Humanist author and speaker, Joe Simonetta, grew up in a Catholic home with good values. He and his brothers “did well,” and he is thankful for the foundation his parents gave him. As a young man, affected by all the suffering in the world, he vowed to be part of the solution. He has lived a fascinating life, holding degrees from multiple universities, traveling extensively and enjoying all kinds of professions. His full bio is available here.
Joe is hopeful about the future and has three basic rules that he believes can change the future for humanity: Be healthy. Be kind. Respect the environment.
“What triggered me was ‘suffering.’ When I observed the suffering in the world, it really disturbed me.”
“All the while I had this in the back of my mind; this concern about the state of humanity…”
“I said to myself, Do I really have to read all these books? [Metaphysics and religion] could not be this complicated.”
“As I studied all the world religions, it just hit me: There’s nothing here…This is old stuff…the products of our infancy of our intelligence.”
“Everything is connected to everything else. We exist, not separately, but in communion with all other living things…Everything’s in relationship. That’s the nature of the universe.”
“What level of thinking are we at? What level of thinking do we need to get to? And how do we get there?”
“These primitive instincts and emotions which are a biological reality and these antiquated and divisive and dysfunctional supernatural religious beliefs…are a lethal combination of behaviors…and they must be overcome.”
“Religion is clearly an obstacle to human progress.”
“The current great extinction is caused by…us! It’s caused by humanity.”
This week’s guest is the content creator, @boundless_and_free. Boundless grew up in a good Christian home, attended a PCA church and believed all was well in her life. She would later learn the term CPTSD and understand that her “good Christian upbringing” was not quite what she’d thought.
In college, Ms. Free first experienced anxiety and depression but had no vocabulary for it. (The Church rarely discusses these things.) It wasn’t until the “perfect life” she’d been promised began to unravel that she realized she needed a different way to understand both “god” and herself .
Now, as a “parts work” therapist, she helps others on their own journeys. Her personal experience of the divine centers around the ways that humans are connected to one another and the universe.
Once again—whether someone leaves religion and becomes an atheist or continues on a spiritual journey—the real purpose in life comes from connecting with other people. We are all in this together, and we each get one life to leave this world better than we found it.
This week’s guest is Keke. Keke’s family was in church, “running the show,” anytime the doors were open. Life at home was difficult for Keke, however, so the church provided a safe haven. But over time, domestic violence, mental health problems and other family secrets were too great a burden for her to carry.
After high school, Keke joined the military, got married and even led her husband to Jesus. Then in 2017, as she was reading a most peculiar bible story to her daughter, she started on a deconstruction journey she never saw coming.
Keke now is learning everything she can about ancient mythologies, African American history and many other cultures. She’s raising her children to be open to the world and its vast ways of living. She knows that human connection is truly what we need—whether with our ancestors through stories or with those around us today.
This week’s guest is Daniel. Daniel is a social scientist with a master’s degree in psychology. He grew up in the United Church of Canada, but church wasn’t a huge part of his life until high school. He then went to bible college and worked in ministry. He tried to experience God like others were, but it just wouldn’t happen.
He took on the “Office of Skeptic,” for himself. He hoped it would help both his faith and the church. He could articulate questions and doubts that others couldn’t. Were these miraculous stories true? Was God really even there? If so, what the hell was he doing?
Unfortunately, this only kept him in the church longer than he needed. By 2020, he’d been an agnostic theist for years and was finally seeing the harm done in North America by White Christianity.
Now Daniel writes and speaks, sharing his knowledge with those struggling with addictions and other mental health needs. He no longer looks to the supernatural for miracles but knows how much human connection is the true healer.
“I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God—like spiritual experiences during worship services—was very common, and I could never manage to actually feel those things.”
“[I had a]…brief but memorable career as a Christian Ghostbuster…”
“He took me under his wing and informed me that why I couldn’t feel God’s presence was because it was all blocked by demons. Obviously.”
“Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by more mundane means or is the spiritual explanation the best or only explanation?”
“To have someone convince [another person that they don’t need their] anti-psychotics because of [their] faith is something that hadn’t even occurred to me before…it was deeply alarming and stuck with me for years afterward.”
‘[In seminary,] many professors would make logically sound arguments but they’d be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded…”
“For many of the Christian intellectuals I was trying to learn from…critical thinking was a valued skillset up to a point. When we approach the underlying tenants of the faith, we’re suppose to stop…they’re simply too sacred to be questioned.”
“I was trying to find a reason to stay.”
“It’s the human connection that we make between us that’s really changing our lives.”
“I was encouraged by my new [secular] professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge, truth and understanding.”
“Me staying in this religion…despite the fact that I was basically agnostic. It’s lending validation to all those Christians who are actively working to make the world a worse place…”
“If we don’t have practices in place—like scientific thinking, like the scientific method…we’re always going to be taken in by things that we’d rather believe or that are easier to believe.”
“Apologetics: Philosophy, but done badly.”
“I don’t shy away from uncomfortable questions or even more uncomfortable answers. That has been such a valuable change in my life and has led me to some incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships…even some from bible college.”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the best are going to be ahead.”
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) 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 Manu Andrew, thank you so much for the kind words, you can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store, you can rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. The deconversion anonymous Facebook group continues to thrive and many of its members have been guests including this week's guest, please consider joining the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Daniel. Daniel has a master's in psychology. He focuses on addiction psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology enjoys the process of reading and interpreting research. And that's actually why he's here. Community member in had posted an article entitled here's how religion imprints us even when we walk away the article and ultimately the study underneath it were funded by the Templeton Foundation, which very much has a theistic bias, but it was still very interesting and prompted this conversation. Daniel has a fascinating personal story being bright and inquisitive. He stayed in the church for longer than he would have by taking on the concept of the Office of the skeptic within the church until he found he could no longer believe. Daniel also discovered that he has the attention deficit side of ADHD. And that plays a fascinating part of his story of deconstruction and deconversion as well. Here is Daniel to tell his story.
Daniel, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Thanks for having me. Daniel, we
David Ames 2:22
had an interaction with each other in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, we were discussing a Templeton article about people who D convert, and I just thought your responses were incredibly cogent. And it turns out that you have some expertise. So you had real input here. And so I'm really excited to have you on, I'd like you to just introduce yourself really quick and maybe talk about what that expertise is.
Certainly, my name is Daniel. I'm Canadian. And I've also worked in mental health and addictions for just about a decade and a half. And my educational background, which made me most interested in commenting on that article we were mentioning, is that I have a Master's of Science in Psychology. And so throughout that process, I focused a lot on reading and assessing and interpreting research from very various perspectives in psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology and learning how to recognize what's good research, what's bad research, and really been a big part of my life since then.
David Ames 3:33
Excellent. In the second half of the show, we're going to discuss the article that we just reference as well as just your experience in the field. But I want to hear your personal story first. So like we always do, what was your religious tradition growing up?
So I grew up in a Presbyterian home, attending the United Church of Canada, which is an amalgamation of several denominations, including Presbyterian and Episcopalian, it's exclusive to Canada. My family was not especially conservative, nor were they especially liberal. And well, he would have said that we were Christians. Growing up, it wasn't something that was discussed very frequently. I do remember having conversations about it. You know, when our family dog died, I asked him, you know, what happened to him? And can we go visit him and those kinds of things, and that that gave me I think, like a lot of people when your family pet dies, you get a bit of that first touch of the fear of death, which is probably a depressingly common story. What one of the things that's important in contextualizing my growing up and my identity formation is the fact that I had undiagnosed ADHD. Now ADHD comes in a few different varieties and most people are most familiar with the hyperactive subtype because that's the most outwardly visible. I flew under the radar because I had primarily inattentive type, which was less recognized in the 80s and 90s. Mostly just meant that people viewed me as a bit of a space cadet. I was insatiably curious but unfocused, I was frequently accused by my teachers of being lazy. It also able to work in bursts and for lengths of time and accomplish things soon as incredibly quickly. So I was identified as gifted, but unmotivated. Yeah, something I'm sure. Yeah, exactly. Now, a lot of neurodivergent children, including people with primarily inattentive, ADHD, struggle with relationships, and understanding how to act around other people in ways that are considered normal. So like a lot of people who grew up with similar experiences, I would often mimic the people around me or attach myself to stronger personalities and groups, and take on their opinions in order to fit in and to feel safe and accepted. This, I would go undiagnosed until I was about 27. When I was a teenager, I was invited to an evangelical youth group, and that little voice of curiosity inside of me had this whole new world to explore. I identified more and more strongly with this new group, though, I also learned a lot of new things like the evangelical concept of salvation and hell, which really amplified that fear of death that I'd had growing up. After a year in that group, I prayed the center's prayer and was baptized again, even though I'd already been baptized as an adult. I guess I needed a second coat. Yeah. And then my life really revolved around church, I attended youth group a couple times a week, as well as church on Sundays, I gained a valuable group of friends, couple of whom still talk to me today. But despite the fact that I had a new group to identify with, I was still struggling in a lot of areas. One was identity and identity formation, I still difficulty forming opinions of my own, I'd gravitate towards the strongest pains in the group without really putting a lot of time and effort into thinking about them. The other issue is that I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God and having spiritual experiences during worship services, and so on, was very common. And I could never manage to actually feel those things. I think partly because, while I was very curious, I also I didn't, I didn't lie to myself very easily, I, people would say, I'd really felt the presence of God during that song, I would go, I don't know what that means, like, Tell me about it, and how do I get there too, so they would often talk about experiencing the presence of God or feeling God's love or affection. And those weren't feelings I could just manufacture. So this led to years of rededicating my life to Christ and doing altar calls and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and eventually going to Bible college, which gives me a big wake up call. This period of time is one that i semi affectionately refer to as my brief but memorable career as a Christian ghostbuster. Okay.
So, early into my first year of college, I, we were all supposed to find Christian ministries to, to volunteer with. And so in the first few weeks, I started to volunteer for a local Christian drop and Center. This center was run by a man that I can only describe now, with the benefit of hindsight as a, as a spiritually abusive megalomaniac. He ran out of this drop in center, in addition to, you know, play foosball and stuff with kids. He ran a deliverance ministry, which, for those of your listeners who don't know what that is, it's a ministry that revolves around casting out demons from people who don't know they have demons in them. Yeah, these demons could be demons of lust, demons of depression, demons of anxiety, all sorts of things you would normally find in Frank Peretti novels. If you ever read those?
David Ames 9:16
Absolutely, yeah. I distinctly recall the Christians around me in the late 80s, you know, being really influenced by Frank Peretti. And, and I was when I was thinking, this cannot be like, even as a as a believer, I thought, you know, this is this takes this too far, somehow.
Well, I was the I was immersed in those books. I the church pastor gave them to me and said, like, this is really going to, you know, if you like Lord of the Rings, this is going to be great for you. And so I was very intrigued by this deliverance ministry, and the man took me under his wing and informed me that the reason why I couldn't feel God's presence is because it was all blocked by demons, obviously. And he also said that he wanted me to come in and work with him in his defense ministry because he had determined that I had the gift of discernment. So I could, according to him, I could feel when demons were nearby and I could tell what they were doing. And that was for an impressionable kid, especially one like myself, who was gravitating towards the strongest ideas in the room, and grew up reading sci fi and fantasy. This was, this was everything I'd hoped to hear. This was my Jedi moment. Gandalf had just sent me off. You know, Hagrid just told me I was wizard like, This is it? This is what I was waiting for. Yeah. So for a couple of months. That was, that was life, and I was becoming more invested in it. But there was one night where after the drop in, center had closed down, and we were doing the deliverance ministry stuff, one of the volunteers, were going to do something that was referred to as manifesting where it they appeared to be possessed by a demon, they spoken a strange voice, their behavior was very strange, very bizarre. And the deliverance ministry leader tried to have a showdown and exercise them which didn't do anything. And so four hours of this into the wee hours of the morning occurred. And after about four hours, the volunteers spouse, volunteer who was manifesting, their spouse showed up with a bottle of antipsychotics that the deliverance ministry leader had convinced him to stop taking, oh, wow, yeah, they took their antipsychotics and then they calmed down, and they went home. Okay. And I identified this retrospectively as a massive wake up call for myself, not only because I got exposed to a genuine, you know, mental health condition, that was misidentified as something spiritual, but because it made me realize, I was not thinking for myself, I was not thinking critically about what I was being told or what I believed. And if I wasn't careful, I was gonna get taken in by all kinds of foolish beliefs that would be harmful for myself and for others. That was the moment when I think the switch got flipped inside me when that voice of curiosity became the voice of skepticism. From that moment on, when people start telling me things about their experiences with God, about hearing the voice of Spirit with, you know, my my new reactions, they have to gravitate towards them and say, Oh, wow, like, Tell me more, I believe you. It was to put the brakes on the Start asking questions. Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by a more mundane means? Or is the spiritual explanation the best or only likely explanation? That also, this whole experience also really cemented my interest in psychology, and gave me an incredible amount of sympathy for people who were struggling with mental illnesses in the context of the church. To have someone convince you that you didn't need your anti psychotics, because of your faith was something that hadn't even occurred to me before that night, and immediately became deeply alarming. And something that stuck with me for years afterwards. So I stayed in Bible college and for the last half of Bible college, I connected with a few professors who were strong advocates of critical thinking, who helped me to grow those skills. I also benefited from being my wife, who had an incredibly strong bullshit detector. that to this day, is still much better than mine. So I left Bible college still a Christian, but a much more cautious person. And it will be a long journey for that newly planted skepticism to grow into agnosticism.
After college, I started working for Youth for Christ, ironically, also running a drop in center, but in a different community than the one I volunteered for I spent almost seven years there. I genuinely tried to do my best to improve people's lives. But my new skeptical outlook on life really made me question a lot of what we were trying to teach youth. And while I made a lot of friends with others in the ministry field, I often found rifts appearing between myself and those friends, I would question the things they were taking for granted, and things that they didn't want to be questioned. Throughout this whole time, my ongoing lack of any spiritual experience or feeling the presence of God, and all that still weighed on me, and I, it made me question if God was really there, which then brought up those fears of hell and fears of dying. But I'd read at some point during this period, I read CS Lewis is cosmic trilogy, which I'm not sure if you've read or not. I've read it. I've actually read it. Yeah. Which I actually really loved. It was a great series, and there's a character In the the final book, that hideous strength, named McPhee, and he's the only non believer in this group of people who are trying to save the world. And he's kind of presented as a as a bit of a dick. Like he's always questioning people. And he's always saying like, well, but are you sure? And no, could this not just be something in the weather or whatever? And, and he's, the other characters are obviously kind of irritated with him. But the leader of their group says, oh, no, he's our skeptic. And that's a very important office, you know, it's an office in the church, just like the office of priest, the Office of confessor, the Office of evangelist. And I identified with that so strongly, I thought, well, this is why I can't feel God is so that I can, I can hold this office and the church, the Office of the skeptic, that's my job. And that belief, I think, me in the church a lot longer than I might have otherwise.
David Ames 16:00
I relate to so much of this, Daniel, just so you know. I mean, that, you know, being marked out as, like having discernment. And, you know, I think bright analytical people within the church, get that tag and find it difficult to really get into the emotional experience that the people around them are having. And yet, you know, you're wanting to be a part of it so badly that you know, you're still continuing on, even though there's part of the kind of the back of your mind saying, is this quite right, it seems there's something maybe off,
I can remember somebody reading somewhere, somebody had written about a similar experience, how much longer must I put up with such unbearable silence from the throne of heaven? I remember feeling that so deeply, like, yeah, like what, like, what the hell God, and this idea that, hey, you are fulfilling a special place in the church, you're, you're here to be the skeptic. The Catholic church even has somebody employed to go out and check on If miracles are legitimate or not at the office is referred to as the devil's advocate. And I sort of identified with that. And while I was in ministry, I actually went to seminary and threw myself into Bible classes, theology classes, philosophy classes, but also classes in counseling psychology, because that's what I was most interested in. That was the degree I was going for. A lot of the biblical theological philosophy courses were taught by professors who spoke very highly of critical thinking and the importance of a rational face. But more and more, I was convinced there were limitations on how they were applying their critical thinking. Many people, many professors would create logically sound arguments, but they'll be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded or unsupportable, or non falsifiable. And I began to learn that for many of the Christian intellectuals, I was trying to learn from and trying to grow from critical thinking was a valued skill set to a point. When we approach these underlying tenets of the faith, we're supposed to stop and give those things some space, some things are just too sacred to be questioned, or too sacred to be skeptical about. You had a previous guest named Matthew, who said that he, he had to believe that somewhere somebody knew those answers, that would be sufficient. And you said to trust that guy knew what he was doing. He knows what he's doing. I'm okay. And I really related to that. I saw I looked for that person. I read Alister McGrath, Terry Eagleton, like tons of theologians and Christian philosophers, David Bentley, Hart, just trying to find that person. Yeah, I also read Christians who weren't philosophers, but who were scientists, Francis Collins, for instance, Human Genome Project, I sought for those strong rational arguments for God's existence that would help me satisfy that skeptical nature I had I kept finding that theological and historical arguments would either be flawed or erroneous or would run out long before my questions would. Even though I was actually seeking for that evidence. I think a lot of people think that when you when you leave the faith, it's because you were trying to find an excuse to I was trying to find a reason to stay. And outside of even the insulated North American Evangelical tradition, I found great Christian thinkers whose arguments also fell short and when their arguments ran out their reasons for believing boil down to personal experience. Yes, shutting have.
David Ames 19:38
Yeah, right. Okay.
Yeah. So I kept asking, like, is this really all you guys have? Am I supposed to rely on your personal experience as a reason for my faith? And I was I was always disappointed.
So about 12 years ago, I left both ministry and seminary, and I transitioned to secular Employment First as a counselor working with adolescents. And then as a public health educator in the area of mental health addictions. If someone had asked me when I left ministry, at the time, it would have said that I was an agnostic theist. I was trying to believe, despite my doubts, and despite the lack of personal experience, yeah, I was disillusioned, but I was determined to keep on trying, still hoping I would find arguments for the existence of God, they were actually convincing. Like another one of your guests, Lars said, I was just I was holding on to hope that was all I had left was the hope. My faith for the next 10 years was almost completely intellectual. And more than ever, I told myself that this is because I was in the office of the skeptic. And I was just doing my best. I do want to stress though, and this is important to me, too, that there were many Christian thinkers, educators I encountered, who were very good for my growth and development. One man in particular, became my mentor in the counseling program. He had a strong scientific mindset, before he became a counselor and got his doctorate in that he had been a pharmacist. And one of the things he did outside of the seminary was give talks to churches and Christian groups about how it was okay for Christians to take antidepressants. He gave talks on the history of anti psychotics, and I went with him to some of those talks, and saw him change so many lives, and how I saw him open up churches to the possibility that we could actually feel better without having to feel guilty at the same time. And as he got older and, and moved away, he gave me his blessing to, to continue some of those talks. And I started giving those talks and similar talks on faith and mental illness, at churches, at Christian conferences, not only locally, but then actually across the country. And I was so gratified that he opened up that possibility for me, because I did hear from a lot of people who wound up deciding to get help, because of some of those talks. That mentor, stated, dear friend, and we stayed in touch for many years. And earlier this year, he he passed away due to cancer. Yeah, it was, it's a, it's, I count one of the greatest gifts I've received in my life, that I was able to speak to him the day before he died and tell him how much he meant to me, and how he changed the direction of my life. We didn't talk about faith or God, I just told them how much I loved him and loved what he did for me and the path he set me on. And the fact that he was still cognizant of our conversation and is able to respond and express his emotions for me as well. It's something that I really, I really valued. And I I'm still I still have very fond memories of that work that we did. Within the church.
David Ames 23:21
You know, again, just a lot of parallels my Bible college experience, I had a number of professors that were very focused on critical thinking, I had a mentor, theology professor who, you know, I refer to occasionally on the podcast, and I can see all the positive elements of that relationship and what I learned from those people, even though I'm no longer a believer, and I think you said the most important thing there that it was the, you know, the impact on your life from one human being to another wasn't about spirituality, it was about someone caring for you, guiding you and giving you mentorship
and, and teaching me the value of being a good and empathic communicator. Watching him do public speaking, really lit the bug in it for me and I? I spent hundreds of hours over the last decade doing public speaking both through my work and outside of it. And, and every time I do, I can't I can't ever do it without thinking of him in some way. And like you said, it's that human connection that we we make between us that is really what's changing our lives and something I've just never regretted as the work that he and I did, even though I've, I've had cause to regret some of the things I did and said was in ministry should never, never has it been the work that he and I did.
David Ames 24:58
There's a number of direction means, I want to take, I want to wrap up just one element of what you talked about that I think is really important. And that is, in all of the skepticism and the doubt you were looking for a reason to believe you were looking for evidence to believe the fact that you were unable to find that evidence is not your fault in any way. And I think because sometimes the apologists approach is to blame. The doubter, like it's the doubters fault that they won't accept the argument. But as you pointed out, you begin to recognize the unfalsifiable falsifiability have a premise or it like you say, it can be a sound argument, but it's based on premises that don't have any founding.
Exactly. And that all came even more clear to me when I left ministry and started continuing education. We did, we did join a new church, around the time I left ministry, it seemed to be a bit more progressive. And that was kind of fitting with the more liberal direction that I was leaning in. And I started going to a secular university, taking my master's in psychology and the degree because the science degree it focused heavily on social science, research methods, data interpretation, quantitative analysis. And this work only built on that skeptical, critical thinking foundation I've been building and been strengthening since I was encouraged by my new professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge and truth and understanding, especially when it came to things that I wanted to be true. So then I started saying things to myself like, well, you know, even if there's no God belonging to a church is good for community, and the church has a lot of good in the world. So I'm just going to, you know, I became even more agnostic, and then the pandemic hit. And that progressive church we belong to, just took a drastic turn, the pastor that I'd gotten to know and would have considered a friend and had over for beers. He believed COVID was a conspiracy, that there's something satanic going on. He was increasingly going into conspiracy theories from the pulpit, or from the Zoom call. And, and then also encouraging people to break restrictions. And many people in the church started doing that, at a time when, when not only was the pandemic really kicking off, and we were quite uncertain about what the the timeline was going to be like, there were other social issues coming up with the murder of George Floyd. And the pastor and the church really swung in a kind of awful direction on that, too. We tried having some talks in our church as a community about, hey, like, we should talk about systemic racism as a as a church. And the pastor had strong opinions that rationality and human compassion couldn't change. And because he was unwilling to budge church leadership, decided to say, well, you know, we're gonna follow our pastor and align themselves more closely with him, and a lot of people left the church. And it was around that time, I realized, you know, based on a few comments I'd received that, me staying in this religion, we identify myself as a Christian, despite the fact that I was basically agnostic, it's lending validation to, to all those Christians who are actively working towards making the world a worse place, or to oppress or to abuse others. And we often talk a lot, especially in the addictions field about validation how it's why people often will seek to use substances together, not just because it's more fun, but because it lends validation when you're, you know, when you're doing something that you think might not be the best for you. And again, this isn't to cast judgment on any amount of substance use more just to talk about the the psychological work we do to reassure ourselves that we're doing something that maybe not that might not be the best for us, it can be as simple as smoking cigarettes. Validation is also the feeling we seek when we're young and stupid and doing things with our friends that when people ask you, well, why did you do that? Once seemed like a good idea at the time, my friends. And I started realizing that I was I was an academic and social scientist and I was in the church. And there are people who were in the church were looking at me and saying, Well, he's still a belonging. So clearly, what we're doing must be okay. And that that really made me conclude that if I stayed I stayed identifying as a Christian. And I was probably doing more harm than good. And that was a decision I made for me. I don't think that that decision would be right for everybody. I think there's a lot of agnostic theist who choose to remain in the church and who do a lot of good in it. For me, I couldn't anymore. And so in the fall of 2020, I began to outwardly acknowledge the inner experience I've known for some time, right, that I was no longer a Christian, and I was an agnostic. And that was that. And that really kicked off an unfortunate period of time where I was very angry. At the church, I wouldn't say I was angry at God, because all of my angst about God really vanished when I realized I didn't think he existed. At least not in, not in the religious kind of sky god format like, is there? Is there an unmoved first mover? Is there something out there, like think when your previous guests, Doug mentioned, like cosmic brain, and we're all just cells in it? Like, I've got no idea? Yeah, but from a religious perspective, I just couldn't do it anymore. And so I wasn't angry at God. But I was angry at the church at specific Christians, groups that were doing COVID denial or secret mass church services, which we had a lot of those in our area, especially as I worked in health care, doing mental health addictions work, much of which actually revolved around supporting staff in the health care system. And so I was actually involved in several projects, helping to support staff who were overwhelmed by the results of the pandemic. I, you know, I throughout that process, I talked to and interviewed and worked with countless nurses and frontline staff, and frequently they break down in tears during our meetings, just that the death and the, the destruction they were experiencing in the system. And so to go from that, to see people I called friends, you know, sneaking out to do church, or buying fake masks on the internet, or spreading lies about vaccines, it was just an abhorrent to Me and I became very resentful and angry. And I'm sure like a lot of Yeah, like a lot of your listeners, I'm sure, just getting very stuck in that place. And unlike a lot of people with ADHD, when you get stuck in an emotional state, it can be even harder to get yourself out of it. Because your mind is, is racing and going over that rumination of your, of your grief and your anger and your frustration. And I was stuck there way longer than I should have been. And it was, it was some really hard realizations for myself and some conversations with my wife whose bullshit detector is still strong and was blaring when I was in the room to point out, Hey, you're not doing okay, you got to, you got to, you got to stop this. And I realized I was turning into one of those just ain't, you know, angry ex Christians. And that isn't what I want to be. And so I decided that I wanted to take a more gracious and graceful approach to life, I'd been putting the work in over the the latter half of the pandemic to really make some changes and try not to be such a jerk all the time.
David Ames 33:38
Well, I mean, you just stated the premise of the podcast, right? It's like, we want to first acknowledge that to be angry is good, right? There are times when you need that anger to push you out of the comfort zone, and you need to make that change. But that one doesn't want to remain within that anger for so long that it starts to hurt you because it's not really affecting the questions.
Exactly. And what we often say in my field is that anger is a secondary emotion. Okay, you know, it happens because of something else. Anger comes from hurt, anger comes from grief, anger comes from fear. And so I had to kind of get to the roots of my anger, which which was grief. And then and since then, even though I do say, you know, agnosticism describes me perfectly. I identify as a humanist because humanist is a positive term talks about what you're working towards, not what you're working against.
David Ames 34:34
Absolutely. And for sure, when I'm talking to people that I don't know, I'll say I'm a humanist, rather than say I'm an atheist because I want to talk about what I do believe in people. Yeah. As opposed to what I don't believe in right
so a couple of things here. I want to dig into I wasn't in dissipating. But as we're talking, I want to dig into just a bit more, I want to talk about grief. And I want to talk about addiction as it applies to religion as well. But so much of the deconstruction deconversion process is grief, we are losing what can feel like for some people, their best friend, someone who knows them, who loves them. So it feels like loss of a very deep meaningful relationship, we potentially are losing friendships with family or friends, and then ultimately, we're leaving, we're probably losing community as well, for some of the reasons that you might remain for a long time. Because you you need that community and so grieving the loss of all of those things, is quite a lot to have happen all at one time.
Yeah, exactly. And the the, the emotions will kind of compound on each other with interest. And, and especially if you are in communities where apostasy is is taken very seriously and responded to very punitively, then you're, you're going to be experiencing all the same feelings that somebody who's being attacked by anything, you know, attacked by a wild animal, you're going to your experience, your your fight or flight response, right, your your sympathetic nervous system is going to activate and you're going to live in a space where you've got all kinds of stress hormones, and such going through your system and your heart rate is going to be up all the time. And it's it's, it's exhausting. And it's, it's damaging to our, to our systems into our brains, living in a state is not sustainable.
David Ames 36:43
And then I wanted to talk about addiction in the sense of how it might apply to religion, I think the obvious example might be more charismatic Pentecostal expressions of faith that that should be a bit more emotional, there's, there's kind of an obvious dopamine hit in that experience. But even without that, I think you hinted at this idea of affirmation of experiencing the acceptance of the group. And so is this even a topic that is studied at all like that there's an addictive nature within spirituality or religion.
I'm certain if you went down the Google Scholar rabbit hole far enough, you'd find something that somebody has published somewhere about it. I, you know, even working in the addictions field. We don't even use the word addiction that much we use words like substance use disorder, and, and so on. And one of the reasons is because there's a lot of there's a lot of behaviors that are that are harmful, that fall into a category where we would identify it as an addiction, that have nothing to do with drugs, you look at look at gambling behavior, for instance, problematic gambling, also gives dopamine hits, you know, in similar fashions as substances do. You look at sex addiction you look at now, like online gaming, addiction, and, and all those things, there's, you know, the word addiction can get attached to them. And there's lots of you know, there's there's lots of politics around it sometimes. And there's lots of baggage around the word. And what we often talk about is maladaptive behaviors. These are behaviors serving a purpose. Now, all addictions are maladaptive behaviors, but not all maladaptive behaviors or addictions. So some maladaptive behaviors could be, for instance, you, you go through relationships in with certain patterns that always end up in, in tears and self destruction in the end, because that's, you know, that fits your that fits your personality that fits your upbringing, it fits kind of how you were, how you were raised, or the patterns or relationships that you experienced. Now, that might not be an addiction, even though people seem to do it compulsively. But it is a maladaptive behavior. So I would say that there's a lot going on with religious experiences, in particular. So you mentioned dopamine, as well, in neurotransmitters that really gets activated when you're having an ecstatic experience. Another would be endorphins, you know, which are some of the neurotransmitters that get impacted by the brain's opioid system. So things like heroin, that's probably a very similar feeling. So yeah, I think that there's definitely something to be said for looking at looking at people who retreat to those things, as a as a way of unhealthy coping. But I would also say just as much there's there's benefits from religious groups or from community in general that religious groups can provide. I think the important factor to remember there is just like you pointed out earlier, these benefits are occurring because of humanity. They're occurring because of human connection and in connection. I, I worked in ministry for almost seven years, I've worked in the, you know, mental health addictions field for over a decade, I've never seen anybody who just spontaneously got made better from these things, because because God did it. Right, I wouldn't count a lot of people who would say, Well, you know, religion was important part of my recovery, and they would find out how their religious community was there for them. And, and I think that's a, that's a benefit that we should think carefully about losing as we talk about, you know, church, attendance declining, not a bad thing, necessarily, but what are we replacing it with? We need to be diligent and trying to create community. And I think that the community you've created online, as, as part of that, certainly,
David Ames 40:48
definitely, I'm very conscious of, you know, trying to build some form of community, because you can't just say, leave all of these wonderful things about being part of community and give that all away and do it on your own. Now, you know, that is that is not a very attractive message.
Totally. And I think, you know, maybe, maybe adjacent to when we talk about, like mental health addictions and church, could be how the church impacts people's ability to be skeptical and to think critically. You've had people on your podcast before, talk about things like, you know, cognitive dissonance, I think, yes, yeah, it's come up. And, and so when, when, when I talk about cognitive dissonance, what I'm generally talking about is that state of psychological discomfort or distress that we feel when our beliefs are in conflict with, with evidence or with our own actions. So believing in religious ideas, when the evidence contradicts them, like evidence from history, trying to believe in the Bible, or you're still smoking when you know, it's bad for you, those feelings cause cognitive dissonance. And then that triggers something called motivated reasoning, which is a process by which we attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance by accessing, constructing or evaluating arguments in a very biased fashion to arrive at your preferred conclusion. So when I think about churches in psychology, I often think about how we, how we engage in motivated reasoning, as I was doing for many years to try to find the best arguments to support a position. And that's just one example of a cognitive bias, right, like, those things that we do to get to conclusions quickly, and that impair our ability to reasonably solve problems. And there's lots of cognitive biases, and you've had guests talk with them before. And it's it's a fascinating area of study.
David Ames 42:51
Yeah, and this is why I often say that this has nothing to do with intelligence, because actually very intelligent people can rationalize more, right, like they the capacity to an adult, it's all the human condition of that motivated reasoning. And so, again, apologetics being an example.
One other thing I want to jump off of what you just said, too, is sort of the, you know, the, the need for skepticism is important, because, as you saw on the front lines of COVID, that for the people who began to go down the rabbit trail of various conspiracy theories, or even just ignoring the science, right masks, work, vaccines work, that kind of thing, and for whatever reasons, motivated reasons or otherwise, begin to deny that there are real world consequences that the, you know, first responders and the Yes, nursing and Doctor staff were able to see and you are getting to see indirectly, so that beliefs have consequences, and why that skepticism is necessary in the world we live in.
Yes, exactly. I love how you pointed out that intelligence is no substitution for good skeptical practices. I think you mentioned in one podcast, how our scientific thinking is how we guard ourselves against getting taken in by our own cognitive biases. Right? And that's completely that's completely true. And that's the best way I think, to describe it because even very intelligent people have human brains and human brains are designed to do I say designed human brains have evolved to do things to to conserve mental resources in everything they do. It they are just to think, give attention to detail and solve problems in ways that require the least calories possible. Because we're, we're we're evolved to save energy wherever possible, including in the brain. And it's a it's a giant pain in the ass. But it's it's how we're, it's how we're just going to work forever. And if we don't have practices in place, like scientific thinking, like the scientific method to hijack that process, where we're always going to be taken in, by things we would rather believe are things that are easier to believe. And there's, there's countless examples of that. Even very skeptical people, scientific people can get taken in by all kinds of things, if we're not careful.
David Ames 45:37
Absolutely. Because I know the schedule of the podcast coming out prior to your episode will be Tom Christofi X, he has a book called tempted to believe. And he goes into a lot of detail about these various things. And kind of the lesson that I drew out of that is summarized in the Fineman quotes, the first principle is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I love that quote. And that kind of captures it. So this is less about saying, Oh, look at these other people how they're wrong and more recognizing, how can I go off the rails? How can I start to take in things that don't have evidence that are unfalsifiable that, you know, are, Tom's word is off grid, meaning, you know, something that does not have scientific evidence,
I think that's a very good way to approach it, treating yourself as treating yourself as a gullible person is probably one of the best starting points for engaging in scientific thinking. Because often, we'll see even in even in published peer reviewed research, we'll see people who have clearly started out with their study with a bouquet of axes that they want to grind. And they and they just get there one way or another. And one of the things that we talked a lot in grad school was how to recognize how to recognize bad research. And there's a number of practices people engage in that, that can create the results they're looking for. And that's not meant to say that we shouldn't trust research. But it is meant to say we should really be diligent in utilizing the peer reviewed process. And in looking at where are, you know, where information is coming from following that lineage, from start to finish of information, and it's been a bit of a, you can really, you can really drive yourself bananas during COVID Trying to fact check everything that you see. And I had, I had engaged in a lot of long and useless conversations with friends who just keep moving the goalposts as I kept bringing back all these things you're saying is wrong because of this? And they say, Well, what about you know, Bill Gates and depopulation? No, no, we can we can put that to bed and it's no big deal and, and then say, well, what about masks make people sick? Okay, well, let's go over that. And then, by the time you get through, you're only back to the beginning of the conversation.
David Ames 48:19
Yeah, it's unfortunate that the human condition is such that the easy answer, the simple answer to complex problems is much easier to accept than the real world complexity that actually exists.
Again, this leads into this is a good segue to discuss kind of why we're, we're chatting together. As I mentioned, in the deconversion, anonymous Facebook group, we I think it was even former guest Ian had put up a article by the John Templeton Foundation called here's how religion in Princess even when we walk away, and this is an article that talks about how people remain pro social and pro moral, even when they walk away from Christianity, as we somewhat pointed out, in that the Templeton Foundation does have a bit of a bias. Although they are attempting to do real science. They definitely have a theistic bias. And that does come through in the article. There's some interesting things to talk about it I understand you have some notes about that as well. Just kind of want to get your feel for for the article, and then we'll jump into some of the specifics.
Sure things so we're really talking about two things here. We're talking about the article, the Templeton Foundation, and we're talking about the original research study, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. And so the article in Templeton is by one of Templeton's? I don't know if journalists is the right word we'll say journalists, and it's a boat. The research study that That was produced by a number of a number of researchers, some of whom were actually paid through the Templeton Foundation for the study. So that's, that's part of the lineage there. I gave it a quick skim on first glance just through the article itself. And thought, well, there's there's some, I've got some concerns here. And then actually having gone and, and found the study itself in full text and downloaded it and read through it and highlighted it and doing the doing things that I don't get to do as much since leaving grad school. So those kind of fun nerdy things I actually don't think the study is is all that bad in general, and what it's trying to look at, I did have some, some kind of thoughts about both the article and the study. But for me, one of the most useful things to do when when talking about research is to try to say what makes research good. And you know, for the I'm sure you've probably had guests talk with this multiple times at length through the benefits of your listeners who may not have heard those episodes, we generally ask four questions when we're talking about research. The first is, is it valid? Does it have validity? does it measure what it's intending to measure? The second is, is it reliable? Would repeated testing or repeated studies produce similar results? The third, is it generalizable? Can you take those findings and broadly apply them to other settings, individuals or groups? And then the fourth is sort of adjacent to the first three, it's what have a bias, you want to examine bias, you want to know what bias exists without resorting to making ad hominem arguments against the study just because you don't like the people who did it. It's also important to have as unbiased research as possible, which is why research is more valid when it comes from unbiased, unbiased sources. So independent drug studies, for instance, are more valuable than ones paid for by pharmaceutical companies, right? And we can all kind of guess why.
David Ames 52:15
It's great in your own paper, but yeah,
exactly. So so going into the study itself, like the article was clearly written, to kind of showcase how Hey, like, even when you leave religion, stuff sticks with you. And there are a few kind of bits and pieces we can dig into about that. When I look at the study itself, which is always where I try to start, I do agree with the author's assertion that religious nuns, those who those who grew up without any religion, are different than religious dons, those who D converted at a later date. The name of the study itself is religious identity and morality, evidence for religious residue and decay in moral foundations. And right off the bat, my, my thinking here is, I questioned the use of the phrase decay and moral foundations. Yeah, in the title. First of what first reasons because it's not actually in the study anyway, they don't say decay of moral foundations in the study. It's not a social science term, like decaying world foundations. When you see it in articles online, you generally it's describing like the moral decline in society. So also, its decay in moral foundations isn't really what they were studying. They were referencing how a specific moral values associated with religious beliefs may linger for a time after you leave that religion. So for example, you know, you're a conservative Christian, you, you leave the faith, you become an atheist for whatever reason, and you still kind of don't really feel super keen on gay marriage, you know, and then after a while, you realize, okay, no, that's yeah, I am okay with this, actually. And I think it's a good thing. So that is how specific moral values will change over time. They didn't find and they they weren't even looking for if people who leave their religion have their overall morality, decay. That seems to be the implication in the title and that there may be an unintentional implication like, I don't think it was just based on how I'm reading. How I read this and how I read the article and knowing what I know but the Templeton Foundation I, I think that was probably intentional to create a bit of a slant. It's also something that you frequently find in ideologically driven research, you find data and then you present it as something slightly different, or meaning something slightly different than it is actually means, which calls into question the validity of your research. It's where we have to look very carefully at the studies themselves, and not just the journalistic articles about those studies.
David Ames 55:12
Before we keep digging into this, I want to touch on just one thing that you mentioned that does drive me nuts and, and I get it right if you are doing sociological studies, you have to create categories, and you have to pigeonhole people into categories. But one of the things that that is a bummer to me is that the Dunn's the people who are not just nuttin, which can mean you know, you could be spiritual but not religious, but completely done with theistic worldview, or supernatural worldview is very hard to capture. Not everyone says that they are an atheist, like that's a pretty that's a pretty strong bold term that not everyone is comfortable with. And in the studies, you know, do you think that will begin to get more targeted to separate? The nones no NES from DUNS?
I hope so. And I hope that more groups than this will start doing that research. It's been a it's been a minute since I've done a lot of deep digging into the current state of the psychology and sociology of religion, you know, that that world? Yeah, mostly because my, my work generally revolves around more social psychology or psychopharmacology. And that's where I've really been just kind of, were public health psychology, that's where I've been spending all my time. I think a deeper dive into the psychology, religion, sociology, sociology of religion, we'll likely find some research that kind of goes dip his toes a little bit further into this. But it's not something that I've had the time or the inclination to really spend a lot of time on right now. I if there hasn't been that real distinction made in the past, from the sounds of it, but to hear the authors say it, this is an understudied area. And they had some, you know, they had some previous papers they referenced, but if it's under studied, and we're just really getting getting used to the idea that hey, there's, there's more than one kind of non religious person out there, I would expect that this is going to become more and more relevant as church attendance drops, as religious affiliation drops. And as, as our world continues to evolve, as a result of increased scientific knowledge and increased knowledge of increased general knowledge of things like the, the evolutionary origins of human morality, I think that there's a lot of people who are learning a lot of things that's making it difficult for them to stay in their religious tradition, whatever that is, this is only a group that's going to be growing in the future. And, and new and growing groups are social science, research, bread and butter. That's, that's what we're interested in. We want to know what's happening here. We want to know if it's gonna happen elsewhere. And we're all giant nerds. And that's what we're here for.
David Ames 58:17
So your, your reference there to kind of the evolutionary source of morality, I think, is what's critical here. So my response to the journalistic article, I didn't dig as deep as you did, but to the journalistic article is that they have the cause and effect backwards. So they seem to be implying that religion causes morality, and therefore it's surprising when someone leaves religion that they remain moral and pro social. And I tend to think that it is the reverse that the people who are pro social and and have a moral sense of moral conscience, tend to become religious. And if those same people leave, they remain so and so it's not surprising. But I wonder what you think in that on that area?
I think that's a really good way to put it. That very pro moral people will often gravitate towards systems that are going to allow them to practice that morality. There's a lot out there. Right now in the apologetics world. Generally, when I'm talking about apologetics, I refer to it for refer to it as philosophy but done badly. So you see, you see, you see things like the argument for morality. William Lane Craig is especially fond of this one. And it will talk about how like there's there's no possible origin of human morality or universal human morality except for God, because there is clearly universal human morality. Clearly there must be God. And that's in like the most nutshell this kind of version. But looking at the field of evolutionary Psychology, which is something I've really just scratched the surface of as a, you know, as an ongoing student. The origins of altruism morality, are very easily explained and even observed in nature and in, in natural selection, it makes perfect sense how pro social behaviors would contribute to group survival, right? That makes total sense how acting in ways that are altruistic that benefit the group at large, will result in the increased odds of group survival against the forces of nature. We can even observe this kind of morality in animals. And there's many studies out there looking at morality in rats or other other creatures, a rat will go through great lengths to free another rat, if that rat is trapped, and won't even save food for that trap rat, like in advance of it getting out of its trap, we see several examples of how these behaviors will benefit the group growing up, especially in very pro social species like rats and like humans. So we have with ample evidence for the development of moral systems based on the promotion of well being and the reduction of suffering in in animals and multiple species. Why would humanity be any different? That's often been something that I've, you know, over the years become increasingly convinced that that that the argument from morality is one of the most easily dismantled, double, but most tightly held reasons for people to continue in their religious belief, when they're faced with evidence to the contrary, the argument morality is an incredibly powerful poll. Yeah,
David Ames 1:02:06
you mentioned William Lane, Craig. But I also think of CS Lewis. So Mere Christianity, this basically begins with with that he uses the term fairness that we have, in his terms, innate sense of fairness. And yet, the idea of an evolutionary morality explains both the commonalities and the differences between cultures. And if there were, from the theist point of view, an objective moral standard that we, you know, somehow intuitively innately knew we would expect a lot more conformity throughout culture.
Yeah, and we really don't see that. Right, we see, we see drastic differences that you wouldn't expect to find if the law of God was truly written in all of our hearts, but the you would expect to find through the results of in group formation, and how those in groups protect the members and how they punish deviation. You know, that's a that's a system that very succinctly explains variations in human behavior and human morality, and does so without appealing to the existence of a being who is apparently giving us a universal morality, but being kind of bad at it. Exactly. And I'm not surprised to see the Templeton Foundation kind of circle back to that argument for morality as a, as a foundation for some of the ideologically driven research that they're that they're doing. That's that's their, their purpose is to find, to find the intersections of science and faith, which, in general, would be something that I would support, I would like people to be more scientific about everything your faith included. But the foundation is a bit problematic, because it it really builds itself as a scientific foundation, doing research with religion, but it's a religious organization, doing research with some science. A few examples are in, in other studies they've done and other pages on their website, talking about the decline behind the decline in Youth Mental Health, you know, and they, they reference well, it could be due to a push to have children wrestle with questions of their own gender identity early in life, which is, you know, another ideologically driven statement. They, they celebrate problematic figures like Mother Teresa, who, you know, there's a lot of history there that I think many Christians don't realize is deeply concerning about how her funds were spent and how she actually was treating people. And then just, again, as I read through a number of the articles on their website, I found a lot of issues with how they were referencing studies as having established facts or having established data. And then when I would go and find those studies and read them, isn't actually what the research was saying. And they were making pretty big stretches in getting to their conclusions. Like there was one that they said, well, reduced participation in religion might have health consequences. So, you know, if you if you reduce your participation and your religious group, you may have increased, you know, rates of some health issues, which isn't actually what the research showed, it showed that certain groups that had higher standards for things like smoking and alcohol consumption, if you were participating in those services more frequently, you are less likely to be having the associated health issues with those specific behaviors. So that's, again, you know, taking something that we found and research and representing it as something slightly different to try to make your point. Yeah, that's, that's first level college stuff, I tend to get frustrated by that kind of stuff pretty quickly when I found it. And Templeton isn't unique in that there's a number of you know, far right organizations, the the Heritage Center, in the United States, for instance, is notorious for publishing research studies where they engage in piles of questionable activities like confusing correlation with causation, mislabeling their graphs, something called P hacking, which is where you just kind of keep changing or adding variables until you get sufficient numbers that you say, Okay, we found a result, and now we're going to run with it. Something statistically significant. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then just like drastically, misrepresenting what their results actually show. Yeah. I've, I've put far too much time in on social media, trying to convince people like, No, this is actually not legitimate what you're reading and this is why, and it's unfortunate, but those pesky cognitive biases that we've talked about have really make it challenging to change people's minds.
David Ames 1:07:24
Well, you've just given us another reason why skepticism is important.
Daniel, before we wrap up, is there a topic that I haven't asked about that you definitely wanted to get across anything else that you wanted to say?
So my gravitation towards humanism has led to interesting conversations and connections in my personal life. Now more than ever, I've really leaned into the office of the skeptic, even though it's no longer one that I hold in the church. I don't shy away from uncomfortable questions, or even more uncomfortable answers. And that has been such a valuable change in my life, and has led me to some incredibly, incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships that I've started developing, including with several people who I went to Bible college with all of whom are atheists now. Oh, wow. You've really connected over that. Have I lost friends? Yes, absolutely. And that has been sad. Have I lost opportunities? Yeah, I, I have lost opportunities that I could have had to teach at my alma mater, the Bible college, I went to and asked me to come back and teach a number of courses, and I had to inform them that I was no longer a Christian, and I'd be happy to come and teach if they would have me and, and they said, you know, wasn't gonna work for them, which I understand, you know, no hard feelings whatsoever. But it's also led to other opportunities. I, I now write a mental health column for the local paper. And I've been using that platform to discuss things like critical thinking cognitive biases, why our brains struggle with scientific thinking, and even tackle some theist objections to atheism, like the psychological origins of altruism and morality? Well, there's been some challenges, I would say that the biggest challenges have been caused by my own development and my own need for maturing and growth. And I've definitely come to the conclusion that the best days are going to be ahead.
David Ames 1:09:53
That's amazing. I want to give you just an opportunity. If you have any recommendations for things what should we be reading Is there other podcasts besides this one, YouTube channels, that kind of thing that would be beneficial for people.
So I've been really interested since I went on this part of our part of my life's journey in the works of Carl Sagan. So the demon haunted world was an incredibly important book for me. And it really opened up my eyes to how how scientific thinking could work and the, the benefits of that and written in such a beautiful and poetic way that nobody could write quite like Carl Sagan and I, you know, I just, I just love the way he presents the world, and is able to write and be so hopeful and so kind, and so gracious. In the face of, you know, all the issues he is passionate about, including agnosticism and humanism and science education. And you know, I think I there's a YouTube video out there with his speech, the pale blue dot, where he, he gives this speech and it's got, you know, various scenes from science and from films. And I watched that once a year as a, as a spiritual pilgrimage. I guess you could say,
David Ames 1:11:26
yeah. I often say, by the way, that I am a second night, atheist, you know, in the vein of that in the sense that I still have so much wonder and awe at the world at the cosmos, that there's no loss of that, you know, joy and wonder and mystery, while still having high standards for evidence.
Yeah, I completely agree. And like I said, nobody could, we could say it quite like Carl, exactly. Another. Another book that I would recommend, is one that I'm starting to get into how minds change the surprising science of belief, opinion and persuasion, by David Mcrainey. Really a very good, very good entry point, if you don't have graduate level education and psychology, right into the real depths that cognitive science can bring in the richness of human experience, and how we, you know, how we learn and grow and how we resist learning and growth, right? He's a science communicator, and I think he does a very good job of, you know, bringing some of these things across. I think those would be some of the ones that I would recommend the most I'm working my way through some of the classics, you know, the, The God Delusion and some Christopher Hitchens, but also acknowledging that sometimes the perspective they bring can encourage the feelings I was having when I was feeling stuck in anger. So treating those books like they're hot cups of tea, yeah, taking them in steps. You know, I love it and, and moving on. And if, if anybody is interested in learning more about ADHD, especially as as an adult, I would suggest the book scattered minds by Dr. Gabor Ma Tei. Dr. Mateos work was the reason why I sought a diagnosis at age 27. Reading him describing his experiences as an adult with ADHD. The hair went up on the back of my neck. I you know, I felt like he'd been looking over my shoulder my whole life. He described you know, having to have a novel in his pocket at all moments in case he was in line at the grocery store because even 60 seconds of idleness was enough for his brain to consume him utterly. And I just about threw the book across the room I but it was it was one of the best things I could have done for myself because it contextualize my life and my experiences. So well. So scattered minds, the origins and healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. It's, it's a, it's a great read and can really if people are wondering, is this what's going on? For me, that might be the book that puts them over the edge.
David Ames 1:14:32
Excellent. Those are amazing recommendations. Daniel, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thanks for having me.
Final thoughts on the episode? As I said in the interview, there are a lot of points of comparison with Daniel story and mine. The thing that I really really resonate with is his idea of the Office of the scout Deke, for those of us who are inquisitive, we get tagged with that idea of having discernment. But there are definite limitations on that discernment. You can only question so far. I love the framing that Daniel brings to that of taking on the Office of the skeptic, even though that kept him in the faith longer than he would have otherwise. The other thing that I really related to was that recognition of the difference between psychological explanations or spiritual ones, he told the story of the individual who after having their medication, completely calm down. So was that a demonic attack? Or was it the person just didn't have their meds? In the slow creeping realization that there are naturalistic explanations for every spiritual experience that one has, including one's own. Yet another thing that I really relate to in Daniels story is the recognition of the limitations of apologetics that even the critical thinking believers have limitations and the flaws within apologetic arguments become overwhelmingly obvious. unstated, or even sometimes stated premises are unfounded, don't have any evidence, or as Daniel points out, are unfalsifiable. And so it is assertions all the way down. There is no foundation to the apologetic arguments. That's sad, especially when like Daniel, you're an inquisitive person, and you're actually trying to find a reason to remain in faith trying to find reasons to believe and you're struggling to do so on, you're going to what are considered the best intellectual arguments for Christianity, and you see the flaws immediately. There's some grief involved. Even today, I often will read an apologetic that I have not heard before, and there's some tiny part of me that hopes that it'll be worthwhile that it'll have something real to say. I have yet to find that apologetic that doesn't have obvious premises that are unfounded entirely. Daniel's observation about apologetics and the limitations of intellectual curiosity within a believing structure like Christianity is that some things are too sacred to be questioned, that captures why those limitations are there. Of course, the conversation revolved around the Templeton Foundation article and study about how religion and Princess even when we walk away, as we discussed in the conversation, the obvious theistic bias of the Templeton Foundation comes through. But I really want to hammer on the point that the causation is going the wrong direction. That pro social and pro moral people tend to become religious. And if those same people leave religion, they remain pro social and pro moral, is not the other way around. And yet the theistic organization like the Templeton Foundation wants to make the argument that religion is the cause or faith is the cause of morality. I want to thank Daniel for being on the podcast for sharing with us his insight and his educated perspective on research, his eloquent expression of the need for a scientific mindset and for skepticism, as well as his honesty and talking about ADHD, his personal deconstruction process. Thank you, Daniel, for being on the podcast. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is again the need for skepticism. A couple of weeks ago, we had Tom Christofi AK on talking about his book tempted to believe. And this episode with Daniel just reinforces the need for a skeptical mindset to protect yourself from all of the sources of misinformation, disinformation, and untruths. Again, I want to say that skepticism is not cynicism. This is not about destroying sincere things, or just sacred things for the sake of destroying them. Skepticism is about the desire for truth. What is real, what can be substantiated? What can we hold on to that will be unshakeable? The irony is that is the verbiage and rhetoric of Christianity that Jesus is supposed to be the rock that that is supposed to be unshakeable. As we heard from Daniel, as he delved into the apologetic arguments, finding that there were deep problems with those arguments, and that it turns out to be a subjective experience, from our own faith experience to the person who told us about faith from the person who told that person from the person who told that person all the way back down to Paul and Peter, and maybe Jesus Himself. These assertions of the supernatural and atheistic deity are unsubstantiated all the way down. But this need for skepticism goes beyond faith and religion. Just in the last handful of years, we have had a masterclass in misinformation and disinformation both in US politics and now in world politics. And the need to be able to discern what is true validatable falsifiable versus what is assertions what is rhetoric is critically important in today's day and age. And as Daniel and I pointed out in the conversation, that beliefs have consequences, if you believe that vaccines don't work, that is more than a personal decision for you, that affects everyone around you that affects every human being you come into contact with. If you believe that masks don't work, that affects more than just you. And these are just the obvious examples. There's 1000 others of how taking on misinformation for you personally affects more than just you. If the word skepticism is too harsh a word for you use the idea of the scientific mindset. both Daniel and I are huge fans of Carl Sagan. And his book demon haunted world that Daniel mentions is an amazing book, in that you see how Carl Sagan loved the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence, but that he held his standard, the scientific method and the scientific way of thinking to such a high degree, that standard was so high, that even though he was out to find that evidence, he could not say that extraterrestrial intelligence exists until he finds that evidence. Likewise, I've had conversations with believer after believer after believer who want to lower the bar of evidence. I literally had a conversation with a believing lawyer who wanted to lower the bar to say that the hearsay of the Gospels and the hearsay of the New Testament was valid evidence. And my point is, if Christianity is true, and this is the most important thing in the universe, the most important decision that any human being will ever make, shouldn't the standard of evidence be the highest it can possibly be? For something so important? And the fact that it isn't, and that apologists want to lower it is the indication that it is unfounded and untrue. As we said before, we've got some amazing episodes coming up. We have Jessica Moore, who talks about surviving purity culture and what you do after that, and we have another Arleen interview of boundless and free. Until then, 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 chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on restful atheists.com. 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 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 email@example.com or you can check out the website graceful atheist.com My name is David and I am trying To be the graceful atheist, join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
This week’s guest is Treasure, interviewed by Arline, the Deconversion Anonymous community manager. Treasure grew up in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition. Her whole family was focused on ministry. Treasure is a singer and was continually asked to sing for every church she attended. She was focused on mental health issues and ministering to people in need.
In 2020, Treasure began to quietly question her faith and then began the slow painful process of deconstruction. Though she still loves hymns, even music–once a joy–has become “confusing” due to the obligation to perform for churches and feels like a “job”.
Treasure has found spiritual and community fulfillment in her current spiritual practices of meditation, intentional journaling and yoga, including sound bowl healing. She is also a participant in the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group where she says, “It is safe to vent.”
Does prayer work?
Why am I here?
I am OK with not knowing.
You don’t have to unpack it all.
Once…the mind is stretched, it cannot go back to its original form. It just can’t.