Meet the Press

Sunday’s episode of Meet the Press (hosted by Tim Russert) featured Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, and Jon Meacham, Newsweek’s editor and author of American Gospel.

You can download the mp3 of the episode (this week only) here, watch the episode here, and read the transcript here.

They discussed the topic of Faith in America.

Excerpts from their talk can be found after the jump

Both mentioned that atheists did have a place in this country, though they essentially sidestepped the question:

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham, in “American Gospel,” you write this and ask this question: “Can religion be a force for unity, not division, in the nation and in the world? The Founders thought so, and so must we.” Is there a place in this country for an atheist who is, who’s troubled by what he sees as too much religion in our politics?

MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely. That’s—there’s a theological case for religious freedom, to make this quickly, I am a believer, not a very good one, but I try.

DR. WARREN: I’m working on him.

MR. MEACHAM: The, the key thing, I think, is that if God himself did not compel obedience, then no man should try.

DR. WARREN: Yeah, that’s right.

MR. MEACHAM: And faith coerced is not faith, it’s tyranny.

DR. WARREN: Good point. Yeah.

MR. MEACHAM: It’s tyranny. And so Madison, Jefferson, Washington, all of the key founders, Franklin, were committed to the idea that you had to have this as a choice, and if you didn’t have the ability to choose not to believe, then it wasn’t a choice. I think there’s certainly room for atheists in the public square, as we call it, obviously, there is, best-selling books are written about it, it’s a moment of great ferment in that part of the world, that intellectual part of the world. And I think part of it’s a reaction to a—an alleged sense that religion has too much influence.

DR. WARREN: Right.

Did he just say atheists live in the “intellectual part of the world”? I knew it. Go atheists!

Their take on morality:

MR. RUSSERT: Can you have a moral basis without organized religion?

DR. WARREN: Of course you can.

MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely.


MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely.

On Sam Harris and the harm/good that religion causes:

MR. RUSSERT: Jon, you mentioned that the intellectual vitality now, it seems to be awakening in the atheist movement.


MR. RUSSERT: Sam Harris has written two books; the latest, “A Letter to a Christian Nation.” And on his Web site he writes this as part of the atheist manifesto. “Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities – Christian, Muslims, Jew, Hindus, etc. – and these divisions have become a continuous source of human conflict. Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine, the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Iran and Iraq, and the Caucasus are merely a few cases in point. In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last 10 years.

“In a world riven by ignorance, only the atheist refuses to deny the obvious:

Religious faith promotes human violence to an astonishing degree.”

MR. MEACHAM: [sarcastically] We’re unclear where Sam stands. Yes. I don’t think there—yes, religious feeling has fueled conflict from time immemorial. There’s no question about that. It has also brought people together. Religion itself, the one derivation of the word is to tie back one to another and one to, if you believe in a God, in an order beyond time and space. My, my argument against the, the atheist position is, yes, that’s a very shrewd diagnosis. But, forgive the phrase, what the hell are you going to do about it? You’re not going to take religion out of people’s lives. You can manage it, you can marshal it, as Rick tries to do. Rick’s one of the great marshallers of religious fervor of, of, of our time, or perhaps of any time. And the issue to me becomes one for the religious of humility. That is, you used a phrase a moment ago that pricked up my ears, millions of Christians on the march for good causes, what, what we can agree in a, in a civil conversation are good causes.

DR. WARREN: Yeah. Yeah. Right.

MR. MEACHAM: But, man, the phrase “millions of Christians on the march,” to so many people, it just makes them flinch, because millions of Christians on the march have done a great deal of harm throughout history. Crusades, pogroms, any number of things, the things that Sam was writing about. So how do we take something that is there, that we’re not going to get rid of, you can’t legislate religion out of human experience. You can try to legislate it out of politics and government—I don’t think it’s going to be very successful, but you could try—but if you accept that it’s going to be a factor in human affairs, then what you do about it at that point? I would submit that we should argue that the religious, particularly Christians, should acknowledge the centrality of humility in their faith, and have a sense of history about it.

Christians are—Jews and Christians are fundamentally taught that we don’t know everything.

DR. WARREN: Mm-hmm.

MR. MEACHAM: That, as St. Paul said, “We see through a glass darkly.” That wonderful moment in Job when God says out of the whirlwind, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” I’ve always wanted to stick in “buddy,” you know. We’re taught that we all may, all may be revealed, but it sure ain’t now, as, as we say where I come from. So we should understand that we’re called to do good, we’re called to live our lives, but we don’t have a monopoly on truth. And so we have to watch the proselytization that, that can be a byproduct of the wonderful work Rick is talking about.

And the other’s a sense of history. The wonderful thing—arguably the central thing about the American experiment that we should celebrate today and everyday is that we recognize the excesses of the old world and of our own colonial experience in the name of religion. What Sam was writing about, we saw, understood. Washington said, “The government of the United States shall give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.” Madison and Jefferson were ferocious advocates of religious liberty out of personal experience. Madison as a young man is said to have heard the cries of Baptist ministers being tortured by the Anglican establishment in Virginia. Jefferson was furious in the notes on the state of Virginia that Quakers were denied the rights of custody for children in—under an established church in Virginia. They understood their history, so they wanted to do everything they could to make the world better as they moved forward. And they did that not by banning religion, not by denouncing it, but by trying to manage it and marshal it. And I think that’s what we’re called to do.

DR. WARREN: Well, but let me say this to you. You’re exactly right. Sam is overlooking the 20th century. Because the truth of the 20th century is more people were killed in the 20th century by atheist governments than all Christian ideas throughout history combined. When you look at the godless communism, and, and Nazism—which in itself was, was we’re the ruler—tens and tens of millions, maybe a hundred million people were killed in the 20th century by atheists, not by believers. So yes, you can go back to the Crusades, and they were wrong. They were flat out wrong. But let’s take the most recent history. Atheists were what caused the most people—Stalin was an atheist, Mao was an atheist, Hitler was an atheist. He was an occultist, actually. And, and so let’s just make sure that history is told.

Plenty of evidence exists to show Hitler was not an atheist. Stalin may have been an atheist but he was not committing crimes in the name of atheism. I certainly never heard anyone equate the Nazi mindset of “lets kill the Jews” with an atheistic point of view. That makes no sense.

[tags]Tim Russert, Meet the Press, Jon Meacham, Rick Warren, American Gospel, the Purpose Driven Life, atheist, atheism, Christian, evangelical, politics, religion, Sam Harris, Letters to a Christian Nation, Newsweek, God, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Palestine, Balkans, Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Caucasus, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Crusades, Quakers, St. Paul[/tags]

  • txatheist

    I saw it and wish the main stream media would represent the secular/liberal side better on these shows. I did catch the phrase where more deaths occurred in the last 100 years by atheists but the Thirty Years war is still the leader. Rick Warren did say Hitler was an occultist in the same sentence that he said he was an atheist. It’s also hard to have an atheist murderer 200+ years ago when heretics were tortured or killed.

  • Marty

    This interview and others, plus the AIDS conference he held has made me a big fan of Rick Warren. I like his inclusiveness as well as being really quite respectful of Atheists – for a Christian Pastor. I think his bringing Obama, Brownback, Bono, Gates, Franklin Graham, Laura Bush and 55 others together to set aside their differences and focus on overcoming AIDS (and he is also very strong on poverty) is truly amazing and to be supported. He has received a tremendous amount of criticism from the Christian right for inviting Obama – and I loved his answer to the question of why. He said something like that if he only worked with people who agreed with him on every subject, no one would show up – including his wife.

    I am hopeful that Atheists will find much to like about Warren (I realize it may not be some of his theology – but I too don’t like some of his theology) and he can become a rallying point for inclusion and doing good for the world.

  • Marty

    How about Atheists forming “Atheists for Good” and selecting some great causes to become involved with and support. Warren’s focus on AIDS and poverty, etc may be worthy of your consideration – and may do a lot of good in changing perceptions/prejudices relative to Atheists.

  • Valhar2000

    I must that these two guys do seem to be a several orders of magnitude better than all the other guys, but only because the bar has been set so low by Christianity is the US. However, annoying though some of their talk is, it seems that these two are people one can actually work with and compromise with (which is really all that is needed).

  • txatheist

    How about Atheists forming “Atheists for Good” and selecting some great causes to become involved with and support.

    I’m sure most atheists would see the works of AA, FFRF and AU for sep of church and state as foundations doing good works. Educating us on what we perceive as violations of our civil rights is a constant battle.

  • Siamang

    I wonder… how many millions of needless deaths because of the Catholic Church’s fight against condom use in Africa?

    Bloodier than any war ever fought. And all to protect the sacred sperm.

  • txatheist

    I understand the Catholic church’s stance on birth control but isn’t Bush(ultra-conservative leaders) also a huge problem? Didn’t he just reduce funding that provided condoms?

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