Changing the Culture One Film at a Time: Baseball, Dennis and the French
Paul Croshaw, film producer, and Dennis Prager, talk show host and writer, have recently contributed to the budding reform movement aimed at turning Americans back to their Judeo/Christian heritage. They have created a winsome, quirky, yet seriously intellectual film designed to persuade Americans to return to their spiritual roots.
The film, entitled Baseball, Dennis and the French, stars Prager, who, true to form as one of the West Coast's most popular radio talk show hosts, tackles some of the knottiest questions about Judaism and Christianity with a folksy clarity that belies a sharp intelligence long devoted to addressing the meta-questions facing the West. Croshaw is equally articulate, putting his and Prager's spiritual journeys into contexts supplemented by home movies and photos.
Croshaw listened to Prager's radio show for years. Partly because of Dennis's persuasive arguments, he was gradually converted from liberalism to Christianity and conservatism. The arguments which spoke to him included Prager's concerns about the left's relentless war against an objective moral system -- or, as Dennis puts it, the "values instruction manual" found in the Bible, which declares that God has a set of rules man is to follow if he is to have any hope of moral clarity.
All of this was new stuff for Paul, who had been raised in a family which found religion "silly," and who as a youth had devoted himself to "progressive politics, Friday parties and French films."
For Dennis, however, the experience of being raised in an Orthodox Jewish environment meant that he teethed on the moral concepts found within Genesis, which proclaims one God and one moral code. As Prager notes, such concepts have been under continual attack from multi-culturalism and secularism, both of which see morality as relative and the human being as establishing meaning by a sheer act of will.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Paul and have found him to be as knowledgeable and interesting as he is in his film.
Fay Voshell: What gave you the idea for your film? Why did you decide to invest yourself in it?
Paul Croshaw: After twelve years of listening to Dennis and reading everything, I became a Christian. And my family and friends were baffled by it all. I tried explaining to relatives during Thanksgiving and other events, but the story was too big. So I decided to make a film and let the emotional nature of film, and the logic of Dennis Prager, do the talking for me.
FV: One of the messages of your film is that conservatives and the Church have done a lousy job of defending the Judeo-Christian tradition against secularist assaults. What do you think accounts for the lack of vigor in defending core conservative principles?
PC: First, there is an historical answer. Public discourse has now been in the hands to the Left for at least fifty years. The closed circle of communication means that the Church's message can't get out.
Part of the fault lies with the "Greatest Generation," who didn't hand on the religious tradition to their children. By neglecting their responsibility, they left that job to the church and to the public schools, which became increasingly secular. Secularization was further accelerated by the enormous success of science in the fifties: the practical results of the space program and medical research, and the explanatory power of psychoanalysis and the social sciences being two main drivers of the secular viewpoint. Vestments and the confessional were replaced by the white lab coat and the analyst's couch.
FV: I'm sensing that you see more than historical reasons behind the wave of secularism.
PC: Yes, there is the social answer. First, religious and political conservatives genuinely believe in dialogue, in a place for everyone at the table of public discourse. Conservatives on university faculties hired leftists to ensure a free public forum. But conservatives found to their chagrin that leftists don't believe in dialogue. Once in power, they refused to preserve the same principle of free public discourse that enabled them to get in power in the first place. They refused to hire conservatives.
Let me give a personal example. My sister received a political science degree from USC -- which is not Berkley. But she never heard anything about Locke, Burke, Russell Kirk, Whittaker Chambers. Conservatives have been excised from the curriculum. She feels she's been robbed!
FV: What do you see as solutions, both short- and long-term?
PC: Short-term, there has to be personal, one-on-one advocacy. Parents, take responsibility for your children's religion! Teach Judeo-Christian values to your kids, and they will have a template/foundation enabling them to compare all other religions and philosophies.
Long-term, we conservatives need to support long-range solutions to altering the social landscape. For instance, pay attention to school board candidates, or become one. Also, don't make the ideal the enemy of the doable. Support candidates, policies, churches, religious movements that may not be your absolute ideal, but which are in basic alignment with your views.
FV: Dennis points out that America's children are enveloped in a secular humanist bubble throughout their entire education. From kindergarten through graduate school, they hear no arguments on behalf of theism and an objective moral standard. How do you see the situation changing?
PC: First, I believe that secular education will eventually collapse under the weight of its own incompetence. The signs are already obvious. People are beginning to connect incompetence to a moral vacancy that is not being filled by environmentalism and technology, neither of which can answer the "Why?" questions.
Second, religious people should prepare to fill the vacuum, as they filled the vacuum after the collapse of Rome. This means constructing an education model that recognizes religiously based morality. The hard work will be convincing the secular public that religiously based morality does not challenge but ensures educational competence.
Third, in public schools, religion, which is broadly understood as Judeo-Christian, has assumed a role only as the base of personal morality. Religious people need to make the case that in the history of America, religiously based but non-sectarian morality provided not only a secure moral foundation for children, but also a scientific educational competence unmatched throughout the world.
Fourth, one main obstacle to be considered more deeply is the effective means of countering the administrative obstructionism of the teachers' unions. Unfortunately, the condition of American students will have to deteriorate even further before public opinion swings in favor of the systemic change described above. Religious people and groups should start preparing for this now.
FV: You left the Democratic Party, becoming a Republican. What was the chief reason you departed from the party? Do you see the possibility of reform within the Democratic Party? Why or why not?
PC: My primary reason for departing from Democratic Party was that it refused to acknowledge moral evil -- not just "environmental" or "capitalist" evil. The Democratic Party does not understand human nature. So they have a tough time figuring out who the bad guys are.
As far as reform of the Democratic Party is concerned, the question that has to be asked is "Why should it reform?" Given the political success and popularity of its policies, what would motivate it to change? What practical failures in the past have inspired the party to question its policies? The war on poverty? Green energy? The unionization of public employees?
Perhaps change of direction on any specific issue for the Democratic Party is possible, but it is unlikely, since the various policies express one or two core liberal doctrines that are held with religious conviction.
FV: You note that too few people have heard and fewer still have understood conservatives' core principles. Many believe that Republicans are intrinsically bad people. Where do Republicans start? How can they change their image?
PC: The solution to the Republican image begins with understanding the nature of the problem. It's a conceptual problem. When liberals call Republicans "bad," they mean "mean." Republicans are "mean." So Republicans respond by trying to convey a media image of "friendly" and "nice." This will ring hollow and convince no one, because Republicans are already friendly and nice.
But to win elections, they try to imitate what liberals mean by "friendly and nice," which actually means irresponsible and juvenile. In order to appear friendly, they compromise their principles by passing legislation which is not good for their constituents. In the final analysis, this is not friendly and nice at all.
The language is extremely important for conveying the concepts behind conservatives' core principles. The challenge is to show the world that Republican principles are based on "maturity." That's a key word, because growing up and achieving things is positive. And as Dennis has said, liberalism is the cult of the child.
Conservatives must do a lot of very hard work now, to show that our policies are about empowerment, freeing you to do things, get things, and accomplish things, because you're grown up. Also, you must have ready a long list of the horrible results from Democratic policies, such as the Great Society's effects on the black family; the cutting off of funds in Vietnam, which resulted in the Killing Fields of Cambodia; the fact that no parental notification is needed for minors to abort their babies; and on and on.
FV: You mention Christ's coming "down" to earth means he entered another dimension on our behalf. If you were to describe the meaning of Christmas to an atheist in a few sentences, what would you say?
PC: Christians and atheists need to be able to talk to each other. There are two ways.
One way is by agreeing that the Christian and the scientific atheist are talking about different things--seeing the world religiously and seeing it scientifically are approaching from different directions.
Another way is by agreeing that Christians and scientific atheists have much greater area of agreement than either side tends to think.
In a few sentences, I'd tell an atheist at Christmas that "for us and or our salvation, a sphere became a line." (Paul laughs.)
If he asked me to explain, I'd tell him about the short fantasy novel by E.A. Abbott. It's about creatures which live in a two-dimensional world, so their entire experience of their world and each other is only seeing edges of things. The main character only learns of a higher order of things when a sphere enters his world by moving through it from above to below. From observing this phenomenon, "Mr. Line" begins to infer the existence of a higher order he can only express in terms in terms of his two-dimensional world. But his existence is transformed by the intrusion of the third dimension. That's the Incarnation. That's an illustration of Jesus entering our world as the Good News that we're not alone.
Paul Croshaw and Dennis Prager ably present the case that all is not yet lost. Our culture can be redeemed as people of faith stop trying to conform to the prevailing worldview and once again begin to challenge and to shape it.
Baseball, Dennis and the French is a significant contribution to that effort.