Ritual Contamination and Liberalism

David Klinghoffer’s latest assault on liberalism — published on Jewcy.com — is an attempt to frame liberalism in terms of materialism and materialism in terms of the biblical idea of tumah, ritual impurity.

The piece is particularly shoddy, especially when he goes through specific liberal positions and tries to articulate how they are functions of this (depraved) materialism. Below are Klinghoffer’s words, with my responses.

The understanding of liberalism as the political expression of materialism will be familiar to many political conservatives. I first heard that formulation from Michael Medved, who laid it out in detail in a speech. But the Bible made the same connection millennia ago. Virtually every liberal position on a hot-button issue can be explained this way. Some lefty views emphasize, as Hirsch put it, the “powers of the forces of nature.�

Gay marriage: The implicit justification for this insists that gays are in the grip of nature. They have no choice about their sexual behavior. So let’s endorse their love in civil law.

While, natural sexual proclivities are not irrelevant to the conversation, it is not the “justification” for gay marriage. Isn’t this an equality issue? If heterosexuals are allowed to choose one loved-one to get health insurance and tax-breaks and hospital visitation rights with, so should homosexuals.

Abortion: Here it’s women who are supposedly in the grip of nature, specifically sexual desire. The lady made a mistake and got pregnant. Liberals believe she can’t be held responsible for this, as denying her an abortion would do. The solution to unwanted pregnancy is a material one (ten minutes of vacuuming the uterus) over a spiritual one (taking responsibility for the outcome of sexual intercourse).

First off, it’s notable (and disturbing) that Klinghoffer seems to believe that unwanted pregnancies are always a woman’s “mistake.” What about rape? Broken condoms? Two very different things, certainly, but accounting for them would have at least made Klinghoffer sound less misogynistic.

Gun control: A gun isn’t a force of nature, but it’s treated as if it were one. If this particular material object is found in the house, we are virtually compelled to abuse it, endangering ourselves and others. The only solution is to restrict gun ownership.

Death is bad. Violence is not ideal. Are those liberal values? There are libertarian reasons to reject gun control, but saying that liberals support gun control because they believe we have no agency over our animalistic bodies is (or, I think, should be) obviously absurd.

Global warming: We are in the grip of a vengeful, enraged nature! “Angry nature is holding a gun to our heads,� as the magazine of the Sierra Club warns.

The entire fight against global warming is predicated on the assumption that humans caused it and can take steps toward remedying it. And if I wanted to play Klinghoffer’s game, there certainly are spiritual values at stake: The health of our (or God’s) planet. Are the renunciation of potential death and destruction liberal values?

Affirmative action: Racial discrimination, whether favoring a minority or not, is based on the assumption that people are trapped by naturally-determined limitations associated with their skin color.

I thought it was based on the acknowledgment that certain groups have been historically underprivileged and discriminated against.

I don’t always find Klinghoffer’s writing so obviously problematic (I blogged about an article I disagreed with, but somewhat appreciated, a couple of months ago). But, I have to admit, sometimes he makes me nostalgic for the days when Dennis Prager was everyone’s favorite Jewish conservative.

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