14 January 2011

Dennis Prager nails it — and misses it, at the same time

by Dan Phillips

I am neither a Dennis Prager fan, nor am I a hater. He's a sharp guy, but there are only so many uses of the first-person singular pronoun that can be borne in any 5-10 minutes span, and Prager easily exceeds that limit every time I happen across his show or writings.

Yet Prager isolates and nails something very important in his recent essay, Nothing Sacred. His focus is political, but the point he makes is far broader, as he himself alludes. Prager is diagnosing and describing the mental malady of liberalism. Prager begins by quoting prominent liberals who were alarmed at the reading of the US Constitution in the House of Representatives, and he asks what it was that was so troubling to them.

Prager's response:
The answer is that for leftism — though not necessarily for every individual who considers himself a leftist — there are no sacred texts. The two major examples are the Constitution and the Bible. One cannot understand the Left without understanding this. The demotion of the sacred in general and of sacred texts specifically is at the center of leftist thinking.
Prager brings in the Bible, and we're going to leave politics (except as illustrative) and focus on the mindset of liberalism in its stance towards God's verbal self-revelation.

Prager absolutely correctly observes that "elevating any standard, any religion, any text to the level of the sacred means that it is above any individual," and thus is authoritative to that individual. Whether a politician being told he must rein in his cravings for power under the authority of the Constitution, or a man or woman being told that he is under the external, objective judgment of God's Word, the issue is at root the same.

And so, Prager says that to a leftist, "what is right and wrong is determined by every individual’s feelings, not by anything above the individual." Then Prager says that
This is a major reason why the Left, since Karl Marx, has been so opposed to Judeo-Christian religion. For Judaism and Christianity, God and the Bible are above the self. Indeed, Western civilization was built on the idea that the individual and society are morally accountable to God and to the moral demands of that book. That was the view, incidentally, of every one of the Founders, including deists such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
Morality is then no longer a God-given objective fact; it becomes a human-created subjective opinion. And one no longer needs to consult an external source to know right and wrong, only one’s heart. We are then no longer accountable to God for transgressions, only to ourselves.
We could go on; it actually is a very thoughtful and well-written article. Also, we're blessed with so many sharp readers that I doubt you much need me to make the application you're all already making (and the ironies you're noting) in your own mind.

But hey, if I'm going to put my byline on it, I'd better write something beyond "what he said!", hadn't I? So here it is.

Prager's analysis is delightfully sharp and on-target, yet it falls short in ways that literally make all the difference in the world. Prager is himself an apostate Jew, by which I mean that he — while often and sincerely expressing admiration and affection for Christianity — is still among those who have rejected the Prophet like Moses, who came and spoke Yahweh's words. Prager is still among those whose stance toward Messiah is "We do not want this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14).

And as I developed at greater length elsewhere, this means that Prager has had to deal loosely with Scripture himself. He could in no way be said to be under the authority of the Torah, as God spoke it; but rather Prager  is in some fashion under the rules and traditions of men (cf. Mark 7:1-13). The objective text of the Torah, in all its edgy and offensive power, is not Prager's philosophical nor moral pou sto.

Here is what the Torah would add to Prager's analysis. All of this started in the Garden, and we as a race are still stuck in exactly the same place. God had presented His worldview. It was comprehensive, exhaustive, and utterly authoritative. Everything Adam and Eve needed to know was included.

Yet Eve found herself in the one place in all the universe where she had no business being, listening to the one entity in all the universe to whom she had no business listening (Genesis 3:1ff.). Satan's fundamental proposition to Eve was a simple one: God's word is not necessarily binding on you; you must decide for yourself what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. Thus you shall be as gods — or, possible, as God.

And so "God's ape" perverted God's design in a literally hellacious manner. Of course God's design from the start was that mankind be "as God," in a spiritual and moral resemblance knowable only through the holy and whole submission of faith. This was a pervert's likeness, a likeness that attempts (insanely!) to wrestle God's Godhood from Him, and claim it as my own.

And so each of us is at heart a "liberal" or a "leftist," in Prager's sense, in that each of us is born with a hot hatred for any external authority that challenges our own. That is why
God looks down from heaven
on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

3 They have all fallen away;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 53:2-3).
That is why the thoughts of man's heart are naturally only wicked all day (Genesis 6:5). That is why all of us naturally do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). That is why we all suppress God's truth (Romans 1:18). That is why we have all gone aside, we do not seek God, we are bereft of that necessary foundation for all knowledge: the fear of God (Romans 3:9-18).

That all just scratches the surface. Sin has vitiated the way each of us looks at the universe. Prager's prescription doesn't go nearly far enough, because his diagnosis doesn't go nearly far enough — and because he leaves himself out. We don't need merely to be more respectful of the Constitution (though I think that would be good), or of the Bible.

What we need is a complete overhaul. We need a complete paradigm shift.

We need what the rejected "Prophet like Moses" tells Dennis Prager and you and me that we all need: we need

  • to repent (Matthew 4:17); and
  • to be born again (John 3:1ff.)
A teacher in Israel really should know this (John 3:9-10).

It appears Prager doesn't.

Do you?

Dan Phillips's signature


FX Turk said...

This should have been an open letter.

DJP said...

And be accused of derivosiousness? Nevah!!

Robert said...

I consider this like an open letter to all believers because we have to keep in mind that we all need the Gospel. Thank you, Dan. I am reminded of Paul writing that we need to watch ourselves as we go to correct others. I often find myself fighting my flesh in trying to correct false teaching. We need to reflect God's grace to people and that isn't always easy. Although if we have a right view of God and sin (and are mindful about that) it makes it easier.

DJ said...

That's the first time I've ever considered myself to be leftist. I feel the need for repentance.

Fred Butler said...

To illustrate this with Prager, I heard him recently dismissing anyone who believes the book of Genesis as being historical at all. He's more along the idea of it being a "myth" in the Peter Enns view of things. It's painful to listen to someone who is otherwise "on target" as you note, but so out in left field with inconsistency.

James Scott Bell said...

Nah, no "open letter" to Prager. He is primarily a political guy on the radio, and has great value in that role. He is an open admirer of conservative Christianity, too. He's not someone to be castigated like those in our own house who are doing real damage to the faith.

Don't go picking fights that don't need picking.

Word verification: PULAU (too close for comfort, but fodder for a true open letter)

MCC said...

Wow, you should lighten up on Prager, a la your opening comments. Especially in a paragraph where you use "I" three times in one two-sentence, four line (essentially) paragraph, where you complain about your neighbor (Prager) using "I" too much. Anyway, the man is a treasure. Sure, he is not a Christian. Okay, he will have some views on Scripture which I don't agree with. But for rationality, clarity of thought and expression, sheer gentlemanliness, he is an example and an inspiration to us all.

His statement "I prefer clarity to agreement," despite the presence of that dastardly capitalized monovocalic pronoun, is in itself worth the price of admission...

...which, as he is on the radio, is free... but you get my point,

Myself thinks.

MCC said...

A "gentlemanliness" that would likely preclude the use of "apostate Jew"...

Just sayin'.

Stefan Ewing said...

See, if you'd written this excellent post as an open letter, you'd have a hundred comments by now, instead of just 8 or 9.

Genre inflation.

That nefarious Frank, at it again!

DJP said...

Would they have actually read the post, if I'd done that?

Stefan Ewing said...


Writing as a Jewish Christian, that choice of phrase struck me as well, but knowing Dan, it should probably be read as, "a Jew who doesn't believe that Jesus is the Messiah," rather than "He's Jewish, therefore he doesn't believe in God."

Stefan Ewing said...


Good point. They wouldn't have.

Quality over quantity.

DJP said...

By "apostate Jew." I mean exactly what I say. Thanks for wanting to help, Stefan, but I don't necessarily spend time with commenters like MCC who want to vent emotionally rather than interact with the actual contents of the post. I've found there's no percentage in it. They either blast all the emotions out of their system then go back and think, or they just stick what what feels most vivid to them. Mostly the latter.

I even provided my own link, explaining the term — clearly unread; no need to read when you're venting — which I stand by 100%.

Unknown said...

I think we need to be in prayer for Mr. Prager. I've always found him to be a more accurate observer compared to most of the talk show guys.

DJP said...

In prayer; yes, Michael. He's sharp about many things, but has missed the most important, and those things change everything. We should pray that God opens his eyes.

Robert Hagedorn said...

Yes, Eve was tempted as you say. But by temptation, not an entity. Please do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

DJP said...

Why? The original account is crystal-clear. An entity talked with her: a serpent; used by Satan. Google doesn't list a source more authoritative on this than Scripture.

Strong Tower said...

In Search of The Holy Google.

I knew it was coming.

Countest thou shall to three, five is right out.

Matt Burke said...

Don't do it, ST! You'll never get that 10 minutes back.

Tim said...

I read the “apostate Jew” post and find the argument to be a perfectly respectable one, yet I would hate to see that term become a meme in paleo-evangelical circles.

Historically Jews have suffered horrific persecution from evil people acting in the name of Christ. They will at best be confused by the term “apostate Jew,” and most likely will be deeply offended.

The reaction will be something like: “They don’t call us k*kes or Christ-killers anymore, they just say ‘apostate Jew.’”

Christians should be willing to offend with the gospel itself, but why offend with a term of art, the meaning of which is known only to those few who took the time to read the blog post on which it is based?

Thomas Louw said...

In our flesh we are all ‘left” inclined. Everyone naturally gravitate to the left. We are self-centred in all we do and want to do.
It makes me think about the post about Pat Robinson, when I was grilled. Is that sort of thing not also just a symptom of the same thing?
Man centred thinking sugar coated in a Christian disguise.

John said...

I listen to Prager as often as I can and completely agree with your first paragraph--he's quite impressed with himself. In fact, he will certainly read your post; he gets a "Google alert" any time anyone mentions his name on the web.

I've often noticed his ignorance regarding the Scriptures. Just this week he mentioned the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon, and never hinted that it had anything to do with a rejection of God.

Still, Prager and Medved, in my *humble* opinion (if there is such a thing), are the only two worth listening to.

DJP said...

Tom, thanks for reading thoughtfully and responding. I actually picked up the term reflecting on something that wild-eyed flame-throwing Professor Bruce Waltke said about modern Judaism.

I'm not advocating for the term; nor am I apologizing for it.

If it has to be said, I'm also appalled that harm has been done by so-called "Christians" to Jews reputedly because of their apostasy. Of course I disown it and repudiate it, as you do.

Yet it's an apt term and perhaps could re-frame the discussion. The current status is that apostate Jews think they own both the term "Jew" and the Old Testament. My argument is that, given that they don't actually believe the latter, they own neither.

(That one I got from Jesus and Paul [John 5:45-46; Romans 2:278-29].)

DJP said...

John, I listen to Medved also. What a smart man.

You say "the only two worth listening to." The only two what? Talk radio hosts?

Aaron said...

@John and @DJP:

I podcast many of Prager's shows and listen to Medved on occasion (Medved does great historical shows). Often I find myself praying for these two men that they would accept Christ. They seem so close to the truth and yet remain seperated from God by a great chasm.

BTW, you might try Mark Levin. His show is podcast for free.

Tim said...

Many thanks for responding Dan.

No it does not have to be said that you’re appalled by the persecution of Jews by nominal Christians. I’ve read Pyromaniacs for years and Biblical Christianity for the past several months, and know such cruelty obviously would not be endorsed here.

Yet elements like term “apostate Jew” and the hey-look-at-the-funny-dancing-Jew graphic used in this post and others, while not imo crossing the line into anti-Semitism, present unnecessary obstacles to Jews’ giving a fair hearing to the Gospel. Some care and even self-censorship is sometimes necessary since, sadly, most Jews do not see their persecutors as “so-called Christians,” but simply as “Christians.” (Prager, BTW, does make the distinction, and is, as has been stated here, the best friend Bible-believing Christians have among prominent Jews.)

I’m puzzled by your assertion that you are not “advocating for” the term “apostate Jew.” If a lengthy post in a prominent blog and a post in the same blog wherein the term is used to describe a well-known Jew is not advocating for the term, then what is?

If the term somehow becomes the new “hip” epithet conservative Christians use for Jews, I think it highly likely that those Jews who hear it, having not read your 3000-plus-word post explaining its meaning, will simply assume it to be just another insult, another example of “Christian” hatred for Jews. Rather than “reframing the discussion,” the term will be absorbed into the existing framework of the discussion, one in which, from the Jews’ perspective, Christian hatred of Jews is a longstanding presumption.

Michael said...

There are other things Prager gets wrong. Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams and privately expressed doubts on the existence of invisible beings such as God, angels, and the soul; writing: "To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings."
Jefferson's passion for the Bible and its teachings of morality is not the same as believing humans must being accountable to God. He felt we should be following the moral lessons to be learned in the Bible but he dismissed the validity of the rest of the Bible including miracles.

Aaron said...

Christian hatred of Jews is a longstanding presumption

What?! You must not be listening to Prager because he has often said Christians are the Jews best friend (and he has ties with various Christian pro-Israel) groups.

And by "apostate jew" it's clear that DJP means that if they weren't apostate, they'd be Christian. And to say "Jewish Christian" is redundant. Christianity is Jewish.

Aaron said...

@Michael: But do you know who does get it right? Michael Medved.


Tim said...

Yes Aaron you are correct about Prager making the statement re Christians being the Jews’ best friend. That’s what I meant by my statement that he makes the distinction between so-called Christians and Christians.

I’ve been listening to Dennis since 1992, and he often expresses sadness at how widespread the belief is among Jews that Christians hate them. He has said on several occasions that a common saying among Jews is, “Scratch a Christian and just below the surface you’ll find an anti-Semite.” That phenomenon is what I was referring to in my statement that Christian hatred of Jews is a longstanding presumption.

As to the “apostate Jew” term, once again I agree the meaning of the statement is clear once one has read Dan’s explanation of it, but the term standing alone is confusing and most likely will do more damage than good if it attains common use among Christians.

DJP said...

tim - I’m puzzled by your assertion that you are not “advocating for” the term “apostate Jew.

You are? That puzzles me.

"Advocating for" would = a post titled "Why every one of you should refer to unbelieving people of Jewish extraction as 'apostate Jews."

What I did = a post doing a Biblical riff off a Dennis Prager column in which I referred to Prayer (an apostate Jew) as "an apostate Jew" in passing and exactly one time.

Unpuzzled now?

DJP said...

As to Phil's graphic, I just think the dancing guy looks cool, and looks like he's having fun. Seriously, and period. Funny what folks project on these graphics, sometimes, innit?

Unknown said...

A (Fictional) Poem

There once was a man of Jewish extraction
Who read team Teampyro with a bad reaction
To some careless phrases some Christians fashioned
With perfect doctrine and zeal impassioned.

He thought they were rude, unfeeling, and crass,
But were technically right, should he give them a pass?
No! -Truth spoken in love was clearly upended,
And though unintended even he was offended.

And this was no emergent evangelical stranger,
He was King of the Jews and born in a manger.

Anonymous said...

Prager definitely nailed it regarding the left and sacred texts.

Regarding phrases, advocated and otherwise, what puzzles me is how the bold people leaving comments hide behind Profile Not Available. It seems rather cowardly to me.

Tim said...

“Funny what folks project on these graphics, sometimes, innit?”

Dan I think, in a way, we actually agree about that. Someone interpreting the graphic or phrase as reflecting Christian anti-Semitism would be mistaken, and would be projecting on to the image and phrase something that is not there. My point is that such an honest mistake could easily be made, and while it is at times necessary to offend, sometimes it is unnecessary and really not worth the possible unintended consequences.

Unknown said...

@ Stan
Your sarcastic use of the term “bold” and your use of the term cowardly sounds like name calling to me. Why do you want profile information? I hope it would not be to get more ammunition for additional ad hominem attacks. Thoughts expressed on this site, or anywhere else for that matter, should stand or fall on their own merit. I did not see you address the objections to the term “apostate Jew" (a term that totally rubs me the wrong way) rather, you implied that those who objected to the use of such terms were cowards because the don’t want to share with the entire universe personal information. I would hope that in the future when you comment on other people’s posts you would confine yourself to the substance of their arguments rather your perception of their personal character and motives.
By the way, I noticed from reading your profile that you enjoy Haiku. I wonder, could I ask that any response you make to this post be limited to exactly 17 syllables? That would be great. Thanks- Paul

DJP said...

Double-irony? Or triple?

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

Sir Aaron:

"Jewish Christian" is a term I almost never use. My identity is in Christ. My family consists of brothers and sisters from every tribe, nation, and tongue. But in this context, it seemed apposite to point that out.

It's relevant here, because for all the comments detracting from the original post by picking on a couple of words, the only commentor who's explicitly claimed to be Jewish (as opposed to implicitly claiming to speak on behalf of Jewish people) is little old me.

Is the concern over the choice of words legitimate, or is it much ado about nothing? There may be room for debate, but in the context of this thread, this discussion has simply turned into a way to detract from the original post, which is all about the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

As for me, all I know is that for all the grace that God extended to my ancestors and for all His covenants, there is only one covenant by which I and any other Jewish brothers and sisters are saved, and that is the New Covenant, sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ, the long-ago promised Messiah, the Son of David, the branch of Jesse, the Lion of Judah, our Passover Lamb.

And what wonderful grace is this, that the New Covenant is not only for us natural branches whom God has sovereignly regrafted into His olive tree, but for the wild branches of every tribe, nation, and tongue as well!

John said...


Yes, I meant the only conservative radio talk show hosts worth listening to.

Aaron said...


That probably depends largely on your area as opposed to nationally syndicated. I have a local radio station filled with great shows. In my case, it's great because I get Texas related news and opinion.

Jamie said...

A quick search regarding the "dancing guy" reveals he is not dancing at all but practicing an ancient form of Jew-Jitsu