Dennis Prager, a writer and nationally-syndicated radio talk show host, compared and contrasted Christian and Jewish perspectives during a talk in Finnegan Fieldhouse on April 20 at 7 p.m.
Prager, who is co-founder of the conservative media nonprofit PragerU, presented the two-part event, entitled “An Evening with Dennis Prager: A Discussion of Jewish and Christian Perspectives: Similarities and Differences.”
The event’s first half was a lecture by Prager, during which he shared thoughts on religion versus secularism in today’s society.
“The battle in the world today is an anti-religious war,” Prager said. “A lot of people on our (conservative) side don’t know this. … We have many secular allies, secular conservatives who believe in truth, who do not believe men give birth, and that is the dividing line.
“If you believe men give birth you are lost to rational thought. … These are frightening people, those who say men give birth.”
Prager spoke about his Orthodox Jewish faith background and how he hosted a radio show in the 80s. The show featured a priest, protestant minister and rabbi answering religious questions from callers.
“(The show) was transformative for me,” Prager said. “I not only met Christians, I fell in love with them, and I felt it reciprocated to this day. It got to the point where, on occasion, I was better able to make a case for the Christian clergy than they were.”
Prager said that his speeches often do not dwell on whether God exists. He said he speaks on how God is “indispensable” rather than trying to convince people that God exists.
Prager said he wishes more religious people would focus on God’s indispensability rather than just his existence because simply believing in God does not “say anything about their (individual) values.”
“I am 99% interested in what God wants from me and 1% interested in what I want from God,” Prager said. “That’s my approach: What do you want me to do?”
Prager said that this era is one of “non-wisdom.” He targeted one of his former universities, saying that there was no wisdom there because God was not there, and without God, there is no wisdom.
“The more secular, the more idiotic,” Prager said.
He also spoke on the 10 Commandments, emphasizing that the Fourth Commandment, which says to honor one’s father and mother, is the most important. Prager defined “covet” from the 10 Commandments as desiring something to the point of wanting to take it away from someone else.
Prager also said that people are not basically good based on how difficult it is for people to do what is right.
He said, “If kids were basically good, why would you have to tell them to say thank you 10,000 times?”
The second half of the event was a discussion between Prager and the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR and president of Franciscan University.
Pivonka first asked Prager about his comments on the goodness of the human person. Pivonka said that the human person, though fallen, has his origin in God, and God can only create what is good, so the human person is good.
Prager responded by saying that all people are inherently equal, but “If we’re fundamentally and naturally good, why do we have to go through all that effort (of teaching goodness to someone)? … We’re naturally musical, but you have to teach everyone except born-geniuses how to play the piano.”
Also, Pivonka asked about comments that Prager had made regarding pornography and its morality. The comments in question come from a show Prager did with others on the Book of Exodus.
Prager addressed this by saying that, in normative Judaism, deeds are more important than faults. The Jewish faith, he said, is more concerned with one’s actions than one’s thoughts. With Christianity, Prager said, interior sins gained more of an emphasis.
Pivonka said this is the case because Christians receive the Spirit of Jesus and his grace to change their hearts.
To that, Prager said, “I’m so preoccupied with evil that I’m happy if the world has somewhat sinful thoughts and doesn’t do a lot of evil.”
Prager told the story of his father, who was married for more than 70 years but who subscribed to Playboy Magazine. The marriage between Prager’s parents, he said, never had its holiness negated by the purchasing of that material.
Prager said that he is primarily concerned with making sure marriages stay together. The question he said is critical when a woman finds her husband viewing sexual images is whether the images are a substitute for her or for adultery.
“This is my belief: You make love inside the bedroom and you have sex inside the bedroom,” Prager said. “You should make love all day long to your wife outside of the bedroom, and I mean that quite sincerely. You can’t tell her you love her with nothing.”
Pivonka said in response that a person’s goodness comes from his or her identity, and no one should be seen as an object. He related this to his experience hearing confessions and his concern for the person’s interior life.
To that, Prager said, “Don’t treat them as an object, but … if, on occasion, your husband sees you as an object, you’re doing damn well.”
Prager ended his time by thanking Franciscan, saying the university is “open-minded” because it invited him to speak, unlike some other universities.
Pivonka prayed over Prager, and the event closed with the singing of a verse from the Book of Numbers.
Junior Marcelino Gonzalez, who attended the talk, said afterward, “I believe that although (Prager’s) discussion on pornography has been the center of attention, the vast majority of his talk has been widely ignored.
“I thought that his discussion of the importance of religion in a society was crucial as he laid out the consequences of societies past that have been without it.”
The talk, made possible by donors, was a continuation of a speaker series at Franciscan that had previously brought individuals like Jordan Peterson, psychologist and author, and Michael Knowles, political commentator, to campus.