Ir­ra­tional be­liefs? Let’s talk about ir­ra­tional

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Com­men­ta­tors on both the right and left and both sec­u­lar and re­li­gious note with dis­dain that Mor­mons (Lat­ter Day Saints, as Mor­mons re­fer to them­selves) have ir­ra­tional prac­tices and be­liefs. The former, we are told, in­cludes the wear­ing of sa­cred un­der­gar­ments and the lat­ter in­cludes post­hu­mous bap­tisms and the claims by the prophet of Mor­monism to have found and de­ci­phered en­graved golden plates in New York State.

I read and hear th­ese dis­missals of Mor­monism with some amuse­ment — be­cause ev­ery­one who makes th­ese charges holds be­liefs and/or prac­tices that out­siders con­sider just as ir­ra­tional.

Let’s be­gin with the re­li­gious crit­ics.

There doesn’t ex­ist a re­li­gion with­out such be­liefs. I say this as a be­liev­ing and prac­tic­ing (non-Or­tho­dox) Jew, so I’ll be­gin with my own re­li­gion.

I be­lieve the To­rah is a di­vine book. I be­lieve that God took the Jews out of Egypt and that He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Si­nai. To athe­ists and sec­u­lar­ists, th­ese are not nec­es­sar­ily ra­tio­nal be­liefs. And they are cer­tainly not sci­en­tif­i­cally prov­able. As for prac­tices that many would con­sider ir­ra­tional, tra­di­tional Ju­daism has quite a few. Just to cite one: Or­tho­dox Jews be­lieve that they are not per­mit­ted to drink wine or grape juice poured by a nonJew.

Con­cern­ing Mor­mon un­der­gar­ments, it is worth not­ing that Jews have worn a “sa­cred un­der­gar­ment” for thou­sands of years. Those who be­lit­tle Mor­mon un­der­gar­ments might as well be­lit­tle the “fringes” (tz­itzit) that ob­ser­vant Jewish men wear inside or out­side their cloth­ing. Yet, nei­ther the Jewish nor the Mor­mon prac­tice is in any way ir­ra­tional. Wear­ing a gar­ment to re­mind one­self to al­ways act in a morally el­e­vated man­ner hardly con­sti­tutes ir­ra­tional be­hav­ior.

As for Chris­tian­ity, nonChris­tians can­not be ex­pected to re­gard the be­lief that God has a son who was born of a vir­gin as rea­son-based. (If they did, they would prob­a­bly be Christian.) Nor do out­siders con­sider ra­tio­nal the Catholic and East­ern Or­tho­dox be­lief that the wafer and wine con­sumed dur­ing Com­mu­nion lit­er­ally be­come the body and blood of Christ.

As for Mus­lims, the be­lief that the Ko­ran was dic­tated by an an­gel to an il­lit­er­ate man (Is­lam holds that Muham­mad was il­lit­er­ate) is surely not ra­tio­nal to a non-Mus­lim. Nor are myr­iad post-Ko­ranic be­liefs such as the re­quire­ment that women wear a veil.

If all re­li­gious be­liefs were dic­tated by rea­son alone, there would be no mean­ing to the word

A healthy re­li­gious life is com­posed of both faith and rea­son. And so is a healthy moral life — no non-Jewish res­cuer of Jews in the Holo­caust did so solely be­cause of rea­son.


As for the sec­u­lar world, ir­ra­tional be­liefs per­me­ate the left. For ex­am­ple, a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans has been ed­u­cated to be­lieve that men and women are, beyond phys­i­cal dif­fer­ences, the same. Boys don’t in­her­ently pre­fer trucks and toy guns and girls don’t nat­u­rally grav­i­tate to dolls and tea sets, we have long been told. Give boys dolls and tea sets and give girls trucks and they will love to play with those

How about the Marx­ist clap­trap about the in­evitabil­ity of so­cial­ism? It was “sci­en­tific fact,” the world’s left be­lieved, that ev­ery so­ci­ety goes through three stages: feu­dal­ism, cap­i­tal­ism, so­cial­ism.

things. Is that ra­tio­nal?

Or how about the tens of mil­lions of peo­ple who be­lieved Marx­ist clap­trap about the in­evitabil­ity of so­cial­ism? It was “sci­en­tific fact,” the world’s left be­lieved, that ev­ery so­ci­ety goes through three stages: feu­dal­ism, cap­i­tal­ism, so­cial­ism.

And given the in­abil­ity of any wel­fare state to sus­tain it­self eco­nom­i­cally, is it ra­tio­nal to ad­vo­cate the con­tin­u­ing ex­pan­sion of govern­ment, as sup­pos­edly ra­tio­nal New York Times colum­nists do?

Is the be­lief that 50,000 Amer­i­cans die each year from sec­ond­hand smoke ra­tio­nal? Is the cer­ti­tude that we know what the cli­mate will be in a half cen­tury ra­tio­nal? Or declar­ing sixth-graders guilty of sex­ual ha­rass­ment for en­gag­ing in in­no­cent, nor­mal-boy be­hav­ior?

It seems to me that our sec­u­lar age is a more ir­ra­tional one than when Amer­ica was more re­li­gious.

Rarely has the warn­ing to get rid of the beam in your own eye in order to see the speck in your friend’s eye been as ap­pli­ca­ble as it is to those who today mock Mor­monism for ir­ra­tional­ity.

We would do a lot bet­ter to judge Mor­monism — and, for that mat­ter, Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity, Is­lam, and the left — by their fruits.

And if we do, the re­li­gion of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date looks pretty good.

Den­nis Prager’s new book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs Amer­i­can Val­ues to Tri­umph,” was pub­lished April 24 by HarperCollins. He is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated ra­dio show host and cre­ator of PragerUniver­sity.Com.

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