David Berlinski on Religion, His Teaching, and His Life in Paris

ENV: You describe yourself as a “secular Jew” and “remarkably indifferent to the religious life.” Yet so much of your writing bears directly on whether religion has been intellectually defeated by secular, science-flavored ideologies. You can’t have given no thought to religious questions. Would you share with us your hunches and suspicions about spiritual reality, the trend in your thinking, if not your firm beliefs?
DB: No. Either I cannot or I will not. I do not know whether I am unable or unwilling. The question elicits in me a stubborn refusal. Please understand. It is not an issue of privacy. I have, after all, blabbed my life away: Why should I call a halt here? I suppose that I am by nature a counter-puncher. What I am able to discern of the religious experience often comes about reactively. V.S. Naipaul remarked recently that he found the religious life unthinkable.
He does, I was prompted to wonder? Why does he?
His attitude gives rise to mine. That is the way in which I wrote The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions.
Is there anything authentic in my religious nature?
Beats me.

ENV: Your recent work is concerned with critiquing the myths of a materialist science. How does that theme relate to your earlier teaching and writing?
DB: I do think that my essays share a common concern. I agree with you. I am not sure whether “myths of a materialist science,” quite describes what I have always had in mind. It is something less grand, I suppose.
I don’t think any of this ever made it into my classrooms. I was pretty much occupied in getting the calculus across to my students. I did not have much time for anything else.
ENV: Why do you live in Paris?
DB: What is it that Horace says? Coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. [“Those who cross the sea change their sky, not their soul.”]
ENV: In Ben Stein’s documentary, Expelled, you mentioned that you live in the oldest (one of the oldest?) apartment buildings in Paris. What is your life there like? Give us a quick slice of it.
DB: Up at four; at work at five; lunch in the local cafe, where I am a regular; exercise or walking in the afternoon; dinner out most nights; from time to time, the theater or a concert. I seem to have separated from the friends I made and I’ve not made new ones. I am by temperament solitary, like the mole or the badger, now that I come to think about it, the Old Mole of Rue Chanoinesse.