Bill Moyers: Faith & Reason
In his latest PBS series, the veteran journalist talks to writers about faith, reason, and religious conflicts around the world.
Then I was in Washington for seven years working with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations helping to organize the Peace Corps, working on the civil rights legislation of the 60's, and I realized that so many people I was dealing with. no matter what the cause of the moment, were there out of strong religious conviction, deep moral imperative, and I've just simply always recognized that, like sex and hunger, we are religious creatures. That is, we are constantly asking, where do we come from? Who are we and where are we going?
Hovering over the whole series is the general question, is religion a salvation or poison? Ultimately, what do you think?
I would have no way of measuring whether it's been more poison than salvation. You look over the whole span of history, and you see that if it weren't for the Hebrew prophets, Israel would not have been redeemed. You look over the whole span of history and see, nonetheless, that jihadism is part of the Muslim experience and the Crusades are part of the Christian experience and that religion has been used as a heavy bludgeon to compel and kill other people. On the other hand, religious believers fought for justice. Religious believers fought slavery. Religious believers fought for the Civil Rights movement.
Faith and reason are embedded in the basic cells of the human experience and human history. And constantly trying to understand them, trying to come to terms with them, trying to see how they can co-exist together and how they do co-exist together in each and every mind is one of the great experiences of being a journalist.
What advice would you give to people who have a strong, traditional belief in the righteous of their own system and yet want to have an open mind and be part of a pluralistic society?
|Advice for Righteous Believers|
Open your monologue to a dialogue. Deliberately seek out people who disagree with you. Begin from a position of respect, and listen. Too few of us listen in this world today. This is likely to fall on deaf ears, because the people that we've talked about live in that hermetic or closed system of belief. But, nonetheless, walk out on the street of New York, as I did this morning, and I see every conceivable form of human being, and I know and contained in their own lives is the great diversity of human experience. And I would like to see people set aside the politics of confrontation in order to try to see how other people see themselves.
I've been reading a wonderful book by Amartya Sen, who's a professor of economics at Harvard. It's a book called, "Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny." He has a wonderful line in there. He says, "The same person can be without any contradiction an American citizen of Caribbean origin, with African ancestry, a Christian, a liberal, a woman, a vegetarian, a long distance runner, a historian, a school teacher, a novelist, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights, a theater lover, an environmental activist, a tennis fan, a jazz musician and someone who is deeply committed to the view that there're intelligent beings in outer space with whom it is extremely urgent to talk, preferably in English."
It goes on to say, "Each of these collectivities, to all of which this person simultaneously belongs, gives her a particular identity." None of them alone can be taken to be the person's only identity or singular membership category. The point is, we need to realize we're not just a Christian or not just a Muslim or not just a Jew or not just a Buddhist. Each of us is a pot of mixed everything and that we need to see that other people have as many complexities to their identity as we do to ours and approach them then as a wondrously, if confused, jumble of human values and needs and start a conversation based upon the fact that each of us is many things.
Are you optimistic about the future in this regard? There's so much pessimism out there, especially since 9/11 about fundamentalism and extremism and the direction that religion is going.
|Optimism vs. Pessimism|
I said to a friend of mine on Wall Street once, "What do you think about the market?" He said, "I'm optimistic." I said, "Then why do you look so worried?" And he said, "Because I'm not sure my optimism is justified." I'm the same way.
There's an Italian philosopher who's had a big influence on me, name is Gramsci. He talked about practicing the pessimism of the mind and the optimism of the will, and by that he means--and I take this as a journalist--my job is to look around and describe the world as it is without any whitewash or illusions or romance. To say, "This is how the world looks. This is what's happening in the world." That's the pessimism of the mind. To look around and see that all the signs add up to potential calamity, whether it's global warming or the clash of civilizations or the uncompromising nature of present American politics.
But, as a human being, as a father, as a husband, as a citizen, I don't know how to live in the world except to expect a more confident future and then, get up every morning and try to do something to bring that future about. That's the optimism of the will. I will will myself to try to change the realities that I see that are so disturbing.