Bill Moyers: Faith & Reason Collection DVD Review: The Intersection of Belief and Logic

An extensive and intelligent collection that should be part of the library of any Bill Moyers fan, the Faith & Reason Collection provides an invaluable exploration of the things we believe and the reasons we believe them.

This box set from Athena includes three PBS documentaries (On Faith & Reason, The Wisdom of Faith and Amazing Grace) on six discs, amounting to over a dozen hours of intellectually-stimulating programming.

On Faith & Reason features interviews with a dozen writers and intellectuals, with Moyers proving a sharp and entertaining presence while allowing his subjects to talk without interruption or needless fireworks. Featuring writers like Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, the interviews are unadorned with needless superfluities and feature the subjects in thoughtful consideration.

The Rushdie interview is of particular interest. The author of The Satanic Verses discusses Islamism in erudite detail, using his troubling personal experiences with fanaticism as a foundation. For Rushdie, religion has fascinating influence on society and should be examined carefully from a scholarly position. Other subjects of the interview include the Danish cartoons and the innateness of morality.

Pema Chodron is also featured on the On Faith & Reason program. Her insights into Buddhism are captivating, as is the detailing of her personal journey to the way of life. Moyers seems particularly fascinated by the concept of “biting the hook” and gently pushes the conversation with astute, compassionate questions.

Author and professor of comparative religion Huston Smith joins Moyers for The Wisdom of Faith, a varied documentary that runs through the world’s major religions with an eye for the beauty and truth in each path.

Smith, who wrote the exceptional book The World’s Religions, is a passionate guide through the five episodes of this program. He has managed to find something wondrous in the various faiths of the world and he joins Moyers to convey these sensibilities to the world. Whether the prayerful submission of Islam or the remarkable skill of Buddhist monks able to express their convictions through harmonic chant, The Wisdom of Faith serves as an intriguing overview of what we believe and how we believe it.

The Faith & Reason Collection also includes an 80-minute documentary about the origins and power of one of the world’s most famous hymns. Amazing Grace draws on performances of the piece from the likes of Johnny Cash and prison inmates (24 renditions in all are featured), but it’s the story of English sailor and clergyman John Newton that grounds this documentary historically.

Moyers’ own history of faith is particularly beneficial here, as his questions about the origins of the hymn and the fact that it “belongs to everyone” prove as the impetus behind the material.

As if the three aforementioned documentaries weren’t enough, the Faith & Reason Collection also includes a 54-minute profile of folk singer Pete Seeger. Pure Pete Seeger was filmed for Bill Moyers Journal at the singer and activist’s home in Hudson Valley and makes for a nice addition to the set.

Another terrific entry in the Bill Moyers library of documentaries and television specials, the Faith & Reason Collection handles an often charged subject with clear eyes and sharp intelligence. There are no sweeping generalizations, no off-kilter judgements and no wiry expressions of fanatic devotion.

Religion forms a very tangible component in the lives of millions the world over, moving some to violence and others to great acts of compassion. Moyers treats the topic with care, but he’s not afraid to ask questions and maintain his critical spirit, ensuring that the content of this six-disc set is grounded in reason as much as it is in faith.

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Critical curmudgeon

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