Contemplating the Big Questions – Dennis Prager
Contemplating the Big Questions – Dennis Prager
- An Introduction to Dennis Prager (00:00:31)
- An Impactful Interview (00:01:48)
- Contemplating the Big Questions (00:06:37)
- Insight From Another Generation (00:10:08)
- Closer Than Brothers (00:13:23)
- “How Did We Get Here?” (00:19:52)
- Liberalism Vs. Leftism (00:23:05)
- The Origins of the American Left (00:26:09)
- PragerU & World Travels (00:27:54)
- Facts Met With Personal Attacks (00:35:07)
- Looking Back (00:36:25)
- The Mother of all Virtues (00:40:25)
- Capitalism & College (00:44:07)
- Parenting (00:46:30)
- Final Notes (00:49:16)
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Charles Mizrahi: My guest today is Dennis Prager. Dennis is a prolific author, speaker and radio host. He has the unique ability to take complicated topics and boil them down to a few simple terms that make you say, “Wow! That makes a lot of sense.” I’ve been reading and watching and listening to Dennis for the past 40 years, and boy — this guy’s amazing! Every time I listen to him, I walk away a lot smarter, and have more knowledge on topics that I didn’t even think about.
Charles Mizrahi: Dennis is also one of the leading voices of the conservative movement. In 2009, Dennis and Allen Estrin started Prager University, or PragerU. Now, this site has over 400 five-minute videos on topics ranging from politics to economics, philosophy and religion that speak from a conservative perspective and reflect Dennis’ values. Each one is thoroughly researched and presented by experts from all walks of life. Since the start in 2009, PragerU has accumulated more than 4.3 billion views and counting. And the majority of the viewers are under 35 years old.
Charles Mizrahi: I recently sat down with Dennis and talked about what he thinks are the biggest challenges to our American way of life … and how we can turn the tide.
Charles Mizrahi: Alright, Dennis. You have interviewed a zillion people in your lifetime — on your show. Your radio show has been on for what? Close to 40 years now?
Dennis Prager: Yep.
Charles Mizrahi: Wow. And who is the most fascinating person you’ve interviewed?
Dennis Prager: I have no answer. I have an answer to the great majority of questions posed to me … But I’ve had too many spectacular people in the course of my life. I’ve interviewed everyone I’ve wanted to interview — 99%. I mean, I haven’t had the Pope on, and I’d interview him, but I don’t think he’d say “yes” for any number of reasons. But in any event, it’s one of the true joys in my life that I get to speak to anybody I want.
Dennis Prager: I’ll tell you that a relatively recent interview … It happened two years ago at a PragerU event — not my radio show. I interviewed Jordan Peterson. And he deeply affected me. And I’ve learned an immense amount from people I’ve interviewed, and I’ve learned an immense amount from callers … but I can’t say that I’ve often been affected. And with Jordan Peterson, I was.
Charles Mizrahi: I watched that! I watched that interview in the beginning. I was listening to how you were praising him, and how you spoke right off the top about how he impacted your life. Why was he the person that you feel impacted you the most?
Dennis Prager: Well, I don’t know if I said he impacted my life prior to the interview. I had admired him — that’s why we had him — but he impacted my life during the interview, which is why I mentioned him in light of your question.
Dennis Prager: He impacted me because I asked him if he believed in God. And his answer was brilliant and utterly sincere. He thought for a moment and said something to the effect (one could watch it actually, because it’s on the internet if you just put in my name and his) that, “If I believe in God, that would make so many moral demands on me that I don’t know if I live up to the ability to say I believe in God.” And that made me realize that vast numbers of people who say they believe in God … don’t.
Dennis Prager: Not that if you sin, that means you don’t believe. Then, there would be no believers. That’s absurd. Everybody who believes in God commits sins. But how many people are better human beings because they believe in God? That’s the $64,000 question.
Dennis Prager: For a lot of people, God is what I’ve called, in my life, a “celestial butler.” God is there to fulfill out requests. “Give me health. Do this, do that … Give me wealth.” And I understand that people would ask God for that. I’m not knocking it. But it does portray a different God than the one I believe in. I don’t ask God for these things. As a rule, I only ask what God wants from me — not what I want from God. So, I already leaned toward the Jordan Peterson view, but he sort of crystalized it at that moment … He is so self-demanding that he couldn’t even say for sure that he believed in God because he doesn’t know if he is even worthy enough a human being to say he believes in God. That was a great, challenging answer.
Charles Mizrahi: So, your whole life you’ve spent on the big question…
Dennis Prager: Yeah.Charles Mizrahi: I’m a big fan and a long-time listener. I never called in, but I’ve been following you for the past 40 years — in a good way. I’ve learned a lot on drives back and forth to the city with a lot of your cassette tapes, which were very impactful. You have a really amazing way of taking the big idea and boiling it down to a few sentences — sometimes too simple! You have to hear it a couple times to say, “I’ve got it.” How did you develop that? Is that something, as a kid, you always had?Dennis Prager: Yeah, it’s built in. We all have natures. There’s no way around that. Anyone with children knows that. I thought about the big subjects when I was 13… Dennis Prager: Is there a God? Is there an afterlife? What is the meaning of good and evil? Why do good people suffer? I’ve thought about these things all of my life. Dennis Prager: It rendered my dating life … challenging. It did! And it’s an interesting thing because on a date, you’re supposed to talk about your favorite food, your favorite movie, your favorite sports … And, you know, I wanted to talk about good and evil!
Charles Mizrahi: Were there very few second dates after that?
Dennis Prager: That’s right! So, I was very fortunate … By the time I was 21, I started lecturing. So, very luckily, being up on a stage … Women would come up afterward. So, I had a social life thanks to my public life. But prior to my being a public figure — which, as I said, came very early and I was very lucky — it was very hard. What I cared about … not many girls my age cared about. I cared about Beethoven. Can you imagine saying that? “Well, what do you think of Brahms’ Second?” It’s not a pickup line! [Laughter]
Charles Mizrahi: Boy, that must’ve really helped, huh? You were the guy around town that girls wanted to go out with, huh?
Dennis Prager: [Laughter] That’s right! Well, I had other assets, thank God. I was funny, I was 6’4” at a ridiculously young age … So, I tried to rely on other stuff, but my pickup lines were pathetic.
Dennis Prager: Look, you asked me not about girls, so I’ll go back to what you asked … You asked me: “Is this built in?” And it is. Yes. This is what I cared about. Look, I wrote, with Joseph Telushkin, Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism when I was 24 or 25 years old. And it’s still the most widely used introduction to Judaism in English. It’s still in print!
Charles Mizrahi: Amazing.
Dennis Prager: You know, it came out in the 70s! So, that’s who I am. And I’ve been unbelievable lucky to make a living being what I am. I know, every day, how lucky I am.
Charles Mizrahi: I know that you were extremely close with your parents … Did you find, in your home, that kind of questioning, searching environment that fostered this quest of yours?
Dennis Prager: It is no statement about my parents. I was not very close to my parents, as it happens. I had tremendous respect for them. But I wouldn’t say there was a great closeness. It was not what they pursued. This is a different generation of parents, my parents’ generation. They didn’t think every day: “Gee, am I bonded with my kids?” And by the way, I think that was a better way to raise kids. I think kids need security and good models more than they need to be told how much they’re loved.
Charles Mizrahi: So, there was a reverence toward your parents?
Dennis Prager: That’s correct. They earned my reverence. But we were not … I’m only saying this because I don’t want to mislead anyone watching into thinking, “Oh, he had this idyllic childhood, so no wonder things turned out well for him.” It was not an idyllic childhood. It was also not a terrible childhood. But it was what it was. My parents were very wonderful human beings. But their lives did not revolve around my brother and me. It’s as simple as that. They revolved around each other.
Charles Mizrahi: Yeah, I mean they were married 70-plus years or so — 73, if I’m not mistaken?
Dennis Prager: Yes, exactly. They were married 69 years and together 73. And it was a beautiful marriage to watch. But anyway, I’m only making clear: You don’t need an idyllic childhood to make something of yourself in life. Parents worry too much. “Do my kids love me?”Dennis Prager: I used to ask my father … I’d have him on the show every birthday. His birthday was July 18, and I’d have him on every year. People loved it. And for many people, it was their favorite hour of my radio show — which I was always ambivalent about. You mean I broadcast all year and your favorite hour is the one my dad is on? [Laughter] But I got a kick out of that. That was fine with me. He was a great guest. He spoke so eloquently, and so glibly. No “uh” and “ah” — just himself.
Dennis Prager: Anyway, I asked him: “What’s the biggest difference between life when you were a kid and life today?” And he would say, “When I grew up, parents ran the house. Today, kids run the house.” And it was typically great insight of my father. So yes, we talked about big issues at the Shabbat table. I learned to speak and think not at school, but at the Friday-night and Saturday-afternoon table of my parents’ house.
Charles Mizrahi: So, how did you come to write a book? You went to Brooklyn College, correct?
Dennis Prager: Right.
Charles Mizrahi: So, you did not go to an Ivy League school?
Dennis Prager: Well, I plead guilty. I did go to an Ivy League school for graduate school.
Charles Mizrahi: So, undergrad, you went from Yeshiva Flatbush to Brooklyn College.
Dennis Prager: And then Brooklyn to Columbia, correct. Right.
Charles Mizrahi: And you and Joseph Telushkin were friends when you were 13 or 14 years old?
Dennis Prager: We met when we were 15 at the Yeshiva Flatbush. Neither of us did any homework. And we met, utterly appropriately, walking to a book store that was about half a mile away from the Yeshiva Flatbush. We both spent all out money on books. Dennis Prager: Or well, I divided it between books and concert tickets. I fell in love with music — my lifelong love — at the age of 15. I taught myself to conduct — and I do conduct orchestras. So, that’s another dream that came true.
Charles Mizrahi: So, you two have been friends for 60-plus years?
Dennis Prager: Let’s see … It would be 50-plus years, no? If we met in ’65, then it would be 55 years. That’s a lot of time. In other words, I know him longer than any living human being except his sister. I mean, I guess some cousins and my brother have known me longer … but it gives you an idea. It’s pretty amazing.
Charles Mizrahi: So, what’s the secret of a friendship like that? You two are like brothers.
Dennis Prager: Yeah. Well, people used to say all the time, “They’re as close as brothers.” And I always used to remind people that that doesn’t say anything. Most brothers are not close. I don’t have a problem with clichés, but the cliché has to be true. [Laughter]
Charles Mizrahi: Having a brother doesn’t mean you’re close. True.
Dennis Prager: Well, yes. Most people are closer to friends than to their relatives. That’s not a bad thing. You choose your friends. You don’t choose your relatives. I mean, it’s enough to enjoy your relatives. But you should love a friend. Look, if you love a sibling or a cousin or an uncle or an aunt or, obviously, your parents … Most parents love their children, so that goes without saying. I mean, that’s just built in.
Charles Mizrahi: So, what’s the secret to your relationship? Because I’ve got to tell you … I know Joseph Telushkin, and he is one of the finest, warmest, most beautiful people I know. He’s just an amazing human.
Dennis Prager: Right. I knew that when I met him in high school. I discovered him, as it were. Look, I could write a book on friendship. Because at home, I didn’t receive that much love. So, I knew I had to get love elsewhere. So beginning in sixth grade to this day, I’ve always had at least one male friends that I loved — and I mean loved — who loved me. And that has been a bulwark in my life: male friendships. Dennis Prager: Most men do not have what I have, and most women do not have it with another woman. And that’s a crisis. People need friends like they need air.
Charles Mizrahi: So, what’s the secret to that relationship?Dennis Prager: Well, in our case, it was a shared preoccupation with the big issues. That’s why neither of us did our homework. We didn’t care about our grades. We cared about … Is there an afterlife? Why did God allow the Holocaust? That’s what we cared about.
Charles Mizrahi: Just excuse me a second … I just find it fascinating. Sitting in your freshman year in high school, the teacher is giving you a math example and you both are contemplating the cosmos.
Dennis Prager: That’s correct.
Charles Mizrahi: If I was the teacher, I’d have to walk out. It just doesn’t matter. [Laughter]
Dennis Prager: Well, it’s very funny … In high school (and I got a lot out of high school), though I never did homework, I learned an immense amount. And at the Yeshiva Flatbush, I learned Hebrew so well that I lecture in Hebrew, I’m on Israeli radio in Hebrew and it has made it possible for me to write my Bible commentary because I know Torah Hebrew so well — especially grammar. Grammar’s more important than vocabulary to understanding how the Torah works, for example.Dennis Prager: So yes, we thought about the cosmos. That’s correct. And therefore, grades didn’t matter to us. Our parents were upset because they wanted us to do well in school — as every Jewish parent does and, obviously, vast numbers of non-Jewish parents do. And I told my parents that in the long scheme of life, grades in high school don’t matter. They found that unpersuasive. [Laughter]
Dennis Prager: But I was very strong-willed from a very early age. I did not let society tell me what to think. And that is true to this day — my views on what so much of what society believes. So, that was my preoccupation and that was his. That was the original source of our bond. And then, this chemistry … You get along with a person. There are people you can share values with and not get along with great. But both were true here. We’re very, very different personalities — very different natures. But we click.
Charles Mizrahi: Yeah, you click amazingly well.
Charles Mizrahi: You know, you were just mentioning how you thought about the big issues, and what I find so amazing is … I was one of your original subscribers back to “Ultimate Issues,” a journal you wrote. When did you start that? In ’85, right?
Dennis Prager: That sounds right.
Charles Mizrahi: Yeah, I have the first one — Volume 1, No. 1. I still have this after living in my parents’ home, getting married, getting an apartment, renovating my house twice … I still have most of these copies. What I was looking through last night, knowing I was going to be speaking to you today, was … And I find it amazing — this one is from 1993 — how your thought is still consistent. You didn’t waver. You didn’t give a damn about what the world was thinking. And you still probably don’t. Now you’re prolific — you’re everywhere!
Charles Mizrahi: But I happened to pick up this one from 1993: “Why I Am Not a Liberal.” And you have a whole article … “I fear for an America that is coming to believe that economics determine behavior more than moral value do. And I fear for a jury that has largely abandoned Judaism for another religion: liberalism.” This was written 27 years ago. What changed except the font?
Dennis Prager: That’s right. Well, the only change I would make … I would change the word to “Leftism.” I wish Jews stayed liberal. If they stayed liberal, they would be anti-Left. The Left if the enemy of liberalism — not the Right.
Charles Mizrahi: How did we get here? How did our country get to this point? I live in New York—your hometown in Brooklyn. And we’ve been experiencing — over the past four or five months with a mayor who just lets mobs run through the streets, destroy property, violence … It’s horrendous. It really is horrendous.
Charles Mizrahi: I had some friends who, over the summer, stayed in Jersey. They didn’t want to come back to Brooklyn. You watch the news every night, and it’s just terrible. In fact, right before the election, Macy’s and major department stores boarded up their windows in case Trump won — not in case Biden won.
Dennis Prager: Right. Because they riot, and conservatives don’t.
Charles Mizrahi: How did we get here?
Dennis Prager: In every society on earth, the Left tries to make in-roads and ultimately, dominate society … and they succeed in very many. They’ve been trying in America since the turn of the 20th century — so, over 100 years. And they’ve made in-roads in every arena — in the schools, in religion, in the arts … And finally, all of the 100 years of work has paid off. You now have this enormous Left-wing presence — not liberal, again. I keep emphasizing that.
Charles Mizrahi: What’s the distinction? Can you give it to me?
Dennis Prager: Oh, sure. First of all, for your viewers, there’s a PragerU video. It’s five minutes — that’s all it is. It’s free. And I don’t give 90% of the PragerU videos, I give 10% of them … and one of those that I do give is the differences between liberal and Leftist. So here are a few examples…
Dennis Prager: Many colleges have an all-black dormitory. Liberalism is for racial integration; Leftism is for racial segregation. Only the Left and the Ku Klux Klan think it’s a good idea to have an all-black dormitory. Liberals and conservatives believe in integration. You don’t have a race-based dormitory at a college. But it’s celebrated from Harvard to wherever. It’s just celebrated. So, the race issue is an enormous difference. The liberal view is that you should be “colorblind.” The Left view is that “colorblind” means you’re a racist, which is a joke! That’s the opposite of racism.
Dennis Prager: Next example: capitalism. Liberalism has always been pro-capitalism; Leftism is anti-capitalism. I mean, we’re talking about really big differences here. Liberalism has always been pro-Israel. The Left has always been anti-Israel. Liberals love America. Leftists hate America. So there, in a nut shell, are four huge examples.
Charles Mizrahi: So, how did we get to this point? They worked for 100 years, but you didn’t tell me … What was the flashpoint — the catalyst — that turned part of this country into this Leftist way of thinking? Now it’s becoming part of the narrative. Socialism … Whoever thought of speaking about socialism? My grandparents ran away from Communist Russia to come here! And they want socialism?
Charles Mizrahi: Just a quick thing … One of my sons was visiting a friend who lived in the same apartment building that Bernie Sanders lived in in Brooklyn. My son didn’t know this. They go to his house, and they sealed it off when Bernie was running for president. And he takes a picture outside. He says, “Here’s Bernie Sanders coming in.” And there was a whole group of Russian Jews from Manhattan Beach standing out there, yelling and screaming at Sanders saying, “We came from this economy and culture you want to put here! It is terrible! What are you doing?!” And he just walked right past them.
Dennis Prager: The man had his honeymoon in the Soviet Union!
Charles Mizrahi: Amazing. And they have videos showing him talking really well about the Soviet Union…
Dennis Prager: And that’s another example. Liberals were always anti-Communist; Leftists were not. They were anti-anti-Communist.
Charles Mizrahi: How did we get here? Why was the soil so fertilized?
Dennis Prager: It was fertilized by the post-Christian era. When Christianity dies, people seek secular religions. That’s what Jews do. Jews who leave traditional Judaism go to secular religions — Marxism, humanism, environmentalism, socialism, feminism. I mean, you name the “ism” … Jews either founded it, or lead it. Jews are very religious. The problem is that for most of them, their religion is not Judaism. More Jews believe in the New York Times than the Torah. This is not a glib line — it’s a true line.
Charles Mizrahi: Take me from Ronald Reagan. Is that where you see that it started to fall off? After Reagan?
Dennis Prager: No. It’s been falling off for 100 years. These things don’t happen overnight. The real origins are … In the late 19th century, American universities did not offer PhDs, so people went to Germany to get PhDs. The Germans were steeped in Leftism and socialism. So they came back to the United States, and that started the movement — starting at the university — of Left-wing thought dominating the schools. And, as I said, it took a long time to undo the traditional values of American life: “In God we trust,” “E pluribus unum” and liberty. And as I always say, the Germans are always wrong. It’s an amazing thing for one country to always be wrong. [Laughter]
Charles Mizrahi: Wow. So how do we turn the clock back? How do we move away from this Leftism and come back to the center at some point?
Dennis Prager: Well, that’s what we’re trying to do at PragerU, for example: offer an intellectual counterweight. And that’s why we’re so effective. We have 1 billion views a year, and most of the viewers are under 35 years of age.
Charles Mizrahi: I want to interrupt for just a second … One of my sons said, “Why are you sending me to college?” And, I kid you not, he said, “Why can’t I just watch the PragerU videos? It’s a university! I’ll probably learn more in these five-minute things than in college.” And he’ll be listening to this podcast … He’s probably right.
Dennis Prager: Well, your son is right. He’s entirely right. Any kid would learn more at Prager University about life, about how to lead a life and about what matters than at almost any university in America. The only use of a university is if you have to study STEM — science, technology, engineering or math. We don’t teach those subjects at PragerU. We teach history, theology, economics, psychology, inter-personal relations, communications … But we don’t trach science, technology, engineering or math.
Dennis Prager: But your son is entirely accurate. One young man said to me that he’d gone to Princeton, and he learned more at PragerU than at Princeton.
Charles Mizrahi: How did PragerU start?
Dennis Prager: Well, I give full credit to the man who did come up with it, Allen Estrin, who was a dear friends of mine and the producer of my radio show. For the last 25 years — except this one, because of the lockdowns … Not because of COVID, because of the lockdowns. That’s an important distinction to make…
Charles Mizrahi: Yeah, I’ve heard you speak very strongly about that. You know what? I have never seen you get so angry.
Dennis Prager: Right.
Charles Mizrahi: Because you’re a pretty happy guy…
Dennis Prager: Yep.
Charles Mizrahi: And I’ve never seen you get so angry as when you were playing Dr. Fauci, stopping it … and I thought you were going to pop a blood vessel.
Dennis Prager: Yeah, I thought I’d pop a blood vessel, too. [Laughter] So we’ll get back to that in a minute … I’ll just answer your question of how this happened. Dennis Prager: So, I’ve taken listener cruises literally all over the world. I, myself, have been to 130 countries. That’s another thing … In high school, I wanted to see every country in the world before I die. And I’m close to getting there. I hope I’m not close to dying, but I am getting close to nearly all the countries.
Charles Mizrahi: North Korea?
Dennis Prager: No, I would not go to North Korea.
Charles Mizrahi: Every country minus one.
Dennis Prager: Well, there are a handful that I wouldn’t go to now — although I’ve been to Syria, so that doesn’t matter … There are very few countries I wouldn’t go to, and I have gone to some tough ones. The problem with increasing from 130 is that the countries that are remaining are really off the beaten path, you know? I have not been to the Central African Republic. I have been to 20 African countries, but not the Central African Republic or Uganda. [Laughter] But I would love to! I’ve been to Cambodia, but not Laos. So, I’d have to go all the way back to get to Laos.
Dennis Prager: So, on the Indian Ocean (one of the cruises was on the Indian Ocean), he comes over to me, and he says, “I think we should start Prager University.” Out of nowhere! And I go, “What’re you talking about?” He said, “Listen, I’ve got an idea. We’ve got to get your ideas to more people. People don’t have long attention spans … You’re really good at making things concise. So let’s go on the internet.” And that’s how it started. He had the five-minute ideas as well.
Dennis Prager: And, of course, I only give one-tenth of the courses. There were 450 five-minute courses, as we call them. As it should be, Prager University is not about Prager. It is about Prager’s values, obviously, but it’s not about me. So I give about 40 of the 450, including one each on the Ten Commandments. And I can’t tell you how happy I am that tens of millions of people have seen my Ten Commandments videos. It’s hard to make something popular that the Left has crapped on, which is the Bible, religion, the ten Commandments … But I believed it in high school, and I believe it today: The solution to world evil is the Ten Commandments.
Charles Mizrahi: So, when did you come out with PragerU? When did you start that?
Dennis Prager: So, that was, I think, 2011 — nine years ago.
Charles Mizrahi: On your website I saw 4.2 billion views.
Dennis Prager: That’s right. We’re not only the largest conservative video site on Earth, we’re one of the largest video sites on Earth of series videos — and certainly one of the largest non-Left websites of any type. It’s caught on beyond our wildest dreams. I mean, everything we produce is really rock-solid. And we’re so effective, there’s massive blowback. We were a front-page New York Times article, front-page LA Times article, BuzzFeed, Mother Jones…
Charles Mizrahi:Wall Street Journal editorial?
Dennis Prager: Oh, a few! That’s right. But they scour and scour, and they can’t find a misstatement, they can’t find a lie, they can’t find anything irresponsible … We’re very responsible. But we’re very effective. We offer anybody (but especially young people — that’s our major audience, as 65% of the views are under 35 years of age) an alternative to the Leftist brainwash that they got from elementary school through college. So, that’s why we’re so powerful.
Charles Mizrahi: I saw you debate someone, and they couldn’t attack you with your views, so they started to attack you personally. And then they started mentioning PragerU, and you challenged them. The challenge was beautiful. You said, “We’ve fact-checked everything. Give me one source that we’re off on.” And the guy went on to personally attack you. You know the video?
Dennis Prager: I know exactly … It was at a San Francisco synagogue — a left-wing Jew versus me. Yeah.
Charles Mizrahi: And you were beautiful! I said, “Wow, this guy took a body blow!” And you just stood there and said, “If you’re going to attack me personally, go ahead. But tell me one fact that I got wrong.”
Dennis Prager: People should watch it. Because I give them credit … The Left never debates—they only smear. He, to his credit, debated and smeared.
Charles Mizrahi: But he ran out of steam! There was nothing more to go on.
Dennis Prager: Right. Well, there’s nothing more to go after, “You’re racist, fascist…” What’s the next sentence?
Charles Mizrahi: Right, right. And then what? That’s it.
Charles Mizrahi: So, looking back on all you’ve done … And you’ve done a heck of a lot. You wrote a book — at 24 — which is one of the most popular books on Judaism. I don’t know how many millions of that have sold … I have the original Eight Questions People Ask About Judaism.
Dennis Prager: Wow! You do go far back in my life.
Charles Mizrahi: Yeah. Well, you know, I remember. I was 20 years old … I think I bought it back in 1980. Because I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish house, and my father’s questions were always, “How?” They were never, “Why?” And I always had “Why?” questions. So, we clashed a lot.
Dennis Prager: That’s why you’re a kindred spirit. That’s exactly what I used to say to Jewish audiences. Young Jews are alienated from Judaism because you only told them how … not why.
Charles Mizrahi: If I didn’t understand context, if I didn’t understand the reason for what was going on … I didn’t say no to it, I just said, “There has to be something better than this.” And the conversation used to just end with, “Do this because I’m your father!” Period. That was the end of the conversation.
Dennis Prager: Yeah, I really resonate with you.
Charles Mizrahi: So, I found your book. You and Joseph Telushkin wrote that together. And I met him about 11 years later. I remember, verbatim, repeating him. And he goes, “Whoa!” And I said, “This book really has an impact.” It well-laid out. And it’s not only for Jews. I think it’s for any thinking person on how you deal with God and evil. You have an excellent, excellent chapter in there: “Why There Is Evil in the World” — and how to deal with that. Really great stuff. Really great stuff. You’ve spoken in 130 countries (and then some), radio show, PragerU … Looking back, what’s the thing you lay down at night and think: “Wow, I did a good job on this?” What would that be?
Dennis Prager: Well, interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever gone to bed thinking I did a good job. [Laughter] Oh wait, that’s not true! I did a good job when I conducted a Haydn symphony at the Disney Concert Hall. I’ll tell you why … Because it’s not my field. So, I was proud of myself for being able to do well at something I’m not a professional in. So, when I write a book or give a speech or do a radio show, I just expect a certain level of excellence. But that I was able to learn a score and conduct an orchestra in one of the most prestigious halls in America. I certainly was relieved when I went to bed that night! [Laughter] Dennis Prager: I don’t know that I thought I did a good job. I am preoccupied with what I have not done. And I am not a humble man, I’m just an honest guy. I’ll tell you good things about me, and I’ll tell you everything else. I never really think about what I’ve accomplished — I really do think about how much I haven’t. So, I don’t know what to say about that. Maybe it’s what drives me. But I’m not in it for Dennis.Dennis Prager: I believed, in high school, in the solution to evil. And that was the Ten Commandments. And I still believe that. I have not wavered since high school. You want to solve evil? Have people believe that God commands the Ten Commandments and live by them — or try to live by them. And that’s it!
Charles Mizrahi: You know, you wrote Happiness Is a Serious Problem about 20 or so years ago, right? In ’98 or ’99. And you look around, and we are the richest and most powerful nation on Earth. We have comforts that our grandparents would never have dreamed of. We have fresh, clean water that comes out of our sink. We have sanitation … Basic things! Vaccines. It’s an amazing lifestyle we have in the greatest country on Earth. Yet, there are so many people who are unhappy. Why is that?
Dennis Prager: That’s a big them of my life. I could speak about this for an hour, but we obviously don’t have that time … But I will tell you: You can’t be happy if you’re not grateful. And a vast number of people in our society are not grateful living in America. They’re called Leftists, or progressives. And they are all unhappy.
Charles Mizrahi: They’re angry! They’re just angry.
Dennis Prager: Well, ingratitude leads to anger. They’re related. Gratitude is the mother of all virtues. Because it is the mother of goodness, and it is the mother of happiness. You can’t be happy if you’re not grateful, and you can’t be good if you’re not grateful. Dennis Prager: The Left breeds ingratitude. You’re black? You have no reason to be grateful. You’re a woman? You have no reason to be grateful. You’re gay? You have no reason to be grateful. The only people who can have any gratitude in this country are white, heterosexual Christian males! The group that commits the most suicide, I might add. Apparently, they didn’t get the message about how good they’ve got it.Dennis Prager: So, I walk around in perpetual gratitude. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m happy.
Charles Mizrahi: And how does that relate to God? If one believes in God, one should, by definition, should have gratitude, or come to that realization, no?
Dennis Prager: Well, theoretically, you certainly should have gratitude. You know, the idea of gratitude to God is huge in Judaism and Christianity. But I think that what God gives the believing Christian and Jew, is wisdom. And that’s the other big issue in life. There is no wisdom at college. None. Colleges are wisdom-free. They believe that knowledge is the same as wisdom.
Dennis Prager: Your map has knowledge. A map tells you exactly where you are. Wisdom is telling you where you need to go. No map tells you where you need to go. Colleges are maps — knowledge, with no wisdom. And they have no wisdom because they are completely secular. There is almost no secular wisdom. There are religious fools, but almost all wisdom is religious.
Charles Mizrahi: How do we turn?
Dennis Prager: By people like me going on shows like yours. That’s how.
Charles Mizrahi: I’ve got to have you on more. [Laughter]
Charles Mizrahi: You know, I wrote an article, an op-ed, in RealClearReligion over the summer, called, “Capitalism is not the problem; it’s the solution.”
Dennis Prager: Right.
Charles Mizrahi: And the angle was biblical capitalism. Really, the Bible doesn’t talk about capitalism, but wealth was never a curse. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King Solomon were all blessed with wealth. And it’s what one does with that wealth in the world or society. Then, I talked about agricultural gifts … the corner of one’s field for the underbelly of society, the gleanings, and so on and so forth.
Charles Mizrahi: And it was just infuriating. Because I was looking at what was happening in New York City … And the funny thing about this (if there is something funny about it) was that all the demonstrators and protestors and rioters took out their iPhones, which were made by an entrepreneur — not a socialist state! They’re so angry at what they’re living in, yet they take out their iPhone. And I thought, “they just missed the point!”
Charles Mizrahi: So, what I was spending the last couple of months thinking is: How does this change? We’re not going to close the colleges … And look, it’s probably our fault. We withdrew from the colleges. We left it to the Leftists.
Dennis Prager: Well, I am pro-withdrawal. There’s no reason to send your child to college unless you are certain of their values and of their stability and strength … or if they’re studying science, technology, engineering and math. Then, there’s no choice. But otherwise, we hire — at PragerU — a lot of people who never graduated college. They’re terrific. They’re some of our best people.
Dennis Prager: You know, if you send me a kid with a B.A. from Berkeley or a kid who never went to college, I would interview them equally. I assume that, if you have a college degree, you don’t think clearly. I know there are people with a college degree who do think clearly, but that’s my a priori assumption.
Charles Mizrahi: Well, I want to tell you that that’s not so far off. Because the whole institution is not geared to thinking, but to regurgitate information.
Dennis Prager: And to feel. It’s geared to feeling, not thinking.
Dennis Prager: So, give me your final question, and I’ll ponder it!
Charles Mizrahi: Well, you don’t have to ponder. You’ve kind of answered everything…
Dennis Prager: Good!
Charles Mizrahi: Oh, yeah! I’ve got one question that I was thinking of at the beginning of our interview. Your relationship with your parents … How did that impact your relationship with your own boys? You have two sons, right?
Dennis Prager: Right.
Charles Mizrahi: And you have a step-son as well, right?
Dennis Prager: Yes, two step-sons.
Charles Mizrahi: So, you have four boys.
Dennis Prager: Right.
Charles Mizrahi: Is your relationship much different from your parents with you? And how do you see them raising their kids?
Dennis Prager: So, despite what I said earlier about the most important thing being security and modeling rather than just being told “I love you” all the time … I was a very loving and expressive-of-love parent, which was not what I had. And I didn’t choke them in it. I was not at all a helicopter parent.
Dennis Prager: For example, there was a rule … and I never once violated it. If any of my kids came into my office in the house, I stopped what I was doing. I never once said, “Come back later.” I don’t even know if they know this! I’m going to ask them when I see them. If I had a deadline for a book I wouldn’t have said it! I would’ve stayed up hours later and not gotten sleep. But they had to know I was always accessible — to this day. And that was a difference. So I tried to take the best from my parents and add some healthy things of my own.
Charles Mizrahi: And how do you see them raising their kids?
Dennis Prager: Well, the one of them that has kids is my oldest son. He has two kids and two step-kids, just like I do. And he’s an incredibly loving parent, and incredibly strict! He’s a magnificent parent. I don’t think I was a better parent than he is. He may well be a better parent than I was. It’s really something to watch him.
Charles Mizrahi: Wow. That’s absolutely great … Dennis, I want to thank you. This has been a real treat for me. Like I said, I’ve been a fan…
Dennis Prager: You really have! I’m very touched.
Charles Mizrahi: There’s so many things I didn’t even tell you because it would sound like I’m stalking you!
Dennis Prager: It’s not stalking … It’s a good stalk — a Kosher stalk! [Laughter]
Charles Mizrahi: It’s great. I want to thank you so much. And I just want to tell you the impact that you’ve have on my life and my thought process, and now — I see — in my family’s life! My wife wanted me to mention that she loves watching PragerU. She’s always forwarding them to everyone in the house.
Dennis Prager: Great!
Charles Mizrahi: I didn’t know that you had transcripts on them as well.
Dennis Prager: That’s right.
Charles Mizrahi: I just figured that out. My sons watch them … And just keep fighting the good fight. Your impact has been enormous…
Dennis Prager: Thank you.
Charles Mizrahi: And hopefully, you should have many, many more years of this.
Dennis Prager: Amen! God bless you.
Charles Mizrahi: Alright, God bless you, Dennis. Thank you so much, man.
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