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Letter From London: Thoughts from CTT on Location

Letter From London: Thoughts from CTT on Location

An essay by Robert Lawrence Kuhn

Letter From London

Dear Closer To Truth members and subscribers:

I have a personal story to tell our global Closer To Truth community. 

We were in London filming new CTT TV episodes and interview/topic series for four major CTT productions: Philosophy of Biology; Global Philosophy of Religion; Eastern Traditions and the Big Questions; and Mind, Art, Transcendence. 

We had just finished a long day of filming and I was returning, tired, to my hotel. Because we wanted to stay near our filming locations, the hotel was somewhat out of the way, not in the most crowded part of the city. I was in an Uber, loaded down with my big computer case and lots of (healthy) food (my ritual when filming CTT on location is to always eat dinner in my hotel room so I can prepare/study for the next day’s always-intense interviews).

Here is what happened:

My hotel is on a major avenue without a driveway, and so the Uber driver has to find a place to let me off, which turns out to be around the corner and a block away from the hotel on a deserted side street. He feels uncomfortable that I, an older (old?) man, must start lugging two heavy packages to the hotel without assistance. I tell him, with a smile, it’s not a problem: the hotel is not that far and I work out vigorously in a gym and play intense table tennis, so I can handle it. He tries to help me as best he can, but he cannot of course abandon his car.

I begin walking slowly in front of the Uber, then to the side of the road heading to the corner. As the Uber driver starts to pull away, this is what he suddenly catches sight of through his front window: On this deserted side street, an older man (me), short, slender, somewhat well-dressed, carrying two, large, valuable-looking packages…suddenly and rapidly is being approached by a young Black man, who races up to the older man (me), blocking his (my) path. The older man stops in his tracks; words are exchanged, the packages drop, gestures go flying synchronized with animated expressions. 

Although the Uber driver is already driving away, fearing the worst, he jams on the brakes, jumps out of the car, hurries over to us, and asks, politely but firmly, “May I be of assistance?”

“No problem, I’m fine,” I say, realizing how strange this scene may appear—I think (I hope) I said “thank you” — and the driver departs. 

"It really doesn’t matter what I believe...I try to treat all interviewees, all views, with a passionate skepticism. Because I want to learn, and I want our audiences to learn."

Here is why I said, “No problem”.

The animated, young Black man racing up to me said excitedly, “I apologize for interrupting, sir, but I’m your biggest fan! I’ve watched every episode of Closer To Truth and I have long wanted to ask you, after all your years of questioning, interviewing, and thinking, what do you believe personally? Do you believe in God?”

His accent was that of a British intellectual. If I had to guess, a graduate student.

I was obviously surprised and rather elated, especially on this grueling trip, after a twelve-hour day of complex, immersive, on-camera discussions, and so, wanting to show my appreciation by engaging with this young British intellectual, I said, in an equally animated voice, “I’m so pleased to meet you, I really appreciate your support, but I’m not going to tell you what I believe because it is a ‘secret’.” As I was smiling mischievously, I was obviously joking. 

“Seriously,” I continued, “it really doesn’t matter what I believe. I try to treat all interviewees, all views, with a passionate skepticism. Because I want to learn, and I want our audiences to learn, I try to get all interviewees to express their views in the deepest, clearest way. I do my best to get the best thinking of everyone on CTT, often by challenging their views. I don’t want what I may or may not believe at any given moment to distort our learning.”

Not satisfied, the young British intellectual persisted. “Please tell me what you believe.” 

I relented. “I can tell you this: I do not believe that physicalism/materialism exhausts all reality.”

“Do you mean God?” he pressed. He was not letting go.

“Maybe God, maybe something like God, maybe some ‘cosmic trophism,’ maybe other forms of realities beyond today’s physicalism/materialism,” I said. “Many possibilities.”

He thanked me, apologized again for “bothering” me, and went on his way.

It is easy to accuse the Uber driver, who saw our encounter from afar and could hear nothing of our conversation as he raced to intervene, of racial profiling—and indeed one cannot avoid seeing this brief incident as such. But when I returned to my hotel room, I also realized that this Uber driver was a hero. He did not need to stop and did not need to insert himself and offer to help. He put himself at risk to help a stranger: risk of potential injury if in fact a confrontation was unfolding, and if not, who knows, perhaps risk of accusation of profiling. Moreover, he was of Middle Eastern descent and no doubt has faced his own racial profiling. He is a hero.

I do not know the name of either man, to my regret.

Of late, I have not been wildly optimistic about humanity: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, US-China relations, conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, US domestic politics. Odd as it sounds, this minor incident, all occurring in less than five minutes, renews my hope.

"Those of us who ponder the Big Questions of vast existence and human sentience are a diverse group, not identifiable from any external appearance or demographic sector."

On reflection, I learned four lessons in those few minutes:

Racial profiling is unfair, wrong, and sad—and we all need to resist it and fight it. (Note: the young British intellectual was so engrossed with CTT that he had no idea that he had just been racially profiled.)

Ordinary people make snap decisions to help other people all the time, with nothing to gain and no recognition to be had.

I was uplifted and energized by the brief conversation. When viewers appreciate what we do at CTT, I, CTT producer/director Peter Getzels, and our entire CTT team, are really encouraged. It means a lot to us, and one of the reasons I am writing this letter is to express to all of you that we really (really) appreciate everyone’s encouragement and support.

It is also a reminder that those of us who ponder the Big Questions of vast existence and human sentience are a diverse group, not identifiable from any external appearance or demographic sector. We are invisible. Members of our little tribe come from all religions, regions, races, ethnicities, genders, ages, educational levels, income levels, social classes—the only thing we all have in common is the pursuit of these big questions. But that “only thing” is a Big Thing—only those fascinated or obsessed know how truly Big it is. Some of us have felt isolated—until we discover that there are others of our kind.

When I reflected on all this later that night alone in my room, amidst tensions and emotions of all-day-after-all-day interviews, it brought me to tears. 

And so, we continue work on new CTT productions!

Once again, all of us at CTT appreciate your interest, trust, and support.

All best,