Krista Tippett 

Speaking of faith, sex and other things

The Ethics of Eating. The Spirituality of Parenting. The Art of Peace. Not exactly run-of-the-mill topics for broadcasting.

But 10 years, 200 radio affiliates and a Peabody Award later, Speaking of Faith has become appointment radio.

Produced by American Public Media, Speaking of Faith is heard Sundays at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Boise State Public Radio. Krista Tippett is host and producer. The granddaughter of a Southern Baptist preacher, she studied politics in Cold War Europe, freelanced for The New York Times, Newsweek, The International Herald Tribune, the BBC and Die Zeit. She was special assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to West Germany. She lived in Germany, Spain, England and Scotland. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Yale and in the 1990s she imagined radio conversations about the spiritual and intellectual content of faith that could open imaginations and enrich public life.

Speaking of Faith began as a monthly program and evolved into a weekly broadcast in 2003. In 2007, Tippett published her first book, Speaking of Faith, chronicling her move from geopolitical engagement to theology. Earlier this year, she published Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit.

"It's not about whether science can prove God exists, or disprove it," said Tippett. "Whether they are religious or not, scientists are raising important questions and insights into the human condition."

Tippett recently spoke at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum but she made time for some tea and a few questions.

How do you encourage people to have casual conversations about religion when it's one of the cardinal things you're not supposed to talk about at a dinner party?

Those cardinal rules--it used to be you couldn't talk about sex, politics, money and religion. We talk about all the other three now, so we might as well break out religion. But it is hard to talk about casually. Words, and our usual ways of talking, distort the ideas and the ethos of this part of life. So we do have to be intentional about innovating not just our vocabulary but the framework of the discussions. I'm sure it is possible to have casual conversations about faith, but it may often not be casual. It's very intimate. It's as intimate to talk about religion as it is intimate to talk about sex. It's easy to make jokes, and that may be because it's something we carry around with us all the time. But to really talk about it at a deep level is embarrassing and hard. It gets at the core of our identities.

How do you attract atheists, the unbelievers, the people who don't like "God talk"?

There are a lot of people like that out there. A lot of our listeners are like that. But I can have huge discussions about mystery with atheist scientists, who have recently discovered that 70 percent of everything that's out there is something they are calling "dark energy" because they have no idea what it is. And they use the word mystery with more passion than any religious people I know.

What other words are missing from our daily conversations?

Beauty is another. Mathematicians say that if an equation is not beautiful, then it probably isn't true. Beauty is that in which in the presence of beauty we feel more alive. I talked to a Muslim theologian who said that the future of Islam depends on Islam recovering its core moral value of beauty.

Do you think that some religions are more inherently peaceful or mysterious or violent, or tolerant or intolerant than others?

I think some people are more inherently tolerant, violent, peaceful or mysterious than others. When religion gets harnessed to that, it's really a dangerous weapon. But it can also be a powerfully good weapon. When people ask me: "Why is religion dangerous?" The answer is, religion is powerful.

How do you think about expanding beyond the limited public radio audience?

The Internet helps. We now have 600,000 listeners weekly. And we had 1.4 million podcast downloads last month. At some point, whether a year or five years from now, we are going to have a bigger audience online than we do on the radio.

This has been a serious interview. What do you do when you're not in a serious mood?

I go to murder mysteries.

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