Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dennis Prager speaks at Focus on the Family Chapel service PART I

The audio of his talk can be found here

Dennis Prager recently gave a talk (sermon, really) to the monthly Focus on the Faggot…er…I mean Focus on the Family chapel service. I wanted to write a response to his sermon because many things stood out about his little “marriage” lecture.

James Dobson decided that Prager’s sermon was so good that he wanted to broadcast it on two days worth of Focus programming. Dobson introduces Prager by lavishing praise on him and then says something that is very telling.

About three minutes into the first broadcast, Dobson tells listeners that Prager is Jewish, “which means we don’t see eye to eye on our Christian faith, obviously”.

This introduction raises some serious questions about Dobson. Does Dobson consider Prager’s Jewish faith to be part of the “Christian faith” or was that just a slip of the tongue? And does Dobson believe, based on Dobson’s faith, that Prager is going to heaven? If he does, how does he reconcile that belief with the strictures of his fundamentalist beliefs? And if he does not believe Prager is going to heaven, why would he have someone that is hell bound take the stage at a chapel service?

I know the answers to all of the above questions because, after at least 20 years of listening to Dobson starting when I was a child, I know what he believes. No, he does not believe Jews go to heaven and the reason he invited Prager to chapel was because Prager sees “eye to eye” with Dobson in regards to gay marriage and homosexuality in general.

However, following the logic that it is ok for a hell bound Jew to take the stage as long as that Jew is in lockstep with Dobson on one issue (or many issues, for that matter), it begs the question if Dobson would welcome an open homosexual on the stage if that homosexual agreed with Dobson on the evils of, let’s say, gambling.

See, if the unpardonable sin is rejecting Christ (which Prager is guilty of, according to the faith of Dobson) then what Dobson is suggesting by inviting Prager to chapel is that Dobson believes that Prager’s belief that gays should not be married trumps Prager’s lack of belief in Christ. Ultimately what Dobson is doing here is quantifying sin, something that every fundamentalist is forced to do due to their literal interpretation of the Bible. If Dobson does not believe he is quantifying sin then I look forward to him extending an invitation to an openly gay gambling opponent. In fact, I know a thing or two about the devastating effects that alcoholism has on families – a far more devastating effect than whether or not I can marry my husband, which has no effect on straight marriage – and I would be happy to address the chapel.

One other glaring note about Dobson’s introduction is his reference to the Torah. You have to listen to it but he basically says that the Torah is the Old Testament. The quote is “I asked him to speak about homosexuality in the Torah. Or in the Old Testament”
Reading that, one might think that Dobson was saying that he asked Prager to speak about homosexuality in the Torah or in the Old Testament. But that is not what he meant and when you listen, what he is saying is “In the Torah, in other words, the Old Testament” There is no room for interpretation when listening to how Dobson said it. But given the demographics of his audience, I am sure not many listeners picked up the fact that the Torah and the Old Testament (OT) are not synonymous. In fact, the Torah is the first five books of the OT, not the entire OT.

Moving on to Prager’s sermon.

Prager opens his remarks by calling Dobson “one of the greatest Americans of our time”.
He then goes on to say that he has a niece that is gay. He says that he loves his niece and he loves her partner but does not condone their life. What he does here is nothing more than gilding the lily that is “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. He immediately jumps from his “compassion” for his niece to the idea that if one accepts homosexuality one will accept “anything” – the slippery slope that fundamentalists often employ as a scare tactic.

But of course Prager, like Dobson, depends on the audience not to think the slippery slope fallacy to its logical conclusion. Because if they did, many would be forced to ask if Dobson accepts that a Jew can speak at chapel because he shares Dobson’s fundamental values, would he then accept a Muslim who had those values. In other words (in Prager’s words) “is everything ok?”.

Prager then begins the warfare talk that is so popular among fundamentalists. He speaks of the “battle” being lost in most of the Western world but that the “battleground” is in the United States. He asks his audience if we (we, as in the people of the United States) will be governed by Judeo-Christian values (an interesting term, to be sure, considering that Judeo-Christian is meant to illicit thoughts reaching back to the beginning of time. But the Judeo-Christian concept is relatively new only dating back to the turn of the 20th the century) or “secular’ values. This “battle”, Prager goes on to say, is the reason for the “anger” directed at evangelicals.

He then immediately follows up the anger statement by asking the audience why there was so much anger at Sarah Palin when she was nominated. He says, of course, that the answer is because Palin spoke too much about God. Prager, like Dobson and the rest, take much comfort in believing that people are angry with them because of their God. It is far easier (and far more noble) to believe that than to examine the real reasons people are angry at them over, among other things, Sarah Palin.

This anger that many on the right talk about is a way for them to further insulate their “flock” from reality. If one can convince someone that their beliefs are despised because their God is despised, then they need not worry themselves with facts and science and the legitimacy of their claims. Many, my mother included, when cornered revert to “God said it, I believe it, that’s that”

It is, of course, the most intellectually lazy and dishonest way to live. But intellectual laziness is of no concern to fundamentalists. One need only go to right wing blogs and read how many throw around words like “intellectual elite” and disparage degrees from places like Yale or Harvard in order to see how deep the contempt is for the intellectually curious. In fundamentalists' circles the mind is to be feared, not explored. And if the mind arrives at a conclusion that is not in sync with fundamentalism then the mind is automatically suspect, often attributed to the work of Satan.

Prager continues along this vein of “God values” by telling the audience that he asks those on the “secular and religious left” if they have a “book from which” they get their “values”. He says that those on the left invariably answer that they do not get their values from a book but instead from their heart. Prager is doing two things here.

The first is implying to his audience that if one does not have a “book” from which to glean values, such as the Bible, then one simply has no values. The other thing Prager is doing is using the word “heart” as a euphemism for the word “mind”. This is just another way of dismissing the mind as an agent of evil rather than a tool meant for good.

Prager proves this by saying “We who are religious know that the heart is a rather weak source for strong values”. In other words, the mind cannot be trusted and must be perceived as weak lest it be relied upon. Prager continues “And that’s the battle, and it’s very hard to battle people’s hearts”.

Once Prager makes the case that the mind (heart) is ultimately of no use in determining ones’ values he then begins to get to the reason of his sermon by rhetorically asking what God did on the second day. He answers that God “separated”.

Anyone with half a (suspect) mind, including his audience, can see where Prager is going. Everyone knows that by God “separating”, it automatically means that homosexuality is wrong. But more on that later.

Prager then tries to credential himself by saying he has taught the Torah in Hebrew for twenty years and proceeds to give his audience a lesson by saying that the Hebrew word for “holy” (qadosh) is also the word for “separate”. This is true. Qadosh means “to set apart for a special purpose”. But I would also note that the word “Qedesh” is Hebrew for “male prostitute”, derived from Qadosh.

He continues that “there is a war against the Biblical notion of separation”. Prager knows his audience well and knows that war imagery plays well to this crowd. My mother told me a few months ago that she was “pro war” and that she believed “God is pro war”. This shocked me and immediately I wondered how she arrived at such a belief. The father of Jesus certainly is not pro war and no matter how much one might want to twist theology to make God pro war (or to make God more in line with a president who goes to war based on lies) does not make it so.

But Prager says that five examples prove there is such a war between “holy and profane”;

1 Cursing. Prager says that the ubiquity of cursing in society is proof of the profane. He says that public cursing is “evil”. Supposedly, teenagers cursing in a grocery store is enough for Prager to think that the world is an evil place (I should note that at this point I was ready to quit listening but I soldiered on)
2 Apparently Prager thinks that if you use the term “good and evil” you are right wing religious. Or in other words, only fundamentalists believe in good and evil, as opposed to the left that does not believe in such a thing??? He goes on to tell the audience that since they believe in good and evil they are detested. Again, he is trying to build a separation (is that holiness?) between his audience (the good moral people) and the heathens.

One man’s heathen is another man’s infidel. One man’s qadosh is another man’s qedesh. You say fundamentalist Christian, I say fundamentalist Muslim. Let’s call the whole thing off!

He says that the secular left is making war on the Judeo-Christian value system and provides a few examples of how the left does not believe in evil.

One example is that “major French and German guests on my radio show from France and Germany”(you know, as opposed to the French and German people he might have on his show that are really from Mars). Anyway he says that “every single one” references George W. Bush’s use of the term “good and evil” as what those French and Germans from France and Germany think is wrong with America. He says that Europe does not use the term and that, according to those on the left, the “only evil is to talk about evil or even worse, confront evil”

Prager then goes on to say that the media never uses the word “terrorist”. At this point I am about to pop a blood vessel. Is he serious? Is his audience that stupid? A quick google search can prove him wrong on this. What media does he listen to? Certainly not the media I listen to. They all use the word terrorist. But again, Prager does not let facts get in the way of his diatribe based on emotion. “Separate” emotion, but emotion nonetheless.

He goes from that fantastical story to another about how the media never call murderers “murderers”. And at this moment it is as if you can hear him slip into a parallel universe where all these things he says are true.

3 That, unless you are a right winger, there is no way you can believe that there is a separation between man and God. And since there are atheist on the left, there can be no one who believes in God on the left.

I believe in God and I have friends who are atheist and we don’t try to convince the other. But in Prager’s world we on the left are all monolithic beings who march to the beat of one secular drummer.

4 Apparently if you believe that there is a separation between man and animal, you are Biblical. But if you believe man and animal are equals you are lefty and therefore a member of PETA. That’s the line of logic with number four, according to Prager.

Therefore, since those of us on the left are all members of PETA, he makes fun of PETA and uses them as proof that no one on the left can separate the value of a human from an animal.

It’s called a straw-man or a red-herring. Take your pick. But I didn’t have to tell you that, did I, silly liberal?

Also, on point four, apparently Prager is in love with his stereo system. You’ll just have to listen if you want to know the context. But he does say “I am not guided by love, I’m guided by values”.

In Prager’s world, values and love are mutually exclusive. And if “love” guides you, well, it is the same as being guided by your “heart”. And, remember, that is evil.

5 And finally he gets to his main point. God created male and female. Man and woman. After trying to impress the audience with speaking in Hebrew, he says that that separation of the sexes is what makes us “distinct”.

He says that there is a Biblical law that says that a man cannot wear women’s clothing and vice-versa. To prove that society has “strayed” from this he says that almost all urban high-schools across America have “cross-dressing day. It’s actually part of the curriculum”. He says that this proves that there is an onslaught against the notion that “there is anything different between the sexes”

Now putting aside Shakespeare for a moment, I immediately called my friends who were in high-school recently, including my brother. My brother did not answer the phone (no surprise there) but I asked my friends who went to “urban” high schools if they had a cross-dressing day and, if so, was it part of the curriculum. After they all laughed, they said no.

Again, I do not live in Prager’s world. I live in the real world. And apparently the real world is vastly different than Prager’s world.

Prager follows up his cross-dressing fantasy by saying that “Folks if you are truly interchangeable, it doesn’t matter who you have sex with, right?”

Ok, this is where I am going to end it. Part two will be up in a few days. Prager gets into a lot of stuff that will take up another five pages and I just don’t have the time to cover it all right now.


GingerSnaps said...

I know I'm a few days late in commenting, but I just wanna say that no comment doesn't mean this isn't a GREAT post.


dino said...

Excellent rebuke of Dobbsons postitions. I am writting a blog about who is qualified to "Quantify" sin. When I ran a search on google your article came up. Interesting that we are making in general terms very simular points. In my perspective there is no difference in Sins. And only god/higher power of your choice/etc can do that or is qualified.

Anyone else can only be self serving. Which is against all "Christian" beliefs isn't it???

Good luck. I liked your bio.


Concerned Citizen said...

Please don't censor this. Open discussion promotes progress.
I love how this is your big issue; this is what you spend your time doing. My brother is gay and he doesn't spend his time complaining about religion. Obviously organized religion is man made and faulty on several fronts but get over it. There are bigger issues that we as a country need to deal with.
And as for the Judeo-Christian faith being pro-war, there is a time for war according to the bible. There is also a time to turn the other cheek. I see that the Tibetan Buddhists are a peaceful religion, and looks what has happened to them. They live as prisoners under the Communist Chinese. Hindus can be thought of as a peaceful religion in some circles as well. What has happened to them? Islamo-Fascists have declared war on them. THANKSGIVING 2008. In nearly every country on the planet, there is some sort of violent jihadist movement. Just because the Village Voice doesn’t report on it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Do you really believe that this is not a time for war? Is there anything worth fighting for in your opinion? How about OUR way of life? I realize that homosexuals do not have the privilege of living as open as others in this country, but would you want to live in Iran or Afghanistan? That is what’s coming if we don’t stand up and define what evil is. Your issue is important, but it is a component of the more important issue…FREEDOM. America is the last bastion for true personal liberty. I predict that I’ll be called George Bush loving red-neck in 5 4 3 2 ….

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