From Junior High School-age to adult. Anyone who struggles with the concept of God and with his or her own purpose in the world. Agnostics, assimilated Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, secularists. People who feel unfulfilled in their spiritual lives. People who are open to the idea of religious values informing their political decisions on issues beyond personal morality.
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Like Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, Praying With My Legs will appeal to the large number of Americans interested in spirituality.
When asked in a recent U.S. News & World Reports poll whether doctrines and beliefs are the most important part of religion or whether it is individual spiritual experience, 70% of Americans said spiritual experience was most important, compared to just 25% who said beliefs. Indeed, the number of Americans saying they felt a need for greater spiritual growth has risen dramatically, from 56% in 1984, to 82% in 1998, three years before the events of 9/11 propelled vast numbers of Americans to their churches, synagogues, mosques and temples in search of spiritual comfort.
Heschel’s life and thought will be of deep interest to a wide audience not only because he speaks to the innermost concerns of human beings; not only because he challenges us to think about what being human is all about; but also because he was so deeply engaged in the spiritual and political dimensions of so many of the crucial issues of his day which still reverberate into this century: the issue of the penultimate 20th Century experience of the Holocaust and why that event cried out for a total and historic restructuring of Christian-Jewish relations and the beginning of meaningful interfaith dialogue; the issue of the agonizing national soul-searching of who we are and what we stand for as a nation sparked by the civil rights movement and by the war in Vietnam; the issue of concern for human rights in other countries, typified by Heschel’s involvement in the Soviet Jewry movement. These are all issues with great relevance for our lives today, reminding us, for instance, why dialogue with Islam is so desperately needed, and reminding us too of the all-too-easy psychic remove we are capable of in our tolerance of technological warfare and its resultant civilian devastation.
Heschel’s religious activism is all the more timely in light of the continuing debate over the role of religion in the public square. The place of religion in America’s political life is even more controversial and unavoidable now then it was during the 1960 election and has become a shaping force of our electoral decision-making.
According to a Pew survey, a whopping 70% of Americans believe that religion’s influence on society should grow. They believe this would lead to more volunteer work, parents raising their kids better, a decrease in crime and less greed and materialism. And 52% of Americans believe that churches should express views on political matters (though some 44% would prefer they didn’t).
Yet, with the stark exceptions of WNET’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, and the recent PBS broadcast of Thus Far By Faith, programming examining matters of religion and spirituality (as opposed to ‘religious broadcasting’), is rarely found in the television mix presented to the average viewer.
The fact that Heschel stood for moral values coming from a “left” perspective – the fact that legitimate moral values exist on the “left” perspective is an underreported and underrepresented demographic, too often lost in the rhetoric coming from the dominance of the air waves by the religious right.
The ideal venue for this film is a primetime PBS broadcast. A wide audience exists that hungers for programming addressing their deepest needs for spiritual connection and inspiration. This audience can be reached well in advance of broadcast and can be built up through an energetic and well-thought-out and implemented outreach plan.
The film is currently anticipated to be a single program, although the possibility exists that it could become the pilot program for a series on great theologians.
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