Jessica Hagy: The Humanist Devotional

Atheism, Authors, Bloggers, Book Review, Humanism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Grace
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My guest this week is Jessica Hagy. Jessica is the artistic and comedic genius behind the blog, Indexed. She has recently written a book titled, The Humanist Devotional. Jessica is an artist, an author, a comedian, a marketing and social media guru.

Get as humble as you can.

Jessica grew up secular and calls herself a humanist. It is not that she rejected the bible, but rather that there was so much more for her to learn. In the episode she uses the analogy of a library card as granting access to the world’s knowledge. Access that she took advantage of.

Small talk can get big fast.

We walk through her 10 steps on how to be an interesting person and re-imagine them as how to find meaning and purpose as a humanist.

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 10 Steps on how to be interesting



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Why I am a humanist

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


NOTE: This transcript is AI produced ( and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to start with a brief comment about the current events in the secular world. The hosts of Good Mythical Morning Rhett and Link have both published their deconstruction stories on their podcast Ear Biscuits, I highly recommend that you go take a listen to that. beyond just their very public deconstructions, as well as other high profile former Christians who have come out as either D converted or deconstructed has prompted a fair amount of hand wringing amongst the believers and apologists in particular. And I just wanted to state here that many of the hot takes we hear from the apologist class, about why people do convert are just dead wrong. And I propose to you if you are a believer, or if you are an apologist, that you talk to people who have deconstructed their faith, or D converted, and ask and listen, rather than asserting the reasons that you think people did convert. My podcast is full of many people telling their stories of deconversion. Listen to these stories, listen to the very common message of very dedicated believers trying to follow God to the best of their ability, and finally having to admit to themselves that it does not work and they no longer believe. I personally think that adult deconversion so not someone in their young adulthood in teenage and early college years, but somebody who has lived out their faith for some time, it was a life altering faith and life defining faith. And that type of person. D converting, says a great deal about faith and religion more than apologists give it credit. So I'll just leave this open. If you are curious about what makes people D convert, you should actually ask one of us and I will make myself available. Please contact me at graceful If you're interested in having discussion, or coming on the podcast to have that discussion. Now onto today's show. My guest today is Jessica Hagy. Jessica is an artist, a cartoonist, a comedian, and author and a social media guru. She does her artwork on the wildly popular blog indexed, check out her blog at this is Today we discuss two of her books. One is called the humanist devotional. And it was her mentioning this on Twitter that prompted our conversation. And a second book that she wrote several years ago called How to be interesting. Before we get to that conversation, I just need to note here that during the editing process, I noticed that during this conversation I come across as very mansplaining. And I just want to apologize to Jessica, I think Jessica is an amazing artist. She's incredibly talented, and her work speaks for itself. The only thing that I'll note here is that Jessica grew up secular and never had a faith experience herself. And so there are many times in which I was tying it back to what I perceive is my core audience, those people who have D converted or deconstructed from a fundamentalist faith, be the judge for yourself. Jessica is amazing. And her work is amazing. And if you need to stop this podcast to go look at her work, you should do that. Otherwise, I now give you my conversation with Jessica Hagy.

Jessica Hagy, welcome to the Graceful atheist podcast.

Jessica Hagy  4:14  
Thank you for having me. Good to talk to you.

David Ames  4:17  
Occasionally, once in a while, Twitter is a good thing. This might just be one of those good things I happen to see, I believe was the Friendly Atheist advertising the fact that you had just now written a new book called the humanist devotional. Yeah, I tried to keep my ear to the ground about humanism and those kinds of things. In like 15 minutes, we established that we would do an interview together. But I have to admit that I was entirely ignorant of your work. So I went out and looked at all of your work. And it turns out, you are a cartoonist, an artist, an author of multiple books. A hugely successful blogger, a poet, you have a TED talk. You're a man Half geek, a comedian, a marketing guru, an observer of humanity, a social media ninja, and effectively nerd crack cocaine and making us all look bad.

Jessica Hagy  5:11  
A lot of adjectives to Trump,

David Ames  5:13  
is there anything that you cannot do?

Jessica Hagy  5:16  
I cannot dance or sing.

David Ames  5:20  
Tell us briefly about the books, you've written some of your work, you know, in your own words,

Jessica Hagy  5:24  
yeah, a lot of the work I do focuses on using graphs and charts and that sort of visual format to tell stories and to get ideas across. Because it seems like there's sort of a visual grammar embedded in sort of lines and directionality, that adds a lot of punch to really any sentence you throw at it. So it's a format I've had a lot of fun with. And I started doing this sort of work in around, Gosh, 2006. So in internet years, I'm like, a billion years old and should be fossilized. But I put up a blog of that called indexed, and then index became a book in around 2008. And another book came out in around 2012, which is how to be interesting, which is done the same sort of formatting and things like that. And that did really well. And then I picked up the Art of War, which is really, really weird. It's like 300 sentences. And I thought, like, these are captions, and they need images. So I illustrated the art of war. And that was another book that came out. And then I did, I've been illustrating other people's books like crazy since then. And then the humanist devotional is one that just came out now, which is one of those things like there are all these devotionals and daily readers, and they're all sort of very Christian centric. Yes. There are a lot of other goofy nerd people out there who would just kind of like to read something that's philosophical without being religious. So I put this together, which is 366 different meditations. But they're daisy chained in sort of alternative Venn diagrams. And even talking about my work, you can probably hear people out there being like, what the heck like, but it's one of those sorts of, once you see it, you get it formats. And that's, that's what I'm up to now.

David Ames  7:18  
Yeah, I wanted to address right off the bat that we have the impossible task of trying to describe a visual medium in words, which is just Yeah. So for my listeners, just go out and Google indexed or Jessica Hagy, and you'll find it immediately. And I find like, it's kind of deceptively simple, particularly that a graph or the Venn diagram, art is packed with information. And it's almost like a joke, right? There's a setup. And then there's a moment aha moment where you get it. Yeah. And then I've also seen that you've you've actually done kind of as you've presented your work on stage. It is almost comedic. It's almost like you're doing comedy work. Yeah.

Jessica Hagy  7:58  
Cuz explain sort of talking my way through a diagram. And then you hear people in the audience like, get it? Yeah. And the time lag between showing it and the weird giggle is that like, wonderfully awkward, like, I know it's coming. I just have to wait for everybody to kind of look up and, and read the thing. Yes, yeah, that's always been one of my like, most awkward, but I kind of own it, because I know the punch line is coming. If I don't say anything, sort of moments.

David Ames  8:24  
The reason I mentioned you being a comedian is that's a real skill, the the timing and the delivery of the patience to let the audience catch up to what you have presented visually is a really, it's very good.

Jessica Hagy  8:38  
Thank you. It was one of those. It's, I just started drawing things and not really being present in a live space while they're being absorbed. And the first couple of times I did it, I was sort of like, what is going to happen here? Really fun, or people are just going to look at me like crazy person. Yeah, out of here. That's awesome.

David Ames  8:57  
I wanted to ask, just from an artistic point of view, I've heard other people or other artists talk about the freedom of constraints. Yeah. So you kind of set out this constraint of being on an index card and just talk about that a little bit to make it easier to to make it harder.

Jessica Hagy  9:15  
Honestly, the the sort of generation of this started when, way back in 2006, I, I was working as an advertising copywriter. And I heard that everybody needs a blog. Every writer needs a blog, but everybody was doing these sorts of like, this is what I had for breakfast this morning. Graham like made that almost sexy. And I didn't want to do that. But I had access to free office supplies at work. And I was just like these little index cards, I can just like squirrel these away and fiddle with them. And I just started taking notes on them and I was using them for taking notes at class at night. I was getting my MBA because writing Victoria's Secret taglines was running my brain. And I was just trying to figure it out like Have something to do with things. And the graphs were a lot of school. And they were the opposite of everything I did in my day to day life. And I just started sort of using them as an escape doodle. Yeah. And then I was just like, and I can fit three index cards on a scanner. And that's three things. So I thought I'd kind of like snuck around by grabbing a really small format.

David Ames  10:24  
I want to get more to your work, and specifically the humanist devotional, but I'm curious what your story is, where as far as leader, did you grew up? Was there any religion in your home, were you always a humanist, um,

Jessica Hagy  10:35  
I grew up with my dad converted to Catholicism to do the wedding for my mom. And she had us in Catholic school. But I also had a library card. So that didn't, those two veins of information gathering didn't quite match. And I remember doing the due up the stand up confirmation move, where you have to stand in front of the microphone and swear that you believe everything. And I did that. And I was just like, I felt so dirty. And I was just like, I'm out. I'm, that was that was bad. That was bad news. That was a bad feeling. And I'm just gonna keep reading my library books. And that's just how I've been

David Ames  11:21  
very cool. My podcast is very much targeted at people who did have a faith into their adulthood. Yeah, and who subsequently recognize that it isn't true. But the thing that rings true to me about that statement you just made is I went to Bible college, and in college, it was all about, you know, learning to think critically, and to question things. And immediately afterwards, to be, you know, certified to get the first step towards becoming a pastor was the sign on the dotted line, you believe these things, you will preach these things. X, Y, and Z. And I felt just exactly as dirty. Even though I was very much a believer at the time. So it's interesting, interesting point of honesty there.

Jessica Hagy  12:05  
That nagging feeling of like, Wait a minute. Yeah, I think sometimes you see, like, some kids are really like, of course, like, whatever, just go for it. Like, how could you worry about this? And it's like, I worry about everything. I overthink everything. How can you not overthink this large piece of stuff that they're like telling you all the time? Like, how can you not like fiddle with, like, what's behind it? So anyway, that's just one of my neuroses, that probably led me down this path. So Well, I think

David Ames  12:35  
and asking the big questions, and you're trying to put those out in a meaningful art, both artistic and philosophical kind of way, is really interesting combination.

Jessica Hagy  12:49  
Yeah, I remember one time I was, I don't know, like eight or 10. Like, I just figured out how to ride a bike. And I was like, why am I me? Wow, like, such a dumb, why am I need? And then like, the next the next week, we had, oh, this is how genetics works. And you're just like, whoa, like, there's an answer to every stupid question I've ever had. There is an answer out there. And that was just the most like, if I can ask that kind of question to myself and have it haunt me, and then get an answer to it. I can find everything I can just find out like, it's gonna be okay.

David Ames  13:26  
Yeah. So let's talk about the the book, the humanist devotional, a little bit, again, just some of my story I what I found really profound, after what I call D, converting, losing my faith, and really doing what you've just described, exploring science, exploring philosophy, was the discovery of the age of these questions that humanity has been asking and attempting to answer these questions since the beginning of recorded history since before that, and really, I felt very rooted in kind of a historical tradition of question askers. And so I really feel like that's kind of a bit of the heart of your, your book here. But talk to me about the decision to make this book and what are the sources that you drew upon?

Jessica Hagy  14:10  
So I was listening to a lot of lectures on philosophy, like historical, how did this civilization become thinking like this? And how did that idea spread around the world? Or how did it not? Or who picked up what, from where, and I was just like, that was a really fascinating sort of interesting way to think about, oh, this idea is really built on 7000 years of other ideas that have all like fallen into it. And I always love quotations and how they sort of distill things like you can get an entire philosophy that took 7000 years distilled in one sentence, like, what is that like? Oh, that's, that's such a cool sort of like linguistic chemistry. And I had the, the Yale book of quotes, which is like the official quotes, and I always had like little note cards in there. I didn't write in it, but it was just full. And then I was looking around in a used bookstore and I found other I found Bartlett's, I found the Forbes book of quotations, I found another couple really old ones, like, you know, they're good when they're like, yellowed. You open them up. And I was like, okay, so you can't search the internet for quotation. So you also get like, Abraham Lincoln loves to twerk. And that just, nothing's real. So you have to go to these like, original source books, and going through those. And then I just started sort of picking out the ones that I liked, or what really echoed, really, to me, I'm putting them in order. And that's how the book came around. So it's a lot of things distilled, and a lot of things reorganize, and hopefully they get redistilled. Like the watercycle. Like, it rains, and it falls down and it comes back to something else. So yeah, that's what I tried to do.

David Ames  15:56  
And then you've described you kind of hinted at it, or at the intro of the breakdown of a sentence that there is a form to that. And that's that's part of the way that you draw this art.

Jessica Hagy  16:07  
Yeah, I think the the sentence as an object for people is, it's so useful, it can say a lot of things. And yet it can have wiggle room for interpretation, and that interpretation, sort of accordion motion of how does this sound to your ear? And how does it look on the page? And how does one sentence contradict another sentence and let them both be true. And so that was I was part of the fun of putting these together in the arrangement that I ended up putting them in,

David Ames  16:37  
I noticed that your style changes from time to time. So the humanist devotional is not exactly like index, and the Art of War is not exactly like I have the other the other two. Is that just exploring new Artistic Media?

Jessica Hagy  16:51  
A lot of the things that I do are, I wonder if I could tweak it a little bit. And so I fit in with my own format, just to see maybe if it's something new or something different? And a lot of the times it's okay, you've done that. Now, what are you going to do? It has to be a little bit different, or it's not fresh enough to sort of like sell out to the public. But if it's a total divergence, then it's like, that's not you. Right. I'm sort of keeping that knitting going with like switching up the stitches.

David Ames  17:22  
Interestingly enough, today's message in the humanist devotional is really on point. And there's two quotes, Abbie Hoffman sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger. And Arthur C. Clarke. How inappropriate to call this planet earth, when it is clearly ocean. And then your Zinger is sudden realizations can make previously held ideas seem silly. I had already marked this one out as something I wanted to chat with you about because it describes the feeling of deconversion. So precisely. Now, I realized that's not a part of your particular experience. But for those of us who go through it as this huge paradigm shift in which all of our sense of reality has has changed. Sometimes that feels instantaneous. Sometimes that is drugged out over a long period of time. But this captures that so well, sudden realizations can make previously held ideas seem silly. I mean, that just encapsulates it entirely.

Jessica Hagy  18:21  
Thank you. You know, one of the things about putting this together was every page has to resonate with the people who read it. Yes. And so nothing could be too specific as to a certain certain feeling and yet had to be big enough that it would be understandable. Do you know what I mean? That sort of how can this really be a real shock for you to open up the book and really feel related to it on any day that it works? And I did when I was working in advertising. I wrote a lot of horoscopes for different brands oh god yeah, yeah. So remember to

David Ames  19:00  
make you feel dirty.

Jessica Hagy  19:03  
I feel okay the worst thing I wrote a lot of marketing for JPMorgan Chase and subprime housing market and around 2004 2006

David Ames  19:12  
So it's all your fault yes.

Jessica Hagy  19:15  
I can't believe in hell because I but the idea that you got that distinct like this feels like something I've actually experienced like thank you like that's what I was really going for to get. Every time you open the book up it should speak to you but that it should speak to everyone but you specifically and use and all of that and so that makes me feel great that it's

David Ames  19:41  
stuck. But I see what you're tying it together with a little bit of the idea of a horoscope it's it's broad enough, that that we see ourselves if they did the Rorschach test, we see ourselves in it and we we connect it to our own personal story.

Jessica Hagy  19:57  
Yeah, but that's another weird linguistic trick. like is when it's when the sentence begins with, you know that all of a sudden, the people are like I do, okay. And even before you get to the next part of the sentence, they're already sort of bought in, and the second person really pulls that through. And I think when you put any sort of book or object together, if it's always you're thinking of the reader, as you, you're here with me, I'm thinking about this, how would you feel? And that's like, I got far enough away from my own sort of like authorial perspective on this, that I was always in the readers mode. And that felt really good, especially working with other quotes. I was always sort of an outside observer. And that made editing it a lot easier, if that makes sense to

David Ames  20:44  
kind of and actually sparks another question of, how do you think of yourself? Do you think of yourself as an artist or an author or something else,

Jessica Hagy  20:55  
I always just have artist and writer because I, I draw and I use words so heavily. And everything is really sort of linguistically and poetically inclined, even if it is drawn or painted, or presented in a format that's not typical, like block of

David Ames  21:13  
text, right? In our email exchange, you said something really, I thought was beautiful. One of the things I wanted to do with the humanist devotional was present humanism as a more optimistic way of thinking, as opposed to a philosophy that's merely an opposition to religion. Oh, yeah. So again, that really resonates with what I am trying to do. But let's explore that idea. What did you mean by that?

Jessica Hagy  21:38  
So even thinking about just talking about our own sort of, how did you had a serious break and or reorganization of your entire life when you left your religious scenario? And I think mine was more of a just like, huh, man, these other things, right? And it was, it was never like, this is terrible. And you should stop, you should stop this. It was more just like, well, I, I found this other really cool book and like, I'm going to read that instead. And so the instead was always more appealing and uplifting. It offered something, as opposed to just be like, No, I don't like this. And a lot of the atheism spaces are really sort of not up with thinking but down with religion. Yeah, that doesn't feel good to me. Yeah,

David Ames  22:24  
I should have said this ahead of time. But any criticisms of atheism are welcomed, because I criticize it all the time? I think this is exactly part of the problem is if we are just purely in opposition to you know, that's silly. That's just not a very interesting position to take.

Jessica Hagy  22:44  
No, and it's it makes it makes a very small mindset, like, can't you can't grow from a point of no, yeah, you can grow from a point of, I want to see what happens in this petri dish. But you can't grow from I'm just going to set this building on fire like that. Yes, that's it just makes people uncomfortable. And it doesn't offer them anything like uplifting, right? And you can be uplifting in any sort of way.

David Ames  23:13  
Yeah, you know, I think that's, that's a really good way to describe your work, not just the humanist devotional, that even index there is a hopefulness in there, there's something inspirational about the work that you do, whether that's I don't know, if it's intentional. I think if

Jessica Hagy  23:29  
I'm going to draw something or write something it can be, it can be a little bit snarky. Like, this is an odd subject. Yes. But also like, but in the context of the world, like, it's kind of fun. Yeah, there's, there's, I mean, even true, evil is absurd. And it's evilness, right? So the capturing the absurdity and the sort of wonder of stuff is my default setting, I think.

David Ames  23:53  
So I had said to you about for me, the way I try to encapsulate this is to put the humanity back into humanism. And so one of the things that I found, again, as as this was a discovery as an adult, imagine just, you know, waking up one day and discovering this, you know, huge world, that library card of these writers and philosophers and just reveling in that. Yeah. But one of my criticisms of humanism is that it tends to be kind of locked in the intellectual high tower, right? It's this from a philosophical point of view, you know? And it's a debate culture and it's, so I'm really interested in in talking about humanism as normal people as a as a regular human being with emotion and feelings, and it feels like that resonates with your work as well. Yeah, and

Jessica Hagy  24:43  
but so much of just reading philosophical texts. I mean, that stuff is chewy. You just you open it up, and you're just like, that paragraph is gonna take me three days to really sort out in my brain what this guy's talking about like okay, I know So this is important and foundational, I should understand it, but really like, what does it mean day to day real people real feelings? Like, what's the soundbite and I hate to be so like, short attention span theater about it. But really like, what is the what is the main chunk that I can carry with me and interpret into other ways and so much of philosophy and religion and arguments like that? It's good to know and good to understand and all of that. But the the human to human conversation isn't like, ancient Greek arguments. Yes.

David Ames  25:39  
I'm trying to decide, should I quote back to you some of the things and get your spin on them, or I love a few of these, like, what is valuable is not new, and what is new, is not valuable. Every generation has to relearn everything their ancestors already figured out that one really? Oh,

Jessica Hagy  25:57  
yeah, going through just like 10s of 1000s of quotes. And when you find one that's just like, that is sticky. And that is, that's some real, real juicy stuff there. And the things you said, were not 12th grade linguistic acrobatics, of vocabulary and things like that. They're really straightforward observations. And that's the kind of stuff that really works for me, because you can take those apart and put them back together and really present them and let them do the work for you.

David Ames  26:30  
I wanted to talk about just from a creative point of view, almost a confessional on my part. I am kind of the stereotypical white ish guy, who when I went through this transition, I thought, Oh, I have so much to say to everyone. And the fascinating thing was coming to recognize, again, the oldness of these questions, the oldness of even the answers that I find so compelling today are so derivative, I find that though I am still obsessed with the idea of expressing things in some unique way expressing it in a in a non derivative way. Is that something that you try to do as well?

Jessica Hagy  27:10  
Yeah, it is. One of the things like the more I read, the more I feel like I haven't had an original idea in 1000 years sort of thing. Yeah. And when you are just sort of bombarded with something. And then you're, I'll be doodling out things or thinking about the next thing. And I'll be like, Did I read that somewhere? Did I have that thought myself? Is that something I've accidentally stolen? And translated into my weird format? Like, what? Where did that come from? And then I'll have to sort of google myself to make sure I'm not plagiarizing other people on accident, like three years later, or something. And it's one of those. Thank goodness, there's Google, because you do realize that everything is so interconnected, and people are always doing these different things. But I think you can't, it's always going to be like a weird Xerox, right, like you make a photocopy gets a little mocked up, you do it again, like the JPEG falls apart, something changes. So you might feel like you're being derivative, or you're not, or you're not having an original idea, but you are in your own way, like you're having an idea with your spin on it. Always.

David Ames  28:14  
Yeah, and I you know, culture is inescapable. So we are swimming in the ideas of our peers, and those have gone before us. So in some sense, absolutely. Everything is derivative. It's nothing new under the sun. But we are definitely putting our own spin on things as we try to put something out in the world.

Jessica Hagy  28:34  
I think I think that is one good thing to think about. And I think, the process of learning something, it's a new idea in your head, like there's an actual chemical reaction that's brand new, when you learn something, even if 100 People are sitting in a classroom, I don't think the idea will stick in everyone's brain in the same way. Right? That makes sense. Like if even on like a basic chemical level, your idea is your idea the way you've learned it with your memory and the whole thing, right? So fiddling with art is comforting in that respect, which is at least it came out of my brain after it went through the like diagnostic system of all my senses and things like

David Ames  29:15  
one of the things I find interesting, or I attempt to do is to do what you've described to distill some idea into a sentence. And I actually find that another thing that Twitter is reasonably good at is forcing you to put an idea into it's the simplest form you can you only have certain number of characters. Unlike you, however, I can't do that on anything close to a daily basis, you are producing just a tremendous volume of work. It amazes me. So how do you keep How do you continually come up with these ideas?

Jessica Hagy  29:47  
Part of its fun and part of it sort of the great spite driven capitalist machine, which is you have to prove yourself over and over again every day. And I'm sort of like I can and I will And then I just keep making things. And the more things I make, the easier it is to make them if if the habit forming function of that has any use. But yeah, I've been I've been drawing these little graphs and charts and now it's almost a secondary dialect for me.

David Ames  30:18  
So I'm wondering if you would be willing, I, I know your book, How to be interesting is several years old. And I have to admit that I haven't actually read it. But the various summaries of it, it strikes me that your 10 steps are not only about how to be interesting, but they also somewhat answer the question how to have meaning in your life. Yeah, I wonder if you'd be game if we could talk through some of those and see how they apply to humanism?

Jessica Hagy  30:50  
Oh, sure.

Yeah, that's a, that's a good notice. Thank you.

David Ames  30:55  
I saw some summaries of the 10 steps. And then I've seen a couple of YouTube videos of you describing it. And I was just struck by how these 10 steps also force a person to consider what they find important in their life. So if we can't, we'll just go through some of them. So step one is go exploring. What does that mean to you, and then we'll talk about how we can apply it.

Jessica Hagy  31:19  
I think so many times when people are feeling stuck, or bland or blah, they're not moving, and they're not letting themselves think about new things. And they're not letting themselves sort of go and find out. And it's it's that feeling of like, you've got a library card, you can open up anything you can you got Google, you can check anything out, you can go outside and watch people like, even going to a mall and watching people can become an artistic career if you're just if you just sketch. And that really was the first like, Well, what do interesting people do? And the answer is kind of something. It doesn't really matter what the something is, as long as you care about it and have a love for it and have a curiosity about it.

David Ames  32:03  
For people, again, probably not my target audience who were former, let's say evangelicals, or fundamentalists in one way or another. One of the very exciting things is that some ideas, some some sources of information were off limits whether that was overt, overt or implied, that means they're valuable. Yeah, exactly. So this one again, really speaks to me of, you know, I just went through this voracious reading process. In the first couple of years of reading anything, I could get my hands on it. So this idea of exploring, not only physically going to different places, but also the exploration of ideas of things that might have been off limits at one point in time going, Yeah,

Jessica Hagy  32:45  
I can take that even, like, even down a closer sliver, but in advertising, people would be like, well, I can't I don't have any ideas today just don't have any ideas. I'm just gonna read some of the annuals, like the advertising annuals of the award winning stuff. And it's like, you can't think about advertising. So you're gonna think about advertising some more like no, like, read something else, or like do talk to people who aren't in advertising and that just like the insularity of any organization, crew, religion, anything that builds that sort of sense of, Well, this is what we do, right? This is what we think about all the time. And there's so many wonderful, interesting people out there who don't know about what you do at all. And there were all the fun stuff is,

David Ames  33:30  
this resonance is great. So I've talked a lot about this idea of being in a bubble. So when I was a believer, it was hermetically sealed, right? Everything was self referential and self reinforcing. And anything that wasn't self reinforcing, was rejected was thrown out of the bubble. And so this exact idea of you know, you're in this box, and the only way to get out of that box is to start looking outside of the box. And those ideas outside of the box will show you how small that box was.

Jessica Hagy  34:01  
Yeah. And I think there, there are some people that you meet, and you're just like, how did you become that person? Like, how did you make a life for yourself? Like, cutting out paper puppets? Like, how did you become master? Like, what? Tell me how this happened? Or sometimes even just like, How did my accountant become an accountant? Like, how does this happen? How do these people find these things? And I mean, everybody has some sort of weird bubble that they're in or weird non bubble or, and then the bubbles collide. And you're just like, I can learn so much from this weird puppet master and this accountant and we should have dinner all the time.

David Ames  34:39  
Yes. So the Step Two for how to be interesting and we're trying to apply it to finding meaning is the one that I really love is share what you discover. So we've done this exploration and now we should give it away.

Jessica Hagy  34:54  
Oh, no, I think somehow I've segwayed right into that, but that's where your bubbles like meet each other and You're just like, did you know that? One of the crazy weird facts? And I think I found this on Twitter too, is that when you get scurvy and this is kind of gross, okay. Yeah. But when you get scurvy, one of the pieces, the main fundamentals of the vitamin A or C, or whatever it is that the lack of is scurvy. Every wound you've ever had reopens? I did not know that. Whoa, can you imagine? Like,


stubbed toe, every zit every, every little wound, like your body has that as a memory, and it's still encapsulated in you. And it's only held together by a lemon every now and

Unknown Speaker  35:43  
I reading that I'm just like, Did you guys know? And people are like, no, but

Jessica Hagy  35:50  
and then all of a sudden, like a weird conversation starts happening about like, well, I did this. And did you know that this happens. And one thing that happens when you get a tattoo is that tattooing is in your lymph nodes forever. And just like conversations that way? Yeah. But the conversations that you end up having eventually did become really personal. And really sort of I learned this or I felt this one way, just by talking about random information. Yeah, if that makes sense, like small talk can get big fast.

David Ames  36:19  
It totally does. Again, I'm sorry to keep being self referential here. But this podcast, I often am interviewing people who have gone through a similar faith transition into myself. And there's many, many commonalities, but there's always something unique. There's always some special twists that their particular story has. And I find that the telling of one story is this super cathartic experience. The other thing I've learned through this process is people want to tell their story. So when you just ask them, what's your story, they just explode and begin telling their story. That

Jessica Hagy  36:57  
that is really true. And one of the things about I that I got asked a lot, when How to Be interesting came out was, well, what do you do if you're shy? And you don't want to meet people like, well, one, you don't have to be outgoing to be extremely fascinating. And the other thing is, if you want to be interesting, no more things. And the easiest way to do that is just ask somebody else about themselves, and people will tell you.

David Ames  37:19  
Alright, so step three is do something, anything?

Jessica Hagy  37:24  
Yeah, I think that idea that you have to be really good at anything, is a bad place to start, because nobody's really good at anything when they first start doing it. Right. And so there's the idea that if you just keep keep on practicing, or keep practicing, you'll become an expert and able to help other people do it, or you'll become really knowledgeable in one thing, and you will develop a love for what you're good at by actually doing something you're bad at if that, if that lines up.

David Ames  37:57  
I had to definitely like get over. Like, you know, I know what a really good podcast sounds like a really well produced one. Yeah, this is not it. I have to get over myself of you know, it's not going to be perfect. But I can I can do it this well. So I'm just gonna do it and see if anybody's interested. And it turns out, yeah, there's a few people. Gosh, what

Jessica Hagy  38:18  
was it there was this beautiful thing that was on, there's a YouTube video that has 4 million hits of how to open a can. Somebody needs what you somebody needs your information, like put it out there, like just do it. Like just, you'd be amazed, like, people will find you. And it's so cool.

David Ames  38:38  
To tie back real quick to step two, one of the things I often encourage people to do is write down their story, you know, they don't have to put it on a blog if they don't want to or something, but just write down the experience that they have gone through. And you can do you can apply that to anything, you know, you've had a great vacation, write it down for posterity, so that five years from now you can look back and say, Hey, that was a really good vacation. So again, your step is do anything, something about just the act of creating of doing something is just a really positive thing.

Jessica Hagy  39:09  
Yeah. And it's the idea of an exercise. So physical exercise, mental exercise, artistic exercise, social exercise, like there is a strengthening that happens, the more the more it's done, or just the act of doing it and saying, You know what, I went for a run. Am I a runner? Now? I painted a picture. Am I a painter now? And it's like, Yeah, take that and run with that. Go. Do it again.

David Ames  39:35  
Yes. Your fourth step is embrace your weirdness.

Jessica Hagy  39:39  
Yeah, I mean, the whole idea of if you're going to be interesting, you have to have some prickly part that stands out on the sphere. That is your identity, like, there has to be a hook or an angle of you that is slightly different. And people's idea of what is slightly different is amazing. So like you're like in your head past life, standing out in one way, or asking one weird question could define you forever. And that would be, that would be the, the weird part of you that you'd be known as, and you know what that's dig into that, like, see where that takes you, because that's something other people have noticed is already off about you. And not off in a negative way, just often, uh, not exactly the same as everyone else.

David Ames  40:27  
So two things I want to say about that one as it applies to, again, deconversion when you're in in that bubble, people begin to feel shame. They feel like, there's something wrong with me because I'm different, right? Or why can't I fit in? Why can't I go along with everyone else seems convinced by this, but I'm asking these questions, and you know, what's wrong with me? Embrace that move on. Go with it, let it

Jessica Hagy  40:51  
it's not, it's too because our entire culture is all about, like, icons. And people who do one amazing thing and people who stand out and are amazing. And also at the same time, like, absolutely encourages conformity so much. And it's just like, look, it's going to be that loop. And you're either going to fit in precisely at all times everywhere. And that will stress you fuck out for the rest of your life, because it's impossible. Or you might as well just run with the thing that is a little bit. Not exactly like everybody else. And you'll get credit for it.

David Ames  41:26  
And we don't remember people who conformed.

Jessica Hagy  41:30  
No, and if we do remember them, it's because there are a lot of them, and they frighten us like Children of the Corn style.

David Ames  41:38  
Your step five is have a cause.

Jessica Hagy  41:42  
Yes, you've got to believe in something bigger than yourself. You can't be it's just you being like, I'm going to be the best at this, this and this, you're not because you're not doing something that actually matters. And once you find something that actually matters, then one, you don't have the excuse that you can give up on yourself because it's bigger than you. And two, it actually we'll be bigger than you because it's not all wrapped up in just you.

David Ames  42:12  
This one I think is really pertinent for this idea of meaning, again, as you come out from having this prepackaged idea of what your purpose in life is to suddenly realizing I have to figure out what my purpose in life is. That's incredibly freeing, but it's also terrifying, right?

Jessica Hagy  42:33  
The big feelings are also are good and bad at the same time.

David Ames  42:36  
Yeah. So this idea for me for a cause I recognize, hey, I can use I can repackage these, the skill set of connecting with people talking with them. empathetic, I can repackage that and I can, it's just a different audience now. Now it's an audience of people who are leaving their religions in the middle of it. But again, I encourage people just it doesn't have to be that it can be anything you can find what you're passionate about what you're interested in and go after it.

Jessica Hagy  43:03  
Yeah, I mean, people build lives around amazing things, their entire societies about foraging for mushrooms around here, I'm in, I'm out in Seattle, and the people who are experts in that are experts in literally life and death because you can get a bad one and like your livers gone in an hour. Yeah. Or they're just the details and the like the passion for foraging for mushrooms. Maybe they will save the world or maybe dog rescue will save the world or Gosh, what's that weird parable where the guy's walking down the beach after the storm when all the starfish are out there? Oh, I'm not sure I know. Like all these all these dying starfish went up and he starts pitching them into the sea. And this other guy walks by and goes well, you can't see him all the guys like when I say this one. Yeah. And like, it's such a like, hokey little Hallmark story. Doesn't get me every time because it's like, yeah, just do my one thing that like, feels good to do it. And you did something good. So

David Ames  44:07  
yeah, you don't have to be limited by perfection. Do do what you can do.

Jessica Hagy  44:13  
Well, nobody's ever been perfect. So

David Ames  44:17  
your Step six is minimize the swagger.

Jessica Hagy  44:21  
Yeah, I think the one thing that everybody I've ever met who's really really wonderfully interesting is not me, me, me I did all this. It's more like this is a cool thing. And the cool thing is a big umbrella for other people to go into. And therefore they're not off putting and they get to do more things because they have more they attract more friends and fun stuff and the whole bit of it and the self reference before action all the time will just hold you back like what if people see me or what if this or what I'm that or anything and it takes the fun out of so much.

David Ames  44:58  
I talked about epistemic humility that, who it's this sense of, I already know things that limits you from learning new stuff. So when you embrace the fact that you are an ignorant, limited human being, and there's this vast array of things to learn it, so if you can start with, I don't know, and I want to, there's all these things that you can go explore and learn.

Jessica Hagy  45:25  
Oh, yeah, it or that you've met those people who are like, Don't you know who I am? Or what is this? And they are not fun. They're not going to be like, well, let's go find out or what is that? Or they're not going to ask any questions.

David Ames  45:40  
So again, I think this one applies to some of the negative aspects of the atheist community in that some of the off putting nature of that is that it is about intellectual dominance. Oh, yeah. I'm the smartest person in the room and bow down to me kind of thing and it isn't appealing.

Jessica Hagy  45:58  
And it's so dead ended. It's an absolute dead end of just like, Well, I figured this out. Well, then. Okay, move on. You have nothing to talk about.

David Ames  46:09  
Let's see, Step seven is give it a shot.

Jessica Hagy  46:13  
Yeah, I think that is that really is the willingness to try things. And that's the whole guy's got 4 million hits on a can opener, like, go for it. And the worst thing that can really happen is that you don't do anything. And then you're sitting in your chair like, well, I don't I have anything to do. And just like, because you didn't do anything in the first place. Yeah, you might as well just take a job, like, not even a big one. Just something.

David Ames  46:39  
Yeah. And sometimes just realizing that, you know, if you attempt something, the worst thing is that the worst possible outcome could be that it fails. You've learned something.

Jessica Hagy  46:49  
Yeah. You've learned how not to fail in that. Exactly. And that's exactly

David Ames  46:54  
my work. It happens to be in technology. And it is a humbling process. It is mostly did this thing work. Now, did this thing work? No. It is a iterative process of failure to figure out what the right solution is to something. And yeah, that if you were hung up on making a mistake, you would be frozen in inability to do anything. Oh, that's

Jessica Hagy  47:19  
yes, I have a so I have a six year old and getting him to draw things. At first was really hard until I was like, it's just art. It's just paper, you make one and then you make the next one different. And he's like, Oh, he's like, it's all practice. Like, it's all practice all of it. Like, there's no final and he's just like, okay, and now he draws like crazy monsters have weird things and cuts up snowflakes. And because it's all practice, and just kind of thinking of that iteratively like that, but it's so freeing, because it's not failure, then if it's just, we're gonna figure out something else. And we'll just keep going.

David Ames  47:56  
Absolutely. Number eight is hop off the bandwagon.

Jessica Hagy  48:02  
Yeah, I mean, this talks, probably the most directly

David Ames  48:06  
to you. Yes.

Jessica Hagy  48:08  
And I think to once, if everyone's like, I have to be this exact person, this, I have to be fashionable in this certain way. These are the hot topics, these are the hot things, then you're never going to become the mushroom hunting extraordinaire, that you are destined to be the very fashionable things that all your friends or everyone's told you to do. And if you look at just the billions of things that you could spend your life really investigating, none of them are trendy, none of them for long. And you might as well do what is actually fun and interesting to you. And it doesn't have to be what everybody else is super into.

David Ames  48:51  
Absolutely. And the beauty of the internet these days is that if you have some niche interest, there's probably 100 200 people out there who are interested in that.

Jessica Hagy  49:03  
And they probably have like extraordinarily good like group chats that can be like I found this weird problem. Can you help me with it? And they're like, yeah, like my father in law is into vintage tractors. And the vintage tractor repair community is intense and tightly knit and they know some really cool stuff. Just like oh, well, that's how you rebuild the ball bearing setting or whatever it is. On a 1949 This kind of tractor and I'm just

David Ames  49:32  
wow. Yes, that's awesome. That's awesome. For sure. This one applies to the target audience here. You know, you're going with the flow, you're going with what everyone thinks so to speak, and you're in your bubble. And it is that moment of what does it look like if I if I hop off bandwagon where the revelation of reality kind of hits you. So Step nine, is of direct one grow a pair?

Jessica Hagy  49:57  
Yeah. I mean, a pair of whatever you've got or whatever. To me personally, yeah, but that is really that's just stand up for for yourself. Like don't don't let yourself be steamrolled. Just be assertive about what you care about and what you need. And don't let the world abuse you.

David Ames  50:16  
So again, this kind of going back to taking risks and recognizing that each person has something unique to share with the world, and that's valuable.

Jessica Hagy  50:25  
100% and because of the, there's the drive for conformity, and stay in line and know your place, and don't be insubordinate, don't be superior, don't be anything, just be invisible, seen and not heard until you're 110. But the idea that everybody does have a little bit of something that comes in handy is how civilization happens, right? Yes. If everyone just like sat and like plowed the field, well, who's gonna harvest it? Where's the food coming from? Where's the water? How did the house get put up? Where's the fire, like, everybody has different jobs, even if you just break it down to very primitive needs.

David Ames  51:05  
The last one is kind of related is ignore the skulls.

Jessica Hagy  51:10  
Yes, I think every kid that's ever been a little bit odd or a little bit interesting or artistic or curious or precocious or not good at something enough is going to get scolded into conforming and abandoning whatever it is that they love. There's a book called orbiting the giant hairball, by a guy who used to, I think it was Hallmark. And he drew greeting cards and things. And he would go into classrooms and teach kids art. And he would ask the first graders, how many of you are artists? And they'd all raise your hands. Yeah. And if you went into like, the seventh grade and say, How many of you are artists? And you might get one like, half raise hands, right? Like, what the heck happened? That, that is how we are that we beat artistic stuff out of kids. And if we're beating artistic things out of kids, what other interesting skills have we just smoothed out by the time they're not even to puberty? Right. And that's just an unlearning how to be well behaved is tough.

David Ames  52:21  
Well, and again, this one applies pretty directly to the target audience hear of you will have your detract detractors, when you come out to say that I no longer believe you will definitely get people who are not going to be very happy about that. And to tell you why you're wrong. Yeah. And it's very important to realize that, you know, to kind of expect that that's going to happen and to be prepared for it and to recognize that you can stand your ground, and you don't deserve abuse, you know, you can say no to people, and you can shut them out if you need to. So,

Jessica Hagy  52:54  
yeah, any any self assertion will probably be met with some pushback of any kind. I, I believe in this No, well, I love these people. No, I want this No, like you're and if you just listen to all the knows you'll, you'll live in denial about everything in your life. All the little brain chemicals will just be like, but I have ideas,

David Ames  53:19  
then you'll never get off to step one to just starting go exploring. Just wanted to say a story for just totally reinventing your work there.

Jessica Hagy  53:29  
No, I think that's beautiful that I really liked that that book can apply entirely to how to out yourself as a free thinker. Like that's, that's beautiful,

David Ames  53:39  
and find meaning in life. Is there a question that I haven't asked, is there something that you'd like to share that, that I haven't prompted? Well,

Unknown Speaker  53:48  
oh, gosh, no, but I was always I always wonder about

Jessica Hagy  53:52  
other people, and how they came to sort of thinking about how they come to think and what was like, was there like an absolute moment you had?

David Ames  53:59  
I have somebody that I have interviewed on the show, and a guy named Matthew Taylor, and he said it beautifully. He said that I suddenly realized I no longer believed and the suddenly refers to my realization, not the process. The process took years. Yeah. Wow. And another way of describing it is kind of a phase transition. Right? So all these things are bubbling under the surface, these little changes, you're getting bumped by ideas and other thinkers that are nudging you around and then and then there's this precipice moment and which, for me, personally, it was very sudden, for me it was, oh shit, I don't believe anymore. Like, I literally had that moment in time. For other people that's very slow drudging doubt that just, you know, claws out them for years upon and so, as we've discussed, people are unique. They have a different experience. Mine was slowly allowing secular right and thinkers to kind of explore. And I have the this idea, hey, my faith is so strong that it'll stand up to scrutiny. Spoiler alert, it did not. So when I took seriously the questions of a secular thinkers, and what is sometimes called the outsider test for faith and looking at my particular faith from a perspective of even another branch of Christianity, I looked at Mormonism briefly. And I thought, well, this is crazy. Oh, they think I'm crazy. Oh, yeah. That was another kind of chink in the wall. And it's definitely incremental. But that realization can be very sudden.

Jessica Hagy  55:41  
Wow, that's amazing.

David Ames  55:44  
Good question.

Jessica Hagy  55:45  
Well, congratulations on getting through all that. Because anytime you grapple with anything that changes like who you are identity wise. God, that's so huge.

David Ames  55:56  
It is kind of a big deal. Yeah. I'm continually amazed the people that I interview their stories, I had a pretty easy, right, I live in a relatively liberal area. And but people like you know, in the Bible Belt, where the entire culture is centered around Christianity, and for those people who come out. It's an entirely different experience. And I'm just profoundly humbled at their bravery, their ability to be true to themselves.

Jessica Hagy  56:24  
Yeah, that is, wow, that's just a deep, a deep, heavy thing to carry.

David Ames  56:29  
Yes. So the book we've been discussing is the humanist devotional, we've also discussed how to be interesting. You've also done a book on the art of war. How can people get in touch with you? How can they get in touch with your work? How can they find you?

Jessica Hagy  56:45  
You can find me at Jessica Hagy dot info that has links to most of my things, or they can find me how you found me on Twitter. I'm just at Jesse Nagy. And if you Google index, you'll probably find me pretty easily too.

David Ames  56:58  
Absolutely. And I recommend the Twitter account, because you get almost daily, I think it's daily new infographic almost every day.

Jessica Hagy  57:06  
Yeah. Because now that RSS is dead, or went out. You better post your stuff everywhere. So that's my hub.

David Ames  57:16  
Jessica, thank you so much for sharing your time and your artwork with us.

Jessica Hagy  57:20  
Thank you so much for talking.

David Ames  57:28  
Final thoughts on the episode. Again, I just want to apologize for being mansplaining. And for recontextualizing, or reinterpreting Jessica's book, How to be interesting. It is an incredible book on its own. Under her original point of how a person can be interesting. I found it interesting that it did apply to how to find meaning in one's life as a humanist. So I think it worked in both ways. But again, my apologies to Jessica. Jessica is amazing. And her artwork is amazing. And the just raw intelligence that comes across in her work is something to behold, please go buy her books, and check out her blog at this is The humanist devotional is a beautiful thing, you should definitely go by that, as well as her book, How to be interesting. I particularly loved her analogy of the library card. So instead of just rejecting the Bible, her argument is that there are so much more wisdom to be found out in the world, so much more knowledge to be gained. In all of the great literature and science. All of the books that are in the libraries of the world are worth reading, and that information is worth gathering. The library card is a wonderful metaphor for gaining the new knowledge when you come out of the bubble, you are suddenly free to go explore ideas to go learn new information, and read and experience sources that were off limits before. And that is an incredible freedom. I am very jealous of Jessica that she was able to have that experience from a very young age and she was so wise and mature to recognize that early. I also really appreciate Jessica's admiration for the stories of regular people that she says at one point that small talk can get big fast. So just going out and talking to people and having them tell their stories is a profound experience. And for those of us who have D converted telling our deconversion stories is a cathartic experience. But reach out to the people around you and ask them to tell you their stories that both will be an experience for you And a profound thing for the person who gets to tell their story. That is the secular Grace Thought of the Week. Again, I want to thank Jessica Hagy for being on the show. By we'll have links in the show notes for her books and her blog, as well as her social media contacts. Until next time, I am David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist please join me in being graceful human.

Time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.

This has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Sasha Sagan: For Small Creatures Such As We

Authors, Book Review, Humanism, Naturalism, Podcast, Religious but not Spiritual, Secular Grace, Spirituality
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My guest this week is Sasha Sagan. Sasha has written a beautiful book called For Small Creatures Such As We: Rituals For Finding Meaning In Our Unlikely World. The book title comes from a quote in the book Contact:

For small creatures such as we,
the vastness is bearable only through love.

Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan from Contact

Sasha and the book she has written embodies Secular Grace and carries on the graceful life philosophies of her parents. Sasha has a galaxy spanning perspective on life that only the child of physicist can have. Sasha has an infectious joy about life. Listening to her or reading her work it is hard not to share in this joy.

In her book, Sasha argues that we as human beings need ritual in our lives to mark the passage of time, to celebrate the momentous moments in our lives and to mourn the loss of loved ones.

[Ritual] is really important to us.
Sometimes, when people are not religious or were religious,
there’s an urge to throw the baby [ritual] out with the bath water.
We still need these [rituals] even if we do them in a secular way.

We discuss secular grief in the face of the loss of her father, Carl Sagan, when she was 14 years old. Sasha shares the wise parting words he had for her and the ongoing impact he has had on her and the world.

Seeing life itself as worthy of celebration, For Small Creatures Such as We is part memoir, part guidebook, and part social history, a luminous exploration of all Earth’s marvels that require no faith in order to be believed.







Secular Grace

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


NOTE: This transcript is AI produced ( and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Well, as usual, I'm going to ask you to go to the Apple podcast store and rate and review the podcast. This really helps other people discover the podcast. If you found value or entertainment in the podcast, please tell somebody about the graceful atheist podcast. On today's show, I spent a fair amount of time talking about deconversion and interviewing people who have gone through the transition of a loss of faith. But actually, my favorite topic is what I call secular grace, or putting humanity into humanism is the answer to what now post deconversion. After you've left your faith, what do you do? That's actually the impetus that drives me to continue to do the podcast. So it is a treat for me when I get to interview somebody who is also a humanist who is concerned with putting humanity into humanism, and that is my guest today. Sasha Sagan. Saucer is a writer, a television producer, a filmmaker and an editor. She is an essayist, she has now written a book called for small creatures, such as we, which is actually a quote from her very famous parents, Andrew Yan and Carl Sagan, in the book contact. The full quote, that the title comes from is for small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love, which may be the most secular Grace quote I've ever heard. Sasha has book incorporates her parents graceful life philosophies. And she focuses on the rituals that we as human beings come back to over and over again, for those of you who may have D converted or deconstructed, the idea of a ritual might be terrifying, actually. And that's okay. But Sasha points out that cultures throughout history and all over the globe tend to come up with rituals around the same time periods. for the same purposes. The obvious examples are births, weddings, and funerals. And so this is not necessarily something to be frightened of. saucers book is beautiful, and beautifully written. And I recommend it to everyone. There'll be links in the show notes. And now I give you my conversation with Sasha saying

Sasha Sagan, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Sasha Sagan  3:02  
Thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be here.

David Ames  3:05  
Well, thank you for coming. So Sasha, you are a writer, you've done television production, you're a filmmaker, you're an editor, you've been in major newspapers, you're an essayist. And now you've written a book called for small creatures, such as we rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world. It also turns out that you have very famous parents. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself about your work and about your book?

Sasha Sagan  3:31  
Yeah, um, I was very lucky to grow up in a household where wonder and awe for the universe, as revealed by science was part of our daily life and dinner table conversation. And part of the way I was raised to see things. So I'm sort of goes hand in hand with that, but maybe not necessarily, is also a secular household. And so what I became really interested in over the course of my life, I lost my dad when I was 14. And then as I grew up, and got married and got ready to start a family of my own, I started thinking about, well, how do we celebrate and mourn and do the daily or weekly rituals that make up life in a way that is a reflection of our modern understanding of where we are in the universe, and how we got here, when the infrastructure for that kind of thing historically has been religion. And, you know, I think that those of us who don't believe are still entitled to mark time and have weddings, and have funerals and we still need those things. So combination of the way I was raised, and then what I experienced and just being generally kind of an outgoing social person who likes parties and celebrations led me to just talk Fact. And I've found that, you know, it's something really relevant to a lot of people, especially when you get to those points in life where you have to really examine these questions, whether it's when you plan a wedding, or you have a little kid who has a lot of questions about why things are the way they are, or when you lose someone, and you have to sort of really examine what that means. If if you don't believe that there's anything beyond what we have evidence to support.

David Ames  5:29  
Exactly. So my podcast, just very briefly, is on the subject of what I call secular grace. And really, that is simply just putting the humanity into humanism. I love that, and focusing on the fact that we still need each other even though we don't have a faith. But yes, it is, in fact, the human interaction our relationships with each other, that is the meaningful thing in life. So. So I have to tell you the just a brief story of the kind of emotional arc that I went through, yes, please, as I discovered you and your work. So I'm on the lookout for authors, writers, bloggers, podcasters, that are on the subject of humanism. And so when you began promoting your book, I just saw that the title, I didn't make the connection. And I thought, Oh, that looks really great. I'm definitely going to get that book and read it. And, you know, a little time passed, and I started following you on Twitter. And then I realized, Oh, you are that Sagan. I did not realize that you were Carl Sagan daughter and and Julian's daughter. And then I read the book. And I've got to tell you, Sasha, I just was really profoundly moved. Oh, thank you. By the time I was, I have the book in hand, I knew that we would eventually have this conversation. And part of what I wanted to do was to say, really focus on you and your work, and not exploit the fact that you're famous parents, but your dad is just in virtually every page. It's in Yeah. And the grief that is present there is just both poignant and beautiful. And so the first thing I just wanted to say to you, I know you speak Spanish is, is Lucia, anto I feel it, I feel it, I like it, just every page, it left it left off the page for me. So your your ability to convey the emotion and depth was just really profound. And I just thank you for writing this book.

Sasha Sagan  7:32  
Thank you so much. That's really kind. And you know, it's funny, because it's like, there's, of course, some part of me that's like, oh, I want to do my own thing or whatever. But like, because of the way my parents raised me and their work, and lots of my job like that, those are the major cornerstones of my identity, you know, yeah. And so I've gotten to a place where I'm like, This is me carrying on what I can have their legacy and their work, right. My mother's work continues. And she's an amazing science communicator, also and writer and producer. But I think that's who I am. And I think if I can sort of extend some of those things that they taught me that really were impactful, and maybe in my own way, continue that on, I'm comfortable with that. You know, it's I don't mind that at all. And I'm very proud to be their daughter, and very lucky.

David Ames  8:31  
Well, I do want to talk about secular grief a bit as we move forward. But first, let's just start with the title of the book actually comes from the book contact. And it turns out that your your mom wrote that line. So tell us about the meaning behind that. Yes.

Sasha Sagan  8:45  
So my parents started out with the idea of the story as a movie. And they worked on screenplays and you know, movies, there's a lot of moving parts, and it takes a lot to get a movie made. And this one took 18 years. And during the time, when they were trying to develop that and trying to get it made, they wrote it as a novel. And I parents collaborated on everything. And the line that the title of my book comes from is for small creatures, such as we the vastness is bearable, only through love. And I think that there's something about that that really sums up what you were just talking about as well. And it's sort of the antidote to the existential crisis. You know, that feeling of like, we're tiny, the Universe is big, we're gonna die. We're here for a second matter, like, you know, all this stuff that you're really concerned you off the deep end quickly. Yeah. And it's like, well, how do you get through to the other side? You know, the existential crisis that's real and sometimes you have to just freak out. But when you get through that part I think that it's like, well, then what do we have? When it's one another, and we're here right now. And this is the moment where we're here. And it's not forever, but at least, we have this moment, and we're in it together. And the farther out we see ourselves in the universe, it's tiny our planet is, the larger the cosmos is, it's makes it all the more precious that we have one another. Otherwise, it would be really, really hard. And so I think I think that there's something to that where you can find some of the comfort that doesn't always get associated with the really scientific worldview. And that perspective?

David Ames  10:42  
Well, I like what you just said that the existential crisis is real, I sometimes feel like I, you know, I hit the genetic lottery, and I have a predisposition to see the wonder, in life, even from a purely naturalistic scientific point of view, it's still totally awe inspiring to me. And I don't work at that. It just happens. And I just wonder how can we bottle this up? What your parents represented what you are carrying on, you know, how can we bottle this up and give it out to other people?

Sasha Sagan  11:12  
It's such a good question. I mean, I think the first step, if we were really doing it on like a grand scale would be to just like, pay public school teachers a lot of money and get people who are really enthusiastic about not just I mean, science, but math and history and all these things. I have the utmost love and respect for public school teachers, but it's really hard job. And it's a really hard job to do for very little money. And I can't imagine not getting jaded at some point. But if you have a couple of great teachers in your life, who are like, This is amazing. Look at this thing. And, you know, we stop sort of maligning facts as like cold and hard. And we have this a way of teaching children that there's beauty in what is real, and like, my daughter is like, almost two and a half. And like when she sees the moon, she freaks out. All excited. It's like, Mardi Gras. And like, we talked about it, and it's orbiting us, and we were at the sun. And it's so amazing. And we like make a really big deal about it when we see the moon. Yeah. I mean, it's easy to be like really blase. Yeah, Simone, congratulations. It's like, that's sort of really natural in a way. But there's something about once you learn something, and once it becomes really matter of fact, it's like you lose some of the stunning astonishment that you felt when you first discovered it as a child. And I think if we can preserve that, I mean, the example that I always want to give, and the thing that I still cannot get over is like, if we told children like, there is a secret code in your blood that connects you to your ancestors, to your relatives, and to everyone on Earth, and everyone who ever lived, and the earliest humans and the first one celled organisms, and like it's in there, and whether you believe in it or not, it, you can send a little bit of your blood or saliva off somewhere, and it will tell you who you are like, that's like out of a fairy tale. And by the time you're like, in middle school, and you have like a worksheet about alleles, and chromosomes, it's like, none of that. Astonishment is there, right. So I think it's really a matter of presentation. And if we could get some of the skill sets and enthusiasm that you so often find in religious settings, you know, as like a really like, a preacher who is just like, totally giving their all to what they're saying. And we could have some more of that in, in the sciences, among other areas of learning. I think we could make a dent.

David Ames  13:59  
Yeah. I'm trying to resist the desire to just quote you back your book. But I loved that quote you just described about, you know, if we taught science and math in the same way that a good preacher does, yeah. The other quote is that somewhere along the line, and I'm probably not recording it well, but that as we get scientific and naturalistic explanations that we've lost the wonder we've lost that. Yeah. And so I think people like yourself, can bring that to the subject, and it's such a vital role.

Sasha Sagan  14:33  
Thank you. I think you I think we have it in there. But it's like, I don't know the feeling of like a thunderstorm or something like that. It's like we innately being sometimes it's our experience of nature is fear, especially like a natural disaster. Oh, yeah. But that feeling of, Wow, this is enormous and majestic. And I think even when you understand it deeply, and I think you do this especially with weather like on the news like the meteorologists like when there's a hurricane like they are, they have a reverence and awe, and they understand it from a totally scientific point of view, right? Right think there are moments where we have this, we just sort of have to extend it a little bit, pull it out a little bit, dry it out a little bit in in society.

David Ames  15:26  
So one of the things that I think I have struggled with quick history I was a was a person of faith for many, many years. And that faith dissipated on me. And here I am today doing this. But one of the things I thought was interesting about your book is you don't shy away from words like spiritual or magic. And I find myself always using scare quotes, when I use those words. How can we recapture those words or redefine them?

Sasha Sagan  15:57  
It's such a good question. I'm like, Adam, logically they do come for me, even magical comes from the Magi. Right? These are like religious words, sacred holy, but I can't help but not use them, because they also illustrate how I feel about Nietzsche. And I think, you know, those words, developed in a language that was majority believers, you know, majority Christians. And so they have that history in that connotation. But words evolve and mutate also. And I think that as our understandings change, I think that those words can change, too. And I, you know, I use quotes too. And like, I've definitely gotten questions in the last few months, as I've been doing press for this book about like, well, how can you describe yourself as spiritual? I wouldn't use that word. But, you know, do you consider yourself spiritual even though you don't believe? And how can that be? And I think it's, you know, there are nuances that are missing in our vocabulary. You know, and that's true. So often, there are words, this thing and our language often, and we have trouble describing things sometimes because of that. But I think that those words are still the closest we can get because it evokes this feeling that I think we all really crave of like the just like the chill in your spine, and like feeling part of something enormous. And whether that is a theological concept, or a scientific concept, that like pit of your stomach, like sparkly feeling is something that I really think that we want, and that we almost can't avoid, because every time we understand something more deeply, or have an experience or you know, something scary happens, or something amazing happens. There is that sense. And I think as time goes on, we'll figure out what to call it. But yeah, just seek it.

David Ames  18:05  
Yes, yes. Really, it was a compliment that you went out ahead on didn't hesitate. I find myself hesitating all the time. Can I use this word? Because when I say often woman for me is soul when I say yes. Oh, it has evocative, profound meaning. And, you know, I mean, the core of my being, I don't write, I don't mean something other than my body. I'm sorry. Anyway, I just think that we need to just redeem those words. There's another religious term.

Sasha Sagan  18:34  
I know I mean, either. So many theistic expressions that I love, and you mean also, like when I like drop something, like I say, like Jesus Christ. Like, oh, my God, I mean, how many times do I say Oh, my God, and I'm like, I can't like I what am I going to do like make up something to explain that's like about, like, trials. Oh, my double helix. Like, I'm totally nervous. Like, it would be way too weird. Like, or like a one of my favorite expressions. And I wish I had a secular version of it is God willing, and like to say, like, oh, well, when we go do this, or whatever. What I really mean is, I hope it works out, right? No, or like, you know, people talking about like, a job or planning for a baby or like, all these things. And it's like that idea that like, well, we don't know how things are gonna shake out. We're terrible at predicting the future. But this is what we're planning at the moment. Yes, it's like, I wish there was a two word way to say that. But I don't have one yet. So sometimes I say that and they're like, what are you what are your whole thing is and I'm like, I know.

David Ames  19:51  
I find it charming. I think that's. So the book is primarily about rituals. So I'd like you to talk about Some of them that you described, but also, why are rituals important to human beings?

Sasha Sagan  20:05  
It's a great question. And it's so amazing because we're so all over the world and disparate cultures that had no contact with one another, we all decided we need some rituals, and a lot of them happen around the same time, same times of year solstices and equinoxes. And same times of life, verse coming of age death, you know, we all like these are really important. And we do them in really different ways. But and it's not every culture doesn't have exactly the same landmarks in terms of when when they but there's a lot of overlap. And I think it's really my mom always says, there's no refuge from change in the cosmos. Yeah. And I think that's really what it's about, we are on this planet, and the seasons change, and it gets cold and hot, or wet and dry, depending where you live. People appear, you know, out of other people's stomachs, and, and they grow up and they're kids, and then they're adults. And that's really weird. And then we go away. And we don't know where or what it is. And there's just so much to wrap our minds around that. We have to process all these changes. And I think the rituals, in the most basic sense, like a funeral, like, Well, why do we have that? Because we're like, Oh, my goodness, this person was just here. And now they're not here. What do we do? Yeah. And I think that, you know, no matter what the rituals are, we're like, Okay, this is the framework. This is what we've been doing for generations. This is how we handle this very difficult thing. Yeah. I mean, sometimes it's how we handle a really wonderful thing, like people getting married or something like that, you know. And I just think that it's, it's really important to us. And I think what happens is sometimes when people are not religious, or were religious, and then veer away from it, really, there's an urge to like, throw the baby out with the bathwater, right? But I, which is understandable, and I get it. But I think that we still need these things, even if we do them in a secular way. And that's what I'm really interested in is how, how we can do that. And sometimes how we can still honor our ancestors and what they did, or something you loved growing up. Without necessarily subscribing to the theology that it came from.

David Ames  22:36  
Definitely, I think that when a person goes through, particularly a faith transition, where they had faith in and then lose that faith, kind of the first thing that you see online is the much harder kind of debate culture or style of that loses all the wonder that loses all the awe and there's a trepidation for being a part of a group being apart. Being part of a community, in even the word ritual might be terrifying to some people. for that. I think I came through that and realize that, you know, it's a very natural explanation to say that human beings need rituals, and that every culture, as you have mentioned, throughout history and time, has had rituals for these life stages, and that we derive something from that we derive some meaning from that. And so on the other side of faith, or if you're secular from birth, you still need these moments, to mark time, as you say,

Sasha Sagan  23:35  
Yeah, and just I think it's like, in many cases, it's to like, increase joy. I mean, you know, when it's cold, and the days are really short. And the weather's really bad. You know, it's like, oh, well, we should make things really nice and like decorate them and make them be more light and have like delicious food and a party. Maybe that's like, seems so natural, and it's such a good call. Yes, that is a really like around the winter solstice is a really good time to try to cheer ourselves up with like, cookies and cookies and presents. Yeah, totally. Oh, yeah, definitely. Let's

David Ames  24:19  
do that some

Sasha Sagan  24:20  
more. Yeah. And I think that that kind of stuff. Once you peel back the specifics of the lore, or the mythology or the theology, you end up with the same throughlines and so much of them are rooted in nature. There are about astronomical Meteor illogical or biological changes, and that doesn't require belief.

David Ames  24:45  
One of my favorite different authors, Jennifer, Michael Hecht, and she talks about a graceful life philosophies, and I definitely feel like that is something that you are conveying here of just a joy in life. But one of the things I was struck By in your book is that you'll be in the description of just a very human event. And then the scientist and you will just jump through there one that just literally made me laugh out loud was you were describing, being in the same the same position around the sun, you know, in a year and then taking the scope out and saying, Yeah, but that sun is actually orbiting the center of the galaxy as well. So we're really not in the same place. And I just, I literally started laughing out loud. This is a scientist as well. So how do you blends that scientific knowledge that scientific exploration with kind of this graceful life philosophy,

Sasha Sagan  25:39  
I think it's like, the more we understand, I mean, if you get pleasure from like, learning, you know, the more we understand, and you know, it's always more amazing reality, when we just like really use the scrutiny of the scientific method, it is always more astonishing and more amusing than our than what we came up with, as human beings. And I think that that is really a source of joy. And think, wow, we couldn't possibly have imagined, you know, the scale of the Universe, or, you know, all these things that are so beautiful, or even like how the solar system works before we have the information to measure it, and all these other things that are so breathtaking. And that brings me a lot of joy. And I think that there's just something about the connectedness, the our desire to feel connected, and then realizing the thing we're connected to, you know, we're part of, it's in us we're in it is so much larger than, you know, 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, we imagined it to be and it's like, it kind of just puts a smile on my face this idea that, like, we're so bad at predictions. I mean, it's kind of like the god willing thing. But we have this system, where we can test things and try to figure them out. And we still know very little, but we're on the right track. And we will know a lot more than we used to. And it's like, there's just an endless number of, again, a sort of religious word revelations ahead of us, and we're gonna find out more and more, and, you know, we won't live to find out everything and but there's so much around the corner that will just take our breath away. And we live in a time where there's a lot of new information available, which is just so lucky. I mean, you know, if you're a really curious person who was interested in our place in the universe, and you lived, you know, in the year 1000, it would be like kind of a drag.

David Ames  27:49  
Very much. So yeah, I often wonder how useless I would have been at any other moment in history.

Sasha Sagan  27:58  
Right, where it's like, each of us is a both a product of our time. And we have these like anything's and but ya know, it's so true. It's like, another 1000 years, they'll say, Oh, my goodness, can you imagine if you lived in 2020? It would have been horrible, you know?

David Ames  28:18  
This question kept coming to me as I was reading it, and I want to pose it properly. There are times where I wondered, are there times in your life where you are reluctantly, a skeptic? Are there times where you wish there was something bigger?

Sasha Sagan  28:34  
Oh, that's interesting. Well, I don't feel that way. To me. The secular worldview is bigger. In my view, even though there is not a person like creature looking after us. I think it would be actually harder to try to understand why terrible things happen if there is a very good god who is taking care of everyone, then it is to be like, it is random and chaos. And the fact that anything ever works out is amazing. But, you know, like, that's sort of my do the way in which I am sometimes maybe not reluctant, but I feel that internal conflict is we all have these experiences, like really unlikely coincidences, where it's so hard not to be like, Wait Is race Raizy I write about that a little bit in the book happens all the time. I mean, little, like, cliche, is you think about someone and they call and like, of course when that happens, I'm like, holy

David Ames  29:47  
Yeah, but

Sasha Sagan  29:48  
I think and I have that like innate reaction of like, this is like a clue into the inner workings of everything. But when I really think it is So is that we are really good pattern recognizers, we love patterns. That's why you can understand the random sounds I'm making right now to be words and ideas. It's a huge advantage as far as our species, but we're so good at it that we see patterns where there aren't any. And it would be impossible. Like if you think about how many random thoughts you have in the course of a day, and how many people you run into, or call or get a text from, over the course of your life, it would be impossible that they wouldn't line up once in a while, right? But I still think it's amazing and worthy of like celebration on my big freakout when it does happen, because it's like, Well, someone does win the lottery, you know what I mean? Like, like, the chances are slim, but sometimes it lands and you whenever you get the jackpot or whatever, and you're like, Oh, amazing, you know,

David Ames  30:52  
statistically unlikely things happen all the time.

Sasha Sagan  30:56  
So, so cool, but I don't, even though they have moments where I'm like, you know, the Twilight Zone theme in my head is like, I still I still think that it totally statistical explanation is still like, fantastic.

David Ames  31:15  
Yeah, that's a great answer, though, that the scientific answers are the are the bigger perspective than magic?

Sasha Sagan  31:21  
I think so i That's the way I see it. And they're intrinsically beautiful to me, too. And I think there's like this idea that it's like, oh, this emptiness of space is like, so scary and negative. Whereas I still find it beautiful and comforting in a way that, that in all that we're here, I'm this little evolved perfectly to, like breathe the air and drink the water and feel the light of the star. I mean, that's, that's amazing.

David Ames  31:51  
Yeah, one of the ways that I tried to express this, this is back kind of back to the existential crisis. But that, you know, we learned the Copernican principle that we are not the center of the universe, we're not the center of the solar system that we have no special place in the cosmos. Right. And I would say the flip side of that is as, as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in this cosmos. And that makes us incredibly rare and incredibly precious. And the fact that we can communicate with each other, yeah, builds profound meaning and profound comfort. I just watched the movie Ad Astra. Oh, yeah. I don't know if you watch that. But

Sasha Sagan  32:30  
I haven't seen it. I have a toddler. So I don't get Yeah,

David Ames  32:33  
exactly. Sorry. Yeah.

Sasha Sagan  32:36  
Do you have a movie reference from before?

David Ames  32:41  
I feel yeah, I've got teenagers now. So I remember. Very quickly, I won't bore you with this. But the premise is the father has gone out looking for proof of, of extraterrestrial life. And he's obsessed with that to the exclusion of everything else, and that the son grows up and is also an astronaut and goes out to find him. And the son learns the lesson the father didn't, that it's humanity, that we are not alone. We have each other. Right. Anyway, it was just deeply profound. It was very, very slow movie I don't recommend everybody is going to love that movie. But anyway. But I couldn't I couldn't help but walk away. Like what a deeply humanist message.

Sasha Sagan  33:21  
Oh, wow. Yeah.

David Ames  33:24  
So your book from literally the introduction? I think I tweeted this right after I read it. The first tear was shed, you know, in the introduction.

Sasha Sagan  33:34  
Slash sorry.

David Ames  33:35  
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, that is a very high compliment that there's so much pathos, there's so much of yourself vulnerability in the book is deeply profound. Just very quickly, I lost my father when I was three or four, I don't really have a lot of I don't like to have a lot of conscious memories of him. I'm so sorry. Thank you. And then I lost my mother in 2015, shortly after my deconversion, so a lot of Oh, wow, a lot of grief. You know, right, as I was also experiencing the loss of so I, you know, and I think I've spent a lot of time processing that that's not a raw emotion. I'm not trying to elicit anything here.

Sasha Sagan  34:22  
I feel for you. And I'm that's really hard. And it's complicated, I'm sure. Yes. Yeah.

David Ames  34:28  
It's very complicated. But so again, thank you for the book and for the rawness of the grief that comes out on on the pages. And I think one of the topics that I'm most interested in is this idea of how do we grieve in a secular way? Right. I think you mentioned when people come up to you and they don't realize that your father has passed away. And they'll say, Hey, tell them how much his work meant to me. Yeah, you have to be the bearer of bad news. It's like, like, oh, just crushed my heart. Like I couldn't believe that. What You must have to go through. So one of my first questions is having so much of your father be a part of the culture and including things like on audiobook. And early your mom and dad's voice on Voyager that's just left. I mean, it's inescapable Is that does that make that grieving process harder? Or easier?

Sasha Sagan  35:21  
Oh, no, it makes it easier. I mean, I'm so lucky. First of all, because of, and I write about this a little bit, because of the nature of my dad's work. I have like all this footage of him talking in his voice and like audio book on like, his Cosmos, but also, like him on The Tonight Show, and like, all this stuff. And still, I mean, there's like video of him I've never seen that I know is still out there that I can like, look forward to 23 years after his death, so that I feel like so lucky. And that especially because, I mean, now everybody has video of everybody in their family, you know, whatever, opening presents, or whatever. But like, in 1996, it wasn't like that. And just because of the nature of his work, I have this, which is so lucky, and the love that people still feel for him and like, you know, once in a while, like the flip side of the, oh, tell him I love his work. And I have to be like, Oh, actually, he's not here anymore. And it's like, so awkward, partly because people are just generally so uncomfortable with death that like it's like, you know, we don't know how to talk about it. We don't especially and not in a secular way we don't know how to. We don't know what the right thing to say is there's all of that those experiences are really hard. But what I get much more often, which is the flip side is people saying, I just discovered him four years ago, and I've read 10 books, or I was born after he died. And I love him. He's my favorite writer, or you know, that kind of stuff where I'm like, wow, this really is, in a secular way. It's an extension, you know, he lives on a little longer in this non literal way. And I'm so grateful for that. And that makes it so much easier. And like, I feel like, what's really hard about grieving is being alone, um, you know, and isolated. And when I think other people miss him, too. And they still think about him and read his work and talk about him. I'm like, Well, that is extremely comforting. That's what really like, he honestly just like, helps me enormously so. So I feel like the majority of my experiences to do with him and his work and his legacy are extremely positive. But then once in a while, there's ones where I'm like, Oh, this is excruciating. But that's okay, too.

David Ames  37:50  
Well, I again, one of the more touching moments in the in the book is you're describing him apologizing to you near the end, and that he understood what you couldn't at the moment that this would be a life defining moment for you that everything would be affected by it.

Sasha Sagan  38:08  
Yeah, yeah. And I was 14, and I just didn't understand. At the same time, I'm like, What does anyone on Earth, like if I was, you know, 50? What I understand what I mean, like, we don't get it, and it's really hard, but like, I just didn't understand that this would be, in many ways, the defining event in my life. And that he, he understood that, that this would be a lot harder than I think I understood at that time, or for many years afterwards. And it was so but it was it may it was like the kind of the end he was very ill obviously. And so it was like the kind of thing that like made no sense, right? Of course, as the years went on, it became very clear why it was a really loving, thoughtful, true thing to say. And it's like a, almost like a riddle. You know, it's something that takes a long time to unravel to really understand, but it was really loving. And it was really, I mean, it's I still feel love from the last, you know, days and hours, even though more than two decades has gone by.

David Ames  39:25  
Well, that's short, an incredible amount of wisdom on his part. Yeah, there's no one will doubt or two have that kind of foresight to pass that along to you. Yeah. The other thing I think is beautifully told in the book is this idea of that those that we have lost live on in our memories. You refer back to a culture that has a distinction between ancestors and the living dead, that they live on in our memory and you quote your mom is saying she recognized that there's there's almost a second death When the last person who knew you dies, yeah. Can you talk about that? Just

Sasha Sagan  40:05  
yeah, I think about that a lot in the book I talked about someone we knew had a toddler. And they came by the house. They had, you know, my dad had met the toddler many times. And then they came by the house at some point in the months after my dad died. And and when they left me, this little boy was the youngest person, I think my dad, you know, knew, right. And my mom said, after they left, my mom said, you know, it's like, you win you, Oh, will you die again, when the last person knew you dies. And there is something about that there's, it makes me think of there's this. There's this record, somebody heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech, and then ran home and phonetically wrote down how he spoke, like, what his syntax and intonation was. And it was like, of course, this is so changed by technology now, like I was saying about, like having, you know, video of your friends now. And it's like, this idea that like, well, you know, now everybody who ever heard Abraham Lincoln speak is gone, too. And it's like, that's another way in which were done. And some people very, very small handful of people, you know, if your profile is on a coin, or there is a statue to you, or, you know, the most smallest, smallest percentage of people who ever lived, or we just know their name, even if we don't know really anything about them, the century when they lived the part of the world. But other than that, we go away. And that is something that, you know, there's two approaches to that, or three, maybe one is to deny it, you know, and if you say, Okay, well, that's not your belief system. If you believe that we don't go away, we just go somewhere else. And we continue on. Okay, that's one approach. Another approach is to sort of try to fight it with like, you know, I don't know, like cryogenically freezing, like, you know, all the things that we come up with to deny that in another way, and that's okay, too, you know, but the third way is to say, Okay, well, that's how this works. And we'll be gone at some point. And even if we figure out the, you know, whatever technology, you know, the sun's gonna burn out and 5 billion years, the Earth is, you know, maybe we can emigrate to some other planet, maybe. But things that we hold dear and the world, literally and figuratively that we exist, and now is not forever. And so, I think there's really something valuable. The third way way I would approach it is to face that and say, Okay, that's real. But we're here right now. And so let's do what we can to make the world better to find joy, to experience, love, give love, all these things that will make it so that when the time does come, it'll not feel as bad. I think.

David Ames  43:19  
I've described kind of a parallel concept of giving up the idea of the soul. Where there's this psychological need to believe that we go on, I think, as well to believe that our loved ones

Sasha Sagan  43:36  
Yes, I mean, more. So almost. Yeah, almost more so. Yeah, yeah.

David Ames  43:42  
Yeah. And you know, and I would love to believe that I would get to see my mom and my, well, yeah, like, I'd love to be able to believe that. But I recognize that, you know, having again, for me personally haven't gone through that transition. That part of the reason that was so difficult was coming to grips with the finiteness of of life that Yeah. On the other side of it now, and I'm not this is not original in any way. But the idea that it is finite gives everything poignance there's Yeah, every moment with my my family, my loved ones, my daughters, my wife, friends is, is valuable, precisely because it is rare and fleeting.

Sasha Sagan  44:24  
Absolutely, absolutely. If we lived forever, and there was no urgency to anything, it would be, first of all, it would be a totally different existence, people would operate in a totally different way. And there would be nothing unique or valuable or special about each moment. There's no beginning and no end. And I think that it's really easy to see that as a really painful thing, but I think it's also the source of all the positive things,

David Ames  44:55  
right. And then just lastly, a concept that you hint at in That is just being lucky to have lived at all. You just I think you say we were we, you know we existed. That fact that we are alive today is its own profound miracle.

Sasha Sagan  45:13  
Yeah. And I think that that's like a lot of what at the beginning of the book is about is like an all the different things that had to happen for you to be alive right now. And all your different ancestors who had to cross paths, and all this unbelievable plagues and invasions and wars that somebody had to survive, to get to the point where right now in the present, your you know, listening to this podcast, you know, is really astonishing. And I think that maybe there would be some other version of each of us, but we would have different ancestors with different combinations of qualities and idiosyncrasies and allergies, all sorts of other things. And I think the idea that, like you being exactly you at this moment happened, like if we can find a way to celebrate that. And I think the way that we find it the most is when we fall in love, because then you're like, wow, you're you and you're so amazing. And you have all these qualities that are so wonderful. And it's like that we sort of can glean it when it's an another person or when you have a new baby, and you're like, Oh, my goodness, you're this. Oh, I see my great uncle's funny expression. And like all these things, yeah. And so we get it like at the best moments of our lives, we get these little glimpses into that. And I think if we can find a way to to extend that into other parts of our lives, I think it would be really worthwhile.

David Ames  46:48  
Absolutely. Yeah, that's beautiful. I'm sorry. I said Lastly, and really, I've got one another. One more, one more question. Again, on this on this side of faith, or those of us who were believers, church or synagogue or provides this community this built in Yes, community. I really love the story you tell you tell about your your girlfriend's getting together. Yeah, regular basis to talk about how you have built community in your life.

Sasha Sagan  47:15  
Yes, I definitely. I mean, I strongly feel that the hardest part about being secular for me is that you have to like really put an effort to congregate, and I'm very social. And I like being in group situations. And it's just if I was really devout, I would have that in my life and all these different ways built in. And I because I'm not I have to make it. So one of the things that I did, sort of second half of the years, I lived in New York, I lived in New York for a long time, we moved to London for two years, and then came back and all of a sudden, I realized I miss my girlfriends so much. And that like seeing them one or two at a time was not enough. And I that I had all these interesting, amazing women who they would like each other it wasn't you know, and that together, we could really sort of form this like little tribe. And so it wasn't anything. I mean, it's totally doable. You can try this at home, just once a month, we had a dinner, we picked a restaurant, and I would send out an email. And sometimes it would be five or six of us. And sometimes it would be 12 or 13 of us. And the restaurant was extremely accommodating when we were constantly running away and being really loud, and all these things. So that was good. And we would once a month have like dinner and cocktails and talk and what was so for me rewarding was all these other friendships bloomed between women who, you know, someone I grew up with, or someone I went with, to college with, or someone you know, had worked with. And then after a lot of people started to move away from New York, which just happens, you know, and then and then I moved to Boston, and these friendships went on and all these different cities and people started doing ladies don't we call it the ladies dining society in other places. And even though I wasn't doing it anymore, it carried on and I that is something that I feel really grateful for. And I think there's something there is a real like you see it, there is a need in society for this kind of thing. And you see it as like there's, I mean, these things could be co ed or for men or whatever show seemed like these women's workspaces popping up in different cities. And you see like these will, you know, different groups where you're like, people want kind of a home base and like something in their life that's regular and steady and feeds them intellectually, emotionally in some way. Literally, dinner party. And I think that a lot of people crave that and I think if you're secular you know sometimes it's a little bit more of a drag and you got to put it together yourself, but I think it's worth it.

David Ames  49:59  
You I think that the lesson from that chapter in particular is just being intentional about building friendships. And yeah, maybe setting a time and setting a place and making that happen. So yeah, in effect to ritualizing.

Sasha Sagan  50:14  
And having a group to go through the ups and downs with

David Ames  50:18  
absolutely, yeah, somebody there just to hear the good times and the bad. Yeah, exactly. Well, if it's not obvious, I love the book. So much the book is, for small creatures, such as we are rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world. And the author is Sasha Sagan, Sacha, how can people get in touch with you? How can they find your book?

Sasha Sagan  50:40  
Oh, it's sold wherever, wherever you get your books, you can find it. And I'm on Instagram and Twitter at Sasha Sagan. My website is Sasha And you can email me there. Tell me what you think I'd love to hear from you.

David Ames  50:56  
Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and.

Final thoughts on the episode? Wow. All I can say is again, it was a joy to speak with Sasha. I find it wonderfully fulfilling to talk to another person who has the same sense of gratitude, awe and wonder at the world, while also holding purely naturalistic and scientific ideas about the world. And she so beautifully tells those both in the book and in this episode, about how her parents pass those things along to her. And now she's passing them along to us. I loved her answer when I asked about whether she was a reluctant skeptic. And she pointed out that the scientific answers tend to be bigger and more awe inspiring than any magical or theistic answers ever could be. That was a profound answer. I think in my interview, when we discussed her father, Carl Sagan, I often focused on the grief, I want to highlight here as well, the joy that comes across in Sasha's book, and in the podcast episode. Clearly, he has had a tremendous impact on her and the impact on the world continues to reverberate in her life. I just really appreciate Sasha, his willingness to share both the grief and her joy in her relationship with her father. I still can't get over the quote that the book title comes from, for small creatures such as we, the vastness is only bearable through love. And it turns out that it was Andrew Yang, who wrote that particular line that encapsulates so much of secular grace. And another theme that Sasha and I hit in the episode of she quotes her mom is saying there is no refuge from change in the cosmos. And Sasha talks about having to face the reality that everything will cease, including the sun burning out and the heat death of the universe. But we're here now. And let's do what we can to make the world a better place that to encapsulates secular grace. I want to thank Sasha for coming on the program for giving me her time and for sharing with us, her book and her insights and her graceful life philosophies. I will have links in the show notes for finding her online on Twitter and as well as links for her book, I highly encourage you to go out and get the book and read it. As the chaos and randomness of the cosmos would have it. Sacha also did an interview with Bart Campolo on the humanized me podcast. And I think it's a great discussion. And I highly encourage you to go and listen to that as well, especially if you can't get enough of Sasha Sagan. Are you still here? Oh, good. I've got a couple more announcements for you. One is that I have recently done an episode of the relationship podcast from long distance to marriage with Andrea and rich. You might ask why would I do that episode while they were doing a series on secular relationships or inter faith relationships, I went on with my friend Alice Gretchen from dare to doubt, Alice from the perspective of being very choosy about the partners that she chooses and what their faith positions might be in me from the perspective of being in a relationship with my wife, who is a believer, and D converting and middle of marriage, and trying to focus on the love that we have for one another and our shared set of values. Anyway, I highly recommend that you check out from long distance to marriage in the next week or so. I think that was a fascinating conversation. And then the second thing I wanted to bring up is that I occasionally do a call or a Hangout with people who are not interested in publicizing their story, but they need to tell it to somebody. And I generally will do a 15 or 30 minute call with people just to let them tell me their deconversion stories. And a common theme that I hear from them often is, what can I do? How can I give back? I just wanted to highlight that you can do many things, you can start a blog, you can start your own podcast, you can find groups with You can start your own book club, any secular activity of any kind that build some community is a great way to go. But I'm gonna highlight one more thing. I haven't pushed it very often. But I need to reiterate again, how much better I think this podcast could be if I had a bit more community support. So this is a call out to you if you have a talent in any area, graphic design, audio engineering, marketing, social media expertise, website, design, anything that could help make this podcast better, help more people. I'm gonna just put out the call to the community. If you're interested, please get in touch with me. Send me an email at graceful I'm gonna slightly alter my typical sign off and say my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please join me and be graceful in your lives. It's time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.

This has been the graceful atheist podcast

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