God for the Godless: Salman Rushdie’s Secular Sermon

David Van Biema in Time:

Rushdie_1109The fatwa — now more or less lifted — did not sour Rushdie from his conviction that religion is necessary to writers, if only because it provides the only available language on certain topics. “I think that a lot of us, whether we are religious or not — there are no words to express some things except religious words,” he said. “For instance, ‘soul.” I don’t believe in an afterlife or heaven or hell, yet there isn’t a secular word for that feeling that we are not only flesh and blood. Whether you’re religious or not you may find yourself obliged to use language shaped by religion.”

Under the prompting of Gauri Viswanathan, a Columbia professor of English and Comparative literature, Rushdie expressed a deep appreciation for the outward expressions of faith. “I grew up looking out my window at Kings College chapel [the iconic building at Cambridge University, which Rushdie attended],” he says. “And its hard not to believe in the capacity of religion to create beauty” with that sight in his memory. He then expressed wonder that, as a non-Christian secularist, he was invited in 1993 to preach a sermon in that same chapel and did. “There are moments in your life that surprise you,” he said.

More here.