Do They Believe? Do We Care?

By John Bloom | 06/11/2008

Eighteen intellectuals talk about God--wait, let me correct that--seventeen intellectuals and Jane Fonda talk about God in Do You Believe?: Conversations on God and Religion (Vintage, $12.95), a slender little volume of Q&A’s conducted by New York University film professor Antonio Monda. The most interesting aspect of the book is that, when asked the question “Do you believe in God?,” about half of them can’t answer!

Come on, people, it’s a yes-or-no.

The second, more depressing, aspect of it is that almost none of them have anything interesting or original to say, and quite a few lapse into the most timeworn cliches.


“I respect all religions,” “Jesus was a great thinker,” “Organized religion is responsible for so much hatred and war,” “I believe in a sprituality that transcends . . .” blah blah blah blah blah.

The two exceptions are Spike Lee and Elie Wiesel. Lee is an agnostic who nevertheless uses words like “redemption” and “salvation” with real understanding, and Wiesel, a believer, calls God’s allowance of human suffering (the stuff of his writing) “the great torment of my entire existence. The question I don’t know how to answer and that I don’t think anyone can answer. But even in these terrible moments I see not an absence [of God] but, rather, an eclipse.”

The less said about Jane Fonda’s quotations from the apocryphal gospel of Thomas, and her description of Christ as “the first feminist,” the better. She’s a walking advertisement for the implementation of a rule forbidding any Christian to speak in public for at least ten years after his or her conversion.


The other interviewees are Paul Auster, the late Saul Bellow, Michael Cunningham, Nathan Englander, Richard Ford, Paula Fox, Jonathan Franzen, Daniel Libeskind, David Lynch, Toni Morrison, Grace Paley, Salman Rushdie, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Martin Scorsese and Derek Walcott. Most readers will give up about halfway through, when Ford says, “I believe in the redemptiveness of art.” Somebody remind us to get him a nice El Greco to stare at if he ever faces a firing squad.


Anonymous | 07:09 am on 6/12/2008

“I believe in the redemptiveness of art.”

Well, Tookie Williams wrote some children's books for which he was nominated for the nobel prizes in literature and peace.

last name | 10:10 am on 11/09/2010

If the people who did this thought that they had the right group to talk about god I think they must be regretting and kicking themselves right now. But another way to look at this is that hearing some of these speakers the common man might feel one with them as the confusion and indecision about putting a name to their faith is the story of many a man. So when they see people according to them who are saved and are believers fumbling they realize that it is normal.

David Williams | 08:02 am on 6/12/2008

Ah, The Rev. Dr. Fonda. Yet for all her speaking of faith, let it be noted that in an interview with Bill Moyers a few years back, she never once even evoked the name of God. Didn't say "God" or "Jesus" once, even though it would have been appropriate. I've got the YouTube link somewhere it is:

At least, I think that's Bill Moyers. I was a bit...distracted.

BoogerJoe | 02:24 am on 3/30/2009

That looks more like Benny Hinn than Bill Moyers....

that calvinist doug | 11:13 am on 6/12/2008

Ah, I just love this kind of tripe. Why not interview me and a bunch of us Door readers about quantum physics? Or, how about we get a bunch of MIT PhD candidates to tell us about their extensive knowledge of child psychology?

What is the point, other than to try and discredit a worldview, in getting a bunch of people who are mostly uninformed about and even antagonistic toward a position, to give us their thoughts about the subject? ONE believer (Wiesel) and one embarrassment (Fonda). Nice subject group. About what I'd suspect from a film professor.

mountainguy | 08:11 pm on 6/12/2008

hahahahaha, yes man, let's talk about quantum physics, or about proteomics, hahaha, nice coment

Droslovinia | 11:54 am on 6/12/2008

I'm with Doug on this one. It's a really stupid concept that doesn't even border on entertainment, since he doesn't interview many people who are actually all that famous and those he does are not exactly famous for their keen theological insight (Elie and Salman possibly excepted). It would have been a lot more interesting, and likely more meaningful, if he just chose random people off the street.

Andy | 12:32 pm on 6/12/2008

"Come on, people, it’s a yes-or-no."

Amen! Reminds me of a quip from Stephen Colbert, when he asked Bart Ehrman (sp?), "Isn't an agnostic just an atheist without balls?" A friend was studying Torah in a yeshiva when she heard the instructor say to the agnostic students, "Pick a side! Either there is or there isn't, I don't care either way; just pick a side!"

"She’s a walking advertisement for the implementation of a rule forbidding any Christian to speak in public for at least ten years after his or her conversion."

Doesn't the Bible hint at that (1 Timothy 3:6)?

SRebbe | 04:41 pm on 6/12/2008

well, uh, maybe... there could be... we really don't knoooooowwwww that... I used to think so but now I'm not so sure... there are many paths, so there are many ways, so that means that you're right and I'm right and that means that there could be something and there could not be something and we both are right and I don't want to hurt your feelings or see you cry... well, there are many ways to look at this... it depends on what the meaning of 'is' is..."

oh please... just choose a crayon from the box already. other kids want to play. you won't hurt anyone's feelings... except those who believe G-d is too small to defend himself.

mountainguy | 08:10 pm on 6/12/2008

Heyyy!! Agnostic is not the same as atheist. And there are other options like apatheist or ignostic. off course, the question is "is there a God, or not?", but lets be honest; one can take one of a zillion options, and lets be honest in the fact that some people could say "I believe in other God" or "I'm polytheist" or "I believe in the divinity of Diego Maradona" or whatever

budda | 11:39 pm on 6/12/2008

I believe The Black Keys totally rock.

dr j | 10:39 pm on 6/28/2008

Believe ... hummm ...

A man was riding his horse in a rural area and came near a stream. He could hear people singing and when he got off his horse to investigate, he discover that a riverside revival was in progress. As he made his way nearer, the evangelist saw the man and said, "you back, there, come forward and be saved". Not exactly understanding what the preacher was saying, he started forward to hear better and several people (thinking that he had come to be baptized and receive salvation) took his arms and placed him the arms of the evangelist, who was standing waist-deep in the stream. The preacher grabbed the man, took his hands, stepped behind him and said, "All those who believe shall be saved. Do you believe?", dunked him below the water and raised him up. The man sputtered while coughing up water "I ... cough ... believe ..." at which the pastor, thinking that he had an example to encourage others to come and be baptized, interrupted and said in a loader tone "All those who believe shall be saved. Do you believe?", dunked him below the water again, and raised him up. The man struggled with the evangelist and choked out "... cough ... I ...choking noise ... believe ...", at which point the revivalist (in an even louder voice) said "All those who believe shall be saved. Do you believe?", dunked the man a third time below the water and raised him up. At this point, the man coughed up water and again said "I believe ...". The pastor interrupted again and asked the man "What do you believe?". As the man finally was able to extract himself from the grip of the pastor and running to his horse, he yelled back to the gathering, "I believe that you are trying to kill me!". (old joke from Baptist Sunday School daze).

mountainguy | 08:18 pm on 6/12/2008

Well, there's something which John Bloom is totally alright: We are tired of the same cliches. Sometimes it is funnier to have the 4 horsemen condemning everything that sounds "religious".

Justin | 09:38 pm on 6/12/2008

To borrow a page from N.T. Wright, if somebody says "I don't believe in God", a good response would be "What God is it that you don't believe in?", and when they answer, say: "I don't believe in that God either".
This isn't a word game. For many people, the word "God" is often a label for a mental construct that most Christians would find foreign to the God we know as the one whom Jesus called Father. Getting someone to define the terminology they use clears up a lot of confusion.

Nobody Important | 08:34 am on 6/13/2008

Did they bother to ask our 17 intellectual giants and Barbarella if they ever bothered to read the Bible? If they have any idea who the Jesus of the Bible is? If their belief in God has absolutely any effect on their other beliefs, or if their other beliefs are what has defined their belief in God?

Great quote from Wright, Justin. I'm fairly sure I don't believe in the same God that Spike Lee doesn't believe in.

SRebbe | 03:54 pm on 6/13/2008

...unless that G-d has a darker side, of course.

budda | 05:23 pm on 6/13/2008

Ya, then I'm in too.

UNCLE KENNY | 07:09 pm on 6/13/2008

I think you folks might be missing an important point here. We shouldn't be angered whenever this type of tripe gets manufactured and released--we should weep. The unfortunate reality is that it isn't the minority opinion of a few nutcase artisans. This is the prevailing opinion in western culture. Millions believe that they are basically good people surrounded by other good people and that they have evolved emotionally, socially, and spiritually,

Here is the kicker. They aren't really to blame for this sad state of affairs--we are. We have failed to do our job connecting them with God's mercy and grace. We haven't served them.

Look, I am all about fun, satire, and having a good time. This probably isn't one of those times we should wink, nod, smile, or try to outdo one another with clever phrasing. We should redirect that creativity and fun for a moment towards reaching a world that is hopelessly lost, and sadly they have a collective idiotic grin on their face as they wander about, mostly because we aren't doing our job.

Rather than poke fun at Fonda, perhaps we should brainstorm on an outreach that would effectively love her into relationship with Jesus.

Molie | 07:36 pm on 6/13/2008

Don't throw your pearls before swine.........

UNCLE KENNY | 11:08 pm on 6/13/2008

So let me get this straight, Molie. You are going to quote Matthew 7:6 out of context to give you an excuse not to love and share God's mercy and and grace with people that are hopelessly lost?

If that becomes the norm in the American Church. . .well. . .ICK!

Strap on on the barf bag because we are about to take a ride on the puke express right out of His mouth.

Anonymous | 01:05 am on 6/14/2008

Save your sermons for sunday kenny.

Molie has a very reasonable comment, why would you waste any effort with these very wealthy, very educated, very informed, totally inaccessible people when there are so many others, available all around us, who actually need. Tend to the weak, needy and the oppressed, the widows and orphans, work for social justice, sure-absolutely. But these folks are not lacking in social justice, or lacking anything really. They have access to so much christian stuff it's scary. And every other religion available.

Maybe Molie does more for people out of love for others and Jesus than you do. Or is that not possible?

Anyway, I've got good news for you kenny, you can relax, it isn't our job to "save" these folks. If they "go to hell" kenny, it isn't your fault. You are not responsible for their faith, they are. No matter what Ray Boltz says in his songs.

BTW It isn't nice to insinuate people are "going to hell" 'cause they don't agree with your interpretation.

budda | 01:12 am on 6/14/2008

Dam, that was me with the clever, insightful and totally rocking response to kenny's rather judgmental, condemnation filled response to Molie's simple yet concise comment.

Stupid 'always having to type your info' comments section.

journeyman | 11:16 am on 10/17/2008

Always throw the swine first, and only then reach for the pearls.

budda | 10:26 pm on 6/13/2008

All colors bleed into one.

budda | 01:14 am on 6/14/2008

Sorry, the "colors bleeding into one" thing doesn't make sense now. Never mind.

UNCLE KENNY | 03:04 am on 6/14/2008

Gosh Budda,

Perhaps it was best if you had left it anonymous. It certainly wasn't "clever, insightful and totally rocking." You usually are far more lucid than that snipe that was so quick that you left your name off.

I agree with you about the widows and orphans coming first, but we are very clearly called to the poor in spirit as well.

I was just concerned that Molie seemed very quick to close these folks out from mercy and grace.

To simplify:

"Serve them all, let God sort them out."

budda | 07:22 pm on 6/14/2008

Sorry kenny, I was trying to be sarcastic with congratulating myself, but it didn't come off right. I was taking up offense for Molie (wrong, I know). That led me to be a little more snooty than usual. My bad.

I still think you were too quick to judge her. Just for offering a different take on an issue. She isn't closing them off from mercy and grace, kenny, if they are closed off from mercy and grace it is themselves or possibly if abused, deceived, hurt etc.. by a priest, pastor, church, parent, sunday school teacher et, al that person may play a part in closing them off from mercy and grace but Molie, no matter what she does or doesn't do is NOT closing them off from mercy and grace. It seems to me that you attribute super powers to Molie that she doesn't have and then condemn her for not using them.

I do have to disagree with the "serve them all" part. I am a realist. Even if you believe in principle that your correct, as a practical matter, it isn't possible. Seriously, you can't serve everyone. It just sounds nice. It isn't possible.

I personally don't even believe in the principle. Jesus didn't serve everyone.(i mean what he did in life as human/divine Jesus, serving in life, His death was for everyone but that is different, not pertinent here.) There were millions, and millions of people he didn't serve. Lots of famous people he didn't go to. We have to discern and use judgment in life. I don't have to "save" anyone, but I should make myself available to serve some of those around me.

I am not sure, but I don't think Jane Fonda or any of these people are "poor in spirit".

UNCLE KENNY | 08:27 pm on 6/14/2008


I am sorry if I stepped on you toes.

You would be surprised at how many people you can serve in small, simple ways. All you have to do is start. It is actually easy. . .notice people and then help them notice God.

You really don't see that model in the actions of Jesus? Where do you not see Jesus serving people?

I know I am a bit weird for reading the Nelson Publishing "Duct Tape Bible," but I am pretty sure it is still scripture and well, I can't seem to thumb through the gospels without landing on a page where he is serving someone's felt need.

I could be wrong, but. . .it seemed to be a constant focus for him.

Maybe I should clarify the phrase "serve them all. . ."

It refers to avoiding the pitfall of over-thinking things.

Small things done with great love will change the world--it is also big fun.

budda | 12:27 am on 6/15/2008

Jesus lived to teach and serve. He did not teach and serve EVERYONE. He chose quite specifically who He spent time with and those He didn't.

I see Him not serving people all thru the gospels. Because He was serving someone else, or teaching someone else, or healing someone else, or off praying, or sleeping, or whatever He was doing when He wasn't serving. He only got to one Samaritan village. Never made it to Rome, China, India, Japan, etc... (I suppose if your Mormon (sorry, LDS) he made it to America immediately after the ascension) Not 'cause he didn't love those people, He just chose not to. But the fact remains, He didn't. Being God, He could have, but He didn't.

I think all I'm saying to you at this moment is that no one can serve everyone. Nor should they. So we shouldn't say they should. Which leads me back to.... seem to be avoiding your harsh comments to Molie that started this whole thing for me. Were you showing her "love"? Was that a demonstration of the "love" you are talking about every one deserving? If so, then I stand corrected, I show that kind of "love" to people a lot. I usually feel bad after word though.

You can refer back to the Joe Bob's Guide To World Evangelism debate for more on this. (it's in the lower right hand side of the home page) Doug had some good comments, he and I went around a few times if I remember correctly. Good stuff. Process Deist had some very deep and thought provoking comments there. Others too.

mountainguy | 11:40 pm on 6/14/2008

Well Budda, there´s a difference between principles and actions. I do believe in the concept of serving everyone; it doesn't mean my will is to serve everyone because this is impossible (I agree with you in this). But, the principles are there. Maybe I'm a little deontologist.

budda | 12:35 am on 6/15/2008

Well said, mountainguy. Although, deontlogicaly speaking, I find that duty and obligation are not entirely compatible with love. Give generously with a happy heart. I don't believe Jesus condemns us when we can't. But you are probably right in principle, we should.

JoshH | 08:48 pm on 6/14/2008

I think you misunderstand the phrase "poor in spirit." You're definitely taking the phrase out of context to say the least.

Being "poor in spirit" is being at the point where you basically say "F*ck it! God, can you take control of things. I've had enough!" Some of these people may fit that description; I don't know. If they do, it's a lot better than blazing forward thinking they're top dog; that's the truly sinful place to be.

As for being "agnostic," everyone is at the sensory/intellectual level (at least at the most basic of intellectual levels); it's surrendering that point with a different *kind* of knowledge that is the basis of "faith." From there, the intellect can begin to grasp it and it can eventually spread to those basic levels. That "back door" to such knowledge is a beautiful gift that we've been given.

JoshH | 08:49 pm on 6/14/2008

I meant to say "you can" instead of "can you."

UNCLE KENNY | 09:44 pm on 6/14/2008

Sorry Josh,

I have to disagree slightly. I agree with you that what you describe is a form of poor in spirit, but what we often forget is that Jesus wants us to take our blinders off when it comes to the poor. Traditionally we look at poverty as a fiscal thing. You can be wealthy, but at the same time spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. There is also social poverty and let's not even open up the can of night crawlers when it comes to access to justice and power systems. What is in your checking account sometimes helps with these other situations, but some times it can actually make matters worse.

Not to come full circle, but I believe the folks interviewed in this book are actually victims of insidious poverty--the sneaky kind that causes people to think they are doing just fine and then. . .

It is probably my fault for not being more clear, but what I am talking about is the stuff mentioned in Isaiah and Luke 4.

Widows and orphans are still the top priority for outreach, but I am encountering more and more people that are being eaten alive by other forms of poverty. Just because you have two big fistfuls of wood, hay, and stubble, it doesn't mean you are better off. Does that make sense? Or did I make what I am trying to say more confusing?

Take a glance over here and see if this helps:

There are people that are way smarter and more eloquent than me writing about this stuff.

JoshH | 01:46 am on 6/15/2008

It "makes sense" but my problem lies in the fact that your phraseology is that of a popularly understood term from the beatitudes.

I'm not saying you don't make sense; I'm sort of playing teacher/professor and advising against using such a term.

At a closer level, I also have a bit of concern about your manner of judgment. Your immediate dismissal of people like Elie Wiesel in this manner makes me squint a bit. My main point is that you need to be careful using a roller to paint the wall when you're close to architectural trim and to the ceilings and floors. You follow?

All of that said, I do agree with what I think is the spirit of what you're saying.

Raquel | 02:16 pm on 6/14/2008

Well, the Colbert quote is very funny, but it's also the reason I don't like admitting I'm agnostic. For all I know, Colbert may be right. But there are some of us who genuinely don't know when it comes to the existence of God. I was brought up a Catholic and never experienced any definitive "crisis" of faith. I just doubted from a very early age. I've spent a lot of time searching as an adult. For all the wrong reasons, admittedly, one of them being fear of death. Sadly, I've never had an AHAH moment one way or the other. I admire the believer's faith that there is a God, and I envy the atheist's conviction that there's NOTHING out there and nothing afterwards, and that they seem comfortable with this idea. I don't understand that, mind you, but it must be a huge load off your mind to be so sure. I'm empty-handed and sad and totally perplexed when it comes to the issue of God. I'm always the last to know anything, so I try to take comfort in the fact maybe at some late date in my life I'll have an AHAH moment, and that I'll fall on the God side of the tracks. It is where I would like to be. But there really are some of us who are totally bollixed about it, and don't spout the kind of pretentious ca-ca you see in the above book.

Questioner | 07:26 pm on 6/14/2008

Late to the party, but, Kudos to Justin for keying in on definition. I know we all (MONOTHEISTS) say there is one god and that is GOD...etc. but do any of us agree on all interpretations of the revelation? Also bravo UNCLE KENNY, All members of God's creation are deserving of our love.

budda | 11:45 pm on 6/14/2008

"All members of God's creation are deserving of our love." A very nice thing to say, not a very easy thing to do. Quite impossible actually. Not only do I not love everyone, I'm not sure I'm supposed to. It depends on what you mean by "love". I don't even worry about it. I have enough on my plate with the people I'm in daily contact with.

I guess what I'm saying is that these are unrealistic platitudes. Wonderfully nice things to say that are taught to us in sunday school, but not real.

JoshH | 01:50 am on 6/15/2008

I do what I can to extend *agape*, extending philos or anything else is a different kettle of fish. Jesus said to love your enemies; he didn't exactly say to just magically stop "being enemies" with them. It's a complicated thing and it's hard to nail down the mechanics of how you go about doing that.

If I figure out how, I'll happily let you know.

Anonymous | 09:23 pm on 6/14/2008

Do you believe in the great unknown?

Questioner | 08:51 am on 6/15/2008

budda, I did say "deserving" and though I don't attend Sunday school anymore, I do believe that we can make the "real world" (as many hard hearts call it) more like God's world. Was it impossible for an itinerant lay rabbi to have the effect he did on humanity, especially after he was executed for sedition? And JoshH, yes it's hard work. I haven't figured it out either. If it wasn't so difficult we would not have crucified Him, we would have fed and sheltered Him and his fellows 2000+ years ago and last night and tomorrow...

budda | 07:58 pm on 6/15/2008

Ya, questioner, I would mostly agree with your last statement there, agreeing with josh on the difficulty. One thing at a time. I'm not responsible for the whole world, just my little part.

Like Gene Eugene sang, "six billion people in the world and I only know a few, world wide, world wide...

Questioner | 12:50 am on 6/16/2008

yeah, the simplest questions are often the most difficult to answer. Let's just keep trying. No closed minds here.

Prophet Lopi | 07:22 pm on 6/18/2008


Why do we waste space on the already wasted ????

Catherine in Seattle | 12:01 am on 7/31/2008

I wonder how anyone, including me, has the ability to judge another person's worthiness in the eyes of God, or judge how sincere or 'correct" their belief is? Is there any way to do this with infallibility? Do we measure them against ourselves? How do we know what's in their hearts? How do we know if these are people, like myself, who may not be the wittiest or most expressive in their witnessing?

I suppose once we determine that they are not up to snuff (as we define it) we can set about the task of making fun of them for failing our standards, whatever those are.

Anyway, it's just great fun making fun of Jane Fonda, cuz face it, she's a silly woman who we decided not to like ages ago.

Anonymous | 05:55 pm on 12/20/2008

"Law of the excluded middle" only shows up in bad theology, which is why I'm surprised to see it here. I guess the Door has come a long ways since its more theologically literate days in the seventies. In other words, no, it is not a yes-or-no answer, unless you're in the cartoon theology of the universe.

Siarlys Jenkins | 12:59 pm on 8/22/2009

This site hasn't posted anything new in a year or so. For slightly newer stuff, try

If you have some new material, post it as a comment, and I'll consider posting it as a post. Include your non de plume.

clothing boutique | 04:11 pm on 10/16/2010

Every man has his own worth of thoughts when it comes to religious aspects, so we must all believe and care about how others are feeling about certain things.

document translation | 03:00 pm on 10/17/2010

Different people have different ideas about their religious thoughts and beliefs, so it's up to them whether they do care about it or not.

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