Some things change and others, not so much. Thomas Moore, whose bestselling Care of the Soul (1992) helped define an era in which nonsectarian spirituality books administered therapy, returns with A Religion of One’s Own (Gotham, Jan.). A personal religion is important, argues the former Catholic monk, given the disenchantment with institutional religion and the lure of secularism.
What’s different in the culture since your big book (Care of the Soul)?
We have become even more dedicated to facts and a quantified way of looking at life. It’s fact-based, not science, and has gotten worse with the success of technology.
Does that make your message more urgent?
People are rereading Care of the Soul; I think what they are saying is they see a new relevance. We have not learned; we’re still worried about kids learning math and science, and not worried about whether they learn to be good human beings.
What’s changed in you?
My kids were very young then; my daughter was born about that time. I’ve grown up, raising these kids, and that has affected me a lot, probably most of all. I’ve traveled an awful lot, spoken everywhere, talked to all different sorts of people. I’ve continued to do my work as a therapist. I like it because it keeps me in touch with that deep material. I’ve taught thousands of psychiatrists to try to be interested in philosophy and the humanities.
Is this a self-help book?
I have very strong feelings about that. There are some kinds of self-help people disdain. I work hard to write well and make a good book; I insist on the footnotes. The publisher says it will put people off, and I say it will bring some people in. (Yet) I don’t like writing in an academic style. I can’t do that--my model is Emerson. I’d like to help people deal with things. I’m a therapist all the time no matter what I’m doing.
If you’re the only one in your religion, who brings the casseroles when you’re sick?
The very idea of community has to change. The idea of gathering together with like-minded people, that’s too limiting, so what I’m suggesting is that if you do create this religion of your own, you can develop a sense of worldwide community. I personally don’t need to go a building with a lot of people to worship.
What do you think accounted for the great success of Care of the Soul?
I was flabbergasted. I had written three or four books before. I know millions of people around the world have read it and it’s in 25 or 30 languages. That’s amazing to me, and I feel it had nothing to do with me. I think it’s one of those things that have to do with title, the time, timing, everything.
You make an interesting defense of “cafeteria religion” (the practice of drawing from a variety of religious traditions in developing personal spirituality), yet you are also deeply grounded in Catholicism.
It’s in my DNA, my blood. You don’t grow up as intensely as I did in a Catholic family without it lasting forever. I think I am more Catholic than ever. I’d like to see the Catholic Church really change radically, toward guiding people in their spiritual lives.
Do you tweet or Facebook to promote?
I write a tweet a day. It’s one of my spiritual practices.
I don’t know what it is, but I’m writing it. I’ve written three chapters. The Gnostics have a story, “The Hymn of the Pearl,” they like to tell about the soul. I’m writing about that. It has to do with finding your own particular meaning in life.