Friend and interviewer of Ivan Illich, David Cayley has produced a series of quite interesting radio programs about religion for the CBC. They don't specifically mention Illich, but anyone who has listened to Cayley's The Corruption of Christianity radio program or read the accompanying book, The Rivers North of the Future, will likely appreciate this new program a good deal. We have, anyway.
The program is called After Atheism, and it consists of five interviews with thinkers, some believers, some not, who have been delving into religion and faith from a modern point of view. For instance, John Caputo is an expert in the philosophy of deconstruction, as put forth by Jacques Derrida, and he finds that method of analyzing texts very helpful in understanding Christianity. Indeed, he came to the surprising conclusion that Derrida himself had been thinking along religious lines right from the beginning, a thought that the radical and presumably atheistic philosopher eventually confirmed quite explicitly.
William Cavanaugh, meanwhile, has looked carefully at how religion and state relate to each other. Put simplistically, he finds that in certain ways, the state itself has created religion as a foil, as something whose clutches it can claim to have saved society from and thereby justify itself.
James Carse wonders what religion is and finds that belief actually has little to do with it. Instead, the great religions look to him like never-ending conversations, endlessly fascinating to those involved -- and to those on the outside, too -- because they attempt to answer questions -- could a guy nailed to a cross, for instance, really be god? -- that seem impossible to answer. The intent is not actually to answer these questions conclusively -- that would end the conversation -- but to make sure that the questions remain in play, so to speak. This leads Carse to some interesting thoughts on death, too -- and much more.
We're unable to do Cayley or his interview subjects justice. Anyone interested, however, can download and listen to his program as a set of five podcasts, available (at no charge) through the iTunes store or here on the CBC Ideas podcast page.
We highly recommend these shows, and especially to anyone who, like us, has sought to grapple with the religious aspects of Illich's thought. Like many people, we suspect, we came to Illich through his early books, about tools and schools, about hospitals and cars. There, Christian thought was quite implicit, lurking very far in the background. Only the occasional hint shined through - an intriguing citation of Thomas Aquinas in the introduction to Tools for Conviviality, for instance. It was clear enough to his readers that Illich was a Christian believer, but he made a point of never relying on biblical references, for instance, to buttress his critiques of major institutions. He knew better, he would later admit, than to lose his audience that way. Towards the end of his life, though, and largely in the interviews he gave to a well-informed and deeply appreciative David Cayley, he made his religious beliefs more explicit. And looking back, it's quite clear that those beliefs were always there, informing his thought, shaping his understanding much as we, for one, suspected all along but never were quite able to pin down.