author of "A History of God," on Salon.com (if you don't
have a subscription to Salon, you'll have to watch a brief
advertisement to read the interview):
[Scientists] can explain a tremendous amount. But they can't talk
about meaning so much. If your child dies, or you witness a terrible
natural catastrophe such as Hurricane Katrina, you want to have a
scientific explanation of it. But that's not all human beings need.
We are beings who fall very easily into despair because we're meaning-
seeking creatures. And if things don't add up in some way, we can
become crippled by our despondency.
...In the pre-modern world, there were two ways of arriving at truth.
Plato, for example, called them mythos and logos. Myth and reason or
science. We've always needed both of them. It was very important in
the pre-modern world to realize these two things, myth and science,
were complementary. One didn't cancel the other out....
[Hating religion] is not what the Buddha would call skillful. If
you're consumed by hatred -- Freud was rather the same -- then this
is souring your personality and clouding your vision. What you need
to do is to look appraisingly and calmly on other traditions. Because
when you hate religion, it's also very easy to hate the people who
...This kind of chauvinism that says secularism is right, religion is
all bunk -- this is one-sided and I think basically egotistic. People
are saying my opinion is right and everybody else's is wrong. It gets
you riled up. It gives you a sense of holy righteousness, where you
feel frightfully pleased with yourself when you're sounding off, and
you get a glorious buzz about it. But I don't see this as helpful to
humanity. And when you suppress religion and try and get rid of it,
then it's likely to take unhealthy forms....
...Fundamentalism has developed in every single one of the major
traditions as a response to secularism that has been dismissive or
even cruel, and has attempted to wipe out religion. And if you try to
repress it -- as happened in the Soviet Union -- there's now a huge
religious revival in the Soviet Union, and some of it's not very
healthy. It's like the suppression of the sexual instinct. If you
repress the sexual instinct and try to tamp it down, it's likely to
develop all kinds of perverse and twisted forms. And religion's the
Religion is hard work. It's an art form. It's a way of finding
meaning, like art, like painting, like poetry, in a world that is
violent and cruel and often seems meaningless. And art is hard work.
You don't just dash off a painting. It takes years of study. I think
we expect religious knowledge to be instant. But religious knowledge
comes incrementally and slowly. And religion is like any other
activity. It's like cooking or sex or science. You have good art, sex
and science, and bad art, sex and science. It's not easy to do it
...Sacred texts have traditionally been a bridge to the divine.
They're all difficult. They're not a simple manual -- a how-to book
that will tell you how to gain enlightenment by next week, like how
to lose weight on the Atkins Diet. This is a slow process. I think
the best image for reading scripture occurs in the story of Jacob,
who wrestles with a stranger all night long. And in the morning, the
stranger seems to have been his God. That's when Jacob is given the
name Israel -- "one who fights with God." And he goes away limping as
he walks into the sunrise. Scriptures are a struggle.
...Faith is not a matter of believing things. That's again a modern
Western notion. It's only been current since the 18th century.
Believing things is neither here nor there, despite what some
religious people say and what some secularists say. That is a very
eccentric religious position, current really only in the Western
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