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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in San Francisco.

As a boy, Michael Krasny believed in a God who watched over him, accompanied him, who knew his every thought. As a teen he discovered science and skepticism, but he fell to his knees in prayer at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and even after he embraced the term agnostic, he kept looking.

In his new memoir, "Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest," Krasny writes that he's longed for a god he could believe in, but in the meantime he created a code to live by.

Later in this hour, Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica welcome a gay student at Riverdale High. But first, an agnostic's quest for meaning.

What is your code, your Golden Rule, your guide to right and wrong? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Michael Krasny joins us here. He's walked down the hall from the studio he uses here at KQED to host "Forum." And it's nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, nice to meet you in person.

Mr. MICHAEL KRASNY (Author, "Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest"): Good to be back, and good to meet you.

CONAN: We have these conversations with people we never meet. It's nice to actually see a body.

Mr. KRASNY: Long overdue.

CONAN: When you set out to devise your personal code, you started with, well, I guess where a lot of people would start, the Ten Commandments.

Mr. KRASNY: I did, and since I was at a stage in my life where I was thinking is there a lawgiver, and how can I perceive in an empirical way if there's a lawgiver, I thought if I don't know whether there's a lawgiver, what about believing these laws, which have been the fundamental bastion of Western civilization?

There were a lot of thou shall nots. The First Commandment said thou shalt not have not have any other God before me. And that seemed like the primary commandment.

And so I felt maybe one has to work through this in terms of what a person believes, subjectively.

CONAN: And you were told, in a discussion with, I think, a divinity student that indeed these Ten Commandments were set in order of importance. The first one is the most important one.

Mr. KRASNY: I think there are people who believe that. There's religious dissent on that score and a lot of controversy over whether one should go in hierarchical order.

CONAN: Dissent in religion? My gosh.

Mr. KRASNY: Who would have imagined such a thing. Well, in fact, when I wrote this book, I wanted to take on some of the dissent in religion because I thought things had become a bit too polarized.

We talk about partisan politics and how polarized they are, but suddenly we had a kind of militant atheism. We had a lot of people who were telling us what we ought to believe one way or another. We had had 9/11, which many people link to a kind of fundamentalist Islam.

And the problem for me was: What can we find that's really worthy of religion? And I began to go on that quest as well, because I think when people find codes, they find them, whether they realize it or not, largely in the great religions of the world which have dictated to us, not only in the Ten Commandments but in so many tenets and through Scripture, other things that have been misjudged to be hate or taken out of context, as the politicians say, or maybe simply perversely used for enmity purposes.

But there was a lot about compassion and justice and love and so forth in the major religions.

CONAN: And you find that unlike some of the people you describe as militant atheists, you find that religion does provide consolation for millions of people, that in addition to the crimes for which religion can be prosecuted, perhaps, there are many things that it does very, very well.

Mr. KRASNY: Yeah, I felt there was a need to make that argument, not so much as a polemicist but just as someone who is trained as a scholar. And I went back and, well, I wrote it personally and philosophically, personally about the fact that I was envious of people who had the consolations of faith, who had the structure of their life that faith can provide, and had, in many instances, a code for themselves that led them toward doing missionary work or being involved in some kind of feeling of transcendence or all these things that faith can provide.

CONAN: Or building a cathedral.

Mr. KRASNY: Or creating great art, et cetera. And I thought that religion had been too easily excoriated - and one might say with good reason when you look at the carnage and the horror of the centuries and when you look at the Inquisition and the Crusades.

But I looked at people who were recidivists, who were rehabilitated through religion, drug addicts who got off drugs, illegal drugs and alcohol because of religion and the consolation and the solace that religion provided.

And I also looked at movements like the abolition movement and the civil rights movement and realized that they had a great religious force behind them. Even this country was built by Puritans, who admittedly killed Indians and witches, but they also gave us a Puritan ethos and a kind of religious tolerance that's the foundation of our country.

CONAN: Well, if you start with those Ten Commandments, the first four of them, as you looked at them, were pretty much based on the idea that you believe in God.

Mr. KRASNY: Absolutely. And so I think for an agnostic to say Studs Terkel I once interviewed, he said to me: I'm an agnostic, that means I'm a cowardly atheist. And I thought, well, what is agnosticism? Is it just being wishy-washy? Because the atheists were kind of taking the agnostics to task too as being more than just doubters, being people who were on the fence.

And they were excoriating religion on the one hand, and I thought religion, even for someone who doesn't know whether they believe, can provide community and ritual and all of these good things.

And I came across a line of Julian Barnes, the British novelist, who said: I don't believe in God, but I miss him. And that really resonated for me, because as a boy, as you said in your introduction, I felt very connected to a god that I believed in.

CONAN: And do you think you are any closer to finding that god?

Mr. KRASNY: Well, I wrote this book thinking maybe I would find something. And I'm here to tell you that unlike many of those books that are bestsellers that have answers, I still have a lot of questions.

But as I point out in the book, Einstein said the thing is never to stop asking questions. Socrates told us he knew almost nothing.

CONAN: Except that he knew nothing.

Mr. KRASNY: Except that he knew nothing. You remember. The point of this is, just say I dont know. Sometimes you really my father used to say to me: It's not such a bad thing to say I don't know. Ignorance takes courage sometimes to admit and confess to.

And I don't think we know. We don't know what's out there in the galaxies. We don't know what's underneath the ocean floor. We don't know why birds migrate. There are so many things we don't know.

And agnosticism had become kind of a joke. You know, there was that line about the family of agnostics who moved in the neighborhood and someone burned a question mark on their lawn - you know, there were some pretty funny things.

CONAN: Oh, God, if there is one, save my soul, if I have one.

Mr. KRASNY: Yes, and I just got a new one even this morning from a friend who said to me: Agnostic funeral parlor opened up, remains to be seen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASNY: It goes on, like Woody Allen, agnostic and atheist got married and it didn't work out because they didn't know what not to raise the kid in.

But I began to look at it seriously, reading the agnostics, reading the skeptics before them and looking into all of the paranormal stuff that skepticism also looks at, trying to understand empirically and coming to no more conclusions in an absolute sense that we can about God.

CONAN: We're talking with Michael Krasny about his new book "Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest." 800-989-8255. What guide do you use to choose what's right and what's wrong? Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Dave, and Dave is with us from Great Falls in South Dako -South Carolina, excuse me.

DAVE (Caller): Hey, how are you doing? And hi, Mike. I can't wait to read your book.

Mr. KRASNY: Thank you.

DAVE: I want him to know, first of all, he's not alone in this quest. But one of the things that helped guide me along was an old quote from Abraham Lincoln that said: When I do good, I feel good. And when I do bad, I feel bad. And there is my religion.

Mr. KRASNY: I think Dave hits upon something quite meaningful there. And as you know, Neal, since you read the book, I try to make a case for doing good.

If there's no lawgiver, if there's no power that we can discern, then it's a perfectly pertinent and profoundly important question to ask why do good. And in many instances...

CONAN: This the question from the Brothers Karamazov.

Mr. KRASNY: That's when I first encountered it, that sense of, you know, if God allows children to be abused, it's the odyssey, the philosophers call it - how can one accept God's omnipotence and love and so forth? It's a question after the Holocaust that many asked, if God was not there. Or any hurricane or massacre or carnage.

But I like what Dave says because I think it hits right to the point. If you feel you know, we think of our spirits and our souls and all of these kinds of things, and they're little woo-woo words for many people.

But if you feel good doing good, then why not do good? If it lifts your spirit, do it.

CONAN: Dave, can you give an example of where you were guided by that principle?

DAVE: Well, I was guided on the principle that I feel that everybody needs to have a one-on-one connection with God, however they conceive him. And it's that one-on-one connection that you attempt to establish.

Now, religion can help become a guide, but anytime religion becomes an entrapment, then any kind of journey you're on is going to be halted. It's hard when they say that you're an individual and you're so unique, and then they tell you exactly how you have to live and exactly what you have to believe and exactly what you have to do. And it stifles your quest to find out exactly, you know, where your point ends, or what your whole status is with God.

CONAN: So would you count yourself as a member of any religion, Dave?

DAVE: No longer, no. I have been in a couple of different ones and rather deeply embedded in them. And this is what started me on my quest, is because I always thought that there was something more, and it wasn't giving me the answers that I was looking for.

CONAN: And that is something that you take on as one of your principles, as you look at religion, Michael Krasny. You say one thing is nobody should be tried to be forced into it, and you shouldn't tell people what to do.

Mr. KRASNY: I believe that very strongly, and I think that goes right to the heart of the principles of the Enlightenment and the American republic and what it was built on.

I also think that there are a lot of people who simply don't care about this. Jane Smiley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, said: I'm an indifferentist, I don't really feel myself haunted or tormented by these kinds of questions.

But many of us are seekers, and many of us want to come to at least some kind of resolution in our own minds. And it becomes a quest. And it becomes something that keeps us up at 3:00 in the morning.

CONAN: Dave, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

DAVE: Appreciate it, look forward to that book, Michael, thank you.

Mr. KRASNY: Thank you for the call.

CONAN: Here's an email from Dave, another David, this one in Tucson: I was brought up without any organized religion in my life. My parents taught me if I didn't mess people over during the week, I wouldn't have to beg for forgiveness on Sunday.

This has served me and my own children very well through our lives. And, well, that seems to be a variant of the Golden Rule: Do unto others.

Mr. KRASNY: And it's a very important rule that sometimes people find very difficult to live by. You have to make your own code. I think - I respect those who have faith and who try to follow whatever faith dictates for them. But still, they're kind of navigating on their own and with their own autonomy and existentially in ways that they might not even recognize.

I think that what we're talking about here is for those who have lost faith, or for those who struggle with faith, even those with strong faith who have doubt, where do you find the meaning for your existence, and where do you find a reason, ethically, of why you should do good?

CONAN: But on the other hand, if there is no God, anything is possible.

Mr. KRASNY: Anything is permissible. That's right out of Dostoyevsky, as you said before. And yet I make the case for good here. Look, Neal, we're both public servants. We're both trying to do good, right, bringing light to people.

And what I have found as a result of this is the conversations have been fascinating. People want to tell you their stories, even if they're red-diaper babies and had no religion, or they believe religion is the opiate of the people. There's still a sense of narrative behind so many people's beliefs or non-beliefs.

CONAN: And some people would say Marxism was a variant of a rel anyway, we'll get back to that and more.

Mr. KRASNY: I would say that. I would agree with you about that.

CONAN: We're talking about Michael Krasny's "Spiritual Envy." More of your calls in a moment. What is your code, your Golden Rule, your Ten Commandments to right and wrong? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in San Francisco today.

Michael Krasny is our guest, the host of "Forum" here at KQED. He has a new book out, "Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest." It begins with an explanation that it's written for seekers who long for answers. It's his own examination of some of life's bigger questions about God and meaning and right and wrong.

What's your code, your Golden Rule, your guide to right and wrong? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's go next to Sally, and Sally's on the line from St. Louis.

SALLY (Caller): Hi, this is Sally.

CONAN: Hi.

Mr. KRASNY: Hi.

SALLY: I'm glad to speak to you gentlemen.

CONAN: Go ahead.

SALLY: Gentlemen, I'm a 60-year-old registered nurse, and I am an agnostic who was raised Catholic. My husband was raised Lutheran, and both of us were sickened by some things about the church.

But it seems obvious to me what the right stuff is. It seems to me that it's obvious that to reduce suffering around us is the right stuff. And I don't particularly think there's necessarily an obvious universal good. But I think that it's easy for me to decide that helping other people makes me feel good and makes the world better.

So I recently left a job where I had worked almost 30 years in a hospital in order to work in home care, where I am paid by the government and therefore half of what I was making in the hospital, because I think that in the situation I'm in, I'm in a place where I can directly relieve suffering and also make people feel better about themselves, improve their self-image, which to me is hitting on both of the big deals.

Mr. KRASNY: Sally, whether you, excuse me, believe in God or not, we have a language for this. I think what you're doing is called God's work, and I congratulate you. I mean, it's very admirable to do what you're doing.

SALLY: Thank you. I mean, I'm an agnostic by the real way that it means, agnosis, you know, not knowing. I just feel it's impossible to know in our situation and that it makes no difference whether there's a God or not.

Mr. KRASNY: Well, don't say impossible because one never knows there are new frontiers. We may discover what was before the Big Bang before we terminate. We've got Stephen Hawking's new book telling us the Big Bang doesn't even matter, of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASNY: But he talks about gravity, and I think, well, what preceded gravity? That's perverse of me, but I can't help it.

SALLY: Well, I mean, that could go on for a long time. I have a degree in science as well, so...

CONAN: Sally, could you give us was there a time when this challenged you, there was a personal moment in your life when you didn't know what to do and you had to reach back for guidance of some sort to say what's the right thing to do here?

SALLY: Well, I had a crisis of faith when I was about 18. I, as I said, was raised Catholic, and I was I don't know that I would use the word prissy, but I was awfully devout and careful.

And I went with my brother to a New Year's Eve party. There was a great deal of drug use and very loose sexuality, and this was new to me. And I went home and I thought about killing myself because I realized that if I followed the tenets of the church, I would call the police and send all these young people who had great promise to jail for no reason other than perhaps being foolish.

And that was the very end of my Catholic faith and the end of my Christianity, because I felt that if I couldn't follow it exactly, what did it mean that I followed it? Is that what you meant?

CONAN: That's exactly what I meant, and I thank you very much for the phone call and for the story too. It's very interesting.

Michael, I wanted to ask you about a moment you write about in the book. You were in college, I think grad school, and there was a young woman who was, well, much more interested in you than you were in her. And she became something of a stalker, and you well, you tell the story.

Mr. KRASNY: Actually, it was the last year that I was an undergraduate, and you described it pretty aptly. What I found myself personally in the situation of, and I suppose a lot of young men who were sowing wild oats discovered this, is I had a situation as result of my one evening spent with this young woman, of having her very much in my life, more than I wanted her.

And I got a call from a minister who said that she had tried to take her own life, and he said it's because she is nuts about you, and you have to come here and visit her.

And it's a story that opens up on a number of different levels, to this whole idea of a code too, because I felt - what was my obligation here? What was my responsibility?

And there were some strange things going on in the background of this, in that there was a friend of mine who was actually her therapist. He was a Ph.D. student who was studying to be a psychologist.

And he said to me, don't see her. This is my advice to you. He called me up unsolicited and said don't do it. This is an attempt at emotional blackmail. And I was caught. Did I got to see her? That a good thing to do? Or did I listen to his advice, which seemed wise at the time?

And as good fortune had it, I decided to listen to his advice and didn't hear from her for many, many years after that. And then what made it fascinating was I heard from her, and I thought, okay, we'll sit down and talk. It's been many years. She had managed to become a professor at another university.

And I had written a story about this, and the postcard from her came right after I had put the story into a slot, which is why I told the story - an outgoing mail slot. I actually felt the hair on my arm raise up and I thought: What does this mean?

CONAN: Synchronicity.

Mr. KRASNY: Well, of course, that's what Jung would say. And he would find deeper meaning behind that, of course.

CONAN: There's no such thing as coincidence.

Mr. KRASNY: Well, but I don't know that I buy that. I think that many people do. They say the universe is operating for me or against me, or I believe in spirituality and not in religion, and I think all things will work out for the best. Everything happens for a reason. You hear these kinds of things.

Things seem too random to me. And this is just my own perception - too coincidental by chance. But people will find meaning, and that meaning can be very significant to the individual.

CONAN: You're not you're a scholar. You're not a reporter or a detective, who don't believe in coincidence. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Alla(ph), is that right, in Tuscaloosa?

ADA(ph) (Caller): Ada.

CONAN: Ada, excuse me. My glasses need I need a new prescription. Go ahead, please.

ADA: Oh, no, that's okay. I just wanted to say that on Sunday I was driving and this young woman, very scared at the onramp to 5920, she needed $25 to fix her tire to get back to Gulf Shore, since she was obviously very young and pregnant.

And I gave her I was going to give her the $25, and I said, okay, well, just in case I erred, that she is a drug addict or something, I need to just follow her to make sure her tire gets fixed. So I followed her, and I got her tire fixed, and I gave her some extra money for some food. And then she said God bless you.

I'm an atheist. I was offended by that because I feel she was misguided, simply because she confused religion with morality, I mean being moral. And being moral has nothing to do with religion.

First of all, if you grew up in post-'49 China, you will be atheist. If you grew up in Iran, Iraq, you're most likely going to be a Muslim. If you grew up in this country, in America, you'll be a Christian. And they all believe that their god is the right god, the only god. Somebody has to be wrong, number one.

Number two, I'm a highly moral person. Most of my friends are. And those people who profess to be deeply religious are actually not quite as moral as those who don't believe, simply because they don't believe they're the only right people in this Earth. So that is my comment.

CONAN: Thank you, and thank you very much for that. We appreciate it. But the hypocrisy, I think, is what she's talking about, of...

Mr. KRASNY: Well, atheists can be moral. There's no argument there. There's no contention there. Timothy Ferris, the remarkably gifted science writer, did a blurb for my book, and he said: According to the public opinion polls, agnostics and atheists are the group Americans trust least, even though non-believers conduct themselves more ethically than do the religious faithful.

And this has pretty much been quantified.

CONAN: And the recent survey that found that, in fact, agnostics and atheists knew more about religion than those who profess to be religious.

Mr. KRASNY: Along with Mormons and Jews, which makes sense when you think about it, because they were both outsiders. That was a Pew poll, and I thought it was fascinating.

But I'm struck by also her anger that she got that God blessing. I don't feel that way. If somebody said - for example, my father was dying, and I write about this in the book, and I was doing a job in Texas.

And these really sweet women that I was working with said we're going to pray for your father. Even Christopher Hitchens, you know, who says if I say I found God, it's the radiation and the chemo now with my esophageal cancer that's talking, not me. I thought it was really very kind of them, and I appreciated that kindness, and I was grateful for it, even though I didn't necessarily believe it was going to make a difference in my father's dying.

CONAN: And you in fact describe those atheists who would excoriate such a phrase as intellectually arrogant.

Mr. KRASNY: I think there's a lot of contemptuousness toward religion from many of the atheists. And frankly, I don't understand it, because I think there are many people who - and this is why I call it spiritual envy - who get great solace and comfort and hope and purpose and meaning through their faith.

CONAN: Let's go next to Alex, Alex with us from Redwood City in California.

ALEX (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Hi.

ALEX: First, I wanted to apologize to Michael. I did miss your lecture at San Francisco State on Monday, so I apologize for that. I wanted to ask you a question about - I served in Iraq and I lost a dear friend of mine back in 2003. And that's really when I started to question my faith, because here was a great family man with two children, one of my best friends - and actually it's taken me a lot today to even really call the show. And it just - it really, really hit me hard. And to this day, I actually question my faith all the time, because I grew up Catholic, in a very strong Catholic home. So I was wondering if you - if Michael had done anything as far as maybe any research on that, about veterans or anything like that.

Mr. KRASNY: Not specifically. Of course I've done programs on it. And as Neal can well tell you, you gain a lot of knowledge, fortunately, in this line of work. But the truth of the matter is, there are many people who go through the experience that you went through - see war firsthand, see good men die, and they begin to question their faith or essentially what was fed to them in the way of belief. And I make the distinction, of course, between faith and belief.

I think these are questions that need to be grappled with, but you can believe in perhaps a prime mover. You can believe in a fine tuner. Look, the greatest American founding fathers - Jefferson, Hamilton - were probably deists. They believe, you know, that God created the world and then allowed us to have free will. And I'm always reminded of the great Nobel laureate writer Isaac Singer's remark to me when I asked him, do you believe in free will, and he said I have no choice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASNY: This is the paradox we all live with. You see terrible suffering and you wonder how can God allow it if it is - if he is a god and she is a god or it is a god of love and compassion.

CONAN: Alex, I wonder, would it had made a difference to you had your friend died in the cause of fighting Hitler? I think Alex may have left us.

Mr. KRASNY: I think Alex may have left. What about you, Neal? Since I'm an interviewer by trade, as you are, and I'm itchy to ask you all kinds of questions - yeah. No, I mean, the cause - I talk about this in the book. There are causes that are worth dying for. And I think fighting Hitler and fascism was one of them. But it's very difficult for people, I suppose, who wonder why we're in Iraq or why we went to Iraq to think it's something worth dying for.

CONAN: Yet if you are in a volunteer military, you have joined and you cannot pick your wars. You are ordered to go.

Mr. KRASNY: Absolutely right.

CONAN: So it is a question of - it seems to me - has to be worked out before you sign up, and that a war where you are drafted is very different than a war in which you are a volunteer.

Mr. KRASNY: Never the twain shall meet. But I do want to go on record as saying those people who went off and felt they were fighting for a purpose and a cause larger than themselves in Iraq, you have to respect that. I mean, I do respect that.

CONAN: Of course.

Mr. KRASNY: And it's not rhetoric.

CONAN: We're talking with Michael Krasny about his new book, "Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is Michael, and Michael's with us from Fayette in Alabama.

MICHAEL (Caller): Good afternoon. I'm a born-again, saved Christian, but I vote - I tend to vote politically liberal, not on moral and ethical issues, although I am for human rights. Homosexuality is definitely one of those gray areas, for instance, but mainly I vote conservative on things like Hollywood and commercial culture, but very politically, fiscally liberal on government spending and things like that.

And I had three questions to ask, quick questions to ask him about that. But before I do, I wish you all could make your questions, the question you all limit it to a little bit broader. I have a brother who works -in-law - who works at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I mean, yeah, brother-in-law, and I'm a cartoonist trying to develop a sense of humor, which I don't have. And we were allowed for only performing artists, stand-up comedians, to talk - to ask questions to Marlo Thomas when she was a guest on your program.

CONAN: So - well, I apologize for that, Michael. But if you could get to a question, we'd appreciate it.

MICHAEL: Oh, okay. My question is this. My heart really goes out to the veteran in Iraq. The things that made me question right wing fundamentalism, which dominates Protestantism here in the Southeast - to that lady from Tuscaloosa - was that they gave me three - two mental illnesses. Well, there - I now know that there were several other causes, but those two mental illnesses, they came from faith-plus works, very harsh religion - versions of Christianity - told you you would lose your salvation and burn in Hades in any moment just for being human. But my heart really goes out to that man from Iraq because my mental illnesses were nothing like physical warfare and what he experienced. Here...

CONAN: And, Michael, if you could get to a question.

MICHAEL: Okay, here's my questions. First of all, why do so many, much Protestantism in this country sound like you must vote Republican or Southern white plantation Democrat, or else you'll lose your salvation and won't go to heaven? Don't they realize that most of our founding fathers were deists? And I'm glad you brought that up.

Second, why are so many atheists against the morality and ethics and the hope and comfort? Since most of them vote politically liberal, I would love to see Bill Maher and others who have something of an attitude of...

CONAN: Michael, if...

MICHAEL: ...with black American and Hispanic-American and American-Indian Christians, people who have really been oppressed yet vote the same way they do. I'll hang up, and thanks big time for giving your perspective on these, if you can.

CONAN: All right. Thank you very much. Michael, do you want to tackle those, if you can?

Mr. KRASNY: Well, Protestantism and Republicanism - I mean, we can get into a long discourse on that, and particularly on why the South went. All one has to do is look on Google to see John Mitchell's Southern strategy and you can learn a great deal from history and the Nixon administration in how it was campaigned.

I must say, though, that there is a sense that I get from that caller's questioning that he wants to find out why, why there's so much dogmatism. And a lot of the reaction of the - what we're calling like, people like Bill Maher, I think, was the hypocrisy of religion, was people that they saw as enemies like Jerry Falwell, and the Bush administration's evangelicalism, and so forth. That's played a big important role.

CONAN: We'll end with the Church of Heath. This is sent to us from Christine(ph) on email: Don't be stupid. Be polite. Sometimes it's stupid to be polite. So those are the rules that she came up with, her code.

Michael Krasny, thank you so much for your time today.

Mr. KRASNY: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Michael Krasny's new book is "Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic's Quest." And he's the host here at KQED of "Forum."

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