I’ve listened to snippets of Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio program whenever I’ve had the rare occasion to be in my car during his time slot over the past couple of decades. It’s been a few years since I’ve heard him, but it doesn’t bother me that I can’t listen more frequently because he’s the type of guy I mostly agree with. I find myself saying, “Yeah … yes … right … I feel the same way …“, etc. My admiration of him almost bores me!
This week I had the pleasure of finally getting to attend one of his public lectures at a nearby Jewish Community Center, Chabad of the Beach Cities. And when I say “nearby”, I mean walking distance, which was a real treat because of the mild weather we’ve had for a few days.
For anyone who hasn’t heard him before, this is a great 5:13 introductory speech by him on YouTube discussing the 3 pillars of American values (E Pluribus Unum, In God We Trust, & Liberty).
And for anyone who happens to discover this blog for the first time through this review, my normal theme is matters focusing on the King of kings, but in Mr. Prager’s lecture, he only mentioned kings in a brief, negative context; nonetheless, it’s king-related, so here goes…
The event began at 6pm for people who paid $125 to enjoy dinner with Dennis. I would’ve liked to have done this, but I think I would’ve been somewhat out-of-place for a variety of reasons, so I opted simply for the $25 lecture ticket, which began at 7:30pm.
When I arrived at 7:15pm, they were still having dinner (he was visible from the sidewalk as I was entering), & the event didn’t formally begin till about 7:45. As we were waiting, a very nice lady distributed flyers encouraging attendees (about 300 people by my rough visual estimation) to sign a petition to get The Citizen Legislature Act added to a future ballot. She did a real cute little dance, so I thought the least I could do was link to the website here, where California voters can download the petition.
We were informed by a rabbi that we’d be treated to a brief musical concert by a “world renowned” violinist named “Andre” (later I found his name online, which is actually Endre Balogh). He played 4 songs solo, opening & closing with works by Bach. In between, he played the Irish anthem, “Londonderry Air”, & a Spanish tango. Ironically, I haven’t heard such a beautiful set of solo music since I attended a concert by another “Andre”, the even-more renowned guitar-maestro, Andres Segovia in Pittsburgh PA back in the early 1980s (he was in his 90s at the time). Balogh’s rendition of the Bach tunes sounded like an entire orchestra … simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, I could not find any videos of him online. In my mind, he will reign as the king of violinists!
Dennis began shortly after 8pm, with a lecture entitled “America: What would our founding fathers say today?” The rabbi introduced him with a funny remark, saying that he originally had notes about Dennis on the lectern, but now all he had was this (he held up a bumper sticker with a photo of our current president, & the words: “YOU LIE!”).
I had not planned on taking copious notes, but I did jot down a few of the main points on the back of my petition flyer, & issues I’d like to preserve for posterity.
Ideals vs. Practices. Dennis analyzed the argument about whether it mattered what America’s founders would think. Is it bad if someone states that “all men are created equal”, while simultaneously owning another man as a slave? No. Why not? Because we’re all hypocrites at times. We all have ideals but fall short in actual practice.
Example: Good parents teach their children not to lie, but every parent has told a lie at some point in his/her life. What’s important is that the founders formed a nation … the first nation … that would eventually abolish slavery. Why? Because their beliefs were rooted in the Bible, & they knew that true liberty can only come from God, our creator. Note that Leviticus 25:10 is on our Liberty Bell. So much for separation of church & state!
He dismissed the notion that the founders thought slaves were only 3/5ths human, because the real reason their vote was diminished to a value of 3/5 was to prevent the southern states from having an unfair majority in an election.
He explained that people who consider the original intent of the Constitution to be Republicans, & those who view the Constitution as a living/evolving document to be Liberals. Example: Liberals interpret the “right to privacy” as the “right to commit an abortion”. Dennis emphasized the absurdity of this by imagining a murderer saying to a judge, “But I killed him in private, so what’s the big deal? Nobody saw it…”
Throughout this review, I’m paraphrasing Dennis, but one sentence I captured in full that made a lasting impression on me was, “I believe values are eternal.” That’s an extremely powerful statement, part of a coherent philosophy. He asked rhetorically whether “change” really means “progress”.
He concluded this introductory section by stating that he does care what our founding fathers would say today, if they could experience America now. Thus, he presented the following 6 speculations.
1) They’d be shocked by how poor our education system has become.
He asked if we had read letters/diaries written by Civil War soldiers, & noted their “elevated language” despite their elementary-level education. Rarely did any get past 8th grade, but their grammar exceeds that of modern high school graduates. The founders would be shaken by the lack of wisdom taught in our schools.
Schools are not supposed to just teach facts, but impart wisdom to children. Example: It’s wise to dress well. Clothing matters. People say that God doesn’t care what people wear; God only cares about what’s inside a person. Not true! God cares how a person acts. Celebrities dress their absolute best when attending the Academy Awards. It’s a statement, a behavior, a gesture of respect. People invited to the White House don’t dress casual. School is no longer considered important & a place of respect.
On foul language… We have laws abolishing firsthand smoke in public, but not cursing. For liberals, health is a supreme value, not the soul. He interjected a humorous anecdote about a photo he has of himself & some congressman smoking cigars in the Capitol, where it’s still permissible to smoke.
Universities used to be founded for the purpose of studying the knowledge of God. They wanted to produce clergymen. Now they want nothing to do with God, as if it’s a bad thing.
2) They’d be shocked by the government’s intrusion into people’s lives.
Europe “loves” the concept of big states with kings. That’s not what our founders wanted. Our founders were raised in a world of responsibilities, not rights. The Torah speaks of commandments & obligations, not rights. Europeans don’t have the freedom to fail. We should not take our job or our spouse for granted. If failure is acceptable, we lose our motivation to be our best. Why do leftists embrace such character-destroying notions?
Here he recounted a story about attending Brooklyn College in the 1960s, & how proud he was of his fellow students when they ran a leftist off campus, after the same leftist had gained fame at Columbia University for shutting down the campus to protest the Vietnam War.
3) They’d be shocked by the low class of language in our society.
It decays society. It’s okay, not hypocritical or falsely righteous to use foul language in private. Proof: There’s nothing wrong with urinating in private. Not so in public.
He mentioned humorously that he’s a hockey fan, & belongs to a minority club: Jews for Hockey. He’s disappointed & uncomfortable when the crowd chants “[X] sucks” to opposing players.
Then he related a very funny story about himself when he was in 8th grade. A lady who had attended school with him, recently contacted him & reminded him that when she sat in the seat in front of him in school, he (as a little boy) told her:
“Lady of Spain, let me adore you,
Pull down your pants, & let me explore you.”
He said there was a chair in his principal’s office with his name on it!
4) They’d be shocked by our present government’s level of taxation.
“And the harder you work, the more they take!”
The founders intended only excise taxes & tariffs. What’s worse is that those who pay nothing, still get to vote on how much taxpayers should pay. This is outrageous! Nowhere else in America would any club allow a non-payer (non-member) vote on how much real members should have to pay.
“How to make an unhappy, bitter nation: Give people things for free.”
Parents should teach their children to earn things. In the Torah, “parent” & “teacher” are homonymous with “Torah”.
5) They’d be shocked by how secular the nation has become.
America was founded to have a secular government & religious society.
People misrepresent 18th-century Deism. They think Jefferson believed in some generic creator disinterested in the creation. I regret that I was not able to capture Mr. Prager’s exact words here, but he was basically describing a modern theistic evolutionist, whereas Jefferson was “preoccupied with the Bible“. Yes, he performed a copy/paste job on the New Testament because he didn’t believe Jesus was divine or could work miracles; but he believed in the God of the Bible & Old Testament. (Earlier in the lecture, Dennis informed us how much he likes the word “Old” in “Old Testament”, & likes it more each year!)
George Washington instituted taking an oath on a Bible (“So help me God”), & the 4 rare presidential exceptions have been out of respect for the Bible. The Bible was the central text of American life.
Only a tiny fraction of atrocities & genocides have resulted from religious ideologies as opposed to secular ones (Mao, Stalin, Hitler); yet schools teach the Crusades & Inquisition as if the converse were true. Proof: Compare “Convert or die” to “Die”.
6) They’d be proud of America’s global leadership in charity.
Haitian disaster relief, fighting Nazism, etc.
He summarized his presentation by saying, “My friend is Clarity.” Are there such things as American values? Is America a group of people, a territory, or an idea? It’s an idea. Small government; big individuals.
It was an hour long speech, followed by a half-hour of questions from 9 attendees. The most memorable one was by a gentleman who challenged the dichotomy Dennis had mentioned, regarding our source of liberty being from God or government, no other possibility. The man suggested his own heart as a source of his liberty. Dennis flatly rejected this possibility as logical “anarchy“. Each person cannot invent his/her own standard & expect a harmonious society. A “transcendent source” is mandatory.
One other question prompted an interesting statement from Mr. Prager, that there are not only too many laws in our country (which inspire too many lawsuits), but there are also “too many laws even in my religion!”
Chephirah–The Biblical Village Roars Again 213
Royal Banquine 181
ASOR 2007 (p. 6) 173