Michael Gerson: Eric, I really enjoyed your timely and important book. One of the most remarkable things about it is its form. I want to start off by asking: Why wrap civic engagement in the form of religion?
Eric Liu: First of all, I’m so grateful we’re having this conversation, and the admiration is profoundly mutual.
I would say, as you well know, that the forms of religious ritual and gathering are deeply ingrained not just sociologically, but psychologically. We are wired to seek meaning. We are wired to seek meaning in the company of others. We are wired then to create rituals that make sacred the mystery of both existence and the miracle of the fact that we’re even able to pull together and hold together a society that runs more than one round.
It’s not surprising that these forms, these structures, these methods, these modes would resonate with people whether or not they were themselves practitioners of a faith tradition. In my own life, I was not raised in any faith tradition. My parents were born in mainland China during war and revolution and then went to Taiwan before coming to the United States as students. They had never been raised in a religious tradition. And yet, I would say that more than your average person, I’m especially wired for belief and belonging and to make meaning. And I think as the child of immigrants and somebody who, from the get-go, has appreciated both this exceptional blessing and the exceptional burden that comes with it of inheriting a creed, I’ve channelled a lot of that innate wiring for belief and belonging into a desire to make American life as meaningful as it can possibly be. And that desire has been transmuted into what I think of as American civic religion.