Do They Believe? Do We Care?| 06/11/2008
Eighteen intellectuals talk about God--wait, let me correct that--seventeen intellectuals and Jane Fonda talk about God in Do You Believe?: Conversations on God and Religion (Vintage, $12.95), a slender little volume of Q&A’s conducted by New York University film professor Antonio Monda. The most interesting aspect of the book is that, when asked the question “Do you believe in God?,” about half of them can’t answer!
Come on, people, it’s a yes-or-no.
The second, more depressing, aspect of it is that almost none of them have anything interesting or original to say, and quite a few lapse into the most timeworn cliches.
“I respect all religions,” “Jesus was a great thinker,” “Organized religion is responsible for so much hatred and war,” “I believe in a sprituality that transcends . . .” blah blah blah blah blah.
The two exceptions are Spike Lee and Elie Wiesel. Lee is an agnostic who nevertheless uses words like “redemption” and “salvation” with real understanding, and Wiesel, a believer, calls God’s allowance of human suffering (the stuff of his writing) “the great torment of my entire existence. The question I don’t know how to answer and that I don’t think anyone can answer. But even in these terrible moments I see not an absence [of God] but, rather, an eclipse.”
The less said about Jane Fonda’s quotations from the apocryphal gospel of Thomas, and her description of Christ as “the first feminist,” the better. She’s a walking advertisement for the implementation of a rule forbidding any Christian to speak in public for at least ten years after his or her conversion.
The other interviewees are Paul Auster, the late Saul Bellow, Michael Cunningham, Nathan Englander, Richard Ford, Paula Fox, Jonathan Franzen, Daniel Libeskind, David Lynch, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Martin Scorsese and Derek Walcott. Most readers will give up about halfway through, when Ford says, “I believe in the redemptiveness of art.” Somebody remind us to get him a nice El Greco to stare at if he ever faces a firing squad.