Bill Moyers's new seven-part series, "Faith & Reason," airs Fridays, starting June 23, on PBS. Click here to watch a video greeting from Moyers.

Series Sneak Peek
Bill Moyers With Pema Chödrön
Episode Seven
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• Martin Amis
• Richard Rodriguez
• Anne Provoost
• Jeanette Winterson
• Mary Gordon
• Salman Rushdie

Bill Moyers: The Beliefnet Interview
By Michael Kress

Why did you decide to just interview writers, rather than speaking to theologians, pastors, etc.?
The PBS series "Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason" features interviews with provocative authors including Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Mary Gordon, and Margaret Atwood. To see more clips, participate in discussions, check airtimes in your area, and explore the many issues raised in the series click here:  

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
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.