Posts Tagged ‘Conservative Judaism’

Liberal Religions Forced To Confront The Dodo-Bird Effect Of Progressivism

April 18, 2011

There was a “Far Side” cartoon that makes all the more sense to me now.  A dinosaur was standing at the podium in front of a large auditorium full of dinosaurs.  And he was explaining, “We’re facing a serious crisis, gentlemen.  The world’s climates are changing, mammals are eating our eggs, and we have brains the size of a walnut.”

The religious side of liberalism is every bit as bankrupt as the political side, and the constantly shrinking membership bears that spiritual, moral and intellectual bankruptcy out.

I saw an article in the Los Angeles Times about liberal Judaism that brought out the fact that liberal “Judaism” was as much a Dodo bird as liberal “Christianity.”  During the same week I spoke to a “Catholic” I frequently chatted with who – after telling me he was a “radical liberal” who believed in abortion and socialized medicine – proceeded to tell me that he utterly rejected the virgin birth of Christ.  Which is of course a central defining belief of orthodox/traditional Catholicism.  And that prompted me to do some thinking about these so-called “mainline” liberal religious movements, and just how utterly meaningless they are.

I better nip one objection in the bud immediately, realizing as I do that many liberals either can’t read very well or can’t understand what they read.  The following article is about the astounding decline of “Conservative” Judaism.  But “conservative” here has nothing to do with politics or even with theology.  “Conservative Judaism” is every bit as liberal as any liberal mainline “Christian” denomination.  It embraces homosexuality; it embraces the notion that the Bible is basically a meaningless book that can be interpreted and then reinterpreted according to constantly changing societal norms.  Which is to say, Conservative Judaism ultimately stands for nothing, and isn’t “conserving” anything remotely important.

That said, “Conservative rabbis” met in Las Vegas to try to deal with a crisis: they are going extinct.  What came out of the meeting is all the more hilarious:

Leaders of Conservative Judaism press for change as movement’s numbers drop
Leading Conservative rabbis gather in Las Vegas to ‘rebrand’ the movement, but there is little agreement about how to draw people back into synagogues.
April 12, 2011|By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

Three hundred rabbis walk into a Las Vegas martini lounge. Bartenders scramble to handle the crowd — the rabbis are thirsty. Suddenly, an Elvis impersonator takes the stage.

We are faced with two possibilities.

One, this is the beginning of a joke.

Two, they don’t make rabbis the way they used to.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the clerical arm of Conservative Judaism, would have you believe the second message, or something like it. That’s why it launched its 2011 convention with a martini reception at a Las Vegas synagogue. The gathering was billed as an attempt to “rebrand” the Conservative movement, which has seen alarming declines in membership in recent years.

“We are in deep trouble,” Rabbi Edward Feinstein of congregation Valley Beth Shalom in Encino told the convention the next day. “There isn’t a single demographic that is encouraging for the future of Conservative Judaism. Not one.”

Those words could apply equally to a number of U.S. religious denominations, especially liberal Protestant and Jewish faiths. Membership is falling; churches and synagogues are struggling financially; and surveys show robust growth among the ranks of those who declare no religious affiliation.

The situation may be especially alarming to the Conservative movement because it was, for many years, the largest denomination in American Judaism. It was the solid center, more traditional than Reform, more open to change than Orthodoxy.

A decade ago, roughly one of every three American Jews identified as Conservative. Since then, Conservative synagogue membership has declined by 14% — and by 30% in the Northeast, the traditional stronghold of American Judaism.

By 2010, only about one in five Jews in the U.S. identified as Conservative, according to the American Jewish Congress.

The Reform and Orthodox movements also saw declines, although not nearly as steep. Reform Judaism for a time claimed the most adherents, but today that distinction goes to people who identify themselves as “just Jewish,” meaning they don’t associate with any of the traditional denominations. Many are entirely secular.

“We’re all in trouble,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly and one of those trying to save the Conservative movement. Correcting herself, she said, “We’re not in trouble, but we’re in urgent need of rethinking the institutions of Jewish life.”

[…]

The movement’s problems, many agree, begin with its name, which has nothing to do with political conservatism and doesn’t accurately describe a denomination that accepts openly gay and lesbian rabbis and believes the Bible is open to interpretation. But that’s just for starters.

Deep dissatisfaction with the organizations that lead Conservative Judaism prompted a number of influential rabbis in 2009 to demand urgent change, warning, “Time is not on our side.” The group won promises of substantial change from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents Conservative congregations, and helped prompt reforms in the institutions that train and represent rabbis.

A similar revolt by prominent Reform rabbis preceded that denomination’s continuing effort to reinvent itself, a project launched at L.A.’s Hebrew Union College last November.

So what does it mean for a religious movement to reinvent or rebrand itself?

“It’s one thing for a corporation to say ‘We’re going to reinvent ourselves,'” said David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

“Sometimes they get into another business,” he said. “A religion … can evolve, it can be reinterpreted, you can express it in a slightly different style, but you can’t just be doing Judaism one day and say ‘I’m going to sell cars’ the next.”

The Conservative rabbis won’t become car salesmen, but they batted around some fairly radical ideas and predictably stirred up some opposition.

There was talk of eliminating membership dues for synagogues or switching to a la carte “fee-for-service” plans — so that a parent who wants only to send his or her child to religious school won’t also be paying to support the congregation’s other programs. But some said dues give congregants a vital sense of ownership.

Wolpe, the Sinai Temple rabbi, said the movement needs a slogan, one that’s short enough to fit on a bumper sticker. He suggested “A Judaism of Relationships.”

“We don’t have a coherent ideology,” he told his fellow rabbis. “If you ask everybody in this room ‘What does Conservative Judaism stand for?’ my guess is that you’d get 100 different answers…. That may be religiously a beautiful thing, but if you want a movement, that’s not such a hot result.”

[…]

And then there was the name. Some prefer Conservative, which was adopted when the movement began in the 19th century. It denotes the founders’ determination to conserve the best of Jewish tradition while being open to prudent change. But others said it is one reason the movement is seen by young people as being hopelessly uncool.

One suggestion: Change it to Masorti, a Hebrew word meaning “traditional” that is used by Conservative Jews in Israel and Europe.

“If we really want to appeal to the new generation, if you want to create a real worldwide movement … we need a common name, and I think it needs to be a Hebrew name,” said Rabbi Felipe Goodman of Temple Beth Sholom in Las Vegas.

As the meeting ended, there were pledges to work toward meaningful change. One example of what that might look like is an effort to employ a new definition of kosher food that would require ethical treatment of the workers who produce it —something that is being called magen tzedek, or “seal of justice.”

“This is an answer for Conservative Judaism because it’s about the marketplace, it’s about the public square,” said Rabbi Morris Allen of Mendota Heights, Minn., who is leading the effort. Magen tzedek “shifts the entire message of who we are as a religious community. Suddenly, it’s about more than just what is said at the prayer service on Saturday morning.”

Let me begin my analysis by means of a contrast.  Rabbi Morris Allen says, “This is an answer for Conservative Judaism because it’s about the marketplace, it’s about the public square.”  By radical, radical contrast, Christianity is about Jesus Christ, who He is—God incarnate—and what He accomplished—the redemption of sinners who embrace His atoning death for the sin of humanity.

“Conservative Judaism … [is]… about the marketplace.”  That is so sad.  “We need to sell more widgets, or rebrand our widgets, or maybe produce a different kind of widget.”

One of the reasons that Judaism is so swiftly disappearing is because of atheism and a virulent form of Jewish secular humanism which basically holds that it’s perfectly okay to not believe in God as long as you act as though you did.

Dinesh D’Souza points out why precisely why this phenomenon would occur – given the enormous influence of liberalism in Judaism – in his examination of why liberal “Christian” churches are losing membership in droves:

“Unfortunately the central themes of some of the liberal churches have become indistinguishable from those of the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, and the homosexual rights movement.  Why listen to Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong drone on when you can get the same message and much more interesting visuals at San Francisco’s gay pride parade?”

And D’Souza provides a sizable pile of statistics to show that the traditional (i.e. evangelical) denominations and churches are growing leaps and bounds even as the liberal mainline churches are going the way of the Dodo bird.

His point, of course, is that these liberal religionists are dying out because they don’t stand for anything that has any spiritual power whatsoever.

Here is the story of Christian growth in the world today:

Compared to the world’s 2.3 billion Christians, there are 1.6 billion Muslims, 951 million Hindus, 468 million Buddhists, 458 million Chinese folk-religionists, and 137 million atheists, whose numbers have actually dropped over the past decade, despite the caterwauling of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Co. One cluster of comparative growth statistics is striking: As of mid-2011, there will be an average of 80,000 new Christians per day (of whom 31,000 will be Catholics) and 79,000 new Muslims per day, but 300 fewer atheists every 24 hours.

Africa has been the most stunning area of Christian growth over the past century. There were 8.7 million African Christians in 1900 (primarily in Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa); there are 475 million African Christians today, and their numbers are projected to reach 670 million by 2025. Another astonishing growth spurt, measured typologically, has been among Pentecostals and charismatics: 981,000 in 1900; 612,472,000 in 2011, with an average of 37,000 new adherents every day – the fastest growth in two millennia of Christian history.

Christianity – which views itself (and which I personally believe is) the fulfillment of the Jewish Scripture – is the fastest growing religion on the planet.  Christianity is the world’s only universal religion; the only religion with a global reach.  It is particularly spreading in the third world and in Asia.  Soon, China will be the largest “Christian country” in the world.  There may very well already be more Christians in China than there are in America.  In Korea, Christians already outnumber Buddhists.

While mainline liberal Protestant and (mainline liberal) Catholic “Christianity” withers on the vine, evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity is exploding.  And while Western Europe and America increasingly deny the Christendom that brought them to greatness in the first place – even as they increasingly become less and less great as a result – Christianity is taking deep abiding root in cultures whose transformation can only be described as “miraculous.”

Meanwhile, as the statistics prove and as Dinesh D’Souza explains, atheism is shrinking in spite of all its grandiose claims to represent the fulfillment of modernity and knowledge.  “Nietzsche’s proclamation that ‘God is dead’ is now proven false,” D’Souza writes.  “Nietzsche is dead.  The ranks of the unbelievers are shrinking as a proportion of the world’s population…  God is very much alive.”  Secular humanists have long self-servingly claimed that the progression of “reason” and “science” would conquer religion, but this is now demonstrated to be a lie, a fairy tale of secularism.

Christianity stands for something.  And as much as I may personally despise Islam, it too at least takes a powerful stand – even if it relies primarily on force and terrorism to make that stand.  Atheism and secular humanism are only parisites hanging on to Christianity and its superior moral values, and the political liberalism that theological liberalism invariably leads to is the nihilism of objective moral truth all together.

Allow me to provide a concrete example of the empty nexus of liberal politics and liberal theology.  Barack Obama, a quintessential theological and political liberal, has repeatedly stripped God out of the Declaration of Independence and its profound establishment of Creator God as the only and ultimate grounds for legitimate human dignity, freedom and rights.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” our founders assured mankind, and “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Not so with Obama.  On his repeatedly stated version, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But just what created us (random mutation or perhaps benevolent fairies?) and exactly how did we become endowed with these rights that most cultures and most worldviews and in fact most political systems throughout human history have denied?  And further, why did the Judeo-Christian worldview which inspired these founding fathers be dumped on its head, such that its antithesis in the form of the radical homosexual agenda and abortion on demand be enthroned in its place?

Basically, the Judeo-Christian worldview – “Christendom,” if you like – has been treated like a salad bar in the Western Civilization that had been forged by Christianity, and secular humanists can pick out the parts that they like and throw away the rest.  But it’s not a salad bar; Judeo-Christianity as both a religion and a worldview is far more like the foundations of a great building.  And what these secular humanists have been doing is pulling out the foundational pillars one block at a time until there is nothing left to sustain the surrounding structure.

Which is precisely why the West – which used to be called “Christendom” – is now on the verge of complete collapse on virtually every level.

I see the war on terror, and from the start I have seen the glaring flaw in our strategy (yes, even when George Bush was waging it).  Basically, we have confronted totalitarian Islam on the military, political and economic fronts.  But we have utterly ignored the religious front – which is precisely the major front by which totalitiarian Islam has been attacking us.  Like it or not, 9/11 was a religious act.  And there has been no major movement whatsoever – either by the Western powers or by the movements within Islam itself – to confront the religious grounds of the totalitarian Islamists.

And the reason is because we have nothing to confront them with.  Secular humanists/atheists have undermined public religious expression at every turn, while cultural relativists have contextualized religion in such a way to strip it of any spiritual power whatsoever.  Now when we truly need true spiritual power to confront the demonic power motivating radical Islam, basically all we’ve got is allegorical dirt clods.

In the sphere of Islam, jihadists have the superior Qu’ranic argument that it is THEY who are carrying out Muhammad’s vision for Islam, not the liberal Westernized contextualizers who want to make very clear claims of Muhammad into metaphors and allegories representing something else.  Muhammad was a man of genuine violence; he had been in some thirty military campaigns in his life; he had committed numerous genocidal campaigns against “infidels”; and he had another thirty military campaigns planned at the time of his death, including the conquest of Western Europe as the means to spread Islam (“submission”) and the call of Allahu Akbar (a comparative which means “Allah is greater”).  If Muhammad is in any way, shape or form a representative paradigm of what it means to be “Muslim,” then the jihadists are right.

And liberalism – whether it be religious/theological or political/cultural liberalism – has exactly what to answer that?  Other than mocking or trivializing it?

Did political liberals – like the liberal rabbis from the LA Times article above – truly believe that we overcome the threat of terrorism by simply changing the name to “overseas contingency operation” from “war on terror”?

As bad as the religion of Allah may be for a free society, it has a great deal of force when the competition is cultural nothingness, the decaying leftovers of “salad bar pseudo-Judeo-Christianity.”

2 Timothy 3:5 says of such “Christians”:

“They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (New Living Translation)

St. Paul told us, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1).  The risen and glorified Jesus told St. John of the seventh and final church age, “But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Revelation 3:16).
of my mouth!

And it is with this final age of de-spiritualized, unglodly lukewarm “Christianity” and “Judaism” that makes God literally puke that staggering Western Civilization rises to the bell.

If anyone wants to know why I come across as angry from time to time in my blogging, it is because when I look around, I keep seeing the series of morally and even rationally terrible and despicable choices we have made right here in America that will invariably end with Antichrist, the Tribulation and Armageddon.  And it will not have been God that made this happen, or God who chose this end for mankind; but rather mankind that chose this end for itself.

C.S. Lewis said:

“We can always say we have been the victims of an illusion; if we disbelieve in the supernatural this is what we always shall say.  Hence, whether miracles have really ceased or not, they would certainly appear to cease in Western Europe as materialism became the popular creed.  For let us make no mistake.  If the end of the world appeared in all the literal trappings of the Apocalypse, if the modern materialist saw with his own eyes the heavens rolled up and the great white throne appearing, if he had the sensation of being himself hurled into the Lake of Fire, he would continue forever, in that lake itself, to regard his experience as an illusion and to find the explanation of it in psycho-analysis, or cerebral pathology.  Experience by itself proves nothing.  If a man doubts whether he is dreaming or waking, no experiment can solve his doubt, since every experiment may itself be part of the dream.  Experience proves this, or that, or nothing, according to the preconceptions we bring to it.” (God in the Dock, “Miracles,” pp. 25-26).

The problem with liberalism is that it “fundamentally transforms” whatever it touches – whether Christianity, Judaism or fiscal and economic reality – into a game of make-believe pretend.

Margaret Thatcher put the end-state of econimic liberalism succinctly: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”  And then comes the collapse.

When radical Islamist jihadists attack, you can’t answer or fight with make-believe.  Any more than you can fight massive debt with make-believe mass-printed dollars.

My one consolation is this: I’ve cheated; I’ve skipped ahead and read the last pages of Revelation.  God – and most definitely not Allah or secular humanism or liberal mainline pseudo religiousity – wins in the end.  And when God wins in the end, via the return of Jesus Christ as true King of kings and Lord of lords, He will win in a very literal way indeed.

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