The man behind the NPR program “This American Life” believes in stories, not in God. But, in an interview with Beliefnet, he has interesting things to say about his Jewish upbringing and religion generally:
Would you want your kids to bar mitzvah?
I don’t know. Culturally I am a Jew. I don’t have a choice about it. You can’t lose your cultural heritage like luggage at the airport. It’s a part of me. But my kids…it is weird to indoctrinate your child into something that you don’t believe. It violates some sort of golden rule. I don’t think it is bad to raise your child as an atheist, but I say that as someone without children.
I have to say that when I go to synagogue I find it very…if you don’t believe in God, what business do you have being in a synagogue? When I go into a synagogue, I know the songs, I read Hebrew, it is very reassuring to be there. It is a part of my life that hasn’t changed; it is like walking back into my childhood. But at some point you do notice the words and prayers and, as someone who doesn’t believe, it feels weird to use other’s moment of worship as a moment of nostalgia. It feels disrespectful; they are not there to entertain me. It feels strange to be chanting something with everyone else, but not believe it – it feels wrong. …
When you are interviewing religious people, do you think that their belief is just an experience that differs from your own or do think they are delusional?
I have a polite and a not-so-polite answer, and the polite answer is a huge part of what I feel. And that answer is: that is their experience of the world, it is different than mine. And then there is another part of me that is not so charitable which feels that what they are saying is nonsense. There is no big daddy in the sky but they need to tell themselves this story for whatever reason, and I am glad that is not me.
Ten years ago, when I was thinking about religion a lot more because a lot of things were happening at the same time, I did have moments when I really wished that I had faith, that I had the reassurance of that, that I could believe. But I don’t feel that way any more at all–ever. A couple of years ago I read a book by Bertrand Russell called “Why I Am Not a Christian.” And he lays out a thesis for how destructive religion is, and I remember thinking, “Wow, that is not someone who was raised in the United States of America.” Before that, it had not occurred to me that religion was causing a lot of unhappiness for people–people are estranged from each of other, people think there is something wrong with themselves because the faith they were raised in tells them that they are sick, whatever it is. But I wasn’t seeing this part, because the people who I am closest to who have faith, their experiences of it are so positive.