TALKING THROUGH MY HAT: How Ahmadinejad Made Me a Believer
[The following is the text of the First Episode of Roger L. Simon's "Talking Through My Hat" series for PJTV. You can see it here.]
I have never been much of a believer.
The very night of my bar mitzvah - back in that early Paleolithic Age known as the 1950s - I went to see “Inherent the Wind” the play about the Scopes Monkey Trial with Paul Muni as the legendary attorney Clarence Darrow, upending some Tennessee yokels who wouldn’t allow teaching Darwin in the schools. Just the ticket for a wannabe smarty-pants New York boy
I returned to ask my parents, who were then in bed: “Do you believe in God?” Before they had a chance to answer – they were liberals and looking for a “measured” response – I blurted out proudly “Well, I don’t.”
Never mind that the theory of evolution has little to do, probatively, with a belief in God. Teenage rebellion coupled with some precocious reading of Bertrand Russell – he was cool and smoked a pipe - had taken over. From then on in I proclaimed myself an atheist or… or more specifically… an agnostic. I mean - who knew, right?
In fact, lo these decades later, I still don’t know. I usually joke with those few who are interested that the existence of God – as someone else said on a related matter - was “above my grade.” And, of course, in a literal sense, it is. St. Thomas, St. Anselm or Maimonides…. I am not. Far from it. In fact, to be blunt, I went along in my life mostly ignoring the big issue, lost in the Big Bang, as it were.
Sometimes I would explain, if pressed, that in a universe of, according to some Australian astronomer, 70 sextillion stars – that’s 22 zeros – it was hard to conceive of a deity interested in daily affairs on our speck of a planet: less than one grain of sand on all the beaches of the world combined, by comparison.
And then there was the matter of the Holocaust. How could a beneficent God… or any God worth worshipping… have permitted that? I still have trouble with that one.
So I remained unmoved as an agnostic… even if my wife and I did send our daughter to a Chabad Sunday school for a couple of years… Hey, whoever said I was consistent?
Meanwhile, however, I was going through a political transformation of a sort, which I won’t detail here, but describe in my memoir Blacklisting Myself. But during a CSPAN interview on the book, Armstrong Williams did challenge me on my religious beliefs.
Suffice it to say, that although I moved ideologically rightward on a number of issues, that didn’t include social ones. I was still the good old agnostic I always was.
Until I went to Geneva, Switzerland a couple of weeks ago. I was there to cover Durban II, aka the Durban Review Conference – an attempt by the United Nations to ratify the results of its 2001 human rights conclave in Durban, South Africa.
Actually that original conference was an orgy of anti-Semitism from which Israel and the US walked out.It was nothing worth ratifying unless you were racist. I was in Geneva with others to monitor the situation.
But I didn’t realize the man who turned out to be the conference’s key speaker – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic of Iran - would be staying in my hotel. I learned that surprising fact from some Swiss security people only minutes before I saw the Iranian president face to face.
Standing in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, we were suddenly told to put our cameras away.We were not allowed to take pictures and indeed had to keep our cell phones in our pockets, lest they be construed as a weapon.