Beliefnet
Naomi Judd
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Alex Wong
Susan Sarandon is one of the best-known and successful actresses in America. She has won acclaim with roles in films like "Bull Durham"  and "Thelma and Louise." Now she's starring alongside Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey in the updated fairy tale "Enchanted." She sat down with Beliefnet and spoke candidly about her problems with organized religion, why Jesus was an activist, and more.

In "Enchanted," you play a villainess. As an actor, how do you get the inspiration to play such an evil character?

You just have to kind of surrender to the kind of iconic, elegant, evil villainesses that you've seen through all of the Disney cartoons, and just have fun with it. Those are the kind of characters that just love being manipulative and evil. They're so powerful, and so missing any moral bottom line that they just never have a doubt.

The movie is a fairy tale. Why do you think people continue to be attracted to fairy tales?

They're all tales that I think harken back to when people were telling stories around the fire. They're the fight of good and evil. And I don't think we ever outgrow our need for those kind of stories. You love to hate the bad queen and you cheer for the hero. I think that's just part of a very deep-rooted, primal need that goes back to the very beginning of civilization. I don't think we would ever outgrow that.

How would you describe your personal spiritual beliefs?

I believe in the divinity of every human being. And I try to live my life with as much compassion and kindness toward that end, of respecting other people. I suppose this, then, leads to some kind of sense of extended responsibility.

I believe in the power of a higher divine of some sort. But I think that is probably what informs all my decisions is the idea of the divine in each person. And I try to act according to that belief.

How do you incorporate those beliefs into your everyday spirituality?

I think you lead by example more than just words. I would hope that my kids have seen me in action, protecting and helping those that have been less fortunate than I have been. I hope that they see that in my daily struggles with making my own moral decisions that I try to be as thoughtful as possible.

But, mostly, I think you lead by example because as your kids get older, preaching to them doesn't really work.

Are there any particular rituals that you have with your family?

I love the holidays. We have lots of rituals that are about the holidays. Thanksgiving is my favorite because it has the least pressure. We always have a very large Thanksgiving because we do it with another family that lives near our country house. They have five in their family, and we have five in ours. And then there's always at least ten other people who are either at loose ends or in town just for a little while. We do a communal meal, so people all contribute. And then we all go around the table and say what we're thankful for.

I'm very big at making scrapbooks of every vacation. Now that I'm getting older, I realize I have to do one for each child, rather than have them fight over the family one when we pass. I think it's very important, as a parent, to be aware that you're creating memories for your kids. I always steal the pictures, or get them together and try to do a book. And they kind of look at them. And then, a year later, they go, "Oh, I just really looked at that book. And that's great!"

I think as they get older, they'll be very happy to have some kind of documentation of family trips. I'm very big on family trips. Of course, it gets more and more difficult. My daughter has graduated from college. My other son is in college. And then I have a 15-year-old. But we try to carve out time whenever we can.

Is there a particular religious person, or spiritual person, you look up to?

I've always been very resistant to organized religion. Because, somehow, when religion becomes institutionalized, all the guys that started it that were so brilliant …their words get used to exclude other people. I've always felt that institutionalized religion never really made the transition from the words of Christ, or the words of Buddha, or the words of Confucius. I have to say that Sister Helen [Prejean, the nun whose role Sarandon played and for which she won an Oscar in "Dead Man Walking"] has found a way to be a religious person in a world that is not very spiritual. And she has found a way to find the purity of the Catholic doctrine, and a lot of the other gospels, in a way that I find very inspiring. She reminds me that it is possible to take the pure essence of religion, which is about taking care of your neighbor, and being generous and looking for justice for all and all of those things. And she finds a way to make it live in the present.

You and Tim [Robbins, Sarandon's longtime partner] are so well known for being peace activists. What are some ways that regular people can help bring peace into the world?

I think it really starts with your neighbors. I think it starts with your everyday life and living as Christ did, in a loving way and a respectful way. That, then, leads to questioning other things. And you find in your heart what resonates with you. And then you have to take action, whether it’s in the street, or licking envelopes, or writing to your congresspeople, or taking care of veterans when they come home. I think that you have to not be result-oriented in order to look back on your life and think it was a life well lived. I think that it's every single day, the choices that you make in the presence of how you go towards truth and justice. And it's an individual decision how that manifests itself.

There is certainly so much need in the world for compassion. Every action is a political action. The only thing I'm completely sure of is that inaction is not acceptable.

I think that Christ was an activist. Christ wasn't afraid. His life is an example of activism. I think that the gap between the rich and the poor contributes to the pain of the world. I think that that anything you can do that helps to alleviate this huge gaping gap between the rich and the poor will eventually make the world a more peaceful place.

Do you believe that celebrities have a moral obligation to give back to the community?

I think everyone has a moral obligation. And being a celebrity, when you try and cynics berate you for trying, that's a really sad state of affairs because you are more vulnerable to criticism as a person that's somehow media connected.

But I think that every person has a responsibility to give back. The strongest antidote for hopelessness is to find a way to give back because, also, the people that you're coming in contact with are so inspiring. And all of the things that have kept me going have been grassroots organizations, gestures, people that I've met that are unsung heroes that do give back. It has nothing to do with being a celebrity. It has to do with just, you know, reaching out to other human beings and working together to alleviate pain, or ignorance or racism or sexism or hunger or any of the different things that make life so miserable for so many people. And when you lose faith in your elected officials, and when you are holding on to a war that's as devastating as this, I think that's what gives you hope for your children, is when you see that there is an army of unsung heroes that are, every day, living their lives in an honorable fashion and who give back. And it has nothing to do with celebrity.

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