Bill Moyers: Faith & Reason

In his latest PBS series, the veteran journalist talks to writers about faith, reason, and religious conflicts around the world.

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I was looking for a fresh take. There's a spasm of fundamentalism in the world right now, and fundamentalism is at war with the imagination, at war with creativity, at war with freedom, especially freedom of the mind. And more often than not, the people who feel the weight of that war are writers, and [it is] writers who are exploring deep issues of faith and reason through language. Language gives them the capacity for nuance that you don't have in fundamentalist dogma or creeds or doctrines of any organized religion. So, if you want fresh takes on faith and reason today, go to the people who are thinking creatively about both and writing about both of them.

Writers struggle in their art and in their lives with the meaning of faith and reason and the experience of faith and reason. And if you want first hand witnesses to the reality of how most of us are neither wholly skeptics nor wholly believers, go to writers. Go to people whose work is imagining a different world.

What does the series aim to add to our understanding of faith in America today?

The violence in the world and the atrocities in the world over the last few years have divided us as almost never before in terms of religion and politics. It's all about confrontation, and we've allowed the fundamentalists--the Orthodox Jews, the fundamentalist Muslims, the fundamentalist Christians--to dominate the political discourse. If you watch the mainstream media in this country, you would not know that there was something called mainline Protestantism. You wouldn't know that there are Catholics who are independent and have remained in the church, even though they are at odds with the church.

You just singled out three groups--Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalist Muslims. Why? What do you see that they have in common?


They have in common a belief that they know the mind of God. The young man who killed the prime minister of Israel said, "What I did, I did for the glory of God." He killed the prime minister of Israel for the same reason that the Islamists want to kill Rushdie. General Boykin has been going around the country in uniform talking about a holy war against Islam. They believe they know the mind of God. And when you believe you know the mind of God, you've got no room for compromise in the United States Senate or the United States House of Representatives or on the street corner. Truth becomes absolute. And absolute truth, like absolute power, is a terrifying sword.

So why are fundamentalism and extremism so attractive to so many people?

The Attraction of Fundamentalism
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