God and the Pandemic

If God gives you technology, use it to reach people!
~Rabbi David Eliezrie The Secret of Chabad

During this most miserable of years, religion, like virtually every major social institution, has been profoundly disrupted. There have been church closures and the ranks of outdoor—or socially distanced—worshipers represent a mere fraction of those who engaged before. Yet the pandemic may also mark a critical breaking point, leading to profound changes in how spirituality is experienced and sustained. In some senses, we are witnessing a shift as important as that brought about by Guttenberg’s press and Luther’s vernacular Bible during the Reformation. As sociologist and historian Max Weber suggested, these developments overturned the notion that “magic and the supernatural quest for salvation” belonged to the Latin-speaking priesthood. The pandemic and the flood of new online spiritual offerings have combined to transform religious life in much the same way.

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Urban Blues

On the surface, progressive “Blue America” has never appeared stronger. President Donald Trump’s leadership failures exposed by the pandemic and the recent disorders, is sinking him in the polls. His rival, Joe Biden, seems likely to concede his traditionally moderate stances to placate the Democrats’ youthful activist and identitarian wings. Radical “transformation” of the United States seems to some just months away.

Yet even as their political power waxes, the woke progressives are engaged in a process of blue-icide, undermining their own urban base of disadvantaged citizens and their own credibility. Such self-destructive tendencies existed even before COVID-19 and the George Floyd upheavals, in the form of crushingly high taxes, regulatory burdens, and dysfunctional schools. The failures of Trump may help progressives in 2020, but their emerging policy agenda seems destined to benefit the red states, conservatives, and, sadly, the far right, later in this decade. Read more

How the Virus is Pushing America Toward a Better Future

The peak globalization bubble has finally burst and America has a chance to reinvent itself and realign how things work here with the best parts of our national identity.

Pessimism is the mood of the day, with 80 percent of Americans saying the country is generally out of control. Even before civil unrest and pestilence, most Americans believed our country was in decline, Pew reported, with a shrinking middle class, increased indebtedness and growing polarization.

It’s a dark hour, but the United States has a way of coming back, after struggling with itself, stronger than ever. As it did in World War II and the Cold War, America retains enormous sokojikara, or “reserve power,” as Japan political scientist Fuji Kamiya described it decades ago. Read more

Demographic Undestiny

Demography becomes destiny, the old adage goes. But many of the most confidently promoted demographic predictions have turned out grossly exaggerated or even dead wrong. In many cases they tend to reflect more the aspirations of pundits and reporters than the actual on-the-ground realities.

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Giving Thanks Matters

Thanksgiving may be approaching, but its chief value, that of gratitude, seems oddly out of fashion. When the Pilgrims broke bread with their Native American neighbors, it was with full appreciation of the role of Providence in their salvation.

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Jews Could Swing the 2020 Election — and Why That’s Not a Good Thing

In our selfie-defined culture, it’s usually considered a good thing to get attention, the more the better. But it may not be the case for Jews, or for Israel, to be caught in the firestorm that is burning through American politics in ways not seen since the Second World War. “That Israel is becoming a wedge issue in American politics,” notes author Daniel Gordis, “ bodes very badly for Israel’s future security.”

Jews have been prominent in U.S. political life for generations but have never previously been considered a “wedge issue” as, for example, African Americans were in the past, or Latinos and Muslim Americans more recently. Yet, both sides of the political divide, along with each party’s Jewish allies, now seek to use the threat of rising anti-Semitism to either keep Jews inside the Democratic Party or pressure them to defect to the Republicans.

The 2020 presidential election is likely to make this all worse. As Republicans try to pry Jewish votes away from their traditional stronghold in the Democratic Party, they will emphasize the most divisive political issues that they wager are able to get people passionate enough to switch party loyalties—namely: Israel and anti-Semitism. This is most evident in the Orthodox community where support for Trump has manifested itself in awards to two Florida lawyers who are accused of being Rudy Giuliani’s alleged Ukrainian fixers.

At the same time, conservatives and Trump operatives point to rising anti-Israel sentiment on the left, as well as to signs of overt anti-Semitism becoming normalized in progressive politics even apart from the debate over Israel, as was the case with the former leadership of the Women’s March. For the people driving the wedge from the right, any Jews who don’t back Trump are “disloyal” to Israel and Jewish survival.

Read the rest of this piece at: Tablet Magazine.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. He authored The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, published in 2016 by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA. His next book, “The Coming Of Neo-Feudalism,” will be out this spring.

Photo credit: Mark Dixon via Flickr under CC 2.0License.

Elites Against Western Civilization

The intellectual class across the West—encompassing its universities, media, and arts—is striving to dismantle the values that paced its ascendancy. Europe, the source of Western civilization, now faces a campaign, in academia and elite media, to replace its cultural and religious traditions with what one author describes as a “multicultural and post-racial republic” supportive of separate identities. “The European ‘we’ does not exist,” writes French philosopher Pierre Manent, assessing the damage. “European culture is in hiding, disappearing, without a soul.”

The increasingly “woke” values of the educated upper classes reflect, as Alvin Toffler predicted almost half a century ago, the inevitable consequence of mass affluence, corporate concentration, and the shift to a service economy. The new elite, Toffler foresaw, would abandon traditional bourgeois values of hard work and family for “more aesthetic goals, self-fulfillment as well as unbridled hedonism.” Affluence, he observed, “serves as a base from which men begin to strive for post economic goals.” Read more

Judenrein Europe

For millennia Europe was the center of diaspora life but as Jews continue fleeing the continent, by the end of this century all that’s left will be a Jewish graveyard

Some people go their whole lives without seeing a ghost; me, I see them all the time.
– Detective Bernie Gunther in Phillip Kerr’s Greeks Bearing Gifts

Last month the German commissioner for “Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism” used his impressively titled office to advise German Jews against wearing kipahs in public. The commissioner’s response to a surge of anti-Semitic violence in his country was a sheepish acknowledgment that Germany is once again a dangerous country for Jews. And as Germany goes, so goes Europe. For millennia, following the destruction of the Second Temple and the beginning of the diaspora, Europe was home to the majority of the world’s Jews. That chapter of history is over. The continent is fast becoming a land of Jewish ghost towns and graveyards where the few remaining Jews must either accept an embattled existence or else are preparing to leave. Read more

Why Social Justice is Killing Synagogues and Churches

“If it turns out that there is a God … the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever.” —Woody Allen

If you go into a Reform or Conservative temple, it’s likely that you will notice two things: The congregation is becoming smaller and older. Across the United States and Europe, Jewish congregations are aging at a rapid rate, a phenomenon increasingly common for mainstream religions across the high-income world.

Overall, the American Jewish population—unlike that of demographically robust Israel—is on the decline, with a loss of 300,000 members over the past decade, a number expected to drop further by 2050. The median age of members of Reform congregations is 54, and only 17 percent of members say they attend religious services even once a month. Four-fifths of the movement’s youth are gone by the time they graduate high school. The conservative movement is, if anything, in even worse shape: At its height, in 1965, the Conservative movement had 800 affiliated synagogues throughout the United States and Canada; by 2015 that number had fallen to 594.

But Jews, and their religious institutions, should not feel singled out. The share of Americans who belong to the Catholic Church has declined from 24 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2014, a more rapid decline according to Pew, then any other religious organization in memory. There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every new convert to the faith, not a number suggesting a very sunny future. Read more

Middle East Cities Should Look Forward—and Back

The Middle East may well be the birthplace of cities, and maybe capitalism itself, but for the most part, it continues to lag in developing a modern, workable urbanism. Yes, the region has produced high-tech hubs (e.g., Tel Aviv) and postmodern cities (e.g., Dubai), which can be regarded as rising international business centers, but it’s also home to megacities afflicted by mismanagement, poor planning, and some of the world’s highest unemployment rates. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, and many of the Gulf States, there is also a chronic shortage of homegrown labor willing to work.

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