Video of an interview with Iain McGilchrist focussed on perceiving the sacred hosted by the British Christian think tank, Theos

In this Theos Think Tank video for their Sacred podcast, Elizabeth Oldfield discusses Perceiving the Sacred with Iain McGilchrist. This is the best interview of the author of The Master and His Emissary and of The Matter With Things I’ve seen so far. She does a good job of drilling down into his early (mostly nonexistent) religious experience and drawing out what led him to write such long book which is essentially one long argument for the importance of the sacred and of God aimed at those who have been led by the general culture to devalue the place of religion. Speaking as one of those I can vouch for its effectiveness having recently completed my long slow reading (and rereading) of the book. To anyone else who has been reluctant to examine the reasons for our culture’s ever weaker embrace of religion I strongly recommend it but only if you really want to have a better grasp of what it is you are shutting out and are willing to examine a lot of philosophy, physics, brain research and wisdoms traditions from all over the world.

Here is a one minute clip I took that I think gives a good sense of how it goes but the whole video is excellent. Though I found their exchange very moving and her reflection at the end insightful, I sure wish I could have located a transcript for those whose ‘darker hair’ and busy lives does not allow the time for such things. There is an option to see the whole video of course.

PS: I did just update the bio in my profile to better reflect my POV now, post having taken in The Matter With Things for anyone curious.

PPS: I’m glad you found this post, @Merv and I’m curious what you think of my revised bio. I was looking to convey that God is in my world now but not something I address myself to so much as something for which I reserve space within. Have you listened to any of Elizabeth Oldfield’s other Sacred podcasts? I listened to the one @Kendel recommended with Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan this morning while starting oatmeal and loading dishes. Promising but I can’t follow something like that very well under those conditions so will revisit. Also I want to make sure to invite others to listen to the one minute clip and if they like what they hear to listen to the whole podcast/video. @Randy, @Christy, @jpm, @Laura, @St.Roymond, @jstump, @GJDS, @knor, and apologies to anyone else I left out. Today I learned you can only use 10 @'s in a post.


My utmost appreciation for posting a 1 minute clip.

Lately I’ve been in the thick of it with a group of atheists. At the most basic level, it is a question of whether the cause of the universe is aware of its action, and that is a question which philosophy and science is unable to answer.


Thanks for checking it out. If you’re engaged with a nest of online atheists with the aim of conversion you are swimming up stream against a great deal of force. The truth is that your engagement will likely just harden both of your postures toward each other. No one ever changes what they really think for reasons and arguments given by someone else.

  • That was a strange experience in my post-visit opinion.
    • I’m still trying to sort things out, but …
      • Important tips for U.S. citizens to take with them if and when they go to McGilchrist Land:
        • You’ll be entering the U.K., where the Anglican non-tribe tribe lives, so be sure to wear your helmets, buckle your seat-belts, and drive on the left side of the road, otherwise you could kill somebody or get hurt yourself.
        • The Theos Think Tank says of itself: “We exist to inform and enrich the understanding of everyone with a stake in shaping the public conversation, from politicians to poets, academics to archbishops, journalists to judges. You’ll hear and see us on the news, or quoted in the press, bringing a non–tribal, thoughtful and intelligent Christian perspective.”
          • Non-tribal Christian perspective? How does that work? Must be the Lite version.
        • A conundrum from my moat- and drawbridge-surrounded island: “Theos stimulates the debate about the place of religion in society, challenging and changing ideas through research, commentary and events.” Resolution of the conundrum: You’re in the U.K. They debate without boxing gloves, rapiers, and pistols there.

Thanks for providing some background for the organization. I wanted to but didn’t want to delay until I found the time.

As for non tribalism tribalism it isn’t so hard to imagine from outside a culture that extols tribalism. The exclusivist perspective is the biggest turn off for me with Christianity. I think the new kingdom if such a thing is ever possible will not be like the Ark amusement park. All signs of branding and tribal allegiance will be gone or it won’t happen.

I’ve been looking forward to this episode for quite a while. I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of The Sacred with Elizabeth Oldfield (a Christian) and really enjoy her ability to interview her guests with meaningful depth. Overall she does a really good job of looking for connection points with people who have similar or very different ideas of what is sacred or involved in faith. She interviews all kinds of people from orthodox Christians to atheists and demonstrates kindness and decency, and she seems to really value people for who they are.
Whether I agree with her or her guests, I’ve found the episodes I listened to valuable.
So far her interview with friends Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagen was my favorite. I’m looking forward to her interview with McGilchrist.

I think this will get you to most of the episodes of The Sacred.


I thought she was delightful and drew Iain out nicely too. Kept it focussed on the sacred and the personal. I count her as on my wider tribe.

  • I’m not surprised or dismayed. All of my nephews and nieces are, to the best my knowledge, hard atheists or–at best–ambivalent and unapologetic agnostics. I myself am an unapologetic believer in the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Jesus of Nazareth, and a unabashed “exclusivist” I don’t hide my beliefs and don’t ask anyone else to do so either, but I’ll never run from anyone one, kith or kin, who wants to test my boundaries. The bridges, if any, around me are drawbridges that can be raised from either end. Unlike the YEC troll in this forum, I recognize an irreconcilable difference when I see one, and I’m not hesitant to shake the dust off my shoes when someone wants to persuade me to change my mind.
  • I find this portion of the Talmud reassuring:
    • [Ein Yaakov (Glick Edition) Sanhedrin 11] The ministering angels said before the Holy One, praised be He!: “Sovereign of the Universe, if David, who has killed the Philistines, would come before Thee and would complain about that which Doeg and Achitophel shared in the world to come, what wilst Thou say to him?” And he answered: “It is for Me to make them friends.”

C’mon, Dale. This is part and parcel of the problem. A person makes a step toward God in the form of acknowledging the existence of the sacred and divine, but you devalue it because it’s not a full-throated allegiance to Jesus followed by baptism. Try not to quench the Spirit out of doctrinal purity, okay?

I agree.

Nick Cave is a beautiful soul. He also wrote the theme song to Peaky Blinders, which I’ve recently been rewatching. Oppenheimer, also starring Cillian Murphy, is a great film too, but no connection to Nick.


I’d never heard of Cave before that interview. For weeks I listened to all his music on Youtube. Need to dive in again. I think you put it well: a beautiful soul. Oldfield drew out the friendship between Cave and O’Hagen beautifully; they were talking about a book they had written together about faith and non faith. It was super. @MarkD, I think it would resonate with you, well, and you, too, @Jay313. Maybe @Terry_Sampson even.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are a post-punk band from my old days (80s-90s). I was actually surprised to learn of his spiritual side.

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That’s not been my take from the first hour of the discussion at all. If you’re not interested in his background education, you could skip to timestamp 27:59. In all the videos I’ve watched of his, his discussion of how we use the two hemispheres in ways that help and diminish our thinking and understanding are most valuable to me. It’s the case in this one as well. It’s ok if it’s not your thing, but your description is not accurate, either.

00:00 Intro
03:16 What Is sacred to you? Iain McGilchrist’s response
06:17 Growing up at Winchester College: Iain McGilchrist
15:13 Iain McGilchrist’s first impressions of Christianity, and difficulty around the word “God”
19:23 The problem with academic critique: Iain’s stint as an English Fellow at All Souls
27:59 The Origins of Iain McGilChrist’s of the Two Hemisphere Hypothesis
36:39 Unpacking Iain McGilchrist’s two hemispheres hypothesis
41:39 The consequences of living in a left hemisphere society
56:57 How we can use right hemispheric thinking to cure tribalism
01:07:09 Elizabeth’s Reflection
Full transcript: Iain McGilchrist on The Divided Brain and Perceiving the Sacred - Theos Think Tank - Understanding faith. Enriching society.


That’s good as I’m the same way. But I hope you don’t think I’m intent on converting you to my point of view. You’re welcome to go on disappointing me just as I will go on disappointing some of you who rather I either sign up for the standard Christian deal or just stop talking about God. Maybe the alternative for you is no more acceptable than it is for me.

All they’ve been up to down under!
Crazy what skeletons people have in their closets!
: )
Obviously, I didn’t get out much.
; )

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Thanks for that. Found the transcripts, including this part from what I included in the 1 minute clip. I especially like what Elizabeth says at the end about what IM has said about the reasons we need the word “God” if only as a place holder name for something we just understand can’t adequately be pinned down with language.


And when you were at Winchester and going to chapel twice a day sometimes and, I’ve been listening to a lot of Tallis’ limitations this week. It’s been in my ears. Did you, you know, coming from a non–religious or not explicitly religious family? Did you feel drawn to Christianity? To God? What was the kind of journey around that for you and your teens?

Iain McGilchrist

No, I was drawn very much. So much so, that I was pretty certain that what I wanted to do after school was to study theology, and be ordained, and then go into a monastery. That was definitely my ambition. It was based on very little experience of life. And as soon as I had a little, I repented me of this idea, and good thing too I say, for me and for the monastery. I’m a bit of a rebel. I don’t like to just take things because somebody says so. So I’m often adopting another position from the one that’s fashionable in order to see what’s been lost here and to recover the valuable in it. And I often say that I’m the believer among sceptics, but I’m the sceptic amongst believers. That I often think, “well, yes, but hang on”, you know. I’ve never been one of those people who has 100% certainty about anything in the spiritual and religious realm. I go so far as to say that, you know, I admire and envy people who have that certainty. But I think there should be a bit of a question mark over it. Because these are not really realms unless one has a very, very convincing and undeniable personal experience that just absolutely convinces one. This is not an area in which 100% certainty can be had, indeed, it’s a matter of faith, and it wouldn’t be faith, if it could be certain. Faith is a matter of having trust in something. And trust is part of a relationship. And trust can be upheld, fulfilled, or it can be betrayed. And so, I see whatever it is, as a two–way relationship between God. I say the word in that slightly hesitant way because the word God is so surrounded by assumptions, and images that I think are damaging, and I’d want to distance myself from. But nonetheless, in the end, one has to call it that: God, the divine, the Sacred Realm, whatever. That it is something that is responsive to us. That we are called to respond to it. That it is always a relationship. That it is in fact to do with love. And love is another very powerful thing that can be reciprocated or can be lost. So I think it’s a good way to think. Sorry, I may have wandered off the question there.


No, I love it and I am about to wander off as well. So who knows if this will stay in. But I have been trying to write a chapter on God myself, which I just finished before I started reading your chapter, The Sense of the Sacred, and the way I got round that is for most of my book, the word God is in square brackets. And then I got to you when you started talking about a non–word we need. We need an ‘un–ward’. And then trying to find those linguistic signals like in Orthodox Jews not saying the name or we need to find some way to signal that you can’t drop this into a conversation casually, and expect that it doesn’t drag with it this kind of semiotic baggage that we’ll be setting off, you know, existential fireworks in the person who’s receiving it. And I very much valued that honest wrestle. But I will try and stay on track and we’ll come back to it.

I get the feeling you and Jay at least would not miss the stridently tribal stance of so many Christians as we have seen even in this thread. I swear, as I said a day ago on that recent thread about making faith and science matter to youth - the exclusivity is toxic and could exert a push out of the faith for some Christian youth. It doesn’t look good to someone not already baked into that partisan stance.

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Also I’m very happy to hear you say this as it seems very illuminating to me too but so many people can’t get past the early, over simplified and wrong descriptions of hemispheric differences. As he is always saying, it isn’t surprising they got so much wrong early on but it doesn’t change the fact that the hemispheres are profoundly divided and we have so much more detailed scientific understanding of how the two sides operate now. Not what they do, but how they do it. Any specific function you mention will involve both hemispheres albeit they contribute differently for understandable reasons. It really is a shame so many have decided nothing new or important can be learned here when there is and it has.

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I’m so far out of the loop that the only song I remember hearing by Nick Cave was Hallelujah on a Leonard Cohen tribute album. A different version.

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  • Don’t worry, I don’t.
  • As I said, or tried to, I don’t feel the need to persuade others to believe exactly what I believe, and don’t take well to others’ attempt to convert me. As much of McGilchrist’s interview that I watched helped me clarify some things about him: he likes to think of himself as “a believer among skeptics, and a skeptic among believers”. I, on the other hand, think of myself as a believer among believers and skeptics, and a firm anti-relativist among relativists. Thus my moat- and double-ended drawbridge metaphor.
  • Thus also my dissatisfaction with lumping the Abrahamic religions and sects under the same tent. I’m picky about who I eat and sleep with in this world.
  • My primary goal in my last days in this world is getting ready for the world to come and assuring my kin that we’re going end up there, under a tent of the Father and Jesus’ making, not mine. As an avid genetic genealogist, I have a perspective strongly shaped by those who loved me better than I deserved and whom I look forward to seeing again.

Maybe I should have already been aware of this simple phrase but I have never heard it stated quite like this.

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I hear that it is important to you and its certainly no business of mine. But I am cut from the same cloth as IM in this. I don’t feel there is much certainty available in any of this but that doesn’t stop it being very important to me.

Definitely true for me except I don’t think you are talking literally about eating and sleeping as I am. But I remain convinced that it is in everyone’s best interest to support everyone’s faith in whatever tradition they have been raised up. In those cases where someone is not firmly included in a tradition they should be encouraged toward the faith that calls to them - and please no one bring up satanism or something similarly absurd. Just because you don’t know what someone else believes is no reason to seed division and conflict.