Religious zealots, arranged right to left

Nationally syndicated radio host Dennis Prager was awarded the American Jewish Press Assn.'s Excellence in Commentary Prize for 2004.

AMERICANS CONSTANTLY hear and read about the dangers emanating from the religious right. But what about the dangers from the religious left? Ever hear about those dangers? In fact, do you ever hear about a religious left at all?

Probably not. My Google search of “religious right” yielded 3,890,000 items. A search of “religious left” yielded 276,000. And that search included right-wing websites. My quick survey of a “mainstream,” i.e. liberal, news medium revealed an even more lopsided result: New York Times’ articles since 1981 mentioned the “religious right” 1,689 times and gave only 29 mentions to the “religious left.”

As far as the news media are concerned, there is no religious left, only the religious right and “mainstream” denominations -- and, of course, the religious right is regularly described as bigoted, narrow-minded and intolerant, not to mention a threat to the separation of church and state.

Yet, within Christianity and Judaism, the left is very much alive, and in Judaism it is dominant. This leftism was made apparent last month in Houston at the biennial convention of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest of Judaism’s denominations.


Let’s begin with religious intrusion into politics. This is probably the least defensible charge thrown at the religious right. First, religious individuals and groups have as much right to attempt to influence society and state as secular individuals and groups do. Second, the religious left is at least as active in attempting to influence governmental policies as the religious right. Perhaps more so.

Take, for example, the Reform convention’s resolution opposing the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court (even before hearings have begun). I am unaware of any Orthodox Jewish convention having passed a resolution against the nomination of secular or liberal judges to the Supreme Court.

A second example was the convention’s resolution calling for “full voting rights” for the citizens of the District of Columbia. Now, why exactly is that not religious intrusion into politics? And how is that different than when Southern Baptists passed a resolution calling on the United States to keep marriage defined as between a man and a woman?

Such intellectual inconsistencies continued in the keynote address by the head of Reform Jewry, Rabbi Eric Yoffie. The rabbi reserved a portion of his address for an attack on the “religious right,” whose leaders, he said, believe that “unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text, you cannot be a moral person.”


As I do not believe Rabbi Yoffie knowingly told a lie, I can only assume that he did not mean what he said. His statement is false. I’ve never heard of a single mainstream conservative, fundamentalist or right-wing Christian who has said or even hinted at this. It is true that the Christian right largely believes that one must believe in Jesus Christ in order to attain salvation. But “saved” is hardly the same as “moral.” Christian leaders acknowledge that there are moral non-Christians.

What we have here is left-wing projection: It is the left that believes that if you do not adhere to its values and politics, you cannot be a moral person. Howard Dean recently said that Democrats care if children go to bed hungry at night and Republicans don’t.

Rabbi Yoffie also said that “we need beware of the zealots who want to make their religion the religion of everyone else.” But isn’t that exactly what liberals wish to do -- make everyone liberal? Why, pray tell, are liberals who want everyone to be liberal considered moral and moderate, but Christians who want everyone to be Christian considered “zealots” and “bigots”?

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Jewish religious left’s convention was how clearly it revealed the supremacy of leftist concerns over Jewish ones. History will record that a month after the Islamic Republic of Iran called for the annihilation of the Jewish state, 5,000 Reform Jews passed resolutions calling for District of Columbia voting rights and “workers’ rights” but none about a call for what would amount to another Holocaust or about Islamic anti-Semitism generally, the greatest eruption of Jew-hatred since Nazism. History will likewise also note that two years after the United States made war on a bloodthirsty tyrant who paid the families of murderers of Jews $25,000 each, Reform Judaism passed a resolution condemning that war.


As an active member for 15 years of a Reform synagogue that I love, I can only take this as another sign that the movement has been taken over by people whom one rarely hears about -- the religious left.