The Wisdom of Faith

Article excerpt

BILL MOYERS IS TELEVISION'S MOST accomplished practitioner of acolyte journalism. The technique is simple. Find an intellectual guru, sit at his feet and never interrupt with a challenging question. Moyers has been doing this for years on public television, most notably in his hugely popular series with the late Joseph Campbell. This week Moyers resumes his on-camera spiritual education with a new five-part series, "The Wisdom of Faith," that runs right through Passover and the Christian Holy Week. This time, his seat is at the feet of Houston Smith, 76, a genial, white-bearded pioneer in the study of world religions.

Smith knows his stuff. His best-known volume, "The World's Religions" (reissued in paperback for this program), is a standard text for students of comparative religion. He is also the original New Age spiritual surfer. The son of Methodist missionaries, Smith has spent much of the last 50 years in India, Iran and other locales experiencing firsthand the mystical highs of Hindu holy men, Buddhist monks and Sufi saints. Although still a Methodist by habit ("My loyalty to the church is a kind of ancestor worship," he says), Smith has incorporated into his personal devotions Buddhist and other meditative practices, which he demonstrates for the camera. "The enduring religions at their best," he tells us, "contain the distilled wisdom of the human race."

Why, then, is this series so disappointing? For one thing, it lacks focus. Moyers can't decide whether these programs are about Smith or about the six "wisdom traditions" (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam) he discusses. …