This American Life: “Godless America”

At a time when House Majority Leader Tom Delay calls for enacting a “Biblical world view” in government, when Christians are asserting their ideals in the selection of judges, in public school science classes and elsewhere, [the Public Radio International series] This American Life spends an hour trying to remember why anyone liked the separation of church and state in the first place.

This is exceptional radio.

Here’s a link to the online RealAudio file.

8 Responses to “This American Life: “Godless America””

  1. Bob Kennedy Says:

    The high point for me was the Julia Sweeney piece. I’m in the process of reading the Bible from start to finish (I’m only as far as Exodus; it’s a recent project) and it really strikes me what dicks the heroes of the Old Testament are! I was in a production of Joseph/Dreamcoat several years ago and was unsure what moral lessons I was supposed to draw from the story. My current theories are a) these are the stories of rough men in rough times, b) the very notion of virtue and what God finds favorable is something that gets refined a lot over the millennia, and c) God grades on a curve.

    Sort of related: I tried to start a religious-themed/socially relevant web comic a while back. The response I got was pretty unfavorable. Still, Steve, I’ve been making sniping criticisms of your work for years now and here’s your chance to give a little back, if you’re so inclined:

  2. Leviathan Says:

    I listened to this last weekend in rapt silence. What an amazing piece of radio!

    Bob’s right: Julia Sweeney’s piece is the hioghlight, but that’s a testimony to her brilliance, as the entire show was stunning!

    Hats off to the courage of Glass and Sweeney and the rest of the participants.

    And mourn for an America where doing such a show takes courage.

  3. Roger Buck Says:

    So much pressure for other writing and so little time … to listen to the radio … to write something on this topic here … or to write Steve the letter I’ve meant to so long about how powerful and amazing Hard Time is …

    But, for what it’s worth, I’m not sure Church and State can ever be separated.

    If anyone wants to know why, I post a recent two paragraphs I wrote on John Paul II.

    And if you think this paragraph is about a defense of a pro-life position, you’re reading it superficially. It’s much more about *epistemology* and how we derive the values we do …

    Here they are:

    On closer examination, the very idea of ‘legitimate autonomy of the civil sphere’ is fraught with complexity. No-one, we submit, seriously thinks the authors of Gaudium et Spes, which as it happens, included Karol Wotyla himself, intended legitimate autonomy to mean autonomy without values. Rather, such autonomy must be based on *some* kind of values. And ultimately it can be argued that all values are based on *some* kind of faith. Obviously the values John Paul upholds regarding abortion are based on a theological faith that the unborn child is a human created in the image of God and deriving inalienable rights from that fact.

    What is less commonly recognised is that the idea of a mother’s ‘right to choose’, is of necessity *also* based on a kind of faith. In this case, faith in such ideas that the unborn child is nothing other than an integral part of the mother’s organism to do with as she pleases, faith that the Church’s teaching is wrong and so forth, is invariably involved. All of these positions can be said to be constitutive of a secular faith, inasmuch as they are positions of seriously held belief, serious enough to be seen as sufficient to order culture, even in the gravest matters of life and death. Something of this faith is evident in Michael Moore’s popular declaration: ‘An embryo is an embryo, a fetus is a fetus, and a baby is a baby. … When it is a baby, then it becomes a human baby’ (200, 133) as though this is dogma we ought to take on board, coming from on high, , as it were, without further explanation..

  4. Richard Beland Says:

    I’m an atheist and I don’t need the Bible to tell me what’s right and what’s wrong. (The Bible is full of contradictions, anyway: “an eye for an eye”, “turn the other cheek”.) People know right from wrong. Having grown up in northern Ontario, Canada, I can tell you even a wolf pack has rules and regulations — and they got there without the biblical homilies. I’m sure humans had it figured out a million years before anyone conceived of a “Divine Creator”.

    Had what figured out? What Alex in “A Clockwork Orange” screamed while undergoing the torture of “Ludovico’s Technique”: “…every veck on earth has the right to live and be happy without being beaten and tolchocked and knifed.” At that point he was only telling them what he thought they wanted to hear, but it was something he knew all along. Violence was his CHOICE. (By the way, you don’t need to read “A Clockwork Orange” to know right from wrong, either.)

    Keep church and state separate. Don’t think for a minute that it’s impossible for history to repeat itself. There might come a time when heretics are burned at the stake.

  5. Bart Lidofsky Says:

    The English versions of the Bible are also full of politically motivated mistranslations. The “eye for an eye” is a commonly quoted one. The Hebrew word that is translated as “for” is better translated with “is replaced by”. Destruction does not replace anything. It is a law of compensation, NOT a law of revenge. Idiots later on have taken it as a law of revenge.

  6. Scott Koblish Says:

    I also really enjoyed that episode of This American Life, it was really refreshing.

    At a time when it seems America can’t get enough of their vengeful Middle-Eastern God (a direct competitor of the Egyptian Pantheon, no less!) micromanaging their lives – from what football team wins the championship to whether it rains in Alabam this week – it was really nice to have an hour dedicated to question the conditioning… Now, if only we can get everyone to figure out that Jesus didn’t look like one of the Allman Brothers, I think we’ll be well on our way!


  7. Claudio Piccinini Says:

    You won’t get nothing good in “reading the Bible from start to finish”, especially if this is done out of resentment of some kind.

    “Keep church and state separate”.
    They are. Too many people just don’t want to see this. And you don’t have to read the whole Bible to understand why. Just the Gospels.

  8. Pete Says:

    It’s very depressing that we are fighting in the Middle East to bring democracy but here we are losing bits of ours. I wish extremist here in the USA would look at how well Fudamentalist run gov’ts are doing in Egypt/Saudi Arabia/Iraq/etc. Those arent very nice places to live.