Musings

Robert Cotner, Editor


“So, you’ve written a lot about the life of the mind lately. I have a question.”

“Fire away!”

“In your years of reading — you are, some would say, an old man now...”

“Watch it!”

“In your many years of reading, what is the most important book you’ve read in developing the life of the mind?”

“The Bible.”

“The Bible? You must be religious!”

“I was, very religious — obnoxiously religious — in my younger years. But not now.”

“Why not now? Have you lost your faith?”

“Not my faith but my religion.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Of course. But that’s not the question you were pursuing.”

“You’re right. Why the Bible?”

“Well, I grew up a Baptist, and, as you know, the Baptists consider the Bible itself sacred — some churches participate in bibliolitry — the very worship of the Word. And I came under that influence from my earliest years. I had read the Bible, cover to cover, by the time I was 18. I have read it in its entirety twice since then. So, the Bible by its shear presence in my life has been important.”

“But you say you’re not religious — didn’t it ‘take’?”

“The Bible impacted my thinking and my wider reading. I went from reading the Bible to reading John Bunyan, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Malcolm Muggeridge, Ralph Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and many others.”

“But many of those you mentioned are not ‘religious’. Why do you mention them?”

“All that I read is impacted by the Bible, whether directly related or not. I became a better student, a more thorough reader, a more sound scholar because of the influence of the Bible — particularly when you think of the importance of the Bible in American life and literature over the years.”

“Beyond your reading and scholarship, what one thing do you attribute to the Bible in your intellectual life?”

“I suppose it’s my humility.”

“Your humility! I know a hundred people who know you, and I am sure humility would not be a part of their descriptive language of you!”

“Maybe it’s just a figment of my imagination!”

“Or a figment of your arrogance.”

“Careful now! But you asked a good question. I would have to say that the life of the mind as I know it is dominated by an uncanny, irrepressible, and consuming love of people, which I believe emerges from my extensive association with the Bible over the years.”

“Does that explain your current profession?”

“Of course. And the dozen other professions I’ve been in since 1958.”

“But let’s go back to religion. You say you are not now religious?”

“Right. Religion is the attention to external forms, processes, and belief-manifestations, which you see often in young people. These are important, as the rules of grammar are important, to learn to shape into habits and to give a sense of security in life.”

“You don’t need that now?”

“I once knew a devoutly religious elderly man whom I respected very much. He explained his religiosity by saying, ‘I’m preparing for finals!’ I know other elderly people who find a loss of basic security in themselves and in human institutions as they grow older, and they become religious. I have not found a loss of personal security.”

“What gives you the sense of security you have?”

“I suppose it is the life of the mind, which I nurture and extend on a daily basis — as I used to cultivate my religious life as a young person.”

“But isn’t that a form of religion?”

“Not at all. I would call it spirituality, a spacious sense of being connected with people, ideas, and truths — primarily through books, art, and association with spiritually sensitive people — which enrich life beyond expression. Let me put it this way: faith is a tree that flourishes in the soul, the fruits of which nurture us through life.”

“Could you give me a brief summary of your mature beliefs?”

“I can try. I would say that the Kingdom of Good emanates through Love from the domain of the human heart, transcends the whole realm of Nature, and establishes an equality of concern, kindness, generosity, and possibility among the peoples of the Earth, for the greatest, deepest, and highest common Good among all people.”

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