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Author Interview: Davidson Loehr

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Davidson Loehr, author of Hollow Gods: Why Liberalism Became a Destructive Religion.

FQ: I found that Hollow Gods really made me think and reconsider some of my own ideas. What prompted you to write it?

LOEHR: It was a gradual growing away from the liberal ideology I had just accepted for decades. I think my seven years in graduate school helped, when we were pushed to find a bigger picture, a bigger context, which almost always changed about everything. Add to that the fact that our ideologies are seldom much more than propaganda, designed to be persuasive rather than really informative.

FQ: I was fascinated by your description of yourself as a "lifelong liberal." When did you start rethinking some of your beliefs? Was it a slow process over many years? Or was it something quicker, particularly given how quick things have been changing in our country? Have you discussed these beliefs/changes with friends, and if so, how did they react?

LOEHR: The book will lose me a lot of liberal friends, almost all Unitarian Universalists. Luckily, I’ve never cared much for what people believe. If they have empirical data, I’m interested. But not in their certainties. I always remember Wittgenstein’s wonderful five words of wisdom: “Certainty is only an attitude”.

FQ: I really enjoyed the way the chapters in the book were broken up into three different sections. Did you write the book chapter by chapter, or did you write all of the “Visions” sections first and then go back and start on the next section, the "What's Wrong" parts, and so on?

LOEHR: I wrote all three sections together in each chapter. The “Excerpts” were put in to cut down on footnotes, and let people read the data themselves. They may have different responses than I did, which is fine.

FQ: I think that many readers will look at the book as a “political” one, although I am positive that is not how it is intended. How do you feel about that view of the book?

LOEHR: Yes, I’m sure most will see it as an attack on liberal politics. But it’s really an attack on the religion that has been created from those politics. My background is religion, not politics. I don’t much care for politics.

FQ: Along the same lines, given today's intense political atmosphere, was there any hesitation in putting your opinions (and of course, research) "out there" for all to see?

LOEHR: None at all. I’ve been a heretic since I was six. I really hate phony religion, whether it’s dressed as religion or politics. But it’s giving people beliefs that aren’t worth serving.

FQ: How hard was it to separate the “liberal” and the “religious” aspects of your personality while writing Hollow Gods?

LOEHR: Pretty easy, I think.

FQ: While I don't want to get too political, do you see an issue with our two-party system, in that we'd be better with a multiple-party system? Something perhaps similar to the parliamentary system in the UK?

LOEHR: If we do it right, two parties are just right, I think. We need one that’s grounded and factual—the first Culture—and one that’s abstract, concerned with the possibility of change and improvement. Their honest dialogue—pretty rare today—can produce the real gifts of democracy.

FQ: While Covid certainly caused serious problems in our country, it did awaken an awareness in parents for what their children were being taught in school. Do you think this awareness could ultimately lead to a positive change in what is taught?

LOEHR: God, I hope so! But the so-called “Democratic party” has been taken over and spoken for by the Marxist socialists. As I think I said, it feels like we’re about 60-80% established as a proto-totalitarian socialism. I don’t know whether we’re done or not.

FQ: I found your biography fascinating, particularly your comment about "honest religion." Would you explain to our readers what you mean by this?

LOEHR: Wittgenstein’s “language philosophy” basically says that we need to be able to translate our thoughts/beliefs into ordinary language. If we can’t put it into ordinary language, we really don’t know what we’re talking about. When this is applied to religion, it’s revolutionary. My Ph.D. dissertation was titled The Legitimate Heir to Theology: A Study of Ludwig Wittgenstein. It was for the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, a great school. I’ve been told by 2-3 friends who teach religion in colleges that they don’t think any other Divinity School or seminary would have approved that title.

FQ: For my last question, I'd like to ask about your other passion - wood turning. I'd never heard the term before. What is it and why does it give you so much pleasure? Are you able to be alone with your thoughts while "wood turning," or is it something else that draws you to it?

LOEHR: You use a lathe. It turns the wood at over 1,000 rpm. You have a tool rest and sharp wood gouges, etc. The wood spins toward you. You wear a face mask (if you’re smart). You have to turn wood twice. The first time, the wood is wet—I had a big chain saw and would cut my own logs—and sort of sprays water as you cut it with gouges. If you’re turning, say, a salad bowl, you turn it to maybe 1-1/2” thick. Then there’s a special water-soluble wax you spread over the wood (to slow down the drying and evaporation). You might cover it with newspaper, though I built a big wood-drying kiln, which could dry the wood in a few days rather than weeks. When it’s dry, it has warped, the bowl is slightly oval and the rim bends up. Then you put it back on the lathe and do the final turning. Now you turn it down to its final thickness—say, 3/8” or so. And the wood is now stable. It won’t shrink or warp again. You finish the wood with special oils or maybe polyurethane. I’ve made many salad bowls, platters, dinner plates, salad/soup bowls, candle sticks, salt and pepper mills, etc. I studied with half a dozen or more good wood turners from around the country and England. It’s a technique and can be an art. I do like it. But no, you can’t think other thoughts while doing it! You have to concentrate or you can get hurt and screw up the wood.

Photography is equally a love of mine. I began as a combat photographer in Vietnam, then went around the country studying with half a dozen or so of the country’s best people photographers: portrait and wedding. Then I opened a high-class, high-priced portrait and wedding studio in Ann Arbor. I had a gift for it. I never cared for contests, but entered one, and won first place over 900 other professional portraits. But after five years, I got bored, sold the studio, taught myself carpentry and woodworking and did that for a few years, got bored, finally took some tests to see where my interests and aptitudes really fit, and wound up choosing Religion from the list of eight the tests showed. I loved the tough graduate school, and my 23 years as a Unitarian minister.

Thank you for your time and for sharing your views and research in Hollow Gods.

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