Written by Fantasma el Rey
Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason is a wonderful three-disc set containing the seven episodes from his PBS show of the same title that aired in 2006. Moyers conducts interviews with various authors from Salman Rushdie to Will Power and Margaret Atwood to Pema Chodron about their thoughts on the topic of faith and reason. It comes together well and works marvelously, holding the viewers interest with each episode and person interviewed.
Bill Moyers is a journalist, analyst, news correspondent, and he even spent some time in politics as Press Secretary for L.B.J. His 1988 interview/ documentary with the legendary wiseman Joseph Campbell is something amazing in its own right and let’s not forget Moyer’s other grand project, Genesis: A Living Conversation. On Faith & Reason fits in perfectly with these great works. Working with twelve different authors the questions of faith and reason are pondered over and looked at from very different perspectives and points of view.
Episode One has Salman Rushdie for an hour of his own discussing the politicization of religion and its affects on artist. We also get to hear his thoughts on his book The Satanic Verses and all the years of living in hiding that the backlash from it forced upon him. He also reads a bit from his novel Shalimar The Clown, and we see his sense of humor shine through, not only in the reading but in the hour he has with Moyers.
Episode Two features novelist Mary Gordon and British Philosopher Colin McGinn. Gordon discusses her strong belief, how it led her to nearly becoming a nun and the way it affects her writing. On the other hand McGinn tells us of how he came to be an unbeliever. McGinn makes good points on reason and points out that criticizing someone’s faith doesn’t have be a persecution of their faith.
Episode Three features Jeanette Winterson and Will Power as they discuss myth in modern day and how it influences their writing. Winterson discuses how as a girl of 12 she was heavy into the Bible and by 16 she was an outcast from church and home because she fell in love with another girl. She explains how that experience helped her to be able to look at religion and myths and see them in a different light. The influence of myth and growing up in the inner city led Will Powers to think of a new way to present a classic myth, Seven Against Thebes, and flip it into The Seven, a hip, streetwise, rap interpretation that did well and brings the myths and heroes of old to the modern city and mixes them with their street equivalent.
Episode Four hosts authors Anne Provoost and Davis Grossman as they explore biblical tales from new angles through their novels. Provoost talks of what it means to be the chosen people and what it must fell like to be left behind on such epic occasions as the flood of Noah. Grossman gives his views on Samson and Noah as well. Both write children’s books and novels with this same fresh approach in mind, getting a new generation to think and see things differently.
Episode Five finds Moyers sitting across from Latino author Richard Rodriguez as he talks of how his religion chose him in spite of him being somewhat of an outcast in the church because his sexual orientation. Sir John Houghton is a climatologist and a lifelong Christian and here he tells how he came to his theory on the compatibility of both science and religious faith. A very interesting episode indeed, as Houghton puts forth his belief in faith and reason well.
Episode Six is where Canadian Margaret Atwood and Brit Martin Amis, both novelists and agnostics get to express and explain “the portrayal of fundamentalism in their works and its role in today’s world.” A great episode which highlights each’s thoughts on what they believe and why; they give good explanations of what it is to be agnostic as opposed to atheist. The two also explore the fundamentalism and fanaticism that any religion or belief is capable of. Amis’ takes a good look at the topic as he speaks of his work The Last Days Of Muhammad Atta, a fictional account of the terrorist’s final hours before his attack on New York. Myth comes back around too as Atwood discusses her book The Penelopiad, which takes a new look at the Odyssey through Odysseus’ wife Penelope’s eyes and what her struggle and feelings must have been like.
Episode Seven is the closing episode and is an hourlong talk with Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron. She is an American, raised Catholic and educated at U.C. Berkeley who found Buddhism after her life was turned upside down from her husband leaving her and her children. This quiet soul expresses what it is to suffer and meditate and further explains that she too has days where she would like to lash out at people but finds it within her to overcome that feeling on her journey to enlightment. Her knowledge and humble nature make this episode a pleasure to watch while her insight shines light on what it is to possess both faith and reason. An outstanding way to close the series with the bookends of two different yet very wise individuals.
Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason is a fascinating look at the topic with excellent interviews by Moyers of some of the most gifted writers and thinkers of our time. By the respondents having different outlooks and coming from different places and sometimes having vastly differing thoughts, this program holds one’s interest from minute one to minute 394. To skip an episode is only to deprive yourself of the knowledge and wisdom that these souls posses and are willing to share with us. From their sufferings and willingness to fight and not back down from the pressure or heated outburst at what they have put forth and given the world, comes their wisdom and different perspective on the world around us, past, present and future.
Be sure to check out the On Faith & Reason web pages at PBS.org for more information on the participants and the documentary itself.