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Interview with Jacob Needleman

By Lisa Webster

January 28, 2010

RD’s senior editor sits down with philosopher Jacob Needleman, whose autobiography What is God? describes his journey from young Ivy-educated professor and atheist, to talk about fundamentalism, atheism, separating the sacred from religion, and why listening is the first step of every ethics.

Sitting in Jacob Needleman’s living room in the Oakland hills, I fished in my bag for the tiny microphone I planned to use with my iPhone, to record our conversation. "Is that what you’re using?" he asked, with great interest. He held up his own phone. "I just got one of these. Will this really work?"

He sat next to me on the couch as I pointed him through the app store on his phone. "There it is," I said, pointing to iTalk. "That’s what I’m using."

He tapped the screen, but the app that came up for download was... iTalk to God.

"That can’t be it," he laughed. It wasn’t—but what a setup.

What is God? is an unlikely title for a book by a philosopher, unless the question is meant rhetorically, or as a starting-off point for a discourse on language, or on the foibles of the mind, perhaps. But Jacob Needleman asks the question in earnest, and then proceeds—in the course of this most personal of the dozen or so books he's written—to answer it.

What is God?, out last month from Tarcher/Penguin, is an intellectual autobiography—the story of Needleman's education and formation as a scholar and teacher—but it’s also a narrative of what might be called a conversion. A young Ivy-educated professor, "allergic" to religion, enthralled by science, finds himself obliged to teach a religious studies survey class; to his surprise, he discovers a world of rigor and inquiry in theological writing. The story he tells, of the intertwining of his intellectual and spiritual searches, has a real suspense to it: how does an atheist come to believe in God?

In a conversation earlier this month we discussed this question, the challenges of talking about religion in the contemporary cultural arena, fundamentalism and atheism, and the practice of real communication.

This is just the beginning of a 2-page article - an interesting interview with Jacob Needlemann and his conversion from atheist to a man who has experienced God. Please click on "external source" for the complete piece.

Link to External Source Article

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