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The Secular and the Sacred in Higher Education with Dr. John Sexton

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Event Name: The Secular and the Sacred in Higher Education with Dr. John Sexton
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 4/27/2019 10:58:42 AM
Transcript Version: 2

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t least

who this week is best but this this

allergy to nuance and complexity which

is of course what thought is we do new

ones in complexity at universities

inevitably leads to a world where the

the corollary lack of trust develops

because we engage with each other

through conversation in an in a trusting

way you know we have to develop common

ground and of course the next step is

the devaluation about which harms the

worried of the spiritual there are some

here tonight who have been kind enough

to tell me you've read my book baseball

as a road to God it's interesting if you

read baseball as a road to God which I

could only write after Lisa's death

because I could only be public about my

spirituality then you'll see that it's

really not a book about baseball and

it's really not a book about God it's

it's a book about and the word I use in

the book is a word that hums are you

scientism and the danger of scientism

the danger of making science into a

religion that is the only true religion

the triumphalism now has all told us

that there is the known and we impart

that hopefully to our students we have

experts here on what is known and and

what we have cognitively and we should

give every bit of that that we have to

our students and then because we are a

research university there is the

knowable but not yet known the knowable

but not yet known and that's of course

what a research university does it

discovers the next generation of

knowledge and and that becomes part of

the virtuous cycle of them of an party

but then and and this was at the S

of what hamza said i think then there is

a third category which is neither known

or knowable and but not yet known if we

mean by known known in our cognitive

terms that's where scientism comes in if

you end the block there if it's all

capable of knowledge through science

then you've left out perhaps the most

important and that is those things that

are ineffable ineffable beyond our

putting into words they're so deep like

love love the meaning of life the fact

that there is a dimension called the

spiritual the fact that that there is a

God not necessarily an anthropomorphic

or interventionist God although perhaps

even that but something that goes beyond

our capacity for words that all the

great religions describe as God and we

need as we approach that to approach

that third category that goes beyond

science with deep humility and and and

never with the triumphalism of extra

ecclesiam nulla Salus because that

displays a pride which is the Greek

tragedy floor of hubris taken to its

extreme so it is that it brings great

pleasure to me every time I walk into my

new office on the fifth floor of the

Student Center here

I always enter through or most of the

time I enter through the spiritual life

center because it's wonderful for me to

see the activity there it's wonderful

for me to see the the affirmation of the

spirit that's true and the work of the

Islamic sent there in the Brompton

Center and everything else and I'll just

close with a story

of my first week here at NYU as

president I I had been named president

it was made 2001 so it was before 9/11

and the students in the Brahmin Center

were the first to invite me to come

visit with them and it was a Friday

night and they all gather for Shabbat

dinner on Friday night and then and then

they go back to the Brompton Center and

they asked me to come over after Shabbat

dinner and I I left Lisa we usually

tried to have time together at home on

Friday night I left her about 8:30 I

think to go over and I said honey I'll

be back in about an hour and when I

walked in shortly before midnight

my beloved understanding wife looked at

me and I said to her because I'd come

from the law school where we built a

little community everybody knew

everybody's name and I said to her you

know honey I think there's a chance I

think that my message of community got

through these students tonight and I

can't I'm sorry I'm late I'm sorry we

missed our Friday night but I was on

such a roll with them persuading them of

the importance of community and she

looked at me and she said honey where

did you go tonight

and I said to the Brockman senton I

remember she's Jewish and she said I

said Friday night and she said where

they bent

I said Shabbat dinner and she said and

you think you taught them about


you see that's the wonder of an eye

though love affair right because an ID a

love affair allows you to to understand

the context in love the way this person

is saying to you this is the way you

look to the world how absurd of you to

think and how absurd of me to think

every time the elevator opens does that

go up to the fifth floor and I see the

students the Muslim students gathered

for prayer I just said my heart leaps

for joy every time that elevator happens

or I see it happening and that's the

wonderful work that's being done here we

have to avoid the pride that I was

taught in Brooklyn in the 1950s if we do

if we embrace the ecumenical mission of

our faiths at their best of this place

at its best of our universities as they

fight against simplicity and advance

truth or this miniaturized world can be

a world of much great joy and not fear

and don't listen to anybody that tries

to scare you

about people that are different from you



so let me first begin by thanking both

of you for your reflections for your

combination of story and abstraction if

you will which often sits at the heart

of what makes the sacred tick I don't

quite know where to begin in terms of

opening up the conversation between you

but the scholar in me wants to ask right

here at the beginning as we've been

using this language of the sacred and

the secular like as you were reflecting

on your remarks do those terms actually

mean anything anymore

what what are they referring to what is

the difference between the secular and

the sacred what's the difference with

the sacred and the religious or the

secular and the state but what are we

playing with when we're playing with

this big distinction that underlies both

of your thoughts well one of the

beautiful words in our language is

sacrifice and one of the religious

aspects of baseball is the sacrifice

bunt the word the word sacrifice is the

Latin root is to make sacred and so at

the root of sacredness is really the

idea of sacrificing things for greater

things and whenever you have that

whether it's from a secular person or a

religious person you have something

sacred and in my estimation

I read a an op-ed in the Los Angeles

Times about It's a Wonderful Life which

in when I was growing up that was an

American ritual I think to watch that

around Thanksgiving and

Jimmy Stewart I was just actually at

Princeton where he went

Jimmy Stewart plays a character who

keeps sacrificing his dreams for other

people's dreams and and he's got a lot

of resentment he's a bit of a

passive-aggressive in the film but by

the end of it he realizes what an

incredible life he's had and what what

deep meaning was in those sacrifices but

the article was arguing what a horrible

movie it was and how terrible a

philosophy that was because why should

we give up our dreams for other people's

dreams and and I thought that was just

such a testimony to the secular so first

of all I want to join brother Hobbes his

opinion this is what we lawyers do I'll

join but I'll write a concurring opinion

with a slightly said no dissent yet no

dissent here at all says so for me the

dimension of which we're talking in

which every human tries to touch whether

it be in love or through spirituality or

whatever is in this ineffable space and

just as it's ineffable that means that

all the architecture of doctor in an

organization and so forth serves the

wonderful role of carrying on the

tradition on the one hand but has the

danger of sapping all of the energy out

of the tradition on the other and when

that sapping occurs by people who want

only to maintain their power

that's when religion can become very

dangerous so for me you know the word

sacred and profane or sacred and secular

are completely circular words if you try

to make an explanation of them in other

words they there is no explanation

beyond the experience of the person who

is experiencing the higher Offaly of the

sacred the sacred shining throat and and

and and so so I I can't convince you

my sacred or vice versa any more than I

can convince you of the existence of God

or I could convince Lisa by a syllogism

that we were in love I mean these things

are not touchable bye-bye

the first two of the three categories I

spent so just very quickly and then I'll

toss it back to you so one example I use

for my students is you know suppose I

were as could have been a Catholic

priest and the heart of the Liturgy of

my religion is is the Eucharist where

the bread and wine are transformed

sacramentally into the spirit and body

of the Savior that's my belief now I'm

walking through the outback in Australia

with a native Australian guide and and

the great vast flatness of the outback

suddenly arises uh LaRue ul you are you

google it you'll know you'll recognize

it this tremendous orange mound that to

the native Australian that's with me and

his one hundred thousand year olds

culture of welcoming and love represents

the connection of this world to the next

and we stopped because he's in awe in

the religious sense of it and I'm in awe

of it as a beautiful beautiful piece of

nature that has caused me to travel

around the world to see it and I'm so

moved I take out the bread and wine that

I have with me and I consecrate them


for me the deepest spiritual act I'm

looking at a wonder of nature not Axis

Mundi he's seeing me eat my lunch

right I mean this is what's sacred and

what's profane what's sacred and what's

secular it's it's it depends upon the

experience and how it calls you but we

know there is this category that calls

us okay and each of us so many of us at

least in this room are called deeply to

that plane of existence which is the

most fulfilling and joyful of all planes

it's the plane of love and I think one

of the most interesting phenomenon

that's happening right now in the u.s.

not outside of the US but in the u.s. is

precisely the rise of this category sort

of like the sacred was called the realm

of the spiritual and it's the rise of a

whole generation of people who are

spiritual but not religious who who

claimed exactly to feel that common

human yearning for the ineffable and

that that thing that we reach for which

is beyond and yet it's it's not

connected to any kind of religious

practice or deep religious tradition and

it is in many ways calling into question

what we mean by secular or sacred

anymore and my question is is what is

the future of the category the reality

of this thing called religion which is

about not the ineffable but about

oftentimes practices and doctrines and

borders and boundaries and determining

mechanisms and related to identity and

not about sacrifice and the giving away

of oneself I mean that's almost the

opposite of the dogmatic and religion is

not about the reaching it's often about

the the defining that stops the reach so

if you could both just reflect on that

the the future of religion well one of

the things I mean obviously what's

called organized

aegeon has put off a lot of people I

always tell them become a Muslim or the

most disorganized religion on the planet

but there there is there is a real you

know disdain now for organized religion

for me personally one of the things that

I love about the the the pre-modern

world is is the discipline of the

pre-modern world if you wanted to dance

you had to learn how to dance I grew up

my my mother was half Greek so we had to

learn how to Greek dance and one things

about the Greek dancers is somebody who

really masters the the steps and becomes

a great Greek dancer is allowed to

improvise and a great musician has to go

through all these scales and learning

all these these the circle fists and all

these this music theory but at a certain

point they become free to play the piano

and this is essentially what the liberal

arts is about it's about the discipline

of becoming free one of the things most

people think that they think freely but

there are many shackles of the mind and

and and we have natural prejudices that

were often very unaware of like

generalization people come to New York

they have a bad experience with a taxi

driver and they're convinced that all

New York taxi drivers are cheats that's

a very common hasty generalization and

and this is why traditionally learning

how to to think clearly and to think

effectively it was a discipline that

actually took a great deal of time and

so I think that religious practice one

of the things that I've found because we

have a very specific practice of praying

five times a day and I Muslims always

tell me you know I pray and and I'm not

really feeling anything and for me I

think we tend to forget that this is a

spiritual experience consciousness

itself is a spiritual experience and and

what practice is meant to do if it's

done right is to actually free you

to have that experience and this is why

they say to live in wonder the the child

who is is still in that that world of

the sacred you know little children are

there already there they don't need to

be anywhere else but as they come into

adulthood and and and they they come

into their bodies and have their their I

mean you can't even use this word

anymore but they're sinful experiences

and and they and they become tainted

with the world religion is there to

remove that taint and and to

re-establish that purity of children and

and somebody one of my favorite quotes

of Confucius is when I was 15 my heart

was set on learning when I was thirty I

remained firm when I was forty I no

longer had doubts when I was fifty I

knew the Mandate of Heaven when I was

sixty my ear was obedient and I was when

I was seventy I could fulfill my heart's

desires without deviating that's a

spiritual path and that's practice and

that's the purpose of practice so you

can be spiritual without a practice but

where is it going to take you


so I would I would say picking up

exactly on what you said Hamza that the

future of religion depends in large part

on how we use it and how those to whom

we've given it as stewards in my church

the hierarchy uses it I'll take the

spirituality as a good start even if

it's not inside organized religion if

you find it at a baseball game because

of the intense attention to detail a

baseball game requires fine that's why I

say bass boys a road to God because it

cultivates the intense hard work of

noticing and paying attention if you

find it in the Grand Canyon you know in

the wonder of nature or in Leroux that's

a good start but Hamza is completely

right that that there are truths I mean

to to affirm the importance of the

ineffable is not to deny the importance

of what we can know and what is knowable

and we should come to know this is not

an argument against science it's an

argument against scientism that we're

making it's making science into a

religion and saying it has all knowledge

that's the argument I think both of us

are making so so yes we should try in in

in the great liturgical stories of the

great faiths to return to them because

they have an ability to convey the

ineffable and and and doctrine is

important because it shines a light but

if doctrine becomes an instrument of

power you know if I'm told by my church

the Church of life I the father of an in

vitro child and the grandfather of three

in-vitro grandchildren am told that that

is a sin then doctrines gone

there's something wrong if the Church of

life is telling me that my daughter and

three grand doing is and there they're

being brought into the world through in

vitro was sinful

now there's something so that's a misuse

and and depending on now in my church

Francis gives me hope after a bad 30 or

40 years since John the 23rd Francis

gives me hope and makes me believe maybe

the Spirit is so indomitable that even

those that we've charged with the

stewardship of the great organized

institutional faiths will be overcome

ultimately by the goodness that's in

people I realized these questions I'm

asking aren't leading directly back to

the role of the sacred and the secular

in the liberal arts but and John you

mentioned this at the very end of your

previous comment and you mentioned it at

the end of your talk but historically

the space of a sacred has also been the

space where we reflect deeply in

practice on what it means to love love

very difficult topic but also the

reality of profound human suffering and

how we keep going in the face of it and

particularly in this day and age the

events of last week the events of the

year before and the century before these

questions of how do we learn to love and

how do we engage and stop and respond to

the profound reality of human suffering

how do those relate to the sacred well I

think the abrahamic face in the

pre-modern world certainly suffering was

never questioned in in I mean obviously

the story of job which is a very

important story in the Bible and job is

a good man

and gods making him suffer and his

friends say he must have done something

wrong you know he's being punished for

something he did wrong but he's a good

man and that story is also mentioned in

the Quran suffering is certainly part of

the world and we will all suffer just by

being human in fact this is the first

truth of the Buddha is is Thanh had the

nature of the world is it is is is the

nature of suffering because the world

this world is not conclusion to put it

in Emily Dickinson's

words the the idea somehow that the

temporal in the presence of the infinite

could could could really exact from us I

think any crises of faith for for

somebody who has deep and profound faith

for me personally I don't know I I know

that I've seen great suffering I've

experienced we've all had levels of

suffering but I've seen great suffering

with incredible fortitude and faith and

it's always just overwhelmed me to see

that it's incredibly inspiring but we

know that there today so many people are

perplexed by the amount of suffering on

the world and by what some have referred

to as the silence of God the absence of

God very often people ask where is God

from our tradition the question is not

where is God where are we to alleviate

that suffering one of the benefits of

tribulation and suffering and and I

actually translated a work called the 17

benefits of tribulation and one of them

was that the suffering of others enables

you to be a vehicle of alleviating that

suffering and certainly our religious

traditions have a profound understanding

of suffering that in fact say nor see

one of the great Turkish saints and

scholars said that sometimes God will

give you tribulations just to make you

uncomfortable in the world because he

wants to

give you a continual reminder that this

is not an abode of comfort for you it's

it's the yearning for the next world and

I think all religious traditions grapple

with this issue but I think profound

faith is is what enables people to

withstand great suffering and I've seen

this I think you know people say that

that religion is the opiate of the

masses but it was there to numb the pain

of the world right it was the heart of a

heartless world and and now I think we

replaced real opium with religion so we

have a crises of opioids in America

because now people numb that suffering I

mean with with drugs and wanting to just

get out of the world ex stasis you know

to experience some out of state

experience from that but as somebody who

knows chronic pain I I always just try

to remind myself that it could be much


so I'm tempted to say nothing because

that was so beautiful

if I add anything and I think I will

it's it's it's dangerous because I'm

going to go to a very personal

illustration of what Holmes was just

talking about so if you've not read and

I have to warn you it's it's it's very

Catholic but in the spirit about many

and acumen ism I would welcome you to

read it if you've not read CS Lewis's

book a grief observed which is his

wrestling through the silence of God and

whether he can continue to believe in

God after the death of his wife whom he

married knowing she was dying a Tony

award-winning will be called Shadowland

which was made about their love for each

other and I will just give personal

testimony to affirm what hamza said I

mean the deepest existential suffering

that I've had was to find my wife who

was younger than me and it was not ill

ten years younger than me and it was not

ill suddenly dead a half an hour after

I'd been speaking to her but what that

transformed was my understanding of our

love into something that was greater and

I've lived every day of the last ten

years trying to be worthy of

representing her in this world and in

the belief unprovable that our love

continues to exist and that she is

conscious of my continuing love as we

will be together and that could not have

come to me and I couldn't have known the

fullness of my love for her cause in

that moment when I found her in that

sudden moment every bit part of my being

cried out to such

dude for her and although I would have

said those words I knew in that moment

that that was true and that was a

spiritual ecstasy that I've lived with

now for the rest of my life so I'm sorry

if that makes people uncomfortable then

I went to that place but it's a it's a

perfect illustration I think I'm sort of

what you said I you know I just lost

both of my parents in the last few

months and my mother who lived with me

the last four years of her life was

suffering from cancer and my mother had

taken her vows of the Bodhisattva about

20 years ago and she was she was

practicing actively what are called the

six perfections and despite the fact

that we knew she was in great pain she

always had a smile on her face and she

never complained and I actually put up

online on on on my website a letter that

her doctor her oncologist had written

and he said in his two decades of

practicing cancer he'd never met a

cancer patient that confronted cancer

the way she did because he said her

symptoms were joy happiness and smiling

and he said he realized that he was the

patient and and she was his doctor and I

think that that was certainly I know it

was her faith and it was a conscious

thing that she she was practicing

this past week at Union Theological

Seminary we welcomed a leading legal

scholar in the United States Michelle

Alexander who wrote the new Jim Crow on

mass incarceration and which she says is

the great moral issue of our day that

that we put people in cages and that

there's a social consensus that this is

allowable and she left the law to come

to a seminary because she said in the

spaces of the law

she found that you couldn't actually

address the deep spiritual needs which

undergird the policy issues that lawyers

are concerned about that the practice of

the law can't get you there so she's

come to a seminary what's so interesting

to me about that is also taking the

register of a way to engage suffering

and including the personal suffering and

how we manage it

putting starkly in front of us

our complicit role in the suffering of

those in our own communities and how

from a secular or sacred or the circle

of them as you describe it John we touch

that place so in my own context we have

a Center for Islamic studies which is

called the Center for Islam

inter-religious engagement and social

justice and we have a Buddhist Center

for Buddhism inter-religious engagement

and social justice to talk about that

social justice part of the reason it's

constructed this way is because

the sacred in the work that we're doing

we believe cannot be undone from the

public work of social justice so and you

spoke of that near the end and John you

have as well but step into that space

with this question of the sacred and the

secular for me well I think one of the I

think the facts of life on Earth is that

there is a great deal of injustice there

always has been I think there's a great

utopian fantasy about creating a world

without justice part of the reason why

sin is in the world is that we're meant

to stand up oppose it within ourselves

and attempt to help others remove it

from themselves I think one of the

things about dr. King and my family is

heavily involved in that movement my

sister actually marched across the

bridge in Selma I marched as a

seven-year-old with my mother on the on

Selma with the theological Union in in

Marin County so one of the things that

was very clear and and I've heard this

from people that were actively involved

in that movement is in fact somebody's

who struggled with my mother and the

civil rights said at her funeral that

that we were motivated by a sense of

hope a sense of righteousness and

indignation about these things but she

said but there wasn't the kind of anger

that you're seeing today in a lot of

people and I think that's because of the

absence of the sacred I think that one

of our prophetic traditions from the

Prophet Muhammad is he said help your

brother the oppressor and the oppressed

and and and they asked him how do we

help the our brother the oppressor in

other words because they knew his

teaching so what do we oppress with him

and he said by stopping him from his

oppression and Albert memy wrote a very

important book called the colonized

the colonized which is he was a Jewish

Tunisian who was looking at the

colonization of Tunisia and as an

outsider as a Jewish outsider within the

Tunisian community he could see this

horrible cycle and the wonderful poet

Blake talks about the the purple tyrants

the hand of vengeance found the purple

tyrants bed and and smashes the purple

tyrants head and then becomes a tyrant

in his stead that this is the cycle of

justice the desire for justice by

becoming unjust the something Nietzsche

warned us in fighting the monster don't

become a monster and this is very often

what happens in these movements I mean

one of the tragedies now of seeing a lot

of reverse racism and I'm seeing a lot

of this now just in in in a lot of the

the just from the black lives movement

which has emerged which which is

addressing a very important issue but

when it's very tragic for me to see a

society that there is I don't think

there's any society and I've been all

over this world I don't think there's

any society that is actively trying to

overcome the historical wrongs of the

past like this society and I really

believe that I we the

anti-discrimination laws that have been

enacted in this country are are

unprecedented and they're imitated in

other places but many places don't have

them if you want to see real racism and

I've lived in Africa I've lived in the

Middle East and and I've been to Asia

you you will find racism that has no

redress to those wrongs and I think that

the fact that there were so many white

people involved in the civil rights

movement that we're trying to overcome

those wrongs and and I get and I


the real problems that a lot of white

people have about white privilege and

all these things I understand that but

we need to help people overcome within

themselves not from a place of anger but

a place centered and rooted in a

spiritual desire for not only helping

ourselves but helping others overcome

these tribulations and I truly believe

that it is the sacred voice that enables

this I don't think the secular voice has

that capacity because I think the second

voice too easily falls into the demands

of justice and not recognizing that not

only do we need social justice we need

social mercy and I and I really believe

we need a social mercy movement the

history of righteous anger


remember anger ethically should be

directed to the right object in the

right degree for with the right amount

at the right time and for the right


and so when you're just angry which a

lot of people are we call it road rage

where I come from I mean there's just

people that are they're pissed off and

they're walking around angry and they're

looking for anybody to explore their

anger with and and that's a spiritual

disease anger is a mortal sin not

because it's an activity of an event or

two events or three events it's a state

of being IRA it is a state of being and

when you fall into that state of being

whether it's righteous anger because

every angry person is going to justify

their anger but if you don't see it for

what it is our Prophet was asked once by

a man he said give me some advice and he

said talk about don't get angry and he

said give me some advice and he said in

other words I know I don't want that if

I give me some real advice and the

Prophet said let's talk about don't get

angry and he said a third time give me

some advice he said don't get angry

so I'll just I'll just loop back to say

that there is so much suffering in the

world I mean now in I'm back on the

faculty at NYU but but in my work

outside of NYU I'm trying to bring

education to the kids in the world that

that are being neglected I mean really

neglected 85 million 85 million primary

and secondary aged kids in the world

today who if we don't change things will

never once in their lives meet a teacher

ok never once not one nobody's even

pretending to educate them another 260

million that I'll never get past the

fourth grade so 350 million kids that

had just been written off and some other

were in urban slums and some of them in

remote areas and we just don't care

because they don't have a disease that

we might catch okay there's a lot of

suffering out there and if if we can

touch the religious space the sacred

space that we've been talking about then

we understand that sacrifice for others

is is the natural extension of love of

self it's really the only way to love

yourself and to see real love is to

extend it so so the social justice

movement is intrinsically in my view

tied up with the spirituality that comes

with the elevation of what it means to

be human and the universal that that's

getting back to not dividing up into you

know oh I'm on the winning team but but

you know it's very interesting from this

stage Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrestled one

night in a major lecture with the

question what does it mean to be the


people and he said much in the same

words that hamza has said here tonight

chosen for special obligation I've

chosen for special privilege and that's

what connects all of this with me so

we're getting near the end of our time

and I can't avoid asking you both a

question about this conversation in the

context of the election so you knew it

was coming

no conversation can happen in this

country right now that lasts more than

five minutes without it turning to this

topic what is being revealed to us from

your positions as theologians who engage

the public square in this election it's

the end of time

somebody said it's like one of those

television series or soap operas where

at the end they just start getting so

outrageous in their scenarios but I have

just a one of the benefits of learning

logic one of my close associates and

dear friends is a ER doctor down in

Florida she's teaching her

thirteen-year-old logic she did formal

logic with her now she's doing material

logic so they watched the debates last

night and she said she's 13 years old

she's saying oh my god mom dad that's an

ad populum oh that's an ad hominem

attack and so she was picking up on all

the on all the fallacies going on in the

debate so that was one of the benefits

you know we forget that logic was

actually taught in all the high schools

in the United States even even 60 or 70

years ago which helped a lot for people

to see these my great-grandmother

studied Bains logic in black Falls

Wisconsin and I actually have her book I

know she had a toothache on December

23rd 1882 because she wrote it in her

book but they have there's a chapter on

on the emotions because that's part of

learning rhetoric is dealing with the

emotions and probably the most

interesting section in Aristotle's book

on rhetoric is his section on the

emotions and explaining the emotions but

one of the things that in in Bane's book

is that fear is often used by demagogues

and a population should always be

vigilant when they see a politician or a

demagogue using fear to scare people

because people will override their

rational impulses and and move towards

irrational responses when the emotion of

fear begins to motivate them and so I

think the thing that troubles me most

about this current environment is the

environment of fear and I think there's

a lot of unsettled aspects that are

happening but the other thing that that


voules me is I just I watched once great

speeches with my wife and we watched the

inaugural address of Kennedy and and you

know in Kennedy was no saint and I'm not

in any way sentimental about that but I

just after watching this speech I turned

and my wife had tears coming down her

eyes and she just looked at me and she

says what happened you know how do we go

from that to to to what we've got now

and I would argue that it's a loss of

liberal arts education


so this might be the first point of

disagreement of the night I didn't

expect that we would go here but I'm

very happy to be here and it only might

be and I won't I will push it except to

say the following it could be the end of

time but notice the difference ok I'm

not making a declarative statement it is

the end of time I I took that as being a

bit facetious it was ok it's it's always

the end of yeah

but but but I'm gonna use the difference

you're playing baseball I'm gonna use

the differentiated language for a

purpose because I spent a lot of time in

the world of logic and I agree with you

about it and I'm gonna say that this is

a very very tough moment as I said for

thought and for trust and if we reward

the absence of thought and if we allow

20 years at least of the building of a

Colosseum society where 85% of Americans

say in polls they don't trust their

neighbors forget about the institution's

there's just no trust we we have a

trustee named Evan chess Allah

Evan chess Allah grew up as a tailor's

son up in the Grand Congress I may have

a factor too long because I'm I'm

reaching back to when we installed him

in this building as a trustee in a

ceremony about 2002

and he said that he grew up on the Grand

Concourse and and he was the only one in

his family that went to high school and

the only one that read the newspaper and

he would come home from high school and

he would say to his father at the dinner

table dad what about this what about

that and Evans father would always say

don't worry Evan they're taking care of

it and he said I always wondered who

they were and tonight as I become a

trustee of NYU this is 2002 I realize

I'm part of they with the responsibility

to take care of it right and I said to

him last night I said you know Evan no

father is saying that to his son in the

United States today

no one believes they're taking care of

it but there is a reason for that ladies

and gentlemen in 1995 I was the head of

the Association of American law schools

and I wrote a pastoral letter to all my

constituents all the professors and

educators in the country because I been

given a copy of an internal memo by a

man named Frank Luntz two candidates for

office saying if you want to win attack

law and lawyers there is nothing too

negative you can say about them and I

remember writing at that time this is a

nation that was built on law on de

Tocqueville's notion of the Jeffersonian

law and if we start attacking law and

lawyers and then idea there's got to be

just as corrosive build-up and there is

no equivalency between the two

participants in that debate last night

and I I don't care how you bohtan I'm

gonna tell you how I'm voting and I'm

with her okay and the fact of the matter

is the fact of the matter is that if

that man is the representative of this

country to the world and to our children

not only will we all be embarrassed by


but we will have rewarded a 40 years

baseless attack on a strong woman

and we will have put another nail in the

coffin of thought so yes do I think that

she's a panacea or perfect no do I think

that on January 21st the campaign of

2020 will begin and that it will require

leadership beyond my capacity and

perhaps beyond hers to restore trust in

this country and so forth because the

pummeling will begin of course I believe

it's going to start then but make no

mistake about it I'm not going to leave

this stage with any any doubt that I

think there was an equivalency or is an

equivalency in terms of where this

should be

and that's not so much a political

endorsement as is an endorsement of

liberal arts education period end of

case I certainly wasn't making any

equivalency I always looked look for

good grammar that's just a hallmark I've

always found that on the Internet

invariably all the stupid statements of

trolls are poorly written so last last

question John earlier you brought up

Abraham Joshua Heschel amazing intellect

who fifty years ago last spring wrote a

remarkable essay no religion is an

island in which he made the claim the

very radical claim that actually a

religious person actually only comes to

know themself truly through their

encounter with another religion and not

just an encounter but one in which they

are willing to be vulnerable and less

than their own hold upon the claim

of their own religion that that is in

fact the most sacred moment when your

own hold is loosening as you encounter

the other so could we end with each of

you giving a description of a moment in

your own life when that was in fact

manifest that's your own sense of your

own tradition was jarred loose by an

encounter with another in another

religious tradition well for me

personally I once worked as a cardiac

nurse and I had a patient who had just

had a heart attack he was a Sikh and yet

his turban on and he was he was opening

up his heart to me about what was

happening to him and the turban the Sikh

turban disappeared and that other nurse

completely dissipated and I just saw

another human being in front of me

confronting his mortality and reaching

out to me for solace and I think we just

we very often I've never been a person I

went through a period just after being

brainwashed for a little while

dogmatically probably that was

troublesome for me but I wasn't raised

like that so I it didn't last very long

and and I think a lot of religious

converts to other religions often very

they very often in fact mama Gandhi said

about Marmaduke Pickthall that he was

that rare individual that convert could

convert to another religion without

becoming a fanatic and so I think I've

never looked at people with religious

hats on or religious personas I've

looked them I try to look at them I mean

I I look at

John sex and I see a very distinguished

man of character and that I respect and

I'm not gonna let his Catholicism which

I respect deeply because I I grew up in

the Catholic tradition and and um in

some ways an armchair Catholic

theologian but and the same is true for

any other religious faith I and even

secular people I'm not I'm not going to

allow the secularity to blind me from

their goodness one of the things that

the Quran says is Leia dear Amanda come

Shanna and no commonality recorded taqwa

it says do not let the hatred of another

people prevent you from being just and

so even when people hate you it should

not prevent you from being just with

them let alone merciful and

compassionate for those that don't hate

you and so the word in Arabic Shannon is

a specific type of hatred that blinds

you of the goodness of the of the object

of your hate and that's the worst form

of hatred where you can't even see the

the goodness in the other and so I think

ultimately that's my attempt and that's

why my mother was in the world she I

once said to my brother that she didn't

see color and he said no I totally

disagree with you

she saw colors and she loved it she

relished it



so for me it would be too easy to refer

to the fact that everybody in my family

my children my wife my grandchildren are

all Jewish and the Seder is is is always

an experience that takes me out of

myself every time I go to NYU Abu Dhabi

I'm take it out of myself by the wonder

that I see in the evidence spirituality

of some of the people I encounter there

I can't give I can't give an example as

deep as Hamza just did I wouldn't try to

touch the space that he just touched but

if I were you know in a life that tries

always to see things through the the

ecumenical lens that I described earlier

I think perhaps some of my deepest

ecstatic experiences you know where I've

looked back on my own experience I said

boy I've been taken out by another's

religion have occurred in very remote

areas of the world where I encounter

extraordinary spirituality in villages

or huts and Laos and Cambodia and you

just there's this sense of the ancestors

and the spirits that we don't associate

with modern dogmatic religion it's it's

it's it's almost pre temporal or

prehistorical at least but I've been in

the presence of people who manifest such

a deep spirituality and and a

blessedness and a goodness and a

happiness that comes out in both Laos

and Cambodia and then undergone najara

of listening to their stories about how

they would blind themselves in one eye

to prevent going into the military

service tour

the war the American war is they call it

and I think every time I'll just come

back this is maybe being too

intellectual but every time that we

enter into what I called early a

dialogic dialogue not just a dialogue

but where you're listening to each other

in exchanging views and so forth but

will you really try to put yourself in

the place of the other being and

understand where he or she is and then

face back that's been a habit of life

that was inculcated in me by a great man

who used to teach her at NYU he was my

mentor at Fordham named Hugh and cousins

who when I met him in 1963 was the

world's leading expert on a single

medieval theologian of the Christian

faith and by 1983 when I was beginning

my career here at NYU there was a

conference at the United Nations that I

intended to celebrate the publication of

his 60 volume work on world spirituality

which had 25 faith traditions in their

spiritual ineffable strain because all

the organized religions have that

spiritual ineffable strain that's the

greatest migration I ever saw and I've

just tried to expose myself as much as I

can to it well I ask all of you to join

me in thanking


these two theologians these two

defenders and inspires of the liberal

arts tradition and two very deep public

intellectuals and I feel privileged to

have been here tonight I want to thank

the people who organized this at NYU and

all the good work that's going on here

and walk away from this with lots to

think about and lots to do thank you all