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Once upon a time, long ago, a few men laid stones down on the banks of the River Thames, building a fortress that would one day become the city of London.

At just that time, not far from Jerusalem, lived a rabbi called Rabbah who conducted classes in law. He explained to the assembled rows of students that even though a judge may be confident of his ability to remain dispassionate and to judge justly, he should neither accept nor give gifts to any litigant. While receiving something could mean accepting a bribe, what could be wrong with giving a gift? The Talmud explains that when one person transfers something material to any other his affection for the recipient increases.

Without ever being aware of the reason, a judge is likely to find himself more receptive to the logic and the arguments made by the litigant concerned. In fact, he is likely to find himself rather fond of the fellow and to consider him an all-around fine chap. We can learn from the warning to a judge that having given a gift or done a favor for someone, there is a subconscious need to view that person favorably, and thus justify one’s decision to accept another’s generosity.

So too with other types of behavior. It has been observed that those who habitually engage in certain types of behavior eventually begin to justify their actions. They begin to avoid information that would conflict with their conduct, just as a judge would avoid evidence against a litigant for whom he had been generous.

It took until the 1950s before modern psychology observed and studied the universal human need to convince oneself that one is right; they call it cognitive dissonance. Rather than seek impartial information, an individual is motivated to seek supportive information, data that matches the behavior patterns to which he is already committed. For instance, smokers rarely read all the way through medical articles providing convincing data about lung cancer. Buyers constitute another group with a need to convince themselves of the wisdom of their latest acquisition.

One famous 1957 study, published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, showed conclusively that those who had recently bought a car continued to read many advertisements, but only about the brand of car they owned. What does this mean? After buying a car, a person wants to justify his action. An advertisement that indicates he might have been able to buy a better car for less money induces deep cognitive dissonance.

This, I think, helps explain why the Bible is not popular reading for the modern American liberal. Why would he read something that produces cognitive dissonance for him? Virtually every Biblical proscription he reads will conflict with his existing emotional convictions.

Let it be noted that the modern American liberal must be distinguished from the nineteenth century Classical Liberal. In the words of John Taylor Gatto, today’s liberal is “liberated” from the superstitions of church and the sentimentality of family.

This modern American liberal, who will henceforth be referred to as simply a liberal, believes that humans are not more important than animals. According to a Clinton administration official, it is axiomatic that no one species is more important that any other, including man. The Bible, on the other hand, is unequivocal about man being God’s last word. While cruelty to animals is clearly prohibited, the use of animals to further human welfare is altogether part of the Divine plan.

One of the implications of Noah’s Ark is that thereafter, animals owe their very existence to man and may be used by him. He may eat them, wear their furs or hides, ride them or use them in almost any other beneficial and responsible way. God created the world for man’s stewardship but also for his use. The liberal prefers to view man as an unwelcome invader with the impertinence to convert stagnant swamps into human housing.

The area of human sexuality offers us another valuable microscope with which we can peer into the liberal psyche. The liberal believes that no opposition to a person’s pursuit of sensual pleasure can be either rationally or morally justified. As Aldous Huxley wrote in Confessions of a Professional Free Thinker, “For me, as it undoubtedly was for most of my generation, the philosophy of meaninglessness was an instrument of liberation from a certain moral system. We were opposed to morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” Or as the Talmud puts it, whenever the Children of Israel were attracted to idolatry, it was in order to permit themselves promiscuity.

In order to protect himself from the discomfort of cognitive dissonance and from having to consider issues that violently conflict with his chosen lifestyle, the liberal has no choice but to ridicule religion and those believers who regard Scripture as a legitimate guide to formulating their opinions on issues of public policy.

Economics is one of the most conspicuous areas in which the Bible contradicts liberalism. It unmistakably advocates private property and the rights and responsibilities that go along with ownership. It encourages charity on an individual, local level rather than by empowering government to distribute funds to the nation’s needy. Finally, it restricts the taxing ability of a government. These fundamental ideas violate some of liberalism’s most cherished tenets. Scripture in all its specifics seems to support a more conservative social order.

Defenders of Scripture need not appeal to conspiracy theories, as critics claim they do, to support their observation that contemporary liberalism is hostile toward most Judeo-Christian moral teaching. No conspiracy is needed for behavior that corresponds to the worst in human nature; instinct will suffice. No human has to be taught to be selfish or egocentric. Nobody has to undergo training to attribute his successes in life to his brilliance and hard work.

But to help the human renounce selfishness and embrace generosity of both pocket and spirit has always been the work eagerly undertaken by the Judeo-Christian mission. The Bible and its teachings struggle valiantly to inculcate a proper and appropriate set of constraints for the most incendiary instinct–sex. Finally, acknowledging God’s role in our successes and to pray to Him for those successes takes true greatness of character.

Every man and woman lives in a state of exquisite tension between two opposing forces. On the one hand is the Divine, capable of infinite creativity while consuming nothing. On the other is the abnormal, constantly consuming while capable of almost no creativity. Suspended in the middle, tugged in both directions, is man. Either he must yearn for closer contact with God or he finds himself tending in the other direction. Either he must leap toward the stars of fall back on kinship with apes.

Years ago, moviegoers acclaimed Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001–A Space Odyssey.” The film’s opening minutes introduced the audience to a troop of monkeys huddled in a cave. After a fearful, sleepless night the apes emerge to find a strange object–one which is quite out of place. It is a large, perfectly rectangular, polished slab of stone standing upright like a miniature United Nations building. The implication is that this monolith is no work of nature; it is the product of an intelligent mind. As a motif of this theme, the monolith shows up unexpectedly again on the moon during lunar exploration.

Is a polished stone a metaphor for man’s ability to clear a jungle, build a temple and fly to the stars or is it a metaphor for Moses’ tablets of the law and the civilized society that springs from them? It is both, which is why London’s architects dreaming of a riverside settlement and Rabbi Rabbah teaching in his academy were making one decision. America’s liberals are making another.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition and a member of the Acton Institute's board of advisors.