Bill Moyers Journal continues to impress. This week Moyers talks to Jonathan Miller about his (Miller’s) new documentary “A Brief History of Disbelief.” It’s a wonderfully frank conversation about faith (or the lack thereof), probably in no small part because of Moyers’s resume includes ordination as a Baptist minister. One thing in particular that struck me is Miller’s description of the events people often associate with spirituality – birth, death, sunsets – as “vulgar”:
I have moments of – I suppose you might call them transcendent feelings; feelings which rise above what is immediately in front of me. But on the other hand, they’re almost entirely the result of what is immediately in front of me. Not birth; not death, though those are extremely important, and do give rise to very strong feelings. But often, just simply seeing that things are arranged in the way that they are. That there are ripples in the sand once the tide has gone out.
To which Moyers responds by referencing William Carlos Williams:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Which exchange is beautiful in ways I can’t really articulate.
And so the question I’m left with is, why is it that Christianity (and the big religions in general) seem to have such a strong association with platitudes on the lines of “sunsets make me feel spiritual” – is it because the mainstream absorbs cliches? Is it because platitudes are part of the luggage we get from our parents, (frequently) along with our religious faith?