For as long as I can remember, I have been endlessly curious about the past — or, put more precisely, about how the things that are came to be the way they are. Southerners — I am from Tennessee — tend to be historically minded; as Faulkner noted long ago, the past is never dead; it isn’t even past. And so from an early age I have loved all kinds of history, including the history of religious faith.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, went to religious schools (including an Episcopal Montessori, which is rather redundant when you think about it) and consider myself a believing, middle-of-the-road American Protestant. I go to church every week, and I read the Daily Office (those are ancient sets of prayers composed for morning and evening). But beyond my own religious views, I am fascinated by the ways in which faith — and its absence and its abuses — has shaped the world in which we live.
I believe strongly — totally — in religious liberty and freedom of conscience; I think Thomas Jefferson was brilliantly on the mark when he said this: “Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone; I inquire after no man’s, and trouble none with mine; nor is it given to us in this life to know whether yours or mine, our friend’s or our foes, are exactly the right.” The best way forward through what George Eliot once called the “dim lights and tangled circumstance” of life is to talk and to listen, and to seek a culture in which people of sundry beliefs, or no belief at all, may live together peaceably and graciously. We have passions enough to stoke conflicts between people and between nations; the goal of “On Faith” and of our ongoing coverage of religion is to shed light rather than to generate heat, in the service of moving ahead toward what Churchill once called “the broad, sunlit uplands.”