Think Again: Dangerous godlessness

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5 Responses

  1. Charles B. Hall says:

    The first part of this article makes some very well taken points. After Enver Pasha, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, it is hard to argue that religious people have been the most murderous. And while even one Jewish terrorist like Baruch Goldstein is one too many, the Jewish world has produced a single terrorist mass murderer and the Islamic world has produced many.

    Unfortunately, the remainder of the article completely misses. First, while population growth rates in most of Western Europe are indeed relatively low, the real demographic disaster is in Eastern Europe. For example, Poland has by any standard one of the most devout Christian populations in the world, has a declining population. Furthermore, some of the countries in Western Europe with low population growth rates already have some of the highest population densities in the world. For example, The Netherlands has been dealing with problem for centuries and they may have reached a limit as to how much of the sea they can reclaim. There is no chance they will become underpopulated any time soon. Thirdly, “Islamization” of Europe is not happening. While there are two small countries in Eastern Europe with Muslim majorities (Bosnia and Albania), along with the small part of Turkey (99% Muslim) that is in Europe, there is no country in Western Europe today that has a Muslim population of more than 12%. The State of Israel has a larger Muslim fraction of its population than that! (And that only counts Israeli *citizens*, not Palestinian Arabs in the territories.) Fourthly, while it is true that the US consistently has had much higher defense expenditures than its European allies, that is natural given that the US has accepted worldwide responsibilities. Those allies have not; NATO was conceived as a European defense organization. Furthermore, while the US does indeed spend as much on defense than all its allies combined (and in fact, almost as much on defense as the entire rest of the world combined), European allies France, Britain, Germany, and Italy are in fact four of the top seven countries in terms of defense spending according to this compilation based on CIA analyses:

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/mil_exp_dol_fig-military-expenditures-dollar-figure

    Click on on the “Per $ GDP” tab and you will find the surprising statistic that the fraction of Gross Domestic Product that France allocates to defense spending is almost exactly the same as the United States. (Its size in terms of numbers of active duty personnel is actually a larger fraction of its population, but I think that many of those personnel perform police functions that US military personnel do not perform, so it is difficult to compare accurately.) France also maintains deployments in over a dozen countries along with an aircraft carrier battle group in the Indian ocean — partly in support of US operations in Afghanistan.

    I will add that it took just a few minutes of internet searching to confirm all these facts. While there is some strong justification in criticizing some particular European policies, the broad condemnations in this essay are not justified by facts.

  2. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Dr. Charles B. Hall, I think your statistics are cherry picked. It’s true that France ($0.23) spends about as much per $10 GDP on defense as the US ($0.24). But if you look in Europe overall, the UK value is $0.15, Germany is $0.14, and Italy is $0.12. Backtracking from the table, if you combine those four European countries you get $0.16.

    Dr. Charles B. Hall: Fourthly, while it is true that the US consistently has had much higher defense expenditures than its European allies, that is natural given that the US has accepted worldwide responsibilities.

    Ori: That is precisely the point. The US and Europe are both rich and have worldwide economic interests. Yet the US is accepting worldwide security responsibilities that Europe does not.

  3. Charles B. Hall says:

    “the US is accepting worldwide security responsibilities that Europe does not.”

    This is true. But consider each case separately:

    1. France. It still accepts worldwide security responsibities, as noted above. It often sends troops to hot spots — under Socialist as well as conservative regimes.

    2. Germany. After World War I, nobody wanted Germany, the largest country in Europe other than Russia, to have military strength. After World War II proved that concept correct in the eyes of most other Europeans, the country was divided and neither of the parts was given full sovereignty over its defense and foreign policy. Before 1990, there is no way that either the US or the former Soviet Union would have permitted either West or East Germany from fully developing its military capability. After 1990, resources that might have gone into defense instead went into reunification. It will be interesting to see what the Merkel government does now that these issues are pretty much dealt with.

    3. Italy. 50+ years of political chaos after World War II prevented any major commitment to much of anything that didn’t have near-unanimous political support. The amazing thing is that the country did play a major role in the founding of the EU. More stable governments since 2001 have resulted in greater willingness to participate in military action outside of Europe; former Prime Minister Berlusconi sent what turned out to be the third largest force to the recent Iraq war. Newly elected Prime Minister Prodi (a rarity among western European politicians in that he is a devout Catholic) brought those soldiers home but continued support for their role in Afghanistan. The reasons for the mixed public support for foreign deployments in Italy is worthy of further study.

    4. Britain. It maintained major overseas commitments for 20 years after World War II as its colonial empire ended, and also developed nuclear weapons. From 1967 to the present, its policy has been largely to focus on Europe — and its “troubles” in Northern Ireland where unhappy British troops have had to keep the hating parties from massacring each other. Yet Britain had a military success during the Falklands war, it sent significant forces to the first Persian Gulf War, and sent a very large force to the second Iraq war — and that under three different Prime Ministers (the third, Tony Blair, is also a rare churchgoing European politician). It continues to have the second largest Navy in NATO. How it has managed these international expeditions with significantly lower per capital defense expenditures than that of the US or even France is worthy of study. (I have maintained for quite some time that until the Iraq war, about half the US defense budget was basically wasted pork barrel allocations to protect the jobs of powerful congressmen.)

    So I don’t think that the generalizations in Rabbi Rosenblum’s essay are valid. What IS worthy of further study are the reasons for the huge decline in measures of religious observance, the extent of the influence of post-modernist relativist academics, and the hostility of almost every European country to immigration. (Only Britain and France have any significant history of welcoming immigrants, and France’s model of requiring total assimilation into French culture is clearly no longer a success. We don’t have Muslim immigrants in New York City participating in violent riots!) There ARE issues here; I just don’t think Rabbi Rosenblum’s approach will adequately address them.

  4. micha says:

    If extremism is inherently dangerous, regardless of the content of the belief, then you’re right — extremist atheism should be lumped together with extremism in other religious stances.

    I often participate in a Jewish Culture forum where the regular membership is from across the Jewish spectrum and beyond (a few non-Jews stop by). It frustrates me to read posts from Jews who value Jewish tradition make this same equation of extremists. These are Jews who believe their is something unique to Jewish tradition, even if they consider Orthodox or “Ultra-Orthodox” (whatever that is) adherence to it to be extreme. How can one believe Judaism is different and not even question equating Jewish extremism (as they see it) and extremism in another belief? For that matter, if all beliefs are roughly the same and it’s only liberality vs extremism that is relevent, how do you justify claiming that you hold to the Jewish tradition at all?

    -mi

  5. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    “consider Orthodox or “Ultra-Orthodox” (whatever that is) adherence to it to be extreme”

    Personally, I do not find Orthodox Judaism to be extreme. Yes, we have a lot of rules, but there is also a lot of flexibility even in halachic matters and there is very little that we are required to actually believe (basically, the Rambam’s 13 principles seem to be normative today). And it is in fact a basic halachah brought down in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Hilchot De-ot, that we are supposed to follow a “middle path” of moderation in almost every area. (I’ve shocked some Jewish Buddhists when I have shown them this. Would that they had learned that in their Hebrew Schools!)

    As I write on 29 Elul, I agree that we should indeed examine ourselves and our communities as part of our basic examinination of our midot to look to where ourselves and our people have veered off to extremes. May all who read this be inscribed for a good year.

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