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?
Yes. I think fundamentalism appeals in no small part because secularism—secular politics--failed to feed the soul. We're not going to change the fundamentalists. But we have to stand up and champion a secular democracy in which fundamentalists belong as comfortably as liberal Catholics belong. Secular democracy is about protecting everyone's identity and everyone's faith from the encroachment of others. We have to stand and defend a secular society against the fundamentalist forces that would like for the state to be the tool of their theology.
And is the only way to be in, or participate in, a secular democracy to not bring your own beliefs to the debate? How do you understand or make room for those who say, "My faith is who I am and imbues everything I do, I can't separate it from my politics"?
I agree with that. None of us can set aside our DNA when we are engaged in the world, as citizens, with each other. It's impossible for me to be a journalist without being influenced by my upbringing as a Baptist, as a Christian, as one who experienced the civil rights fights of the 1960s.
Martin Luther King is the epitome of what you're talking about. Martin Luther King was led to struggle for civil rights because of his moral beliefs. But, he didn't insist that other people be forced to accept or adopt his moral beliefs. Only that society be rearranged so that people like him, black people, had an equal voice in democracy. It's inevitable that you will bring your beliefs into the political struggles of our time, but it is essential to realize that your theology, your beliefs about God, cannot be enshrined in legislation or in policies of the state.
We mustn't miss the great significance of that verse in Isaiah that says, "Come now and let us reason together." This was spoken by a mighty prophet of God who had believed he had read God's mind and heart. He was saying, "Come now and let us reason together." That, to me, is the embodiment of how all of us, with belief or without beliefs, need to be involved in the public square.
I've never thought of that verse that way. Do you have a favorite biblical character or story or verse?
|His Favorite Verses|
So when I take those two verses together and hold them in front of me, one says, use your mind and your intelligence to relate to the other. The other says, relate to God, but relate to God by recognizing much of religion is incomprehensible and must be a journey and not a prescription.
How did you end up getting so fascinated journalistically by faith?
I spent five years getting a master of theology in seminary, the University of Edenborough in Scotland and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, and I grew up in a small Protestant culture where religion was as much a part of our lives as the humidity in the summer. We were drenched in religion. And so, I've always seen religion as a human appetite, in the same way that our appetite for food and drink is part of our nature.