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August 10, 2002
Column #1093

Why Have Minority Religions Thrived in America?

     COLORADO SPRINGS, Col. – This week Americans were stunned to read on the front page again that Muslims killed five people at a Christian school in Pakistan. And Muslims blew up yet another bus of Jews in Israel.

     Why are we stunned? In our land, there are millions of Jews and Muslims living amidst 200 million Christians. Yet we have none of these clashes that seem endemic and growing all around the world. Why is America an oasis of religious peace and harmony?

     I gained a new insight on our blessed land in listening to Dennis Prager at the 25th anniversary of Focus on the Family two weeks ago. Prager is a devout Jewish believer, a columnist, radio commentator and author of “The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism,” the most widely used introduction to that faith.

     “What Christians have done in America is unique in history,” he told a crowd of Christians. “One has to visit other places, outside of the United States to appreciate your awesome achievement. You believe you have the one true faith, but have created the most tolerant country in human history.

     "Those two belief structures have never co-existed in human history.”

     “In other nations, either people are committed believers of one faith and are intolerant of others - or they are very tolerant and have no faith in anything.”

     He is right. In Saudi Arabia, it is illegal to build a Christian church, though millions of Christians live there. By contrast, any house of worship may be erected in Northern Europe, but the Christian faith is as empty as its cathedrals are of worshipers.

     Prager asserted, “I love the fact that you believe you have religious truth. I am not offended by your beliefs. My only question is, “Do you hurt me or others who believe differently? No. That is the achievement which has not been done elsewhere - to believe utterly in one’s own truth, yet build a tolerant society.”

     He noted, that every President in his Inaugural Address has said something like “God bless you.” But none have mentioned Jesus Christ by name. Our coins say, “In God we trust,” not “In Christ we have salvation.”

     The school prayer which was declared unconstitutional in 1962 was this: “O God, bless our parents, our teachers and our country.” Why is that offensive any Jew or Muslim? It is not. All three faiths believe in one God.

     In the 1950's a phrase was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, “one nation under God.” A Federal Circuit Court of Appeals recently declared that unconstitutional, though it is likely to be overturned. But this predominantly Christian country could have made the phrase, “one nation under Christ.” We did not, out of respect for unbelievers.

     “Without compromising your faith, you have made those of us who believe differently to be utterly at home,” Prager said. He gave a personal illustration. In his home, on Saturday, Shabbat or the Sabbath is celebrated. On that day no one watches TV, listens to the radio or reads a newspaper. Movies are not permitted, with one exception. His children may watch videos on heroes of the Bible, such as David or Moses. Who produced them? Christians!

     Thomas Jefferson proposed that the Seal of the United States depict Jews leaving Egypt. “We are the new Israelites,” he proclaimed, who crossed the Atlantic, like the Jews crossed the Red Sea. Americans left behind the oppressive state-sanctioned Christianity of Europe, favoring one denomination over others - Lutheranism in Scandinavia, the Anglican Church in England, Presbyterians in Scotland, Catholicism in Italy.

     After September 11, Prager was asked to speak on the attack as an American Jew. He said, “I am proud to be a member of or part of the two most hated nations. I revere America and Israel, and when I look at their enemies who have done terrible things to themselves as well as others, I ask, `Is the reason America is so hated that the Marshall Plan gave democracy to Germany and Japan, that we did not keep any territory we conquered in war?’”

     No. But both Jews and Americans believe we have been especially chosen by God, which infuriates others. “Yet we can’t get arrogant or cocky,” he said, “We must try to win people through our values. We believe in one God with one standard of ethic for all people. There is a universal right and wrong from a universal God. Others say all morality is relative.

     “Ethical monotheism is alive today, which is why `in God we trust,’ and why we post the Ten Commandments.”

    Amen.

 

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