Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 22, 2014


Host: Ted Simons

Author Thomas Moore


  • Thomas Moore, author of the bestselling “Care of the Soul,” will talk about his new book, “A Religion of One's Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World.” In a Religion of One's Own, Moore looks at the possibilities of creating a personal spiritual style, inside or outside of formal religion.
Guests:
  • Thomas Moore - Author
Category: Education   |   Keywords: education, book, author, personal, spiritual, religion,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Best-selling author Thomas Moore is perhaps best known for "Care of the Soul," a book that helped readers find and develop the sacred rewards of everyday life. Moore is out with a new book titled "A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World." In the book, Moore looks at how a sense of purpose can be found and cherished by way of a personal spiritual style, inside or outside a formal religious structure. We're pleased now to welcome Thomas Moore to "Arizona Horizon." It's good to see you. Thank you for joining us.

Thomas Moore: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: "A Religion of One’s Own," interesting. Explain.

Thomas Moore: It will take a while.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Thomas Moore: Well, my thought is that when people think of religion, they usually think of an organization to join. You become a member. And you're told what to think and what to believe and, which is fine, but it's -- you're kind of surrendering yourself. And I think that that goes too far, not only that, but times are changing and an awful lot of people don't want to do that anymore. They're turning away from religion. In my book, I wanted to bring people back to religion, but in a different way.

Ted Simons: Interesting. Give me a definition of religion.

Thomas Moore: My definition of religion would be something that we would experience ourselves. For example, a lot of mysterious things that go on in our lives, like, well, like sickness, getting really sick. That is a mysterious thing. It comes on and you don't know where that came from or what to do. Or divorces or, you know, a death in the family. So, those mysteries. My definition is that religion is the creative response to those mysteries that we have to deal with.

Ted Simons: How does that differ from spirituality?

Thomas Moore: It differs in this way, that what I'm trying to do is connect -- I use the word religion because I want to connect this idea of having your own religiousness with the traditions. I want to say that we can learn a great deal. Traditions can be resources for us. So, we don't have to go to them and say I surrender to you. You can say, I really like what you're doing. Can you teach me something? Do you have something that will help? So, it is a different thing. I want to keep the idea of religion there rather than just sort of spirituality as an undefined thing.

Ted Simons: But so many people look at religion, at faith in and of itself as a surrendering, with faith a surrendering of belief or having to see something as proof. Don't you need a little bit of surrender?

Thomas Moore: Absolutely. You do. You need a little bit. We have gone way too far. Religions are beautiful. This is the thing. I, you know, I have a Ph.D. in religion. I have studied religion all of my life. I was a monk. I’m really into religion. I love the religious traditions, all of them. But they have a dark side. They have a side that doesn't work for a lot of people. They tend to be too authoritarian. They’re a little bit afraid of the body and sexuality. Gender issues come up. That kind of thing. They want to tell you too much what to do. I'm telling you, I mean, that -- that is not my experience. I hear all of these people are telling me that they just can't go back to the religion that they grew up in because they don't want to get that involved that way. They don't want to give themselves up.

Ted Simons: And traditional religion says that's part of the deal.

Thomas Moore: I know.

Ted Simons: You follow us. We don't change because --

Thomas Moore: I know.

Ted Simons: Because you changed. You have to stick with us.

Thomas Moore: Yeah.

Ted Simons: How do you respond to that?

Thomas Moore: That's fine. Religions want to do that, I think that is important. They are traditions, and they have to be careful to keep their traditions intact because they will just become anything if people just start making things up right and left. I understand that motive. But at the same time that they do that, we, as individuals, I think, have to think for ourselves. I think a lot of people approach religion and understand it from when they were children. A lot of people haven't had much study in this thing or are not terribly sophisticated about religion. And so they -- I think the point is that we can be more adults in our relationship to those traditions.

Ted Simons: I can hear critics saying that religion can't be a buffet like --

Thomas Moore: I know, yes.

Ted Simons: How do you respond to that criticism?

Thomas Moore: I just say that I like buffets. It's fine with me if -- that is a good way to go about it. I have got so much from the different traditions. I could list like right now probably five or six religious traditions that have just transformed me because of what I have taken from them but I never became a member of any of them. So, there is a lot of richness in them. But I agree with -- with the criticism that we can be too superficial and just picking a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But you don't have to do it that way. You can really get into something. You don't have to get a Ph.D. in it, but you can read something, a tradition, or go to another -- learn some prayers in another religion, and it is amazing how it can affect you and not be superficial at all.

Ted Simons: What about the fellowship of being around like-minded believers, if you will?

Thomas Moore: Well, that's important for a lot of people and if that's what -- if that is really important, a person should do that certainly. However, I think that what I spell out here, I spell out how to do your own religion. All of the details. How to do it. And I think if you do it that way, you will still have community, but it will come from the fact that you have done so much yourself that -- that as you go deeper into the nature of what it means to a human being in this world, and what the world is like and developing your values, you will find a community that may be stronger and deeper than the kind you find just going to a building.

Ted Simons: I know that some would say, you write in the book, everything from classical music, flower arranging, reading Hemingway can be part of one's religion, and the subtitle of the book, a guide to creating a personal spirituality in a secular world. Are those things -- some would say that those things are secular. They're not necessarily secular.

Thomas Moore: Not necessarily. When I studied religion, I went to Syracuse University and studied there. We -- a field called religion and literature. We studied poets, Emily Dickinson, writers -- people like that. We saw how -- we studied how they explored some of these questions really deeply with a lot of insight and penetration. So much so that they were equally important or at least they were an important piece to add to the sacred text that you get from the religions. So, it is a way of looking of what we have considered to be secular, to see that there is more to it than that, that the artist, especially, penetrates so deeply that they can supplement our religious understanding.

Ted Simons: When you hear a Glen Gould recording or you go to an art museum and you see a painting or you -- you walk, take a hike in nature, and that feeling, everyone has felt it, can't deny this out there, you felt it, this just -- you call it bliss.

Thomas Moore: Yeah.

Ted Simons: Is that religion? Is that spirituality?

Thomas Moore: In my definition it is. In my definition, it is religion. First of all, it is a practice. You're doing something. And it is a practice that makes sense to you because of the way you have thought it through. That is your theology in a way, how you understand the world and for you, nature may be an important source of your spiritual nurture. For somebody else, like me, Glen Gould does it. But then I look at Glen Gould, his writings, some of the things he reflected on, and he talks about how for him, playing music was a way of touching divinity. And I take that seriously. I don't take it as a mere metaphor. Same with Edgar Mitchell. He goes off as an astronaut to the moon. On his way back he says that he just had a sense of the -- the Unity of everything and how everything is connected. He came back a transformed person. I would call that religion. That was a -- because we don't usually think of it that way, we explain it psychologically or in some other terms.

Ted Simons: Do we use religion too much as a way of rules? Things to follow.

Thomas Moore: Yes.

Ted Simons: And some would say you need rules, you need things to follow. How does that -- how do you work that dynamic?

Thomas Moore: I don't think we need religion for those rules and that kind of guidance as much as we used to. We know so much more. People are more sophisticated than they used to be. We tend not to be sophisticated in religion. If we are, I think we would say, I don't need rules so much as I need some way to raise my kids so that they will be sensitive human beings with a sense of values. How do I do that? That's the religion of that family, let's say, trying to sort that out.

Ted Simons: And if you find that in a cathedral, if you find that in a field of daisies, you found it.

Thomas Moore: You've found it either way. When I started writing this book, I was writing about Henry David Thoreau. He didn't build the cathedral, he built a little cabin and he built it by a pond, by a lake. And for him, that was like a sacred edifice, and he thought of it that way. I thought he was a good model.

Ted Simons: You mention quote the world is ruled by letting things take their course. Letting things take their course. Explain.

Ted Simons: I get that from -- I get that from my study of formal religions, from China, from for example, a wonderful sacred text from China. I read it three or four times a year to keep my own spirituality honed, and, you know, so that spirit, that way of looking at things is there. So, I take that and I say, you know, the Chinese had a really good idea there. I'm going to make it my own. This is going to be one of the principles of my life. Let things take their course. Don't interfere so much. Notice what is happening, go with it. Instead of always fighting because you think you know better. And I think that way of life, of reading the signs, of letting life happen, it is more religious than feeling you have the control and understand everything.

Ted Simons: One more quote before I come to another criticism. A little atheism can keep your faith in God honest. Tell me more.

Thomas Moore: Atheists are great, because they are criticizing a lot of the beliefs that are around. They tend to criticize the really -- real traditional beliefs. They don't go after the subtleties usually. They go after things that are a little easier to challenge. But they're saying no, that is not -- that's not really real. It's too naive and simplistic and all of that kind of thing and I think generally they're right. But for them to throw out religion is a huge mistake. Because I think what they're doing is really creating kind of a religion of atheism in response to something that they see as superficial. What I learned from other religions, from Judaism and -- is that one should be very careful with what you believe. You should not -- you should not be too literal and don't get stuck on something. Keep examining. Keep working it through. So that is my atheism, saying no, I don't accept that.

Ted Simons: Interesting that you say that. The idea is keeping your faith honest. People of faith, they need to be tested. You can't walk around whistling and you have to be able to explain yourself.

Thomas Moore: It sharpens one's faith. Absolutely.

Ted Simons: I have heard this criticism, this kind of an idea is basically narcissism dressed up as spirituality. How would you respond to that?

Thomas Moore: I think I know the difference between narcissism and taking responsibility for yourself. I have written about it a great deal. I don't think there is any narcissism in this idea. I really don't. This is an important, serious idea for America at this time. Because religion is really hurting us. The kind of old-time religion, where we don't really go deep enough. We just take a lot of beliefs and we fight each other and we justify a lot of the violence that we do based on those -- I think naive religious beliefs. What I'm saying here is to be a responsible person and really think things through and participate, don't be passive, that's not narcissism. That is taking responsibility.

Ted Simons: So, if someone is listening right now and watching this program and saying give me a head start. Give me a way to start this process. I was raised in this church, in this temple, in this mosque, in this faith, I like what he's saying. Where do they start?

Thomas Moore: Well, I would start by going to the bookstore or a library and pick up the Dao -- it is less than 100 pages. Medicate on it for awhile. Take some of the fundamental lessons. They will be completely compatible I think with whatever religion you have. It is not that kind of thing about challenging belief. It is a way of being in a world where you honor and respect life itself instead of having to be so anxiously in charge all of the time. And if you get that lesson alone, then you're that far ahead. Then you go to the next thing. And stay in that realm of the bookstore where it says philosophy, theology, religion, whatever, stay there for awhile. And find what appeals to you. And educate yourself. If you can go beyond that, if you can go and talk to people who are actually doing some of those things, for example, my wife teaches a very deep spiritual kind of yoga. Well, a lot of people find that religion coming to her. They do her yoga classes. Teaches meditation and it is good for their health and good for their spirit. I know a lot of people who have found their own religion through that. They may not become a yoga teacher like she is. But that becomes a piece, one piece of something that begins to make sense. And they go on and find other things, other resources.

Ted Simons: Of course, go to the bookstore, might want to look up your book as well.

Thomas Moore: Absolutely, I should have said that.

Ted Simons: I thought you were going to say that. Changing hands where you will be tonight. We have a minute or so left. What kind of response have you had to this, and especially among those who were raised in are still involved in the formal religious traditions?

Thomas Moore: It is interesting, you know. I -- this book has been out only a week and a half. So it is not very long. But everywhere I go, I have been to a lot of places, hundreds of people are coming out to talk about it. And more so than the other books I've written. "Care of the Soul" was pretty big, but this thing -- this idea really touches people. I hear that from them everywhere. I'm getting people who are part of religion, formal religion, and those they call themselves seekers, I'm getting both. They get this idea that that is not the point whether you are part of a church or not. The point is to satisfy something deep in yourself and make it part of your life in a practice, not just spirituality.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on all of your success and thanks for giving us a lot to think about. Thank you for joining us. That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

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