Question: Could the U.S. division between church and
state crumble in the near future?
Ian Buruma: I’m not so sure. I think it’s… the system
is fairly robust and… but it has always been contested as far back as
Jefferson, and he was accused by Christians of being a man of Satan who
was not recognizing that the United States was a Christian country,
whereas he of course saw it as the State, as a secular state, so it has
been contested from the beginning.
Question: Is religion in any way a threat to democracy?
Ian Buruma: I think you can’t really answer that
question by yes or no because it depends on what kind of religion, under
what circumstances and so on. It’s not necessarily a threat to
democracy. What is a threat to democracy is if the authority of
organized religion starts to… gets mixed up in what should be secular
Question: How religious are you?
Ian Buruma: Well I never had a religion. Neither of my
parents were religious, so I grew up with no religion at all, so I
suppose I’m an agnostic in the sense that I’m not an aggressive atheist
who has a deep belief in the nonexistence of God. I’m indifferent to
it, which also means I don’t really have an axe to grind and it doesn’t
fill me with rage because I don’t have childhood memories to rebel
against, but nor am I particularly attracted by any kind of religion.
Question: Is that why you chose to take a scholarly look
Ian Buruma: It may have given me a relatively… It may
have enabled me to take a fairly dispassionate view of the problem, but
no, that is not the reason I decided to write it. The book by the way,
is based on three lectures that I gave at Princeton and the reason I
chose the subjects is because clearly in one form or another people see
religion as a challenge again to liberalism and democracy, which wasn’t
true for a while. In Europe people thought that this was a problem that
had been successfully licked. But Islam is now seen as a challenge.
The mobilization of the religious right in the United States is seen as a
challenge and there have been acts of religious-inspired violence in
places like Japan and so on. And so it’s an issue.
Recorded April 21, 2010