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, include the wearing of sacred undergarments and posthumous baptism, and the latter include the claims by the Mormon prophet 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 or practices (or both) that outsiders consider equally 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 non-Jew.
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 unthinking behavior.
As for Christianity, non-Christians cannot be expected to find a basis in reason for the belief that God has a son who was born of a virgin. (If they do find this belief rational, they are probably 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 an angel dictated the Koran 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 faith. A healthy religious life is composed of both faith and reason. And so is a healthy moral life — no non-Jewish person who rescued 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 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 we are more irrational today, in our secular age, than when America was more religious.
Remember the warning to get rid of the beam in your own eye in order to see the speck in your friend’s eye? It’s rarely been as applicable as it is today to those who 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, a nationally syndicated columnist and radio talk-show host, is author of Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph. He may be contacted through his website, dennisprager.com.