One day Fox News called the Society.
“Hello. We’re looking for an atheist for our show on ‘God Talk.'”
“Can we send you a nontheist?”
On Friday, August 7, thanks to our Communications Director Julie Blutstein, I appeared on the Fox News webcam program “The Strategy Room” with religion reporter Lauren Green, author Eric Metaxas, comedian Scott Blakeman, and Fox News radio host Todd Starnes. A webcam program, for the uninitiated (which included me), is live news programming for the web, streaming content online in the format of traditional cable news channels. “The Strategy Room” appears five days a week from 9 AM to 5 PM. On Fridays from 10 to 11 AM, Ms. Green hosts a segment called “God Talk.”
Before leaving the office on Thursday, I scanned my bookshelves for inspiration and support. Whom should I read to prepare? I chose John Lovejoy Elliott, my favorite Ethical Culture Leader. “Friendship is a gift of the gods, a give and take,” he wrote, “but if you accomplish anything with your enemies, it is a tremendous piece of work in itself. If you overcome your aversion, that means a great deal.” I was making an assumption – and not necessarily a fair and balanced one. With the exception of Scott Blakeman, who brought his comedy show StandUp For Peace, blending his Jewish humor with Palestinian-American comedian Dean Obeidallah’s, to the Society last January, I didn’t know the other panelists. Why think of them as enemies just because of my aversion to Fox News?
Thanks to the Internet, I was able to research the backgrounds of the people I would be meeting. In addition to serving as a religion correspondent for Fox News Channel, Lauren Green is well known as a concert pianist. In 2004, she released her debut CD, “Classic Beauty.” Ms. Green is also a member of Redeemer Church, the congregation that rents our auditorium on Sunday mornings.
Eric Mextasas, who attends Calvary/St. George’s Episcopal Church, has written award-winning children’s books. His books for adults include Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask). He is currently working on a biography of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Todd Starnes is an evangelical Christian and lifelong Southern Baptist who holds conservative political views. His book, They Popped My Hood And Found Gravy On the Dipstick, relates his experience of having open heart surgery in his 30’s, losing both of his parents, losing 150 lbs, and finally running in the 2007 New York City Marathon.
I looked forward to spending an hour talking with these people. Lauren threw out some recent news items for discussion – the health care debate, the shootings in the health club in Pittsburgh, the fatal accident on the Taconic Parkway. We never explicitly addressed “god talk” in the way I thought we would. I was prepared to quote Elliott: “I have known good people who believed in God. I have known good people who didn’t believe in God. But I have never known good people who didn’t believe in people.” I didn’t need to; somehow that sentiment was already understood. We talked about the need for caring communities, that it is not healthy for people to feel lonely and isolated, and how we need to listen to one another better and engage in respectful dialogue.
What a wonderful experience! Now Lauren would like to film a humanist wedding or, as she puts it, “a ceremony that doesn’t include God in it.” One of my couples is interested. It could be a unique teachable moment – for all of us.