The Moral Imagination & Holiness of Norman Lear

Norman Lear was a champion of moral imagination, as all prophets are.

CBS correspondent Mo Rocca looks back on the life and career of producer and social activist Norman Lear. CBS Sunday Morning

I believe Norman Lear was a holy man employing a saintliness fit for our times. Simone Weil says, “today it is not nearly enough to be a saint, but we must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment, a new saintliness…”  

I name four signs of holiness for our times: Joy, Justice, Generosity and Courage.  Norman Lear was a man of joy and justice with plenty of generosity and courage thrown in.

When it comes to Joy, Lear was committed to making people laugh.  He said that even tragedy invariably includes comedy within it.  He found comedy and generated laughter even around difficult and divisive topics.  

Rob Reiner joins Chris Hayes to remember Norman Lear’s legacy: “He fought his entire life for democracy.”

He touched that special trait of being human–our capacity to laugh at ourselves and make room for Joy and meaningful discussion. 

Lear was fiercely committed to Justice and Healing.  He established his organization, People for the American Way, with justice in mind.  Lear saw racial injustice and gender injustice and put them on television for all to see and even laugh at and to elicit discussion among those who disagree. 

As a bomber pilot who flew 57 missions over Nazis Germany in WWII, Lear fought fascism and later he did so as a creator of comedy.  Interviewed last year at the age of 100, he expressed his concern that America elected an Archie Bunker as its 45th president.

In a TED interview with Eric Hirshberg, Norman Lear shares how his early relationship with “the foolishness of the human condition” shaped his life and creative vision.

Generosity was at work in Lear’s gifting us unceasingly with his many talents.  Just the number (and quality) of shows he created demonstrates his hard work and willingness to give his creative gifts away generously. 

As for Courage, Lear had to fight networks and censors and many other entrenched and privileged forces to get his message on air.  Plus his courageous piloting in WWII. 

Thank you, Norman, for your Courage and Generosity, your commitment to caring and healing, Justice and the spread of Joy.  In short, for the holiness you shared.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 108, 178-219, 257.

See Fox, “What Will Belief and Holiness Mean in a Postmodern Era?” in Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 300-323.

Banner Image: Norman Lear, 2017 Kennedy Center Honoree, delivers remarks after receiving his Kennedy Center Honor medal at the Kennedy Center Honor Dinner at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on December 2, 2017. State Department Photo/ Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

Queries for Contemplation

Do you find Joy, Justice, Generosity and Courage playing a bigger and bigger role in your life and spiritual maturation?

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

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Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

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4 thoughts on “The Moral Imagination & Holiness of Norman Lear”

  1. Avatar

    YES! Each of Us Sacred Eternal Souls are a unique expression/embodiment/Spark of the DIVINE LOVING DIVERSE ONENESS on our Spiritual Evolving Journeys in the SACRED PROCESS of the ETERNAL PRESENT MOMENT….

  2. Avatar

    I agree that Norman Lear was a holy man, as is Matthew and so many who speak out for justice. Holiness does not reside just in monasteries and places of worship, and, sadly, often cannot be found even there.

  3. Avatar
    Mary Elizabeth Heins

    I appreciate the modern qualities named for modern saintliness!! I’ve realized for a long time that unless we’re responding to the needs of our times, what are we doing, where’s our head? And responding with those 4 qualities — joy, courage, generosity, and justice!

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