Champagne in Grand Rapids and Indianapolis

January 19, 2010

I have just returned from Grand Rapids and Indianapolis, where I talked on the Koran and the early history of Islam, and the recent work of researchers in Germany. I was picked up at the airport by the energetic Bob Goodrich who is the power behind the Secular Humanists of Grand Rapids. The same evening I talked about my personal life for the first time in public. Despite the title of my first book, Why I am Not a Muslim, the one thing I do not talk about is why precisely I am not a Muslim, or how I lost my faith. In order to remedy this situation I talked a little about my background, but it was clear that the audience of nearly 120 well-informed and eager humanists were more interested in hearing my views about Radical Islam in the Modern World, hence the very lively Q & A session that went on for nearly an hour. The following day was the real marathon, when I must have talked for nearly six hours starting at 9.30 AM and finishing at 4.30 PM. However I was aided by Scott Luthy who gave me more than one breather while he talked very ably of New Testament Studies.

I ended the day with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill talking of Champagne, "In defeat I need it, and in victory, I deserve it". Bob Goodrich is also a very generous and thoughtful man, for straight afterwards we headed for the nearest liquor store and bought a great bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne, 2002, though Churchill's favorite was Pol Roger. It was not the end of the day for me, I gave an hour's interview for Bob's radio station while sipping Veuve Clicquot. On Saturday I repeated the marathon in Indianapolis talking for at least five hours, and again ended the day with great champagne.

I was struck by the erudition of the audience both in Grand Rapids and Indianapolis; Bob Goodrich himself is very well-read and asked probing questions that kept me on my toes. I am now in the process of working out a book proposal with just such an audience in mind, a book on the problems with the traditional Muslim account of the Koran and the Rise of Islam, and the work of the revisionists inspired by John Wansbrough, ending with the most exciting work of Christoph Luxenberg.