Tuesday, April 22, 2003

On today's Dennis Prager show, Prager read from his weekly column. This week's column makes a very good point about people's talents in art not guaranteeing their having any wisdom in other fields such as politics. Prager wrote: "As a rule, over the last few centuries, artists have been more likely to be morally confused than members of almost any other profession (except academia). " This is certainly quite true, although I can think of a few examples from the field of science that would not imply much wisdom in that profession either, but then Prager did say "except academia." Of course, as usual what I find frustrating, is not Prager's main point, with which I agree but Prager's comment on why this is in fact the case, namely artists secularism. In fact Prager went on to say that he has hardly met any secular people that he concluded possessed wisdom. Apparently by its very nature secularism makes the presence of wisdom highly unlikely. He thought that of course occasionally there were very nice secular people and everybody knows there are many religious "jerks" but wisdom is generally absent among the secular.

First, it is unclear what Prager means by religious "jerks." Does he mean that these people would be wise if it weren't for the fact that they are bad? Why can't I as a secular person say that just as there are religious "jerks," there are secular "jerks" and yet at the same time there are numerous wise people among the secular? There are in fact numerous secular people with a great amount of wisdom. Wisdom is not some special mystic quality that only religious people possess. Two things are necessary for wisdom: Knowledge and thinking. Neither is the exclusive prerogative of either religion or secularism. Once again it is necessary to recall that secularism simply means: "indifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). It does not say anything about what in fact one does not reject, is not indifferent to, or does not exclude. Ayn Rand, Sydney Hooke, Karl Marx and Jean Paul Sartre were secular, in fact, they were all atheists. But they didn't have much in common otherwise. Ayn Rand was an Objectivist with all that implies, Sidney Hooke was a Pragmatist, while at the same time being somewhat of a socialist but also an fervent anti-communist, Karl Marx was the father of Marxist Communism, Jean Paul Sartre was an Existentialist and in some moods a Marxist. (By the way, of the four, I would say the first two possessed some wisdom, the last two very little).

My basic point is really that goodness and wisdom are not special to religion at all. Religion is a set of beliefs, customs and instituitions. Over the millenia there have been a wide variety of religions and religious movements some with more wisdom and some with considerably less. It is not so much that the most wise periods were the least religious, but more importantly, the most wise periods were the most rational, whether most people were religious or secular. I believe religion cannot ultimately be as rational as a proper secular philosophy such as Objectivism but unfortunately most secular philosophies ever since Kant have been considerably more irrational than the mainstream religions. It is a common mistake to consider the 20th century as somehow illustrating the hazards of secularism. What it in fact demonstrates are the hazards of irrationalism, an irrationalism that is clearly making its influence felt on both religious and secular people of many varieties.

Prager often accuses people in the secular left of not having any good arguments because they are not exposed to any real criticism of their position. Prager certainly seems to have much experience debating people of the secular left. However, it does seem that he does not have much experience debating people of the secular right and thus he cannot take their views very seriously, much as he accuses that the left cannot take religious views very seriously.

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