Bill Moyers’ new series, Faith and Reason, is in some ways more compelling than his topical series, NOW, which has been truncated to a half-hour, sans Bill Moyers, due to right wing accusations of liberal bias. Moyers is more in his element here, conducting longer, in-depth interviews with writers on a subject that obviously fascinates him, harkening back to his now classic interviews with mythologist Joseph Campbell.

These interviews are significant and compelling because they further problematize what is already problematic—the tension between organized religion, still part of many people’s lives, and the secular humanist values that define much of the western world’s social infrastructure, particularly in a democracy. Sam Harris explored these issues, in a decidedly biased way, in the bestselling book The End of Faith. In a world in which fundamentalist religion wreaks so much havoc, it seems that people are, unconsciously at least, seeking new paradigms for their conception of the divine. Did the fervor over the Da Vinci Code spring from people’s need for a damn good mystery or from the need for a more fully human Christ, a family man that one can relate to, rather than the rabbinical and cryptic Jesus of Mathew or the more abstract, inaccessible, and iconic Jesus of John? Or did it spring from a desire to debunk and transcend beliefs that many consider metaphoric and many others consider poppycock?

The latest interview, with Salman Rushdie, was truly provocative and thought provoking, and if not seen, can be appreciated through the transcript, available on Moyers’ site. Rushdie speaks about Islam; fundamentalism; the fatwa that caused him to go underground for nearly ten years; the role of the artist, particularly in relation to religion and spirituality; and the nature of morality.

Rushdie had the following to say in response to the Danish cartoon controversy:

I think there’s two subjects on the Danish cartoon. There’s the cartoons themselves. Would you have published them, should you have published them? And I think these are arguments that newspapers have every day. You know, what’s an appropriate editorial stance on a given issue? So, I think we could have that argument in a kind of straight forward civil discourse. And we can have different points of view about it. I think the second thing that happened was the enormously violent and intimidatory response. And then the question I think changes. The question becomes how do you respond to intimidation? And I’m afraid that many of the people who refused to stock the cartoons, who refused to reprint them, claiming that they were being respectful were actually not being respectful, they were being scared, you know. And I think the problem is with intimidation is that if you do surrender to it you make sure that there will be more intimidation in the future.

Rushdie recently appeared at the PEN World Voices festival of writers where he read from his work. PEN International continues to do the important work of promoting free expression and advancing literature and literary fellowship. Its Prison Writing Program has been particularly successful.