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More with Bill Moyers
No, I don't have a favorite, but I have a genre that I like, which is people who want to talk because they want to reveal, not to conceal, their mind's thinking. And the great drought that has visited politics today is because none of these politicians want to be interviewed to reveal anything. They want to be interviewed for the sound bite and the safe position. I had a mentor at the university of Texas ... who said that news is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity. I don't think there's any production value greater than the human face, and watching the faces of the people that I interview as they actually listen to the questions and wrestle with the answers is a joy to behold.
Jeannette Winterson told you it's a dark time to be a writer and that we might be going into a "cultural dark ages." Do you agree?
I can certainly see what she means by that, and I certainly in moments of pessimism myself believe the triumph of the anti-science of the right, the triumph of political ideology that is not challenged by religious people who would rather see their president in power than to see any president held accountable. Yes, and I see the lack of quality in our public discourse as revealed on the cable channels, on Fox News, on talk radio, indicating that if people do see the light they quickly stamp it out. And yes, I'm deeply troubled that our democratic discourse, our philosophical explorations and our religious understanding are all reduced to bumper stickers and sound bites.
I'm guessing you don't have your own television set to Fox News.
No, I don't. I find the official view of reality a grave danger to my own health, my own state of mind and to the state of democracy as well. And Fox News is a ministry of information for Rupert Murdoch and his minions.
On uncertainty and Sir John Houghton:
He's one of the world's leading scientists ... (also) a lifelong Christian, born into a Baptist family in England, reconfirmed his commitment when he was a student at Oxford. And he says the greatest thing you can say as a scientist is the greatest thing you can say as a believer: "I don't know." And I find that's closer to the lived experience of most of us than the thunderbolts and denunciations and proclamations of the militants, of the fundamentalists, of the dogmatists and the literalists.
Don't you find people less and less comfortable with ambiguity and saying "I don't know"?
Yes, I think that partially explains the rise of fundamentalism in our world. Rushdie says the most disturbing thing that's happened in modern times is how faith has been turned into a political religion used as a club to bash other people. And he says the failure of secular politics, the failure of compromise, negotiation, irresolution, to provide meaning to people's lives is the reason certitudes and absolutes are attractive. And when we leave the argument to the polar extremes, it throws all of us back and forth between wanting to be as assertive and declarative as the true believer but knowing in our heart and our mind that that isn't true to the core of our experience.
In "The Power of Myth," I said to Joseph Campbell, "Are you a man of faith?" He said, "It's not a matter of faith with me. It's a matter of experience." And what he was talking about, I think, which I realized at the hospital that night, was the mysterium tremendum, that great mystery that we feel in the presence of music or with love or with the arrival of a child. That experience which takes us beyond language and beyond definitions to some awareness that can not be articulated.
As I said earlier, I believe in the ability of the storyteller to take us there. They can lead us to a place where our individual self-worth and our hunger for community are not mutually exclusive. And that is to me the tragedy of America today. People do long for individuality. We are a nation of individuals. Self-worth is important to a healthy constitituion. But we also hunger for community, and America is not satisfying that hunger now. And that gets back again to the explanation for fundamentalism, is that fundamentalism gives you instant neighbors, gives you instant community. You go to that church, it's full of strangers, but you feel like you belong because of the certitude that's there, the company is there, the challenge is there, and it's all like-minded people. I discovered some years ago that talking only to people who agree with you is like jogging in a cul de sac. It gets repetetive and redundant and unrevealing after a while.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company