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Rudy of the Good Book?

Neocon war problem

The Giuliani candidacy has polarized politically conservative Christians and Jews — perhaps less over Rudy’s position on abortion than, more subtly, over a question of emphasis.

Who’s right? The Jewish “neoconservatives,” who make up more than half of Giuliani’s star foreign-policy advisory team (Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Pipes, Michael Rubin, Martin Kramer, and David Frum)? Or Christians, like Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who would not rule out supporting a third party candidate if Giuliani gets the nomination?

To adjudicate the dispute, I propose an appeal to the part of the Bible on whose authority Jews (like myself) and Christians agree: namely, the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew prophets have a political vision and it is not neoconservative. No one should know this better than the venerable neoconservative elder statesman, Norman Podhoretz.

Some neoconservatives who support Giuliani do so in spite of their clearly pro-life views on abortion. But they must feel that his position on “Islamofascism” (as Podhoretz in his current book calls the threat of Islamic radicalism) outweighs any opposition over classic culture war questions. The neocons, in other words, emphasize foreign over domestic policy.

Not so for a substantial portion of the Christian conservatives who gathered at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, in Washington, D.C. this month. They emphasize the suite of pre-9/11 culture war issues, abortion above all. Whatever else there may be to say in favor of Giuliani’s willingness to take the anti-terror offensive to Iran’s doorstep, these Christian conservatives would emphasize the domestic over the foreign.

To judge from his excellent 2002 book The Prophets, Podhoretz takes the Bible deeply to heart. A radio host who’s also Jewish told me that after a warm and stimulating broadcast interview with Podhoretz, the older man spontaneously blessed him with the ancient Hebrew priestly blessing, given by Jewish parents to their children on the Sabbath eve (Numbers 6:23-27). When I heard that story, I got choked up.

It’s relevant to ask, then, if Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel would shelve moral questions like abortion, in order to pursue an aggressive defense against Islamic enemies.

In The Prophets, Podhoretz hammers away at one great theme: the prophets and their struggle against idolatry. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah had, as their overriding goal, the freedom of the Jewish people from a tendency to revert to idolatry and paganism.

Idolatry manifests itself in every age. Its essence lies in setting up moral authorities in competition with, or to the negation of, God. Today, aggressive secularism possesses all of the classic pagan hallmarks: relativism, nature worship, sexual corruption, and a willingness to sacrifice children for the cause.

The key point in Podhoretz’s inspired treatment of the prophets is the way they invariably prioritized the struggle against idolatry over every other struggle.

Keep in mind that they lived in a time of horrible danger from foreign enemies, much more so than we do. Today, Muslim political potency has been fading for centuries, despite obviously delusional dreams of establishing a global Caliphate. By contrast, ancient Israel, over several centuries, faced foreign empires (Assyria, Babylon) at the height of their power. The two nations literally wiped the Jewish commonwealth out of existence.

Yet the prophets had little to say against Assyrofascism or Babylofascism. They focused squarely on admonishing their own people to correct moral and spiritual failings. Theirs was a war against internal corruption, not external enemies. They knew that if the Jews were right with God, He would protect them.

Podhoretz, in The Prophets, expresses the point as well as anyone could. Consider Jeremiah, about whose life we know more (from his own writing), than any of his prophetic colleagues. He lived through the sacking of Jerusalem and the leading away to captivity of her people by the empire of Babylon.

In the run-up to this tragedy, was he out banging the drum for a tough anti-Babylonian stance, sponsoring a “Babylo-Fascist Awareness Weeka-la-David Horowitz? No. On the contrary, he was accused of treason by the war party among his fellow Jews. He warned that, in the context of Israel’s corrupt moral culture, it was useless to resist Babylon.

He taught that purifying the culture was the real priority, of which the defense against Babylon was merely a secondary expression. Writes Podhoretz: “It is idolatry, and nothing else, that to [Jeremiah] is the cause of the catastrophe looming ahead.”

The prophet admonished in God’s name: “And I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons; and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant.” Why did the Lord propose to do this?

Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein; but have walked after their imagination of their own heart, and after Baalim, which their fathers taught them. (9:11-14)

If you are a Jew or a Christian, the wisest advice for ordering priorities is to be found in the words of men who, prompted by God, cautioned their fellow citizens about their own disordered priorities.

If you not a believer, it should still be possible to appreciate the accumulated wisdom of three thousand years as found in the pages of Scripture; men who faced outside enemies far more dangerous than Islamic terror, concluded that the real peril came from within.

Either way, responding preemptively to Islamic terror — from al Qaeda or Iran — remains a necessary and prudent objective. A serious presidential contender must have a plan for it. But neglecting the country’s internal moral landscape to fight “World War IV” is neither responsible nor wise.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.