At the Edge: The Battle of Mount Sinai

A Strange new alliance has been forming in the last few years. The first major parties to this alliance are traditional Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. This Catholic-Protestant connection has become reasonably well known and commented upon. But most surprising has been the arrival of a third group: Orthodox and other seriously committed Jews.

The presence of such Jews in the alliance is signaled by writers like Don Feder, Daniel Lapin, and Dennis Prager (all three of whom have appeared in Crisis). Others include Michael Medved (whose writings have been well received in traditional Christian circles), and Hadley Arkes, Leon Kass, and David Novak, three of the many important Jewish contributors to First Things. Howard L. Hurwitz, a leader of the Family Defense Council in New York City is another Jewish example.

Of course, Christians and Jews still have their differences. But the point is that this is nevertheless a remarkable and historically unprecedented alliance. What has brought these three previously antagonistic traditions into a mutually respectful alliance is the massive attack by the secular, neo-pagan society on the very core of religious life in Western civilization. These three religious groups are backing into each other as they lose ground to the same enemy. But this alliance is more than a new expression of the old saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” These groups are discovering new understandings of each other, and in the process, of themselves. Christians are learning how Jewish Christianity is, as are Jews. Jews are also discovering, for example, that in Western society a “non-Jew” is no longer reliably a Christian. Both are learning to make distinctions, and to see similarities and interconnections.

As mutual understanding has grown, these three groups now see that they have more in common with each other than they do with their religiously liberal co-religionists, such as Reformed Jews, and their many analogues in mainline Christianity. And, of course, from Harvey Cox to Bishop Spong to Rabbi Brickner to Matthew Fox, the secularized, neopaganized Christians and Jews have more in common with each other than they do with those who uphold their religious tradition. The secular and neo-pagan forces, with their liberal religious allies, are pushing everything from gay sex and marriage, to abortion and fetal experimentation, to the gnostic New Age. These same forces also press for secular and government structures to replace the family and its functions.

Why do we call this the “Battle of Mount Sinai”? We do so because it is fundamentally about the Ten Commandments, and the sexual morality that is embedded in the Ten Commandments. It is about whether man worships and obeys God or himself; about the validity of Scripture and its traditional understanding; and about the sacredness, to God, of the family. In short, the struggle is over the moral core of Judaism and Christianity, understood as rooted in divine revelation.

The current attack on basic sexual morality — and as a result on the family — is historically unprecedented, at least in the past two thousand years. The ancient Jews, of course, faced a continual struggle with the pagan sexual moralities of other cultures. Modern secularism, however, is a new enemy. In the early years of Christianity, the sexual conflict with the decaying Roman Empire was similar to today. However, at that time, Christianity was small and growing; in general, pagans increasingly were converting to the Christian faith and accepting its moral code. Today, however, the neo-pagan culture is explicitly rejecting the familiar centuries-old Judeo-Christian morality.

Evangelical Protestants, traditional Catholics and Orthodox Jews know that to lose the Battle of Mount Sinai would be to lose the basic taproot of their shared faith. Nothing less than so grave a threat could have brought us all together. And the silver lining to our mutual struggle is the discovery of each other. For in the past, committed members of each of these faiths have been the last to talk to each other, and often the first to start a religious quarrel.

This alliance is also bringing about a new, very unofficial, kind of ecumenical activity which is developing spontaneously from the grass roots up. It is definitely not the kind of ecumenism approved of by the World Council of Churches. One senses something providential in all this. It has been said that God has a great sense of humor, and perhaps we can see it operating here. At least, He has gotten us all talking — and even listening — to each other.

This defense of our fundamental religious heritage may acquire another unexpected and important ally. At the recent Cairo conference, Pope John Paul II reached out most effectively to the Islamic world, calling on Muslim leaders to support the traditional religious understanding of the family. Any kind of ecumenical cooperation which included Islam would be still more amazing. It would represent a united front of Western monotheism against those in the West who believe in no God or in many gods.

We cannot now see how the present alliance will wind up. But for now, we can enjoy it and appreciate how extraordinary it is, while we all rally to defend Mount Sinai.


  • Paul C. Vitz

    Paul Vitz is a popular author and professor of psychology at New York University.

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