Bart Campolo: Humanize Me

Authors, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Podcasters, Secular Community, Secular Grace
Bart Campolo
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My guest this week is Bart Campolo. Bart is the host of the Humanize Me Podcast. He is the author of “Why I Left, Why I Stayed.” Along with his famous Evangelical father, Tony Campolo, Bart is the subject of John Wright’s documentary: Leaving my Father’s Faith. If that is not enough, Bart is also the Humanist Chaplain at the University of Cincinnati.

Bart and I discuss graceful ways of talking with people with whom we disagree, having conversations that are difficult that touch on religion, race and politics and changing one’s mind. I point out that Bart has been particularly public with some of these conversations, including a book and documentary with his dad, Tony Campolo, a podcast episode with his son, Roman, where they disagree on the hope or lack thereof for our species and a recent podcast episode on race. In short, Bart wears his heart on his sleeve and lives his life out loud with humility, honesty and grace.

We discuss humanism and the burden of being hopeful. Bart pushes back on my assertion that everyone needs awe, belonging and community. According to Bart different people need different amounts of each of those things. At the same time, Bart is facilitating a healthy secular community in Cincinnati providing just those things for the lucky few who attend. They put it this way:

  • Commitment to loving relationships
  • Making things better for other people
  • Cultivating gratitude and wonder in life
  • Worldview humility

I normally have a few quotes from the episode, but as I was writing them down it became a transcript. Bart is eminently quotable. Listen to the show to find out. I will leave you with just one which you will need to listen to the show to understand:

Show your work!

Be sure to listen to the end for a funny story I tell that relates to Bart’s father, Tony Campolo, during my time at bible college.






Humanize Me Podcast episodes that give context to this conversation:
With Roman:
With Leah:



Secular Grace


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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. As always, I'm going to ask if you enjoy the podcast, please rate and review. In the apple podcast store or wherever you listen to this podcast. It helps others find the show. On today's show, my guest today needs no introduction. But I'll attempt one anyway. Bart Campolo is the son of the famous evangelical preacher Tony Campolo. He is the podcast host of the humanize me podcast. He is an author of the why I left and why I stayed book, he is the subject along with His Father in John rights, leaving my father's faith documentary that's available on Amazon Prime. He is also the humanist chaplain at the University of Cincinnati. As you're going to hear, BART has had quite an influence on me personally, finding his voice post deconversion was really important. I've talked a lot about the debate culture that's out there, the pure rationality, the ivory tower perspective of many atheists, and how unsatisfying that is after about 15 minutes. So finding someone who was talking about a humanism that was boots on the ground, loving people, real blood, sweat, and tears, humanity was really important. And that does have a deep and profound impact on what you hear here on this podcast. It's also hard to overstate the impact of finding the son of Tony Campolo, to have D converted, I don't waste much time in my conversation with Bart bringing this subject up. But for those of you who maybe have been atheists all your life, Tony Campolo is huge in the evangelical community. And so finding Bart Campbell, oh, his son had D converted and was a humanist, was just like finding an oasis in the middle of a desert. Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite conversations that I have had so far. One of the great things about doing this podcast is I get to speak with people that I have a great deal of respect for, and Bart is certainly in that category. I'll stop fanboying out here. Now, I do want to point out that a couple of humanized me podcast episodes will inform this episode, they are almost assumed knowledge in our conversation, and so I'll just highlight them here. One is an episode a few months back where Bart Sun Roman really challenged Bart on a previous podcast episode that he had done in which he was a little less than hopeful about the continuation of the species of human beings. Roman really laid into him on this. And what's important about this is that BART allowed this to take place in public. As I've stated before, many times, the ethos of this podcast is about brutal self honesty. One of the subjects that BART and I discussed is having our minds changed, having our minds changed by other people. And the second episode that you should probably listen to is the June 15 episode on facing up to collective trauma in which he discusses Black Lives Matter and ways that BART himself needs to change his mind. And finally, a third episode, the July 1 episode with Leah Helbling, who by the way, is the podcast host of women beyond faith, which is excellent. But in that Leah and Bart discuss the Cincinnati humanist group, there are four ideals that that tried to live up to. And that is a commitment to loving relationships, making things better for other people, cultivating gratitude and wonder in their lives and world view humility, and that's the one that BART talks about in this episode, but never uses that term. And so it might be a little confusing. Whether you listen to those before you listen to this podcast episode, or afterwards, they will help to bring in the context of what we discussed. I often write down quotes from people during an episode and I found myself basically doing a transcript this episode. It is target rich for quote, mining, if that is your thing. BART has just some amazing turns of phrase here that I think are really important. I want you to pay attention. I want you to listen to this Episode more than once it is that good. I need to add one more thing. I also have learned that the day after BARTON I recorded this session, Bart's father, Tony Campolo had a stroke. I just want to wish him well. And the family well salutes to you all hope a speedy recovery for Tony Campolo. Please also stay to the end of the episode in my final thoughts area, I'm going to tell a funny story that I had in Bible college that relates to Tony Campo. Without further ado, I give you marched Campbell.

Hello, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Bart Campolo  5:47  
Well, thank you, David. It's nice to be here.

David Ames  5:49  
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. You bet. So for the one or two people in the universe who listen to this podcast who don't know who you are, you are the humanist chaplain at the University of Cincinnati. You are the podcast host of the humanize me podcast. You're an author of why I left and why I stayed and you were part of the documentary with your dad, leaving my father's face, which is on amazon prime these days. Is that correct?

Bart Campolo  6:17  
All of those things are true. Yes.

David Ames  6:18  
So one of the things that I've noticed, I've only been doing this for, you know, a couple of years, but you start to hear people say things back to you that you've said before. So the first thing I wanted to say to you is you're probably going to hear a lot of things that are your way of saying things. Because if anything, this podcast is an homage to your work.

Bart Campolo  6:37  
Oh, what a nice thing to say. Thank you so much.

David Ames  6:40  
I really, really appreciate it. So you had suggested a possible topic. And that kind of has not on me overnight. So let's start with that. And that is this idea of gracefully, talking to people with whom you have serious disagreements. And just recently, you've had a number of conversations that have been really interesting, of course, your book and the Amazon Prime story is with your dad, which must have been a very difficult conversation in the beginning. And then recently, you had a conversation with your son, where you had some disagreements. So talk to me a little bit on the on the podcast. Yeah, yeah, on the podcast. So talk to me a little bit about how you approach talking to people with whom you disagree?

Bart Campolo  7:26  
Well, you know, this is a strange moment in our world, and in our country. Like, you can't, there's no way to overstate that. This is a weird, weird moment. And, and I think what's happening is, is that unexperienced that I've had a lot around spirituality, which is like, how do you talk to somebody who really sees the world differently in such a way that it's almost like they're, they're in a different universe than you are? Like, they have a different set of rules, and a different kind of worldview? I think like that's happening in this country to everybody politically, that it used to be that Democrats and Republicans were sort of different flavors of the same coffee, you know, and there was a sort of an understanding like, oh, yeah, like, we share the same goals. But we have different sort of intuitions about how to get there. But it's now so polarized that it's sort of like, if you don't see the world the way I do, I think you're bad. Yeah. And I'm afraid of you. And, and our media is such that we have not only different worldviews, but different facts, like, literally, we get our information from different sources, and it looks very different, you know, and now now around race. Yeah, there's this conversation that's happening about race. And what I'm finding is, is that in this kind of a setting, it is really hard to have a speculative conversation with somebody. And by that, I mean, where you go, like, Hey, I think it might be this way. And the other person was like, oh, no, I think you're really missing this point. But like, they sort of assume that you want to be corrected, and that you're a good person who, who maybe has a different has a wrong angle, rather than you racist, or you fascist or you know, you person that hates America, or, you know, there's a sense in which it's very hard to have a conversation right now, where you can float an idea without fear of being judged, you know, where you can go like, right now I'm seeing it this way. And then also where you can listen to the other person and go like, Oh, that makes sense. Okay, and change your mind. Right? And I feel like I got a head start on those conversations because When I left the Christian faith, you know, all the most significant people in my life, were still in it. And so I had to figure out a way to talk with those people. And it wasn't an option to go like, well, we just won't talk about Christianity, or we just won't talk about faith, yes, because like, that was the center of their lives. And that is the center of many of their lives. And my pursuit of goodness on the other side of faith is at the center of my life. Like it's not, for me pursuing loving kindness as a way of life. That's not like a peripheral issue. For me. It's the center of everything. Exactly. And so we're not going to talk about our spiritual lives, if you will, even though my spirituality is secular. If we're not going to talk about that, we're not going to be very close.

David Ames  10:47  
Yeah, you would lack an intimacy with the people that you love, if you weren't talking about these things.

Bart Campolo  10:52  
So in some ways, it's a little bit like that with like, I live in a black neighborhood. And if we're not going to talk about race, then we're not going to be very close. Yeah. And so we have to find a way to talk about this thing, even though it's really fraught, and it's really painful. And I need to be open to changing my mind. And I think that that's the thing, that if there's anything I've learned, over the last 10 years, since I left the faith, it's been about what are some of the rules of engagement for that kind of conversation?

David Ames  11:35  
Yeah, very interesting. So just a topic or an idea that is a part of this podcast is what I call secular grace. And it's this idea that I observed while I was a Christian, that what we really needed was Grace with each other with human to human. And then through the deconversion process, I realized that well, actually, yes, that's really critically important. We need to be not only loved but accepted by one another without feeling judged. And it really does feel like that is something that we need for this moment in time. The thing that I find interesting about you and your work is that you tend to do this very publicly. So again, I mentioned the conversation you had with Roman, but also just recently, you did, but you're on your podcast about Black Lives Matter and the ways that you need to learn. And so it's approaching it with humility, from your own side to be willing to recognize that, yes, I'm probably wrong in some areas, and I need to learn. And at the same time, being loving or having a loving conversation in which everyone can participate.

Bart Campolo  12:45  
You know, I think, I think one of the crucial moments for me, and this is back in my Christian days, but like, I was working with three or four friends on a big youth project, we were organizing, we got a huge grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and we were trying to put together this program, and we had put it together and the guys, these guys that were buddies of mine, were working on this one part, I was working on another part of it. And at one point, they came to me and they said, Listen, you need to let us go, we need to take this money, what's left of it. And we've got the thing going and, and the thing that you're doing isn't like we need to separate. And I was furious. I felt like they were so ungrateful. I had gotten this grant, I had hired them all on, and now they wanted to kick me to the curb. And, and we went down, and we were in this huge argument about it. And, you know, what was funny was like, there was race involved in this one of them was black, one of them was Hispanic. And they were the strongest voices. And there was a sense in which they were saying, like, you know, this is a program for inner city, young people, like we know what we're doing you what you're doing is a whole different thing. And it's taking away from the project. And now, the short is we're in this huge knockdown drag out argument. And the good news for me is I hold all the cards. I'm the one in control of the money. And, like they're asking me for something or demanding something, but like, I can fire them all. I can do whatever I want. Yeah. But in the middle of the meeting, like as they're as they're arguing, I sort of almost yell back at them. So what you're saying is, and I repeat their arguments, I mean, you're saying this, because of this, because of this, and they and one of them goes, That's right.

David Ames  14:32  
Yes, yeah.

Bart Campolo  14:35  
And all of a sudden, it hit me. They were right. Like, I put it together. Like, in my own words coming out of my mouth. I was like, Wait, that's true that oh, my gosh. And I sat there for a long second. I looked him I said, Oh, I get it. Oh, so you're saying this, right. And he goes, Yeah, that's what he said. And I said, Oh, that makes sense. And one of them looked at me and said, like, what are you trying to do here? What's the game? I was like, no, no, I get it now. You're right. And you let it go. And one of the guys in the room, I still remember this friend of mine named Chris Rock looked at me and he said, I've never seen this happen in my life. And I said, What? He said, I've never actually watched somebody changed their mind in real life, in real time. Yeah. But you just changed your mind.

David Ames  15:35  
It is incredibly rare and publicly.

Bart Campolo  15:38  
But what was weird about it was, is that all the flood of love that flowed into that room? Like those guys loved me in that moment. And if state like they would all they're all loyal to a fault to me now. Yeah. And there was such an exhilaration of going like, Oh, I was wrong. And like, changing my mind meant I took a step closer to being right, or to being good to being in the truth. And for the life of me, David, I don't understand why we don't teach kids when we beat them in an argument to go like, how does it feel to be truer than you were? Or like, when we win an argument, I don't know why we don't stop. And instead of going like, Haha, I beat you go like, Oh, my gosh, you did it. Yeah, you did it. Because changing my mind, or having my mind changed for me by the evidence or by somebody else's better argument, to me is like the ultimate expression of my human potential. Like every human advancement, every bit of progress, everything good that's happened in our species, has been the result of somebody going like, I was wrong.

David Ames  17:03  
Yes, exactly.

Bart Campolo  17:06  
Like, oh, wait, so all the punches don't revolve around the earth? Or, oh, my gosh, you mean, all this differentiation of species like, complexity grows out of simplicity, not the other way around? You go like, this is a mate. It's all about changing your mind. Yeah. And so for me, what I found in that moment, and it found subsequent to that, is that the ultimate, like, in a sense, what strengthens us, what makes us feel powerful, is not when we have the ability to, to manipulate or to change other people to bend them to our well. But when we have the ability to change ourselves, yes. And so for me, I guess early on in the game, I sort of figured out like, Oh, this is real power. And this is real security. And this is also like, very selfishly, you want to get people to like you let them change your mind. Yeah. Like be open to them changing your mind. And what's interesting, too, is is and then they become more open to you change in their mind.

David Ames  18:21  
Right, you've built some trust.

Bart Campolo  18:24  
So for me, that's the key. I have this wonderful quote from Alan Alda, where he says, like, I have this radical idea that if I'm not open to letting you change my mind, I'm not really listening to you. Hmm. And I think so much of the conversation I see going on right now is one person's talking the other person not even listening. They're only listening to try to craft what they're going to say in response, but like, there's no openness to having their mind change. They're just, they're just looking for like, how do I return to this? Nobody's listening?

David Ames  18:54  
Yeah. Ironically, we, as the converts have the experience of discovering that we were mistaken, discovering that we were wrong on something deeply fundamental. In some ways, we have a leg up to have that kind of humility when we go into a conversation.

Bart Campolo  19:15  
Some of us do. I mean, one of the big questions when somebody loses their faith or deconstructs or however you want to describe the process, whether it's passive or active, and because in many ways, you know, my mind changed, I didn't change it. Right. You know, if I could have stopped the process halfway through, I probably would have it would have saved me a lot of time and trouble

David Ames  19:41  
and money. Yeah. And so you know, and so

Bart Campolo  19:43  
somebody's people are feel very betrayed by you when you leave the faith. And you know, I'm always at great pains to say like, Hey, like, I'm really sorry that this is hurting you but like, it wasn't my choice. This happened to me right now. I have to figure out how to make the most of it, but like, it's not that I won't Believe in God, or I refuse to believe in God. I can't I don't, you know, and I'm unable to. But the real question is, when that happens to you, some of us end up that ends up being a liberation into a new kind of in enthusiasm and a new kind of opportunity to live in, because we replace that worldview with another one that sort of inspires us to want to keep growing and to keep loving, and to keep building connections, like, we create a new religion in place of the old one. And for some people, it's just, it's just a loss. And so I think that having your mind changed, feels really different. If it gets changed from something into something else, and that something else is freer, and more vibrant, and fits better. And I think it's very different. When you have your worldview gets broken. And you, you just sit there with the broken pieces, trying to figure out how to get back what you've lost. Yeah. And so you know, that's why I'm very, very cautious about undermining somebody's Christianity, because there's no guarantee that if you undermine their faith in God, that they will then turn into a vibrant, enthusiastic humanist, there's a very real chance that they will just be broken.

David Ames  21:33  
Yeah, and that is actually something that I say, on this podcast, often that I just have no desire to try to take away the faith, particularly from the people that I love, who I perceive aren't ready, they would be asking questions if they were ready. And so I have all the patience in the world, with the people that I love and their faith,

Bart Campolo  21:55  
unless they're hurting people with it, or unless they're hurting themselves with it, you sometimes see that, like, there are people for whom I'm like, Listen, you know, that's, that's hurting you, baby. Yes, you know, people for whom that narrative always cast them in the loser light. And in the, in the failure light. And so there's another way of looking at the world. There's another way of of living. But yeah, when you see somebody who's sort of bearing fruit in that Christian world, and you'd like, Yeah, but it's, it's, it's insanity that none of it makes sense. There's no evidence for it. Okay. But be careful, because you take away their illusion, they may not be able to piece together a reality that works for them. Yeah. In this moment, I think the essence of the big thing is there are a bunch of us that have changed our minds for the better, or have experienced sort of like, the thrill of going like, Oh, I was wrong. And the sort of sense of power and the security that it gives you because you go like, Oh, what that means is like, maybe if I'm wrong about something else, like I'll figure that out, too. Or maybe, maybe there's a way in which this bad relationship that I'm in hate. Some of it might be my fault, or maybe that terrible conversation that we had. If it's all about them, I have no control. But like, if I have a part to play, maybe I can make it better. Yeah. And so once you have that experience, like there's almost like a giddiness that says, Please help me understand, like, what am I doing in this conversation that's making me so angry. And I think that that's for me, the key to the whole thing is, is that when I fight like it when you talk about like, there was this episode that I did with this guy, Michael Dowd. And it was about kind of what's going on in the world and sort of collapse Aryan thinking, and Michael Dowd, and I got going on that stuff, and I can get going on that stuff. And my son called me the next week, he's like, I hated that, that it was a horrible thing. And like, I ended up bringing him on the podcast, and he just rip me to shreds on this podcast. Yeah. And the thing is, is if you listen carefully to the podcast, what you'll see is, is that we're arguing about the thing. But we're also having a meta conversation about how we're talking to each other. And that's the thing is that like, even when he and I are really on the opposite side of the issues, say my dad, like, this is like a thing that we've learned is that you still need to have a conversation that says, Listen, when you use that really calm voice, it really bothers me, like, could you just or, you know, like, you're not letting me finish my sentences. And I need like, you gotta let me finish here. And so then we're not talking about the collapse of the world or about global warming, then we're talking about how are you talking to me? And how am I talking to you, right? And on that conversation. Roman and I are both committed to like, oh, we want to have a good conversation. And so like, if I'm messing up the conversation, tell me and that's the first place where you can give ground and get easy. If somebody says, I don't like the way you're too talking to me like, Oh, I'm sorry.

David Ames  25:02  
Yeah, that's, that's easy to change. It's an

Bart Campolo  25:05  
easy place to give ground. But that's also the place where you demonstrate you, my friend, are more important than winning this conversation, you may not be more important than the issue that we're talking about. But you're more important than this conversation about that issue, right? It's more important that we live to fight another day, as a team or as a family or as a friendship than me winning this no one battle is worth losing that war. Yeah. And you demonstrate that when you're willing to modify the way you talk.

David Ames  25:41  
So I want to kind of synthesize what we've been discussing here. And I want to ask you directly as a humanist chaplain, and, you know, you have a famous dad, and you have this platform on your podcast, in a moment, like now in the middle of COVID-19, in the middle of race relations, the tragedy of George Floyd, the problems with police departments, all the things that we're experiencing in the United States, you mentioned all the politics and we can't talk to each other. Do you feel a responsibility to be hopeful to be a prophet of hope, a proclaimer, of hope.

Bart Campolo  26:25  
It's funny, because I think that people, people often will say to my family, Bart's such a positive guy, you know, he's such a positive guy, and my family just laugh. And they just go like, Oh my gosh, like, this is the most relentlessly negative person ever, like, who explained you why this car won't work, why this new piece of furniture won't work? Why are vacations going to suck? Like, I struggle with negativity in real life? Yeah. And so I think for precisely that reason, perhaps I've become a student of hope. And I do feel a responsibility to be hopeful, but to be hopeful, in a way that like, I'm hopeful, but not optimistic, like optimistic, says, I think everything's gonna work out. And I don't, I don't think there's any reason to think everything will ever work out like anybody who comes telling me that like, in the end, if we, you know, if we use their system, or if we buy into their religion, like there will be eternal Nirvana at the end of it. I don't believe in eternal nirvana. I don't believe in Utopia. Yeah, I think the conflict is baked in. I don't even know if the species makes it out of here alive. The universe just keeps churning. And at some point, I think we get turned into my commitment to humanism is like, this is the species I'm part of this is my tribe. And as long as we're here, I want to make the best of this human experience. I love the human experience. I'm not saying it's eternal. I'm not saying it'll ever be perfect. I'm just saying like, I'm committed to it, right? So my hopefulness is not about utopianism. My hopefulness is this idea of like, things probably won't work out. But in the midst of them not working out. I think that what I do might make a difference for somebody. I think I have some agency here, I think I might be able to offer some comfort, I think I might be able to prolong our time a little bit. I think I might be able to make things brighter on the corner where I live. And so I think what happens is sometimes in the face of these large issues, people go like, listen, nothing I do, makes a difference. Like there's nothing I can do about it. These issues and these forces at work in our society are beyond my control. And like yeah, that's, that's true, but you still have agency, you still can make a difference. There's still something you can do that matter. Yeah. And so I do feel an obligation to tell that story. Right. And try to, in a sense, motivate people to make the most of this opportunity. Yeah, I mean, when you leave Christianity some people are like, Well, if there's no heaven and there's no heaven, we don't live forever, then what's the point of all this anyway? Like if if nothing lasts, why bother? And I go, like, you have this moment? Yeah. Like this. This matters. Like yeah, like this day matters. And I feel like that's, that's the same reality where you go like, well, if I can't really affect the whole system, if I can't change everything for the better than what's the point I got, like, ah, but because this day matters, this moment matters. This person matters. And they matter because you care about them. Yeah. So I do feel, I do feel dry. Part of it is I have to talk my self into acting hopefully every day. And so part of it is, you know, just like that preacher who's in the pulpit saying, pornography is the great evil and we must fight against sexual immorality. And you're like, Hey, I wonder what I wonder what's on his computer? Yeah. Because the ones that rail against it the loudest it's because like they're struggling with it. And so like, when you see somebody like doing like the super upbeat, warm, fuzzy hopeful, humanize me podcast, you go, like, I wonder if that guy has a heart of darkness? Of course he dies. Of course he dies. Yeah. Yeah. And he's preaching to himself. Yeah.

David Ames  30:38  
Well, I think when you did the conversation with Roman, one of my comments was that you are at the top of your game, when you are talking about hope. And it may be barks, that because we lack that we lack that kind of leadership in the world, there are very few voices who are proclaiming hope. And so I think maybe that was what Roman was reacting to, is when you are not hopeless, but less hopeful, that that is kind of diminishing, somehow the work that you do.

Bart Campolo  31:11  
Yeah, he's sort of like, we count on you. We Hey, buddy, we're counting on you. This is what yeah, we need you in the family. Like, this is what like, we need you like be you gotta be your best self for us. Yes, yeah. And I think that that is as good a reason as any, I think for a lot of people that are struggling in this COVID thing, and struggling in this racial moment, is that part of the problem of being caught off from each other is that it's the other people that tend to motivate us to do our best. Yes. And so when we get isolated, a lot of times we lose momentum, because you know, all this idea of self interest to the contrary, human beings are a tribal species, and we're motivated by one another, and by our concern for one another. And, you know, that's sort of our evolutionary trick, that that's how you get people to, like, give it up for the tribe, and, you know, to make great sacrifices is, is you build into them a sense of like, that my destiny is wrapped up with yours. And that, you know, in a sense, like, I'm more concerned about my DNA going forward than I am about my body. What do you think, which is a very sciency way of saying it, but like, what it says is like, you know, I'm part of something bigger than myself. Yes. And when you leave religion, people call it Oh, I missed that. I missed that sense of being part of the Kingdom of God being part of a larger destiny. And it's critical, like, you know, there's this other story about, you know, about life sort of emerging out of nothing, like out of the elements, and organizing itself into a place of consciousness and meaning. And then discovering a pathway that says that, like, love is the ultimate survival skill, like you actually are part of something much bigger than yourself. Yeah. And actually, if you check your impulses, to breathe, and to have sex and to eat, and to find shelter, like they are all wrapped up in, and not just surviving, but propagating this way of life, right. And this form of life, and so yeah, you know, what, you cut people off from each other, and you cut them off from literally the thing that makes life worth living.

David Ames  33:36  
So we've been dancing around it just a little bit. I find after deconversion you know, the first thing that you see online is a lot of what I call debate culture, very, Christians are wrong, and atheists are right and, and it took me a while to find the humanist voices like yourself. Tell me, what does humanism mean for you? Why do you use that label at all? And just define it for me?

Bart Campolo  34:04  
I'll yeah, that's, that's a good question. Because like, I'm not, you know, for somebody who's like a fairly well known humanist like, I'm not really that comfortable with the term. Okay. Winston Churchill once said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, right? And I tend to think like humanism is the worst thing to call myself, except for all the others. Like, I don't call myself an atheist, even though I am one. Because atheist means without God, and I live my life without any kind of connection or consciousness or, you know, belief in God. But when you see the word atheist in our culture, a lot of times people interpret that as against God or against people who believe in God, right? And so like, I don't want to be associated with that. I'm not one of those angry people that wants to tear it all down. And I have a lot of respect for what believing in God did for our species. It was a stage along the way. Yeah, it was the best story we had at the time. And a lot of the good stuff that we have now, in fact, the ability to conceptualize a world without God, that stuff got hammered out by people who are educated in the universities built by the wave and God. You know, so I'm a great respecter of what brought me here. So anyway, I don't want to be called an atheist agnostic. I know what it means is like, doesn't know or sort of, again, technically, I am agnostic, like, I can't prove that there is no God, or that, that I can't even prove that this universe isn't a simulation in somebody else's computer model, right? We're not all in the matrix. I can't prove that definitively. Yeah. So I am agnostic. But again, like it makes it sound like I'm not sure. And I'm really sure about what I value. And I'm really sure about the way I'm living my life. And like, I'm not like paralyzed by uncertainty. So I don't use that word, right? free thinker. Like, I understand, like, that's a lovely term. And like, I aspire to be a free thinker. But like, come on, you don't have to, you don't have to study cognitive biases very long. Yes. Or anthropology very long to know, like, even the fact that I don't believe in God, I can't take really credit for it. Right. Like I was raised in such a way that I am able not to believe in God, if I had been raised in a different place. If I had a different brain, if I had a different cultural mindset. I wouldn't like, I can't even take credit for the way I think. So yeah, no, I'm not going to call myself a free thinker. I wish it was. And skeptic, again, makes it sound like I'm walking around the world looking for things to take issue with or trouble with. And again, like, technically, skepticism is kind of like a scientific word. And it's a good thing to be sure. But in the end, what I want to communicate to people is like, yeah, I don't believe in God, but I'm really committed to life. And in particular, I'm really committed to human life and to try to make as much meaning as I can, in the context of this human life by loving other people. And so like, humanist is kind of the it least connotes the idea. Like, it's not what I don't believe in that defines me. It's what I am committed to. Right. And if somebody says, so you're committed to humanity, I got like, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that would be my ultimate commitment. Right? Yeah. So you know, calling myself a humanist, like I said, is better than all the others. But like, if you asked me to define humanism, I would go like, Oh, man, it's like Christianity. Like, there's 1000. You know, there's as many different forms of Christianity as there are Christians, Bret, to me, when I realized that I had to figure out how to get on without God, you know, I sort of like, well, I don't, I started to sort of go like, I want to make the most of this life, it still feels really like a privilege to have it. And I did some research and I looked around, and I read a bunch of books by people and kind of came to the conclusion like, you know, loving relationships is the thing. Like the people that live their lives, the longest and sort of die. The happiest are people that have a handful of loving relationships, and that spend their lives doing things to make things better for other people and have a sense of gratitude and, and cultivate that and that like, like, the more grateful I am, the happier I am. And so like, I came to the place where I was like, that's what I want to pursue. So if somebody says to me, what's your humanism, because I'll let you know, a humanist is somebody who like is really committed to loving relationships and making things better for other people, and cultivating gratitude and wonder in their life. And who's smart enough to recognize that like, just because that works for them, doesn't mean it would work for everybody. Right? Exactly. And so that's my definition of humanism. Like, like my little fellowship here in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati caravan, those four values, like, we ran them up the flag and a bunch of people secular people were like, that sounds ridiculous. That sounds like Old Time Religion, like, you know, and then a bunch of other people were like, Oh, my gosh, that's what I've been looking for. Like I miss, I missed that sense of focus. So it's like, we're going to be a community that helps each other pursue loving kindness as a way of life. And they were like, count me in. Yeah, like, Okay, so for us, that's our humanism, right? But like for somebody else, it means something very, very different.

David Ames  39:23  
So yeah, man, you've touched on several things there. What I talk about a lot is that just because we no longer have a particular set of metaphysics does not mean that we don't need each other that we don't need community that we don't need to have a sense of belonging that we don't need to experience all we need all those things. Those are hardwired human needs.

Bart Campolo  39:43  
But you know, David, different people need different amounts of them. That's interesting. Yeah. See, when I came out of Christianity, the Christianity went first. But the fundamentalism stayed with me a lot longer. And I went from thinking that Jesus was the one true Path to going like, I got to figure out what the one true path is. And like I was, you know, I became convinced it was this like commitment to like community, and that human beings were tribal species and stuff like that. And then I started meeting like, autistic people, you know, yeah, or people that had, you know, had been traumatized by certain kinds of relationships. And they were like, Yeah, I don't want to, like, I don't want to venture into that. And these people, were still finding ways to be connected to something, some of them to music, some of them were connected to other humans in an indirect way, like, they would stay alone in their room coding, and create things that would be helpful to other people, but they didn't want to talk to those people.

David Ames  40:43  
Right? I can relate.

Bart Campolo  40:46  
And so all of a sudden, like, not all of a sudden, but slowly, it dawned on me, you're still a fundamentalist part, you still want to come up with a way of life that works for you, and then suggest that that's what all human beings need. You know, at this stage in the game, that's part of my, I guess, you would call it worldview humility, where I go, like, think of about a bell curve, you know, where like, most people are in or close to the center of it, I'm gonna go like, I think for the vast majority of human beings, this business of like, a handful of loving relationships, and a sense of doing something that makes things better for other people and is meaningful, and a sense of gratitude. I think that will work for a lot of people that, but I'm not here to impose it on anybody, because I know that there are people for whom that wouldn't be the right. Cocktail, that wouldn't be the right formula, right. And so, I think there are a lot of different ways to make meaning. This is the one that sort of works for me. And so when I meet people that are struggling, and they're sad, I tend to say to them, Hey, this is the thing my friends and I are doing, and it's working for us, like, maybe this would work for you. But when I see somebody who's happily moving through life, in a different way, I am not prone to go like, Listen, you really need to, you know, like, I'm telling you, you, you're fooling yourself, you're not really happy behind that computer screen, you really won't be happy until you're more like me,

David Ames  42:11  
right? Okay, so I'm taking that all in. And I totally agree with you. In fact, one of the things that I talked about whenever I talked about humanism is the beauty of it is that you can choose not to do that. Unlike more enforced religious doctrines, humanism allows for the great diversity within humanity. Yeah, because

Bart Campolo  42:34  
you're because somebody's doing it a different way, isn't an implicit challenge to mind. Like in Christianity, if somebody's thriving outside of Christianity, that's a problem, because my religion teaches that you can't thrive outside of Christianity. So I have to find a way of explaining like this, my dad used to do with me when I first left the faith. He's he just kept trying to like, poke holes in my humanism, and sort of go, this can't be working for you. Because if this works for you, it implicitly challenges my sense that without Jesus life is meaningless, right? And at one point, I finally Dad, it's like you want my humanism to fail? And the thing is, like, do you think if you convince me that without believing in God, I'm bound to be suicidal and miserable? Do you think that will make me believe in God again? Wow. And he said, he said, No, I said, Yeah, I can't believe in God that makes it. Like, it doesn't make sense to me. So I said, If you convince me that I can't find meaning without God, all you will do is convinced me that I am a hopeless wreck of despair. And that kind of backed him off a little bit, is what it says, like, you need to hope that there's meaning outside of Christianity, or else your son is doomed. Right. And I think as a humanist, I need to do the same thing. I need to hope that there are multiple ways because there are a lot of people for whom this way of thinking like there are a lot of people who are hardwired to believe in a supernatural force. Yes. And they're not able not to. And so we better hope that there's a way for those people to thrive. And there's a way for those people to feel a sense of joy in their lives. Yeah. Because otherwise, we have nothing to offer them. And so I like the thing is like, it's not threatening to me when somebody thrives by another path, right? It doesn't bother me, you know, my evangelism. I'm not looking to talk anybody out of anything that's working for him. I'm looking for people who their shit is not working. The stuff is just not working. And those are the people that I'm like, Look, you've tried all these other things. Have you tried this thing? Because here's a way of living. Here's a way of looking at the universe that might work. for you.

David Ames  45:01  
I want to tee up kind of a last idea teed up, David. You hit on this and that what you just were talking about, we often hear from particularly apologists, right? I often make the distinction between the regular believer in the pew and the apologist, but they're often trying to invalidate humanism or anything outside of Christianity. Of course, we come along as humanists, and we say, you know, there may not be inherent meaning in the universe, but we as human beings are meaning makers. And we find somehow, you and I, and many others have found a way for that to be really deeply, profoundly useful, purposeful, meaning making. How is it that that you make meaning how do you teach others to make meaning?

Bart Campolo  45:55  
Oh, that's, that's your that's your question. Yeah, question. Oh, thanks.

David Ames  46:01  
Yeah, just an easy one for the on the way out. Yeah.

Bart Campolo  46:05  
It's funny when you mentioned apologist, I just got a note from somebody that there's evidently this apologist out there. I guess she's fairly well known. Her name is Alyssa Childers. He sent me this interview that she was doing in which she talks about me. And, and I thought she was gonna say crappy things about me. And he said, No, no, what she says is, she says, she doesn't understand progressive Christianity, because she's like, if you don't believe in the resurrection, and you don't believe that, you know, God made the world in seven days. And if you don't believe in the virgin birth, she said, I like BarCamp Hola, because like, he admits it, like if you don't believe in it, in a sense, you probably should stop calling yourself a Christian. Right? But but then I listened to a little bit more of what you said, and I and I'm apologist, they just freaked me out. Because what she basically said is like, the great thing about apologetics is, is that it convinces you that God is real, even if there's no evidence, even if you don't feel anything, even if God never answers a prayer, like but you still know it's real. And I just thought, gosh, you know, lady, you and I are wired differently. That is not a selling point for me. Yeah. So but the thing is, is that we see people make meaning in different ways. And I think that the thing that troubles me the most, is not when somebody is making it in a way that doesn't make sense to me. But when somebody seems to have no appetite for meaning, when somebody is seems unmotivated, when they are listless when they're when they're willing to just exist, rather than to live. My one of my favorite send off lines is Maurice Sendak, in his last interview with Terry Gross before he died, he just told her how much he loved being alive and how much he had had a great time and how much he loved knowing her. And he said, Terry, I'm never going to talk to you again. So let me just say it to you. Live your life. Live your life, live your life. And, you know, it broke her down and broke me. Yeah, you know, because there's a sense in which there's a purposefulness to that there's a sense in which don't let your life just happen live it. You know, and so, the question, I think that's always, even before I became a humanist, even when I was in Christianity working in the inner city was, how do you give somebody an appetite for life? That doesn't have one? And I wish I could say I knew the answer. What I do know is this is that when I was a kid in math, they would they would do these tests, and they would give you the question. And then they would say, you know, like, what's the, what's the square root of this? You know, or what's the quadratic formula? And then they would always be like, show your work? Right? Like, it wasn't enough to put down the answer. You had to show how you got there. Yeah. And I think that I see a lot of people like you, like me, who seem to be living their lives. And the question is, are you willing to show your work? Are you willing to, to articulate the process? You know, are you willing to talk about how you find the books that you read? Not just the books you read, but like how you found it? Right? And are you willing to talk about like, the hard conversation you had with your mom? Are you willing to share about your battle with depression? And are you willing to talk about not just what you love, but why you love it? Like it takes a lot of effort to explain to a child, why we're going to go on the trip that mom planned for us this on Saturday, even though none of us really want to go home because Mom, mom put a lot of effort into planning it, and we're not going to let her down. We're going to go and we're going to make it a good time. And it takes a lot of effort. To explain to kid like, why you sometimes do something you don't want to do, because you care about the person who planned it. Right? It's easier just to say to the kid, I'm Dad, you're the kid, get in the car we're going. And sometimes that's appropriate. But then you got to circle back and say, Hey, can I tell you how that worked? Can I tell you why I did that? Sometimes why I did the wrong thing. But sometimes why I did the right thing and why it matters. In my experience, people develop an appetite for something like coffee, not just when they taste it, but when somebody explains to them why they love it, and what to look for. And, you know, or fly fishing, or bicycle racing, or whatever it is, it's somebody has to not only sort of go like, Look, isn't this cool, but they have to say to you, this is what I love about it, this, look at the nuance here, like, you're not going to notice this, but there's actually a difference between that tire and this tire. And that's why we pick that tire for this kind of race. And they may not end up loving bike racing. But that's how you teach people what it is. To be passionate about something, to be interested in something to develop a taste for something. And frankly, I don't care what you develop a passion or a taste for nearly as much as I as I want you to have one. And so I think if I was a young parent, again, I'm a grandparent, so I'm getting to do it a little bit over. If I'm a friend of somebody who's discouraged, you're depressed, I think there's a tendency to want to talk at that person and tell them what they need to do. And I think you're probably better off showing your work, showing the work of being alive. And talking about it openly, and becoming articulate about why you do the things you do and why they mean something to you. And to that end, I'm gonna give you a book recommendation. Oh, it's gonna freak you out. Okay, okay. And it's the best book I've read in the last week. But it's a classic. I just finished reading Albert Camus, the plague, okay, it is a particularly apt book during the COVID-19 thing, although the plague he's talking about is the bluebonnet plague. And these people are locked down in a village and they can't get out. And people are dying, left and right. And the doctor at the center of it, is the true humanist, who makes meaning out of thin air, and figures out what really matters. And in the book, and I won't give you the trick ending, okay, because it's worth getting to, what I will tell you is, is it in the book, there's a sense in which the great skill of the writer is, is that the doctor shows his work. He shows what it takes to care at a time when it would be so easy to despair. And I think I think it's a beautiful example of what I'm talking about. I think one of the most humanizing things we can do for other people, is to show our work.

David Ames  53:09  
I think that is a great place to stop, I'm going to keep that BART show your work, I'm going to for sure. Be telling other people about that as well. Bart, let people know how they can get in touch with you.

Bart Campolo  53:21  
Listen, there's only one thing I do that has any significance outside of my little community here in Cincinnati, and that's my podcast, humanize me. And it's a place where I, I bring on other people and talk. And I'm always like, trying to find out from other people what they have to teach me about making the most of this life. And I'm glad that you listen to it, David, I'm glad you like it. I'm always glad when people like it. And for a lot of people they get on they go that guy's way too earnest, I can't stand them, I have to turn them off. That boy reminds me of a youth pastor. And it triggers me. But for those of you that can stomach it, that's probably the thing I do that has the most oath. And I send out a little email every week when I send out the podcast. That's my little sort of our daily bread devotional. And from what I can tell from the feedback that I get, there's a subset of human beings for whom that stuff is helpful. Yeah, and if you go to humanize, like there's a place where it says contact Bart, the emails all come to me and I answer them slowly, but I do. So yeah, I'm grateful to you for for letting me into your circle and letting me meet your people. And if any of them are interested, I'm easy to find, as you know, but it is really good to talk with you. Thanks so much. That has

David Ames  54:37  
been that's been a great conversation Bart, I really appreciate you giving me your time. Thank you so much. All right.

Final thoughts on the episode. As I said in the intro, if I began quoting Bart here, I would just restate the entire thing. Listen to the episode. Start again. It's fantastic. I'll just really harp on show you work. That is something that I literally have written up on my whiteboard to remind me it is a simple idea that has been haunting me for the past week or so after we recorded this episode. And it will affect the way that I parent my kids from now on. That's all I can say about that. The one thing I think that is interesting from our conversation that I'll point out here is Bart pushing back on me about what I call the ABCs of secular spirituality, all belonging and community, he pointed out that not everybody needs these things or not everybody needs them in the same degree or amounts. And that's important for me to hear that like I do think that that is a an important human need. But it doesn't mean that everyone needs it in the same way that I do. I'm assuming that if you're listening to this podcast that you think those things are important to some degree or another. But there are many secular people, many atheists out there who it sounds too much like religion, that sounds too much like their former church experience. And it could even be triggering or it could be drama inducing. So I just want to acknowledge that and I think that that's very true. While I will continue to talk about the secular ABCs of spirituality, I will do so with greater humility, the the worldview humility that BART talks about. I want to thank Bart for the amazing humility, integrity, honesty, Grace, with which he handles himself in public, as well as on this episode. I want to thank him for doing the work that he does for being hopeful in his home of hopelessness, and for admitting when he makes mistakes. And being willing to change his mind. I think all of that is an incredible example. And that is BarCamp. Polo showing his work. Thank you Bart. Again, I want to say I hope a speedy recovery for Tony Campolo after the stroke that he had on June 20. I hope that the Campillo family that all of you are well barked. I didn't bring this topic up because we had a short amount of time for our recording session. But I did want to tell this crazy story. I was in Bible college and very conservative Bible College in the 90s. And my roommate was a huge, huge fan of Tony Campillo. At the time, Tony was very famous for a provocative statement that he made in a speech, and I'll quote it here, quote, I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or disease related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you are more upset with the fact that I just said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night. As you might imagine, that had quite an impact on people. So in Bible college, I have a roommate, who was enamored with this statement who decided in chapel to quote, Tony, verbatim, as you can imagine, this did not go well. I just wanted to share that with you. It's a memory that is emblazoned in my mind. Thank you Tony for saying that. As always, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. 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 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 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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