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Thomas Moore: Accounting for the Mysterious

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Moving on to the concept of Eros, you talk about that is not only about love, it can also be about expanding and enriching life.

Loving what you do in life, loving where you live, loving the people around you—all that love is part of Eros. If we don’t attend to [Eros], I think it can get shrunken and focused on sexuality. But Eros seems to be all about sex. And I’ve said this for so long, and I wrote a book called The Soul of Sex a few years ago, and I like talking about this a lot. Our sexuality is not limited to having a sex partner and sexual experiences. It’s about being in this world where we feel connected and we have desire and longings that we attend to, and find some satisfaction. So to be really engaged in life and to want to learn, to wonder, to feel connected to the people around you and feel that you’re doing some kind of work that manifests who you are, all of that is part of an erotic life. I think our sexuality is directly involved in that, so I think we may feel we have sexual problems and try to deal with those directly, but it’s better to look at life in a broader sense and say, Where is the love? Where is the awareness of the desire, the longing? Where is the pleasure, the satisfaction, and the wonder?

You’ve spoken of yourself as a “religious humanist.”

My namesake, Thomas Moore of England, who lived in the 16th century, was called a religious humanist and there were people around him—friends of his, Erasmus and other intellectuals—who were very interested in the arts, humanities, and learning. They were translating books and they were part of Renaissance humanism. They loved to get more and more knowledge, especially to learn from people who had gone before, so that’s how I think of religious humanism. It’s a lot of worldly life, a lot of learning, of the arts, and taking deep pleasure in these very worldly things—and at the same time appreciating the great mysteries and having this profound sense of wonder so you’re always asking about the deep things that happen and what are they all about. And searching for meaning. So I think you put those two together. And a lot of times people use the word "humanist" to refer to someone who doesn’t have any interest in religion, but that’s only a modern view. That’s not the way humanism was discussed a few centuries ago. I always live in the past so I really relate to that time of Thomas Moore of England. I feel at home calling myself a religious humanist.

I was raised Catholic so I understand being angry at the Church.

My point exactly.

So most likely given publishing schedules you were probably writing this before Pope Francis came into the world.

Yes, I was.

I’ve heard a lot of lapsed Catholics saying that they feel welcome and hopeful again, which is something they never thought they’d experience. You were brought up Catholic and served in the Servite Order for 12 years. What do you think of Pope Francis?

Well he’s definitely having an impact. I’ve been saying lately that I’ve been waiting most of my life for a pope to come along who could talk more simply and without all that heavy authority and leave room for people to find their own way, not just moralistically thinking—that’s what it means to be religious. But he has been doing that publically and it’s amazing, so here we have a pope who makes his own breakfast in the Vatican and word of that gets all around the globe, and suddenly people want to be Catholic again. It’s quite a remarkable thing. So he doesn’t have to talk about dogma and what you should believe—for him it’s more about style. I think it’s wonderful. That’s what a religious leader ought to be. I always thought that the pope should be very much like the Dalai Lama—someone who is respected around the world as a religious leader and is not caught up in all the pomp and circumstance and finances and rules and judging people. And Pope Francis has shown himself to be wonderful along those lines, especially about not judging people. If he continues that way and has an impact on his own official church that way—I’m not sure that he can, but if he can, I’m sure that a lot more people will come back to the Catholic Church.

And this fits into another thing. I know from my travels that people all over the globe are hungry for spiritual guidance. They want to have spirituality in their lives. And the churches are emptying, as we were talking about before. So if you put those two things together, it just makes sense. The church should be able to reach those people and offer them guidance. But there are several things they have to do—the first thing the Church needs to do is get over its gender problem. And not be so male-dominated—it’s so obvious that that’s a huge problem today. You really, truly have to be living in some other century not to see that. And people today don’t want to be told so much what to do and don’t want to be judged—and rightfully so. They want some guidance and encouragement and inspiration. If the Catholic Church can do all that, I can see it coming back and really thriving. But they’re going to have to change radically, and the church is going to have to go further than we are right now with Pope Francis.

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