Robert Peoples: Affinis Humanity

Atheism, Deconversion, Humanism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Grace
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I believe in you.
I believe in people.
I believe in change, and if any change is going to happen,
we have to do it.
There is no savior coming to save us
that responsibility is ours.

This week’s guest is Robert Peoples of Affinis Humanity. Robert grew up in a Black Baptist church in New Jersey. When he was young, he enjoyed church but was an inquisitive child with many questions and no satisfying answers. As a teenager, Robert looked for answers outside the church—from Thomas Paine to Allah to the Buddha. 

“When I read The Age of Reason, that set my trajectory on a whole different path.”

By 18 years old, Robert could no longer believe in anything supernatural. His understanding of the world came from philosophy, history and science. This was incredibly difficult for his family, but they continued to faithfully love and support him.

“[My mom] said, ‘Why don’t you believe in something?…’ I said, ‘I can’t…this is based on critical thinking.’”

One frustration Robert has with the Black church community is that it works to change unjust systems but then uses phrases like, “We couldn’t have done this without God.”

“It makes us co-dependent on…benevolent white leaders in power, for God to somehow change their hearts and change their minds.”

In recent years, Robert has been working with a political non-profit to ensure the “separation of state and church” and to change unjust policies. Human suffering is caused less by individuals “in need of heart change,” and more by systemic racism, homophobia, classism and other inequities.

“You can’t think transcendental thoughts. You can’t think about leaving religion…when you can’t eat, when you’re about to evicted…when you have no support.”

In the midst of all the work to be done, Robert is hopeful. He is effecting change in the world and reminding others that “to be human is enough.” He stands in awe of the beauty of nature, his daughters and this short life. His story is one of world-changing secular grace. 

“The Book of Life opens up each and every time I wake up in the morning. I write my own book.”

[Humanism] has increased my love for humanity exponentially.
I no longer love people with conditions.


Affinis Humanity

Secular Coalition for Arizona





For a Secular Grace holiday weekend
Jennifer Michael Hecht: Doubt A History
Dr. Anthony Pinn: Humanism and Race
Sasha Sagan: For Small Creatures Such As We

Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


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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 a graceful atheist. Please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. Do to poor planning on my part and not at all related to the Christian holiday next weekend, we will not have a new episode. I had an interview that fell through and I did not have a buffer. The team was fully ready to produce another podcast and yet I didn't have an interview ready to go. So for next weekend, which does happen to be Easter. I have a few recommendations for you one, after you've listened to this episode, Robert Peoples of Affinis Humanity. Listen to it again. Robert is absolutely amazing. I'm also going to recommend three episodes that capture a lot of what you hear in Robert story today about humanism that is alive and proactively loving. The first is Jennifer Michael Hecht from way back in 2019. She wrote the book doubt a history. I have quoted that 1000 times it's an amazing conversation, and she is absolutely amazing. Next up is Anthony pin of Rice University. Robert and I talk about Anthony in this episode that I believe is back in 2020. Anthony has written a number of books on humanism, as well as the perspective from the black community, a really significant voice within humanism. So go back and check out that episode. And finally Sasha Siggins episode where she talks about her book, small creatures such as we, these three and Roberts episodes today that you're listening to represent secular grace and the kind of humanism that I am trying to espouse. So during your Easter weekend, jump back into the back catalogue and hear some great interviews from the past. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. onto today's episode. My guest today is Robert Peoples. Robert is the founder of affinest humanity which is an organization that is trying to promote secularism in Arizona. Their motto affinis is Latin for affinity a natural attraction to a person, thing or idea. Our mission is to alleviate religious discrimination for secular communities in education, business and government. Robert also participates with the Secular Coalition for Arizona. They recently had secular day Arizona, where they spoke and talk with legislative leaders in Arizona about secularism and the need for secularism. We discuss secularism as pluralism, the needs to recognize that even for believers, separation of church and state is good for the church as well as the state. Robert represents secular grace in so many ways, he is a humanist who is focused on loving people caring for people for representing a proactive love. And Roberts motto for finesse humanity is to be human is enough. I cannot tell you how deeply impacted I am by that simple phrase. I will be meditating on that for years to come. Robert is a quote machine. I will try to capture a handful of those quotes in the extended show notes on the blog. Listen carefully to what he has to say Robert is an amazing person. Here is Robert peoples to tell his story.

Robert Peoples Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Robert Peoples  4:20  
Thank you. I appreciate being here. Thank you. Thank you for reaching out.

David Ames  4:24  
So Robert, you are the leader of an organization called Affinis Humanity whose mission statement is to alleviate religious discrimination for secular communities and education, business and government. I understand you've just participated in the secular Day at the Capitol and Arizona. Is that correct? That is correct. Yeah. And so I'm really excited to hear about your work and in the secular community. I tell you what, man, your tagline. To be human is enough. Just gets me. That is you have spoken to me This atheist soul I can tell you with with that, with that statement, this podcast, we talk about secular Grace a lot. And I think that you and your work embodies that. And as I mentioned off, Mike, you have made me a fan of yours. So I'm just really excited to have you on.

Robert Peoples  5:16  
I'm honored, I'm honored. Thank you for that.

David Ames  5:19  
So we're going to spend the first half talking about your personal story. And then probably the second half, we'll we'll get into all the things that you're doing with your work in the secular community. Let's start where we often do, what was your faith tradition growing up? What was that like for you?

Robert Peoples  5:34  
Ah, so I grew up. I'm originally from New Jersey, currently reside in Arizona right now. And I grew up in a Baptist household, I grew up in a Baptist church. Actually, it was called union Baptists. I can't even I can't believe I still remember the name of the church. And, you know, and unlike some other unlike a lot of other people that have experienced, you know, the RTS, the religious trauma syndrome connected with religion, I did not, I liked going to church. I liked the people, I like my friends. And I even sung in the choir. And however, I always had a lot of questions. I was always very inquisitive about things. And a lot of those questions couldn't be answered sufficiently. And when I was about about 13 years old, I started having a lot of questions. And my mother was saying, you know, you need to talk to the pastor, you need to talk to the deacon about this. And I said, I did, but it just doesn't sound right. It doesn't feel right, I need to do a little bit more digging. So my cousin, my first cousin, he said, You know what, Robert? I'm gonna give you a book, man. I want you to read the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. Oh, wow, I was 13. When I wrote. I was 13. Right? My mother always instilled reading in me at a very early age. You know, she and so I was very thankful for that. And you know, in a classroom, she didn't want me to be the kind of kid where the teacher called on you to read a paragraph, I would shy away from it. So she really instilled heavy reading in me at an early age. And I have to tell you, David, when I read the age of reason, that set my trajectory on a whole different path. And so from there, I told my mother, you know, I want to study Islam for a little bit. She said, Okay. Well, I work with some doctors, and there is a mosque in Princeton University. And so if you want to learn Islam, you're going to learn true Islam, you're going to learn how to speak Arabic and the whole nine, and so I was doing a lot. And an Arabic went to the mosque for about two years. And I said to myself, Okay, I get it. Now, I want to learn Buddhism. She knew a doctor that went, there was a Buddhist, a couple, and there was a Buddhist temple in Princeton University. So I study Buddhism for a couple years. And so about that time, I was about 1718 years old, and I said, you know, I have a pretty good foundation of what all of these belief systems are, you know, not so much Buddhism, because actually, Buddhism is actually atheistic in nature, right. It doesn't have a central godhead, you know. There's a saying that goes, if you ever see the Buddha on the side of the road, kill it. Because that's not the Buddha. Right? You are. Right. Okay. Yeah. And about 1718 years old, I said, Okay. I'm an atheist. I'm an atheist. And my mother had a hard time with that. The rest of my family had a hard time with that. But I did not face any. I was not ostracized I was not treated any differently. So I don't have any you know, horror stories regarding that. She said, Why don't you believe in something even if I want you to be a Christian, but even if, if you stayed a Muslim, right, just just just believe in something? And then I said, I, I can't because this is based on critical thinking. It's not based on emotion. No one in the church hurt me. The pastor didn't hurt me. People weren't mean to me. This was based on critical thinking this was based on just academic research, history, science. And, you know, I made that declaration. And so I got out very early. You know, it wasn't I wasn't like in my, you know, because I'm, you know, I'm in my late 40s Now, and so I wasn't in my 30s These are 40s When I decided to deconstruct, I started deconstructing in my teens. So good for me, right? Because I didn't have to wrestle, you know, with the psychological trauma of that. And so yeah, that's that's how I was raised up, man, I was raised up as a as a hardcore Baptist. And, you know, my mother is still a Christian to this day, but her eyes have opened up to a lot of different issues that we've talked about throughout the years. And so yeah, you know, that's kind of like my journey started out early man.

David Ames  10:35  
Yeah, that's awesome.

I always say that I think for precocious kids, somebody who can read the Age of Reason 13 is Christianity and just, you know, more fundamentalist religion in general is just a really hard place to be, you know, especially you're asking questions to the deacon, and you're just not getting the answers that you want. And so, man, proud of you to, you know, grow through that and not and not fold under the pressure. What I find now on this side of deconversion, is the recognition of just the social pressure of religion, even like your mom saying, just believe in something. There's that social pressure of that concern, that you believe in something?

Robert Peoples  11:29  
Absolutely. And I didn't tell you during my teenage years, I was also reading Nietzsche. You know, Ludwig Feuerbach, serene Kierkegaard Oh, I was heavy into, I went down to philosophy matrix. And so, you know, I just wrestled with a lot of things very, very early. And then I would say to anyone, you know, that is deconstructing to start implementing philosophy in your life, because it teaches you how to think not what to think. Yeah, you know, and that really helped me out, David,

David Ames  12:06  
that's awesome. You have a, it's either Instagram or tick tock, where you talk about the reverse engineering of theology by using the tool of philosophy, just like you say, how it teaches teaches you how to think, absolutely, oh, that is so much fun, I'm super jealous, I didn't come to philosophy until much later in life. And I really, really wish I would have been exposed to it earlier.

Robert Peoples  12:31  
Hey, but better, but a better, you know, mean, better to grasp it, you know, now than later, you know, it's, it's something and I blame our, our educational system for that, you know, because in a lot of, you know, European schools, you know, they're teaching philosophy and grade school, and here in America, and we're not introduced into philosophy, and so we want to take it almost as an elective in college, they don't teach that in high school in this kind of America, you know, so, you know, so a lot of us just missed the boat with that, you know, if you don't seek it out, you're not going to learn it.

David Ames  13:08  
And then just one more comment about your story, I think, how important it is the step back, and the look at comparative religions. So you did it the real way you went and actually studied each of those religions, but even just taking a class, just to be able to recognize the similarities and differences. There are cultural differences, you know, radical cultural differences, but there are so many similarities as well, that it is incredibly difficult when you look at it as a whole, all of humanity and all of the religious beliefs that humanity has added over time to say, Well, mine is correct. And all the rest of them are incorrect.

Robert Peoples  13:46  
Absolutely. And, you know, and what comparative religions, the, you know, the lesson programs teaches us as well as that, you know, we are kind of restricted in this box of geography. You know, if I grew up in Iran, if I grew up in Iraq, I'd probably be a Muslim. Yeah, right. If I fought, you know, if I grew up, you know, in China, you know, China's predominantly an atheistic country. Right, I would have been born an atheist, right, my parents would probably be secular, inherently. Right. So basically, our belief systems are based on our geography. Really? Yeah. Yeah. You know, comparative religions teaches you that like, Okay, over here, over there, and it's like, Oh, okay. So it's just by happenstance that I was a Christian in my early years, based on you know, and also based on the fact that, you know, 80% of African Americans in America are Christian of some sort. Yeah. So that, you know, that leads to, you know, a whole other history, you know, dealing with the Atlantic slave trade and all that, you know, so there's like a lot of rich history. that so?

David Ames  15:08  
Let's address that, you know, so I've heard other black atheists talk about being a minority of a minority, you know, how difficult is it to be a black atheist, you know, within your own community within the atheist community? You know, are there extra challenges, there

Robert Peoples  15:27  
are huge challenges. I could say, emphatically that coming out to one's family in the black community, as gay is better than to come out that you're an atheist. Homosexuality is more embraced, than you coming out saying that you don't believe in a God in the black community. It is it is hard. You know, you know, years ago, even you know, when I was dating, I would have women say to me, you know, you're a great guy, you know, you're a great guy, but I'm just I'm looking for God fearing man. You know, you know, but good luck, you know, good luck on your dating journey. And, and I'm like, wow. So it doesn't matter how someone treats you doesn't matter how a man treats you, you know, you're more consumed with his theological background with his belief system, than just treating you like, a great human being. You know, that's, that's unfortunate. I've lost friends, friends that I've because I shoot poor, like, I love shooting pool. And, you know, you know, friends that I've met just at the pool hall. And you know, we talk about a lot of things. And one person in particular, I knew for two years, and all of a sudden, religion came up. And I said, Oh, yeah, I'm not religious. He was like, Oh, so you're just, you're just spiritual. Now, it's more than that. It's a little more than that. I'm an atheist, you know, I'm an atheist, and, and, and I'm a humanist, as well. And he said, What, well, how do you? How do you think you got here? I said, evolution. And slowly but surely, he distanced himself from me. And that happened several times. years, just, you know, just being friends. You know, and that one thing, one thing, it just, you know, had me shunned. You know, and, you know, that was, that was difficult, you know, but I gained so many more friends, so many more like minded individuals, you know, and so, it made up for that, but, yes, being a unicorn, yes, being, you know, a black male who's an atheist who was also a feminist who was also for human rights. Yeah. I am in like, the fraction of a percent in this country, you know, and so, yeah, it's, it's, it's difficult, you know, and I'm gonna just say this. By mine, by me being an atheist, by me being a humanist. For what it's worth, I've been embraced more David, by the white American community, then I have my own because of this, and, and I don't say that lightly. I, that took a lot for me to just say that. That took a lot for me to say that and, but it's true, but But now, especially being on social media now, especially Instagram, more and more black people, more and more people of color in general are coming forward and expressing their ordeals with societal religiosity, and it's given me hope, you know, it's really given me hope and so yeah, it's it's difficult, you know? It's very difficult. But But now, it's, I'm okay. You know, I'm okay. I'm okay with it because I have a huge support base. And I have people that love me, and I, I wouldn't change my decision for the world

David Ames  19:56  
you have, you know, mentioned a few times I think in Instagram and tick tock to normalize black atheism and, and I think you and your voice, you know, it's more than just atheism, it's the humanism in it, it's the humanity, it's a loving people part that I think is what will reach religious communities, right? Like, that's what's gonna reach in and say, Hey, there's a way that you can live and be kind to person without having to have a religious faith.

Robert Peoples  20:25  
And I definitely agree with that. That's why a lot of times when I, when I have conversations with people and people question, you know, my belief system, or even lack thereof, I always start out, I used to always start out with the whole, you know, atheist conjecture. But over the course of a few years, I lead off with humanism, because I, basically, I, I live my life, you know, I identify by what I do believe in, versus what I don't believe in. And I think, like you said, that opens up ears a little bit more when I say I believe in you. I believe in people. Right? I believe in change. And if any change is going to happen, we have to do it, there is no savior coming to save us, that responsibility is ours. And people tend to perk up their ears just a little bit more. When when when they hear that because let's be honest, you know, all atheists aren't humanists. Right? Right. You can't write you can't you can't be a racist and be a humanist. I know, I know, atheists that are races, right, you can't be a humanist, and be homophobic. I do know atheists that are homophobic. Right? And so, you know, so the two aren't, you know, mutually exclusive, you know what I'm saying? And so, I like to lead with humanism, because that kind of lays the foundation, when I have a conversation with individuals.

David Ames  22:03  
Awesome. Let's expand on that, how did you discover humanism? Who are some of your humanist influences?

Robert Peoples  22:12  
Oh, well see, I know, you know, I know a lot of people have, have issues with, with Nietzsche, you know, in his, you know, Neo holistic, you know, views on on life, you know, it could be a little dark. But for me, he was the ultimate humanist for me. He critiqued religion so much, but it wasn't just out of just critiquing it, just to create arguments. He cared about how it affected people. And I was put on to him by my cousin, who also put me on to Thomas Paine. And but for more kind of modern, I guess you could say, mentor that who I never met. Oh, hitch, Christopher hitscan. See, oh, man, for me, he was the epitome of of humanism, or if it was anyone that I could, that I could have met, you know, before his departure on this Earth, it would have been all hitch, you know, he and I, and I liked his, his his veracity, you know, he didn't mince words. And I think one of the reasons why, you know, humanism and secularism has not really created a foothold in the government and businesses in education is because we're still, we're still dancing around eggshells, because we don't want to offend the sensibilities of religious, right, we still kind of want to give this kind of soft answer. And, you know, you can't go for the jugular vein all the time, right, but you have to stand your ground, right? It's like something what Malcolm X once said, he says, I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he's wrong than one who comes like an angel and is nothing but a devil. Right? I don't care if I think that you're wrong or right. But stand on something. Right, make a decision make an executive decision. And I loved hitch for that hitch did not care and especially in this era of evangelicalism, this Christian nationalism that is basically warped into fascism. They're bold, they are bold. I mean, you we have legislators that are saying, hey, You know incest and rate they're you know no they're they're not exempt from from the abortion hey if your rate gas one it's a gift from God look at it as a gift from God they're they're saying what they want to say they're bold but us as humanists us as atheists assists secularist we're still kind of like No, no, you shouldn't say that. That's against the Constitution. The First Amendment says we have to be a little bit more aggressive and how we attack this evangelicalism that is arrested our government we have to be a little bit more even on the verge of being a little bit more militant about it, but militant with love. Right, right. Militant with love. And so yeah, oh, hitch. Yeah. Oh, hedge you know, old time Nietzsche, but modern Oh, hitch for me. Oh, hitch was the ultimate humanist for me.

David Ames  26:14  
I want to hear your thoughts on how humanism can or cannot be, in your opinion, a benefit for the black community? Do you see that as something that the black community is missing? Or needs? Or is that just something that has been helpful to you personally?

Robert Peoples  26:34  
I think it is essential. In my opinion, I think it is a mandate for black America to get out of the situation that it's in. Um, I believe that societal religiosity has hampered the progress of black people in this country. It has made us docile, and how we are treated, because, hey, don't worry about what happens to you here. You're going to be in the great bind by forever, just life is just temporary, don't worry about what people do to you. And that message has been destructive. Ah, as Bob Marley once said, you know, if you knew what life was worth, you would look for yours on Earth. And now you see the light, you stand up for your rights. And once we realize that heaven is what we create here. Heaven is what we create generationally. Once we understand that, and we break the chains of religion, we'll be able to see life differently. And we'll be able to move differently, other than just marching. Because David, let's be honest, marching hasn't helped, you know, for society to say, well, you know, what, just dress a certain way, you know, just dress professionally? Well, MLK was assassinated. So he wore suits, so that doesn't help. Protesting hasn't held, if anything, things have gotten worse. And a lot of it is because we're still arrested, mentally arrested. And this form of religiosity where we're just like, it's going to get better. God has it. It's in God's plan. If we you know, we may not understand it now, but we just have to just be be strong about it. Instead of doing the work ourselves and it pains me to, to see my people just dragged through the mud and not promote action because we're waiting on a savior to make everything okay. You know, there's something to say psychologically about when, as a child, no matter how much you studied, as an athlete, no matter how much blood sweat and tears you spent, and practicing, getting injured, studying the playbook, you then say all of this couldn't have been accomplished without the power of God. You have set your own abilities aside your own abilities aside, to give all of the glory to what and what that does to us is it makes us codependent on and I'm gonna be honest, it makes us codependent on but Neverland, white leaders in power for God to somehow change their hearts and change their minds. That is what religion has us doing, waiting on benevolent white leaders that don't really care about us, that God is going to change their heart, we have to not be so concerned about changing hearts, we need to be concerned about changing policy. I don't care what you think about me. But you're going to change this policy. And if something happens, you're going to be held lawful for that. And so that's why I believe humanism is an absolute necessity. And, and it has to be something else as well. I can't say, leave this religion alone. Come on to the side of humanism. But we're not offering anything. Let's be honest, the church has had a head start. Yeah, the church is communal, David, right. I mean, hey, if you need a job, so and so as a, as a VP at this bank, hey, they can get you a job. Oh, you want a mortgage? Oh, you know what? So and so was a loan officer. I mean, the church is a one stop David. And so for me, for us to say leave that communal, rest Haven, and then come to the side of humanism. Okay. What is there on that side? What's the benefit? I'm struggling? What do you have to offer? Do you have any outreach services? What do you have to offer? And so you know, when we're talking about, you know, like Maslow's hierarchy of basic needs, you can't think transcendental thoughts. You can't think about leaving religion and thinking about humanism, and the philosophical connotations of what that means when you can eat, when you're about to be evicted, when you're about to be foreclosed. When you have no support. But you can go to the local church and get support. We have to do better. We have to create organizations that help people. And that will make humanism very much attractive. Because where people, right, humans are communal creatures. Yeah. You see, we have to have something else besides philosophy in order to bring people in. And that's my that's my take on that man.

David Ames  32:33  
Yeah, I had Anthony pin on Rice University. And he talked about he's great. Yeah, he's great. He's amazing. Yeah, it talks about something very similar of like, we need to have a soft place to land for for people coming out of religion in general. And then the black community in particular, you know, like you say, resources, the community that all of those things that that's what I'm driving, trying to build, you know, like, how can we build community that could meet the real world needs of people in the world that that the church has been doing for millennia, right, then? And that's when I think humanism becomes functional? As it were, right?

Robert Peoples  33:16  
And you know, what I want to be I want to be a part of that. Hey, you know, let's, let's, let's brainstorm. You know, like, let's, let's brainstorm and create, you know, like, national organization with it. Like you said, you know, humanism has to be functional. Yeah. It can't just be in the head.

David Ames  33:35  
Yeah, exactly. I sometimes talk about like, I want to humanism that bleed, sweats and cries, like, you know, that we've had it so much so that it's the philosophers talking and their white towers. And you know, I'm much more interested in what it's like to, you know, you're going to be evicted and you're hungry, and you've got four children. What do you do then? That's, that's what actually matters. That's what actually counts and how do we how do we apply the principles of humanism in that environment?

Robert Peoples  34:05  
Oh, excellent. That that's you hit the hammer on the nail with that one.

David Ames  34:17  
I want to talk more about secularism that isn't necessarily something that we talk a lot about on the podcast. So what is secularism to you? And then that'll be a springboard for you talk about Affinis Humanity and what you're doing with that work?

Robert Peoples  34:34  
Oh, okay. So yeah, so the so the terminology secularism, you know, it's there, there's duality that exists within the term, right? It has a dual meaning, right. So the political meaning is anyone who believes and upholds the separation of church and state. So actually, you could be a Christian. But if you believe in the separation of church and state by political definition, you are secular by nature. If you're a Muslim, and you believe in the separation of church and state, you are secular. Now, of course, just like any other words, words evolve over time throughout history. And so now secularism has become more attached to individuals that have no religious affiliation. Right? It has evolved into that. But I think people should always keep in mind that it has a dual meaning and I am willing to work with anyone that is for to separation of church and state, I don't have to agree with your theological base. But if you believe in the separation of church and state, we can work together. You know, and, and so and that, you know, brings me to, you know, how I got connected, actually, with the Secular Coalition for Arizona. lobbyists, extraordinaire, Tory ro Berg reached out to me on Facebook, I've been living in Arizona for about 13 years. And about a little over three years ago, she just messaged me and said, Hey, have you ever heard of the Secular Coalition for Arizona? Like, No, I've never heard that organization. So I started digging, and I'm like, wow, they're a 501 C four. They're a political nonprofit. Wow, with a lobbyist. Wow, that just blew my mind. And so I met with the chair, and I was a part of the organization for a few years, you know, and so that really started getting me and getting me aware of the politics that go on with trying to implement this at Woody in Handmaid's Tale society, within the government. And it just blew my mind. I performed the secular studies there where I would speak with a roomful of lawmakers, senators, House of Representatives, and we would just have a closed door session on what it means to keep Arizona secular. And sometimes emotions flared, right? Yes, you have people you got Christians in there, you got hardcore Christians in there. You You know, you have some senators, you know, Senators that are atheist. Right. And they're and, but at the end of the day, everyone was respectful. And I learned so much about that. And so that really kind of fueled my desire to really get into the government aspects of that, before that. I was into the schools, and I'm still into schools. I have to tell this story. So I have a friend and he's, he's a principal at a school here in Gilbert, Arizona. And if anyone knows about Gilbert, Arizona, it is very well, Mormon occupied heavily. And so a friend of mine, she has a daughter, and she was the class president. And so she said, Robert, I want you to come to my school and talk about what it is to be a humanist. I said, okay, so of course, I had to talk at a meeting with the principal and a meeting with the superintendent as well. And he said, Okay, Robert, I'm gonna tell you now, you know what territory you're in, you're in Mormon. You have a very small box to operate under a very small box to operate. There are going to be fires. I know that they're going to be fires. I just want them to be manageable. So you got a small box to move in? Got you. Yeah, went in there. I did about a two hour presentation. When I asked everyone, you know, what is their you know, if they would like to share what is their belief system or lack thereof? I would say about 75% Were like, I'm atheist. I'm agnostic. I'm bisexual and agnostic. I'm gay, and I'm a secularist. I'm a human. I'm like, Whoa. I'm sort of preaching to the choir, so to speak here, right. And of course, you had other ones that were Mormon. Right, sir. And q&a came up, they asked a lot of questions. And at the end of the day, I received about I don't know maybe about 3040 emails from parents saying, Thank you for your presentation and the name of that presentation. It's almost like self fulfilling prophecy almost ready, if I can say that right? The presentation was to be human is enough.

David Ames  40:07  

Robert Peoples  40:09  
And that was, you know, that was wow, maybe six years ago. Okay. Yeah, you know, and so, so I was in so I went to other several schools was very well received. And then of course COVID had to show its head. And so that kind of interrupted the flow of a lot of things. But from school, then I wanted to get into business and then government. And that's when the whole secularism bit came about and serving on the board with this wonderful organization really opened up my eyes really educated me on a lot of things. Got me connected with lawmakers, even though we might not see eye to eye. I made a lot of progress with him, and influenced a lot of policies that they created. There's still a lot of work to be done. But yes, I just want to let people know that are, you know, atheists humanists, that it's okay, if someone believes in a god or if they're religious, work with them if they uphold the separation of church and state, because in the grand scheme of things, we all need each other. I don't, we don't have to agree with one another. But the key thing is to understand I don't have to agree with you. But I want to understand your perspective. And to me, that's more important than agreement.

David Ames  41:35  
I love it. Yes, absolutely. Yeah, quick story on that, you know, I think, even as a Christian, I was very much for the separation of church and state, because it's both good for the church, and good for the state. So when I, when I went through deconversion, and that was just an obvious, obvious thing that, you know, that's important to uphold. And, and I think within 2016, we had a real world example of that as kind of Christian nationalism came to the front stage. And I watched, my, my wife is still very much a believer. And when I watched her grieve, you know, how Christianity was being manipulated politically. And I think that's just a testament to why separation of church and state is important, even for believers, because it may not be your brand of Christianity that is being represented politically.

Robert Peoples  42:27  
And that's something that we we consistently and perpetually brought up in the chambers of lawmakers is that, you know, what, like you said very eloquently, your brand of Christianity may be looked down upon. Yeah, you know, so a secular society is best for everyone, for everyone. And it's just, you know, I mean, you know, peer reviewed studies have shown that, you know, and the the Happiness Index report that comes out by the United Nations, the most happiest countries in the world happened to be the most secular.

David Ames  43:07  

Robert Peoples  43:10  
Right. You know, children who grow up in secular households exude higher levels of empathy than religious children.

David Ames  43:20  
Yeah, interesting, which would shock a lot of people.

Robert Peoples  43:24  
But if you think but if you really dig and being, you know, coming from an ex Christian background, you know, you know, both of us, you know, we can kind of understand why that is, right, because it's a level of accountability. If I do you wrong, if I commit a wrong to you, I can't go into my closet, and pray about and say, Well, you know what, God forgave me. I don't care if you don't forgive me, my Lord forgave me. So I'm gonna go on with my life. As a person who is a non believer, I have to rectify the wrongs that I committed to you. I can't go in my closet, and ask God for forgiveness. I have to come to you, man to man, woman, a woman and say, I'm sorry, how can I fix this? So it makes sense about the empathy being higher with children that have no religious affiliation? It makes sense.

And I have a question for you if I can ask you

David Ames  44:32  
to. Yeah, please. Yeah. Go said Your wife

Robert Peoples  44:35  
is still a Christian is still a believer. How? I'm curious, how do you how do you to navigate through through through this ordeal?

David Ames  44:45  
That's a whole podcast in itself. You know, well, I'll tell you, it's your tagline. To be human is enough in that, you know, I recognize, first of all, how much I love my wife and I embrace all of her humanity, which includes her faith. But it's very hard, right? Like I don't want to pretend like it isn't difficult we we have a number of listeners to the podcast that are in what we call unequally yoked relationships. And it is challenging, it is hard. But we have recognized we've been able to communicate to one another that we we love each other for who we are, and that we're committed to the relationship and that we want to work through, we both want to work through it that that really helps. And so not every relationship, I think will survive through this unequally yoked thing. But one of the things that made me want to start the podcast was to differentiate from some of the atheist voices out there that were, you know, burn the bridge on your way out and go out in a blaze of glory, right? Yes, yeah. Yeah, there are some relationships you want to keep, obviously, not abusive ones, or psychologically or physically or anything like that, but once it you want to keep and so one of the messages that I wanted to have was, this secular Grace includes the believers in our lives to to not see believers as dumb or ignorant or what have you. But to remember what it was like to be convinced I was 100% convinced Robert 100%. And so I can't, you know, see that as lesser than or less intellectual or something like that. And so, again, my whole thing is about embracing humanity, embracing my humanity, embracing the humanity of others, that includes and entails other leaders.

Robert Peoples  46:38  
I like the I like, you know, the whole you know, secular grace, you know, atheist grace, you know, because I do see that a lot. I see a lot of ad hominem attacks. Yeah, well, actually attacking people's character, because they, they're still a Christian, or they believe in some god of some sort. And, you know, we we've all been, I mean, at least for me, I think the majority of us the reason the number one reason we were Christians in the first place was because we were indoctrinated ever since we've had a rattle in our hand and a pacifier in our mouth. I mean, I mean, you know, our brains are, you know, that the human brain doesn't fully develop until about 25 years old. So imagine you're an infant, you know, and you're experiencing all this stuff. And it's like, no wonder, like, no wonder people are struggling, you know, and me knowing that, you know, I can't commit ad hominem attacks to believers, because I know why they believe I know why they're resistant to information because the indoctrination man, the tentacles of indoctrination, are deep, and they reach far. And that's why religious trauma syndrome is a thing. You know, and some people never, you know, some people will forever deconstruct, some people will never reach a conclusion. Right? They will always struggle with the residuals of their, you know,

you know, deconstruction of their religiosity, they will always I know, people that tell me, you know, Robert, I know,

hell doesn't exist. I know, it doesn't exist, but you know, what, every once in a while, I raise an eyebrow, and I get a little nervous. Isn't that something you know, that it doesn't exist, but because of the level of indoctrination that you've experienced as a child, the residuals are still there, even though you know, it's not real, you still have a physical reaction to it. Man, that's that's heavy I almost I've really not almost I'm gonna be a be hitch in this moment. Not almost, it is a form of psychological child abuse. It is a form of psychological child abuse. Children should be raised in a neutral setting and let them decide let them decide what they want to do. Yeah, you know so yeah, I I don't go for that when when people attack people's character for I don't I don't stand by that.

David Ames  49:14  
I can tell from from the things I've read and listened to of yours. So yeah, yeah, back to the comparative religion you know, imagine if we did Middle School comparative religion class that you know, as children, the age of reason, they get, you know, exposure to more options and you know, would be able to make their own choices quite a bit better. So, absolutely.

Robert Peoples  49:45  
What, because I talked about what kind of led me down that trajectory of, of embracing atheism and humanism humanism more importantly, what led you on that path is as as As a former Christian, what transition in your life that started you questioning your own belief system?

David Ames  50:08  
Man, again, this could be an entire podcast. With 2020 hindsight, I recognize that I was a religious humanists, right, like I was all about grace, I came to Christianity in my teens. So I feel like I had a little bit of a sense of my own self without that childhood indoctrination, but I stayed in it for 27 some odd years. So it wasn't, it wasn't that I got out of it easy. But I always was focused on people. And I felt like the, the attractive part of Jesus was, I came for the sick and not the well, and, and, you know, and the attack on hypocrisy of the religious leaders. And that's what drew me to Jesus. And that was the thing that I thought it was supposed to be about. And it was, you know, years of watching other people not feel that same way or not think of Jesus the same way and be more focused on rules and not having sex and, you know, things that just didn't feel as important, right, like that, you know, was about caring for people. And so early, early on, you know, I had friends who were gay, where I recognized you, I can't, I can't hate this person. I love this person. That was one one part of it intellectually, for sure. You know, I deconstructed long before I knew what deconstruction was right? I had let go. literalist interpretation I had let go of even the authority of Scripture had really lost, lost all of it there near the end, I tell a story about reading through the Bible, in a year, a year or so before I D converted, and my wife would be like, you're angry? Why are you so angry? I, you know, that was that I, you know, I was I was reading it without the rose colored glasses on for the first time. And it was painful what I was seeing there. And so I talked about this in a, an article I wrote called, How to D convert in 10 Easy Steps as a joke. But you have this moment where you give yourself permission to doubt permission to go and seek information outside of the bubble. And I feel like that happened to me, roughly a year before a deconversion. For me, and I just started to allow myself to hear outside voices, you know, the occasional article would come up from an atheist perspective, and I'd find that I didn't disagree with them entirely. Things like the separation of church and state all of those things. But I always like to say it was 1000 things, not just one. Those are some of the mileposts along the way. But I had a oh shit moment. I was reading a Greta Kristina article that was talking about the lack of the existence of a soul. And I realized I agreed with that. And I was like, Oh, shit, I I don't believe and I was done. There was no progressive Christianity. For me, there was no anything else, I finally was able to just say, you know, kind of my skeptical personality, my need for answers that I think you have eloquently described for yourself as well. I was just going to embrace that. And let's go find, you know, the science and the philosophy that has, you know, evidence and argumentation and things that that felt like I could press on them really hard and be really skeptical, and they would still remain true, right? And how unlike that was for my faith where it felt like I was betraying God by testing him by asking questions and things like that. So that's the quick that's the quick version. Again, I could tell the a very long, long version of it, but

Robert Peoples  53:56  
Oh, no, I appreciate that. David, man, like you said about doubt, man. You know, how does the quote go? All great truths start out as blasphemies. Yes. Right. It's it's that it's that doubt, doubt is the beginning of wisdom. Yes, you know, and that's something that the church really teaches against. And so yeah, man, thanks for Wow, thanks for sharing like when you said you were done done, and that was listening to what you were saying you were base you were deconstructing for years, you know, so that's when you came to that conclusion. Like kind of very easily like, Oh, I'm, I'm Dun dun dun. Because you had the years of not even knowing that you were really deconstructing

David Ames  54:39  
I had no idea I was completely ignorant. That's what was happening, but that's exactly what was happening. Yeah.

Robert Peoples  54:44  
Oh, that's good stuff, man. Good stuff.

David Ames  54:56  
We've been talking about a lot of things, some of them negative one. I want to I hear a little bit about you have a, an Instagram where you talk about the benefits and the joy of being on this side of deconversion. Just like to hear you expound on that for a bit like, what is it like for you today that you've left kind of the religious bonds behind?

Robert Peoples  55:21  
You know, I? Wow, I can I'll lead it with a with a quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

was a Douglas Adams right? You know, why is it that we can't look at a garden as beautiful without thinking that there are fairies at the bottom of it too? Yeah, that I'll open up with that. The benefits of walking away from religion and the benefits of humanism is it has increased my love for humanity exponentially. I no longer love people with conditions with conditions on their sexual orientation, their conditions on their ethnicity, their conditions on their gender, I can walk out of my house, and I look at the hummingbird differently. I'm in all, when I see a hummingbird, I'm in all when I when I see ants, when I'm walking on the street, I'm always looking down. Because when I look at ants, which are the strongest insects probably alive that can lift to 50 to 100 times its body weight. Can you imagine if we could do that as a human? I'm, I'm six, five about 225 Can you imagine me lifting 100 times my own bodyweight. You know, I'm, I just have such a reverence for nature around me. Um, I can wake up in the morning, and I don't have to, I don't have to go to a book. You know, I don't have to go to archaic scriptures to lead me. The Book of Life opens up each and every time I wake up in the morning, I write my own book, David. I can love people, regardless of their belief. You know, before when I was a Christian, I wasn't around people who didn't believe I looked at them like they were crazy. Now, even as a non believer, I can look at a Muslim as a Christian because I have a lot of Christian friends, I have a lot of Muslim friends. And I love them even still, I may not agree with them, but it doesn't impede upon the love, I exude for them. And it's such a bag of heavy bricks just to lay down knowing that I'm not going to be here forever, that I'm not going to be in this, you know, heavenly firmament, forever. There is there is peace and tranquility, knowing that my life is finite, because it allows me to love life more. I don't want to live forever. I want to do things where I know there is a limited capacity. I have an expiration date in this world. And so that allows me to try to make as much of an impact as I can, every day of my life. And I enjoy life more because it's finite. I want to say I love my daughters more man, I I love the fact that you know, you know what, I'm probably going to outlive you but I'm gonna make sure that I have the greatest impact I have in your life. Accountability, David, um, if I do it wrong, I'm going to remedy it. I'm going to bring rectification to the issue and to see someone look at me like, wow, that took a lot for you to come forward. I don't know. If I could have done that. I would probably have had to pray about it. Talk to my church leaders. The Accountability. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. That's it. You know, and so those are those are some of the benefits of of humanism matches of reverence and an appreciation for life and humanity. Man,

David Ames  1:00:07  
I could not have said it any better. That was amazing. Well, Robert, I am just profoundly impacted by your work, to be human is enough is going to stick with me for four years, I'm going to be quoting you on that one. So I hope that you and I can become friends, I hope that we can do more work together, I'd love your work, I want to give you an opportunity to tell people, how they can reach out for you to you how they can contribute to your work, how they can find you.

Robert Peoples  1:00:38  
Oh, absolutely. Everyone you can, you can go to my website to learn more, it's It's a f f i n is just a little a little side note. So affinis is the Latin derivative of the word affinity, which means a natural attraction to a person thing or idea. And my attraction is to humanity. Thus, humanism, you can find me on Instagram affinis, humanity, and also Facebook, the same and Tik Tok as well. I finished humanity. And I like to I like to hear from everyone. And yes, David, we must, you know, when social media works, it works right and our connection to just to to extend past this podcast, you know, I mean, I want to really, you know, connect with you and just brainstorm about, you know, some of the things that you were speaking about, you know, bring bringing the functionality to humanism to society to real world issues. And I'm all for that man. And so, yes, let's, let's stay in touch.

David Ames  1:01:54  
Absolutely. And Robert Peoples thank you so much for being on the podcast. Hey, I

Robert Peoples  1:01:58  
appreciate you, man. Thank you.

David Ames  1:02:06  
Final thoughts on the episode? To be human is enough. Robert has captured secular grace in that phrase, I literally will be thinking about that phrase for the rest of my life. It is such a simple way to capture it and it has deep meaning. For humanists, it has deep meaning for anti racism. It has deep meaning for being a human being, period. Like Robert said, when social media works, it really works. I really appreciate this connection. I do want to thank our Lean for prodding both Robert and I to connect with one another, our lean our community manager for the deconversion anonymous Facebook group. Roberts work touches so many of the things that I care about, as we mentioned the secular grace and beginning with humanism and loving people without conditions. I need to quote him here at least once he says I believe in you. I believe in people. I believe in change. And if any change is going to happen. We have to do it. There is no savior coming to save us that responsibility is ours. And Roberts work in secularism, if for any reason that word secularism is bothersome to you think of pluralism, really, that's all we're saying is that no one ideology, whether it's religious, economic, philosophical or cultural dominates in a political sense, such that all other ideas are shut down. And the example is, like I mentioned with my wife, who was very much a Christian, but watched as a version of Christian nationalism, and not the Christianity that she would endorse, gains political power. You cannot guarantee that even if you are a believer that the version of Christianity that gains political power will be your version. And even if it is your version, you cannot guarantee that it will maintain that power. And so secularism or pluralism, the marketplace of ideas and ideologies, where there is freedom of speech, there is no religious test for for political office is an ideal, and it is both good for the church and it is good for the state. I love the work that Robert is doing in Arizona promoting secularism that is boots on the ground doing the hard work. I truly loved the way that Robert talked about reverse engineering theology with philosophy and how important philosophy was to him, even as a young man Starting with Payne's Age of Reason, and going into Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard and the existentialists, I can sometimes be negative towards the philosophy bros. But I need you to understand how much I appreciate philosophy and how important it is. It forces us to think deeply and critically about what we think, and why what we believe and why. And to be able to articulate an argument for it. It is incredibly important. And like Robert, I encourage everyone to dig in and learn philosophy. I very much appreciated Roberts willingness to talk about race that can be such an uncomfortable subject. And I appreciated the level of honesty that he brought to the table talking about not being accepted by his own community, and how hard that is. I also appreciated how much he recognizes that humanism can add to the black community. And Robert is such a powerful voice to spread that message and to spread a message of loving people without conditions. I want to encourage you to check out Roberts website, the links will be in the show notes. He has t shirts available, I think you can support him financially and the work that he's doing. He's also participating in the Secular Coalition for Arizona, we'll have links in the show notes for that as well. Please reach out to Robert and support the work that he is doing. Robert is a quote machine, go back, listen to this. I've listened to it twice already. He is an amazing human being and has such wisdom to share. I'm very glad that I got to meet Robert, I hope that he and I will have an opportunity to work together again. I want to thank Robert for being on the podcast for sharing his wisdom for sharing his love for humanity for sharing his joy in humanism and the freedom that he experiences in that. Thank you, Robert for being on the show. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is just to expound upon, to be human is enough. I'm not sure that I can adequately expand on on this. It is so profound in its simplicity. So much of what I am trying to say with secular grace is about embracing our humanity. When I say humanity, I mean our foibles, our weaknesses as well as our strengths as well as our intellect and rationality. So much of religion tries to deny our humanity that our normal human desires and wants are evil and wrong. You know, who we love or what color our skin is, and what we think in our private thoughts get categorized and moralize so that we turn in on ourselves and begin to hate ourselves. So much of what I want with secular grace is for us to be able to embrace ourselves as human beings and embrace one another as human beings. And that does include the human beings who believe in a theistic God, it does include human beings of a different race. It includes human beings have different gender identities and sexual orientations. It includes and people of religions other than Christianity, it includes people of other cultures. It is so easy to other eyes, the people with whom we disagree or who are different from ourselves and to deny their humanity. So my challenge to you is to recognize the humanity even in the people who you find difficult to love. This is secular grace. As I mentioned, we're going to take a break next week for your Easter holiday. Please re listen to this episode four or five times. I mean, really, this Robert is an amazing person and has so much to say. And then if you want to go into the back catalogue, and the links will be in the show notes to Jennifer Michael hacked Anthony pin and Sasha seconds episodes I highly recommend those for a secular Grace holiday weekend. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful

It's 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? 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 grace, 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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