DP: I will defend the religious books, but you need to defend the alternative. Why is it that religious folks whom you fear turn out to be more morally accurate today than the secular folks at the university?
SH: I didn't concede that point. I think that when you're talking about something as fundamental as recoiling from cruelty you would find that healthy people are going to be more or less the same across the board. But I agree with you that about any number of things right now, academia has really become unhitched from morality as you and I know it.
DP: I admire the fact that you, who are in academia, would say that. But don't you ask what the root cause might be? To me it is clear: secularism.
SH: Well, actually, no, I think the root cause in academia, certainly liberal academia now, is what we call "political correctness." There are so many taboos in academia and in our culture at large. The one I'm going up against most directly in my book is the taboo around criticizing faith itself.
DP: There's no taboo on criticizing Judaism or Christianity. There's only a taboo in the university on criticizing Islam.
SH: Well, I actually find that people are very reluctant to criticize faith itself, even when they don't have it.
DP: Not Christianity. Everyone who goes to university learns that Christianity is an impediment to progress. It is part of the liberal arts curriculum.
SH: Well, I don't think this is at the core of either our agreement or our differences. I think that the problem we have to face now is that people are flying planes into our buildings because they believe their book was written by God. And it doesn't seem to me that our proper response to that predicament is to say, "No, no, you have it wrong; our book was written by God."
DP: Yet ironically, it is really only very strongly religious Christians, by and large -- and I'm not a Christian, I'm a Jew -- who have been at the forefront of criticizing Islam today. And they are called, by your whole secular liberal world, racists and bigots for doing so.
SH: Right. I agree with you totally. I think it's profoundly ironic that the most sensible statements about Islam to appear in our culture have come from our own religious dogmatists.
DP: It's not ironic. That's where you and I differ. It is their faith that gives them (their values and) the strength to say it. I think the university is a moral failure because it is radically secular. You think it's a failure because they're just weak-willed and politically correct.
If I lived 200 years ago in Europe, I would have been tempted by the argument that reason alone, without God, religion and sacred texts, can lead us to goodness. After the depredations of the French Revolution; the horrors of two secular doctrines, Nazism and Communism; the low moral state of American and European universities; and the moral cowardice and appeasement of evil in contemporary secular Europe, one has to be -- ironically -- a true believer to believe that reason alone will lead us to a more moral world. Of course, we need reason. But we also need God and moral religion.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”