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Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason
With the buzz around the book and then the film version of THE DA VINCI CODE reaching a fever pitch and The PASSION OF THE CHRIST ranked among the 10 highest-grossing movies ever, what is it about religion thatís got America hooked? It's an old debate between absolutes, the contrasting viewpoints of belief and disbelief that stirs the passions. From the popular to the public squareó79% of self-identified evangelical Christians cast ballots for President Bush in 2004óthe tug of war between reason between faith is the undercurrent of our society in what some see as a fundamentalist era. On one end of the spectrum people say, "Only religion counts." On the other end, "Only reason counts." How do we keep the public space between reason and faith, where most of us spend our lives, from becoming a no-man's land of constant warfare?
Neither wholly a believer nor wholly a skeptic, I've always been a fellow who falls in the middle of this one. I value democracy as a co-operative where compromise keeps the peace by enabling each of us to believe what we will, according to our own conscience while settling our political and economic differences by common sense. There's a moving verse in the Hebrew Bible: "Come now, and let us reason together." But there is also a moving verse in the Christian New Testament: "I believe. Help Thou my Unbelief." Most of us ride the seesaw of faith and reason. Yes, it's an ancient conflict, a long-running argument, but with all the fear, violence, and intolerance that grip our times, we have to come to terms with the fact that it must be reason and faith, not reason versus faith. Otherwise, we would tear our society apart as Europe so often did ó and may do yet again.
In a world of information overload, occupied by cell phones, iPods, the Internet, and a thousand channels where do we turn for direction? Recently some of the world's most provocative writers were gathered in New York by the PEN American Center to take on the issues of faith and reason. Their stories can help us see into the truth of experience that is obscured by the different meanings each faith assigns to the same language. Through craft and conscience, writers wrestle to negotiate between black and white. Their tales of suffering and redemption, war and peace, violence and love reflect the lived experience of human beings baffled by the language of theology and the abstractions of reason. Novelists, essayists, and poets help us clear a path through that briar patch of intractable viewpoints where desperate people searching for hope often get lost.
By holding language up like a kaleidoscope and turning it against the light, they tell and re-tell our individual stories and our collective human story and very often enable us to see the world through the lens of other people's reality. What could be more salient to the discussion of faith and reason in a time of polarized passions than to ask our creative minds from the world of literature for guidance through the absolutes and ambiguities of our age? In negotiating our way into the gray world between faith and reason, we need all the help we can get.