David Ames: Graceful Atheist interviewed by Sam and Daniel

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Humanism, Naturalism, Podcast, Podcasters, Secular Community, Secular Grace, secular grief
It me.
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This week I am being interviewed by Sam and Daniel from the When Belief Dies podcast. The focus is on what I have changed my mind about since beginning work in the secular community. We discuss the following topics:

This episode is a sister episode to Daniel and me interviewing Sam on When Belief Dies. Both episodes are dropping at the same time. You can see me in the YouTube version interviewing Sam.


If you are interested in producing music for the Graceful Atheist Podcast, the sound I am looking for has a strong baseline and beat with gospel church organ, potentially with R&B or Gospel vocal samples. Here is a playlist to inspire you to Gospel R&B Beats. Get in touch.


There were several places in the episode where I forgot names. I’ll mention them here.

It is Tim Sledge who talks about “exceptions to the rule of faith” in his book, Goodbye Jesus.

It is Carolyn Golden, Psy.D. who discusses attribution and schema on the Life After God podcast
Episode: How and Why We Believe

Brian Peck is quoted multiple times. Here is my interview with Brian:


When Belief Dies


My Deconversion Story

Telling my deconversion story on Voices of Deconversion


Secular Grace

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


Photo graphic design by Logan Thomas, Beyond Belief

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

0:11 Welcome to the show.
5:19 What’s changed in David’s understanding of grace?
10:36 The importance of finding people who are in a similar situation to you.
16:37 Discovering that you’re not alone is the first step.
22:22 The experience of awe is a deeply human experience.
26:31 The best things about religion are the people.
33:50 What has changed about the deconversion process?
39:10 How to deal with cognitive dissonance and cognitive biases.
44:04 What is the process of deconstruction?
50:32 What are some of the crucial things that can help people move from that step of starting to live in a place of unbelief?
58:03 David’s thoughts on the idea that humanism pre-dates Christianity and Christianity borrows from humanism.
1:06:36 Recognizing humans are mammals.
1:11:06 David’s problem with most conversations.
1:18:16 The slow increase of your standard for evidence and why that’s necessary.
1:23:25 Life after death is not just a religious thing. Humans are obsessed with the idea secular or otherwise.
1:30:00 Finite human lifetimes make them precious.

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheists podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. As usual, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on pod chaser.com or the Apple podcast store, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. Every so often, I beg for some community involvement in the podcast and the work of secular grace. And I'm gonna do that again here. As you know, Mike T has been editing the podcast in 2021. He's been doing an amazing job. It gets a break this week, but he'll be back in the editor seat next week. And Logan from beyond belief is helping me out with some graphic design work. And one more area that I'm really interested in expanding on for the podcast is the music. I have loved the waves track from Mackay beats, that's been amazing. But there is some licensing restrictions with that music. So I am putting out the call to see if anyone is out there who's interested in producing a piece of music for me. For the podcast, of course, you would get credit, maybe a tiny little amount of money to help defray that. However, I am going to be very, very, very picky. I have a particular style, I have a particular sense of what I want, which can be encapsulated in saying gospel r&b with a beat. I am going to add a Spotify playlist that has a bunch of songs that would inspire this kind of idea. And if you are interested in doing some music production for the intro for segways please get in touch with me. Graceful atheist@gmail.com This is a long episode, but I will ask that you hang on to the final thoughts a section where I will talk about my first attempt at a Twitter spaces conversation about deconversion. On today's show, today's show is a little different. And I'm actually the subject I have as guest posts today, Sam and Daniel from the when belief dies podcast. And they are interviewing me. So you're going to get probably more than you want me answering questions. I first want to thank Sam and Daniel for participating in this venture. This turned out better than I expected. As the host, I don't always get to spend 15 minutes explaining my thoughts on a particular subject and I get to hear. So this turned out to be more successful even than I expected. Dropping at the same time on when belief dies is Daniel and I are interviewing Sam. So these two podcasts, this one you're hearing right now and the one that is dropping on when belief dies are kind of sister episodes. And why that is interesting is you can see the diversity of thought. Sam and I are good friends. We think a lot of like on a lot of subjects. But there's also little bits of daylight between us. And we explore that in both of these episodes. If you actually want to see my face, the version of Daniel and I interviewing Sam is also on YouTube, you will immediately understand why I do audio. But you can check that out. If you are interested. Please hang on to the final thoughts section and I will talk more about the episode that you can hear on when belief dies. Obviously links will be in the show notes for Sam's podcast and YouTube. Lastly, I do want to acknowledge that I talk a lot in this episode. In fact, I think I overwhelmed Sam and Daniel I apologize to them. They asked a question that I almost ignore that question and go on for 20 minutes. I am definitely a bit self indulgent in this episode, I get to speak my mind. And that was a lot of fun. I was so excited. I think you're going to hear that in this conversation. So without further ado, here is Sam and Daniel interviewing me.

Sam and Daniel, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Sam Devis  4:31  
Thanks, man. It's great to be here.

Daniel  4:33  
Yeah, it's great to be on the show.

David Ames  4:36  
So just to be clear, this is Sam from when belief die. So this is your second time on the podcast. You're coming back and Daniel is the new co host of when belief dies. And we're going to do something a little bit different today. Today, Sam and Daniel are going to interview me and later subsequently we will do an interview where I interview them which will release on when belief dies. This interview here is on my podcast. And so I'm literally going to hand the keys over to Sam and Daniel and I will be the one answering the questions. So Sam and Daniel, take it away.

Sam Devis  5:10  
Thanks, man, I feel like I've stolen your car. I'm gonna drive it into a wall now. First of all, it's an absolute pleasure to do this. It's been something that's been on my mind for quite a while to kind of year to have this conversation and to push into a basically what's changed since since these podcasts began? Like, what's, what shifted our mindset? And how have we began processing stuff. So I think just to kind of kick it off, I mean, I would be really interested to hear I know kind of you talk about secular grace, lots on your new podcast. And it's a fantastic thing that I've obviously been heavily influenced by. But I want to kind of get your take on that. David, what's changed in your understanding of secular grace? How's that grown? or diminish? What's what's different these days?

David Ames  5:50  
Yeah, let me let me describe what it is very quickly. And then I can tell you how my mind has changed on that a bit. It's hard to tell my story without talking about my mom's story. For listeners, they may know, my mother was drug and alcohol addict, grew up with that, you know, most of my life, and in my teen years, is when she got clean and sober. And it was it was Jesus, she had a dramatic epiphany been a life changing kind of event. So my early spirituality was really heavily influenced by the 12 steps. It really was the humanistic elements of the 12 steps that spoke to me the most, it was this idea of confessing to one another really, you know, opening yourself up being vulnerable about some deep, dark secrets, and the catharsis that one feels in that experience. And I would occasionally ride along and go to an AAA meeting or something, and you would have this person speaking. And they're describing terrible things, terrible, terrible things that they had done, and the remorse that they they feel for having done those things. And then the group shows love back to them. And so I was literally watching this in real time, what it is like for human beings to give grace to one another. So that's really the bottom level of what I mean by secular grace. I think people experience this when they go to therapy, they get kind of radical acceptance isn't another way to describe it. But this feeling of catharsis of I can get off my chest, these things that have caused me shame, these things that are that I doubt about myself that make me feel lesser than. And so what I'm proposing the secular grace is, is just being proactive about this, that we engage with the people, we care about our friends and our loved ones, that we are intentionally vulnerable with one another, and that we are radically accepting of one another. And, of course, I don't mean, you know, airing your dirty laundry, do not do this on Twitter and Facebook, that is not what I mean. I mean, your best friend, right. And when we talk about also the deconversion process, we feel like I am the only one who's gone through this, I'm the only one who is not pulling Christianity off. I'm the only one who is failing to do what is right. And then you discover when you tell someone else, I'm not the only one. And it's that, that experience. So that was a long way to describe a secular grace. What has changed in my mind is the recognition of the dark side of grace. I have often said that when I mentioned the term secular grace, people either get it, or no amount of description will help. But what I've learned is the traumatic experiences that some people have inside Christianity, that grace entails this idea of you're a sinner, you're worthless, your your righteousness is dirty rags. And for particularly for people who grew up with that, as children, and who are now in their 30s, and 40s are feeling the fallout from that internalization of I'm a dirty, bad person. And because I came to Christianity a little bit later, I had just enough buffer to feel a little protected from that. I had that sense of, I'm a sinner. Don't get me wrong, I definitely that was definitely a major part. But I was overwhelmed by the sense of grace, overwhelmed by the sense of acceptance of by God. And so now what I'm trying to convey is, it turned out to be the people in my life all along who were giving me that grace, and now we can give that to each other. But I'm acknowledging that the part of the change is that people can have kind of traumatic association with the very word grace. And I want to make clear not to burden people further with it. Oh, you should also be so kind, not angry and this kind of thing, particularly, Brian Peck has said, how valuable anger is to escape that trauma or escape an abusive relationship or an abusive situation. And again, all of these things, you know, is where I've grown to recognize. Maybe secular grace is the long term goal. But the immediate needs are safety, protection, being whole being accepted yourself, right? Before you get to the point where maybe you're able to give that secular Grace out.

Sam Devis  10:36  
That's really interesting, kind of like, I've got a got a good friend. He's from Poland, actually. And he kind of talks about Christianity within they're sort of like a communist mindset, he does my Christianity very much kind of like being being the thing that breaks your leg, and then gives you the crutch to kind of help you get on, it's almost like here's, here's the grace, you can you can just keep going now you've not broken your leg.

It's this idea that I guess kind of finding people who are in a similar situation to you and able to kind of empathize and have a a meaningful conversation where you realize that you aren't alone, like you aren't some sort of isolated being out on the peripherals, you're actually very much included in the whole, but you just weren't aware of that for a while. So would you kind of say that, that that's, that's quite a big part of that was actually that sometimes people can feel like they're at the fringe or having to, like try and reconcile things in their minds. But actually, as they kind of focusing on begin to open up more about their anger, or about their pain about their abuse, or trauma or whatever language you want to use, they're actually begin to realize that there is a, there is a massive group of people that are actually very much already around them and willing to accept them in would you kind of say, that's much more what you're looking at now, David?

David Ames  11:47  
Yes. And of course, this ties into the deconversion and deconstruction aspect of the podcast in that within the church, you're allowed to doubt just so far. And then you're given some answers that you are expected to accept wholeheartedly. And when you don't, when those answers begin to sound Pat to you, and you are asking deeper questions. And you go through this merry go round of doubling down, you know, reading the Bible, more praying more, being in accountability groups, you know, talking to the pastor or talking to people who you respect their spirituality, and you're getting the same pat answers over and over again, and you aren't satisfied with those anymore. You can internalize that and begin to feel like, it must be me, I'm the bad person in this scenario. And so this is a great example. And so the minute you start to give yourself permission to doubt a bit, and go look like maybe a query on the internet, follow somebody on Twitter, or watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast like when belief dies, or the grateful atheist podcast, that can be just a dramatic revelation that you are not the only one out there. And so this is a very specific context of the application of secular grace. But you've hit the nail on the head, Sam, that it can be applied anywhere, I imagine that people that return from military service or a warzone or have PTSD from a car crash, you know, it's finding your people, the people that have had some similar experience, who you don't have to defend yourself. I know, the word has been abused and ridiculed. But this idea of safe spaces, right, if you're a member of the LGBTQ community, just being in a place where you can communicate about that without having to defend it. If you're a person of color, or a historically disparaged group, and just being around other people who understand that they get it intuitively, you don't need to explain why that is necessary. All of that are profound examples of secular grace.

Sam Devis  14:02  
Yeah, that's beautifully said, I've, I've often kind of wonder whether this is quite a new phenomenon. I mean, like only really, in the last 100 years or so we've we've began to kind of understand what sort of like post traumatic stress disorder as we began to understand sort of the the sort of ongoing negative consequences of abuse, or, as you mentioned, someone coming back from war and having to deal with this or trauma, they've experienced these sorts of long, underlying psychological and emotional difficulties that we can come across. And actually, I think, as my opinion and feel free to push back on this, but I kind of feel like as we begin to reconcile within our own minds, that we are almost kind of not broken, but but very, very able to be caught up within a certain sort of mindset, we begin to be able to actually think through who we are and what that means for us. And we actually begin to learn more about our own kind of hearts and our own minds and how we can begin to journey out of those situations. So would you say, David conscious pushing into secular Grace probably for the final time now? Like how How do you think people have been able to understand that space within the sort of atheist community and the deconstruction community? And how are they able to move through it to actually be able to accept it, bring it in and then become sort of who they could be due to their ability to process effectively? Does that make any sense?

David Ames  15:20  
Yeah. Can I respond to one thing, not in your question? And then come back to the question? Yes. I don't mean to point fingers at you, but you were struggling for a word, and you use the word broken. I specifically talk about that you are human, not broken. And I think this is the Chinese finger trap of Christianity is highly reflective people who are aware of their own limitations, find Christianity, Christianity tells them Yes, you are, in fact broken. They're honest with themselves about their limitations, or their foibles, or what have you. And they internalize that idea of I'm broken. I just like to have really hammer that the human experience is imperfect the human experience is to error. Right? I mean, the the things that we are frustrated about ourselves, were anxious or fearful, or, or ashamed. That is the human experience. And it goes back to that secular grace of finding other people who have experienced the same thing. Coming back to your question, and let me make sure that if I've got it correctly, you're asking how people move from kind of the trauma to being more proactive? Is that the heart of your question?

Sam Devis  16:35  
Yes. I don't want to use the term less broken. But yeah.

David Ames  16:40  
Time, I really, I wish that I had a magic wand to say, what does this but I think that first step, the discovery is the hardest one. Because again, before you have found that there is a world out there of people who have had the same experience, you feel isolated alone. As soon as that happens, you begin to hear other people's stories. One of the things I love about doing the podcast is just getting this huge range of diverse stories from different perspectives. And someone's going to react to a hardcore Calvinist who is, you know, a woman who's dealing with complementarianism in a way that they are not going to react to my Pentecostal upbringing, and what have you, right? Like, there's just, those are two different experiences. So telling those different stories you can you have that someone I imagine, here's someone's story and goes, Ah, that was me, I thought that way. So that first, that first hurdle is the big one, right? Just recognizing that, that you're not alone. And then I think, is a process of, of learning. So many things have been off the table, you have been discouraged, for finding information outside of the bubble. Anything that was disconfirming, or even therapy is looked down upon in many Christian traditions, a science depending on again, your faith tradition may have been disparaged, or the full conclusions of science are diminished in some way or another. So learning that there is this broad body of human wisdom collected over the centuries of people attempting to answer the very same questions that you have. I think that, again, it's that feeling of I'm not alone. I often recommend this book. This is doubt the history by Jennifer Michael Hecht. My listeners probably heard that 1000 times I'm gonna say it again. And what that did for me personally was, you have that feeling of I'm alone, I'm the only one then you. Maybe if you d convert on your own, some people like in my case, it's pretty isolated. For myself as well. Then you think, Oh, I'm the only one who's ever D converted. I'm the only one who's experienced this. And a book like that goes through the history of doubters and they're you come from a long line of doubters. These questions have been asked for millennia, and ironically, many of the same pat answers the attempts to defeat those questions also are millennia old. And so once you recognize this answer I'm getting that doesn't sound satisfying, wasn't satisfying to Lucretius wasn't satisfying to Epicurus wasn't satisfying to job. We just we forget that we've been asking these questions forever. So again, recognizing you're not alone, finding out that other people have asked these questions, the learning more questions to ask maybe the questions you haven't even thought of yet. I say you know, explore science explore ethics. What are you interested in? You don't have to do this from a rationality bro perspective. But if you're into meditation, go do that. If you are into sports or exercise, go do that. You know? Find a book club, find something where you're just expanding beyond the bubble that you used to be in. And then last, I think, is when you feel, and this is just time, but when you wake up one day and you go, Huh, I don't feel terrible about this anymore. That is the moment when you can start asking yourself, what happens next? What can I do? What can I give back to the world? I sometimes refer to the first interview that I ever did, I did with Steve hilliker on voices of deconversion. If you go back and listen to that, I was thrashing about, what am I going to do with all of this profound insight, you know, or, or, you know, derivative insight that I had, I had to do something with it. And obviously, this podcast is the end result. The other thing I like to tell people is that one of the first things we did was this thing called secular Hangouts. And I used to explicitly say, we will have six seated when we have people who are a part of this, who are not content creators. And my point there was, you do not have to be a podcaster, or a YouTuber, a blogger, or what have you, to give back to the world, there are 1000s of things that you can do. And it is discovering what your particular talents are. I sound like a youth pastor here, but like, you know, find out what you are good at what you can give back with. And I guarantee you that that experience will give you a sense of purpose and meaning and will be as beneficial to you as it is the people that that you are giving to.

Sam Devis  21:39  
It's beautifully said, I think I just want to kind of push into one more area of this, which I think could be quite interesting to explore. And if it's too much, let's just park it and move on. But right at the beginning, you obviously talk about your mum and your mom's experience within the sort of 12 STEP program and kind of you know, that sort of grace elements to it. Obviously, she believed that that's was Jesus, that was God and stuff. And also you've kind of how you're talking about grace doesn't involve that anymore. And I'm not really got an issue with that. But what I'm more interested in is, is what do you think your mum experienced? In those moments that? Yeah, what do you think she experienced? And is it actually just the word grace rather than secular or Christian? Or is it just Grace rather than secular? And, you know, what is it that you that you think now that your mum experienced?

David Ames  22:22  
Yeah, so there's a couple of layers to that. I'm gonna set the grace bit aside, because I think we might get back to that. But I want to talk about the experience, one of the most important things that I've learned over the last years was a podcast on life after God that Brian Peck again, hosted. And he had a couple of his colleagues in psychology and forgive me, but I don't have her name right off the top of my head, I will put this in the show notes. But she talked about this idea of attribution. And this idea of we have these schemas. So we have this experience of awe. And we've been in the schema, the context of Christianity, and we've been told that I have this experience of awe, and that's God. And the mistake there is the attribution. So the experience of awe is a deeply human experience. And I mean, that in the naturalistic sense, a natural experience for human beings, you can elicit this, by going out into the mountains, being on the ocean, whatever it is, that induces all and you may be looking at the Milky Way in a dark sky is just absolutely awe inspiring. That is the human experience. And it is the attribution of a deity and external deity. That is the the mistake. So when I talk about what happened to my mom, and really to me, too, because I, as I mentioned, was in a Pentecostal tradition, when I eventually got to church, had many experiences that I at the time, interpreted as the Holy Spirit. So from my mom's experience, she had a, again, epiphany is the right word of experiencing God and in hearing God, hearing, sensing, I don't know to how literal she would have described herself but there's a verse in Deuteronomy, choose this day, whether you will live or die, and she understood that she was dying. This was a moment and an opportunity for her to change. I also with 2020 hindsight, recognize that the idea of an ever present God who is literally watching you is very, very helpful for a person in those early stages of recovery from an addiction. Because the very hardest part of coming out of addiction is that first short period of time the first days the first hours the first weeks, the first months are ridiculously challenging, they are incredibly challenging your body is literally fighting you at every stage. If you've ever been on a diet, if you've ever tried to fast, you know exactly what I'm talking about here, your body is literally fighting you telling you do this thing, do it right now drop everything. There's been psychological studies where people will they cheat last they lie last, you know, when they know they're being observed than when they know they are not being observed. So, so having a sense of literally a god observing you. So I think that had a huge part of this as well. But to tie this, tie this up kind of the heart of your question, one of my very, very early doubts long before deconversion. But one of the things that really made me stop and go, Huh, was several years later, my mom went to a dentist appointment. And they gave her a very strong concoction of I believed Valium, but something enough to knock her out. And when she came home, even after the medication had worn off, she was describing having an epiphany, as she was describing having another experience with Jesus. And it was, again, a very early doubt, I didn't hadn't given myself very much permission to really think about this deeply. But I, I was skeptical, I was like, Come on, Mom, you're under heavy amount of value. You have to know that that was affecting your experience at that moment in time. And what I'm trying to get across now, with all of this 2020 hindsight, is that's what it always is. If you're in the middle of a Pentecostal service, and the music's going, and people are raising their hands, and everybody's yelling and screaming, you're high on your own supply, you are having a dopamine experience. And I've come to understand that I can explain all of my spiritual experiences, I can explain my mom's experiences in very natural, perfectly human explanations. And if there is a natural explanation that tightly fits the data. That's the best explanation. Does that answer your question? I've been talking for a long time.

Sam Devis  27:17  
Yeah, no, that's good. I think the the only kind of thing I wanted you to pick up on then was the sort of kind of grace, whether it's Christian secular humanism, or just grace on his own life, how would you how would you fit that?

David Ames  27:29  
Thank you for reminding me, I keep quoting and I'm going to just keep doing this. James Croft, who is the Ethical Society of Missouri leader. And he recently went to the open DivX conference that was about basically a ecumenical look at spirituality. But after that conference, he in a tweet, just literally 280 characters was able to capture something that I've been attempting to describe for years. And he said, The secular entails the religious, and what I believe he means and what I definitely mean is, if I'm correct, if the natural is what we experience, religion is a human experience. Religion is absolutely a human cultural phenomena. It is something that we want, we want to collectively as Anthony Penn says, collectively search for meaning and truth together. That's religion. And we add on spiritual elements, we add on a metaphysic. That may or may not be true. But what I'm trying to argue is that religion is a very natural thing for humans to do. So having set that up? Absolutely. It is just grace. What I'm trying to differentiate when I say secular, is that I do not mean in a spiritual direction in a metaphysical direction towards a deity, an external mind of some kind. It is between human beings. My argument is that the best things about Christianity the best things about religion in general, are the people in 2020. If you're a believer, what do you miss by watching streaming church service? Is it God missing? Or is it the people? Do you miss being at the potluck? Do you miss being shoulder to shoulder with one another and coffee afterwards chatting about your week? It is the human element. That is what gives us that grace. Even when we talk about the elements of confession, confessing one sin and accountability. It's still really you experienced that more with other human beings than you do alone in your prayer closet. And so what I'm saying is, it's been the human beings they are the magic. They are the spirituality. They are the the thing we've been seeking. We are the thing we've been seeking all along.

Daniel  29:59  
Awesome. So it's a people shaped tool rather than God shaped tool.

David Ames  30:04  
I've said those exact words we do not have, we have a people shaped hole that absolutely is spot on

Daniel  30:22  
for you, as you've know, left behind faith as you've adopted this natural worldview, how do you engage with something like spirituality? Because it seems to be that people either go one of two ways. It's either though that's, that's behind me that's all fictitious, and I can't even touch this stuff. And others sort of find a, a different kind of spirituality, a more personal a more psychological one, where have you sort of found yourself in that?

David Ames  30:57  
That's a great question. I've multiple times on the podcast, have struggled with just the verbiage. The word spirituality is going to scare half the odd or not half. But you know, a portion of the audience is going to be like, I don't want anything to do with that. Whether that is because they are hardcore atheists, or whether they have been burned so badly, by either the church or a new age experience, or what have you, they're just don't want anything to do with the word spirituality at all. On the other side of the equation, I've got listeners who are actively, you know, still seeking in some way or another, they are not, they are not closed off to a metaphysical spirituality, something beyond the natural, something transcendent from the natural. For me, I like to just be very clear that when I use the term spiritual soul, I am talking about very human things, very naturalistic things. So when I talk about spirituality, I talk about all which we've briefly touched on already this, that all is absolutely 100%, a human experience, and also a physical one, in that there's been neuroscience where you know, they can wave a magnet over your head, and you experience God, right? If that's possible, then that indicates very, very strongly a physical experience of what we often term as spiritual. So all as something that I think we should seek after, and that will be different for each person, that might be meditation. For me, it is, again, being out in nature, looking at the cosmos, having the literal experience of being small, and witnessing something larger than myself. And I think these are really important, I think humility, falls out of the experience of awe, that humility is the correct response to recognizing the true relative state of you as one individual, and humanity as a whole, or the cosmos as a whole, right? It's a natural response. The B and the ABCs is belonging. I think we're witnessing this in real time in the UK and the United States of our tribal nature as human beings, that we need to belong to a group. This is the real challenge for secular people on the other side of deconversion is, you know, we found each other online, there's there's lots of online connectivity, but finding one another in real life, breathing the same air after COVID is really important. And I'm hopeful that we can facilitate that a bit more as we move on. We've had this discussion about recognizing you're not the only one, going through a deconversion process, even that gives you a sense of belonging. I think, in the mid 2000s, with the four horsemen, there was a huge movement of atheists. Now, I have some criticisms about that, I think that they made some mistakes, they made some errors, but there was suddenly a, Hey, I'm an atheist, and like that meant something you belonged to something and, and prior that, that you may have been very unwilling to say that or it was a much smaller group of people who were open and out about that. whatever label you care to use for yourself, whether you're an agnostic, whether your spiritual and not religious or religious but not spiritual, wherever you're at, you can find a group of people who you can have a sense of belonging with. And then that last one is the secular Grace concept is that connection. And this is that human to human connectivity of being vulnerable with another person and then accepting the vulnerability of someone else with grace, kindness, active listening. One of The things that is kind of the heart of this podcast is, I'm just listening. And sometimes I'm the first person that someone is telling their deconstruction deconversion story too. And you guys don't the listener, you don't get to see the video, but I can see in their eyes, like one of the reasons I have video on is that there's this human connection taking place. And even if, you know, they don't break down in tears, that's not my goal. But I can see that like, the catharsis as they're telling that story, I hope that you can hear it. But it is just that another human being recognizing their story recognizing the experience that they have had. So these ABCs, this idea of secular spirituality, I think does provide a sense of wholeness, a sense of, I'm okay, I'm gonna make it a sense of, I'm not broken. My humanity is normal. I'm well within the bounds of normality. I'm not alone in this, to answer a question you haven't asked. But back to Sam's question about what has changed. I had Bart Campolo, on who really challenged me on this to basically say, you know, I was trying to say, you know, this, I think this is universal, these ABCs of spirituality. And he was like, no, not everybody. Growth element for me is to recognize that some people, the idea of spirituality, whether secular or not, is just a no go, it's a, they're not going to be interested ever. And I think that's okay. If you're satisfied with your life, and you have a sense of purpose, and meaning on your own, whatever you call that, that's absolutely fine. One of my criticisms of some spiritualities that can be secular or not, is the almost proselytizing nature of them. So ironically, what I'm saying is, I think this is a valid secular spirituality, but take it or leave it is absolutely does not affect me, if you don't think it works. You don't find it interesting or compelling. Wonderful, that's fine.

Daniel  37:33  
Well, I mean, just to move on from there, because, you know, you're absolutely right, in terms of that connection. And I think what has been so fantastic in your podcast is sort of having all these different stories, which, you know, for me, as I was listening to them, I could recognize elements in people's stories. Like, yes, that's exactly it. That was, that was my experience. And we we sort of see these, these patterns, these the similarities across some of these deconversion stories. I mean, what for you Have you really learned about the deconversion process? As you've had all these different conversations with people?

David Ames  38:15  
Yeah, I'll start with what I've learned over the whole time, and that is that the experiences are radically diverse, because the people are radically diverse. People come from completely different faith traditions, that had a different focus or a different barrier to entry or barrier to exit. Some people experience trauma in this process, in the church itself, that some people don't, that some people it's a very rational process of truth seeking. And for some people, it's emotional. For some people it's it's a moral disagreement or argument. Early on, I wrote a blog post called How to de convert in tennis, easy steps, and the title was supposed to be tongue in cheek. Unfortunately, it's one of those things where it's kind of an important posts, so I've kept it. I haven't renamed it yet. But that was my early attempt to describe some of the process that happens. And to describe how your sense of cognitive dissonance or your cognitive biases are playing in each step of this game, again, I'll just reiterate that I've learned over the years that any attempt to classify to delineate steps is kind of a fool's errand and in that sense, it is admittedly wildly incomplete and inaccurate. And at the same time, I think that it does convey something that like you just said, down You know, that tries to get at common experiences that people have. And it talks about these moments of what I call precipitating events, right like this, this can be, for me that one of the precipitating events was what I just described with my mom going to the dentist, wait a minute, that can't be right. I've heard a number of analogies for these AMI, Logan says putting that on the shelf, right? I'm just going to, I can't deal with this right now I'm just going to put that on the shelf. Another analogy that that I've heard is the exceptions to the rule of faith. However you describe these, it's just these moments throughout your believing life where something does not quite add up, it is a blip in the matrix. And you probably aren't prepared to deal or cope with that yet. But you acknowledge that that's not quite right, and you move on with your life. And eventually, you have a lot of these. Eventually, there are so many of them that you can't keep track of them. And I call that the critical mass stage, at this point, you are really feeling the exhaustion of cognitive dissonance. It is wearing you down, you may not be conscious of that fact. But you are experiencing it. And this is what often Christians will call the dark night of the soul. Right? This is the real doubt. And you're going to come out the other side and have a deeper faith once you've learned these apologetics strategies. But what if, what if those answers aren't sufficient to you? And this next step I call permission to doubt and I love X christian.net has a post about this and they called it curiosity kills the cat. I love that that absolutely captures it. The moment you say to yourself, you're not saying I'm an atheist, yet, you're not saying I'm not a Christian yet, you're just saying, Alright, these doubts are real, I'm gonna go look, I'm gonna go check out a YouTube video, I'm gonna go read a blog post, I'm going to read a book that is maybe slightly critical of Christianity, or Islam or Hinduism, or whatever your faith tradition is. It's just that first step. And I can see in my life, long before deconversion started to follow an atheist or to just to hear what they had to say. I read Sam Harris's book, a letter to a Christian nation very early, thought he was an angry atheist and had no I didn't want anything to do with them, right. But I was willing to do those things. And prior to that, I wasn't. That is a slippery slope, I got bad news for you. Once you start that process, it is very hard to stop. And eventually, you have to come to grips with this. This is what I call that deconstruction phase. And I do use the words deconstruction and deconversion. as separate technical terms, a lot of people, I think, overlap those. In other words, I don't think they're synonyms. I think deconstruction is on the way to deconversion. And it is also possible to live in a deconstructed faith and still be a believer, indefinitely for as long as you care to do so. deconstruction is the process of becoming less fundamentalist, it is the process of determining within your own faith tradition, what is true, what is metaphorically true, and what is flat out just not true at all. But I think that deconstruction is a step towards deconversion that for those of us who do finally come to a point to say, I no longer believe, at all, deconstruction was just a point in time. along that process. I used to say that I hadn't deconstructed and that was just full blown lies. My theology liberalized my interpretation of the Bible. I don't think I was ever a hardcore an artist, because I just didn't think that was sustainable. But I gave was authoritative. It had a strong authority and that weekend for me over time, as as I learned more and more things that were in the Bible that just weren't historically accurate in any way. And one of the last steps for me was acknowledging this idea of a soul of having something metaphysically different than my body. Went as I was recognizing that, you know, if I take medication, if I have a lack of oxygen, if I get hit in the head too hard, that I affects my personality, it affects who I am as a person, and ultimately could lead to death. And that seems not to be separate from my physical body. For me, that was the moment and boom, I was done. Back to the 10 steps. So deconstruction was one of those steps, I talked about a liminal phase that you can be, you literally can be in between one day, I'm a believer the next day, I don't, that can go on for an indeterminate amount of time. But eventually, for those of us who do D convert, you may have a moment of what I call self honesty, of recognizing, I have to admit to myself, that I no longer believe. And just a quick note, that's my preferred way to describe this, I hate saying I lost my faith, I know where it was. I admitted to myself that I no longer believed, I admitted to myself, that the intensity of the claims of Christianity that I believed, weren't upheld by the evidence, weren't supported by even a modicum of Skeptical Inquiry into what the Bible has to say into comparative religion. For me, it was about recognizing that I thought of Mormons, I thought of Scientologists, I thought of the Heaven's Gate people as crazy. Right, that's insane what they believe. And it was a moment of recognition that they think that what I believe is insane. And it is, it is just that breakage of one's myopia of only looking at your faith tradition of only looking at what you believe, and taking even a tiny step back to look at the slightly bigger picture. That has a devastating effect. My recommendation for everyone, if you are in the middle of a deconstruction process, is listened to apologists of other faiths of other traditions. Listen to a Mormon apologist, listen to a Scientologist apologist, listen to a Hari Krishna apologist, listen to an Islamic apologist, what you will be shocked by is both the similarities and differences, there will be very, very similar arguments coming to radically different conclusions. And if they are using the same argument, coming to a different conclusion, there may be a problem with the argument. And so again, I just recommend, take a step back, do a comparative religion class audit one, right? It will do wonders for your ability to look at it outside of the bubble right outside of that reinforcing bubble. There are some more more steps, but you can go check out the blog post, ultimately concluding with what we talked about earlier of coming to a point of what can I do now? Not just purpose and meaning for me, but what can I give back to the world? What can I do to positively impact the people around me? That was a very long answer to your question, Daniel.

Daniel  48:18  
No, it was, it's fantastic to to hear just an articulation of that process. Because, yeah, I think as I've listened to the various episodes, you sort of see that there's a buildup, there's a discomfort. And I think there's often a misconception amongst many people of faith that always something bad happens, and that cause people to question. And usually what I see is, there is a change. But usually it's because that change means that some of the answers which worked in the past, just don't work anymore.

David Ames  48:55  
Thank you for bringing that up. I had neglected to mention that, particularly when you tell your story to a believer in your life, or a pastor, even worse, they are going to focus on whatever the last straw was the thing you mentioned of, and then I decided I no longer want to, and they are going to blast whatever that last thing was right. But what is really important to recognize is that anytime we change our mind, in particular about something so profound as one's religious beliefs are one's identity. That is a very long process. It was not one thing. It was 1000 things. And my favorite analogy of this is the idea of a phase transition. If you raise the temperature in a pot of water, it looks the same for a very, very long time until it starts to bubble and eventually turns in to a steam. What we tend to focus on is that bubbling and steam part of the story, when in fact that temperature has been raising for a very, very long time, small, incremental imperceivable changes in your opinion have been occurring. And so even I, in telling the story earlier was talking about pinpoint moments are pinpoint ideas that changed for me, but it was truly 1000s of changes of mind that led to that moment of, I no longer believe.

Daniel  50:32  
And I guess, you know, obviously, there's a lot more in your blog about the different steps. But I think obviously, for most people, the actual step of, I no longer believe, and I'm going to start living a life that reflects that lack of belief, because, you know, for myself, and I've heard that for many others, there's sort of that, that phase where you're going to church, and you feel that like a little bit of an outsider. And then that next step of actually telling people, I no longer believe, and it's often sort of the most difficult part of the journey, although, as you say, it will be so varied in terms of the different experiences for different people, some might feel instant relief and release from that. others it may be a more difficult process, you know, in terms of from what you've seen from other people, what are some of the crucial things that you, you think can help people move from that step of starting to live in that place of unbelief and coping with some of the social changes that brings through to the point where we talked about earlier where it's sort of okay, now, how can I help others?

David Ames  51:47  
Daniel, I'm glad that you brought that up, we are back to the blogpost a bit, I talked about being in and out of the closet, you might have that moment of recognition, the moment of clarity moment of honesty, I no longer believe, and it can take a very long time before you tell another human being. And I actually recommend that you do take as much time as you need, I really like to point out, safety is number one. So if you are a young person, and you live in a very religious household, where potentially you could be kicked out or you know, have negative consequences, you are under no obligation to tell someone, if you live in a country where admitting that you don't believe is physically insecure for you. You only have to be honest with yourself, you owe no one, anyone else anything. I recommend that you are internally honest with yourself that you don't lie to yourself anymore, that you recognize how you had been fooling yourself. Having said all of that, telling another human being is deeply catharsis, back to our discussion of secular grace and that connection, it might be easier to tell a perfect stranger, I don't recommend that you on day to do the Facebook posts to the world, that's a bad idea. And you should take a long time to consider the impact. And it may be that eventually you want to tell friends and family who are believers, that is a fraught process, they have done none of the process that you have they've done none of the deconstruction they've done. None of the doubting none of the research, none of the work yet, and you're going to hit them out of the blue, with what to them is the most devastating news they can imagine. So you should be ready. Again, back to what Brian Peck talked about. If this is an abusive relationship, you don't owe them anything. And you don't need to tell them anything. If it's a relationship that you want to keep, that you feel is valuable, eventually, you probably should be honest with that person. And you will probably have to be the bigger person. I hate to tell you that. But that is the truth. Because it's going to come at them from out of nowhere, and they are not prepared, how to handle that. It's a very rare person who can hear that news and immediately be just accepting, right? I recommend telling a good friend if you happen to have a secular friend that's personalized start with if you are really lucky, and you know someone who's gone through a deconversion process, man run to that person, you know, buy them a beer or coffee or the beverage of their choice, and spend three hours with them. It will do wonders for you. And then this idea of being public about this. I kind of I call back to what I said earlier about content creators. You don't have to be public. You don't have to be a non believer or an atheist or an agnostic on the internet. That isn't your job, right. Many many, many people the vast, vast mature already who have either D converted? Or were non believers from the get go. Don't talk about it almost ever. So you don't need to wear I am an atheist t shirt every day right? is good if you are able to be honest, in a scenario if somebody asks you, you know, if you're at a cocktail party and someone says, you know, do you believe, it'd be great if you eventually come to the point where you feel comfortable enough to say, No, I don't. And maybe that will prompt a conversation. But again, you don't owe anyone. So I do think that that telling another human being is a significant step in the process to wholeness for you as a human being. And then, one more step towards what you were talking about getting to a point where you're giving back is doing some research, doing all the things that have been off the table, reading some ethics, reading some philosophy, reading, some science, and even reading the ancient texts of other faiths. Again, this idea of, we were so myopic, that we could not recognize the human wisdom in other faiths. And now I'm not saying that other faith traditions, texts are authoritative in any way or divine in any way. I'm just saying, the collective wisdom of humanity over the millennia is worth taking a look. At we have all been winging it, we've all been trying to answer these questions forever. And learning about how other people or other cultures have attempted to answer these questions in the past can be very useful. Lastly, I think is that looking for a group to belong with, if all you can do is online, great. And my recommendation is to try to find more than just a text base, like, you know, there's 1001 Facebook groups, and they're wonderful. But if you can say, Hey, can you you know, join a zoom call with me for a half hour or an hour, just I just need to vent that will go a long way to feeling her to feeling connection, to feeling like a whole human being. And my hope is post COVID-19 Post lockdowns and things that more secular communities thrive. There are a number of examples of these like Sunday Assembly, various ethical societies. meetup.com is a great way you can just query deconversion, you can query atheists you can query deconstruction. And you might find groups that are virtual right now that eventually will become in person groups. And I highly recommend that as well. And again, back to this idea of you grow as a human being. What I'm suggesting is not new, it's not special. We grow as a human being. And at some point, we recognize I have something valuable to give to other people. When that recognition occurs, you find ways to give back you find out what it is that you can do, and go do it.

Sam Devis  58:03  
So powerful, I find the whole idea of you giving something back is potentially you being involved in these groups when you're ready to. And as you say, it's been really hard being remote and stuff. I know I've recently joined a recent joined a foraging group, and it's impossible to do forging virtually so at some point, it'd be nice to actually be able to do that in person.

I kind of wanted to move the conversation on to humanism, which is something that you've spoken about before. David, I know you've got views on the selfish, obviously, this is why I want to push into it. Something that I've been wrestling with recently, I kind of want to push into that, and then we can kind of you can take over and let me know. Your thoughts essentially, is the idea that humanism could be I'm not saying it is I'm saying it could be so we can have the conversation but it could be rooted in some regards within a sort of Christian framework. So obviously, I don't mean kind of just a classic. You know, everything is right within Christianity, therefore humanism is right, correct. What I mean is the idea of loving other people to the extent of self sacrifice, the idea of kind of, of grace, as we view it as today in the 21st century. And lots of different things than humanism could be viewed to be kind of like linked to the sort of early church and the way they expressed love and unity and caring for the poor and all these sorts of things which were looked on with kind of like a bit of confusion and bewilderment like why are these people so obsessed with orphans or whatever like this doesn't make sense these people have no meaning within our culture. So why are we given the meaning and the humanism obviously I can I can look back before Christianity a humanist has its roots in these things as well but I kind of felt humanism really blew up and especially today, sort of 21st century humanism we see. Feels very Christian. It feels very sort of Christian without any kind of Christ in it at all. And I want to get your take on on what you think humanism is, where its bedrock is placed, and How, how it's linked to this idea of Christianity.

David Ames  1:00:03  
I thank you for asking that question. I think that's really interesting. And I'm going to answer from two different perspectives. So one is John Gray's criticism of humanism, that says just what you said that we are borrowing too much from Christianity, that humanism can tend toward a teleological progressivism meaning that things are just constantly getting better that they improve over time. And then secondly, I'm going to answer the apologetic criticism that humanism borrows from Christianity and Christianity invented these things. So first John Grace idea, I always feel like I'm late to the party to things, I feel like I was late to the party for humanism, and that I am kind of trying to define humanism on my own terms, which is really just what I was doing in Christianity. So I'm just doing the same bad habits over and over again. First of all, let me just say one of the goals of my work is to bring humanity into humanism. You've heard me in a derogatory sense, talk about rationality bros. And there is an element of humanism that, and I jokingly, I love professors, but jokingly say, conjures the professor with a tweed jacket at Oxford, right? You know, pontificating from his high tower. And that's wonderful. I love philosophy, I love I love Oxford. I love all those things. But I also want to express the fullness of the human experience. This involves our intuition, our emotions, our daily experiences, I want a humanism that lives breathes, sweats and bleeds, right. And so that's what I'm trying to get at when I talk about secular grace. Back to the criticism about the teleology, in that I don't recognize that humanism. I am progressive in my my politics, but I am, in particular, in the last few years, the first to tell you that every movement forward, quote, unquote, that we see as a forward movement is not guaranteed to stay that way, that we could lose what we have any minute for any reason that there is nothing guiding this. And with all due respect, and apologies to Martin Luther King, Jr. If the arc of the moral universe is bending towards justice, it does so only to the extent that we bend it, and it is susceptible to springing back at any second. So when John Gray criticizes the teleology that is, in some versions of humanism, I don't recognize that at all. What I think is important is that after that deconversion process, and recognizing that human beings are of the greatest worth. And I'll mention here just briefly, I just assert that I'm not trying to justify that in a philosophical sense. I'm just taking that as given. That's my axiom. And then I live my life based on that axiom. But given I take that as an axiom, then what do I do with that? How do I love people? How do I respond to people, but nothing about that suggests that I will be successful, nothing about that suggests that that justice will prevail. Nothing about that suggests that racism and hatred and tribalism and war will stop tomorrow, nothing about that. But what has changed is I now have a deep, profound personal sense of responsibility for my tiny part in that process. Whereas before, there was a sovereign God, it was God's responsibility for justice, not mine, I was incapable of bringing about justice. I'm still incapable of bringing about justice, but I still feel the weight of my responsibility in doing so. So that's the atheistic critique. What I hear often from the apologist is humanism is derivative. It gets everything from Christianity. And the short answer to that is, so what shouldn't Christians be happy about that? I find that I find this a really bizarre argument to start with, right. I freely admit that when I use the term grace, I am borrowing people's understanding from Christianity. As I said earlier, when I say the term secular grace, people either get it immediately, and that is something they want or don't want, or I couldn't explain if I had five hours to explain it to you. And I am borrowing on their intuitions from having learned what grace means within the Christian context. I'm tacking on that secular part. I could call it humanistic grace, human grace in some other way, right. But I unashamedly borrow that I could make the argument I do make the argument that This isn't derivative. I think it's a huge claim that Christian apologists make when they say that. No other cultures valued human life until Christianity, that is a claim that can be tested. I am not a historian. So I'm not going to weigh in too deeply. I am deeply skeptical of that claim. I think we could find pockets of cultures that deeply valued human life. Maybe they didn't write it down. We don't we, you know, we don't know that. So in that sense, I think that is an unfair reaction. But my first response is really the one that's the most important. So what what I've been saying is, back to James Croft, that the secular entails the religious that religion is a human phenomena. If religion is a human phenomenon, and Christianity is a human phenomenon, whatever wisdom is entailed there, I'm going to take without guilt whatsoever and use it without feeling like I have to take all of it, I can acknowledge all the bad parts of Christianity, and take the good parts. Because I'm not obligated to live within that framework. Number one, I find that argument really weird from the Christian perspective, and then two, I don't care much. And three, I fully acknowledge that I steal from people's understanding of what grace means. And I don't feel bad about it.

Sam Devis  1:06:36  
was watching a video recently on Twitter as you do? And it was this video of these three gorillas, right? There was this, this is mom gorilla that was holding this like this little baby down and there's dad grills coming up the baby. And it was just basically blowing raspberries onto the baby gorillas tummy. And they're all giggling, all of them will often heads off. And I was like, Oh, sugar, I'm a gorilla, because that's precisely what I do. And there was something in this this sweetly, she said, like there's something human about this. And Daniel, a little while ago was sharing this story about basically this, this group of whales that were swimming along, and they're all going this sort of like swimming in this way that isn't normally expected. And basically, after kind of looking at them, they realized that one of the mothers had a dead baby under under her arm, I don't know what they're called fin. And they're all going along, basically together. And there's a really unusual pattern of behaviors, almost like they were mourning or grieving the loss of this young one. And I just find this like this, like so for me. I'm like, of course, my children have value and worth and humans have value and worth and I want to go, where does that come from? And obviously, that used to be going obviously, God gave it to us. That's the obvious answer. But the more I explore the world, the more I kind of go, Okay, this there seems to be this innate desire in all of us to, and I still think it's subjective, but there's this innate subjective desire within all of us to find that joy, and that comfort and that almost humaneness within that which we call family or friend, it's, it's incredible, really, when you when you look at this world,

David Ames  1:08:05  
two really important things one, my family loves to watch nature shows. And I'm constantly amazed at the mammalian human nature, right? At the beginning of PBS has nature, they show a clip of a mama monkey, with a baby monkey, and the baby monkey starts to dive off off a tree limb and she reaches out and snatches its leg back. And like the exasperation in the expression of the mama, and it's just such a parental aspect, it just brings So and then, you know, every time they show with a lioness and her cubs, and the cubs are irritating the snot out her and it's just, it's such you, every parent can recognize these things. It's so we, we can deeply recognize our human experience within the mammalian kingdom. It's just it's amazing. So, so that, and then I wanted to just jump off a little bit about wanting to have value for our own humanity for our children's humanity. I kind of threw this line away earlier about that. I just assert that. Again, an argument that I find really bizarre, that we often have with believers, particularly apologists, is they are effectively saying, you can't justify being good to other people, you can't justify human value. And to which I think, What a bizarre thing to say, shouldn't you rejoice that I see value in other human beings? Shouldn't that be the goal? What Why aren't you like excited to come alongside with me? And regardless of our metaphysics and justification, love people, let's go do good in the world. I just I find it utterly bizarre. I have no problem working with a believer, a pastor an Imam, anyone who Who wants to do good, and love people and actually affect suffering in the world? I am 100% behind those people, I do not care what your metaphysic is, right? So it is bizarre to me that the argument is that we can't justify this, but this is constant. So having said all that, one of the things that I've really come to learn is when people do convert as particularly the rationally minded, very, maybe slightly more educated tend to lean towards the philosophical bent. And what I see when you go deeply down that road, is everyone is trying to find the metaphysic that is self justifying. Christians make the argument that God is a brute fact, naturalist make the argument that the physical universe is a brute fact, I leaned towards that naturalistic argument, but I am almost as unconvinced by the philosophical arguments for naturalism, as I am for the philosophical arguments for theism. And my point is, everything has axioms, everything has a presupposition. And my problem that I have with most conversations is that those presuppositions and axioms are on both sides of the conversation. But they are unstated, they are not explicit, they are implicit. And so we are talking past one another. So what I like to do is just say, here are my presuppositions. I think the physical universe exists, I think humans have value. Now, what do we do, right, and jump from there. And you could spend a lifetime trying to argue to justify those positions, and only convince people who already agree with you. And I want to be very clear, this is nuanced, what I'm trying to say, if you're a philosopher, that's wonderful, that's important work. Don't get me wrong. But for the vast majority of us who are not philosophers, that isn't our job, you don't need to spend the time wasting trying to justify why you think people are valuable. Just accept that and move on. So again, I just want to be super clear here for the very, very smart philosophers who are listening to the podcast, you're doing great work. I'm not saying don't do that. I'm saying that isn't my job. My job is trying to express the humanity of humanism and how we can apply it in the real world. That's what I do.

Sam Devis  1:12:34  
Cool. It's really interesting. I think this is this sort of about isn't it's about hearing, hearing your views and how things have either been really reinforced or shifted and changed. I think that's really powerful.

You've mentioned a few times actually, that sort of the way that we view the sort of landscape of faith or the landscape of even deconversion to some levels, which is almost like a cathedral where, where we're looking at this pillar, we're looking at this sort of stained glass window or trying to lay the rug down a different way. But actually, more often than not, is the thing that this cathedral was built upon. That is the sort of area you want to dig into and, and explore. And I wonder, could you kind of just pop that open for us and explain that a little bit more, David?

David Ames  1:13:22  
Yeah, I've tried to express this analogy a few times. And thank you for the opportunity. What I'm trying to convey in this is that Christianity is a deeply compelling idea. It's a deeply compelling story. And I've talked about before, the idea of laying your life down for someone you love, whether that comes from Christianity or predates, it really doesn't matter. But we inherit that in in Western culture that is so deep in our psyche. And I often refer to, you know, if you watch any movie about a dog, I mean, it's just absolutely conveying sacrifice. And, you know, any movie about war, you know, pulling your body out, you know, just recently lovely Netflix show, built on a very controversial short, short story called stowaway, that's called stowaway. And in the Netflix version, the female astronaut sacrifices herself. And it's just what I'm trying to get out of this is so deep in our psyche, that when you then tell the story of Jesus dying on the cross, it speaks to us at this deep level that we're just unconscious of where it intuitively reaches out to us in a way that is deeply compelling. And so I use this analogy of the cathedral to say that Christianity is like this beautiful cathedral. It has flying buttresses and turrets and stained glass windows. And it's just, it's just beautiful. It's deeply compelling. And some of the conversations that we have on this side of the conversion with believers This is arguments over, where, you know, should this turret be here on the west side or should be on the east side, we're arguing about this miracle or that miracle, we're arguing about speaking in tongues, or Calvinism or in this maybe goes back to John Grace criticism, we are ceding the grounds to the Christian by having the argument in their space, we are debating the cathedral. And the point that I want to make is that the cathedral is beautiful, we can acknowledge the cathedral is beautiful, and also acknowledged that the foundation has problems, the foundation is built on things that are not true. And the claims that Christianity makes, and the evidence that they provide to back up those claims don't match. But what I'm trying to say here is nuanced. I'm not saying that there is no evidence, I'm saying the evidence, such as it is, is completely incapable of matching the intensity, the uniqueness of the claim. Often, apologists will want to have it both ways. While Jesus was an itinerant preacher, in the rural parts of Israel, of course, we don't have much documentation about him. Oh, but the documentation that we have clearly clearly indicates that the resurrection took place. And the dearth of contemporary historical evidence is negative evidence, right? It's not proof, but it is negative evidence. And so we have to take that into account. The fact that, since the enlightenment, we have been trying to prove miracles, we've been trying to prove anything supernatural, ESP, there are huge incentives to do. So. The Templeton Foundation is set up purely to give grants to people who can try to prove spiritual things in any way or another. I can tell you that from a scientific perspective, they have not been successful. And again, huge sums of money are at stake here. That is not that the incentives are not there. And imagine if they had imagine if a double blind study about intercessory prayer showed a significant a statistically significant change. Imagine what you would hear from believers, that would be the first thing they told you every time you talk to them. The fact that they cannot do that is because there is no statistical significance. If they know about it, it's the placebo effect or no better than the placebo effect. And if it's double blind, there's no effect whatsoever. And so that is negative evidence. It is disconfirming evidence, and we need to take that. So my point is that we can acknowledge the beauty of the internal story of Christianity, and also acknowledged that the claims that it makes are not backed up by evidence. And if you come to the point where evidence is important to you, you might be justified in rejecting the claims of Christianity. I came to that point. And I think one of the descriptions of deconversion is the slow increase of your standard for evidence. I can't help but quote it. I've been reading I'm almost done with Carl Sagan ins demon haunted world. And before I had read this, I you know, I talked to Randall browser. And you could just hear the vitriol from Randall Randall. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he does not like curl. So I didn't get it. I was like, I don't get why, right. And now that I've read this book, I get it. He just dismantles the apologetic arguments. And he's not even addressing Christianity directly. He's addressing specifically the analogy of the potential existence of aliens, which is possible, but we have no evidence for he addresses things like New Age claims, homeopathic claims. And he talks about the excruciating ly high standards that science has, for what things are true, and why that's so necessary. And so one of the things I want to say to the apologetic classes, the question is not why is my standard of evidence so high? I'm not being unfair to you. I'm trying to be consistent. The things that I accept as true have high degrees of evidence for them. And the question is, why isn't your standard that high? Imagine if theism was true. And a god was intervening in our lives on a daily basis, what that world would look like if we had evidence of an interventionist theistic God You wouldn't be a question you wouldn't have to doubt. That is not the world that we live in. That's one of the things that I that I say is my God, the God that I've used to believe in. And the reason I don't believe in that God anymore is that he was bigger than the apologist. God, the apologists have neutered God, they have God in a box they have God is they understand him, and they can explain away every disparity, every question that you have has an explanation, that God that I thought of as real, was infinite, all powerful, all loving, intervened in our lives, conducted miracles. But as I became willing to acknowledge the reality of the world that I lived in, I had to acknowledge that that is not the world that I actually see.

Daniel  1:21:05  
One, and this might be quite a difficult question. But obviously, for a lot of people have one really key thing that comes from their faith is how they deal with the topic of death, had to deal with grief, how they how they deal with collective trauma, I mean, even even now, we're sort of recording this near the end of COVID lockdown, or at least what we hope is the end of COVID lockdown. But I saw that, as it started, the Google search term for prayer spiked. And, you know, it seems a lot of anthropologists have looked at sort of how times of trauma, both on an individual and the collective scale seems to drive this drive people towards faith. So now coming out on the other end, and looking from that sort of secular that human, our human natural position, how do you engage with questions like death and grief,

David Ames  1:22:10  
I want to just respond very quickly to the 2020 COVID-19. I will be very fascinated over the next 10 years to find out, the D conversions go up. But I don't doubt at all that also, many more people will become religious, that it is kind of an either or you either do one or the other. We are looking for comfort. And again, to talk about the cathedral. It is comforting. I'm not I'm not trying to pretend like it isn't. It is comforting to believe that God has your back that he's going to protect you. Someone I love very dearly, often will say, Oh, this good thing happened because I prayed about it. And I don't challenge them. But in my mind, the first question I asked myself is what would you have said, if that hadn't happened? What would you have said if something deeply negative happened instead. So we tend to count the hits and not count the misses when it comes to that. I believe that many, many more people will become religious as well. It'll be very curious to see the studies over the next 10 years. The topic of death, I think is so deeply important. I wrote a blog post called the beginning of religion is death. And this was a few months after I lost my mom. So I D converted in 2015 and 2016 I lost my mom. So it was very real. This is not a philosophical debate. It was the utter lack of being able to fool myself into any comforting thoughts whatsoever. She was gone, I no longer will ever get to speak to her again. I no longer will ever hear her voice, hear her laughter be frustrated and mad at her I will never again have any of those experiences because she is gone. And the full weight of that hit me with a few years hindsight, I recognize that that also meant I was able to grieve I was able to let go of her. I love in Sasha seconds book. The book is for small creatures such as we she talks about, we kind of experience two deaths, the physical death that we experience. And then the last person who knew us who dies. You know, this idea of, of life after death is kind of true like we live on my mom lives on in my memory. I tell stories about my mom to my children. They have some sense of her. They knew her as young children as well. They have some sense of her. But someday, they will grow up and they will die. And their children will only have stories about my mom and someday those stories will Just stop, and no one will remember her, I someday will go down in obscurity and no one will have any idea who I was or what, what I had to say. And this is psychologically very, very, very difficult to accept. Number one, that that I will cease to be that I will no longer be living, that my personhood will stop, that there is no life after death. And to that, the massive odds are that no one will know my name in 100 years, that I will die in obscurity. A second death as it were. The thing I want to acknowledge, again, going back to the cathedral is, this idea of life after death is so profoundly human. When believers sometimes say that, that religion is in every culture, and every time and in every people group, and that kind of rationalist atheists have argued against that I often just agree with them. I think you're right, because it's a deeply comforting thing. And I think the beginning of the ideas of religion is coping with those two things, I will cease to be, and my loved ones have ceased to be and I will no longer ever get to see them again. These are hard, hard truths. And we are looking for anything to make that more comfortable. What I want to bring up here is that this is not just a religious thing, I've been really struck and actually took notes about this. Lately, I'm a huge, huge sci fi fan. So I'm constantly like, looking for the latest, dreaming sci fi movie. And over the last few years, I've been struck by how many sci fi very secular non religious, sci fi movies are about getting to see your loved ones after death. Just to name a few. Jason seagulls, the discovery was this idea of a machine that could attach to a dead person and you could, it was trying to revive them. And that turned out to be just the, in the in the movie physics, it just turned out to be just their memories. But it was this deep needs to be able to talk again with your loved ones. Movie just recently on Amazon Prime called archive where the idea that conceit is that you have archived the consciousness of someone after they die, and you get to say your goodbyes for some extended period of time, before they are turned off. Time travel movies recently, there's one called diverged, where it was all about the guy in this post apocalyptic environment going back to the world where he was able to see his wife and children. Kind of teeny bopper movie that I loved with called the map of tiny, perfect things, which I'm gonna spoil, which ultimately turns out to be the driving impetus is a young woman who is reliving the same day that she loses her mother, her mother dies that day, and she's reliving the same day her mother dies every day, I'm all breaking down in tears thinking about this. And my point is that we have this deep need and the such profound love for the people in our lives, that we cannot accept that they are gone. And I get it, I'm empathetic. But what I'm trying to say is that the truth will set you free, that dealing with that grief, accepting the reality of the true loss, accepting the reality of of your own mortality, accepting the reality of the likelihood that you are going to die in obscurity someday, is deeply freeing. I'm not obligated to feel one way or the other about it. I can be sad, I can be angry, I can rail I can. I can feel anything I want. And I don't need to protect God in this process and say that my mom's in a better place. I don't need to protect things that I know are not true. I can just grieve. I can experience sorrow. And I can grow through that. We talked about earlier, growing as a human being. I am different. Now. I have grown as a human being after losing my mother, and it has prepared me for future losses. I don't want those I desperately want not to lose anyone. But the reality is that I will and I will be gone someday and being able to just be prepared for that is a human experience. It's a deeply important one.

Sam Devis  1:30:00  
Yeah, this is such a powerful and potent thing to be processing. I've been quite flipping with it recently and been talking about on the podcast with Daniel actually. So it won't be out for quite a while. But um, this idea that it all ends in a box. It sounds brutal when you say it, right, it sounds absolutely brutal. But actually, I think it helps you get get things into perspective a little bit more and to begin to actually work out what's important. And you know, where you want to spend your time because your time is really the only resource that you can't get more of in this world. Like, it's actually it is what is one of the things that you won't be able to, yes, store away and spend at some future date, right, you got to go to use your time today. And as soon as you get your head around that concept, you can begin to actually start living more in the now which is actually a really powerful thing, I'm sure convinced that when you guys talk to me, David, I'm going to hand back the keys to the car. I hope it's not too battered and smashes. We've wrapped it around the park a bit. But um, yeah, there you go. It's been so good talking. And I've, I've really enjoyed. Yeah, hearing your reflections and stuff. So yeah, there are the keys. Thank you.

David Ames  1:31:05  
I am gonna respond to just two things really quickly, two things that you said that really interesting that the acceptance of your mortality does bring things into stark relief. I think, again, believers make the argument that, well, if it doesn't continue on forever, then it's not worth anything. And the opposite is true. I have a much more immediate, imminent sense of my love for my family and my friends, because I know it won't last forever. And then too, there's this sense that by scientific or naturalistic view of the world will destroy your sense of wonder, and I find the opposite to be true. I am constantly amazed at the wonder of nature. We talked about recognizing the parental aspects of mammals, like just that's just amazing, you know, would you when you try to ponder the distance to the nearest star to us other than the sun, Alpha Centauri is four light years away, that there is no concept of now, both on Alpha Centauri and here at the same time, is mind boggling. I mean, I live in a constant state of wonder, the experience of hearing people's stories, having the gift of sometimes people telling me their story for the first time is Wonder inducing in me. And I just think my listeners think thank you, guys. But thank you for the opportunity to share all these stories with you today.

Daniel  1:32:34  
Thanks very much, David. Thank you.

David Ames  1:32:43  
Final thoughts on the episode, I'm actually not going to talk about this episode, I'm going to talk about the SR episode that is dropping on when belief dies. As I mentioned, there is a diversity of thought out in the world. I think it's important to highlight that. So Sam from wind to lift eyes, and I have a lot in common, we talk a lot about secular grace, both of us find it really important to be kind to the people that we are interviewing, even if they are believers or theists, then we have similar approaches. But there is daylight there. So longtime listeners, you will know about my skepticism towards meditation, you might also hear some of my skepticism about psychedelics and that kind of thing. These are things that are really important to Sam. And so the interview that Daniel and I do interviewing Sam, we delve into these, and Sam gets to explain in detail why those things are important to him. Obviously, I highly recommend when the leaf dies podcast in general, and this episode, in particular, you need to go check that out, it really does complement the episode you just listened to. I want to thank Sam and Daniel for participating in both conversations. This has been amazing. As I said at the outset, this turned out even better than I anticipated. I really appreciated the opportunity to really express myself and feel like I got it all out there. This last week, I tried out Twitter spaces for the first time and I titled it deconversion talk. I sat there by myself for about 10 or 15 minutes and I was just about to give up when a couple of people popped in and out. And there was definitely a bit of awkwardness as I was trying to figure out how to get people to participate because they didn't know they were signing on for that they thought they were just signing on to listen. One brave soul. I just want to thank her very much for responding and being willing to talk to me. And we got rolling in a conversation. She told me a bit about her deconversion experience. And it was one of those amazing connections that just out of the blue. And by having two of us talking then other people joined. Other people started participate. We had a few people who just listened but it was great And that was spontaneous. I gave a couple of hours notice, but I doubt that anyone showed up because they had seen that message, I think people just show up because they see it in the app. So the things that I learned are, I need to have at least one other person to begin the conversation with so that we jumpstart the conversation and people can join and just listen if they want. And then they can be invited to speak if, if that's interesting. And then the other is maybe to find a specific time. That is always the challenge as a lot of my free time is spent producing the podcasts. But I'm going to look for more opportunities to do this kind of thing. But the last thing I want to say here is that I just encourage you to do the same. There's nothing special about me. You can host these kinds of things as well. And whether it's on Twitter or YouTube or whatever platform you prefer. What I really recognize is the hunger and the need for people to connect. If that can happen between strangers who don't know each other and in an hour's conversation, then it is amazing if that were an ongoing, planned process. So I would encourage you to do the same. Maybe I'll join your Twitter spaces hang up. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings.

Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application. And you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on restful atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular race. You can send me an email graceful atheist@gmail.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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