Ask Me Anything 2021

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Humanism, Podcast, Religious but not Spiritual, Secular Community, Secular Grace
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Ask Me Anything 2021.

Questions from Sheila, Emily, Rick and Mark, Jimmy, Arline, Judah, and Matt.

Deconversion How To

Still Unbelievable—Deconstructing-a-Deconstruction-Deconstruction-els542—Discussing-Sean-McDowell-and-John-Marriot-on-deconversion-part-1-e195h0h

Paulogia on Babylon Bee’s ExVangelicals

Exvangelical on Evangelical response to Deconstruction

Secular Grace

Anthony Pinn

Amy Rath

Bart campolo

Why I am not an Anti-Theist

My Deconversion Sotry


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest reviewer on the Apple podcast store. Thank you to Jay eight G I ll E. I appreciate the review on the Apple podcast store. You too can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store or pod Thank you. For those of you who don't know yet, we do have the deconversion anonymous Facebook group that is a private Facebook group, there is a thriving community there, I really encourage you to participate. This will be the last episode for the 2021 calendar year, we'll have an episode that will drop on January 2. By doing every other week during the month of December, Mike and I have been able to have a bit of rest. So I hope you don't mind too much. Thanks to Mike t for all the editing in 2021. But he is off on this episode. On today's show. Today's episode is an Ask Me Anything episode. We did this kind of in a rush. I had asked for questions a couple of weeks ago, and people waited to about Wednesday of the week before I'm releasing this episode. So what you'll notice is I have some very long answers and some relatively short ones. And that it was to try to get everybody who asked the question in this is my first asked me anything. I am hoping to do more because I think this is an interesting format. So if you didn't get your question in this time around, please consider sending in a voicemail either recorded on your phone or you can use the anchored on FM app to send me your question. And I will just gather those together for the next round maybe several months from now. So today I'm going to respond to some direct questions, respond to some questions that I've had in interviews, and then a couple of other things that are just on my mind. I am going to have a bunch of links in the show notes. So when I make reference to something, I'll try to have a link for that in the show notes. So here we go.

Shiela  2:44  
Hi, David, this is Sheila from Oklahoma. My question for you today concerns apologetics. When we were believers, we were taught to always be prepared to give a defense for the hope we have in Christ. Now that we are not believers, do you feel it is equally important to defend our unbelief in the same manner?

David Ames  3:04  
That is an incredibly important question. And it's going to give me the springboard to talk about another topic that I think we need to discuss. But to answer you directly Sheila, the short answer is no. And I of course want you to learn as you go through this deconstruction process, or come out the other side of it. There are just many things you don't yet know and going and educating yourself is a vital part of that process. I'll probably be referring to this multiple times today. But I have an article called How to D convert in 10 steps. It's a joke title, unfortunately. But it does go through what I call the quest for answers stage where you are at a point where you're now free to go find out what things are true. And there are no topics which are off limits. So from that perspective, you should have an answer for yourself. But I really want to bring home that you don't owe anyone an answer or an explanation. And I want to be clear here, I'm not saying you should never take on criticism or have people question you, but that's important, like learning how to have those discussions is good. The point that I want to make, Sheila is that we're having this moment, particularly since 2016 and the advent of the ex banje articles as as just a whole exponential wave of people are leaving the church. We're now beginning to see a serious backlash, particularly from evangelicals and prominent pastors and apologists are constantly attacking deconstruction and they are using straw man tactics to minimize and rationalize why people are deconstructing, rather than looking at themselves looking at the theology Je the systems themselves, it is much easier to say you Sheila must never have believed, you must not have really known Jesus, you didn't have a relationship with God, you didn't have a born again, experience. You will have either believers in your life, pastors, leaders, and apologists who will come at you almost immediately and expect you to have an entire worldview on day one, that they will pick it that to try to undermine your deconstruction deconversion, because you don't yet have a complete meta ethical structure or an idea of where you get purpose and meaning. The Evangelical response to particularly X Vangel articles in the current wave, which I need to point out is only the current wave we've had, I think, multiple waves of people leaving the church, obviously, throughout all of history, but just in the last 20 years, you have the new atheists who, as much as I criticize him all the time, we're kind of a vanguard of saying, critique of religion is no longer taboo. You had late aughts, bloggers and early podcasts. The wave that we're in now is bigger than just intellectual issues. It's moral issues against the church. It is the embracing of the LGBTQ community, it is the denial of sexual abuse within the church, it is 1000 things that now lead a person to begin questioning. And as I say all the time, it is not one thing, it is 1000 things. And part of the difficulty is that from an apologetic point of view, they want to limit it to just a handful of things, a list of five or six items. Almost all of those will be blaming you for your own deconstruction. And it is a way for them to ignore the implication of these waves of people leaving. And to get a visceral feel for why. Imagine if the apologists and the leaders handled the death of a loved one in the same way they are handling deconstruction. When a person is in the middle of deconstruction, they have lost their best friend, they've lost the companion who knows them the best, the one who loves them unconditionally, they have lost in very real practical terms, a community, they may have lost family members and friends. It can be the loneliest and most grief inducing period of time in a person's life. And imagine if the apologists did that to someone who had lost a loved one. Well, you can't grieve because you don't have an accurate theology of the afterlife. You don't have an accurate theology of Heaven and Hell, or you don't have an accurate theology for salvation, whether or not your loved one was saved. Can you imagine? And that is the equivalent of what is actually happening. deconstruction is a grief process. So if by chance, there are any evangelical leaders who are hearing this, your response should be one of love, and not of trying to undermine the person's experience for why they are deconstructing. The analogy continues in the sense that when you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it is incredibly difficult to articulate that pain. When you're in the middle of deconstruction, you're probably the least capable of articulating what is happening and why. And my biggest problem with the apologists is that the few of them who have actually spoken to someone who has deconstructed at all often are talking to someone in the middle of it, and they are hearing grief. Not a complete meta ethical, philosophical grounding of why Christianity isn't true. I can't say it simpler than this early on in my deconstruction and deconversion. I wanted desperately for my Christian loved ones and friends to understand why. In fact, the first blog post that I ever did about my deconversion The first paragraph say, for my loved ones for so that you can understand why and how this happened over the last five to six years, having talked to apologists, I've talked to apologists who focus on deconstruction, I have talked to multiple friends of mine. And including my wife, I've come to the conclusion that it's virtually impossible for the believer to understand the real reasons why we do convert, because if they did, they would be in that process themselves. The real reason is that it's not true. If it were true, it wouldn't be D constructible. True things stand the test of scrutiny. Like I say, it's not one thing. It's 1000 things. They want to focus on. What we're able to articulate, you know, I had a moral problem with the church, not loving LGBTQ people. I was hurt by the church, and the leadership did me wrong and I left, or I could no longer accept the inerrancy of Scripture. They want to blame that right. It's not just one of those things, you question one thing and you begin to ask yourself, What else might not be true, and it is the domino effect of one thing after another, being shown to be untrue. At the end of the day, we deconstruct the Bible. We deconstruct theology, we deconstruct Christian morality, we deconstruct the church. And the last thing to fall for most people is deconstructing God. I no longer believe such an entity exists. And there's no way our believing loved ones, or the apologists can ever understand that, or they would be deconstructing themselves.

To tie this up in a bow, I want to refer to a number of podcasts and blogs of late that have addressed from the D converts point of view, the evangelical backlash. I was on Andrew and Matthew Taylor's podcast, still unbelievable A while back, and we did an episode called deconstructing deconstruction, where we looked at an apologists point of view on this and tore it apart. If you ever want to hear me be less than graceful, it's when I go on someone else's podcast and I can unload a bit. Still unbelievable. Just did a recent episode, actually two of them with Andrew, Matthew and guest David Johnson from the skeptics and seekers podcast, and that was really good as well going through that. Paula GIA from YouTube fame has just recently addressed this and he takes a look at a Babylon B video that was making fun of X angelical. And then finally, Blake Justine's podcast X angelical. He just recently addressed this as well as his is a bit more meaty it has got a lot of links and references to various evangelical leaders and apologists. And it's worth listening to as well. So clearly, we're having this moment where this topic is coming up. Sheila, I know I went way long on that question, but thank you for sending it in. And I hope that answered it for you.

Next up is Judah. Judah has just recently recorded an episode with me so his episode will be coming out in January. And Judah very helpfully was pushing me on the topic of grace and the dark side of grace. I've hinted about this often and generally just lightly touched the topic. But I liked the framing that Judah had. Judas question was particularly aimed at the way that grace is used within the Christian context. It is basically a Get Out of Jail Free card such that somebody can do atrocious, heinous acts against humanity, and just ask for forgiveness, and they are supposed to be entirely forgiven. Another context might be in the case of abuse where in the Christian context, one feels guilt or pressure to forgive the abuser. I'm thankful to Judah for asking those questions and for pushing me on this because I want to make that very clear. especially in the case of an abusive relationship or situation, you are under no obligation to forgive that person. And that is definitely not what I mean by secular grace. To say it succinctly secular grace is much more about being willing to accept the vulnerability of others. And likewise be vulnerable with one another. With people that we trust. I don't mean, the entire world on Facebook, or anyone who asked I mean, your best friend, I mean, your soulmate partner who's been with you forever, someone you trust with your life. Those are the kinds of people that it's important to be vulnerable with and to express your love for them. In the public sphere, it's about giving the benefit of doubt to people and not assuming that they are terrible human beings. I've already done a bit of that today, going after the apologists, but I actually work really hard at trying to see the humanity of people with whom I disagree vehemently. It's super easy to fall into the pattern of those people are bad, they are evil. Does that mean that I don't hold them accountable? Absolutely not. That's the point of Judas question. And the point that I want to make here. It is about love with justice, as I often tried to explain to some of my more conservative family members, if justice were truly blind, if the police officers who have shot and killed black men and women over the centuries, literally, but particularly of late, if they were held accountable, we wouldn't be having protests and the kind of civil unrest that we currently have. In my lifetime, since Rodney King, I've witnessed uncountable numbers of times where a person of color has been abused by the police and the police have gone either uncharged under charged, or acquitted, in cases where it seems fairly obvious that that should not have been the case. Of course, I believe in, you're innocent until proven guilty. That's a bedrock foundation. What I'm saying is, if there wasn't an obvious statistical disparity in justice, we wouldn't be having these kinds of conversations. So secular grace is not about letting people off the hook. In many ways, it is holding people to account. So particularly in the public sphere, secular grace is about Yes, give the benefit of the doubt, recognize the humanity of even those who you find atrocious, but hold them to account. Justice is important. In the private sphere, secular grace is amongst the consenting, you're not vulnerable with people who are a threat to you, you are only vulnerable to people you trust, literally with your life. The proactive part of secular grace is to be open to people who need some secular grace, who you don't already know or have a relationship with. I mean, this is just a restating of Be kind to one another. My guess is, there's nothing complicated there at all. I can tell you from watching the deconversion anonymous Facebook group that you all have figured this out, you are doing secular grace with one another in a way that I am just astounded by and I often have guests on who exemplify secular Grace better than I do, and I am blown away by this and love it. That's fantastic. So at the bottom of it all, it really is about loving people. And that does not mean letting them off the hook. Judah emailed me a second question that I'd like to address. He asks, Do you think there remains a place for the anti theists of the world? Do they serve a constructive purpose in any significant way? Or is it simply a stage of development? This is a really interesting question, because you could basically describe my work with the graceful atheists both the blog and the podcast and As trying to be the antithesis of anti theism. However, I have really good friends within the secular community who who believe very strongly that their work countering or doing counter apologetics is really important. And I think there is some small place for that. So let me explain. On the one hand, I'm diametrically opposed to the debate culture and the hostility. And in particular, I'm against treating believers as if they are stupid, because they believe my straightforward explanation for why I think that is that I am the same person I was when I was a believer as I am now. So to whatever extent I was intelligent, then I'm intelligent now or vice versa. And I was totally in 100%. And now I'm 100% out, I'm much more convinced that the community belonging happens first. And the beliefs come along afterwards. And that any one of any intelligence can fall into an organization or an ideology that from an objective point of view is untrue. And in fact, my understanding is that there's lots of research that would suggest that more intelligent people are better able to do so because they can rationalize and justify with more sophisticated reasoning than someone with slightly less intelligence. So it's actually the most dangerous thing you can do is say, I'm impervious to bad ideas, or cults or bad ideology. So my work is definitely not anti theism. And I have a blog post that says why I'm not an anti theist. And the primary reasons for that are I don't think people come to faith, nor do they leave faith purely for rational, intellectual reasons. That is a major factor that was a major factor in my deconversion. I generally speak about it primarily in intellectual terms. But it was a multifaceted process that included my intellect included, my intuition included, my emotions included my relationships and experiences. And it was a whole person who went through that process, not just a Vulcan rationalist. And so I think the pure focus on what I'll call hyper rationalism, or hyper rationalist, counter apologetics is noise in the vacuum. I ultimately think that apologetics itself is bad for believers. And so therefore, I also think counter apologetics is bad for all everyone involved. So the debate culture is the thing I was trying to be different from, because everybody in our uncle is doing that on YouTube and podcasts. At the end of the day, whether you think there's a role for anti theists or not, that area is definitely covered. And I don't think any more of us need to do that.

So if I were hard pressed, I would have to say that if it is done carefully, kindly and graciously, that some counter apologetics, which could be construed as anti theistic, are a good and okay, and probably necessary, but that for the vast majority of us just actually caring about people actually having a relationship with believers and showing them that we have morality and joy and gratitude and an ethical framework outside of Christianity, that's going to do more to break down their stereotypes and to make them think, then coming at them for why Pascal's wager is no good. In other words, I think love conquers over arguments. And secular grace is about loving people, including the believers in our lives. Judah, thank you for questioning me, and I want to make clear, explicitly stated on Mike, that I want constructive criticism, I want people to push on the ideas that I'm putting out there. There is nothing that cannot be criticized that I have to say, I imagine there will be large swathes of you who disagree with me on a number of points. And that's fantastic. I'm sliding into a slightly different topic here. But I want to point out that I am a pluralist. That's actually what secularism is it is about pluralism that no one ideology or person or group or organization has a law Knock on the truth, including me, and especially me. So that we are all working together to figure out a closer approximation to the truth. So please keep the constructive criticism coming. And to put my money where my mouth is, when I first started the podcast I explicitly had in mind that Christians could come on the program and criticize my humanism, or my atheism, not very many have truly taken that opportunity. But I'm saying it here. If you are a believer, and you have some constructive criticism, or want to actually dialogue, and again, I point out the difference between debate and what I call an honesty contest. But that door is open, you can reach me at graceful

Emily  26:06  
Hi, David, this is Emily. Lately, I've been finding it a little hard to stay positive given that this pandemic is stretching into almost two years now. And the news from around the world can just be a bit depressing. And I was wondering, what gives you hope, when you're feeling down about the general state of the world? Thanks,

David Ames  26:25  
Emily, thank you so much for the question. I wish I had a much better answer for this an answer that would make everyone have more hope in the world that we live in. But I want to be somewhat realistic as well. Also, I'm going to talk about gratitude in a another listeners question a little bit later. So gratitude is definitely a part of what keeps me grounded. So we'll talk about that in a different listener question. I think the main point I'd want to bring about is to think locally, we as human beings, we are super easily overwhelmed by things that we can't control. We have very little control over international politics, or even US politics, we have very little control over this pandemic. And when we feel out of control, we can start to lose hope. The truth is, we've never been in control of those things to begin with. And so we really haven't lost anything. But particularly as D converts, we can feel that loss of control, because we no longer have prayer to turn to. And that loss of a sense of something to do, can be really difficult to manage. This idea of thinking locally is about the things that you can change things you do have control over. I think one of the most insidious parts of the pandemic has been that the very thing that we need as human beings in the time of crisis, and the time of the pandemic, is to be with each other. And that's the very thing that causes the spread of the COVID 19 disease. And so we have to be very careful about selecting our pod of people that we are with. But I do encourage you to do that. Make sure that you have other human beings to be around that you know that they are vaccinated, and you're vaccinated, and it's a reasonable risk level for everyone involved to get together. I'd also say be proactive in connecting with people over zoom or any other digital communication mechanism. They are definitely a distant second to being physically in the room with somebody but it is better than nothing. So if you have a friend or loved one who lives far away, or where it would be an unreasonable risk to go visit that person, make sure that you're the one reaching out to say hi, hey, I need to talk I need to vent I need to connect with you because I love you and I miss you. Basically being proactive about our human connections, I think will help us to be hopeful as well. The pandemic in particular has been one of waves every time we think that things are getting better. In this case, we have a new variant. So we had delta and now we have Omicron. And that can be really challenging, but remembering that this too will pass. sounds trite. But you know, we know from the 1918 flu pandemic, we will get through this. It may take longer than all of us hoped for but it will eventually end and we will go back to some form of normalcy where we're able to connect with each other on a normal basis. In regards to the politics of the day, certainly within my lifetime, this feels like the most polarized and angry that we are at one another I for sure for myself feel more anger on political issues today and Since 2016, than I ever have in my life, I think the really important thing to try to remember and this is hard, and I'm speaking to myself more than, than the listeners here is to remember that these are human beings to that people that we are opposed to, even diametrically opposed to, it's super easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they are evil, that they're wrong. And they're terrible human beings. Rather than recognizing that they are human, they have had a set of experiences and a set of cultural influences that have led them to come to conclusions that I disagree with or that you disagree with. But recognizing their humanity, we might be able to build a bridge and have some communication. And you might be the person who changes their mind on something, rather than coming in hot and telling them you're wrong. You're stupid, you're evil, trying to understand why did you come to that conclusion? All of this to say that when we recognize these intractable problems, or really human problems, there's some hope there, right? People can change their minds, it is in fact possible. And you might have an influence on the people around you. I hate to be a broken record. But you know, why do I have hope? Because I believe in secular grace, I believe in people. If there's one thing that theistic religion and Christianity specifically do well, it is giving people a sense of hope. I think that hope is built on an untruth, that there is a divine entity who is in sovereign control of the universe. But there are some fictions that are helpful to human being. So having hope, in believing in people is what I do now. People can do atrocious things, I know that in reality, but to quote Joss Whedon against all evidence, I believe in people, and that gives me hope. We've seen how people can do the wrong thing. But people can also do beautiful loving and kind things. And let's be those people in the world. Let's seek out those people to be connected to. And let's try to influence others to do the same. I hope that was at least moderately hopeful, Emily, but thank you for the question.

Rick, and Mark asked a couple of questions in email. I thank Rick and mark for listening to the podcast and for emailing me this question. I did say ask me anything. So this is one I have had did not anticipate. They ask, Do I have a health care directive? And if I understand their email correctly, that's specifically about if I was unable to decide or speak for myself, would I object to prayers, religious ceremonies, or the reading of sacred texts and religious discussions? And I hate to disappoint you, Rick and mark, but no, I don't. And to be totally honest with you, I don't think I would. And I'll explain why. Constantly in my life, I don't know about yours. I have family and occasionally a friend who will say, I'm praying for you. And I could be mad at that I could bristle and be uncomfortable with that. But generally, what I say to that is Thank you. Because what I hear them saying is I care about you. And I'm thinking about you. Do I think prayer does anything? Absolutely not. But maybe it makes that person more concerned about me, maybe that person will take some action that would be helpful for me in the future. And so I just find that as an expression of their care for me. Likewise, both my previous pastoral experience and my being old and having lived through the loss of a number of loved ones, I found that funerals are for the living, they are not for the debt. So I have specifically said to my girls, that whatever makes them feel better. Whatever helps them to grieve is what they should do. I don't have any particular requests for my let's say, funeral. Just in case you also meant Do Not Resuscitate directive that I would consider that is something that I don't currently have. But it's something that I would consider in that if I truly were in a position where say my vital organs could be donated in a way and there was no hope of brain recovery. I would be willing to do that. But specifically in regards to denying the religious aspect of how Oh, my either hospital stay or funeral would be handled is really again, in my mind for the living or for the bereaved. And I don't care. Because it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't change anything. And it's just not a thing that I am terribly concerned with. So if you are concerned about that absolutely have that directive. And it sounds like maybe having those conversations with your family would be important as well. Rick and Mark, thank you so much for the question.

Jimmy  35:41  
Hey, David, Jimmy here. I have a question about gratitude. Why is it okay to be grateful without being grateful to someone? I know you've mentioned, we don't need to be grateful to someone or something. And I know that that's essentially how I practice anyway. But the question occasionally bugs me.

David Ames  36:01  
Jimmy, thank you so much for this question. Knowing you, I don't know that my answer will be satisfying, because I'm certain that you have already spent hours thinking about this from every possible direction. I'm just going to say that I think gratitude and specifically a practice of gratitude is incredibly important. That was maybe given to us for free in a theistic religion and Christianity. But recognizing that we have people and things to be grateful for, just that alone can give us some hope to refer back to Emily's question. I'm sure I'm repeating myself here. But something from the 12 steps from when I was 16 years old, has always stuck with me. And that is being grateful for the small things. And what that means is, it can be difficult to be grateful for big conceptual ideas like world peace, or the economy or climate or something that it just is bigger than ourselves. And it is a focus on the small and local. And my favorite example of this is I love to have a bunch of pillows, I have multiple pillows on my bed. And every time I go to bed at night, I squeezed into those pillows, and I think I am so grateful for these pillows, and it is such an absurdly small thing. And yet, I derive a tremendous amount of gratitude from that small thing. So find the small things that generate huge amounts of gratitude in you and be conscious of them. To the heart of your question, and even the way you phrased it, is it okay? Not to be grateful to to someone, I will refer back to my conversation with bryce Bryce was my friend who was an atheist when I was deep in my Christianity, and I was having a conversation with him about how grateful I was for my children. But I was trying to explain to him at the time, I was grateful to God for that. And now here I am on the other side of the fence. And I've learned that gratitude is both an experience that happens to us. And, as I mentioned, a practice that we can work out in our lives and discipline that we can have in our lives. And I generally say it this way, that the objects of my gratitude are both, too, and for the people in my life. So my wife, my two daughters, my family, my friends, including you, Jimmy, that I'm both thankful for. And to those people. I think what's so difficult for us as the converts is we were ingrained with this idea that if anything good happens to us, it's to the glory of God, and we should be grateful. And if anything bad happens, it was probably our fault. And that is the vicious cycle that we need to get out of, and having a practice of gratitude for very practical, real things. And being grateful to and for the people in our lives is a way of overcoming that limitation. Again, Jimmy, knowing you I am sure you've already thought of these things. And it's probably wasn't a terribly satisfying answer. But I hope it gives you a sense of gratitude in your life as well. Thanks for the question.

How did you inform your kids if you're changing views out of there, take it. Lars, thank you for the question. I'm not sure this will be very satisfying answer because one of the first conversations I had with my wife after I told her she said she wanted to be the one to tell my girls and I let her do that. But almost immediately afterwards, I was just very matter of fact with them. I'm an atheist. The thing I really made explicitly clear to them was that I loved them no matter what they believed that I would encourage them to explore their spirituality that I would back them up to go to church, I would drive them to church, I would buy Bibles for them, I would do whatever I could to support their spiritual growth. And I made that super, super clear. And then I've said this on the podcast before, but as they got older, I was explicit with them as well that I didn't want to teach them what to think or believe, but how to think. And one of the practices of that was critical thinking in non religious areas. So we would be watching TV and an advertisement would come on. And we kind of jokingly deconstruct the advertisement for what was the real message, what was being sold, what lies were being told that kind of thing, and it kind of became a family game. And so we practice critical thinking in all of these other areas that are less emotionally fraught. And as my girls have gotten older, we've had much more direct conversations. And I think they have had their own faith transitions, not necessarily to atheism, but they're definitely not where they were when they were younger. I'm not going to speak for them. I'm not going to say more than that. So again, that's not a terribly interesting story. But that is how I tell my girls.

Another interview that I did was with Matt Oxley, that episode also will be coming out in January. And Matt has a really interesting place in the spectrum of the work of deconversion. And deconstruction, Matt is really on the side of being there for the Christian, the believer, in the middle of the process, or very, very early on in the process, he does a really good job of speaking that language so that he can be listened to at all in a way that I think even the title graceful atheists would push people away. I'm aware of that. And I find it fascinating the work that Matt is doing. If you just took a surface view of Matt's work, you could be confused into thinking that he's still a believer, and he is not. But again, he speaks that language so well, that that could be unclear. And in some ways, he's almost referring to himself as a Christian, or at least walking out the teachings of Jesus. So the question that we discussed and I'd like to expand upon here is, is Christianity redeemable? And I think this is important topic, because each of us has to ask the question, should we be a progressive Christian? I think most of my audience is done with fundamentalist Christianity. But why aren't we progressive Christians? Why aren't we able to just live in the metaphor and continue to enjoy the community and the ritual aspects of Christianity? In some ways, I'm probably the wrong person to ask this question, because I feel like I really skipped past any concept of spirituality here. I mean, the supernatural kind, almost instantaneously, I had deconstructed Christianity. And the moment I admitted to myself that I no longer believe that a God existed. It's like I came crashing down to earth. And my epistemology is science. What we can test and what we can validate with data and criticism and what stands up to scrutiny is true, and what doesn't, isn't. And of course, there's a ton of philosophical questions that don't fall into that category. And I love philosophy, and I love debating those things. But I understand the difference between a philosophical discussion and a scientific one. And I like to use the terms true for things that actually have stood this test of criticism over a long periods of time. I digress. The question is, is Christianity redeemable? I said to Matt, and I've said other times that the most dangerous word in the English language is God. And the reason for that is that let's say you are a progressive Christian, and you don't believe in a transcendent, a supernatural being. But you use God as a metaphor. You say that as a communicator, and everyone who hears the word God will enter Corporate that the way that they understand God. Ironically, I think the 12 steps has this nailed down that God as you understand him, or everyone has their own conception, and there is no way to refer to the metaphor without bringing in 1000s upon 1000s upon 1000s of interpretations of God, so that the progressive Christian can say, God is the ground of all being and God is love. But the evangelical fundamentalist, here's the theistic God who judges people and sends them to hell. And there's no way as a communicator to disambiguate that if using that term, my opinion is that Christianity is similar, that the word Christianity, I've had Christians on who asked me, Are you sure you're not a Christian? Because I'm trying to walk out secular grace? And obviously, that has roots in Christianity? My answer is definitively No. I am not trying to be a Christian, I'm not trying to redeem or change Christianity. And here's the thing, Christianity has been tried, in more ways than can be counted with just the major parts of the Christian tree, Catholicism, orthodoxy, and Protestantism, and then a myriad of particular sects of Christianity within, particularly Protestantism. Half of those have always wanted to go back and really implement what Jesus had to say, to really be the followers of Jesus in the modern world. The problem is that Jesus had some great things to say he had some wise things to say. But the Bible and the New Testament are just full of cultural specifics. Once you take all the time to separate the cultural specifics from the Supra cultural elements, you wind up with a very, very small, ethical framework, be good to one another. That's about it. My point is that trying to do Christianity is unlikely to succeed without becoming just one more of the 1000s of denominations of Christianity. I'm trying actually to say that grace is a human concept. All religions are human concepts. But But my point is that grace itself is a human concept. And loving people is a human concept. And the great wisdom literature throughout history includes that, because we're all human. And we all need to be loved, we have a need to be loved and accepted. And families, relationships, communities work better, when we explicitly try to love one another. So that is a universal concept that is embedded in virtually every world religion. And I'm not adding anything new here, calling it secular Grace, I'm just delineating that there is no need for a supernatural element to act out grace. So I call it secular grace. And that is to distinguish it from the Christian conception of grace, which, as we talked about earlier, has a very dark side, in that it can forgive atrocities, which is not the point of secular grace. I want to make clear that I love what Matt is doing. And for those of you who are still believers, those of you who maybe have de converted, but you're still able to speak that language and you're close to believers, please continue to do so. I'm a pluralist. I think it takes all of us to do the things that we can do. In some ways, the work that I'm doing is pulling the secular community towards the humanity. I'm trying to put the humanity into humanism. And so in some ways, I'm pulling from that direction. And if other people like Matt Oxley people like Derrick Webb, who are pulling from the other direction, pulling Christians towards a secular grace, that's fantastic. We're all doing the best that we can. And that is really, really important. Thank you to Matt Oxley for bringing up the subject at all for doing the work that he does and for challenging me on this particular area

our community manager Arlene wrote in a few questions. She asks, what do you do for fun? And what are you passionate about? You've already heard me talk about running. Running is an identity. For me, I have run about 1200 miles every year for the last five or six years and lots more before that. It is the most important thing to my mental and physical health I can think of I feel incredibly grateful that the thing I enjoy doing is also physically healthy for me and mentally healthy for me. I used to race marathons, half marathons, things like that, I tend not to these days, I just enjoy running. In fact, I often say that running supports my podcast addiction. So my next thing that I'm passionate about is podcasts. I've listened to a ton of podcasts, I tend to listen to science and philosophy and politics, when I'm not listening to deconversion specific things. I am passionate about doing the graceful atheist podcast obviously, or I wouldn't do it. So I really enjoy that as well. I enjoy indoor rock climbing with my daughters, both daughters at different times in their lives have been interested in that. I'm not great at it. I love doing it. I think it's fantastic. And then what will be abundantly obvious to everyone is I'm a super nerd. So I really love science fiction, particularly movies and books. I consume a lot of science fiction and various media. I think really good science fiction really tells us more about what it's like to be a human being than it does about lasers and spaceships. And so I really like thinkI nerdy sci fi, so I'm super passionate about that. And I enjoy that. And lastly, Arlene asks, is there anything that you used to do that you'd like to do again, and I'm not sure if you meant this for the Christian point of view, but I'm gonna use an example of that. So I used to do a lot of public speaking, and I generally don't do so anymore. Occasionally at work, I do demonstrations, things like that. I've done a few like workshops, training people on a particular technology. But I'd like to do some speaking again, when we had Amy Rath, on from nonlife. She really inspired me to do like the lightning talk kind of concept. And as soon as we're done with COVID, I'd really like to do that again, I think. Whereas on a podcast, I can ramble like I am right now, in a presentation in front of people, you have to be a little bit crisper in your writing. And that would give me the inspiration to do that. Thank you, Arlene, those were great questions. Thank you so much for asking.

The last two questions are questions that I asked myself as I am doing the podcast. The first question is, is this religious? Or another way of asking it is, is humanism a religion. And for many of you, you may be screaming no at the top of your lungs, as you listen to this. And for many of us, leaving our religious traditions meant that we'd never wanted to have anything to do with the term religion ever, ever again. And there certainly within the secular community, a very, very strong, anti religious attitude. My perspective on this is a bit nuanced. So please do listen to the whole context of what I have to say here. I certainly think I would have fallen into that category of running away from religion in the early days of my deconversion. What I think I have learned since then, is the human needs to connect with one another. And to have a shared sense of meaning and purpose. I had Anthony pin on which was a great episode, I encourage you to go check that out. And he makes a very strong distinction between theism, which is a belief in a supernatural deity and religion, which he defines as the collective search for truth. I love that definition of religion. And here's another important point. James Croft recently said this on Twitter, but it's, I think, a common concept. Everything is secular. All religions are secular. All of it comes from humans. yanks, it is mundane it is religion may be the most human cultural artifact of anything. It is our drive to connect with each other and try to figure out how do we live in a chaotic universe? How do we live with each other, without killing each other? And how do we avoid falling into a nihilistic dark, deep pit of despair. All of those are human needs. And the scary word religion is a good way of accomplishing those. We've talked about secular Grace quite a bit in this episode, and I will refer you to my original blog post on the topic. I said there that the ABCs of secular quote, unquote, spirituality are all something that is a deeply human experience that has nothing to do with a supernatural realm. We can experience all in nature, we can experience all at one another, we can experience all at a talented athlete we experience or day in and day out. It is the context of our Christian indoctrination, or training or discipleship or what have you, that we interpret or to be a supernatural, theistic God. And as soon as you let go of that, you can not only enjoy awesome experiences, you can seek them out. I happen to like indoor rock climbing, and part of it is that I'm scared of heights. And I enjoy the experience of overcoming my fear of heights. It is an awesome experience. So the first ABC is is all. The second is belonging. And here, I mean, the collective belonging. This seems so obvious, in that the cultural context of the day, we have identities in our belonging, the most obvious one in the secular world is political identity. We are more polarized now than it feels like in my lifetime, although people like Ezra Klein point out that maybe earlier in my lifetime was the exception to the rule, and the polarization we're experiencing now as probably the norm or the reversion to the mean. But even within the secular community, there are divisions that you may not be aware of. But what I see as the basic humanism, of caring for people and fighting for human rights, and the freedoms and rights of people who have been historically disparaged in one way or another, and held down systemically, that seems like basic humanism, one on one to me, but there's a division within the secular community that is anti social justice warrior or anti woke, or any number of ways of describing that, that I'm on one side of that polarization, and I can't help it that is important to me. We belong to and have identity within groups. We are the D converted, we are the deconstructed, or the deconstructing, and that is an identity. Some of us identify as acts of angelical. If you're in the LGBT community, that is probably a major part of your identity. People even obsessively identify with a sports team, I have a few teams that I follow, and it cracks me up at how intensely I can identify with that group. The point is, we need to belong to one another. The thing that is important is finding healthy groups to belong to, I think what we're doing with deconversion anonymous, as a community is a healthy way of belonging to a group. And we should seek those out. The big thing that we lost as we left, our original faith tradition, is community having a sense of these are my people. And we need to go find who are your people? Who are my people? The obvious answer is that you are my people. The people listening to this now are my people. But it can be more than that. You can go be a part of a book club or a cycling group or a running club or the knitting circle or what have you something anything that you can be among other people who have a shared common goal with you And the final ABCs, of secular spirituality is connection. And this is the one on one human connection, this is your best friend, this is your significant other with whom you have spent significant amounts of time building trust. Again, as, as we talked about earlier, this is not just some random stranger off the street. This is someone that mutual trust and respect has built up over time. That connection of being vulnerable with another human being is profound. When you were going through puberty, probably talking about what was happening to you to your best friend was really cathartic. Admitting to your first crush, to a best friend was probably really, really cathartic. When you first told someone that you were having doubts, and if they handled it, well, that was probably really, really cathartic. The first time you say, I no longer believe to someone is incredibly cathartic. This is connection, that human connection. And we are hard wired to need this, to want it to seek it out. And we should, we should do so with eyes wide, open and critically and carefully. And we should proactively attempt to connect with one another. All of this is what I'm attempting to describe as secular grace, these ABCs of secular spirituality. Back to the question, is this religious? And I'm going to say yes, given the context of defining religion as the collective search for meaning, and what I've learned from people like Sasha Sagan, who wrote for small creatures, such as we, and much of what is in Carl Sagan is writings as well. And Catherine cosmonauts, Grace without God, not only do we need the community, the belonging, the connection, we also need ritual, like we talked about in the holiday episode about establishing new traditions, we are hardwired to need to call out major moments in our lives and physically enact a ritual to commemorate those moments in our lives. Sasha seconds book talks about birth, the Age of Reason, marriage, death, graduations, all of these things are moments in our life, where they are significant events, and we want and need to share those with each other. So given that as a definition of religion, yes, I think humanism is a religion. And yes, I think what we're doing with the community is religious. And that's okay.

If you find yourself screaming and running away as fast as you can right now, I hope to keep you I hope you understand the full context of what I'm saying. I am not saying something transcendent, supernatural, beyond nature, is occurring in any way. I am saying that all religions are human. And this is just another expression of that. I'm also not saying that everyone should be a humanist. Again, I'm a pluralist, I think we as a society, need to allow differing points of views, including points of views that we are diametrically opposed to. They should all be open to criticism, public criticism, and we should work out what is the most effective for us, as a society. I think that secular Grace has a role in the market of ideas and market of ethical frameworks. And I want to express that in the public forum. But I am open to criticism. And I understand that not everyone will find this meaningful or useful. And in fact, when I had Bart Campolo on the podcast, he basically was saying, not everyone cares about what I call the ABCs of spirituality that they don't care about spirituality at all. And some of you might find even me saying that this is religious to be offensive. And again, just ignore me on that topic, and I hope you'll continue to listen the The second question that I asked myself that I think is really important, is related to the first. And this is more personal. I'm going to ask the question, and please don't stop listening. I'll set the context. I asked myself, am I creating a cult? The obvious answer is no. But I think it's important for me to worry about that question. If you have ever been in pastoral work, or leadership in a church, if you've been a worship leader, or if you have your own podcast, or a YouTube channel, the experience of this modicum of fame and I am very realistic about how small how small this fame is, but is intoxicating. There's just no getting around it as a pastor, and when I was younger, in my 20s, and now as a podcaster, and someone who is attempting to express humanism, express secular grace, I am acutely aware of the intoxicating nature of having fans. Here's the thing. I rarely hear criticism, I mostly hear the very good things about the podcast, I get so many emails of people who say, I found your podcasts, I'm in the middle of deconstruction. It's a lifesaver. And of course, that's hyperbolic they, they'd be okay with that without the podcast. But that's why I do what I do is, I want people to know that they are not alone, that all of us have gone through this before them. And we can hold their hand through the process. But again, that has a pretty profound impact on a person and they can start to hear my voice as being authoritative. And that terrifies me. I want to have people challenge me constructive criticism, asking for clarity for me. In other words, I don't want it to be like it was as a pastor in the Christian church where a pastor often can get away with being unaccountable. I don't mean this in the Christian accountability sense, either. But what I mean is that I expect to be wrong, I expect to get it wrong. Often, I expect to say the wrong thing to do the wrong thing to maybe even hurt people, which would, would be the thing that would hurt me the most. And I need to know when I'm doing that, because I wouldn't do it if I were aware, aware of it. So this is just an open invitation for you to reach out to me, you can do so via email, graceful You can DM me if you need to. But anything where you think I could learn from something, and I could grow as someone who is attempting to lead in this area of secular grace, feel free to do so. And I will take it with as much humility and self criticism as I can muster. So am I starting a cult? definitively not. I am acutely aware of the ability to fall into a cult of personality. In my discussions with our lane, about the community deconversion anonymous, I was very explicit about this is not about me, this is about people coming together and connecting with one another and practicing secular grace, caring for one another. I would just be a bottleneck. So not only do I not want it to be a cult of personality, I don't want to be the block for people to connect with each other. So all of this to say not only do I not want this to be a cult or a cult of personality, I want you to actively participate in making sure that it is not. Well this wraps it up for the first ask me anything and wraps this up for 2021. I definitely want to do more asked me any things in the future. So in the meantime, If you think of a question you want to have me pontificate upon. Or if you have a criticism that you'd like to hear me respond to, please send a recorded version of your question. You can do so on an app on your phone, or you could use to create a voice message for me. As 2021 wraps up, I definitely want to thank everybody who has participated in the deconversion anonymous community, I'm amazed at how that has exploded. I feel bad that I took so long to try to start it. I should have started it in 2020. But I want to also thank our lien so much for managing the community, as well as doing copy editing and just generally being incredibly helpful. I want to thank Mike T for editing we did 40 some odd episodes and 2021. That was a lot of work that Mike did. All of that was volunteer. Thank you so much, Mike, for all the work that you did. Thank you to Logan Thomas for redoing our graphic design, the logo and various images that we're using. And I'll do this as a plug again, I'm so much more interested in people participating in the podcast and the community in one way or another rather than, say giving money. So if there's a way in which you can participate, you have experience with PR, social media editing, Production Music, if you want to help Arlene with community management, all those things, we are looking for people to jump in. And in reality, as I've already admitted the religiosity, the Church provided a place for people to use their talents. I want a secular version of that to find where people can exercise the things they enjoy doing, the hobbies, their talents, and things of that nature. So we'd love to be the place where you can use your talents and gifts. So please reach out with that, and until January. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful.

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 You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on Bristol If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch with me. 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 you'd 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 or you can check out the website graceful 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

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2021 Holiday Special

Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Podcast, Secular Community, Secular Grace, secular grief, Secular Humanist Graces
Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash
Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash
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The Holidays: The Big White Elephant in the Room

When one has deconverted, the holidays may look completely different, reexamining everything from family traditions to singing carols to dealing with those extended family members. On today’s episode, two returning guests, Arline and Lars and a new guest, Carlene, share how the holidays have and haven’t changed since deconversion. 

Lars and Arline go into what it’s like to be an unbelieving parent during the holidays, navigating the mythologies of Santa and Jesus. Children ask genuine questions, and they expect genuine answers.

The group discusses what they have not given up, among other things, singing Christmas carols. Carols are different than singing religious songs at church, more cultural than sacred. For some, however, it takes a little self-discipline to sing along without critiquing the lyrics. 

The guests also examine what they have thrown in the trash bin completely, including, but not limited to, the phrase “Merry Christmas” and all those nativity scenes. 

Being thankful of the time spent with extended family can be challenging, regardless of religious beliefs. Each person shares how they’re finding their own unique ways of appreciating time with family. Religion does not own the rights to giving thanks. 

Lastly, Carlene, David, Lars and Arline consider some new traditions they’ve started or would like to start. Nature is the easiest place to experience awe and wonder, and everyone discussed ways to be in nature more this winter. Also, creating new traditions can be awkward and may not always turn out quite like we hope.

It is a lovely conversation, full of hope and lots of humor. 

“…It’s scary and new, and that might actually be the best part because your life is in many ways new again…you get to experience so many things for the first time with a new mindset, and this will hopefully enrich your life going forward…”


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

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