I am an Army brat, brought up on Army posts all over the world where the closest thing to religion was the non-denominational chapel on whatever Army base we happened to be near. I announced to my parents when I was 13 that I was an atheist. And I was a committed atheist all of my life. My view was that more evil had been done in the name of religion than anything else in the world. I saw no redeeming value in it at all. Then I met Jon Meacham and we began talking.
No, Jon didn’t convert me, but he did convince me that religion was not a subject to be dismissed or disdained. I began reading and studying and talking to people about religion and spirituality with Jon as my guide. My reaction to what I learned was threefold. First, I was embarrassed that I had shrugged off a subject that was so important to so many people in the world, particularly since I was a reporter of politics and culture. Secondly, I was amazed at how fascinating and exciting the study of religion was — and the more I learned, the more immersed in it I became. Third, I was moved by the yearning for something beyond oneself that drew so many people, even the doubters, to search for faith, especially after 9/11.
When I began talking about religion to people in Washington, normally a very cynical town, I was surprised at how interested they were and how much they wanted to talk about it. It was that continued fascination with the subject that led me and Jon to this conversation online.
I don’t have any idea who or what God is. But the closest explanation I’ve heard that makes sense to me is one of my favorite quotes from Martin Buber, the great theologian. “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
I still don’t know what to call myself. Years ago I went to the opening of “How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying” on Broadway. There was a moment when the star, Robert Morse, sang to himself in the mirror, “You have the cool clear eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth.” That sounds good to me.