On the Spot: Eric Weiner

January 5, 2012

Chuck Berman

In the hospital for what turned out to be just a health scare a few years ago, Eric Weiner realized — deep-down-in-the-gut realized — we’re all going to die. He began looking for God in earnest, sampling religions such as Tibetan Buddhism and Raëlism, a UFO-happy cult. His new book, “Man Seeks God” ($27, Twelve), shadows his journey from uncertainty to more uncertainty.

Do you feel like this approach to finding God is gimmicky?
It was a serious search. I really was and still am looking for something. I wasn’t just dabbling. It was sort of like a wine tasting. You’re trying different wines, but just a few sips of each, trying to decide if you want to buy a bottle or a whole case.

You were skeptical not about basic religious tenets — like “love your neighbor” — but about the rituals.
Rituals are Post-it notes for the brain. They’re little reminders. No ritual ever starts off meaningless — it only becomes that way over time. You strip away the crazy rituals and the liturgy and everything else, and at the core of every religion you have these teachings about how to live your life.

To stay true to your mission, you had to embrace what initially seemed nonsensical to you.
Religion is nonsensical in that there’s always an element of irrationality. But I think it’s good. If reason were enough to be ecstatically happy, college campuses would be filled with ecstatically happy professors.

So you didn’t come out of this search having chosen a religion — but you’re definitely not an atheist, it sounds like.
I think if atheists were smart, instead of attacking religion, they would borrow from it. There is wisdom out there, and if you extract the nonsense and sometimes intolerance, you can get some teachings that are pretty wise.

Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Sat., 6 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)
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