Activist, atheist and best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich talks about religion, work and partners in this Time interview.
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Hi, I’m Belinda Luscombe from Time. I’m here today with best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich. She has a new book, Living with a Wild God. Ms Ehrenreich,welcome.
Good to with you.
So you say that yourself, you often say that you come from four generations of atheists. But reading this book I wonder, do you still describe yourself that way?
Oh, yes. I would be in big trouble if I didn’t.
You do have a sort transcendent experience, an encounter with the other? What, what form did your mystical experience take?
There were no visions, no hallucinations, no voices, no instructions. Nothing like that. It was the only way I could finally find to put it after all these years. It was as if the world came to life, everything came to life, the whole world was inflamed. Inflamed not in a frightening way that you’re going to be burned, but it wasn’t a peaceful thing, it was comforting. It wasn’t like a glimpse of any benevolent creature or deity or whatever you wanna call it. It was kind of ecstatic and kind of terryfing.
Are you worried that people are going to think that you’ve gone off the reservation with this kind of writing about the other?
I was a little more worried people would say I was crazy. You may yet say that in this conversation, I don’t know, but my response would be to say I was educated as a scientist, and one of the things I learned in my… well little career as you know, I got my PhD, that’s where I stopped, was that we do not discard anomalous results. If you have some kind of result that doesn’t fit your theory, that falls way off the curve in your graph, I’m sorry you don’t get to erase that. You have to figure what’s going on with that, and it was in that spirit that I came back to these questions in middle age.
Have you completely dismissed the idea that you could ever go back to the sort of ‘one God’ idea of…?
Never had it. Can’t go back.
Well, that you would explore that idea?
No, I would explore out many kind of religions but not monotheistic religions.
So like pan…? Like many gods? Like…?
No, no. You know, what kind of religions impress me? Not that I’m gonna become a participant. It’s those in which involve ecstatic communion with a deity or a spirit, like voodoo, like Candomblé in Brazil. And people don’t say you have to believe in these spirits. I guess that’s what they’re communicating with, not a god. You’ve known the spirits, you’ve come into contact with them. I like that better than belief. I have respect for that. But as I said I’m not looking for anything, and I’m not going to church.
Your body of work is very big and one of the works you’re most famous for is Nickel and Dimed, which is your attempt to live on minimum wage. Connecticut just announced that it’s going to raise the minimum wage to, I think, 10 dollars and 10 cents per hour by 2017. Is that high enough?
No, no that’s not.
So what do you say to people that say that even at 10 dollars and 10 cents, you know, unemployment is going to soar up? Businesses cannot afford to hire people at that level.
Well, part of me says, I don’t care. This is a moral issue. If you have people working for you who cannot make enough money to live on, that, you don’t have much of a business plan. Your business plan is really exploiting other people’s pain and suffering.
What do you think of the sort of latter day women’s movements, like Lean in or 50:50 the European campaign, to get women in leadership in 50:50.
Well, it’s obviously directed at the more the people higher up in the hierarchy, in the corporate hierarchy, for example. If you’re low, lower down in that hierarchy, let’s say you’re stocking shelves in a big box store or something, you don’t come up with a big idea and push it. You know, that’s crazy, nobody’s listening to you. And if you get, you know, sort of overly involved in your big idea, you’re going to be judged to have a bad attitude. You don’t do things exactly as it’s supposed to be done.
You write in your book that you… one of the reasons that you had moved on your last gentlemen caller, you moved him out. Are you still interested in finding another life partner or is that part of your life not interesting you anymore?
You know, I think that I like living alone. I’d be happy to have, you know, some fella who came over but it’s as long as he was out of the there by 9pm.
9pm, that’s your line in the sand?
Oh, yeah, absolutely yeah. So wait a sec. You aren’t, have you got a cat?
No, I’m allergic.
Oh, well, there you go. Because, otherwise, you know you start bleeding and things we can’t see. And you don’t … anymore.
Alright. I’m a very active hands-on grandma. I’ve two grandkids and I can’t say that keeps me sane, but it keeps me in somebody else’s lunacy.
Ms Ehrenreich, thanks very much.
Oh, you’re welcome. Nice talking to you.