Bill Moyers talks with Diana Eck, author and professor of comparative religion at Harvard; and Dr. Manuel Trujillo, Director of Psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital in New York.
BILL MOYERS: Hello again. I’m Bill Moyers. In conversation tonight with two people with very different approaches to the horrible drama that America has experienced since a week ago Tuesday.
You’ll meet the woman who has been called America’s best god to our new pluralism and then the man who, as chief of psychiatry at one of our major New York hospitals, has been dealing directly with the traumatic wounds of terrorism.
We’re seeking tonight insight into how democracy now copes with the new religious landscape and how each of us individually copes with inner landscapes ravaged by the fact of some 6,000 deaths in one great gulp. Let’s begin with a brief excerpt from public television’s religion and ethics newsweekly about professor Diana Eck.
DIANA ECK: In simple terms we have become the most religiously diverse nation on earth. We have extensive Buddhist traditions, places like Los Angeles now really the most complex Buddhist city in the entire world. We have Hindus who have come not just from India but from Trinidad and the Caribbean. We have Muslims who have come from the Middle East and from India and Pakistan and Africa and Indonesia.
We have this challenge in the United States to do something that is really never been done before, which is to create a multi-religious and democratic state.
BILL MOYERS: Exactly what is this pluralism project you’ve been conducting at Harvard?
DIANA ECK: It started about ten years ago, Bill, and it started with my students when I realized that in my own classes I had students not just from all over the world, internationally, but students who had grown up in the united states as Muslims, who grew up in Pittsburgh or Hindus in San Antonio.
And I realized I didn’t know much about the new religious diversity of the United States so i set out to find out. And I used students and graduate student researchers to study for three or four years just who we’ve become religiously.
BILL MOYERS: Who are we? You say we have a new religious landscape.
DIANA ECK: A new religious landscape in the sense that all over this country there are mosques in places like Toledo and Cleveland and Arizona, Mesa, Arizona. And Hindu temples rising in the suburbs. The “we, the people” of the United States of America has become so much more complex, richly so. 48 but most of us don’t realize it.
BILL MOYERS: It happens right down the street and around the corner, not around the world anymore. Yet we just… Until I read your book, even as a reporter, I didn’t realize how extensive the changes have been.
DIANA ECK: They have been extensive. And yet most of us don’t really see it. I think one of the real gifts, if we could call it that, of the last week has been the recognition that we are religiously diverse in ways we had never imagined. To see president bush, for example, standing at the mosque on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C. With a group of Muslims, some of whom I’ve known for some time, Muslim law professor whom I’m sure you’ve interviewed as well, standing 49 there in the heart of the nation’s capital and speaking about Muslim-Americans.
Interestingly when that mosque was dedicated by Dwight Eisenhower in the early ’50s he saw it as a symbol of the presence of countries from the other side of the world, from the Muslim world, and their delegations to America. And, of course, now it’s a symbol of American Muslims.
BILL MOYERS: Isn’t it a paradox to you though that these attacks ostensibly by Muslim extremists, militants came not long after the U.S. Navy commissioned its first Muslim chapel?
DIANA ECK: This is true. Even the great fleet that is taking off as we speak from Norfolk navy base leaves from a navy base that is the first in the United States to have its own mosque.
BILL MOYERS: I didn’t know that.
DIANA ECK: So there has been this dawning awareness that Islam is not in some other part of the world but is one of our religions. The Muslim world isn’t somewhere else but is in Chicago and in Washington D.C. And, you know, in Toledo.
BILL MOYERS: Is it true that there are more Muslims in America now than there are Episcopalians, Presbyterians and perhaps even Jews.
DIANA ECK: Of course we don’t have exact numbers. We don’t do a religious census. There are about six million Muslims in the United States. That’s pretty accurate to say.
BILL MOYERS: This is the question that so many Americans are wrestling with tonight I think. One of the great American motifs, one of the great American myths is e pluribus unum, out of the many, one. What do you think the last seven days have done to that ideal.
DIANA ECK: There’s one sense in which it’s been so sobering.
I mean, to recognize from the standpoint of American Muslims and Sikhs, how they themselves have felt suddenly afraid in what is by now their own country, the attack on mosques within hours of the tragedy here in New York and in Washington. Whether in Kansas City or in New York itself. We begin to see Muslim parents taking their kids home from school and Muslim schools like the new horizon school in Los Angeles closing. Sikhs begin to be mistaken for Muslims, a Sikh gentleman hauled off a train in providence because he looked a bit like Osama bin Laden. And last Saturday a gas station attendant in mesa, Arizona, shot, killed. Killed not perhaps as one of my colleagues has put it because of hatred but because of sheer ignorance that we do not know who we are. One of the chapters in my new book, a new religious America, is called “afraid of ourselves. “We are in a sense afraid of ourselves.
BILL MOYERS: This is a book I have to recommend to everyone I see. I’ve done so. I want to quote from it. I want to read you a quote from your own book. I want to put this quote on the screen.
DIANA ECK: Yes, I think that’s true.
BILL MOYERS: That’s a strong declarative statement.
DIANA ECK: It is. But I think, you know, the issue is that we have so long presumptively thought of ourselves as a Christian nation, a Judeo-Christian nation, a secular nation as well, but we have never really stepped up to the plate and said, “now in the late 20th and early 21st century, we have to take seriously the religious freedom that is part of our constitution.” And religious freedom brings religious diversity. Now we have it. We have lots of it. Diversity itself is not pluralism.
Pluralism requires, as I think in that quote I said, that we engage with that diversity. We find ways to know one another because we can’t live at such close quarters with one another without knowing more about one another than we do.
BILL MOYERS: It seems to me that Osama bin Laden, if he’s behind this, would have one goal in mind:. To divide our communities here and turn us against each other and inflict that kind of wound upon us.
But let me ask you, something, Diana, I’ve had considerable sympathy the last week for the agnostics and the atheists in this country. They’re protected by that constitution.
DIANA ECK: They sure are.
BILL MOYERS: Yet there’s been so much god talk from the Muslim side or the militant side and then from all the rest of us that it must be hard on people who find their principles, their ethics, their ideals without a religious belief.
DIANA ECK: Well, and that also is protected by our constitution.
That we are free from religion as well as free to be religious in the many ways in which we choose to be so. And there are people who have come here from other parts of the world who have had quite enough of their religious traditions. And have chosen to live in America as immigrants because of our religious freedom.
But I must say that one of the things I’ve seen most positively about these recent events, if one can see any real positive thing, and that is the coming together in a multi-faith way to mourn, to remember, to have vigils. Almost none of the major services that I’ve seen has been without its Islamic, it’s Jewish, it’s Christian, even its Hindu and Buddhist and Sikh representation. There’s a kind of manifestation of who we are religiously that is quite new, Rosh Hashanah services in the last couple of days that for the first time in many synagogues involved the invitation of an imam to be present with them. Multi-faith services and vigils here in New York and really all over the place.
BILL MOYERS: I know you to be a woman of faith. Your first book encounter with god was a very important book for me. From Bozeman, Monroe, I believe.
DIANA ECK: That’s where I grew up.
BILL MOYERS: And this journey you’ve been on. What have the events of the last seven days done to your own faith?
DIANA ECK: I think these events have, of course, had a deeply searing image in my own mind, of course, as they have for anyone. The shattering sense of those images that will remain with me forever. At the same time, a deep confidence that we as a people of faith can move beyond the division and hatred that this represents. Into a new world of cooperation. However, I have to say that all of the language of war and retaliation and violence is, to me as a woman of faith, absolutely repugnant. I believe very deeply in… With every fiber of my being that we will never eradicate violence with violence, that we will never get to the end of retaliation and that as a multi-faith nation, we have a real witness to offer the world today.
BILL MOYERS: But as a person in faith, I know you believe in 58 justice, that justice means bringing those who do evil to some accountability.
DIANA ECK: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: That’s the challenge, isn’t it?
DIANA ECK: That is the challenge. Justice we must always hold before us. I’m somewhat disturbed that the campaign that is being launched is called “infinite justice” because I believe that infinite justice is god’s alone. But justice in recompense for a crime, yes; for a terrible, terrible, terrible crime.
But the language of satanic and evil and retribution is a language that I, as a religious person, not only reject but find… Find really hopeless as the way forward in the world in which we live.
BILL MOYERS: What advice do you have to people of faith and people of faith, how should we respond? What should be our posture, our player, our attitude?
DIANA ECK: My sense is that in every religious tradition, we have fanatics. We have people who are willing to kill and destroy for their vision of justice and their vision of truth. And that all of us need to cultivate those relationships with like-minded people in other religious traditions, now more than ever.
Christians and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Sikhs and people of no faith but of deep concern for humanity. But to cultivate a kind of progressive pluralistic dialogical way into the future that I think can never be gained by the kind of “eye for an eye”. That, as Gandhi said, leaves the whole world blind.
BILL MOYERS: I so much appreciate you coming down from Boston tonight because if you were not here you would be meeting at Harvard in your house with your community of many believers. What are they doing right now while you’re here?
DIANA ECK: Well, they’re having a meeting tonight. My partner Dorothy and I are masters of one of the Harvard houses of Lowell house. It’s really simply a space for conversation. Students, of course, in universities are torn, as all of us are, between the normalcies of trying to get on with classes in a time that is anything but normal.
And there are students of Islamic background on campus who themselves have experienced threat and a sense of uncertainty about who they are in our community. There’s a lot to talk about. Universities are places where we need to be talking.
BILL MOYERS: I once put the Houston Smith, one of your pioneering path-breaking predecessors in the study of comparative religion, I once said to him, how do I hold my truth to be the truth when everyone else holds truth to be their truth differently? He paused. One of those moments in television where you could actually hear someone thinking. And he said, we listen. We listen. As alertly to other people’s experience as we hope they listen to ours. Is that what you would be doing at Harvard tonight?
DIANA ECK: I think so.
BILL MOYERS: Can the nation do is that?
DIANA ECK: I think we need to listen to one another. I think this is a moment to listen. There are many people who are being heard now, Sikh-Americans, Muslim-Americans, even Hindu-Americans who have never had the opportunity to have their voices heard by their fellow citizens. I do think we need to listen.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you very much, Professor Diana Eck for joining us this evening and for letting us listen to you.
DIANA ECK: Thank you, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you. They are scenes we will never forget, unprecedented in our history. The faces of firemen and cops and emergency medical technicians reflect what can barely be described. The statistics of death and destruction stagger the imagination and we’ve all watched this over and over again on television. What does this do to our very souls, to our psychic and emotional equilibrium? How do we ever go back to living normal lives? What about those cops and firemen? What about all the children? Dr. Manuel Trujillo, you’re director of psychiatry at our great Bellevue Hospital here in New York. What have you been doing these last few days?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: We have been trying to do… Bellevue hospital is very much valued New York institution. We have a tremendous commitment to help the city. We have been helping the city for 265 years through many disasters. So we go to command center. We installed very rapidly a lot of destruction, a lot of injuries, a lot of death, a lot of wounds. We tried to assess as soon as possible where the wounds will show up, in who.
BILL MOYERS: Where do they show up?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: Rescue workers. Families of victims, survivor-victims and families. Rescue workers. The staffs of the hospitals, to our surprise, were flooded with anxiety. One of the surgeons in the hospital there told me the other day, I can’t fly. I have to go to Oklahoma in a couple of weeks. I can’t fly. Who has the skills to do what? Who wants to volunteer to do what? Immediately together with our surgical teams, remember that at the beginning our expectation was that there was going to be a lot of injured and wounded and people in need of acute surgical services. Unfortunately that was not the case.
BILL MOYERS: There was no survivors.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: There were no survivors.so the psychic wounds became somewhat more important.
BILL MOYERS: You were quoted the other day as saying as bad as this has been, October will be worse. How so?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: Well, action… Leadership has focused the attention on overcoming this disaster. That has invigorated all of us. Adrenaline is flowing. Adrenaline stems a lot of wounds. The time will come where people who are facing the fact that they have dead relatives and family members, et cetera, will have to step on their own resources. Right now they are all supported by the effort, the effervescence of the city.
BILL MOYERS: The sense that we’re all in this together.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: But we’re not together at the same level of risks. Once the waters go down again then some people will have to face, terrible, painful loss.
BILL MOYERS: What does this do to, you know, what we call… Is the term for it post-traumatic stress like combat veterans?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: If it lasts… So we have to distinguish sequences of time. I mean, essentially you have two issues here. You know, we are walking around with a relative balance and equilibrium of what is danger and what is not.
All of a sudden, a situation like this hits and disrupts all our balanced systems. Now we are driven by fear and danger on the one hand and the signals of anxiety and all kinds of things. And grief and loss on the other. Now this is going to generate it’s like a river overflowing its banks. It’s going to generate a lot of water. Many of the people will be numb or confused.
Some of the people will experience fear, anxiety, all physical manifestations of it such as palpitations, tachycardia can’t, a stomach problem, insomnia, et cetera.
In some people those symptoms will last a couple of days. If we are resolved in a couple of days, which is probably the minority, you have a stress reaction. After the third day, we call these acute stress reaction.
And now you are going to expect… You’re going to deal with this for weeks. If, beyond that month, at the point of one month, the symptoms persist and they sort of gain control of you or interfere with your capacity to function and your role, to do your job, to be a father, to be a friend, to be a member of the community, then you have a disorder. That is the so called post-traumatic stress disorder.
Our job is to make sure that we facilitate the people’s resolution of these problems, that the waters come back to the channels before they become disorder.
BILL MOYERS: What should I do if I witnessed it? I mean I didn’t lose anyone or I witnessed it or we’ve seen it over and over again. And I know that the stress is coming, that the trauma, the internal trauma is coming. What strategies can I adopt, what should I watch for and what should I do?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: There are very simple public health strategies. First be safe. Two, do not be alone. Three, talk to somebody and activate very simple mechanisms for relaxation. Meditation, physical exercise, massage, a little silence. Reading. And a proper rhythm of silence and talk and expression of emotion. I can tell you my own case.
So at the beginning on watching my beloved towers burst like that, for two days i had the intrusive thought of that image, of the second tower bursting into flames. I couldn’t get it off my head. Now by talking about it with friends, colleagues, the Spanish press called me and i had to tell them how it impacted you. I said well this is the way it impacted me. 48 hours later, the image was gone. In the form of intrusion. So these are the types of things….
BILL MOYERS: I’ve been saved by work, you know, by plunging into what we’re doing in public television.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: Right. We need to do two things. We need to absorb these overwhelming feelings of primitive reactions to fear and to danger, overcome that. And we need to give some meaning to this event because humans are not only about responses, they’re also about December trucks of symbols and meanings.
BILL MOYERS: Simple?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: Symbols and meanings. That was disrupted to.
BILL MOYERS: Our whole belief system was challenged as Diana Eck was just talking about.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: That’s correct. So we need to give some meaning to this. Is this good or bad? For example, if you saw the families of the people who brought down the plane in Pennsylvania probably saving the lives of so many more people, at the moment that they were describing the heroism of these people and their facial expression relaxed and there are acceptance and severity.
BILL MOYERS: So finding a story to tell that gives meaning.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: Finding a story that gives valued mean collapsed the anxiety and the pressure and grief and facilitates the process of healing those wounds.
BILL MOYERS: Some counselors have been telling their patients to limit their television viewing. Why is that?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: You know, i don’t think that we have enough scientific evidence of whether that precaution is applicable to everybody. There are people who are more visual; therefore, visual stimuli helps them. There are people for whom visual stimuli touches their emotions so they should restrict their viewing.
I don’t think that we can make… That we confidently make a scientifically based blanket prescription for everybody.
BILL MOYERS: Would you recommend that parents monitor what their children are watching?
MANUEL TRUJILLO: Probably it is true for children because it is hard to give mean to go intense emotions is relatively limits.
BILL MOYERS: We need to help them make their story.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: That is correct.
BILL MOYERS: I heard a military mental health specialist in Washington to say the primary goal of terrorists is not to kill a certain number of people but to make the other 290 million of us to feel less safe in this world.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: The word terrorist itself communicates it. Their job is to create terror shakable, indescribable terror. I think for a moment they succeeded. But only for a moment because of the forces of this community. Psychological, social, symbolic, leadership, et cetera, came to the light. I agree with Mayor Giuliani, we are going to come through this much stronger.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that children have a… They obviously have a different kind of reaction and a different kind of problem but are they able to cope less well than the rest of us? Do they need a special….
MANUEL TRUJILLO: They’re more vulnerable. So that means we must surround them with insulation. How do we do that? Routines, normalization of life, explanations of sufficient entity to… Not to fool them, so that they don’t feel deceived but not so long that they become dialectic problem. A lot of love, a lot of affection. A sense of calm and serenity. We have to….
BILL MOYERS: You said earlier try not to be alone. Reach out to somebody.
MANUEL TRUJILLO: Absolutely, absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you very much, doctor. I appreciate what you’ve done this week and I appreciate you being here tonight because I know you had to take time away from duties and those firemen and cops and caregivers that you are responsible for.
We feel for them tonight and understand their dilemma and appreciate you speaking for them. Thanks also to my first guest, Diana Eck. For those of you in New York, stay tuned for New York voices, Dr. Trujillo will be here with other guests and we’ll take your phone calls. Bill Baker will be here. I’m Bill Moyers. Examine night.
This transcript was entered on May 1, 2015.