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"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Ben Stein’s Essay on G-d & Society

Posted by chutzpaleh on October 17, 2007

Ben Stein(hat tip to AaronfromWG for this submission)

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don’t feel
threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, “Merry Christmas” to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her “How could God let something like this happen?” (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, “I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”

In light of recent events…terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said OK.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with “WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.”

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not, then just discard it. No one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards.

Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

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20 Responses to “Ben Stein’s Essay on G-d & Society”

  1. Oyster said

    Bueller? Bueller?

  2. Oyster said

    Anyone?

    Anyone?

  3. Nancy A. said

    FYI: http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/benstein2.asp

    Part of this is Ben Stein’s writing, part is not.

  4. Oyster said

    Hey Nancy,

    You did see that I put that very same link up above, right? And a link to Ben Stein’s writing archives.

    I noticed that this is just a part of the full text. Are you sure that there’s content here that’s totally not Ben’s?

  5. ArchAngelinAmerica said

    Well…
    Whoever wrote it…AMEN!

  6. kneidalach said

    I don’t completely agree.
    People should strive for a balance. Religion sets the moral values, but too much of it leads to fanatism.
    In his neighborhood people may be just friendly Christians, but in other places people may look down on you because you’re not like them.

  7. Oyster said

    Good point, Kneidalach. The US of A is a very different environment, than, say, modern-day the USSR Russia.

  8. lchaimlover said

    Ben Stein is Brilliant. And I do not agree that it will lead to fanaticism. Personality leads to fanaticism not knowledge or learning.

  9. biggerlongeranduncut said

    This makes an inherent assumption that there is a “god”. Does this imply that the Christians believe in the same god as the Jews? So does this mean if I pray to Jesus its the same as praying to god?

  10. Friar Yid said

    Are you sure that there’s content here that’s totally not Ben’s?

    According to Snopes, the last half of it isn’t Stein’s. Which I guess is to his credit, since that’s the part that really made me want to hit him with a creche.

    I have to say, I find this essay fairly nauseating. Just about the only part that’s tolerable is the bit where he’s giving his personal opinion on Christmas trees. After that it descends into “poor me, living in a pseudo-gulag.” “Pushed around?” Christians are getting killed in Africa, Pakistan and the Middle East. At the risk of being insensitive, I don’t see much of an equivalence here.

    As far as the “forced to worship” line- bull. I don’t see people “forcing” folks to worship any particular thing in America, though there are certainly strong pressures people use to try to make people think the way they do (and the supposed dividing line between the faithful and the capitalists/media followers is pretty specious, too, like no middle American Christian tweens were worshiping Jessica “Sexy Evangelical” Simpson?).

    Then we get into the God & society stuff- this drives me downright crazy. The argument, whomever’s it is, seems to boil down to, “You want a secular society, therefore you’re responsible when bad things happen because God’s just backing off.” Sounds like Jerry Falwell after 9/11. It ignores the fact that bad things have a tendency to CONTINUOUSLY happen throughout history, regardless of Godliness (early Christian martyrs? Rabbi Akiva? The Crusades & Inquisition?) Saying that tsunamis and Columbines are happening because we got rid of school prayer isn’t just moronic, it’s offensive- if only to the victims of those tragedies. (It reminds me of every so often when a disaster affects a Jewish community and invariably some rabbi steps forward and says it’s because the victims hadn’t gotten their mezuzahs checked in a while.)

    I could go on and talk about some of the other infuriating things in this essay, like the suggestion that reading the newspaper is somehow sacreligious, but I’m worried I might swallow my tongue in a rage.

    So I’ll just stop here.

  11. kneidalach said

    I think he did have a point about conscience when religion is not practiced as much, but my true belief is that conscience and morals come from home, and maybe some problems arise from there.

    When you look at Israel, in religious community there is a smaller tendecy towards crime than in Secular communities, VERY broadly speaking.

  12. Friar Yid said

    Coming from an irreligious home, I obviously don’t see it the same way. I wouldn’t necessarily say religion and morality/conscience have nothing to do with each other, but I definitely don’t think you need one to have the other. We were raised with a sense of right and wrong that had absolutely nothing to do with God or any element of divine/extra-human judgment. It was more like, “hey kids, it’s wrong to steal, hit, kill, etc. Don’t do it.” End of discussion.

    I think this is particularly tricky depending on how “religion” (and immorality, particularly crime) is defined. To use a stereotypical example, let’s say there’s a religious Jew who obeys many, many mitzvot- and also cheats on his taxes (or, to use a case argued by many seculars in Israel, “sponges” from the government). Does that invalidate religious morality? Not necessarily, but clearly it’s an example where the two areas don’t necessarily have a complete overlap. But my bigger problem is the suggestion from Stein (or whoever) that nonreligious people are MORE likely to be involved in school shootings or whatever, and the flip implication that those problems can be solved by merely allowing prayer in schools or some equally absurd and simplistic solution.

    My issue is that it identifies segments of problems and confuses elements for causes. Atheism in and of itself does not cause school shootings, and neither does mere religiosity avoid them. What’s frustrating to me is that the author of the essay is presenting these dichotomies as entirely zero-sum games- atheism leads to killing, public religion prevents it. It’s simplistic horseshit at best, and disgusting exploitation at worst.

  13. ArchAngelinAmerica said

    I don’t know where to begin with this one.

    Two years ago I performed in an elementary school tour of “A Christmas Carol.” Only…it was renamed “Scrooge” in our adaptation. And the word “Holiday” was substituted for “Christmas.” Rarely have I felt more foolish. Must we tamper with classic literature in order to avoid mentioning the “C” word in any public place? In the quest to eliminate Christian references, all religious references are eliminated and we are left with a generic “holiday” and no history, culture or tradition. The belief that no one’s feelings can be hurt by eliminating reference to any specific culture or religion is just absurd. People’s feelings sometimes get hurt. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable. That is unavoidable. It is part of being alive. While we focus on making sure no one’s feelings ever get hurt, we neglect to be vigilant about real acts of racism that are intended to hurt others.

    I too, do not feel threatened by “Christmas” trees. I don’t expect people to go out of their way to acknowledge my Judaism. Likewise, I do not go out of my way to acknowledge other people’s religions, cultures, traditions etc… I simply expect that I am allowed to practice Judaism in the way I wish, unrestricted. Every single reference to religion does not have to be removed from public site in order for us to have a reasonable level of seperation of church and state. In fact, what the first amendment states is that the right of worship shall not be curtailed. Nowhere does it state that any religious reference must be banished from the public. The government cannot compell people to worship in any specific way or prevent them. That does not mean that every religious reference has to be striken from public discourse. When we can no longer say Christmas, we can no longer say Hannukkah either. This divides us as a nation rather than uniting us. People shouldn’t be forced to worship in any particular way, nor prevented (as long as their methods are within the law.)

    I don’t know that I would want lessons about G-d in our school curricula. As an educator though, I know that Stein makes some very cogent points. Certainly, the Bible is not the only source of morality. But the elimination of morality from our schools has had terrible consequences. I work at a high school similar in every way to the one I attended a mere 10 years ago. What was unnacceptable in my day is common place today. Today, it is considered wrong to tell a student that he or she is wrong. G-d forbid (pun intended) that we should hurt a child’s feelings. As such, students come to believe in rewards as rights and consequences as abuse. Every child is not equal and does not deserve equal treatement. They all deserve equal opportunity. Last week, my school was put on lock down when it was discovered that a group of students were robbing others at gun and knife point on repeated occasions. This is the result of a total lack of values. Certainly the problems begin at home. But the problem is perpetuated by this absurd notion that no one should ever get their feelings hurt, even if they are behaving in an unnacceptable fashion. The worst offenders may be small in number, but not as small as we would like to believe. And lesser offenders emmulate the behavior of worse offenders when they see that there are no consequences. In fact, our schools essentially reward bad behavior by pouring more time, money and resources into the worst students as opposed to the best.

    Atheism in and of itself does not cause these problems. But amorality does. And religion is a powerful source of morality.

  14. kneidalach said

    I agree!

    Friar Yid:
    Atheism in and of itself does not cause school shootings, and neither does mere religiosity avoid them.

    ArchAngelinAmerica:
    Atheism in and of itself does not cause these problems. But amorality does. And religion is a powerful source of morality.

    yes and yes.

  15. Friar Yid said

    Whitewashing “A Christmas Carol” seems particularly stupid. If you want to have a play devoid of Christmas references, pick a different play or write your own. Making asinine substitutions to a work that has long stood on its own two feet (and which, in actuality, really isn’t that much about Jesus) only seems to make the whole thing even more ridiculous. It would be like trying to perform a Purimspiel and changing all the Jew references to ones about Buddhism.

    I wonder if some of the reason for the supposed “outcry” from Christians (and their mouthpieces) isn’t that some of the latest attempts at PCness aren’t just going overboard but are also the products of bad thinking and bad art. Maybe if the play replacing Christmas Carol was actually halfway decent instead of just somebody’s rant about their pet issue, the whole thing wouldn’t be quite as absurd and, to some folks, irritating or offensive.

    As to morality in schools, I think the issue is where the morality is coming from. I also recognize that the present-day trend seems to be avoiding telling children that they are wrong or behavior is unacceptable, and that plenty of problems can result from this. But I disagree that you need religion or extra-human morality in order to be able to make those distinctions. The behavior you’re talking about trend is unfortunate and should be corrected, but it is neither caused by MERELY a lack of religious values (or, the flip-side; reinserting those values back into those systems). I attended private schools my entire life. None had any religious elements. All, however, emphasized discipline, responsibility, and respect/fear for teachers (even when that respect didn’t carry the other way). Most of my peers were probably atheists; still, you did what you were told, followed the rules, and somehow managed to avoid shooting each other when you got upset. I’m not even sure how teaching religious morality in schools is supposed to prevent the kind of behavior we’re pooh-poohing: is the argument that teaching kids the 6th commandment will really prevent a school shooting? Religious morality is only effective if it actually works.

    I think this essay confuses one element of the social framework for the primary cause. The fact that schools are disintegrating AND there’s a lack of personal responsibility in our culture AND that we don’t have public religion in our schools does not mean that the lack of religion is the cause of the other problems. This is a cultural issue. Religion may be one way to address it, but it’s not the only one, and it’s not foolproof, either.

  16. ArchAngelinAmerica said

    Just to clarify my experience:

    The use of the word “Holiday” rather than “Christmas” was not the first choice of the writer. It was required in order to be considered acceptable for performance in a public school. I don’t think the writer had a “pet issue.” I believe the issue belongs with the public…or rather, certain elements of the public that are always looking for something to complain about or sue over.

  17. kokamo said

    This is an incredibly interesting topic for me, as it obviously is to many. I find myself understanding a lot of the opinions stated here, and that of Ben S. I DO agree that the whole ‘Christmas’ thing is getting so silly. It’s been called christmas forever. It doesn’t mean that only christians can celebrate it. We all celebrate this time of year in our own way. For some families it’s all about Santa Claus, others it’s the birth of Jesus, others, it’s just plain fun, and a time to eat great food, be with family, and get presents. I crack up when people honestly can’t get themselves to say the ‘C’ word in public, or if addressing the public. Or businesses that require their employees to say ‘Happy Holiday’s’ and ban them from ‘Merry Christmas’. Let’s all just grow up.

    In regards to the school-morality-religion issue, the reality is, nothing will solve the problems our world has. Look at history. THings keep getting worse. And thats not to say they can’t get better, but our society has become so incredibly concerned with being PC, that we all expect to be catered to in every way, and that causes problems. Everybody can’t get what they want. It’s not all about you. But we teach our kids that. And the result? Grossly selfish kids entering high school who, if put down in any way, can’t handle not being the most important.

    Religion isn’t gonna do crap for our schools right now. That should be obvious due to our current culture. We need to get back to the basics of respecting our elders, respecting each other, treating others the way we want to be treated, etc. I know that jesus, god, buddha, or any other form of religion will make everything better for everybody. And why? Because we all believe different things! That’s what our country was founded on for crying out loud. Not specifically ‘God’, but freedom of religion. And today, we are going right back into the very things our fathers fled from.

    Today, if a teacher decided to openly discuss with a class their beliefs on christmas, and what it means . . . how would taht be taken? Well, lets think about it . . . if they were Atheist, it would probably be fine, right? Cause they’re not stepping on anybody’s toes or pushing their beliefs on others. What if they were Jahova’s wittness, and expressed that they didn’t celebrate it at all? Still fine. But what would happen if that teacher were a Christian, and told the class about that? I wonder how long that teacher would keep their job? Students would complain, parents would get upset because said teacher was ‘imposing’ their personal beliefs on their child . . .

    I think that our country has done amazing things to make it possible for all to worship (or not worship) in the way they choose. But it’s beginning to be unacceptable to be a Christian. We can write stories in paper’s and magazines saying positive things about what any religious group is doing, but if any publication (secular) chose to write an article about Christians and their influence, that publication would get ripped to shreds. People claim to be so ‘tolerant’ of every persons choice of belief, but there’s a double standard when it comes to Christianity. I don’t think it’s fair to say Christians are being persecuted – they don’t seem to be losing their lives like many others in other places in this world, but there’s an obvious ‘discrimination’ going on. Not to compare it with issues of racial, sexual, – any discrimination out culture has had to work through in it’s history, but it’s happening. It’s sad. I think EVERYBODY should be able to worship in the way they want (again, within the law).

    Let’s all just grow up, and not be so quick to get offended all the time. It’s like people live for next debate, the next thing that will make them uncomfortable, the next thing that is different than the way THEY feel . . . and that takes us back to how selfish our society has become.

  18. kokamo said

    Just to note a typo: I meant to say in paragraph 3 that jesus, buddah, god WONT make everything better for everyone. Sorry about that.

  19. Friar Yid said

    Kokamo- I certainly agree that actual incidents of discrimination should be pursued and confronted. But I think the lack of reaction to some of these stories is attributable to more than just mere anti-Christian bias. The sad reality is that some of the people getting their panties in the proverbial twist over such stories are also deeply involved with the “cultural Christian hegemony” crowd, people that advocate an aggressive reclamation of American culture by Christians, very likely to the detriment of everyone else. I’m not saying that there isn’t some idiot school or government official out there that’s got it in for some Christians or whatnot, but this is also clearly part of a larger agenda. I have a hard time disassociating some of these complaints from the larger goal of Christian activists of making their religious culture (or interpretation of it) predominant in American society (to the degree that it isn’t already). Excesses may be being committed in the name of trying to maintain the separation of church and state, but non-Christian or secular Americans should be particularly wary that pleas for common sense and mutual respect not be used as excuses to push a more forceful Christian agenda on the country.

  20. Todd DeMartinis said

    I think essays such as this one don’t help to bring anyone together, which is what great leaders have done in the past. Everywhere I look these days, there’s someone like Al Sharpton or Ben Stein or Bill Cosby – all so similar in that they lament. They cast aspersions. They guilt. They shame.

    There is a great irony when today’s leaders lament how MLK would feel today when looking on Black America. I am not black. I wouldn’t dare to say I understand the black experience. But, the irony in such comments is that MLK lived in a time of true segregation and much more blatent hatred, yet he didn’t lament, or cast aspersions, or guilt, or shame. There was never ugly talk or violent action. It seemed a radical notion, and very Christ-like in that sense: he actually changed the way our world is today through peace and understanding.

    It seems like such a simple idea, but you just don’t see it today from the people who are the leaders – more aptly, those who have a high profile in the media to get their voice heard.

    Let’s say you’re a religious person, and someone posts a blog about how religious zealots are ruining the country. I’m guessing you’d be offended and put off in a great way, and not apt to listen to anything that person has to say. On the other hand, to suggest that a natural disaster like a hurricane – all part of geographic phenomena that has existed on a planet that is constantly shifting and changing since it began – has something to do with people not worshipping God correctly is, I just have to say it, not terribly responsible or thoughtful.

    It alienates. It shames. It guilts.

    I’m not a big America basher. I happen to think this is a great country. Sure, there’s greed and hate and thoughtlessness, but where does that not exist on this planet? Countries that are rigid theocracies carry out crimes as punishments in the name of their Gods that make a caring person shudder with fear. Correct – America is not a athiestic country. It is, or was meant to be, a country of religious freedom. We have those who subscribe to the Jewish faith, many to Christianity, some to pagan beliefs, some just simply not claiming to know, and it just goes on. The beauty of America is we’re all allowed to beileve what we believe without fear of persecution.

    When it comes to the all-too-common essays as the one above, there seems to be a rule in place. You have to create the enemy. You have to create the illusion that you’re being warred against. That you’re a victim of something conspiring against you.

    Political correctness has somewhat run its course. I think of it as a process that means well, but has no real deep thinking or substance behind it. Let’s be real. Besides literally what are probably a handful of people that would actually suggest “holiday tree” is better than “Christmas tree,” the great majority realize Christmas tree is fine. There’s no real battle in that sense. People are generally free to say what they want – to speak of God, or not to speak of God. There are so many ways we can all get our thoughts out there. But, when it comes to separation of Church and State, it’s a system that allows us all to come together in a public way, while celebrating our spiritual beliefs in our own way. That’s what it’s all about: A street (like the one I live on right here) where you can have a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, and an athiest all living home by home, in peace. And, maybe jokes circle through the Internet more so than religious ideas because humor unites us, as opposed to pushing on someone a particular religious idea that may or may not conform to a person’s way of thought.

    I think the above essay, at its heart, is rallying to put forth one view only – the one of its author and like-minded people. And doing it in a way that combines the worst of journalistic values; to do it by creating shame and fear.

    And division.

    We can get so riled up when it comes to our beliefs that it creates a hatred of those damn people who are screwing up our right way of looking at life. But, in truth, when cooler minds prevail, it’s a given that the liberal or conservative living down the street from you is much more like you than not. He or she is just trying to get by in the best way possible. To love. To try to love. To not agree with others sometimes, but to respect enough to keep it peaceful.

    If everyone agreed with us, wouldn’t it get a little boring? Isn’t it nice to be challenged once in a while by someone who looks at life a little differently? Isn’t that kind of the cool part?

    There will always be natural disasters. There will always be death. But, we’re lucky enough to have each other in a world that is so unsure. And, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts, that guy living down the street who represents everything you despise is worried about so many of the same things that you are in this world.

    Invite him over for coffee. And stop the blaming.

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