The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity

David Brog has written a compelling new book, titled In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity, that is a passionate rebuttal to those critics who assault the Judeo-Christian tradition as a source of evil and who do not credit it as the wellspring of so much of what is good and noble in the Western world.

Critics of Christianity such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (and a myriad of others, including much of the liberal media commentariat) have been very active in disparaging Judeo-Christian ethics and morality. This has given rise to defenders such as British columnist Melanie Phillips, whose book The World Turned Upside Down I reviewed earlier in the year. Now David Brog joins the battle for the defense of the West. The West has been built on the moral and ethical  foundations laid down by Jews and Christians over the centuries; there are many -- within and without Western societies -- who would like these foundations to crumble.

I was fortunate to have recently had the opportunity to ask David a few questions about his fine new book. (I had an earlier Q and A with David Brog regarding Christian support for Jews.)

David, your book outlines the roles that our biology and our culture play in charting the course of history. Would you please explain how?

To understand the relative roles of biology, culture, and faith in history, we must first understand the source of our morality. Let's face it: if we're just born "good," then we don't need religion or culture to make us good. If, on the other hand, we learn our morality from the environment into which we're born, then religion and culture will play the central role in shaping our morality and, by extension, our history.   

Since we don't have all night to debate this over pizza and beer, I'll cut to the chase. We're not born good. It's not even a close call. Even the most superficial review of society and history demonstrates that we're born inherently selfish. To the extent we have altruistic instincts at all, they extend only to our blood relatives and those in our "ingroup," be it our tribe, race, or nation. This innate compassion does not extend to those who belong to "outgroups." Indeed, the greatest failing in human nature is our ability to turn with ferocity upon those in outgroups the minute our interests clash. This is why slavery, war, and genocide have been constants of human history. 

I'm hardly alone in reaching this pessimistic conclusion. Today, there is pretty much a universal consensus among religion, social science, and hard science that we're born selfish. Christianity has always taught that we're born selfish through the doctrine of original sin. Judaism has always taught that we're born selfish through the concept of our "evil inclination." And even a leading atheist such as Richard Dawkins has concluded through his study of evolutionary biology that we're born inherently selfish, although he locates the source of the selfishness at the genetic level. We are born with what Dawkins calls "selfish genes." 

Just because we're born selfish, however, doesn't mean we're doomed to remain selfish. We have the ability to transcend our impoverished human nature and embrace a bigger love if we are taught to do so. The great insight of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that we're all born in the image of God and are therefore are all of equal, inestimable value. The great imperative of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that we must not only recognize the equality of our fellow humans, but also love them and seek to serve them. In other words, the Judeo-Christian tradition demands that we expand our zone of altruism from our ingroup to include all of humanity. 

When culture does the opposite -- when it empowers and even glorifies our innate selfishness rather than urging us to transcend it -- tragedy ensues. Nazism empowered this selfishness. It taught that only Aryans were created in the image of God. Everyone else was expendable. Communism empowered this selfishness. It taught that only the workers had a meaningful role to play in the forward march of history. Everyone else was expendable. These ideas were taken seriously by millions. Genocide was as certain as the sunrise.    

Western civilization was built on a foundation of Judeo-Christian morality. This was based not just on faith alone, but also deeds. Can you explain why and how deeds came to be so important as an expression of religious belief?

Judaism has always been more focused on action than belief. It is what we do in this world -- regardless of what we believe -- that matters most. In fact, Jewish law sets forth a list of 613 commandments that observant Jews must follow. The overwhelming majority of these commandments deal with actions -- things we must do or refrain from doing -- not beliefs. 

Christianity places an emphasis on faith that never existed in Judaism. In particular, the central Christian concern is achieving "salvation." For believers, being "saved" promises a transformation in one's life here on earth as well as eternal life in heaven. And the prerequisite to salvation is faith in Jesus.

Yet despite this Christian emphasis on faith, the fact is that actions -- "works," as they are more commonly called in the theological context -- have always continued to play a central role in Christianity. For Catholics, works remain part of the equation of salvation -- faith is a prerequisite to being saved, but not necessarily enough. And while Protestants typically believe that salvation is based on faith alone, even they have continued to emphasize works as a product, or "fruit," of salvation. So salvation is the goal, and those who are saved will manifest their achievement of this goal by performing good deeds. In practice, the line between cause and effect tends to get blurred. Good deeds become the hallmark of the good Christian. 

This isn't just conjecture. Especially here in America, Christians have a very strong tradition of emphasizing compassionate action as an ultimate Christian goal. 

The concept of "disinterested benevolence" plays a key role throughout Western history. Can you define the term and give us examples of how this practice has made itself manifest throughout history?

The term "disinterested benevolence" was introduced right here in America by a theologian named Samuel Hopkins. Hopkins was a disciple of Jonathan Edwards, the leading theologian of the First Great Awakening. For most Americans, Edwards is remembered as the stern preacher who penned the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But Edwards actually emphasized love and compassion much more than divine wrath. 

With this phrase "disinterested benevolence," Hopkins captured well the call of the Judeo-Christian tradition to transcend our inborn selfishness and embrace compassionate action on behalf of our fellow man. Hopkins stressed that most people tend to be benevolent in "interested" or selfish ways, such as when we help our family members or strangers who might be able to return the favor down the road. He distinguished such self-serving benevolence from a "disinterested" benevolence focused on helping those outside of our "ingroup" when no future benefit can be foreseen. Only this higher benevolence constitutes a true break from our innate selfishness. And only such disinterested benevolence can motivate people to sacrifice themselves for the truly powerless and poor, be they slaves in America or starving children in Africa. 

This concept of practicing "disinterested benevolence" was embraced and preached by the leaders of the Second Great Awakening -- a massive religious revival that swept America in the late 1700s and early 1800s. As a result, one of the byproducts of the Second Great Awakening was a proliferation of "benevolent societies" dedicated to serving suffering Americans, from prisoners to prostitutes. 

Two of the most important human rights campaigns I profile in my book were direct products of this outpouring of religious activism. Evangelical Christians motivated by the ideal of disinterested benevolence led the effort to combat the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee Indians by the Jackson administration. And evangelical Christians motivated by disinterested benevolence led the American abolition movement. Both of these were purely Christian campaigns -- they were led by Christians and spread through churches to a Christian rank-and-file. In short, they were practical expressions of the religious zeal at the heart of the Second Great Awakening. They remain among Christianity's proudest moments in America.

A rupture occurred hundreds of years ago when the Age of Faith was followed by the Enlightenment: a phenomenon that you develop quite well in your book. The so-called "Enlightenment" eventually led to some of the most tragic scourges of all time. Ideology trumped a belief in our common humanity. The new beliefs -- Communism, Fascism included -- replaced the Judeo-Christian belief of the oneness of humanity that bound our fates to each other. Instead, mankind was split asunder with tragic consequences to follow. So-called "Reason" (with a deliberate capital "R") became our lodestar, untethered by faith in a higher power or devotion to moral principles as laid down in the Old Testament and developed and "popularized" in the New Testament. Can you explain how this happened and why? Can you touch upon how devastating this "progress" was to humanity?

The wonderful thing about the Enlightenment was that it challenged ancient ways of thinking and old practices. The tragedy of the Enlightenment was, of course, that it challenged ancient ways of thinking and old practices. Once we cut ourselves loose from the anchor of tradition, we could navigate freely, but we no longer had a moral north star to guide us. We could sail towards wonderful new vistas, but we could also drift towards dangerous shoals. We ended up doing both.    

Today, we have the benefit of a few centuries of experience with the application of Enlightenment ideas to better inform us. The experiments have been conducted, and the price has been paid in human blood. We should at least have the decency to learn the lessons. 

This history demonstrates that there is an important distinction to be made between the structure of government and civil rights on the one hand and the nature of humanity and human rights on the other. When it comes to the structure of government and civil rights, the Enlightenment was of enormous value. If we agree that people have a right to rebel against tyrannical governments, we should thank the pre-Enlightenment philosopher Locke. If we like the idea of separation of powers at the heart of our Constitution, we should thank the Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu. And so on. 

Yet when it comes to our conception of humanity and human rights, the Enlightenment's record is far more troubling. Enlightenment philosophers updated ancient rationales for slavery and gave them respectability in a new era. And Enlightenment philosophers and their progeny introduced dangerous new divisions of mankind that gave renewed relevance and urgency to the separation of ingroups from outgroups. Enlightenment thinkers invented the concepts of race and racism. The Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment brought us the concept of nationalism. And the children of the Enlightenment gave us Communism. 

The twentieth century was a century punctuated by genocide from start to finish. And almost every one of these genocides was inspired by one or more of these modern, secular ideas of racism, nationalism, or Communism. I'm not saying that those who invented these concepts intended that they be used to rationalize genocide -- this clearly wasn't the case. But it is equally clear that once these ideas were introduced into the world, they empowered that selfish drive inherent in all of us to persecute outgroups with a vengeance. 

Your book has a bit of "revisionist" history that surprised me and might surprise -- and enlighten -- many readers. Among the revelations that came to light was the fact that the Inquisition was not so much a religiously based movement, but a political one that religious authorities tried to end. Can you elaborate this history, as well as the earlier role that the Crusades played? Both events -- as well as the Holocaust -- gave Christianity a "bad name" that you argue was undeserved.

As a Jew, I was raised to believe the standard script that the Crusades and the Inquisition were among the worst atrocities ever committed by man, and that both were perpetrated upon the Jewish people by the Catholic Church. (I reject the notion that the Crusades were an atrocity against Muslims -- see my book for a broader discussion.) This understanding colored my view of faith in general and Christianity in particular. 

The truth is far more nuanced. First of all, neither of these atrocities was as large in absolute terms as is commonly assumed. The death toll in each case was in the neighborhood of two to four thousand people. Let me be clear -- given the small size of the Jewish communities that were victimized, each was an unmitigated disaster. Yet, tragically, many worse episodes would befall future generations of European Jews. It is thus difficult to understand why we tend to focus on these atrocities to the exclusion of so many others. 

But far more importantly, neither atrocity was as "Christian" as is commonly assumed. For an atrocity to be "Christian," "Muslim," or "Jewish," it must be done in furtherance of the faith. David Berkowitz, the infamous Son of Sam serial killer, was a nominal Jew. But he didn't kill young women because he thought the Torah demanded it; he killed in spite of his Jewish faith, not because of it. Thus, his murders were not "religious" violence. In contrast, the 9/11 terrorists were Muslims who killed not in spite of their interpretation of Islam, but because of it. September 11th is a clear example of religious violence.

Now let's return to our medieval atrocities. In the Crusades, the killing was done by a couple of rogue bands of crusaders. The Church never ordered these killings, and Church law actually prohibited the murder or forced conversion of Jews. In fact, in each town where Jews were killed, the local bishops and archbishops did everything in their power to protect their local Jewish communities from harm. Sometimes they succeeded, and other times they failed. Yet the roles are almost the reverse of what I had thought. The more "Christian" the individual, the more likely they were to protect Jews, not harm them.    

When it comes to the Inquisition, I rely heavily upon the definitive work by Prime Minister Netanyahu's father, Benzion Netanyahu, called The Origins of the Spanish Inquisition. Here Netanyahu demonstrates quite convincingly that the Inquisition was the culmination of the first sustained outbreak of the racial anti-Semitism that would plague Europe for centuries. 

Spain's racial anti-Semitism sparked a series of bloody attacks that drove many thousands of Jews to convert to Christianity. Once they had converted, however, these Jews were welcomed as full equals by the Church and were allowed to advance in all areas of society. This enraged the anti-Semites, who quickly concluded that the only way around the Church's protection of these Jewish converts was through the charge of heresy. In other words, anti-Semites who continued to hate Jews despite their new faith -- i.e., race-based anti-Semites -- were the ones who demanded that the Vatican appoint an Inquisition. Yet while the Church ultimately acquiesced in the appointment of the Inquisition -- to its eternal shame -- it is important to note that the Church quickly and repeatedly tried to rein in, curb, and ultimately terminate the monster it had sanctioned. 

Related to the true history of the Inquisition is the true history of the Holocaust. Many people have viewed this as a Christian-inspired genocide. True or false?

False. Again, almost all Germans were Christians in name. So yes, the Nazis were in that nominal sense Christians. But the Nazis didn't kill in the name of Christian theology. They killed in the name of Nazi ideology, a neo-pagan creed which was actually the antithesis of Christianity. Christians believe that all humans are created in the image of God. Nazis believed that only Aryans were created in the image of God (Hitler actually wrote this in Mein Kampf). Christians believe that the meek will inherit the earth. Hitler -- as a good social Darwinist -- believed that the weak must be killed off by the strong. I could go on in this vein at length.      

Since Germany was a Christian country, the Nazis naturally sought support among the churches. They tried to co-opt organized Christianity, or at least neutralize it. And they succeeded in doing so to a disturbing degree. But once Hitler was secure in his power, he began to express greater disdain for Christianity. Let's face it: there is no way Hitler could ever have embraced anything swaddled in so Jewish a cloth. 

Those Christians who refused to be co-opted and did not abandon their Christianity for Nazism often risked their lives to save Jews and often ended up dying in the death camps together with the Jews. The fact that there were far too few such individuals does not diminish the courage -- or Christianity -- of those who resisted. 

Why do you think that the only acceptable prejudice seems to be a prejudice towards evangelical Christians? Evangelicals are putting into practice the twin beliefs that faith is not just shown by belief but also is joined by "deeds." One of my favorite op-eds in the last few years was one run by the Washington Post a few years ago ("Let's Stop Stereotyping Evangelicals") that mentioned a few examples of this prejudice as exemplified by some of our so-called opinion leaders. The op-ed also showed how many good actions evangelicals were taking to "help repair the world" (or "tikkun olam" in Hebrew). These include pairing with figures such as Bono. Can you tell us some examples and explain why evangelical efforts always be to be given short shrift? Bono has a religious impulse, but this is routinely ignored, for example. Why? Should evangelicals counter the prejudice by publicizing their actions? You touch upon the role of H.L. Mencken, for, example, whose withering sarcasm seemed to give sanction to others to ridicule the religious.

Stereotypes are like mushrooms -- they thrive in the dark. Once certain stereotypes are launched, they often persist, especially among people who don't know anyone in the maligned group. How many racists have ever had meaningful relationships with black people? Actually knowing black people is the antidote to racism. How many anti-Semites have actually known Jews? Ignorance fuels stereotype, and knowledge combats it. 

The ridiculous stereotypes about evangelicals -- that they are racist, anti-Semitic, or just plain ignorant -- persist precisely where there are the fewest of them: in our mainstream media, college faculties, and coastal cities. In searching for the birth of this bias, it is hard to avoid the extensive labors of one man: H.L. Mencken. Mencken was a brilliant journalist, and he was by all accounts a great guy to have a beer with. But we mustn't overlook, and can't excuse, that he was a pioneering anti-Christian bigot. The fact that Mencken is still celebrated as some sort of great intellectual is a testimony to just how acceptable anti-Christian bigotry remains.

Mencken went down to Tennessee to cover the famous Scopes trial (1925), in which the State of Tennessee prosecuted a teacher for violating a state statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution. By his own writings and statements, Mencken made it clear that he didn't arrive as an impartial observer. He went with the mission of making fools out of those who opposed the teaching of evolution. His prime target was the lead counsel for the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan, who was the most famous evangelical of his day.    

Looking back on this trial from the safe perch of the present, we tend to forget that the issues were not as black and white as is commonly assumed. At the time, Darwin's teachings were being used to justify social Darwinism, eugenics, militarism, and an extreme form of laissez-faire economics. Bryan was a bleeding-heart progressive pacifist who saw these applications of Darwin's theory as a threat to everything he held dear: peace, social justice, and respect for human life. These applications of Darwin's theory -- not the theory itself -- were what most troubled Bryan. It was not until decades later that Darwinism was safely separated from its more dangerous, and dubious, progeny. 

Mencken ignored all of these complexities. Like so many extremists before and after him, Mencken turned shades of gray into clear black and white. And the stereotype Mencken launched so many decades ago still lives on, down to his very words and images. It is truly amazing to hear people who've never really known evangelicals regurgitate Mencken's caricature of them without the slightest embarrassment. No hushed tones necessary when bashing evangelicals. These "sophisticates" have no concept that they are demonstrating a prejudice every bit as ignorant as anti-Semitism or racism. 

It seems to me that the abuse heaped upon Christians the last few years was partly based on partisanship. As the evangelical Christians became a political force, the amount of criticism and hyped fears about their agenda became part of our political discourse. How did this group start becoming involved in politics, and are the fears misplaced? What are the goals behind their political involvement, and is such a role sanctioned by the Bible?

Evangelicals have always been involved in American politics. They played a prominent role in the American Revolution. They led the fight to stop the ethnic cleansing of the American Indians. They led the campaign to abolish slavery. They were actually at the forefront of the progressive movement in the early decades of the twentieth century. Evangelical engagement in American politics is neither new nor anomalous.

What was both new and anomalous was the evangelical absence from politics for middle half of the twentieth century. After the Scopes trial, Mencken, and a deluge of negative press, evangelicals abandoned politics for decades. It was not until the late 1970s that evangelicals reemerged as a force in American politics. They did so reluctantly, in response to what they saw as unceasing secular assaults on everything they held dear. Thus, they were rising from a defensive crouch, and they had their fists up. The circumstances of this return to politics impacted the evangelical tone, and it altered perceptions of evangelical priorities. 

Today, a majority of evangelicals vote Republican. But the extent of this partisanship is constantly exaggerated. In 1976, Jimmy Carter got a full half of the white evangelical vote. In 2008, a quarter of white evangelicals voted for Obama. Of course, a much higher percentage of black and Hispanic evangelicals voted for Obama -- and these are the most rapidly growing populations within the evangelical world.   

Evangelical priorities are likewise misunderstood. Evangelicals today tend to share the same values as the evangelicals who preceded them. They are concerned with protecting the weakest members of society, those who are suffering from disease, hunger, and persecution. This is why evangelicals have been so active in trying to combat genocide in Darfur, AIDS in Africa, modern slavery, etc. As I discuss in my book, U2's lead singer Bono is one of the leading evangelical activists on the scene today, yet he is hardly a conservative Republican. 

This record of compassionate activism is often overshadowed by more controversial stances. The evangelical opposition to abortion is another expression of their desire to protect the weak -- in this case, the unborn. But this humanitarian motive typically eludes secular folk, who see only an effort to limit their freedom. And now the issue of gay marriage has led many evangelicals into the unusual role of opposing, not championing, the agenda of a persecuted minority: homosexuals. Misperceptions about evangelical positions on these issues -- and what drives them -- have come to define evangelicals in an exaggerated way that is neither accurate nor helpful. 

Christian faith and Jewish faith are under assault by many of the same people who seem to shield if not embrace Islam. I know you are not an expert on Islam, but can you speculate on the reasons behind the disparate treatment?

There are two reasons for this disparate treatment: relativism run amok and good old-fashioned fear. The fact is that most people are reluctant to criticize Islam -- or most other faiths -- because of the prevailing moral relativism which dictates that all beliefs and faiths are ultimately of equal merit. Who are we to judge, right? Yet for some odd reason, evangelical Christianity is a consistent exception to this rule of relativism. The staunchest of moral relativists -- those most adamant in their refusal to judge any idea -- are among the most vicious in their criticism of Christianity. And while anti-Semitism went out of fashion with the Holocaust, we now see it making a return as well.  

In addition, of course, there is fear. Those who publicly criticize Islam tend to be the victims of frightening threats and violence. The fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, the brutal murder of Theo Van Gogh, and the outrage over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad have chilled even iconoclastic networks like Comedy Central. Meanwhile, those who criticize and mock Christianity know that they need not fear violence. On the contrary, their critique earns them front-page articles in the New York Times book review and invitations to parties in the Hamptons. The complete lack of fear among critics of Christianity is perhaps the ultimate tribute to the Christianity they denigrate. 

The divorce of faith from enlightenment has been the source of many travails and tragedies throughout history -- including now. How do we repair the breach and bring the goodwill and concern for others that is the basis of Judeo-Christian civilization back in touch with some of the other modern beliefs we have (capitalism among them)? We need to infuse religious beliefs with our other beliefs to help improve the world. But how do we do this? Can schools play a role? Can the media? Have the allures of materialism become a way to block our return to moral principles?

I think the path towards such reconciliation begins with overcoming stereotype and exaggeration. We need to remove the irrational fear of both secular philosophy and religious values from our analysis. In particular, we need to identify and recognize certain core competencies. The Bible cannot be our guide to the world entire. 

As discussed above, religion alone does not give us the best form of government -- the Enlightenment contributed a great deal to our understanding of government and civil rights. As you note in your question, religion alone does not create free markets -- capitalism has developed outside of the Bible. And while religion may have helped to birth science, it does not inform modern scientific inquiry. As Cardinal Baronius is said to have phrased it centuries ago, "The Bible teaches us the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go." 

But when it comes to our morality -- especially the way we treat our fellow human beings -- the Judeo-Christian tradition has been our only reliable guide. We need to understand that the values we hold most dear -- those which even the leading atheists hold most dear -- come from this faith tradition and in fact have no other source. 

It is certainly legitimate to criticize faith when it seeks to influence subjects outside of its areas of core competence. But shouldn't we also be wary of science and secular philosophy when they presume to instruct us beyond their areas of expertise? Didn't the history of the twentieth century prove in terrible and graphic detail that allowing science or philosophy to mold our morality is a far greater threat to humanity? I'd be more sympathetic to the outrage over teaching intelligent design in our schools if it was accompanied by recognition of the need to welcome religion in our public square. The rational balance we need is threatened by these one-sided attacks.   

Is the growth of evangelical beliefs -- and the number of evangelical Christians -- the only path we can follow? Are there others? Can evangelicals work with other groups for common goals? I was especially intrigued by your book's delving into the life of William Wilberforce -- a man who has definitely been ignored by our schools. Yet he played  a key role in ending slavery -- and abolition and the history of African-Americans is well-covered in schools and the media. Yet the man who played such an important role is ignored. Was it because he was an Englishman or because he was a believing Christian? Also, he and others -- the leaders of the First and Second Great Awakening, the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison -- pioneered the development of grassroots activism. Can you explain how they did so and what lesson their history holds for those now willing and able to restore and revitalize faith in America and in the world as a whole?

I think the important thing is that we engage seriously with our Judeo-Christian heritage. Some will embrace faith. Others will find they simply cannot make that leap. But in the process, we might actually agree upon what is precious -- and worth emphasizing -- about our Judeo-Christian morality. After all, many of us admire and honor the Greek and Roman philosophers even though we no longer share their belief in the Greek or Roman gods. Clearly, belief need not be a prerequisite to -- or barrier against -- engaging seriously in the battle of ideas. 

You are correct to note that the story of Wilberforce is as inspiring as it is obscure. And he is by far the most well-known of the heroes of faith I portray in my book. Why do these heroes not receive greater attention? It's not because they're foreign -- many were in fact American. So I think you're absolutely right to suspect that we ignore them because they were so clearly motivated by their faith. We have grown uncomfortable with religious expressions in the public square, especially when they are connected to a political agenda. Rather than acknowledge the good that religious activists have done, we change the topic. 

This great discomfort with religiously motivated activism extends all the way to one of its most important American exemplars: Martin Luther King, Jr. Christopher Hitchens went so far as to write that "in no real as opposed to nominal sense ... was he [King] a Christian." That is absurd. King was a profoundly Christian man. I say that not just because he was a pastor by profession, but because King could not have been more clear about the central role his Christian faith played in his activism. Indeed, King was explicit about the fact that it was his Christian faith and the example of Jesus which originally inspired his nonviolence. He was equally explicit about the fact that it was an experience he had with God -- a night when he heard the voice of Jesus -- that gave him the courage to risk his life day after day in the struggle for civil rights. I'm not a Christian. But it still offends me to the core when people try to de-Christianize this man. It is a big lie. 

The fact is that believing Christians have led every major human rights struggle in the West, and the rank-and-file of these efforts have come from the churches and synagogues. In particular, I'm talking about the effort to fight the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the American Indians in both North and South America, the struggle to end the slave trade and then slavery itself in both Britain and the United States, our own civil rights movement, and the current campaign to combat the debt and disease of the third world, particularly Africa. It's a tragedy that these stories have been edited out of our history books and banished from our classrooms. We're all impoverished as a result.  

As for working with others, these Christian movements have always welcomed like-minded outsiders into their ranks. After all, movements based on recognizing the humanity of the "other" are hardly going to exclude the "other." Wilberforce, whom you mention, worked with other groups, primarily the Quakers, in his campaign to end the slave trade and slavery. And back in those days, Quakers were a small and persecuted religious minority. Dr. King worked with Jews, agnostics, and many others as he led a largely Christian movement on behalf of civil rights. Today I, as a Jew, feel completely welcomed and at home working with Christians on behalf of another issue of shared passion: Israel. The only ones who might feel excluded from these efforts are those whose disdain for people of faith drives them to exclude themselves.
David Brog has written a compelling new book, titled In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity, that is a passionate rebuttal to those critics who assault the Judeo-Christian tradition as a source of evil and who do not credit it as the wellspring of so much of what is good and noble in the Western world.

Critics of Christianity such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (and a myriad of others, including much of the liberal media commentariat) have been very active in disparaging Judeo-Christian ethics and morality. This has given rise to defenders such as British columnist Melanie Phillips, whose book The World Turned Upside Down I reviewed earlier in the year. Now David Brog joins the battle for the defense of the West. The West has been built on the moral and ethical  foundations laid down by Jews and Christians over the centuries; there are many -- within and without Western societies -- who would like these foundations to crumble.

I was fortunate to have recently had the opportunity to ask David a few questions about his fine new book. (I had an earlier Q and A with David Brog regarding Christian support for Jews.)

David, your book outlines the roles that our biology and our culture play in charting the course of history. Would you please explain how?

To understand the relative roles of biology, culture, and faith in history, we must first understand the source of our morality. Let's face it: if we're just born "good," then we don't need religion or culture to make us good. If, on the other hand, we learn our morality from the environment into which we're born, then religion and culture will play the central role in shaping our morality and, by extension, our history.   

Since we don't have all night to debate this over pizza and beer, I'll cut to the chase. We're not born good. It's not even a close call. Even the most superficial review of society and history demonstrates that we're born inherently selfish. To the extent we have altruistic instincts at all, they extend only to our blood relatives and those in our "ingroup," be it our tribe, race, or nation. This innate compassion does not extend to those who belong to "outgroups." Indeed, the greatest failing in human nature is our ability to turn with ferocity upon those in outgroups the minute our interests clash. This is why slavery, war, and genocide have been constants of human history. 

I'm hardly alone in reaching this pessimistic conclusion. Today, there is pretty much a universal consensus among religion, social science, and hard science that we're born selfish. Christianity has always taught that we're born selfish through the doctrine of original sin. Judaism has always taught that we're born selfish through the concept of our "evil inclination." And even a leading atheist such as Richard Dawkins has concluded through his study of evolutionary biology that we're born inherently selfish, although he locates the source of the selfishness at the genetic level. We are born with what Dawkins calls "selfish genes." 

Just because we're born selfish, however, doesn't mean we're doomed to remain selfish. We have the ability to transcend our impoverished human nature and embrace a bigger love if we are taught to do so. The great insight of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that we're all born in the image of God and are therefore are all of equal, inestimable value. The great imperative of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that we must not only recognize the equality of our fellow humans, but also love them and seek to serve them. In other words, the Judeo-Christian tradition demands that we expand our zone of altruism from our ingroup to include all of humanity. 

When culture does the opposite -- when it empowers and even glorifies our innate selfishness rather than urging us to transcend it -- tragedy ensues. Nazism empowered this selfishness. It taught that only Aryans were created in the image of God. Everyone else was expendable. Communism empowered this selfishness. It taught that only the workers had a meaningful role to play in the forward march of history. Everyone else was expendable. These ideas were taken seriously by millions. Genocide was as certain as the sunrise.    

Western civilization was built on a foundation of Judeo-Christian morality. This was based not just on faith alone, but also deeds. Can you explain why and how deeds came to be so important as an expression of religious belief?

Judaism has always been more focused on action than belief. It is what we do in this world -- regardless of what we believe -- that matters most. In fact, Jewish law sets forth a list of 613 commandments that observant Jews must follow. The overwhelming majority of these commandments deal with actions -- things we must do or refrain from doing -- not beliefs. 

Christianity places an emphasis on faith that never existed in Judaism. In particular, the central Christian concern is achieving "salvation." For believers, being "saved" promises a transformation in one's life here on earth as well as eternal life in heaven. And the prerequisite to salvation is faith in Jesus.

Yet despite this Christian emphasis on faith, the fact is that actions -- "works," as they are more commonly called in the theological context -- have always continued to play a central role in Christianity. For Catholics, works remain part of the equation of salvation -- faith is a prerequisite to being saved, but not necessarily enough. And while Protestants typically believe that salvation is based on faith alone, even they have continued to emphasize works as a product, or "fruit," of salvation. So salvation is the goal, and those who are saved will manifest their achievement of this goal by performing good deeds. In practice, the line between cause and effect tends to get blurred. Good deeds become the hallmark of the good Christian. 

This isn't just conjecture. Especially here in America, Christians have a very strong tradition of emphasizing compassionate action as an ultimate Christian goal. 

The concept of "disinterested benevolence" plays a key role throughout Western history. Can you define the term and give us examples of how this practice has made itself manifest throughout history?

The term "disinterested benevolence" was introduced right here in America by a theologian named Samuel Hopkins. Hopkins was a disciple of Jonathan Edwards, the leading theologian of the First Great Awakening. For most Americans, Edwards is remembered as the stern preacher who penned the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But Edwards actually emphasized love and compassion much more than divine wrath. 

With this phrase "disinterested benevolence," Hopkins captured well the call of the Judeo-Christian tradition to transcend our inborn selfishness and embrace compassionate action on behalf of our fellow man. Hopkins stressed that most people tend to be benevolent in "interested" or selfish ways, such as when we help our family members or strangers who might be able to return the favor down the road. He distinguished such self-serving benevolence from a "disinterested" benevolence focused on helping those outside of our "ingroup" when no future benefit can be foreseen. Only this higher benevolence constitutes a true break from our innate selfishness. And only such disinterested benevolence can motivate people to sacrifice themselves for the truly powerless and poor, be they slaves in America or starving children in Africa. 

This concept of practicing "disinterested benevolence" was embraced and preached by the leaders of the Second Great Awakening -- a massive religious revival that swept America in the late 1700s and early 1800s. As a result, one of the byproducts of the Second Great Awakening was a proliferation of "benevolent societies" dedicated to serving suffering Americans, from prisoners to prostitutes. 

Two of the most important human rights campaigns I profile in my book were direct products of this outpouring of religious activism. Evangelical Christians motivated by the ideal of disinterested benevolence led the effort to combat the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee Indians by the Jackson administration. And evangelical Christians motivated by disinterested benevolence led the American abolition movement. Both of these were purely Christian campaigns -- they were led by Christians and spread through churches to a Christian rank-and-file. In short, they were practical expressions of the religious zeal at the heart of the Second Great Awakening. They remain among Christianity's proudest moments in America.

A rupture occurred hundreds of years ago when the Age of Faith was followed by the Enlightenment: a phenomenon that you develop quite well in your book. The so-called "Enlightenment" eventually led to some of the most tragic scourges of all time. Ideology trumped a belief in our common humanity. The new beliefs -- Communism, Fascism included -- replaced the Judeo-Christian belief of the oneness of humanity that bound our fates to each other. Instead, mankind was split asunder with tragic consequences to follow. So-called "Reason" (with a deliberate capital "R") became our lodestar, untethered by faith in a higher power or devotion to moral principles as laid down in the Old Testament and developed and "popularized" in the New Testament. Can you explain how this happened and why? Can you touch upon how devastating this "progress" was to humanity?

The wonderful thing about the Enlightenment was that it challenged ancient ways of thinking and old practices. The tragedy of the Enlightenment was, of course, that it challenged ancient ways of thinking and old practices. Once we cut ourselves loose from the anchor of tradition, we could navigate freely, but we no longer had a moral north star to guide us. We could sail towards wonderful new vistas, but we could also drift towards dangerous shoals. We ended up doing both.    

Today, we have the benefit of a few centuries of experience with the application of Enlightenment ideas to better inform us. The experiments have been conducted, and the price has been paid in human blood. We should at least have the decency to learn the lessons. 

This history demonstrates that there is an important distinction to be made between the structure of government and civil rights on the one hand and the nature of humanity and human rights on the other. When it comes to the structure of government and civil rights, the Enlightenment was of enormous value. If we agree that people have a right to rebel against tyrannical governments, we should thank the pre-Enlightenment philosopher Locke. If we like the idea of separation of powers at the heart of our Constitution, we should thank the Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu. And so on. 

Yet when it comes to our conception of humanity and human rights, the Enlightenment's record is far more troubling. Enlightenment philosophers updated ancient rationales for slavery and gave them respectability in a new era. And Enlightenment philosophers and their progeny introduced dangerous new divisions of mankind that gave renewed relevance and urgency to the separation of ingroups from outgroups. Enlightenment thinkers invented the concepts of race and racism. The Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment brought us the concept of nationalism. And the children of the Enlightenment gave us Communism. 

The twentieth century was a century punctuated by genocide from start to finish. And almost every one of these genocides was inspired by one or more of these modern, secular ideas of racism, nationalism, or Communism. I'm not saying that those who invented these concepts intended that they be used to rationalize genocide -- this clearly wasn't the case. But it is equally clear that once these ideas were introduced into the world, they empowered that selfish drive inherent in all of us to persecute outgroups with a vengeance. 

Your book has a bit of "revisionist" history that surprised me and might surprise -- and enlighten -- many readers. Among the revelations that came to light was the fact that the Inquisition was not so much a religiously based movement, but a political one that religious authorities tried to end. Can you elaborate this history, as well as the earlier role that the Crusades played? Both events -- as well as the Holocaust -- gave Christianity a "bad name" that you argue was undeserved.

As a Jew, I was raised to believe the standard script that the Crusades and the Inquisition were among the worst atrocities ever committed by man, and that both were perpetrated upon the Jewish people by the Catholic Church. (I reject the notion that the Crusades were an atrocity against Muslims -- see my book for a broader discussion.) This understanding colored my view of faith in general and Christianity in particular. 

The truth is far more nuanced. First of all, neither of these atrocities was as large in absolute terms as is commonly assumed. The death toll in each case was in the neighborhood of two to four thousand people. Let me be clear -- given the small size of the Jewish communities that were victimized, each was an unmitigated disaster. Yet, tragically, many worse episodes would befall future generations of European Jews. It is thus difficult to understand why we tend to focus on these atrocities to the exclusion of so many others. 

But far more importantly, neither atrocity was as "Christian" as is commonly assumed. For an atrocity to be "Christian," "Muslim," or "Jewish," it must be done in furtherance of the faith. David Berkowitz, the infamous Son of Sam serial killer, was a nominal Jew. But he didn't kill young women because he thought the Torah demanded it; he killed in spite of his Jewish faith, not because of it. Thus, his murders were not "religious" violence. In contrast, the 9/11 terrorists were Muslims who killed not in spite of their interpretation of Islam, but because of it. September 11th is a clear example of religious violence.

Now let's return to our medieval atrocities. In the Crusades, the killing was done by a couple of rogue bands of crusaders. The Church never ordered these killings, and Church law actually prohibited the murder or forced conversion of Jews. In fact, in each town where Jews were killed, the local bishops and archbishops did everything in their power to protect their local Jewish communities from harm. Sometimes they succeeded, and other times they failed. Yet the roles are almost the reverse of what I had thought. The more "Christian" the individual, the more likely they were to protect Jews, not harm them.    

When it comes to the Inquisition, I rely heavily upon the definitive work by Prime Minister Netanyahu's father, Benzion Netanyahu, called The Origins of the Spanish Inquisition. Here Netanyahu demonstrates quite convincingly that the Inquisition was the culmination of the first sustained outbreak of the racial anti-Semitism that would plague Europe for centuries. 

Spain's racial anti-Semitism sparked a series of bloody attacks that drove many thousands of Jews to convert to Christianity. Once they had converted, however, these Jews were welcomed as full equals by the Church and were allowed to advance in all areas of society. This enraged the anti-Semites, who quickly concluded that the only way around the Church's protection of these Jewish converts was through the charge of heresy. In other words, anti-Semites who continued to hate Jews despite their new faith -- i.e., race-based anti-Semites -- were the ones who demanded that the Vatican appoint an Inquisition. Yet while the Church ultimately acquiesced in the appointment of the Inquisition -- to its eternal shame -- it is important to note that the Church quickly and repeatedly tried to rein in, curb, and ultimately terminate the monster it had sanctioned. 

Related to the true history of the Inquisition is the true history of the Holocaust. Many people have viewed this as a Christian-inspired genocide. True or false?

False. Again, almost all Germans were Christians in name. So yes, the Nazis were in that nominal sense Christians. But the Nazis didn't kill in the name of Christian theology. They killed in the name of Nazi ideology, a neo-pagan creed which was actually the antithesis of Christianity. Christians believe that all humans are created in the image of God. Nazis believed that only Aryans were created in the image of God (Hitler actually wrote this in Mein Kampf). Christians believe that the meek will inherit the earth. Hitler -- as a good social Darwinist -- believed that the weak must be killed off by the strong. I could go on in this vein at length.      

Since Germany was a Christian country, the Nazis naturally sought support among the churches. They tried to co-opt organized Christianity, or at least neutralize it. And they succeeded in doing so to a disturbing degree. But once Hitler was secure in his power, he began to express greater disdain for Christianity. Let's face it: there is no way Hitler could ever have embraced anything swaddled in so Jewish a cloth. 

Those Christians who refused to be co-opted and did not abandon their Christianity for Nazism often risked their lives to save Jews and often ended up dying in the death camps together with the Jews. The fact that there were far too few such individuals does not diminish the courage -- or Christianity -- of those who resisted. 

Why do you think that the only acceptable prejudice seems to be a prejudice towards evangelical Christians? Evangelicals are putting into practice the twin beliefs that faith is not just shown by belief but also is joined by "deeds." One of my favorite op-eds in the last few years was one run by the Washington Post a few years ago ("Let's Stop Stereotyping Evangelicals") that mentioned a few examples of this prejudice as exemplified by some of our so-called opinion leaders. The op-ed also showed how many good actions evangelicals were taking to "help repair the world" (or "tikkun olam" in Hebrew). These include pairing with figures such as Bono. Can you tell us some examples and explain why evangelical efforts always be to be given short shrift? Bono has a religious impulse, but this is routinely ignored, for example. Why? Should evangelicals counter the prejudice by publicizing their actions? You touch upon the role of H.L. Mencken, for, example, whose withering sarcasm seemed to give sanction to others to ridicule the religious.

Stereotypes are like mushrooms -- they thrive in the dark. Once certain stereotypes are launched, they often persist, especially among people who don't know anyone in the maligned group. How many racists have ever had meaningful relationships with black people? Actually knowing black people is the antidote to racism. How many anti-Semites have actually known Jews? Ignorance fuels stereotype, and knowledge combats it. 

The ridiculous stereotypes about evangelicals -- that they are racist, anti-Semitic, or just plain ignorant -- persist precisely where there are the fewest of them: in our mainstream media, college faculties, and coastal cities. In searching for the birth of this bias, it is hard to avoid the extensive labors of one man: H.L. Mencken. Mencken was a brilliant journalist, and he was by all accounts a great guy to have a beer with. But we mustn't overlook, and can't excuse, that he was a pioneering anti-Christian bigot. The fact that Mencken is still celebrated as some sort of great intellectual is a testimony to just how acceptable anti-Christian bigotry remains.

Mencken went down to Tennessee to cover the famous Scopes trial (1925), in which the State of Tennessee prosecuted a teacher for violating a state statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution. By his own writings and statements, Mencken made it clear that he didn't arrive as an impartial observer. He went with the mission of making fools out of those who opposed the teaching of evolution. His prime target was the lead counsel for the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan, who was the most famous evangelical of his day.    

Looking back on this trial from the safe perch of the present, we tend to forget that the issues were not as black and white as is commonly assumed. At the time, Darwin's teachings were being used to justify social Darwinism, eugenics, militarism, and an extreme form of laissez-faire economics. Bryan was a bleeding-heart progressive pacifist who saw these applications of Darwin's theory as a threat to everything he held dear: peace, social justice, and respect for human life. These applications of Darwin's theory -- not the theory itself -- were what most troubled Bryan. It was not until decades later that Darwinism was safely separated from its more dangerous, and dubious, progeny. 

Mencken ignored all of these complexities. Like so many extremists before and after him, Mencken turned shades of gray into clear black and white. And the stereotype Mencken launched so many decades ago still lives on, down to his very words and images. It is truly amazing to hear people who've never really known evangelicals regurgitate Mencken's caricature of them without the slightest embarrassment. No hushed tones necessary when bashing evangelicals. These "sophisticates" have no concept that they are demonstrating a prejudice every bit as ignorant as anti-Semitism or racism. 

It seems to me that the abuse heaped upon Christians the last few years was partly based on partisanship. As the evangelical Christians became a political force, the amount of criticism and hyped fears about their agenda became part of our political discourse. How did this group start becoming involved in politics, and are the fears misplaced? What are the goals behind their political involvement, and is such a role sanctioned by the Bible?

Evangelicals have always been involved in American politics. They played a prominent role in the American Revolution. They led the fight to stop the ethnic cleansing of the American Indians. They led the campaign to abolish slavery. They were actually at the forefront of the progressive movement in the early decades of the twentieth century. Evangelical engagement in American politics is neither new nor anomalous.

What was both new and anomalous was the evangelical absence from politics for middle half of the twentieth century. After the Scopes trial, Mencken, and a deluge of negative press, evangelicals abandoned politics for decades. It was not until the late 1970s that evangelicals reemerged as a force in American politics. They did so reluctantly, in response to what they saw as unceasing secular assaults on everything they held dear. Thus, they were rising from a defensive crouch, and they had their fists up. The circumstances of this return to politics impacted the evangelical tone, and it altered perceptions of evangelical priorities. 

Today, a majority of evangelicals vote Republican. But the extent of this partisanship is constantly exaggerated. In 1976, Jimmy Carter got a full half of the white evangelical vote. In 2008, a quarter of white evangelicals voted for Obama. Of course, a much higher percentage of black and Hispanic evangelicals voted for Obama -- and these are the most rapidly growing populations within the evangelical world.   

Evangelical priorities are likewise misunderstood. Evangelicals today tend to share the same values as the evangelicals who preceded them. They are concerned with protecting the weakest members of society, those who are suffering from disease, hunger, and persecution. This is why evangelicals have been so active in trying to combat genocide in Darfur, AIDS in Africa, modern slavery, etc. As I discuss in my book, U2's lead singer Bono is one of the leading evangelical activists on the scene today, yet he is hardly a conservative Republican. 

This record of compassionate activism is often overshadowed by more controversial stances. The evangelical opposition to abortion is another expression of their desire to protect the weak -- in this case, the unborn. But this humanitarian motive typically eludes secular folk, who see only an effort to limit their freedom. And now the issue of gay marriage has led many evangelicals into the unusual role of opposing, not championing, the agenda of a persecuted minority: homosexuals. Misperceptions about evangelical positions on these issues -- and what drives them -- have come to define evangelicals in an exaggerated way that is neither accurate nor helpful. 

Christian faith and Jewish faith are under assault by many of the same people who seem to shield if not embrace Islam. I know you are not an expert on Islam, but can you speculate on the reasons behind the disparate treatment?

There are two reasons for this disparate treatment: relativism run amok and good old-fashioned fear. The fact is that most people are reluctant to criticize Islam -- or most other faiths -- because of the prevailing moral relativism which dictates that all beliefs and faiths are ultimately of equal merit. Who are we to judge, right? Yet for some odd reason, evangelical Christianity is a consistent exception to this rule of relativism. The staunchest of moral relativists -- those most adamant in their refusal to judge any idea -- are among the most vicious in their criticism of Christianity. And while anti-Semitism went out of fashion with the Holocaust, we now see it making a return as well.  

In addition, of course, there is fear. Those who publicly criticize Islam tend to be the victims of frightening threats and violence. The fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, the brutal murder of Theo Van Gogh, and the outrage over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad have chilled even iconoclastic networks like Comedy Central. Meanwhile, those who criticize and mock Christianity know that they need not fear violence. On the contrary, their critique earns them front-page articles in the New York Times book review and invitations to parties in the Hamptons. The complete lack of fear among critics of Christianity is perhaps the ultimate tribute to the Christianity they denigrate. 

The divorce of faith from enlightenment has been the source of many travails and tragedies throughout history -- including now. How do we repair the breach and bring the goodwill and concern for others that is the basis of Judeo-Christian civilization back in touch with some of the other modern beliefs we have (capitalism among them)? We need to infuse religious beliefs with our other beliefs to help improve the world. But how do we do this? Can schools play a role? Can the media? Have the allures of materialism become a way to block our return to moral principles?

I think the path towards such reconciliation begins with overcoming stereotype and exaggeration. We need to remove the irrational fear of both secular philosophy and religious values from our analysis. In particular, we need to identify and recognize certain core competencies. The Bible cannot be our guide to the world entire. 

As discussed above, religion alone does not give us the best form of government -- the Enlightenment contributed a great deal to our understanding of government and civil rights. As you note in your question, religion alone does not create free markets -- capitalism has developed outside of the Bible. And while religion may have helped to birth science, it does not inform modern scientific inquiry. As Cardinal Baronius is said to have phrased it centuries ago, "The Bible teaches us the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go." 

But when it comes to our morality -- especially the way we treat our fellow human beings -- the Judeo-Christian tradition has been our only reliable guide. We need to understand that the values we hold most dear -- those which even the leading atheists hold most dear -- come from this faith tradition and in fact have no other source. 

It is certainly legitimate to criticize faith when it seeks to influence subjects outside of its areas of core competence. But shouldn't we also be wary of science and secular philosophy when they presume to instruct us beyond their areas of expertise? Didn't the history of the twentieth century prove in terrible and graphic detail that allowing science or philosophy to mold our morality is a far greater threat to humanity? I'd be more sympathetic to the outrage over teaching intelligent design in our schools if it was accompanied by recognition of the need to welcome religion in our public square. The rational balance we need is threatened by these one-sided attacks.   

Is the growth of evangelical beliefs -- and the number of evangelical Christians -- the only path we can follow? Are there others? Can evangelicals work with other groups for common goals? I was especially intrigued by your book's delving into the life of William Wilberforce -- a man who has definitely been ignored by our schools. Yet he played  a key role in ending slavery -- and abolition and the history of African-Americans is well-covered in schools and the media. Yet the man who played such an important role is ignored. Was it because he was an Englishman or because he was a believing Christian? Also, he and others -- the leaders of the First and Second Great Awakening, the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison -- pioneered the development of grassroots activism. Can you explain how they did so and what lesson their history holds for those now willing and able to restore and revitalize faith in America and in the world as a whole?

I think the important thing is that we engage seriously with our Judeo-Christian heritage. Some will embrace faith. Others will find they simply cannot make that leap. But in the process, we might actually agree upon what is precious -- and worth emphasizing -- about our Judeo-Christian morality. After all, many of us admire and honor the Greek and Roman philosophers even though we no longer share their belief in the Greek or Roman gods. Clearly, belief need not be a prerequisite to -- or barrier against -- engaging seriously in the battle of ideas. 

You are correct to note that the story of Wilberforce is as inspiring as it is obscure. And he is by far the most well-known of the heroes of faith I portray in my book. Why do these heroes not receive greater attention? It's not because they're foreign -- many were in fact American. So I think you're absolutely right to suspect that we ignore them because they were so clearly motivated by their faith. We have grown uncomfortable with religious expressions in the public square, especially when they are connected to a political agenda. Rather than acknowledge the good that religious activists have done, we change the topic. 

This great discomfort with religiously motivated activism extends all the way to one of its most important American exemplars: Martin Luther King, Jr. Christopher Hitchens went so far as to write that "in no real as opposed to nominal sense ... was he [King] a Christian." That is absurd. King was a profoundly Christian man. I say that not just because he was a pastor by profession, but because King could not have been more clear about the central role his Christian faith played in his activism. Indeed, King was explicit about the fact that it was his Christian faith and the example of Jesus which originally inspired his nonviolence. He was equally explicit about the fact that it was an experience he had with God -- a night when he heard the voice of Jesus -- that gave him the courage to risk his life day after day in the struggle for civil rights. I'm not a Christian. But it still offends me to the core when people try to de-Christianize this man. It is a big lie. 

The fact is that believing Christians have led every major human rights struggle in the West, and the rank-and-file of these efforts have come from the churches and synagogues. In particular, I'm talking about the effort to fight the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the American Indians in both North and South America, the struggle to end the slave trade and then slavery itself in both Britain and the United States, our own civil rights movement, and the current campaign to combat the debt and disease of the third world, particularly Africa. It's a tragedy that these stories have been edited out of our history books and banished from our classrooms. We're all impoverished as a result.  

As for working with others, these Christian movements have always welcomed like-minded outsiders into their ranks. After all, movements based on recognizing the humanity of the "other" are hardly going to exclude the "other." Wilberforce, whom you mention, worked with other groups, primarily the Quakers, in his campaign to end the slave trade and slavery. And back in those days, Quakers were a small and persecuted religious minority. Dr. King worked with Jews, agnostics, and many others as he led a largely Christian movement on behalf of civil rights. Today I, as a Jew, feel completely welcomed and at home working with Christians on behalf of another issue of shared passion: Israel. The only ones who might feel excluded from these efforts are those whose disdain for people of faith drives them to exclude themselves.