Monday, June 25, 2012

Irrational And Transcendent

With Mitt Romney in a close race for the Presidency, some have started to mock his religion. (It's happened in the media, but I've even had a few friends go for it.) In response, Dennis Prager has written a column "Mormons Have Irrational Beliefs?  Who Doesn't?"

He makes the point that all religions, if looked at objectively by outsiders, have what seem like bizarre beliefs.  Good enough so far.  But then he goes further.

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?

Even if you accept his targeting the left (because they're the ones attacking Romney, I guess), and ignore his simplistic and, indeed, sometimes incorrect descriptions of what they believe, this is missing a bigger point.  The disagreements here are political and, I'd say, on a different level of irrationality, if that's even the correct word.

People on the right, left and everywhere in-between have all sorts of beliefs, many of which are mistaken (and many dealing with moral issues that have no clearly correct answer).  You may have your facts wrong, you may be misinterpreting history, you may have faulty logic. But whether you believe the proletariat will rise up and defeat the bourgeoisie, or the welfare state is unsustainable, these things deal with what real humans do in real economic situations.

Meanwhile, belief that a giant flying pig will rise in the East to announce the end of the world is in another league.  In general--and this isn't just about religion--believing unproven and often unprovable things that require supernatual explanations is not in the same league as believing something, even if you're mistaken, about what takes place in the real world.  Which may be why we give most religion a pass in ways we don't necessarily do with other beliefs--we understand these are a matter of personal faith, not debating points about a real world we all agree upon.  (And yes, I recognize how crazy, ugly and hateful irrational beliefs about the real world can be--I'm just saying if they don't invoke the supernatural they can be discussed and disproved on a different level.  Further, we're talking about extreme beliefs about the natural world versus everyday beliefs about the supernatural.)

PS  Jeffrey Goldberg has a useful take on the issue:

I vividly remember learning from a Catholic friend that, each Sunday, his family would attend church to drink the blood of Jesus and eat his body. Freaky. But is it any freakier than the sight of a bunch of Jews gathering around an 8-day-old boy to watch a man with a beard snip off the tip of the baby’s penis, and then to eat blintzes afterward? Religious Jews, of course, also wear a variation of “sacred underwear” -- zizit and tallitot, traditional garments that date back thousands of years, to the ancient Middle East..

The Mormon tradition dates back less than 200 years, to Palmyra, New York. What Mormons suffer from more than any other major religion is proximity. The foundation stories of Mormonism took place in the age of skeptical journalism, and they took place in the U.S. Most Christians believe in a Second Coming. Mormons believe the Second Coming will be in Missouri. Many Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from Jeruslaem on a winged animal, which has the ring of something mystical and transcendent. If Muhammad had departed for heaven from Tenafly, New Jersey, well, that would open up Islam to some level of derision.

Check that: It wouldn’t open up Islam to derision, because some Muslims -- in particular a set of ill-tempered fundamentalists among them -- have made it quite dangerous for anyone to mock their religion. Not so with Mormons. This is something else that causes suffering for the Latter-day Saints: their ineffable niceness. If radical Mormons had initiated acts of terrorism in Manhattan, do you think their religion would be held up for mockery each night on Broadway?

Mormons’ equanimity in the face of derision is refreshing, and speaks to the confidence they have in their religion. The Romney camp should also have confidence, and understand that not every reporter asking questions about their man’s religious practices is trying to subvert Romney’s candidacy or his church.

4 Comments:

Blogger texasalarm said...

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1:28 AM, June 25, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Texasalarm.

Back to regularly scheduled programming:

Now that's an act of faith: "not every reporter asking questions about their man’s religious practices is trying to subvert Romney’s candidacy or his church."

Talk about supernatural beliefs.

3:45 AM, June 25, 2012  
Blogger VermontGuy said...

Nice response Dude keep it up.

8:22 AM, June 25, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Religion is in many ways like a longstanding supernatural ideology while "isms" tend to be secular belief systems. There are differences but are much close than you are giving them credit.

8:49 AM, June 25, 2012  

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