I recently hosted a 10-part podcast series on belief, a topic that is seemingly outside of my wheelhouse. Though I come from generations of devout Catholics, I’m not much of a believer myself. I struggle with everything from the virgin birth and resurrection to the destructive, twisted behavior of some priests and the higher-ups who protected them. If that’s not enough, I am pro-choice and want to see women on the altar.
And yet. I am curious. Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” is on the bookshelf in front of me, next to C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” I just flew to Los Angeles to spend an afternoon with Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit who works in East Los Angeles with anyone who wants to leave the gang life to make biscuits (and go to group therapy and get drug tested) in his Homeboy Industries complex of goodness.
And, I believe in the power of human connection, which is expanded and fortified by sharing our deepest beliefs that we often keep strangely close to the vest. Anything we hide or wrestle with is interesting to me. And I hoped these conversations would help us all deal with the elephant in America’s living room. Have we become so uninterested in and dismissive of people unlike ourselves that we can’t be a functional country? Are we afraid we might hear something – a story that resonates, a hitch in the throat, a bit of honesty – that moves us, that changes us, that overwrites our own foundational beliefs?
I hope not. I hope I stay open. I hope I have a hundred more conversations like these in 2022 and beyond. With thanks to Imam Magid, Pastor Bob, Rabbi Michael, and seven other conversation partners, here are a few big takeaways from the series:
Believing some things and questioning others doesn’t make you less of a believer, it makes you human. In our conversation with Rainn Wilson, he said he struggles with the Baha’i position on homosexuality. Even still, he is devoted. Working through his areas of discomfort or outright disagreement helps him stay committed. The unlikely duo of evangelical Pastor Bob Roberts and Muslim Imam Mohamad Magid said a related thing in a different way: when we struggle, we create the possibility for a more rugged, durable belief. Leaders in their own organized religions, they respectfully debate, discuss and celebrate each other’s faiths as a fortifying element of their practice.
This is a concept we’ve touched on in almost all of the 70 plus podcasts I’ve produced: contact alters. We go to war, literally and figuratively, with faceless “others” because it’s too hard to sustain hatred once we learn even the simplest things about one another–where’d you grow up? What are your kids’ names? What food reminds you of childhood? No one exemplifies the unstoppable ways we affect each other better than Anthony Ray Hinton. Wrongfully convicted of murder, Mr. Hinton spent almost 30 years on death row in Alabama. During that time, he lived next to Henry Francis Hayes, a Ku Klux Klan member. In what I can only describe as a miracle, Ray and Henry became friends. They talked about their mothers, their childhoods, their favorite foods. When Henry was put to death years later, he asked Ray to be his only witness.
Every faith will tell you: serving is sacred. We are here to take care of one another and the earth we live on. As Rabbi Michael Lezak talked about working in the streets with people who have nearly given up on their own humanity. And the Christian writer Anne Lamott reminded us that when we serve others, we serve ourselves too. Life is infinitely better as a “person of generosity, rather than cringing, clutching and turning away.”
You could say this is the belief that animates “Kelly Corrigan Wonders” — that the act of wondering will help us think more, feel more, do more and be better. My guest Johann Hari put this so eloquently when he referred to our “junk values,” which drive us to prioritize material goods, power and status, but are really just “KFC for the soul” that will leave us hungry for something more sustaining. My guest Suhag Shukla shared a key tenet of the Hindu faith: everything is inherently divine. In both conversations, I could feel myself shrinking, taking up less of the frame, seeing past myself to something more majestic. We find what we seek. When we look carefully for divinity, even in the grimmest street scene, there it is.
Listen to the 10-part series on Kelly Corrigan Wonders (episodes #52-61, starting with guest, Michael Murray), available on Apple, Spotify and wherever you listen to podcasts. Corrigan thanks the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for inspiring and supporting this work.
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American Civic Life