I felt different about people I didn't like than I had before the labyrinth; I saw them now as people in pain rather than one-dimensional bad guys. For the first time I saw how religion and spirituality could help people out of misery, give them comfort and serenity during hard times. I saw what that meant to them, and I could respect it. Not that I didn't see, too, that a lot of evil in the world was caused by religion. Yet much of it was caused by a lack of understanding of one another's beliefs or point of view.
It was shortly after the dedication of my labyrinth that I had lunch with Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor and dear friend, who is one of the brightest, most decent, and wisest people I know. Jon is a believing Christian and a religion scholar who went to Yale Divinity School. I told him for the first time that I was an atheist. He disagreed with me: "No, you're not." We talked for three hours. He said two things that turned my life around. First he said, "You don't ever want to define yourself negatively." And second, "You don't know anything about religion. If you're going to be an atheist, you should learn about religion and make an informed decision." He gave me a reading list. I began that weekend. How embarrassed and ashamed I was at how little I knew. It was shocking.
One thing that came out of that conversation was a strong feeling that we were not covering religion at The Washington Post as thoroughly as we might have. Religion, after all, touches everything: politics, foreign affairs, the environment, abortion, gay rights, women's rights, stem cell research, death, and, most important, the way we live our lives. I proposed to Don Graham, CEO of the Washington Post Company, that we start a Web site on religion. With Jon Meacham agreeing to be my co-moderator, On Faith was launched almost two years ago. It has become an extremely popular site, I am happy to say. Not a day goes by that I am not informed, entertained, stunned, impassioned, absorbed—you might even say consumed—by the intense exchanges on religion and spirituality I see on my website. What questions could be more important than: What is the meaning of our lives? Why are we here? What should we be doing with our lives? Where do we get our morals and our values? Who is right and who is wrong? How do we get through the suffering and pain? How do we find happiness? How do we make it through the night?