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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Fundamentalism is attractive because it offers certainty in the chaos of modern life. It offers a prescription you can take to treat your illness. The illness of the day is confusion and ambiguity and fear about the forces of modernity that are shaping and reshaping our world. And fundamentalism has easy answers for people who are besieged by insoluble conflicts and problematic politics. So, fundamentalism offers people safety from a world that is changing so rapidly around them.

Furthermore, fundamentalism is a way of identifying yourself against the other. It gives you an easy identity. It makes access to God a simple thing. It's what you believe and not what you experience. So, I can understand the attraction of fundamentalism to people who are besieged and poorly equipped to confront the contradictions of our day.

At the same time, I personally believe, and so do many of these writers, that the most pernicious force in the world today is fundamentalism because it is a war against the imagination, against creativity, against freedom--freedom of the mind, above all. Fundamentalists would have us believe that violence and competition are the only ways. Fundamentalists would have us believe that women aren't equally human beings.


Fundamentalists would have us believe that the nation and the state are one and the same, and I believe, therefore, that fundamentalism is a pernicious force. It will not enter into conversation with others. The way so many of us get to illumination and insight and even revelation is through conversation with the other. We need to be in discourse with the other. But, the fundamentalists of the world don't want to have that conversation. I have invited fundamentalist Christians on many of my shows over the years. They don't want to do it. They don't want to come in to engage in dialogue.

David Grossman [an Israeli writer featured on the series] says about Samson that he was the first suicide bomber. There's no record in the Bible of anybody before Samson using his body to kill other people. And Grossman went on to say that fundamentalists like Samson and like the [extremist] Muslims of today, live in hermetic realities, closed systems. Systems that invite no criticism, invite no conversation, invite no commentary--and that's very dangerous in a world where there are almost nine billion of us, and each of us comes stamped with a different DNA, and we have a need to try to see the other, so that we know when to fear him and when not to fear him.

So how does one oppose extremism? Is the huge attraction for it a sign that secular enlightenment has failed in some way?

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