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Breaking the Silence: An Interview with Davidson Loehr, author of HOLLOW GODS

Davidson Loehr

ABOUT DAVIDSON LOEHR

Education

• B.A. in music theory, the University of Michigan (1969)

• M.A. in methods of studying religion, University of Chicago (1981)

• Ph.D. in theology, the philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, and an added emphasis on “language philosophy.” Dissertation: The Legitimate Heir to Theology: A Study of Ludwig Wittgenstein (University of Chicago, 1988)

Significant Experiences

• Professional musician in teens and early 20s, learning to blend my gifts with the gifts others bring.

• Significant experiences during my 43 months in the U.S. Army include the six-month Officer Candidate School, and my year in Vietnam, where I first served in Saigon as “The Vietnam Entertainment Officer” until I felt cowardly and transferred to the field to become a combat photographer and press officer assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment for my final seven months. I still have the live bullet that was aimed at my head by an NVA officer when the men beside me killed him—while he was pulling the trigger. Those seven months were sacred in some ways, still the most powerful of my life. I would neither trade nor repeat any of the rich experiences in my 43 months in the Army.

• Owned a high-priced photography studio in Ann Arbor, MI, 1970-76.

• Worked as carpenter/contractor, 1976-79, while wondering what the hell I could do in life that mattered, since I had no great gifts in music, and no longer got much satisfaction from photography, which had become routine.

• Unitarian minister from 1986-2009. I felt “called” to the liberal ministry, and was a good preacher, though completely inept at church politics.

Publications, professional memberships, distinctions, platform

America, Fascism & God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher (Chelsea Green, 2005, sold over 9.000 copies). The book was later published in a Korean-language edition. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., George Lakoff and Chris Hedges wrote cover blurbs for the book. I was later on a panel with George, interviewed by RFK, and both arranged and hosted Chris’s visit to Austin.

• “To Care Without Judging,” the essay on my experiences in Vietnam, was the centerfold piece in The University of Chicago Magazine (summer 1985) as the center-spread, and later published as the lead essay in The Vietnam Reader, a book edited by Walter Capp, with essays by Gen. Westmoreland, Stanley Karnow’s interview with Gen. Giap, and pieces by William Broyles Jr., Robert Bly, Clark Clifford, John Kerry, Todd Gitlin, James Fallows and J. Robert Kerry, among the book’s 36 essays.

• The Jesus Seminar. I’m the only Unitarian minister invited to become a Fellow in this important scholarly Seminar (I’ve been a Fellow since 1992). I’ve given a keynote speech there, and have had one article published in their magazine (“Straight Talk About God-Talk,” 2010). I have also done my version of a Jesus Seminar weekend program more than twenty times.

• I’ve been a theme/keynote speaker for several adult Unitarian Universalist summer camps—twice at the largest (about 1,000 adults for a week). Have also spoken at district meetings, large church meetings, etc.

• I have enough name recognition in the Unitarian Universalist Association that putting an ad in their magazine would be cheap and should be effective, as would sending free copies to the ministers of the largest churches (about 60). The UUA claims 160,000 adult members.

• I’m on a Chat list with over 1,000 liberal ministers: a good place to post the release of a new book, and ask that they order some to sell at their churches.

• I was on a 3-person panel with George Lakoff in 2005 at a Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, speaking to a group of around 1,000-1,500 on critiques of “liberalism” in America.

• I’ve given a workshop (around 1990) and been on a panel (about 2004) at regional meetings of Planned Parenthood of America, talking about the moral dimension of abortion. (Both talks were popular with the audiences, but not with the PP of A.

The Austin Chronicle (Austin’s large weekly liberal tabloid) named me “Best Minister/Spiritual Leader of Austin” in 2005—the only time they have made that award—and would probably do a short piece on my book.

• I’ve had numerous sermons put on the Internet by others over the past dozen years. Have also had pieces published online in liberal sites like AlterNet, Truthout, Common Dreams, etc.

• I am pretty fearlessly outspoken, which has brought both positive and negative responses. My 7 November 2004 sermon, “Living under Fascism,” went fairly viral on the Internet, leading to three other events:

1. Margo Baldwin, owner of Chelsea Green Publishing Co., contacted me about doing a book of religious and cultural critiques, leading to my only published book: America, Fascism & God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher (2005).

2. In early 2006, Norman Lear phoned me, asking if we could meet in Austin. We seemed to hit it off. He sent copies of my book to Bill Moyers and some other friends, and invited me to be a guest with his “extended family” of 20 that meets for three days around Columbus Day at his home on the 400-acre “farm” he bought from Robert Frost’s estate. When I later hosted Chris Hedges in Austin, I learned that he had been Norman’s guest the year before.

3. In 2008, Norman asked me to sing on his “Born-Again American” DVD—“I need a white guy minister who can sing”—released on the day of Obama’s inauguration as President. I’m only on for about 5 seconds, but my name is listed, and several people I’d been out of touch with for decades found me through it—including long-lost Army buddies from the days of OCS and Vietnam. I can’t find current numbers, but the DVD has easily been seen by over ten million people. My name and short bio are last on the list of performers.

4. In February 2006, I said from the pulpit in my Austin church that I believed 9-11 was an inside job. A few months later, I left on sabbatical. Some members felt that I had changed their church’s character, and didn’t like the change. I was dismissed in December of 2008. Two weeks earlier, I had surgery to remove very aggressive prostate cancer. Regardless of what I think of the politics, the truth is that I had lost my passion for the ministry, and at 66, it was time to retire. In early 2010, blood tests found that I still had some cancer inside of me, so I underwent eight weeks of targeted radiation treatment – apparently successful. On the subject of 9-11: while it is easy to show that the government’s spin on 9-11 was wildly false, I have nothing to offer that isn’t already being done far better by David Ray Griffin, the retired theologian who has created a late career out of researching and speaking on the many deceptions about the events of 9-11. I admire the work of Griffin and others in the 9-11 Truth movement, but it’s just not my mission. • In 2014 I read about a new group called the International Big History Association, a group working to tell the Big History from the Big Bang to today, in language an average 18-year-old can understand. I contacted the founder, professor David Christian in Australia, and made my first paper presentation that fall at St. Augustine College in San Marcos, CA. What a great group! I’ve made presentations at all our semi-annual meetings, and was asked to write a chapter for our 2022 book Science, Religion, and Deep Time. My chapter title is “The Nature of Humans, Science, and Religion.”

You can buy Hollow Gods here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.


Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The original title was HOW WE BETRAYED YOU. Then I changed it to EMPTY GODS, but liked the sound of HOLLOW GODS better.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

It felt great. This is my third book, but I’m prouder of this than of anything I’ve ever written—including the 300+ sermons and a few published essays. I like the artwork done on the cover, and that image of an empty road leading nowhere.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Covid gave me a couple years of private time for reading and thinking. As patterns became clear, I realized I had a duty to make the patterns clear and compelling, and put my arguments into book form.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was a professional musician from 16-21 (rock ‘n roll, jazz, Dixieland and dance bands). In the Army (43 months) I went through Officer Candidate School, became the Vietnam Entertainment Officer (it was a thrill to work with some childhood heroes, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Martha Raye). When an OCS classmate was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart, I suddenly felt cowardly and ashamed, and knew that if I returned home without having experienced war, I wouldn’t want to live with myself. So I arranged another interview, and spent my final seven months as the combat photographer and press officer for the 11th Armored Cavalry. Those seven months are sacred. After Vietnam, I finished my undergrad degree in music theory at the University of Michigan, and spent a year at North Texas University learning jazz arranging, before deciding that I really didn’t have any great gifts in music. So I returned to Ann Arbor, went around the country to study with half a dozen or so of the best people photographers in the US, then opened a high-class (and high-priced) portrait and wedding photography studio. I did have a gift here, and won an award or two. But after five years, I was bored. Sold the studio, taught myself carpentry and woodworking. But that didn’t feel like an adequate career. So I saw a good psychologist, took a slew of interest and aptitude tests, and found I matched people who were successful and satisfied in eight different fields. Nuts: I had wanted the ONE. Looking through the list, I had done most of them. But I was surprised to see RELIGION on the list! I was through with religion when I was six, having decided it was just a dishonest field. However, I decided that if it could be done honestly in a way relevant to life, it could be a satisfying and healthy career. But I was pig-ignorant in the field, so earned an M.A. in “Methods of Studying Religion” and a Ph.D. in theology, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, and Wittgenstein’s “language philosophy” at the University of Chicago. I spent a year as a hospital chaplain while writing my dissertation, then 23 years as a Unitarian minister. All very satisfying. In 1992, I was asked to become a Fellow in the Jesus Seminar, and have remained one for these 32 years. All this stuff made me interested and pretty qualified in a range of fields, including commentary on society, education, politics, liberalism, liberal racism, the media and religion.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Seeing all these fields come alive as I learned how to find and express insights into a lot of related and important fields. I think these fields are terribly important, that our culture is pretty close to being destroyed by liberals—I’ve been a liberal all my life—and if it’s possible to stop it, I needed to try. I think I did a good job with the book, and the book reviews I’ve received so far are very good.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Haha! I don’t know. Maybe “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Grieg, some soundtracks from the James Bond films, themes from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and A Summer Place (I’ve always loved it).

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

That the problems facing our country are very broad, deep, and deadly, and that we may be 60-80% established as what is becoming a totalitarian socialism. Unless people see this clearly and find the courage to confront it, the American Experiment will be over in a decade or so. This isn’t my war—I’ll be dead—but it’s my fight. The perfect reader? Well, a bright conservative, and a courageous liberal who can see how dangerous liberalism has been for nearly two centuries.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I’m taking a breath now, wanting this book to be successful. That will give me the freedom and money to think about other projects.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

It has been very good. I made a big mistake earlier, signed with Dorrance Publishing, and have just been screwed out of thousands of dollars, receiving absolutely no competent professional services.


You can buy Hollow Gods here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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