirius.

Let’s go back to the beginning. When it came out last year, I wrote a review of Streisand’s movie, “Meet the Fockers.” In my review which I called “Our Worst Enemy,” I indicated that indeed, the worst enemy of the Jews is the Jews. It was the second time I wrote about Stern.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

It is not only in movies that Jews besmirch Jews as sexualizing the culture. Ruth Westheimer told The New York Times of her love for Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people. Meanwhile, as Dr. Ruth, with her grandmotherly appearance and her high-pitched Jewish accent, she titillates her audiences with shockingly explicit sexual advice.

Radio shock-jock Howard Stern intersperses his displays of dehumanizing depravity with a constant stream of “Oy veys” as if subconsciously compelled to highlight his Jewish ethnicity.

Jerry Springer, widely known as the Jewish former mayor of Cincinnati, normalizes depravity by projecting a deviant sub-culture and its cheering hooligans right into America’s living room.

A few years ago, the Los Angeles Jewish Journal gushingly profiled a Jewish pornographer whose stage name is Ron Jeremy. The piece praised the huge sums he’s been paid to “bed more gorgeous women than James Bond.” Jeremy, who proudly admits to have acted in or directed over 1,500 porn videos, cited the preponderance of Jewish men in porn and explained, “Jewish families tend to be more liberal than Christian ones, they aren’t obsessed by the fear of the devil or going to hell.” As if to eliminate any lingering doubt about Ron Jeremy’s Jewishness, the Jewish Journal breathlessly assures us that Ron Jeremy plans to marry in a synagogue.

The first time I wrote about Stern was when I predicted that Sirius would take a financial hit for paying so much for Stern’s notoriously raunchy radio show. Now the reports are in.

On his syndicated radio show Stern used to enjoy a daily audience of about 12 million Americans. On satellite he probably has fewer than 2 million listeners. On November 27th Forbes Magazine reported that after having become disconnected from most of his vast audience, Stern’s media mentions in 2005 were down 23% from 2004.

Since signing Stern, Sirius shares are down 44% though Stern probably did help Sirius gain new subscribers. Those subscribers number a little over 5 million right now but, and it is a great big, gigantic, monumental BUT, many of them do not listen to the Howard Stern Radio Show.

Reason: Simple. On good old fashioned free radio, Howard had an ally—the Federal Communications Commission. They gave Stern so much free publicity. They also granted him a unique niche in radio. For many in his demographic (adolescents of all ages) Stern was an irresistible attraction. Howard was willing to push the limits of drooling concupiscence beyond the point that all other radio hosts gave up. His show constantly earned the ire of the good commissioners and stations running his show were often fined for indecency. Howard didn’t mind. Those were his friends. They kept away the competition that lacked the stomach for confrontation with the government that Howard relished. Fans tuned in to each day to hear Stern escalate the scatology.

But there is one big problem with hosting shock radio. No matter what you do, each day you are only upping the ante for the next. Shock your audience today with breathtaking prurience, and tomorrow they expect better. Under the watchful eye of the FCC, Stern pushed the limit like nobody else. On satellite radio, there is no FCC. There are no limits and Howard enjoys no unique niche. There are plenty of hosts on the hundreds of channels who are selling shock and who are willing and eager to escalate it each day. But without the FCC, it’s just no fun. That is why so few of Sirius subscribers listen to Stern. On free radio they listened to him taunt the FCC like nobody else could or would. On satellite there is no shortage of shock jocks. Many are younger and edgier than Stern and they grab audience share.

It was not a hard call to predict that once Stern was out of reach
of the FCC his competitive edge would erode. It would be like a circus tight rope walker who suddenly lowered his rope walking act to three feet off the ground. Without the risk there is no thrill. There is no risk for Stern on satellite and there certainly is no thrill. And to tell you the truth, if there is one less Jew out there purveying filth, I am happy. And I am happy I told you.

I may be Rabbi Daniel Lapin, but this post gets signed—

Ayatolah Youso.