Norman Lear’s People for the American Way turns 30 this week. He talked with Lloyd Grove about being 90, why he loves ‘The Book of Mormon’ and how the right hijacked patriotism.
It might surprise—or even vex—Pat Robertson, Bryan Fischer, Jimmy Swaggart and other firebrands of the Christian Right that Norman Lear considers himself a religious man.
“I believe I am deeply religious,” Lear tells me in the middle of a chat about People for the American Way, the prominent advocacy group he founded 30 years ago to promote free speech, civil rights, gender and same-sex equality, the right to seek justice in the court system, and to combat the insidious—in many cases overt—influence of religious dogma on American politics and government.
“I’m culturally as Jewish as I can be, respectful of all of it, but I don’t like the dogma in any religion,” says Lear (who notes that he isn’t strictly observing Yom Kippur this week). “I am the ultimate fan of The Book of Mormon, which savages—savages!—everything wrong with every religion that allows us to believe fucking nonsense and kill each other.”
Another reason he loves the hit Broadway musical is “it celebrates the human need for some transcendence, the need for answers to everything I don’t know and something better,” Lear adds. “That’s religion for me and I hope for everybody—not the ones who believe in hell and damnation and all that shit.”
Lear allows himself a chuckle—something he frequently does when discussing the things that both alarm and amuse him.
Holding forth in his Manhattan pied-a-terre—a fabulous, sun-dappled apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of Central Park on one side and the Hudson River on the other—Lear neither acts nor looks like someone preparing to turn 90 next July.
Sporting jeans and a cap to cover a fringe of white hair, he exudes the life force—reminding me just a little of Truman Capote’s famous description of the aging CBS mogul William S. Paley (“He looks like a man who has just swallowed an entire human being”). But in a good way!
“Liberals unfortunately are cursed with reason. But I’m not cursed with reason when I read the Bill of Rights. The fucking Bill of Rights is as clear as it can be.”
“I feel, being almost 90, exactly the way I did when I was 70 and 50,” says Lear, who has finally gotten around to working on his memoirs. “Except I’m smarter—there’s no question in my mind—from the learning process. I don’t mean ‘smarter’ the way we usually mean ‘smarter.’ I only mean I know myself better, and therefore a little bit more about us, the human species.” Read story at The Daily Beast