No More Fundamentalism, a manifesto for myself

Blog Posts, Humanism, Secular Grace

This is a manifesto, mostly written for myself, but perhaps it may help you.

The temptation is strong. Fight it!

Coming out of Christian fundamentalism, there is a temptation to jump right to the next fundamentalism. Angry Atheist is the first one that springs to mind, but there are others. Once you are used to having a community that tells you what to think, it is difficult to move away from that and do more of the thinking for yourself.

And that’s the thing. You have to think for yourself, or you may end up committing to yet another ideology that betrays you.

You don’t have to fight Christianity; it doesn’t need to be a war.

No idea is untouchable

Avoid living in a way where some rules or ideas are untouchable. You do or believe things because the group says you do them, but you haven’t dug into exactly why these things are done or believed.

Be curious. Seek to understand. Follow your doubts. Doubt your doubts. But do it all rationally.

Think for yourself as much as you can

Avoid the temptation to follow a group because it’s easier than figuring things out on your own.

Do learn and process things in a community–where you can–but be mindful about it.

People are more important than ideas

Learn to connect to your fellow humans for their own sake. Everyone has a story, some might even share with you. Everyone can benefit from a listening ear. People aren’t “projects and objects.” They’re people (hat tip to Matt, in his episode). People from your former faith are still people, our fellow humans.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. In short: I don’t want to go back to being a fundamentalist.

Matt: Deconversion Anonymous

Atheism, Deconversion, Podcast, Deconstruction, Unequally yoked, Agnosticism, Purity Culture, High Demand Religious Group
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest bares his whole heart. “My story—at the moment—doesn’t end really well, but there’s hope for the future.”

This week’s guest is Matt. Matt grew up in a Methodist family and after partying through high school, Matt chose to attend a Christian college, serious about his faith.

As an adult, Matt did everything he could to be all things to all people—a good husband, a good leader, a father, a friend, a mentor… He tried for years, but superhuman expectations are put on Christian men. He couldn’t do it all. No one can. 

Matt tells his story with vulnerability and a whole lot of grace for himself and others. He bore heavy burdens: Cognitive dissonance, covert narcissism (in himself and others), codependency and spiritual abuse. Yet his story reveals his great optimism for the future.  


The Thinking Atheist

Divorcing Religion

Leatherbound Terrorism by Chris Kratzer



“I remember laying in bed as a kid [saying] ‘Satan, get away from me,’ and rebuking demons and evil spirits, kinda scared to death at that point.” 

“My story—at the moment—doesn’t end really well, but there’s hope for the future.”

“The more I began to prepare for bible study lessons and Sunday school lessons with the kids…the more questions I began to have, but I just ignored the questions because I was keeping everyone happy.”

“A megachurch…their position is, ‘Ten percent of gross [income] is just the start.’”

“Love-bombing is a pretty powerful tool.” 

“I think in many church settings, there are covert narcissists walking around all over the place.”

“The beginning of my unraveling was when I had the unfortunate opportunity to kick my friends out of the church…”

“‘Let’s get coffee,’ from people I don’t know very well means, ‘We want to get you back in line.’”

“When they don’t know what to say to you, they say nothing. They ignore you.”

“As much rejection as I felt from my Christian friends, twice the amount of acceptance from my Jewish or Agnostic or Atheist or Muslim [friends].”



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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 United studios Podcast Network. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the 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. If you're in the middle of doubt and deconstruction, you do not have to do this alone. Please join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous, you can find that at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. My guest today is Matt. Matt was a all in Christian he was a part of a very high control church, where Matt began to see how the church was hurting people and including him being involved in hurting some of his own friends. The deconstruction began. Matt has a lot to say here. I love his term covert narcissists, he'll explain what that means in a second. You're talking about forced intimacy, fake authenticity, covert narcissism, people as projects or objects and purity culture. Here is Matt to tell his story.

Matt, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Matt  1:41  
Thanks, David. Glad to be here. I've really enjoyed the podcast. It's been therapeutic and healing for me over the past year.

David Ames  1:48  
I'm very glad to hear that man. It sounds like you have just a wild story to tell. fairly high control church. But as we always do, I want to begin with what was your faith tradition? Like when you were growing up?

Matt  2:01  
Yeah, thanks for thanks for asking. You know, like many of you, like many of your unlike many of your guests, you interview, I didn't have a fundamentalist or Pentecostal type, upbringing, I grew up in an in Georgia. In a Methodist family. There's four siblings, I'm the youngest by many years. And I would say my parents really didn't force their faith down our throat. And I say their faith, they were in a Methodist tradition and more casserole driven and social outlet for them. But they were faithful, and they were loyal to be there.

David Ames  2:42  
Yeah, for sure. Like, you know, there are some healthier versions of Christianity that are community based and people helping each other. And that sounds like maybe that was your experience growing up.

Matt  2:52  
Yeah, it was, it was it was a fun outlet for me. I was great. I know, I'll say that. Oh, my favorite. My, my, my parents really did not push their faith on me. My older brother, when he was in college, was pulled into a ministry called Maranatha ministries that I've no idea of is still around. And I think that's a would be labeled as a cult cult under today's terms. And I think it's a seventh grade, he's looking to a revival and that point with, I guess, speaking in tongues and all that was going on there and the emotional piece to it, I broke down in tears. And at that point, I accepted Christ as my Savior. You know, I think more of an emotional appeal and also wanting to please my older brother.

David Ames  3:38  
Sure. How old were you then?

Matt  3:41  
I was in seventh grade. So you know, he had me read my Bible and and

that was about the extent of it, but he took his faith really seriously almost too seriously actually approached my dad and questioned his salvation, because again, being Methodist, and my dad would have our dinner prayer. And that was about all that we, we saw in terms of the church at home. But then, you know, he pulled me aside one time I came back from Mexico on a family vacation, and I bought a Mayan Calendar. You know, one of the street art type pieces, and he had me smash it in the basement because it was full of demonic spirits. Wow. Yeah. And even had a candle making kit my bedroom had to throw away because that also could be seen as a seance I guess. And so I kind of have this dualistic component that our parents and their approach to their faith and my older brother, and I remember laying in bed as a kid. You know, Satan, you know, get away from me, you know, and yeah, just that we're looking demon evil spirits kind of scared to death really, at that point.

David Ames  4:53  
I can't imagine. Yeah, yeah. That didn't last long. I'd

Matt  4:57  
say by the time I reached high school now kind of back being me and enjoy life and girls and partying a little too much here and there but kind of moved away from my faith. And then I went to college, I went off to a smaller Christian school by the elliptical I could get into, quite frankly, okay. In Birmingham and kind of enter that space. And it was I'd say it's a Christian light school, couldn't dance or drink on campus, but we had a lot of fun. Hi. Most are fun was held off campus.

David Ames  5:31  
Yes, yeah, I understand

Matt  5:33  
in Christian colleges. And you know, from there, I kind of moved in past my childhood faith aspect I met who would become my wife in college and in was just totally captivated with her beautiful girl leader in school. And we both were in fraternities and sororities and just had really hit it off well. And it's funny, I think back now even going to her Southern Baptist Church. And comparing that to my Methodist Church, that Southern Baptist Church was so progressive compared to a Methodist Church only from a teaching perspective, but also from the music, which is almost laughable today, right?

David Ames  6:18  
Yeah, back back in the day, just having contemporary music was a big deal. Right, having a guitar and drums and things was

Matt  6:24  
absolutely, I mean, singing his eyes on the sparrow, and that was like, wow, that was so progressive to me back then. Yeah. Versus the Methodist liturgy, etc. But um, but we fell in love and started doing it all through college. And now Now we're starting to get in and didn't realize it didn't realize then what I've realized now just my Methodist, more liberal upbringing, Faith kind of light to being part of her almost fundamentalist type family in Alabama. And so I kind of shapeshifted myself to satisfy her to satisfy her family. Just a just to keep the girl happy. Right? Yeah. Which that really kind of takes me as we move through this into what my topics are today. And just to be transparent, as we go through this, that my story is at the moment doesn't end really well. But there's there's hope for the future. But I'd say four topics today as we go through this is that I was just characterized through a term often used today called cognitive dissonance, right. Covert narcissism, both as a covert narcissist, and receiving the other side of covert narcissism, codependency and then spiritual abuse, as what you're hearing my story as both a giver and a receiver. So kind of just moving through our story, I'll fast forward here in a minute to the to the more engaging part, that we were married and moving all over the South for my job and work. And but every time we moved to a new city, we had to find a new Baptist Church to join, it was just week one, that's what we would do, right. But it's funny just that the the unequally yoked type aspect of things that term is often used in Christian teaching. We were back from our honeymoon after the first week, we were attending a small Baptist Church in North Carolina, that I had no intention of joining, because it just wasn't a fit for us. And the, when the offering plate came around, you know, it went from me, and I passed it on to my wife, and she had written a check for $250 that she put in the offering plate, which was 10% of our gross income. Yeah. And has that plate left her hand, I reached across her and took the check out of the place, we had not discussed getting at all right. And I definitely did not have to enter the dollars of gross income to give away. Yeah. And so that kind of started our struggle, so to speak. Just with with various views on our faith and Christianity and stewardship.

David Ames  9:13  
It's fascinating to me, Matt, to hear you say that you were unequally yoked in that you were still a Christian, you were very much a Christian having gone to a Christian college and what have you. So what you're describing is an imbalance in fundamentalism or theological conservative, you know, on that scale, right. And so I think that's fascinating that even that you recognize was unequally yoked?

Matt  9:39  
Exactly but based on the standards today, right, and that's going to play itself itself out here in our conversation today in more detail. So we're we moved to Texas both had jobs and attending a large Baptist mega church in where we live and state of Texas. And I was just going through the motions at that point I really didn't enjoy the the Bible studies enjoyed the people a lot there at that church Yeah.

But after a couple years living where we live, I discovered that my wife had been having a work affair. And meanwhile, we're going to Sunday school and she's leading Bible Studies. And we discovered this had happened, and it was obviously devastating. And this is going to kind of begin my phase of codependency, where I was able to forgive her and move on past this primarily because I've just held the ideal of marriage up so high and just didn't want to lose that. And and a lot of that would come back to she would say, yes, she took ownership for it. But it also came back that I wasn't I wasn't leading the family. Well, her well, we didn't have kids at this point. Because she had had the spiritual, almost dogmatic stepfather who raised her that helped Bible studies every day and witnessed to people in malls, and that just wasn't me. Right at all. And she would tie that back to disappointment in my leadership in the, from a Christian perspective to her stepping out, well, so got passed through that neck. That point I began to really performed the Christian dance to keep my wife happy. And we begin leading Sunday School at this church and leading a kid's Sunday school, fifth grade, which was great, I could use my gift to communication and my creative talents and really take these kids from why we consider a boring Sunday school setting to more fun, more games. And it really brought us together as a couple. She was pleased, right that I was leading it this way. But I would say at this point, too, that this is where my cognitive dissonance. Although I didn't have that language back then. 20 plus years ago, were the more I began to prepare for Bible study lessons in Sunday school lessons with the kids reading the Old Testament and working in the New Testament, just the more questions that I began to have. Sure. But again, I just ignored the questions because I was keeping everyone happy.

David Ames  12:27  
And that's kind of the definition of cognitive dissonance. Yeah. So you're trying to hold one belief that maybe the your experience or your reality doesn't, doesn't hold up?

Matt  12:41  
Exactly. It's a term now that we hear weekly, right, where 20 plus years ago, it was just, you're crazy. Yeah. And so. So we had two of our kids there at that church and did all the dedication and Christian School etc, as they were younger, but then we decided that it was time for us to move on. She had a word from God that we needed to leave this church and find a new church, and I really still today don't know why. Okay, but we started attending a kind of a startup church. That was a non denominational Baptist Church. Back then, it was about 300 members. And I'll tell you, when I first attended, comparing this this nondenominational church to the Baptist Church, you know, I look around and everybody's wearing shorts and flip flops and drinking coffee. And you know, the typical hand raising in the worship in the music was incredible in the senior pastor was just dynamic man that could talk about leadership and parenting and being a better man better husband heavily focused on the husband's role, right. But it was a place that I've never heard these kind of messages before. I was like, wow, this is where I need to be. They really prided themselves on authenticity, transparency, I remember men going on stage and talking about their previous life as a homosexual. And now they were showing pictures of his wife and kids. And wow, people want to talk about porn addiction, and it was just refreshing. In a very shocking thing, compared compared to the way I was raised, but also our Baptist church home we have for the past 10 plus years. So I decided, our we need to be at this church here. This is my speed. And really, really dove in. Alright, and as we say this looking back now after 16 years, and I could say this place is a call. And you've mentioned the high control group at the start of the conversation. We'll talk about that more But absolutely. And when we say high control group or cold and we're speaking to people And nationally and all over the world, but sometimes we hear the word cult will think of, you know, David Koresh type, demeaning camp type event or it's a small sect of people. This is a mega church. Yeah, when I left this church, it had 16,000 members. And people are walking around in their cult clothing, I mean in their cult roles and talking about very influential people in this large city where I live of private equity. And I met Chuck Norris, when I first attended, he was a member there, kept Chuck Norris here. And so I was just very pulled into that of people that talk like me and act like me and stuff to some degree. And I just really, really wanted to be part of this,

David Ames  15:54  
can I jump in really quick and just respond to just two things. One, I very consciously use the term high control group, it's fine for you to say calls. But I feel like that brings so much baggage that people have some image in their head of what that is. And I think you've just eloquently described that right? People in robes, what have you. The Hari Krishna is in airports, that kind of thing. But that, that the point is that any group of any kind can be a high control group, and can be very damaging to people. And I thought it was fascinating that you started by describing a fairly positive picture of, of the churches. And I understand you're, you're describing hindsight, where we know where you were at the time. But that is how high control groups work. Right? They, they say they're authentic, they say that they're there for you. And as we know, there's more to the story, and they pull you in, and and then the demands begin to build up.

Matt  16:50  
And that stories come in apps. And as I say, the suit, and I know some of this is negative and critical. But I also want to point out that with any with any church, remember, there's some amazing people there. Yeah, and with my leadership roles at the church that we'll talk about here in a minute, I mean, they, they taught me a lot about about leading, and speaking in. And engaging people it was there's a lot of good that came from that. And, and one thing about the church too, is just the the amount of programs that they had to help people in their situation of life in their Christian walk. I mean, the marriage courses, the parenting courses, in addiction recovery type programs. I mean, it was a very well financed, you can imagine church that had lots of programs out there to help people and they've done a lot of good for people. Yeah. What I would also say is, we're gonna go into this, the closer you get to the center core, the more the high control unveils itself, in the complete control.

So it's a biblical church, we had to be to be a member, you had to sign a membership form every year, basically saying that the Bible is true from start to finish, right? inerrancy, you had to be part of a small group, which is also called a community group. You had to serve, you had to serve somewhere, whether it's handing out bulletins, or parking ministry or getting more involved as I did, and marriage and parenting ministries and recovery ministries, but you had to have a job somewhere with that. Right. And, you know, for a while, that was great. Now, the interesting part here, we came off this Baptist Church and I was, you know, trying to grow in my faith the best that I could, and that they pulled us in quickly and made my wife and I community group leaders. So we were assigned a group of four couples. And our job was it's kind of an arranged marriage, we didn't know them, they were brought to us and said Here Here, a group you're going to live the next year with, right? Wow. And I've got some great friendships that came out of that. We've led multiple groups over the years. And as I'll share in a minute to also use that platform to really spiritual abuse people. And I'll describe that here in a minute. It's a term I didn't know that even existed up until two years ago. But we really do community are and and living life with these people is different as we were, I was expecting the group to be I don't know executives and private equity people and guys to kind of run in the business were like I do and instead I had two musicians and a guy that was unemployed. A couple, okay, yeah, very different, but also love the fact that I was able to learn more about people that you know, I just have a different, different pace of life than I do. And, again, some really good friendships came out of that. That with community group, we let that for a while. And that was interesting. We had, we had some curriculum we had to go through, almost like authenticity was forced. And so the guys get together once a week, the girls would get together once a week, and then we'd meet as a couple, maybe twice a month, and just the pressure to disclose. You know, I masturbated this week, right? Or I watch pornography or, man, I got angry with my wife and I need help with this. And there's lots of value in that being known and have other people in your life, but it was an area of forced confessions, that is

David Ames  20:46  
the difference between being really open with a best friend who you trust implicitly versus the artificial forcing or pushing you to reveal things about yourself that you would rather have private to people who are not yet your friends, is that dangerous part?

Matt  21:03  
Yeah, there definitely was groupthink going on there. I mean, I felt it, I had pressured to, if I didn't really have anything I wanted to share. But if I wasn't sharing or mind sharing wasn't as juicy as the guy next to me that shared I just the pressure of Want to share something, yeah, to be accepted by the group.

David Ames  21:22  
So again, you know, it begins with good intentions and can go off the rails really quickly.

Matt  21:28  
And we took it a step further. My wife and I were pretty strong personalities, and I mean sales for a living. So I can use that skill set to kind of hate to coerce people. But one area that we would drive home is we would the church heavily influenced us to as leaders of the group to share finances? Twice a year?

David Ames  21:55  
Wow. Really.

Matt  21:58  
Every doubt down to the, to the penny of how much money we made, where our money went from an expense perspective. Do we have any debt? But also lots of pressure on did you give to the church, right. And even though this place here, again, a mega church, their position is 10% of gross, it's just the start.

David Ames  22:25  
That's the opening ante. Yeah.

Matt  22:27  
And I really struggle with that. Going back to the tithing story that I said, we were first married, right, that was tough, but at the same time to was leading the group and enjoyed that that authority position. Yeah, that moves us into pre married ministry, right. And then we moved in, we did that for years kind of counseling couples, in a group setting, to marriage recovery for those marriages that were in trouble. And that led to us being on stage frequently, videos being made about our story and using my wife's, you know, his previous affair as the platform for recovery. Right. And that was an interview. In one point, I just, I was so uncomfortable getting on stage in front of probably, I don't know, 1000 people at a time and sharing our story. But I'll tell you one thing I've learned love bombing is a pretty powerful tool. Yeah. And when you have done a good job presenting or serving in a ministry, and the church comes around you and pulls you on stage and tells me how great you are. And they tell you all the time we love you guys are incredible. You could get me to jump through a ring of fire, right? My personality if you just love me enough

but what I discovered and all that but myself and a new term that I now had language for that I didn't back then is a term called covert narcissism. And, you know, we often hear the term narcissist and that goes with grandiose so to speak, right. But now I'm looking back, I would say without a doubt I was or had I had become a covert narcissist. And what I mean by that is that I was able to control people in getting what's called narcissistic supply, because as I'm controlling them and helping them in their marriage and calling out men directly about their issues, what have you and couples, you know, correcting them? They're thanking me while I'm doing that. Right, right. Yeah. And then leadership, the multi hierarchical levels of leadership, they would praise you for that and I just found man, I would come home from leading these groups is so full of energy. And we'd say the term pride right back in the church days. Yeah. But I loved it. And my wife loved it, because I was white. And just looking back on that now, it was like, Oh, goodness. And now just evaluating other other aspects. I think in many church settings, there's covert narcissist walking around all over the place. Oh, yes.

David Ames  25:35  
Or not covered? Yes.

Matt  25:39  
Over, it's easy to find, right. It's the one that's loving Yeah. Meanwhile, getting their supplies by controlling you.

David Ames  25:48  
Absolutely. I think that that is extremely common. And to be somewhat fair to Christianity that's maybe common among human beings, right? It's just that it can be a breeding ground for that, especially in the very intimate settings of a small group, where the small group leaders is granted power. And people like power, they like to be the center of attention. And then that begins to feed into maybe latent covert narcissism that can grow into something that can be dangerous.

Matt  26:20  
Yep, absolutely. And so, you know, I think one observation with that, in hindsight, and again, I will say that part of our service and leadership, we did watch people turn their marriage around, right? We did watch them, find better ways to parent their kids. And I'll talk about that here in just a minute. It was takes on both sides that were made on that area. Yeah. But I will say, though, that here's what I found in my heart is that in these groups that were leading, I made people project and an object. Yeah, right. And so our job was to go in and help people recognize their fault, what they're bringing to the marriage, the problems that they're bringing to the parenting, the problems, etc. And as long as they agreed and made changes, then we were great, we'd be BFFs, right, at least until the group ended. But if you wouldn't change, or couldn't change, regardless of your family of origin, regardless of what you went through, and trauma in your past, whatever things you're whatever baggage you're bringing into your relationship that just made you an object and dismissed you. Okay, move on. Next one next in line, please write in to some degrees of total talk today to that happened to me. And so a lot of what I what I were talking through what I dished out, I had put right back on me, as we'll go through this message to the story today.

David Ames  27:59  
Also very common just to you've been the giver, so to speak, even though you're getting things back and return. And the minute that you need something that we're you're in a position of vulnerability, you experienced the other side of that and can have abuse take place.

Matt  28:17  
Absolutely. And, you know, I look at this now. And this goes back to the covert narcissism aspect is that we sacrificed 1000s of hours of time with our kids, when they really needed us to be leading in these ministries. Of course, we weren't paid, right? We're volunteer leaders, but I literally would land from a business trip, and would go straight from the airport, straight to my leadership meetings, marriage ministries, etc. And I'll come rolling in at 10 o'clock at night after that. We had couples over all the time that needed help. So we pushed the kids aside in years where they really, really needed us and we'll get into that, okay, in order to serve in this ministry in this church. So with that, you know, we adopted a curriculum called Growing kids God's way. Okay. With older curriculum, very fundamentalist, well known and older circles. And we use that in our parenting for our kids, as well as you know, coached up other couples, whether part of the church or not, you know, we love helping people all the time. Yeah. And lots of regrets around that. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that, that curriculum at all,

David Ames  29:45  
not directly, but I can imagine.

Matt  29:48  
It's, again, high control, right? Yeah. Lots of corporal punishment. First time obedience was the goal. And there's some good that came out of that also, but but If your child will not obey on first command, and they get spanked, okay, and I remember looking at my wife going and we're beating the crap out of our kids. Yeah, how awful. He has all been in love, right? Control that not out of anger. So are you disobeyed? Now you need to get a spanking. I'll be in your room and two minutes, you know, the spanking, and I love you. And, and there's a part that maybe there's a time for correction like that. But the frequency of what you're delivering does really have me turned up inside the other reality too. I was I was too afraid to challenge my spouse. Because it was working to some degree. They were, you know, Chip shaped little kids that stood in line and Yes, sir. And yes, ma'am. And they followed orders after a while, I would have to

David Ames  30:51  
seriously? Yeah, wow. Okay.

Matt  30:56  
And so kind of moving through this kind of where what was happening here is that I'm in small group, I'm leading a small group, okay, we're doing these various ministries, and taking it all this, this content driven towards men as leaders of the household, right, in that role, and I soak it all up, right. I've got to read every book that I could read, it's funny, I was cleaning out my inbox or cleaning up some old files on my computer of the weekend. And I found a an e book, written by Mark Driscoll called pastor dad. Interesting. I consumed all the Driskel I could get in the podcast and in everything else, and and he just read through it just skimming through, it just drove home that your family's spiritual development. And your kids future is all on you, as the biblical Christian leader of the household, right. And I took that seriously. And I would surround myself with older dads that were part of the church, other leaders and we just kind of soak in from them what they would do, I would go to Dad's class, not only as a leader, but also as a recipient of participant. And they put these older dads on stage. And we talked about how they discipled their kids and how they went on prayer walks and take off for weekends and fast and pray with their kids. And I'm just going oh, my gosh, I suck.

And I often look at it, there's I mean, there's there's two sides of the coin. I mean, I would I would judge other dads that weren't doing things as well as me. Right? To try to get them in line. And meanwhile, I'm looking at these other guys going, I don't measure up. And it was exhausting. The cycle there. And, and then, you know, trying to do devotions with the kids. When they're younger, it was great. They they get in line and do it, do it please us, of course doing devotional and you got a 16 year old then 14 year old 12 year old. The audience is not quite as receptive as they were eight, six and four. Yes. But that's what Christian dads did.

And that, that played itself out anything from just how we control the kids, as teenagers. With social media, things like Snapchat as they enter the scene and Instagram, a new back then newer type of scary pieces to it. But that was outside of our biblical mission statement. As a family, we'd written up a mission statement about what our faith was going to look like. And we would proudly share it with other people in our church and small groups, and they'd be overwhelmed. Again, they're looking at us go when you guys got it all figured out. And we're so prideful that we've got it all figured out at this point. Yeah. All right. And I'll talk about that here in more just a minute. But, you know, I mentioned the term spiritual abuse earlier. And thanks to a therapist that we've been seeing the past year that focuses on that I now didn't know that there was even such a thing. But part of my unraveling begin unraveling was when I had the unfortunate opportunity to kick my friends out of the church through a process called Matthew 18. Okay, wow. Right, which is basically you go to a believer, you confront them. If he or she doesn't change and you bring other people to confront them on their son. If they don't change them. Then you basically say you're out of here. Tonight, he said one of my very best friends, a couple that we were in small group with an amazing man. But he lost his wife in a horrific sledding accident. While in Colorado right in front of our kids, and the church did a beautiful thing of coming around that family. And it's really helping him with two twin daughters and an older son and just doing what the church does well, right loving people in time of need. But then once the initial shock goes over, you know, maybe a year passes, nothing will ever you can never get over that, right. But what's the initial shock of my wife's no longer here? People went back to their lives as normal. And my friend, being a 45 year old man, maybe 18 months after his wife passed and began to reenter the dating world. Right. And in one small group together, we're sharing everything meeting weekly. And then he started to date his high school sweetheart. Beautiful girl, and but she was not a believer, going back to the unequally yoked. And he had plans to move to her state after they dated for a year and move in together then pursue marriage. Right? Well, of course, that's a no no. Right? Not only does a believer not marry an unbeliever, but cohabitation with kids. I mean, what else can you go wrong, right? So we went to the process of confronting him. And he's a strong man, much stronger, much stronger than I ever could have been at that point in time, right? emotionally strong. And he basically said, I hear you guys. But no, a lover, man, we're gonna make a family out of this, right. And so the church came to me as the small group leader and said, We need to form Matthew 18 on him, and D member him. Which basically required a letter being written by a staff member, and then three people have to sign it. And I was one of those. And I kind of pushed back saying, Gosh, I can't do this. This is my best run. Yeah, no, no, you have to map like, I'm not going to do it. You have to.

And I did, at a fresher. And I remember that phone call that I received from him.

Where he was just like, you know, man, I love you. I've always felt accepted by you. Until now. And I've never felt judged in my life, as I'm feeling right now. Yeah. And I'll keep the story short, I did it to another guy that was having marriage problems. And the other letter signed by me and the same kind of reaction. And since then, kind of fast forwarding a little bit, I did go back to both those guys and seek their forgiveness. They were gracious and we're friends today. They're no longer part of the church.

David Ames  38:11  
Right, right. Right.

Matt  38:13  
In this church was on record for doing the same thing to people that were in the homicide, homosexual lifestyle that couldn't, that wouldn't repent from that. Lots of publicity around that. But it was just a very common practice at that point in time. Okay. Matter of fact, the senior pastor, the guy that was so dynamic that really drew me in. I was in a leadership meeting with him and he was talking about performing Matthew 18 on teenagers. Right, that would not up hold it up. I kind of said, under my breath. That's the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life. Yeah. Right. So I begin to really start to look at things differently. But I was stuck. Right. I was stuck. Not only afraid of my wife you know, hating me, right? Yeah. I was afraid of, of losing my status. I mean, I lead in five ministries, right or sometimes three at a time. And me speaking up and starting to say I'm having struggles with what I'm reading in the Bible having struggles with this, but I've seen this control. I spoke up about that then I would be maybe go through the same process of

David Ames  39:34  
it exactly.

Matt  39:43  
Well, we're our story really begins to turn this is not this is kind of moves us outside of that church we've been talking about. That my my spouse now of then of 24 years I've always had a dream of being a biblical counselor. And I really never knew what that meant. But basically it is you use Scripture to counsel people. And anything that secular in terms of psychology or therapy is not from God, this can't be trusted. Okay, back to the inerrancy piece to it. So she came to me and asked if I would support her if she enrolled in a program called masters University led by guy named John MacArthur at a California. Wow. I'm not sure if you're familiar with him. Yes. Okay. And I, being the codependent loving spouse that I was, absolutely, you know, I'll be glad to help fill the roles with kids and do things. And of course, we had money to do it. So I had no idea what I was agreeing to not that she needed for me to bless this, right. But we also were coming from a patriarchal complementarianism type, belief system. Kind of a side note on that, that drove me crazy as a husband. Yeah, because she's, she's a smart, competent woman. I mean, I mean, she can accomplish 10 times as much as I can. And again, in day, right? In the fact that she was coming to me asking me if she could do this, or if you know, one of our kids is going to have a friend come over after school and it kept going on. I'm like, you know, you, you don't need to ask

Unknown Speaker  41:37  
me to stuff. Right?

Matt  41:38  
I'm totally good with whatever's going on. I'm happy.

David Ames  41:41  
Now, I think that's important, too, right? It's not just the women who suffer and complementarianism but But men as well, like, not only there are maybe more introverted people than yourself, who wouldn't want to be thrust into a leadership position and the decision maker on all things, but also people who like yourself, you know, recognize your wife's ability to, to make her own decisions and our resistance to being the gatekeeper for her. So complementarianism just hurts. Everyone involved. The two spouses, the children, everyone who's involved with it. Yep.

Matt  42:17  
Absolutely. So she enrolled in a program and she was excited, and I was happy for while we continuously was you can you can do this all day long. Just don't make me your first patient, or first. Yeah, counsel Lee. And she laughed about that, and that lasted for about six months. Right. And what this program through this church, the Margaret MacArthur's program, set as a biblical standard for families in manhood in what is to be a wife and a husband is one of only supernatural superheroes can ever accomplish this. Yeah. And suddenly, I'm doing everything I can within managing my work and loving on the kids and being a good husband. I couldn't, nothing would add up. Now, I will say that as we were talking through this, I was also living a dualistic lifestyle, meaning that I was this church leader. But then from my work life, I had lots of great friends there. Right and have worked with for dozens of years. And they weren't all Christians, right? Jewish and atheist, and all types of religions are non religious, right? And we'd go on work trips together as a team and have a blast together and party and take clients out for entertainment. Again, not I say entertainment restaurants and

David Ames  43:56  
thank you for the clarification, though.

Matt  44:00  
But then I would come home and I would have I'd be would be this, the, the, the, the super conservative Christian dad, having a feat in both worlds, so to speak, right. And all of a sudden, everything we were doing, I couldn't measure up and part of it was I was living my life, even at home at times. But also in leadership and the standards that are set the leadership, this kind of where things begin to unravel. Okay. I mean, we'd set up this perfect family image, right? We have at this point, 16 year old 14 year old 12 year old kids and moving into the teen years. What's going to be what's going to come from that more of that story. But then as I began to push back against the control that was being put upon me from my spouse, just in terms of just the criticism Me Now she started to use the church as I began to push back against that control to get me back in line, okay to the indirect with me but but then use the church on the backside to come around and confront me whether I was having a few drinks at home, or we watched the show that had the F word on it, or was already my Bible enough until I was pulled into leadership conversations, more so than I could care to remember. challenging me and holding my leadership standard as the gold bar and how I was not fulfilling my obligation there.

David Ames  45:43  
Understood? Yeah, like, again, I think I want to be careful here that, you know, the people who are most often the experiences of abuse are not in leadership. But people who are in leadership also experienced that, because of what you've just described, the standard is inhuman, it is not possible. And then, while you're simultaneously asked to be open and authentic, you're also asked to live up to a standard that's not attainable. And that dichotomy can't live together at the same time. And it can only end in tears. Lots of

Matt  46:19  
tears coming, right? Yeah. So all of a sudden, my game had changed from the standard perspective, I began to push back against it, as I said, and meanwhile, she's growing more and more becoming more Christ, like, hurting from this, this one area of teaching through MacArthur's University. Right. That trickle this way down to our kids. Okay. And at this point, our oldest daughter is 16 years old. Trying to find her way, you know, wanting acceptance, friendship, right. Boyfriends, things that

David Ames  46:54  
every normal things. Yeah, yeah.

Matt  46:58  
But our standard was so high, really, kind of pulling back in purity culture, right from the 90s. And into what we were doing with our kids and requiring the the start line shot you're showing too many boobs? Yeah, yeah. Give us your phone and make sure not only inappropriate apps, marriages for their dating for marriage. Right. And you're really driving that standard home?

David Ames  47:31  
Yeah. Wow. And 16 that, yeah, it's intense. Yeah.

Matt  47:35  
And, you know, our kids are compliant little sheep anymore. They're independent thinking. Hormone raging. Acceptance, needing teenagers, right? Yeah. So we're always had two choices, you can either get in line and just put our head in the sand and suck it up or go around our authority. Right and find her way. And that's what she did. She had it she was living a dualistic lifestyle. You're walking out wearing the clothing appropriate. And then the trunk of her car was the leather miniskirt and the halter top

David Ames  48:17  
story is all this type of math Yeah.

Matt  48:25  
But obviously, with with controlling parents, she got caught frequently and church members reporting to us Hey, I saw your daughter out at the seven so ice cream shop and she got on a skirt that was too short in the top that was too revealing, right and confronting her and then the grounding right? And then give us your phone as part of the grounding. Look at your phone and their Snapchat on your phone. We can't have snap texts that Snapchats from Satan. And now you're grounded even further. Right and, and really, really putting the hammer on this kid. And she's an amazing girl. She lives in Hawaii today as a 20 year old but she's an amazing girl, but just trying to live her life. And that with that though this dualistic lifestyle she wound up becoming being raped while we were out of the country and grandma, we came in the house and that didn't reveal itself to two years later, when she was really in trouble for attending a party while we were out of town. Again, I did the same thing when I was 1617 years old

but once we she knew she was in big trouble for the party. She just decided to come forward and share with the two of us all that she had been doing this this other person that she was in shared with us about relationships with other boys Sex and the partying and hanging out with them. In college kids, right. I mean, we were going back to the Christmas vacation. You know, I woke up with my head stapled to the carpet. I couldn't be any more surprised, right? Yeah, same thing. I just sat back on Who is this kid? I was shocked. Yeah. And that really threw us into a spiral as a couple. And as a family. She needed help. And we wouldn't let her get help. Because back to the biblical counseling, or therapy, the secular right, and all we need some God's word. And I, I was passive. David, at this point, I was too scared to confront my wife. And say bullcrap, and he's not. And, again, then we throw into this incredible level of grounding and punishment and restrictions, and our friends are slipping away, because you can't contact them. My wife is under business left and right, and just controlling and critical. And that resulted in a suicide attempt. Now, okay. She's fine. With your 70. So at that point, the church being the church came around us, and now with great intentions to help. But we really got some bad advice. Yeah, it was very consistent on the therapy is not needed to, she needs to go to a Christian woman's home, away from where we love, right, and be with a mentor to live there for a couple months. And that's when I finally had enough. And I just said, this is no no more. Yeah, she needs to leave where we are, she needs help. Real therapy, their therapeutic help. You need to get away from her family, not as a rejection she needs to She needs time from us to heal. And she's going to go to a secular therapy program that specializes in adolescents. Right. And at that point, the tables began to turn. And she went and spent 10 months there and came out a different person. Because she was away from us. And the interesting, interesting thing when we would go do visitations and partisan is a great program because we were re parented right? On how to give our kids more freedom and let them fail and how to love them through the process. Right? And which completely opposite of what we had been teaching into the talk, which was complete control, obedience to Christ. Right, right. But the interesting observation over many, many months or weekends of going there, to visit her in for the RE parenting training. One observation I had is that every family that I met, was either evangelical or some version of high control, religious organization, every one of their kids were there to get for rebellion and things that were harmful to them as teenagers. I hate to say as a result of their parents, I can't say that but the one consistent theme was they all came from a very similar type of high control background. Yeah. So as we progress through this now, kind of moving into some hard part's, it's a tough time, right? At this point, I'm fed up. And now I'm really beginning to speak out scared to death, right to lose my position to lose my marriage to be rejected and community and I. And at one point, I this was wrong, I read some of my wife's writings that she had written in a journal that was completely the wrong thing to do. But as I read through it, it was a book that was about me journaling my sins and how I'm not adding up things that just that were very hurtful to me. And it's just coming out of a really tough four years and I looked at my wife at that time and I said, I'm sorry I read this for many reasons. I'm sorry what I saw in this and I'm sorry for how you feel about me but after I'm done being married to you at this point, okay. And we had left that day to go to a wedding in Tennessee and didn't say a word to each other in free to say I was done being married to her was just completely out of left field. But then that night, she flipped not in a good way, but she became easier to engage with. And we would sit in the pool and we got back and have some kiddos and watch shows that said the F word on it and, you know, be very playful in our sex life, nothing out of balance everything within your marriage, right? You're having fun. And I look back at that time and said, I've found the woman I've always wanted, where I can be accepted. And I could share where I struggled and share real things without fear of everybody else finding out about it. And I was so happy for about seven months, okay. And she apparently was really unhappy, because I was going against everything she was taught and she was doing that to please me, which is not right. But about seven months after that, she flipped back into her biblical counseling program, I asked her to leave that after her childhood attempted suicide. She moved back into some more aggressive programs in the church. And that pendulum swing really hard to the right. Okay, so it was a little bit too far to the left for what she was comfortable with. And I can respect that. It's weighing equally if not further, hard to the right, in terms of full blown indoctrination. Control, the inerrancy and being more Christ like

David Ames  56:27  
doubling down tripling down yelling,

Matt  56:30  
right. Endorse recognizing and conversations about as we pull in things like purity culture. When we're College. We were a great couple. Right? And we did like many college teenager college kids, did we actually have sex? Pre marriage? Yeah. Mutual right. He was both of us. And we share repeatedly It was a fun part of our relationship. And you know, then after she, you know, many years still blaming me for taking your virginity. Right. Don't take that into her recovery ministries and and just now recognize, I didn't know what purity culture was until a year ago, two years ago. Yeah. And just seeing that looking back over our marriage, just the shame, the guilt fear that that she had had, we could have, we could go to the beach and have a great time and you know, act like married adults that were in love and have sex in the pool chairs at nighttime when nobody's out there right? are fun and playful. Right? Then the next day followed with guilt, right? In shame and it's moved back in and it just really had us on a cycle for many years of just what's appropriate and you know, masturbation in the church was a complete nono and I've always been very appropriate for your podcast you're but free sexually as far as who I am in my body. And sir, if I travel and have a desire, I'll would masturbate. Meanwhile, thinking of my wife during this process, right, but that was a complete nono, I was actually called in front of church leadership for that. Yeah. And the verses they use to back up that position were pretty pathetic. I remember they tell you, you can't you can't masturbate like, well, I'm having gone for five days. I can't. I can't What what? Were you just gonna lead to sin? And like, what if I think about my wife while I'm doing that? We don't have an answer for I just need to be done. I got us off track. Sorry.

David Ames  58:42  
Well, I just say like, in general, the purity culture that you're describing is damaging because, again, it takes away our humanity. Our healthy sexuality is a part of being human being everything from masturbation to having fun sex with your spouse, your partner, and if there should be some external source of guilt for any of that. That is, it's just, it's ridiculous. It's damaging, it's hurtful. It hurts with the kids when they're growing up during a time of puberty and discovering who they are as a sexual being. It hurts that it but it's amazing to me still that full grown adults, married adults still feel the impacts of purity culture, and you know, it's just so utterly damaging.

Matt  59:28  
The hard part for me is I never I was not there was no purity culture being taught in my home growing up. Matter of fact, my dad was proud of me for having a condom in my wallet. That succeed although I had no plans to use it or knowledge to come into my wallet. Right. Right. Right. So but that piece of that those in marrying a person that that was raised in that just now looking back going wow, I feel terrible for it's stropped, a lot of joy and pleasure. And again, the cognitive cognitive dissonance on her and it just it was it was hard

so then, as she's back in this again, and things really started to turn south, but I getting really become fed up with not only the church control me doing the dance constantly, constantly beating myself up for not being good enough, then COVID hit. Okay. You know, everybody, there's plenty stories out there, we're COVID changed everything and I was thrilled meaning I don't have to go to church anymore. Yeah, you know, go for an hour and a half service and there's no more going to leadership. That was great for me, but I, it's my marriage is falling apart. I went to a therapist for help. And I went to the narrative therapist saying there's either one or two outcomes and I need help with. I'm either a narcissist or I'm codependent. And I don't know which one I am. Right. And I use the term covert narcissist before and I think that was really true in terms of my leadership with other people. And what I was getting from that. The bottom line when it came to a marriage, I was flat out codependent. Always working to keep my spouse happy, right and walking on eggshells constantly in the standard and ever been good enough. And so I worked really hard in books and therapy, and outside teachings and really gained grant gained ground on like codependency which is really hard when you're in a codependent relationship for 29 years, and you break free of it. And the game rules change, right? It's hard on the other spouse to Sure, he's used to the control aspect of things. But I really became fed up with the church because they again, in small groups kept really getting into wire marriage was falling apart, it had to be my fault. I remember going into a meeting with about 12 people where I was the center of the meeting. And I just arrived from the business trip, and I'm stopped by the house to get ready for this meeting. And I took my blood pressure.

Unknown Speaker  1:02:29  
And it was to 20 over 190 Oh, wow. Wow. And I'm a

Matt  1:02:35  
relatively fit guy. But I began now I know the Body Keeps the Score. Right? Yeah, didn't have any language around this. I was a tough it out. I'm going to get it done kind of guy. But that's the level of anxiety what I was headed into, again for another meeting, this time about my marriage and family. Yeah. Right. But at that meeting, I just basically let them have it. And saw my therapist who was very familiar with his church. He's a former pastor. That's no longer. I think he's deconstructed. I don't know that for sure. But he helped me say, here's how you leave this church. You go into a meeting, you tell him you guys have been awesome. You've helped me grow a lot in my life. Thank you for all you've done, but I'm no longer going to be a member of the church. He's like, that's all you say. Yeah. And that was great advice. So I go into a meeting. That's exactly what I say. And then that's not what I did. A question What's why and what do you believe? And, you know, I again, I didn't have a language back then. And I've learned so much, two years later, but one thing that I had language for was a couple things. I said, we treat human beings like objects and projects. That's a real people. And then secondly, you're telling me that every single person walking to the synagogue, this coming Saturday, a mile from our house is going to hell? I can't support that anymore. Yeah. Right. And so the question then came in well, so you don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture like I don't, I'm sorry. Adam and Eve is an allegory. Job's a story. Noah's Ark never happened, right. Mark was written before Matthew and all these kinds of things are going through and I just can't see it. And then the question that came from my wife was, well, how are you going to make moral decisions going forward? And I looked at him and said, I'm pretty sure I'm not gonna go rate kill and destroy and stealing. I think I can make these choices on my own. So at that point, I was out, and I received a letter from the church you know, denouncing My membership wasn't the Matthew 18 letter we'd given other people, but it was you're no longer a member. You're an obligor expecting us to come alongside you and help you, right to guide you to shepherd you so to speak. Right, okay. But things were a mess in my home, right. And I've finally started to do some podcasting. And I heard this term called spiritual abuse. And I began to research it diligently on YouTube and various podcasts. And this was two years ago, the term was really, I think, starting to gain traction, then I found this therapist is PhD relative, that she specializes in spiritual abuse.

David Ames  1:05:42  
Oh, great. Okay.

Matt  1:05:45  
So I've sought her out. And turns out, I'm not the only person from my previous church that is a client of hers. Yeah. But really helped me understand what I went through what my body was experiencing the panic attacks and services, the blood pressure, so to speak, that I was not the broken one, okay. When your spouse tells you, you're going to help, it's pretty hard to hear when your spouse tells the family that if you love God and His people, you want to be in church every Sunday, no excuses, get your butt up, go to church. In so many things of that area is way beyond just that, right? It just developing language around that, like, what was I part of, and what happened. And I came home with that day, that day, and I looked at my spouse and said, whatever's happened in the past, whatever has been done to me in the past, I hate to like the victim, but it's never gonna happen again. I'm not going to let it happen. I'm not going to let you share. I'm not going to share anything with you. Because anything I share with you could share with 55 other people, right? There's no secrecy. There's no privacy, and you will never talk to me like that, again.

David Ames  1:07:02  
It's a breach of trust, right? If you're speaking privately to your partner, your life partner, and they tell 55 other people that that's definitely a breach of trust.

Matt  1:07:14  
Absolutely. And, you know, we she was big into boundaries. And I said, I understand I respect the heck out of boundaries, right? Boundaries are for you, not for me, right. But I'm like, I can't set boundaries with you, other than not share anything with you. Because it's my only boundary I can set. I don't want my life being shared with everyone else to get me back in line. Yeah. And the sad part of the story from that is that two months later, we decided to separate. It was we were, I was angry. She was devastated. I don't want to defame her or talk down about her too much. But we decided to proceed divorce. And that's been going on for about 18 months in, you know, kind of fast forwarding that it's been a it's been a freeing cycle, but a very, very difficult cycle. Of course, when you lead marriage ministry doing everything right, then you decide that my marriage is so toxic. As soon as I decided to not be in line with everybody else that we can handle it. And to leave a megachurch, we are so well known. Number one, that rejection in itself is is torture. to deconstruct your faith, if not lose your faith to lose that level of quote, unquote friendships. It's hard and you still on top of that, a marriage falling apart. You really kind of find out who you are as a person at that level of depression and isolation.

David Ames  1:08:57  
You also find out who your real friends are. The real friends will be there for you anyway and and everyone else wasn't

Matt  1:09:05  
you know, it's it's so true. A few guys have hung in there with me they love me regardless. And they're also going through their own version of deconstruction. They're not quite there yet where I am but they are going through that process. They if they've stayed with me the whole time. The vast majority of people turn their back on me i It's really hard now where I live in my city. I'm separated, we're you know, close to divorce, but I'm in an apartment and I'm not too far from where my church was because I'm close to the kids location wise and I'd go to restaurants and look around everywhere I go. I see people and people that I knew from the church, right and you know, your typical pat on the backs kind of piece to it, but I was bumped into a staff member probably about six weeks ago. And we served together for 15 years in marriage ministry. And he was one of my love bombers came up to me and gave me a hug and said, Man, I love you. And I'm serve what your family is going through. And I said,

David Ames  1:10:08  
sorry to laugh. I've had exactly that happen. I know exactly what you're experiencing. Yeah,

Matt  1:10:14  
I was like you really love me. I said, I've heard a word from you and 17 months, right? As I knew, and I spoke, I said, we need help, I need help. And I have your word back from you. Since I didn't remember. I was gone. So we had coffee, two weeks later. And I shared with him exactly that you say you love me. And you've told me 1000 times over the past 15 years, how much you love me and respect me that as soon as I'm not agreeing with your position on things. You turn her back on me like that. And not just you. I said it was everybody else. So beef, not just with us to the whole organization. And we kind of left it at that it was fine meeting and but I finally had a chance there. And you know, for the most part, I would occasionally get the phone call. Let's get coffee, which is triggering, by the way.

David Ames  1:11:08  

Matt  1:11:11  
Let's get coffee from people that I don't know very well, so we can get you back in line. Yeah. Even family members from my wife's side would call once they realized that I was not going to agree with them on their position around scripture, they never hear from them again. And they don't know what to say to you. They say nothing. They ignore Yeah.

But fast forward. I've been gentle with my kids who are now 2018 and 16. My oldest two had that tragedy in her life, she decided to skip college and move to Hawaii. And she's doing fantastic. News. Yeah, live in her life. Right? Not sure where she stands on her faith, other two kids are, are really doing well. But what's happened in the past 18 months now as I've shared my journey with my kids, I've had more real conversations with my teenagers about culture, drinking sex, things, they're struggling with the some of my friends, both female and male are just shocked to hear what my kids share with me about where they're struggling in life, and they can't share that at home with their mom had a fear.

And so, today, I'm

on the fence. agnostic. Atheist don't know where I'm straddling, I'd say there's probably more weight on the atheist foot than agnostic foot. But still becoming comfortable with that. That terminology.

David Ames  1:12:54  
And there's no time pressure, Matt, you get to you get to figure it out. There's nobody watching you asking you what do you believe? What do you believe? What do you believe? Right? Wherever you land is up to you. And you get to take as much time as you need to figure that out.

Matt  1:13:08  
Being in Texas, I would say that this is no shock here. I thought this the word atheist is also aligned with Satanist. Sure,

David Ames  1:13:17  
yeah. Yeah.

Matt  1:13:21  
People really don't know what to do with that. It's I'm real careful with my I went to the cycle right of, of being the bitter guy that the pushback and my friends that would come to me and talk about scripture, I would just I can, quite frankly, I can level them on I can, I can cut them in half with my words. We did that a few times. It didn't go well. Now I just engage in smile. And so you know, I don't know where I am right now. Right? I don't know where I'm gonna land. But things are different. You know? Where you're going to church anywhere? No, I'm not. I'm not. Well, I'm gonna come visit this church was really good. Like, I'm good. I'm really good.

David Ames  1:14:06  
Honestly, that I think that is a a beautiful way to handle it. I think one of the experiences of coming out of a very fundamentalist or very high control group is the feeling or the pressure to have all the answers and to correct everyone around you, right, like there's a bounce back effect of correcting the believers. And it is much healthier, and much, much better for you personally, to be able to just, you know, let that slide. There they are, where they're at you are where you're at. And again, as we've said, your real friends, the people you actually trust, you can be open with them, and they're going to carry you through it. Well, I'm

Matt  1:14:48  
thankful that I had this dual world though of work friends, and church friends, because I'll tell you that as much rejection as I felt from my Christian friends twice as much as acceptance from my friends that were Jewish, or agnostic or atheist or Muslim, quite frankly. Yeah, I mean, actually follow up how you doing, man just got love on on your checking on you. And so thankful for those people I can't imagine. And I've been completely tied up and I feel for people that are on staff at churches that that are going to this journey that can't. I mean, they're there, their livelihoods tied to everything's tied to it, they're stuck. And so I'm thankful for for that part of my life as well.

David Ames  1:15:33  
Real quick, we are running out of time, but we you know, any any positive things on this side, we've talked about therapy, obviously, that, you know, any particular books, podcasts other than this one, any YouTube channels, and anything that you found really inspiring through this process for you?

Matt  1:15:48  
Yeah, absolutely. Of course, your your, your podcast was again, so therapeutic for me to hear other people's stories to realize I'm not crazy. Yeah. Because for awhile, I thought I'm absolutely the asshole here. Right. You know, the Thinking Atheist course, the big podcast that was good. divorcing religion. And those those pieces, they're just not a big reader. A book that really helped me was leather bound terrorism, which is by former evangelical pastor that kind of tapes. Here's his story of using Scripture as a weapon. And what he did to people in the exact story that I shared at the humanizing. There's so much out there. And I've moved from the trying to find work scripture and Jesus into my life. And as it worked out to really saying, none of this just makes sense to me. I can't sit back and say, I can take the Jesus from the Bible, and pluck out those stories and those verses that I want to hear and then ignore everything else. Yeah. And then to hear again, I don't worry about the Old Testament, because the New Testament is, is the word of God now. And then let's quote Psalms and Proverbs. And let's really dive into Deuteronomy and Leviticus and see what things look like there. Right. So there's a lot of great resources or resources out there, and you're one of those.

David Ames  1:17:13  
Oh, well, I really appreciate that. Matt, I talked about wanting to be having honesty contests in these kinds of interviews. And I think you've, you've lived up to that it's clear you're doing the work. I know, it's a painful place to be, both from a relationship point of view and from a deconstruction point of view. But I really appreciate you telling your story. I know there are going to be a lot of people who relate to your story. So thank you so much for being on the podcast. My pleasure, thank you.

Final thoughts on the episode, I really appreciated Matt's honesty and vulnerability here. He talks about a lot of relatively intimate things in such a way that you can hear the work that he's been doing in therapy and otherwise learning about the spiritual abuse that he experienced, as well as the abuse that he gave out. Matt's terminology about a covert narcissist is really interesting. All of us can think of overt narcissists, various pastors and things of that nature. But many of the people in Bible studies or in leadership positions like Matt was that need that constant attention need that constant feedback, I can think of those kinds of people as well. So it's a really interesting concept that Matt brings up here. hearing that story, what I am the most struck by is how the system of the church is spiritual abuse that no one survives it from the least powerful person in the church to the senior pastor, that everyone is ground down by the things that Matt described, this false intimacy, this fake authenticity, a invasion of privacy, breaking down a boundaries, impossible standards of morality and expectations. What I appreciate most about Matt's story is that he recognized how he was also the abuser, that he definitely experienced spiritual abuse, but that and his words hurt people hurt people. And that takes a lot of guts to say out loud, all of the spiritual abuse can be summarized in Matt's wording of seeing people as projects or objects. I think that was so succinct, an explanation of both what it's like as the person in power and as the person who is the object and how abusive that is. I can think of many times in my experience as a church leader, and as experienced as a church member of either making people projects and objects or being the object itself. I want to thank Matt for being on the podcast for telling his story with such honesty and vulnerability. Thank you, Matt. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is obviously inspired by Matt. And that is to give ourselves grace for what we did what we said, who we hurt, who we treated as objects and projects. When we were believers, when we were in the system of the church, when we were being spiritually abused, and we were spiritually abusing others. Hindsight is absolutely 2020. And I'm not saying we shouldn't make amends and feel true regret and sorrow for that. But I am saying we have to also recognize we were trapped in that bubble, that the system was grinding us down, and it takes amazing self awareness to break out of that. Probably if you're listening to this show, you have that amazing self awareness. The evangelicalism that Matt experience that I've experienced that many of you listening, is systemically abusive. And I've said this before, this isn't very popular, but I don't think it is redeemable. I do think that any system with people in it is going to have the potential for abuse. But the roots of this manipulation and abusiveness are so deep that I don't think it can be fixed. And here I don't mean that our job is to tear down the church or tear down even evangelicalism. Here. What I mean is for you to escape, to get out, to be free, to not allow yourself to be a part of that system anymore, to not allow yourself to fool yourself to not allow yourself to be abused and manipulated in the way that 2020 hindsight can show we have in the past. We have some amazing interviews coming up. We have a number of community members in line. I already did my interview with Holly Laurent from the mega podcast. That'll be out sometime in April. I'll be talking with Dr. Darrel Ray from the recovering from Religion Foundation. Arline's has a number of interviews including some popular personalities on Instagram. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beats. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

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What Even Is Doubt?

Blog Posts, doubt

We talk about doubt a lot, but what is it? Is it good or bad? Helpful or harmful?

First, “doubt” is almost entirely in relation to religion. Geoffrey Wallis made the point that once you’re out of religion, “doubt” is just a kind of curiosity. Meh. No big deal.

But religious people see doubt as an unfortunate—but inevitable—occurrence; the sort of thing you should expect to happen every so often, but not a place you want to stay for very long. It’s like having “the talk,” or buying insurance. “We are all skeptics now, believer and unbeliever alike.” – James KA Smith, quoting Paul Elie, in How (not) to Be Secular, p11.

I see doubt as a kind of confusion or curiosity about some conflict between beliefs you hold. Another way of putting it is, “that feeling when you have cognitive dissonance.” As David puts it, “Something doesn’t quite feel right.” It’s a check-engine light.

Is this confusion or curiosity bad? It depends: Do you want to resolve your inner conflict toward finding out what’s really real? Or do you want to defend a position you already hold? Do you want to be a Scout or a Soldier?

So when someone tells us to doubt our doubts, one way of interpreting that is, “Are you confused by conflicting beliefs you hold? You should second-guess that confusion and definitely not investigate.”

Doubt is only bad if you’re committed to a particular way of thinking. Otherwise, it’s just an indication it’s time to dig further–an opportunity to learn and grow and possibly get better!

David Hayward: Naked Pastor

Artists, Authors, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Podcast
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is David Hayward, also known as The Naked Pastor. David is “a pastor turned artist painting, drawing, and thinking about what it takes to be free to be you.” 

For over a decade, David has been creating online spaces for anyone “interested in deconstruction, spiritual journeying, freedom of thought, or looking for your authentic self.” His personal story and the wisdom he’s gained over the years continue to speak to those of us who have completely left religion and those who still believe. 

For more information, be sure to check out David’s website and follow him online!




David’s Books



More from David Hayward
More from Esther Perel
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“So one of the big things that we do when we deconstruct if we keep going in the deconstruction or the deconversion direction, is we demystify everything, everything has to be demystified. De-magical-ized I don’t know what the word is. De-supernatural-ize everything.
… So one of the things we do when we deconstruct, is that magical thinking has to go.”

“I wanted to pull back the curtain and let people see what the life of a real pastor is like. I wanted to be totally transparent and honest and vulnerable and open…That’s why I chose ‘Naked Pastor.’”

“I just had a moment where I saw the connectivity and the oneness, the unity of all things. It was a profound instant where I saw the unity of everything…From that moment on, I experienced a profound peace of mind that I’d been seeking for my whole life…”

“…the inner life of a person which includes, mental, emotional, psychological, everything…All that, to me, is ‘spiritual’.”

“For me, my deconstruction started way back in seminary when I started questioning the inspiration of Scripture.”

“[My wife and I] had to come to the realization that it wasn’t compatibility of belief that held us together. That wasn’t the glue…There was love and mutual respect, wonder and appreciation for this person who isn’t exactly like you. That is what made our marriage better.”

“[Marriage is] an agreement for each of us to grow, and to make space for one another and constantly adapt to that growth.” 

“I don’t label myself. The can of food is very comfortable with its contents. It doesn’t need the label…The label is for other people, slapped on, so I can put you in the right place on the right shelf. And we do that with human beings. We put a label on people so we know where to put them.”

“My home is in Christianity, but I have cottages everywhere.”

“I appreciate my roots, but I’m not going to let them limit me.”


X-Shaped Hole In Your Heart

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Secular Grace

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Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“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 United studios podcast. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Thank you to all my patrons on If you too would like an ad free experience of the podcast and receive the occasional bonus episode, please become a patron at any level on atheist. Our Facebook group deconversion Anonymous is trying to be a safe place to land for those people who are doubting, questioning, deconstructing, and even D converting. Please join us at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, our lien interviews Our guests today, David Hayward, the naked Pastor David deconstructed very early relative to the rest of us, suffered the pain of leaving ministry, and has since become an artist and an author. He is very well known for the cartoons he draws that are biting commentary on the church, as well as freeing and embracing the diversity of humanity. David has written a number of books, including a book for partnerships that have a disparity in faith or lack thereof called till doubt do us part. His most recent book is called flip it like this is a book of cartoons, some of his great work, one of his earlier works, I also really appreciate his called questions are the answer. You can find David at naked There'll be links in the show notes for his website and his books. Here is our Lean interviewing David Hayward.

Arline  2:08  
Hi, David, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

David Hayward  2:12  
Thank you. Thanks for having me on your show. Good to be here. Nice to meet you early.

Arline  2:16  
Nice to meet you. I'm, I'm excited. I followed your work on Instagram over the past couple of years. And it's funny, it's clever. And it is extremely timely, often and I'm always impressed with the work that you do. I've learned a lot also.

David Hayward  2:34  
I appreciate that. Thanks very much. It's good to hear positive things back from people that you know, I'm doing some work that people appreciate. I don't always hear it that way. But I'm really grateful when I do.

Arline  2:48  
Yes, I can imagine the the pushback that you would receive for some of your work. But um, the way we always begin is just tell us about the spiritual environment of your childhood.

David Hayward  3:01  
I grew up in a I would say a Christian home I when I was born, I was baptized Anglican when I was a baby. I'm in Canada. So that would be if you're in the States, I would be Episcopal. And I grew up in a home where my father worked for the Ontario Provincial Police where he was transferred quite a bit every couple of years. So we moved a lot in in Ontario, Canada. And so we never, we never graduate. We never gravitated towards the same church denomination we are whatever was convenient and closest or, you know, most fun or most fruitful, you know. So I grew up in a home that was Christian, but at the same time not devoted to any one denomination. And some people think that's a handicap but for me, I saw it as an advantage where I I didn't feel like I needed to stay in the Anglican Church or wherever I ended up. And I always found myself gravitating towards churches that I felt had the most space for me to grow. And to become my most authentic self and even as a pastor I found myself gravitating towards churches that were were a good environment for me and my family to become our truest self. So, you know, I, I was like I said it was we were Anglican. We went into the United Church. We were in the Catholic Church. We were in the Baptist Church, Pentecostal church. I went to a Pentecostal Bible college. I went to an evangelical seminary, got my master's, I got ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and then I switched to vineyard, which is where I ended my ministry and vineyard for people who don't know it's kind of a it's an evangelical move. then kind of a mixture of Baptists teaching and Pentecostal kind of experience. So that's where I ended up. And I, you know, I met my wife at Bible College. We served in the ministry together for many years, roughly 30 years. And then I left the ministry in 2010. And decided to see if I could make my blog naked pastor, full time gig. And it worked. So that's what I do now.

Arline  5:31  
Wow. Very cool. So was there anything specific that led you out of ministry? Or was it just that seemed to be the next right choice for you?

David Hayward  5:39  
Well, it didn't feel like the right choice. But it was because I no longer felt I had the freedom to grow, were in the direction I wanted to grow. So I was starting to get, you know, phone calls from head office and things, suggesting I toned down my cartoons or my posts, and maybe run things through them first for approval. And that's just not the way I live my life. My most fundamental drive, I think, is personal freedom to be who I am. And, you know, that was a huge infringement on that personal freedom of mine, even as a pastor. So that happened that started happening in around 2009. And then in 2010, was when I finally realized I had to go my own way.

Arline  6:32  
So you were already writing you're already drawing? Were you already like, on Instagram? So I am, as of 2020, was when I was like, I don't think I was 2019. I don't think I believe all this stuff anymore in mind, my husband realized he couldn't believe in 2017. And that sent me on a journey and then 2019 And so that's when I first even got on the internet, want to on the internet, but on social media to be like, am I the only person who's gone through this? So it's only been a few years that I'm familiar with your work, but all the way back to 2010? Or before that you were already online and your church people didn't love your online presence?

David Hayward  7:11  
Well, I I started blogging as as naked. And in 2000, sorry, 2005. I started a blog. Yeah, around 2004 2005. I started blogging as naked pasture. And at that point, I'd already been painting and stuff. But I would post written blog posts and I would share my paintings, landscapes mostly. And I it was in 2006, I think where I had been following a cartoonist online, and I thought it just suddenly dawned on me, hey, why don't I try drawing cartoons and see what happens? And they took off. And so I decided to make cartoons, my primary means of communication. And you know, a lot of fun. I thought it would last maybe a month, because I challenged myself to draw one every day until I ran it. But here I am. Many, many years later, still drawing cartoons. And pissing people off.

Arline  8:16  
I love it. I love it, pissing people off and also making the rest of us go like, that is such a clever way to say that, like, that's exactly what I was thinking. And, and it's so concise. And it's, in my personal opinion, way more interesting than like a tweet, where it's just words, but like, the pictures are fantastic.

Going back, where did make it pasture? Where did where did the moniker come from?

David Hayward  8:47  
I started out as David, which stands for Canada. And then I saw that's kind of boring, and I really And so I, I called my blog, Church And after a while, I thought, Gee, that sounds kind of pretentious, and kind of boring. And so I for some reason, I searched for naked Because at that time, like the naked chef, oh, geologist, and he could true thought that was kind of cool. And I had inadvertently entered into a auction for the, for the URL Because some months later, I got an email saying Congratulations, you won the auction and my stomach just dropped because I thought oh, how much you know? Like 70 bucks, like nobody wants it. Right. I got a good Because I was a pastor at the time. And blogs are a lot of pastors blogging at the time. And you know, talking about theology and about their church services and their sermons and their premium coffee and doughnuts and Bible studies and home groups and leaders and worship, all that stuff. And I wanted to pull back the curtain and let people see what the life of a real pastor is like. And I wanted to be totally transparent and honest and vulnerable and open. And so that's why I chose naked pastor. It's just me being totally out there, unadorned and raw and real. And, you know, for the first while, I mean, I started in absolute Oblivion, like nobody heard about me or anything, and even my own congregation was like, why would we read your blog when we have to listen to you every week already? So I was under the radar for for many years, but it was when I started drawing the cartoons. And they started to, they started to get noticed. And, you know, I was a little bit you might call progressive in my thinking, and might have been, might have been associated with progressive Christianity at that time. But in 2009, I had a profound sort of epiphany moment where it was very mystical experience, no, no chemicals or mushrooms involved. It was just, I just was had a moment where I saw the connectivity, and the oneness, the unity of all things. It was just a profound instant, where I just saw the unity of everything. And that there's one reality that we all share. But we all have different perspectives and opinions and descriptions of of that one reality. And I just sort of naively started sharing that in my blog. That's when I started getting in trouble because it was being seen, it was being interpreted that I was deviating away from orthodoxy at that point. And, yeah, naturally, and I was a bit naive, because for me, it was a very profound, liberating experience, where from that moment on, I experienced profound peace of mind that I'd been seeking for my whole life, I finally experienced that peace of mind, Theologically speaking, ever everything was at rest. And I was excited to share this experience of peace of mind and freedom. And, but it, it made quite a few people unhappy. And it was in 2009, when I started getting in trouble. And people started concern and, and I knew my time was up. And sure enough, it was a year later when I left.

Arline  13:00  
So what did leaving leaving the ministry look like? Was that like, leaving belief Bible god, like? Because I've heard Derrick Webb has said before, you know, we deconstruct different things, but that, you know, the God of the Bible, or the Bible or church, and there's so many different things, but none of it necessarily leads to any specific place. So I'm curious, like, what did that look like?

David Hayward  13:24  
That's, I really agree with what you just said. deconstruction doesn't necessarily lead you to any certain place. And I emphasize that all the time, because there is quite a few movements out there trying to steer people to certain conclusions. And that, to me, undermines the whole purpose of deconstruction was which is basically questioning your beliefs and, and becoming spiritually independent. So, and by spiritual, I'm not necessarily invoking any divinity or supernatural what I when I, when I say spiritual, I'm talking about the inner life of a person, which includes mental, emotional, psychological, everything, all that combined, to me, is spiritual. It's kind of in the kind of a union kind of a field to it to me. Yeah. So I believe and I've said this for a long time, I think for Christians or believers, there's two different deconstructions one is theological and one is ecclesiological. So there's a theological deconstruction when you question your beliefs and, you know, it's kind of like the blue or the red pill to see how far down the rabbit hole go. And you can keep going. The other one is ecclesiological, where you deconstruct your relationship to the church. And my observations are that people who deconstruct Ecclesia logically don't necessarily deconstruct theologically. So I know a lot of people who left the church who are just as dogmatic and fundamentalist they were in In the church, deconstruct the illogical often their relationship with the church has to change. That makes sense. Yeah. Yeah. It's like any relationship really like your I, I'm assuming you're still married, I'm married when I my mind about very important issues that affects the relationship. So it's the same with people. When they change their minds theologically, it's going to affect the relationship to the church.

So for me, 2009 that moment, profound flash of insight moment for me, was the conclusion or the culmination of decades of theological anguish. It's for me, my deconstruction started way back in seminary when I started questioning the inspiration of Scripture. And it took that long for everything to kind of, it was kind of like the final piece of 1000 piece puzzle just sort of snapped into place, the picture came into view, and it was done. Then I had to leave the ministry, which meant leaving the church for me. And that was a whole other ball of wax that happened pretty quickly. But it took but my theological deconstruction took decades, whereas my ecclesiological deconstruction happened overnight, and, and it took Lisa and I, a couple of years to find your feet again, that was a really rough period of time. To the point now, where we're, we're doing great, we're better than we've ever been, ever. But it took a lot of negotiating to figure out how to navigate those really, really tumultuous times.

Arline  16:51  
Yeah, I can empathize my husband. We met in college ministry like that. So like, we were, we were Calvinists. So it's like John Piper, my Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, this, that's our world for a long time. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Neither of us grew up in the church. So we did, we at least had some sense of self when we became Christian. So we didn't have I've, you know, interviewing people and just getting to know people. The things people have to pull apart from what they were taught when they were little, tiny kids. I mean, it's just this whole other experience. But um, our everything was based off of Jesus and the Church and all that. And then 2017, you know, he would we become parents and just things start changing for him, to where he's like, I don't think I can believe in the God of the Bible anymore. And I'm like, so yeah, that tumultuous time where it's like, the, I was told, marry a godly man, find my bow, as you know, like, and then everything will just go wonderfully. And, and at least, you know, just so many promises that they make you. And they do say, you know, marriage isn't for making you happy. It's for making you holy, and all this stuff. But it was still like, I just had expectations that we were always going to be Christians.

David Hayward  18:07  
And I gotta write that. Cartoon out of that. I'm sorry.

Arline  18:13  
Yes, that some of the little one liners that pastors can come up with. But yeah, so I can empathize with just that time of being married and things are just so vastly different than you ever expected. And it was scary for us. It took it was about two years before I was like, and he never tried to D convert me like it was never, it was never like evangelizing for not believing it was just, I just had to figure out well, especially being Calvinists, he can't lose his salvation. So like what what has happened? So yeah, I can empathize with that experience.

David Hayward  18:49  
No, it was it was such a profound experience for Lisa and I, that I wrote a book about a called till death do us part when changing beliefs change your marriage? Oh, wow. Yeah. Because it's happening a lot. There's not many resources out there for couples. Most books for marriage are you need to be compatible, and you need to believe the same things and hold the same value. Whereas Lisa and I suddenly we're on. We're not on the same page anymore. Are we even in the same chapter? Are we in the book? Are we in the same library? You know, so it was it was really difficult to figure out how to be married again.

Arline  19:31  
Yes, we will make sure all of your resources are in the show notes. We have a Facebook group deconversion anonymous, is the name of it. It's based off the episodes that we do. And there are lots of, you know, for want of a better term term, unequally yoked marriages and we have people who one yet one has D converted, the other hasn't and it's hard for the believing spouse to understand we have a least one person in the group who is still a Christian, but their spouse has D converted. And he was just looking for like somebody else who no longer believes I'm not sure how he found the Facebook group, but who know who no longer believes to help him understand his wife. It's so hard on marriages, it's so hard on both both people. And we only usually have one or the other in the group. But um, yeah, yeah, there aren't a lot of resources. You're exactly right. There aren't.

David Hayward  20:28  
Yeah, but I think it's a great opportunity for us to grow as individuals, when our spouses change on such a dramatic level, like Lisa and I, we've been married now we're going on through 43 years, holy, very nice.

Arline  20:42  

David Hayward  20:45  
we, like I said, are better now than we've ever been. Because, you know, we grew along side by side for so many years. And we were serving in the church together. And it was kind of like our lives were kind of mirroring each other. And then when that happened, though, she decided to go to university, she was 48 years old, she decided to go to university and get a nursing degree. And so she's a nurse. And I decided to, I went and taught at a university for a couple of years. And then it was in 2012, when I thought, I'm going to see if I can make make a pastor go. And it worked. But we, our lives now were so very, very different. And our beliefs were different and everything. So it was tricky. But we come to the realization that it wasn't compatibility, a belief that held us together. That wasn't the glue, we always kind of assumed it was. There was love and mutual respect, and wonder and appreciation for this person who isn't exactly like you. And that, for me is what made our marriage better.

Arline  22:06  
David Ames, the main interviewer, the the actual graceful atheists, that's his, that's his moniker. He he and his wife, she is still a believer. And he has said the same thing. It's like, it's love. It's respect. It's honoring and loving her whole self. And she loving him. Not like because we were told in that well, that my husband and I were told in the church that yes, Jesus and you having the same beliefs, even very particular theological agreement, is what's going to hold you together. And so when you don't have that, you think, oh, no, there isn't anything left. And then you just slowly for me, I just watched Donnie be the same husband be the same person he'd always been. And I was like this, nothing. Our values haven't changed. Nothing has changed. I, I expected things to get crazy. But yeah, you're exactly right. It's respect and love.

David Hayward  23:01  
Yeah, it goes back to that. That vision I had in 2009, or experience where I saw the oneness of all things. That there's one reality but a zillion thoughts. So when Lisa changes her thoughts, she's still Lisa, kind of like the river out front of my house. It's very deep and wide, and not a deep, deep level, it's still the kind of cases River, the surface does all the time. But that doesn't change the fact that it's still the same river. And so, you know, our beliefs are like that. I think they're constantly changing and moving or thoughts are changing and moving. And, but at a deep and fundamental level, I'm still me and Lisa still hurt. I remember the first time I saw the Solon Bible College walk into the cafeteria was like, it wasn't, Oh, my goodness, she believes in the substitutionary atonement. No, I it was totally different than the attraction that happened with theology or belief. That came later, but we got back to that primary wonder for each other. And which comes before belief, you know?

Arline  24:21  
Yes. Because you don't know anything about her when you first meet someone, you know?

David Hayward  24:27  
Yeah, I mean, isn't that marriage though, when when you marry someone, you're you're not saying I'm going to marry you never change. Basically, you're saying never grow up. Never become more self aware. Never peel back the layers of your own onion within to become a deeper person, because I wouldn't be able to handle it. It's the opposite. It's like you, you go deeper into yourself and become more self aware and more of an individual individuated person more Have an authentic individual. And I will love that. I will love you for that. And, and so that to me is what marriage is the agreement for each of us to grow and to make space for one another and constantly adapt to that growth.

Arline  25:18  
Yes, I agree completely. 21 year old Arline should not be in 40 year old Arline's body doing life? Absolutely not I, Oh, heavens, poor little young.

Thinking back to that time, that hard time when y'all were married. And for people who are listening, what are some of the things that you guys found to be most helpful when, when you had different beliefs, differing beliefs?

David Hayward  25:55  
Well, there's the obvious ones, and that is therapy finding a good counselor. Or, for us, also, I believe in the value of a good coach, if you can find one. They're more expensive. Yeah, find one. That's good as well. Hopefully, you've got a few friends around that love you both, and can provide a safe space for you guys. And then there's each other. And this, this is the hard part, this is where you sit down with one another, and you have the hard conversations. And, you know, the very uncomfortable squirming kind of conversations. And so that, to me, is is the most important thing. Like Lisa and I went into this transition, this traumatic transition, kind of with tools in our belt already. We'd already been to marriage retreats, and marriage weekends, and we'd already been for marriage counseling several times. And we've read a lot of books on marriage and relationships and love and had already had our government communication skills down. So that when we went into this situation, we weren't caught off guard completely. And we had tools at our disposal. I remember, a few years ago, this was before COVID, we were in a room with a bunch of couples, and we ended up talking about marriage for some reason, or whatever. And I said, well, has anybody here been to like a marriage weekend? Or a marriage retreat? No. Nobody's been to a marriage. Well, anybody here been for marriage counseling? Nobody? Well, has anybody here read a book on marriage? Nobody. So it when when a crisis comes to, to their relationships are totally unprepared. You you learn the skills of how to be married. Hopefully you you have them those skills before a crisis. It's hard to you know, as they say, drain the swamp when you up to your ass and alligators.

Arline  28:22  
That's very true. So my first thought is the hubby and I had also been to marriage retreats. And we we had read but what I had read the books, he's not a book reader, I'd read the books and then give him that, you know, too long didn't read kind of stuff. But there are some problematic things in Christian marriage books. So are you saying like, just the the basic things that are this is universally probably helpful in interpersonal relationships, communication, listening, all those kinds of things. Like just having those.

David Hayward  28:59  
Yeah, so when people ask now about marriage books, I recommend mine for one part, but then there's people like David snark, who wrote passionate marriage, which is, I think the best book on marriage out there. There's Esther Perel.

Arline  29:17  
Yes, she's fantastic.

David Hayward  29:19  
Yeah, there's Gabor Ma Tei. There's other people writing about relationships out there, who I recommend to people. It's, it's really, really it's just about being interested in human growth, and makeup and psychology and depth. Even reading Carl Jung and dream interpretation and, you know, understanding the Anima and the Animus and, you know, the female aspect for the male and the male aspect for the female and all that all those kinds of things are just little tools that we use to understand ourselves better. The shadow side of ourselves, for example, learning how to integrate that rather than reject that, like Christianity tends to want to do. So yeah, it's, there's there's a lot of books out there. And a lot of information to help people in their marriage, relationships or in other relationships. Yeah. And so like the David snark book, passionate marriage has been around for many years. But it's one that I recommend all the time. And even if you just read that one and study it intently, it's, it's your 90% there, you know, it's just a resource.

Arline  30:52  
And I wasn't expecting to have a whole lot of this discussion. But how about for couples, I've seen different discussion in our Facebook group. One of them is like, Oh, well, you have D converted, or I have, I have d converted, and I don't want to do this anymore. Now whether there's more to it, you know, we don't know that just seems to be something that's been brought up where one spouse is like, this can't work because you're not a Christian, or I'm not a Christian anymore.

David Hayward  31:22  
So one of the big things that we do, when we deconstruct if we keep going in the deconstruction or the deconversion direction, is we demystify everything, everything has to be demystified, the magical lies. I don't know what the word is. The supernatural is everything. You know, for many of us, Christians, we grew up in a Christian culture or became absorbed in a Christian culture that said, marriage is forever. And, and, you know, God's blessing and God and all this stuff. And it was all, you know, very scary, sacred, you couldn't even have sex with somebody, because they would take part of your soul with them. And, you know, save yourself for your spouse, because otherwise you're giving your soul parts of your soul away at all to do all this magical thinking, right? So one of the things we want we deconstructed is that magical thinking has to go. And there's another book too, John did her Joan did her on the Year of Magical Thinking, fantastic, but

Arline  32:33  
it's on my TBR list, actually, oh, it's so good.

David Hayward  32:38  
And where she, she spent a whole year she lost her husband, in a whole year, magical thinking. And that book meant so much to me, because it it described my deconstruction that I was, you know, I, I've never seen a miracle. And I grew up in a Christian culture that believed in miracles. So I could, I've never, nope, sorry, I have never seen a miracle. And, you know, I've seen people say, Oh, my head suddenly feels a little bit better. So suddenly, my right nostril, like, breathe through my right nostril. I see that all the time, or, I've never seen a real miracle. And, and so just that kind of thing. So it's the same with marriage, where I really do believe a lot of couples come to that place where they start deconstructing, or one does and the other doesn't, or whatever, and they're like, I don't want to do this anymore. And when you remove that magic, the sacredness, the holiness, you know, God, divinity, all this kind of scary punishment and eternal torment, when you remove all that, it might make absolute sense at that moment for them to go their separate ways. Some couples got married, because they were prophesied to that they should get married, some couples got married, because that was the only way they could have sex. So he just got married, because, you know, their parents made an agreement, you know, and they get to the point where they're saying, I I'm not invested in this, I don't really love you the way I think I should love you. You know, so some people are married, that shouldn't be and, and there's some people who are married that don't have to be and and then there's some people who are married who go through this struggle, where they want to remain married, but they don't know how I want to help those couples do that. In my book, I do have a few chapters in there about you know, maybe maybe it is time to go your separate ways and that's okay. That's totally okay. And, and, and that's fine. It could be heartbreaking for one or the other. But yeah, that happens a lot.

Arline  34:49  

So If you are pastor turned artist, you're doing your drawings. Time is going by, even after you've left the church, like, are your beliefs still changing? Like, are you what, what? What do you believe? Now I was looking, I was thinking back to all the cartoons I've seen. I was like, I have no idea. I know he's calling out the church and calling in the church, and it's fabulous. I have no idea what this man believes. So it's curious, what, where are you now spiritually? Like, what? So? Or is there a label?

David Hayward  35:32  
No, there's not a label. I don't label myself because Nice. Anna food is very comfortable with its contents. Uh huh. It doesn't need to label it, you know, it could be Irish Stew, let's say. And just totally comfortable with being whatever the label is for other people that they slammed on, they can buy who you are, and put you in the right place on the shelf. And we do that with human beings. We slap a label on people, so we know where to put them how to talk with them. Or not? No, I don't, I don't use a label. I say I My home is in Christianity, but I have cottages everywhere. I also have. Christianity is in my DNA. I mean, I was baptized. When I was a baby in the Anglican Church, I was circumcised by a Jewish rabbi when I was eight days old. You know, I was my parents were very, very religious. And all like I, I grew up in that whole whole culture. But so my, it's in my DNA. I also say I appreciate my roots, but I'm not going to let them limit me. So I I'm at that place. Like I said, when that when that happened to me in 2009, realizing that there is one reality with many experiences interpretation, so to say I'm a Christian is basically to cut myself off from all of those other interpretation, interpretations and expressions and articulations. One reality, I feel I'm more at one with everyone. And, you know, for me, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, atheist. They're all just perspectives on the same reality. And one, some might feel one's more right than the other, but no one has a corner on the truth. No one has the whole pie. They're all different interpretations of this one reality. This one reality is the pie. And we all are somewhere in there, you know. And so when I, when somebody says, Are you a Christian, yes or no, I'm saying, well, let's unpack that. Like, what does that mean? And immediately most people are like, Okay, you're fudging you know, you're getting squirmy, you're like jello, trying to nail jello to the wall? Because most people who are believers need that yes or no? Yes. Whereas most people who aren't they're agnostic, or they're atheist, or, or whatever, they don't need that. Yes or no. As much. Oh, so for me, I'm, I'm also there's another reason to, I want to be very careful. So yeah, on the one hand, I do not have a statement of faith. I, I could not write a theology book. Because it isn't a true the true expression of my myself or what I think best reflects reality. But also, I don't want people to say, I believe what David Hayward believes, if I follow David Hayward, you know, it was a cluster. So I really avoid providing anything that caught could cause somebody to want to do that. So, you know, there's people out there writing, theology or spirituality, and people say, I'm going to follow them. I like the way you know, and for me, because what what is at the core of my I said this earlier, my fundamental drive is my, my, I want to be free to be my authentic self. And so how that interprets in the world is, I want you I want our lien to be have the freedom to be her authentic self. Wherever that ends up. You could end up a Calvinist again or a believer or a non believer or an atheist. I do want care. I honestly don't care. And I honestly don't think it matters. In the great scheme of things. What matters is that you eat that freedom to be who you are freely. That to me is what's the most important thing, work no matter where you end up. And so when I talk about deconstruction, I'm very very careful to a I'm emphasize that this is your journey, you're taking the steering wheel of your own life, and you get to drive wherever you want. That, to me is the most the most important thing. I love that. Yeah, a lot of people find that really encouraging. Or like, I feel I'm free I can, I can decide how to be spiritual or not. But for other people find it very, very frustrating because a lot of people want directions, they want a map with a destination. That to me is, is not life.

Arline  40:36  
No, no, I can agree now used to I, I needed someone to like, lead me and tell me and tell me maybe what to believe maybe that really was part of it. Just what to believe, and give me the Bible study and other things. And, and I've heard this from from other people as well, leaving the church leaving Christianity. It's like, Oh, crap, I have to figure out like, what I believe what are my values? What does like I love the little like, devotional size kind of books. I was like, I didn't know the word day book. I was like, I don't what do I read in the morning? Do I have to read things in me was just so many little things and huge things. How are we going to parent the boys, we have two boys. You just have to you have to figure it out on your own. And it's, it's a lot, it's wonderful. And it's but it can be a lot, I can see people being like, you know what, I'm just gonna go back and be in my little square. And they tell me what to do and what to think, like,

David Hayward  41:36  
happens all the time. It's like when we left home, I remember when I first left home, when I was 18, I went to college. It was it was very exciting. There was a it was a lot of fun, but I had to learn how to you know, pay bills, buy growth, make, you know, make a home, you know, meet women, get married, figure out how to, you know all that stuff and eating and scary. And it's the same spiritually, where we get to the point where we need to be, be able to take care of ourselves and decide that. And this, to me is where the church has really dropped the ball and insists it knows how you should be living. And the church not loves nothing better than to hear you say, I need you to tell me what to believe. And that, to me is the exact opposite of spiritual maturity, where we say I'm going to decide how to be spiritual. Thanks very much. It's like walking into a buffet. You get to decide what to eat, you know, by now what's healthy for you and what's not healthy, but maybe you want a night off you, you want to enjoy some pie and some, you know, barbecue ribs and mashed potatoes with gravy. And you know, you want to enjoy all that stuff sometimes. But you're allowed to, it's the buffet, you're an adult, you get to choose. I mean, when you take your little kids, you give them what you think they need. When they get a little bit older. They said Can I have some red JellO too, and you put a little bit of red yellow on there. But then as they get older, they start choosing what they want. Even sometimes you let them load the plate with junk. And eventually though, when they leave your home, they're on their own, and they're going to want and they have to figure out what's healthy for me and you know, what's not? What do I what do I not want? So I think that's just what it means to become spiritually independent.

Arline  43:53  
I love Yes, the idea of people getting to choose what spirituality or religion or any of that looks for them. A lot of your cartoons are very much like calling out often. It's not explicitly white evangelicalism, but if it's talking about racism, white evangelicalism, homophobia that is pervasive in church world as a whole, but when people's religions and choices are causing harm, like how does what are your thoughts on that?

David Hayward  44:26  
So this is kind of a biblical analogy for using it but it's a good one. My cartoons are kind of like a double edged sword. They, on the one hand, encourage people say people of color, First Nations LGBTQ women, children, heretics, you know all the marginalized people. They're encouraging to them. Uplifting, valid Dating affirming. The other edge of the sword though is where I, I go after any beliefs or system or, or policies or whatever that violate those freedoms that I think those marginalized people shouldn't be enjoying just like us. So that's, that's why my cartoons kind of have this sort of double edged. So some people love my cartoons, and other people hate my cartoons. But one is it's lifting up the those who are marginalized, persecuted. Rejected. And on the other hand, it goes after people and systems and beliefs that do persecute and marginalize and reject,

Arline  45:55  
which, from like thinking back to when I was a Christian, and even now, like just singing about Jesus that was kind of religious people hated him, because he called them out. And everybody else loved him, like, you know, and so you're in good company.

David Hayward  46:12  
Yeah, yeah, they say,

Arline  46:15  
Do you have any current projects you're working on? Or future ideas project? Well,

David Hayward  46:20  
I've got I just came out with this book here. Flip it like this? Oh,

Arline  46:23  
that's right. I have some Yeah, I've seen that.

David Hayward  46:26  
It's my new cartoon book. Believers and atheists alike. No, it's my best stuff cartoons. And I have literally 1000s of cartoons, but there's, it's full of my best stuffs. And there's like 15, never before seen, it just came out. So if you want to pick up, it's wherever books are sold, like Amazon, in the books, there's a noble, etc. You can get it at your local bookstore, but people are having fun, you know, accidentally leaving this in their guest room or mailing it to their ex pastor or, you know, I love it. That's hilarious. Yes. But I'm continuing to do my stuff online. Every day, I'm posting times a day, I have an online community like you do, but mine's called The Last Supper. is for people deconstructing and courses and there's interaction in our Facebook group as well. So yeah, I'm very busy every day doing this stuff. Yeah, that's awesome.

Arline  47:29  
It makes my heart happy. Like we just had before we're recording this we just had, I was a teenage fundamentalist the guys, Brian and Troy from that podcast, and they have a Facebook group that's just like space for people recovering from religion, Rachel Hunt has been on here from the support groups. I mean, there's just so many more spaces online and in real life, for people who just, you know, you leave church or you're just asking questions, and you don't, you don't have anybody, and it can feel so, so isolating and so lonely. And so that's awesome that you guys are doing that. That's,

David Hayward  48:07  
it's weird. I started talking about deconstruction, which is a French Derrida coined the word deconstruction, the philosopher, but I started using it in 2006, in reference to reliefs, I started talking more and more and more about it. And then, in 2012, when I launched the lasting supper, I targeted people who were deconstructing and needed a safe place to do that. And we felt very, very isolated and alone out there in the world. Now, it's everywhere. Like you say, there's tons of Facebook groups and other communities sprouting up all over the place. So it's pretty cool.

Arline  48:55  
Yeah, I had, um, a church friend. And her mom was really bothered by like, knowing the work that I was doing, being part of the graceful atheist. And my friend, I mean, she's still a Christian. She was like, Mom, when people used to leave the church, where did they go? She's like, I don't know. She was like, Yeah, this is just like, creating space for people who before they didn't have anywhere to go, they were alone. And I was like, Yay, thank you for like, you know, speaking truth, but it is like before, people just left and I can't remember it was recently on the podcast. I can't remember who said it. But like, in the past, or like, when you become a Christian or become some spirituality, religion, it's usually done in a group. There's some kind of community become part of a college ministry or youth group or whatever. Not always, but most of the time. But when you start asking questions, often, it's just you, or it may be like you and one other person and so it can feel extremely isolating. So that's awesome. What you guys have been doing this for a long time. That's fabulous. I know a

David Hayward  49:57  
very long time. Yeah, that's still going so great.

Arline  50:08  
I have asked a few other people. Do you think there's hope for like American 21st century white evangelicalism like church myths? Do you think there's hope for it to like change and be redeemed? Or do you think it's like, no, just dismantle it, and we got to start back over? Like, I'm just or or, I mean, those are not the only two options, but what are your

David Hayward  50:28  
thoughts? Well, I think the church is here to stay in some shape or form. The church has a resiliency to it, that survives all kinds of programs and programs and persecutions. And it has a, you know, some people like say, well, it's no better than a cockroach, you know, just keep surviving. It could also be people's, you know, ability resiliency to bounce back or to rebel or to meet if they want, you know, where we've seen in the past where the church has been made illegal, and there's underground movement start and so on. So I think the church is here to stay, whether whether they're good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, or there's people there's going to be some healthy expressions of it. And there will also be unhealthy expressions of it. I think American white, white male American evangelicalism is scary. I'm, I'm, but I'm of the opinion of the opinion that such right wing kind of conservative ism is always a reaction to progress. And so I think as long as we progress, and were open and inclusive and fair, and just will continue seeing the uprise zing of resistance to that. I think progress is like the gas pedal, and conservativism is the brake pedal, and the harder you press the gas, the harder they're going to put on the brakes. And I think that's human nature. I think we're going to continue seeing that, that the more progress we do see, the louder the resistance, and even more violent the resistance might might become, which is scary. So that's what I'm seeing happening. This evangelicalism right now in the West is a reaction to to progress. I

Arline  52:54  
was with family this weekend, and I have a family member. Most of my family is very conservative, southern white people. And they, some of them fit the stereotype not all, but um, one of my family members, he and I were sitting and talking and he's just the kindness and gentlest man. But he's so scared of, you know, he knew the trigger words like woke ism, he's so scared of that He's so scared of immigrants so scared, just fill in the blank and it was like, it was my first time seeing someone who wasn't like angry and mean about it. He was just scared of everything. And it was just like bizarre revelation of like, everything I kind of already knew this but like everything that that I have seen with conservative especially like white males and women like I was in white lady Bible study world so like, women too, but um, it's just afraid of everything afraid of like you said progress anything changing anyone else getting rights that they haven't had, and, and there's such this overlap of church world and conservatism and it's

David Hayward  54:04  
yeah, it's, it's icky. Very icky. Yeah, no, I I have friends or people in my family too, that are super super conservative in Canada. And they're otherwise lovely, lovely people, but they're, they're scared they're they have weird conspiracy theory ideas about what's happening. And but then I do know people who are conservative and hateful like they're just nasty would use violence or bullying to achieve their goals. And but that's that's like a fearful reaction as well.

Arline  54:51  
They go into fight or flight. Yeah, we're seeing that for sure everywhere. Last thing, do you have any any recommendations? podcasts, books, YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, anything that you're like,

David Hayward  55:06  
Oh, that's funny. I was telling you earlier. I'm not a podcast listener three times a week for podcasts. But I have this weird thing where I can only do one thing at a time. Yeah, so I'm a painter, for example. So when I'm painting, I can listen to music. But if I listen to a podcast, I'll be painting and all sudden stop, because I have to concentrate on what's being said. So I might as well just sit there and read the book, which of course, you can't do and peanuts. I tried, I tried audible at Christmas time. And I worked really hard to get through one book. But just sitting there, I just have to sit there like a lump on a log just staring into space listening. So it's really weird. Even when I'm running. I run naked, they say, without any gear, you know, just by putting clothes on and shoes. But no, you know, no headphones or music or anything. I just enjoy nature. So but for books, I'm a more of a nonfiction guy. But I do really love Cormac McCarthy. And he just came out with a new book called The passenger. So I'm reading that right now. He's the one who wrote No Country for Old Men and The Road and

Arline  56:30  
road. I've read the road I haven't read it's other stuff. That was

David Hayward  56:33  
horses. Yeah. The road and that changed my life, that book. But I read I read quantum physics. I just finished reading. Isaacson's biography of Einstein. I read Slavoj ejack Living philosopher, right now. I'm reading, you know, some mystical literature, you know, like, like Rumi, or Meister Eckhart or others find that when you're reading quantum physics, you're reading mystic CISM, you're reading philosophy, they all sort of start sounding the same. That's the, that's the, they're, they're sort of, they've sort of caught a glimpse of that one reality and they're, and they're using their language, either mystical, philosophical, or scientific or whatever to to describe this, this one reality so that that's where I'm reading right now.

Arline  57:42  
Whenever I D converted, I did. I was like, what are the things I have not learned? So I was like, I'm gonna learn evolution. I want to learn anthropology, like all these different things that I had just been gently nudged. You probably don't need to take that class or whatever. I wanted to learn these things. And the more I learned about certain scientific things I listened to I like audiobooks, astrophysics for young people in a hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson, I couldn't read the grown up one, because it was like way over my head. But I listened to the young people's one. And I was like, this is fascinating. And it was narrated by LeVar Burton. So clearly, it was going to be wonderful. And I learned so much stuff. I was like, there's so much just mind blowing science. I love the mystical, like, I love Rumi and I've read a few other people I can't think off the top of my head, but like I love the feel of all that but and I love how science there's so much all inspiring science that it was like, I don't have to go beyond this anymore. Like there really is so much science that which I don't understand a lot of it. But yeah, it's just there's so much all in wonder in this world. And I love it. I love it so much.

David Hayward  58:58  
One of my favorite books, it's in my top 10 books of all time, is Carlo Rovelli, who's an Italian physicist, seven brief, I've read that. I can read a lovely little book, beautiful, get the heart for that. You'll treasure it your whole life kind of thing. But you reminded me of something. When I left the church, I stopped reading theology. I am zero interest in reading theology. Because I was in the deep end, I read. I read all the theology. So what I discovered is I was so much in my head that I had to figure out how to get into my body. And so I'm really, I become a little bit of a health freak hedonist. What a Christian would call a hedonist because I enjoy pleasure and my body and and working out out and running and breathing exercises and cold plunges and stretching. And you know, like all these things just get out of my head just to get out of my head, because I lived in my head for my whole life and it got me nowhere. So, so I'm just enjoying, like and Lisa and I go for, you know, where we can forest bathing, where you go for long walks in the woods and like, it's just, it's wonderful and it's guilt free, shame free, beer free. It's wonderful. Just just being out of your head and into your body and enjoying life. It's it's great.

Arline  1:00:44  
I love it. I love it so much. Well, thank you again, David, for being on the podcast. This was fantastic. I learned a ton and I really really enjoyed this conversation.

David Hayward  1:00:53  
Thanks, Arline. Me too. I enjoyed it

Arline  1:01:02  
my final thoughts on this episode. So I tried not to fan girl. But I was really excited about this interview because his little drawings and say little drawings that sounds condescending, but like his very cleverly put together concise stick people drawings are so fantastic. I've I mean, they just they call people out for the foolishness that harms people. They're uplifting, they're kind. And again, they're just so clever. And so I really enjoyed this episode. I loved getting to know, David more. I didn't realize how many he's written multiple books. He also does watercolor and his beautiful landscape paintings. And he's just an artist and a mystic at heart. That plus just the wisdom and intellect that he brings. Like, it's impacted so many people, myself included, and I'm thankful for his his presence online, and the work that he has been doing for decades now. I just I love it. It was so good. So much fun. I look forward to just seeing more things the naked pastor will be doing.

David Ames  1:02:23  
The secular Grace Thought of the Week is it is our humanity that connects us. One of our bloggers Jimmy recently wrote a post talking about the X shaped hole in our hearts. I've talked about this a lot that the suppose it God shaped hole in our hearts is really our need for connection with one another. I truly believe that the connection that we seek is relationship is love for one another. And I mean that in the least mystical way possible to take the demystification the deconstruction one step further. I don't think there's anything terribly mysterious about this. I think it just is our need for each other. Our need to be known by one another, our need to be loved by one another. Our humanity is our connection. And I have done the interview with Holly law rock from the mega podcast that is going to be sometime in April or May. Also upcoming in April, I'll be interviewing Darrel Ray of the recovering from Religion Foundation. And we have a number of community members that will be on the show as well. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.

The beat is called waves by MCI beats. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by

To Make Out the Landscape of the Universe?

Authors, Naturalism, seasons

“What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods…and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers’ barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not?”

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, page 138

We need neither gods nor goddesses; this world is glorious enough on its own.

Happy Equinox, everyone!


Double Down and Doubt Your Doubts! A Double Standard

Blog Posts, doubt

Being told to doubt your doubts sets up a double standard, and you don’t have to play along.

A recent commenter in our Facebook group described how they were starting to question their motives in deconstructing their Christianity. What stood out to me was the insight that it might be “the old evangelical self-reproach” at play.

Have you been told (exhorted) to “doubt your doubts”? I have.

I’ve read it in books. I’ve been told it by former pastors. I’ve been encouraged to do it by friends.

First, doubting your doubts works to keep you in Christianity because of the white, Evanglical, God-shaped hole in our hearts that was drummed into many of us through constant teaching, singing, punishment, and other forms of reinforcement.

Doubting your doubts only works because of that hole. Feeling like you should doubt your doubts probably happens because of that hole.

Second, are the people telling you to do this actually willing to doubt their own beliefs? To lean into their doubts? I…er, um…doubt it. They’re setting up a double standard.

So by all means, doubt your doubts! Or, even better, examine why you used to believe, why you no longer believe, and why you believe what you do now. But also–as soon as it’s safe for you to do so–examine the claims of Christianity, why Christians believe what they believe, what evidence that they have.

This is the path of radical self-honesty, and the path of clear and rational thinking, and self-honesty and rational thinking are part of secular grace.

But whatever you do, don’t give your former religion the privileged place it wants to claim. It can have a seat at the table (in fact, it may show up uninvited!), but the only privilege it has is the privilege of that X-shaped hole in your heart, which isn’t something you asked for anyway.


PS – I’m sounding a bit polemical lately. Maybe just grumpy? My real goal is to encourage those who are hurting, confused, grieving, and perhaps even being accosted by loved ones and acquaintances. Including myself! Eventually it should fade a bit, and your response to apologetics will hopefully be, “meh.”

Four Years of the Graceful Atheist Podcast

Deconversion, Movie Review, Podcast, Secular Grace
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week we are celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Graceful Atheist Podcast!

In this episode, you’ll meet everyone who works alongside David on the podcast, the website or the online community. Joining David are Arline, Mike T, Jimmy, Colin and Daniel.

They discuss some of their favorite movies, shows and books highlighting deconversion or secular grace.  It’s a great conversation that you won’t want to miss!



  • Avengers: EndGame
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Wizard of Oz 



  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • To the Forest of Firefly Lights
  • Somebody Feed Phil

Mike T

  • Vikings 
  • Yesterday


  • Lars & the Real Girl
  • Kumaré
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Wolfwalkers
  • Oblivion
  • Equilibrium




“Seems like one of the things that people often fail to recognize about community is that everybody is different…dysfunctional in their own way.”


“This is just about life and learning to respect other people for who they are. We don’t have to stick to these traditions that we’ve been told about all our lives.”

Mike T

“Sci-fi is never about the future; it’s about right now.”


“Love does involve pain. Love is difficult. Relationships are hard, and yet they are still worth it, even if you know it’s going to end.”


“…you actually can’t have something forever, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful or any less meaningful or any less special.”


“Because life in general—or love—is finite and has an ending, it makes it so much the sweeter while we have it.”


“You’re doing a lot of it…There is a credit and a pride that you deserve to feel…”


“Seeing the kids in Harbor Me, and the way they come around one another, it’s incredibly moving and wonderful…things I didn’t have.”


“The questions I ask – she doesn’t, the things I wonder about – she won’t.”

Jack Harper in Oblivion


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

Support the podcast

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“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. A part of the Atheist United studios 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 reviewers on the Apple podcast store thank you to EC free and mm oh five. Appreciate you reviewing the podcast you too 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. If you are in the middle of questioning, doubting, deconstructing, or even deconversion you don't have to do that alone. Join us in our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous, you can find us at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. Today we are celebrating the four year anniversary of the podcast officially March 14 2019 We started the podcast. And every year I like to do a bit of a state of the podcast address. Every year we try to innovate in one way or another this year. We began by joining the atheist United studios Podcast Network, which has given us really good exposure outside of say my social media reach. We have continued to do the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, which Arline is the community manager of Arline continues to do Tuesday evening Hangouts that review the previous week's episode, and that is thriving and doing really well. As of this morning, there are about 722 members in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, which is amazing. We only started that about a year and a half ago. And it's been incredible to watch as people join and participate. We've started to do more social media outreach. Thank you to Ray for creating all the beautiful memes that are quotes from the guests that you see on both Facebook and Instagram. We're hoping to expand to tic toc at some point. All of these things help the podcast grow and reach a broader audience. In about a week and a half, we're going to cross the 250,000 Download barrier. As I've said before, downloads are not a particularly good metric, but it's one that is at least consistent. And we have definitely been growing. And we have a consistent audience somewhere in the range of 1500 to 2000 people every week. This year, we also started out Patreon. Because of joining the atheist United studios podcast network we have ads for people who want an ad free experience they can become a patron at any level. But I want to thank all those people who have jumped in immediately. I want to thank Joseph John Ruby Sharon Joel, Lars Raymond, Rob, Peter Tracy, Jimmy, Jason, and Nathan. Thank you all for being patrons. It makes a huge difference. With that Patreon money this year, we have started to do transcripts. Now the show notes have a full transcript that is AI generated. And we hope to continue innovating in one way or another if you have any interest in participating in the podcast, whether that is the community, the podcast itself, social media, everything from web design, to graphic artwork, to audio work, anything that you are interested in doing. We would love to have you be a part of this community and participate. Reach out to me at graceful My guests today are the people who have participated throughout the years who have been my support who have made the podcast possible are Leanne who is our community manager or copy editor, co host and Outreach Coordinator, Mike T who does the editing again, something that I just would not have the time to do in both cases. Jimmy and Colin have been people I've been able to talk through ideas and what's working and what's not working and really help on the mental health support side of things. And Daniel is a new friend who brings the social sciences and psychology background and some actual hard science to the table. And we've been able to talk through several things look forward to having a future conversation with Daniel to share with you as well. Today we are talking about our favorite movies, books, YouTube podcasts, what have you anything that inspires us? That has to do with either The topic of deconversion or secular grace. Now, of course, most of these things are overtly about these things, but under the hood, they very much are. And you're about to find that out. One word of warning, spoiler alert, we spoil a number of movies, books, stories. Each of us takes a moment as we introduce the new topic. If you are interested in going and seeing that or reading that, then you need to stop there because it will be spoiled. In the show notes, there's a list of everything that we're going to talk about, you might want to go take a look at the show notes first, before listening to the episode. Otherwise, celebrate with us for years of the podcast. Thank you, the audience so much for being with us. Here our lien Mike, Jimmy, Colin and Daniel.

I have with me the brain trust of the graceful atheists podcasts are lean, Jimmy, Mike T. Daniel and Colin are with me. We are celebrating the four year anniversary of the podcast. It started in 2019 in March, and we're here to celebrate and ostensibly, we will be talking about our favorite movies, television programs, podcasts, YouTube's videos that have inspired us. For in the topic of secular grace, or deconversion. I want to start with just a quick hello from everyone. And I'm gonna start with our lead.

Arline  6:33  
Hi, I am Arline, I am the community manager for the Facebook group. And I get to work with David and all these wonderful people. And yeah, if you're interested in being in the Facebook group, please DM me, all my information will be in the show notes.

David Ames  6:50  
And co host and interviewer and guests liaison and blog, copyright editor, all the things Arline does all the things. And I'll go with Colin next.

Colin  7:05  
Yes, my name is Colin, I was on the podcast a couple of years ago, thanks to Jimmy connected me to David was an incredible experience to get to share my my story since I porn a lot of people in my life who asked me about it. And so was honored to share and to stay involved and to listen to other people's stories. And something I talk to David a lot about is movies and how they are these parallels and ways of getting at our experience. So I'm, I'm I'm quite excited to be here today and honored to be part of the anniversary.

David Ames  7:43  
Thank you. Yeah, and Colin is a master storyteller. So that is a lot of a lot of what he made that

Colin  7:49  
I made that title up of

David Ames  7:54  
let's go with Mike T.

Mike T  7:57  
Hello, everyone. So I am Mike T. or Mike can I'm always behind the scenes editing all the episodes and I get to hear I guess firsthand. Everybody's story. And it's it's kind of a privilege to really dig into these stories and, and just be able to, and just enjoy what people have been through. And Dan, I just I enjoy myself. So that's what I do.

David Ames  8:29  
Yeah, and then obviously the podcast would not happen with without my tea. There's just no way the amount of time that you spend an hour in the editing booth, so to speak. Very, incredibly valuable to the podcast. Thank you. Let's go with Daniel.

Daniel  8:46  
Hi, everybody. My name is Daniel. I was on the podcast, just this past year in the episode entitled The Office of the skeptic found the podcast last year, I think I think the exact Google search I did was humanist podcasts that aren't angry.

David Ames  9:06  
Found this one, which is the sweet spot.

Daniel  9:09  
This has got to thread that thread that needle and yeah spent, I don't know, almost about 10 years deconstructing. And then deconversion the beginning of the pandemic, officially, I guess acknowledged the inner reality that had been there for a while and this podcast was really great throughout that process of leaving the leaving the anger and the hurt behind.

David Ames  9:35  
Yes And then Daniel you like do a lot of writing and your your background is is it psychology or social science? I always get it wrong.

Daniel  9:45  
It's it's a college I have a bachelor's in social science and a master's in

David Ames  9:48  
psychology. So it's all the things there we go.

Daniel  9:52  
All of those very specific thing that's very specific. I can't help you like rewire your house. If you want to up.

David Ames  10:01  
But Daniel is the the erudite voice amongst the group, the educated ones. And last but definitely not least, Jimmy is Jimmy, just let us know who you are.

Jimmy  10:14  
Oh, yeah, Jimmy. I was on the podcast in 2020. Pretty shortly after I had left the church. So you may not have heard the episode unless you have gone back through the entire back catalogue. But that's no problem. I have started writing blog posts for the blog. And I'm mostly a lurker on the Facebook group. But yeah, glad to be here.

David Ames  10:43  
Yeah. And Jimmy has been kind of a sounding board for me, along with Colin as well over really a couple of years now. So a lot of me working through some of the things that we do on the podcast are we have been helped along because of Jimmy and Colin. And now Jimmy is writing blog posts, and has comes a lot from the perspective of the stoics. So again, very deep reader, I think, Jimmy YOU ARE and you're bringing a lot of, of philosophy to those those blog posts. Alright, guys, so yeah, we made it through the introductions. So what we want to talk about today are media of any kind, but specifically movies and television programs that have some element of the deconversion or secular grace that have inspired us. And we're going to do what I call a snake draft. So we're gonna go through the list, we're gonna go through the same list we just did. And I'll be last and then we will reverse that order if we still have time, and we'll keep going for as much time as we have. So we're going to lead off with Arline.

Arline  12:00  
Oh, all right. Okay. So when you told me about this idea for talking about movies, I was like, that's awesome. This will be so fun. I love all these guys. I don't watch a lot of movies. Oh, God, no idea what I'm doing. But I was able to come up my favorite that I think, movie wise. That is secular grace, not deconversion. But secular grace is possibly a lot of superhero movies, but in game. Now, I'm going to assume people have already seen it if they haven't.

David Ames  12:35  
I'm gonna, at the beginning of the show, like intro I'm gonna say spoiler alert for everything that we mentioned. Because for sure, I'm gonna ruin some things.

Arline  12:45  
So yes, Marvel movie. I don't know if y'all just heard that my husband just like through things. I have no idea what just happened. In game, the Marvel movie, it's the the Avengers. And basically, like, half of humanity, half of the universe has been snapped away by the bad guy. And the Avengers realize, especially Tony Stark, they, they have to change this, even if it's going to change and alter their own lives. It's going to take away things from Tony Stark's lives. He's had a little girl, he's gotten married, like all these wonderful things, but they can't in good conscious conscience, not fix everything if they can figure out how to fix it. And so the whole movie is them figuring out how to fix it, and being willing to sacrifice some to the death for the universe for half of the population of the universe to be able to bring them back. And they didn't have to do that. And I was like, this is secular grace. To me this is selflessness without being like sappy because I have a hard time with sappy characters who just saying, I say too unrealistic. These are superheroes so but yeah, that was the that was the first movie that came into my mind was in game.

David Ames  14:01  
That's great. I say all the time that you know, it's unclear to me whether the, the story of of sacrificing yourself for the people that you love is but just Western prior to Christianity or, or because of Christianity. But there are a ton of movies where the the person the hero gives themselves up for the sacrifice of others. And this is just deep, especially in Western societies, deep, deep, deep in our culture, and inescapable. Like it's everywhere. And superheroes are a classic example of that. Anyone else want to respond to endgame?

Colin  14:42  
This might be a deep cut. I was gonna give snaps in this context, that's quite that's an evil. Yeah, it doesn't work.

David Ames  14:51  
That's bad taste bad. Word choice. Too soon. Daniel.

Daniel  14:59  
I think It's a great pick Arline. I've always wanted to be, you know, in the theater for a moment like Darth Vader telling Luke He was his father, you know? And because I remember my father telling me about that moment in the theater and and how people were like jumping out of their seats, like, oh my god, like everyone's having this huge reaction. So I got to go opening weekend with some friends to end game and, and they were just so many moments like, you know, Steve picking up the hammer and the the arrival their way through the portals and like all these, these things, and Tony's final snap, there were all these things that just were just like that moment that you had people like jumping up in their seats in the in the theater and going nuts. And I was just very, very grateful to be a part of that kind of moment. So I'm really glad that somebody brought it up.

Arline  15:53  
Yes, we, we are Marvel people. And I am a crier, when it comes to movies, like I will just weep and sob. And we, we were in the movie theater for Infinity War. And I just, I mean, I just bawled the whole time. It was just it was so sad. And then at the end, this woman just turned it turned to me and she was like, It's okay. Black Panther had one movie, if they're coming back, they're totally coming back. And I was like, Okay. And so yes. And being in there in, in game because yes, we were in the theater for opening weekend, and it was just, oh, it just gives me chills. It's such a and we've seen it multiple times. And I still cry and it's still fabulous. Oh, I just love it so much.

David Ames  16:36  
That's awesome.

Jimmy  16:41  
We're pretty bad at watching Marvel movies in my family. I think we started and game before watching whatever movie came before it. Know what order they were. I love movies. Yes, let's pick one. Pretty quickly.

Arline  16:59  
Yeah, we've been watching them since Iron Man, the first one. And it's kind of it's kind of ridiculous. Maybe?

David Ames  17:07  
Yeah, if you have Disney Plus, you've got to watch him like in chronological order.

Colin  17:12  
Exactly. Although, to be fair to Jimmy, it's sort of like recommending the wire now because it's like 100 hours of entertainment. There's that element of like, I really should but who? Yeah, and I love that idea. You just jumped in. You're like, Okay, so who is who is everyone?

Jimmy  17:31  
Almost like in the middle of a scene? Not quite. Yes. Yeah. Almost in the middle of a scene. So yeah, we got to realize that we had no clue. We did it right. Yeah, that was better.

David Ames  17:43  
All right. I'm gonna tap Colin for your first choice.

Colin  17:47  
I mean, basically the same example as Avengers, endgame. Lars and the real girl from 2007

David Ames  17:54  
are really comparable. Exactly.

Colin  17:56  
Same budget. I don't know if people know this. And I do want to echo David, I have to spoil it to talk about it. So you can like jump ahead. So if you want, but what I'll say is Ryan Gosling before he was hot, weird. Really interesting. Indie movies. I mean, I've been a fan of him way before he got jacked and did Crazy, Stupid Love. And the notebook. Lars and the real girl is a story about a man and his wife and their, the man's brother who's living in the garage who is very disturbed in some way. He's a hermit. He is. He can't make eye contact. He's he can't be touched by people. This is Lars. And he one day he buys a real doll, which is a sex doll. It's like a $2,000 anatomically correct size and weight woman and it is the I mean, everybody is just like, What? What do we say? Like he treats her like a real person. He brings her on dates. He asks his sister in law for clothes for her because she lost her luggage on the trip. I mean, it's a complete, you know, break from reality. So they take him to a psychologist who says he's working something out and he's in a very fragile place. And you need to go along with him until he reaches the end of whatever this is. And they're like, people are gonna make fun of us. And she says, yes, they are. And it's the first instance of people acting on large behalf even to their own cost and what ends up happening is first off he creates a lot of confidence by doing these by simulating life he takes her to a party he, they go on dates, they go bowling. I mean, they go bowling. I mean, it's really strange, but it's very, it's very funny in that I think it's played mostly straight, he starts making eye contact, he starts to talk to a woman at work who he has a crush on a real,

David Ames  20:23  
a real human

Colin  20:26  
capital girl, a woman. And what I would say is secular gay grace to a tee is that essentially, this whole town of people go along with him. And they take Bianca out. And Bianca is the name of the doll, she starts volunteering, and they cut her hair and they and they support him as he eventually reaches a complete tragedy of she's, she's died. And it's him emerging from this episode. And along the way, discovering that all the people in this town love him and will do whatever he needs. And I talked about chills, Arline, I get chills thinking about it. And it's, you know, there's no mention of there's a little bit of a mention of religion, but it's, it's a pretty clear example of someone in our community needs us. Yeah. And I highly even though I sort of spoil it, it's really fun. Really fun to watch. And, you know, to watch people kind of at first, especially, like, what are we do, what are we? Not, you know, and, but But playing along, and it's, it's a great one,

David Ames  21:45  
I love this movie and call it thank you for being brave enough to bring it up. It really is. You know, the premise sounds so odd and strange. And yet, you absolutely love Lars who absolutely love and you love the community by the end of the movie, and it is about the community loving someone and caring for them, where they are at. Right not asking this large character to to, you know, do you know, be normal, right? They're not asking him to do that. They're letting him go through what he's going through, and ultimately leads to healing in his life.

Colin  22:21  
Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. It's really, it's really something to watch.

Jimmy  22:26  
Seems like one of I mean, we talked about community a whole lot. And it seems like one of the things that people often fail to recognize about community is that everybody is different, you know, to sort of adapt Tolstoy everybody's dysfunctional in their own special way.

David Ames  22:47  
Yeah, just to summarize them. Yeah.

Jimmy  22:51  
Well, it's, it's the intro to anacreon. Pretty sure

Colin  22:56  
was first line.

Jimmy  22:58  
Right, exactly. But, you know, it's one of those reality checks that once you kind of come to terms with it, it's fine. It's, it's good. You accept it, you move on. You, everybody sort of starts adapting to the reality of the situation. Like, like the community adapted to to Lars, his sort of oddball situation. That's it is beautiful. Yeah. That's awesome. Sure. Yeah.

Arline  23:26  
Yeah. Haven't seen the movie already down to there. So we can see it. But I'm sure the community like he brought his own uniqueness to the community. And that added value to their lives, that they probably wouldn't have expected. Yeah, that's cool.

Colin  23:40  
He's a wonderful person. I mean, there's a really funny moment at a party, when the women have sort of sat with him. And this, would Bianca. And he's sort of whispering to her. I mean, they're clearly in love. And he, if tiempo he gets up and they go, like, I'd love to find a man like that, you know, so even though we've departed reality there's, you start to see large, good qualities. And I think it's heroic, I think it's heroic in a less flashy way. I have a friend who struggles with mental health stuff and is up and is down and we've been friends for years and I am deeply invested in the outcome of him reaching the person he wants to be and he is in me and so I'm like, that's, that's also the model. If you're not Tony Stark, you can still do heroic things.

David Ames  24:36  
Awesome. Mighty you're out man.

Mike T  24:41  
Oh, boy. So so far, I haven't seen either these movies that we talked about, but now I know I have to go back and watch him. So I think the first thing that kind of came to my mind it wasn't a movie. It was a series of hidden it was Vikings. and like it's on Netflix, you can see it all. And it's it's it's violent, but it's there's good storylines with the characters. And I guess just the overview is the main character Ragnar Lothbrok. He, he finds a way that he can travel to the east. You know, they're known for their looting and plundering, so they want to go to new lands. So he finds this, I think it's basically a way to mount the, you know, the, by the stars and everything and how to make sure they're traveling east to these new lands they hear about so they get to, you know, England area and, and they come across, I think the first place that come across is where a bunch of monks are staying. And they ended up kidnapping one of the monks. And they're Christians. So you have the Christian gods and then you have all the Norse gods, you know, Odin and everything. So that kid that just one month taking back and he ends up kind of assimilating into their community. And him and Ragnar become almost like best friends, mutual respect for each other. And it's really interesting, how they, how they interact in by the, I guess not to make a spoiler, but I guess it's hard not say stuff.

David Ames  26:35  

Mike T  26:37  
You know, it's deep into the series, they almost come to the place where, you know, we talk about these gods and things in, there's really no evidence for your gods or my gods, we're just in this thing of like, trying to survive in what's the use of all this fighting over your gods being, you know, submissive to my gods, and Nate, and they kind of take in how their people are reacting to all this. And, in course, there's lots of tragedies and things throughout the story. And eventually, Ragnar, he meets his death, and he has a son that takes over kind of where he's from, and he does terrible things, and, but it all comes back together in the end that what he learned from his dad and stuff is, is is true that, you know, this is just about life and about learning to respect other people for who they are in that we don't have to stick stick to these traditions that we've been told our whole lives. And so that's, that's kind of what came to my mind.

David Ames  27:53  
That's awesome. Yeah, yeah. I would say like, you know, having comparative religion in say, school or something like that, it would be a really, really good thing. Because once you start to see the similarities and the differences, it's harder to say, Ah, but my group has the, the absolute truth when you just start to share notes

Daniel  28:21  
I think that's a really great show, Mike. And I think the history that comes out of that whole time period with the Vikings and, and Ragnar like his, his family settled a northern part of France, which became known as Normandy later, right. And Normandy became, like, the cultural center of Europe for a time, like being very, very highbrow and fancy. And then eventually, the Norman invasion of England kind of brought all that culture to the, to the United Kingdom. And it's so interesting to think how it all came from, like, essentially one guy who was just like, I'm gonna, I'm gonna read better than we did before. I'm gonna be better at attacking people. And, and now we have, like, all the stuff that came out of normal. It's it's such a fascinating part of history.

Mike T  29:18  
It is yes, yeah.

David Ames  29:23  
All right, Daniel.

Daniel  29:26  
Well, I'm kind of surprised. Nobody said it yet. But Star Trek, the next generation, especially, but for me, has been a really big part of my life and the deconstruction deconversion is no different. Growing up, the next generation was very important to me. I had, you know, I had I had a good childhood. But there were some parts that were really, really hard and painful. One of them was, you know, I, I had ADHD and was not diagnosed and so i i struggled with a lot of the things that came from that like rejection sensitivity, dysphoria, and so on. And also that there was a time where I was bullied quite badly for many years. And I know when you say you were bullied as a kid, people think like, Okay, you got beat up on the bleachers and took your lunch money kind of thing. At its worst, I got put in the hospital with a broken arm. It was quite, quite uncomfortable. And it was always very thankful for my father who, you know, he he took it seriously. And he, you know, threatened legal action, and the school division finally took it seriously, too. It was a different time. Nobody, you know, nobody really paid that close attention. Boys will be boys kind of BS. But there was a lot of Star Trek in my life. My parents loved watching, and I loved watching it. And the incredible thing for me was that I believed the things that they told me about the world over my own experience. Oh, wow. I could have thought like, this is like the the world is awful. You know? Like, yeah, I've got a good family and all this stuff. But the world is the world is awful. Like I'm being treated badly. And I know people who internalize that. And sure, there were some some things I carried with me for a while. But when, when you had moments in the next generation, where Captain Picard says, He quotes Hamlet, and he says, what Hamlet says What irony, or I say with conviction, what a piece of work is man and how noble and reason how infinite and faculty informed moving how express an admirable and action how like an angel in apprehension, how like a God. And he says that I can see us one day becoming like this as a species. And I believe that, wow, over my own experience, set me on a on a path was one of many different things that made me want to be a people helper when I got older. And after my long deconstruction, you know, leaving ministry in 2010, and then arriving at the start of the pandemic, and realizing I don't like I'm not a, I'm not a bully. I haven't believed in God in years, like, what am I doing? And getting sent to work from home? At my, my job, I sat on my couch with my laptop. And, you know, I was mostly doing writing and editing documents and put into their PowerPoint presentations for people. And I put my television on. And what do you know, the next generation is available on Netflix in Canada, and I rewatched the entire series while I was working, because I could do that I was a script for the odd zoom call, I was essentially by myself. And I was amazed how consistently the message of secular humanism, of hope of helping people of what humanity could be was just woven throughout. And so then I started, you know, I started Deep Space Nine, again, I started Voyager again. And I, I watched through all of this stuff that was so integral to me growing up and rediscovering it, you know, at almost 40 and realizing this is containing messages that that really cast a great hope for humanity. And there's a quote from Gene Roddenberry about the first Star Trek series where he said that Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and different life forms. And I just it, it helped bring me back and I, I was, for a large part of the pandemic and my early deconversion, I was very angry, and I was very bitter. And it really sunk into my my soul. And among the many things that helped bring me out of it, like this podcast, and like my wife and her patients and love and my, my family. Star Trek was another piece of that puzzle, and I'm very thankful for it.

David Ames  34:09  
That's so awesome. Oh, wow. Yeah.

Jimmy  34:13  
Yeah, I've been thinking a lot about optimism lately. And how someone said that being a pessimist is like smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. It'll take 10 years off your life. And you look at you look at the world around you. And if you pay too much attention to the way it's presented to us, then you end up in the plane alanda pessimism. So optimistic sci fi is, is definitely special giving a sort of a vision, you know, casting a vision for for this is what we could be. And this is what we are at our best. Because sci fi is never about the future. It's about right now. typically great Daniel. Yeah,

David Ames  35:05  
even the framing Daniel of the quotes, the difference between the irony and, and sincerity, we're Gen X. And you know, we've taken, you know, irony to the to the next level and then the generations following us have just exploded that so that it's almost uncool to be sincere and Star Trek is just heartbreaking lessons here. And I love that. First of all I you know, kind of my early 20s was next generation and it was huge for me. And I realized now how much of my humanism is informed by my the next generation actually. And then just last thing is a plug. I'm right now working out to discuss with the podcast hosts of humanist trek, Sara Ray and Ella alley, let me get her name right. Allie Ashmead are the hosts and they are going through the right now through the original series and pulling out all the humanism that Gene Roddenberry had within it. And we're really looking forward to that conversation with them. So

Arline  36:14  
who that'll be a lot of fun. I grew up on T and D. And then I grew up on the movies because my mom grew up on the original series and she would do like trick dramas with her grandma like they would watch all night long. And so I grew up on tng in the movies. And I think it was Lars that's in the group not Lars on the movie, an emerging group. One day mentioned how his humanism his worldview had been very much influenced by next generation. And I was like, I haven't thought about it. So Daniel, this makes me want to go back. And yeah, watch, because I haven't seen these movies or the shows and movies since I was. Well, when we first got married, we went back through next generation and watch them, but since I've D converted, I haven't even gone back and watched any of them. So this makes me want to do it. Yeah.

David Ames  37:06  
Me too. One last bit of irony is that I was watching tng while going to Bible college. Yeah, well, but yeah, but also like, you know, my whole thing was about grace and, and that, you know that the Christians around me didn't get it. Anyway, we'll drop that. Jimmy, you are up, sir.

Jimmy  37:30  
So speaking of sci fi, optimistic sci fi. Arrival is one of my favorite movies. Yes, it's it's based on a short story called The story of your life. And the short story is very different in style. It's sort of a very short story, a short story, if that makes any sense. But the movie, it there's a lot of themes that really stand out to me for the movie, but one of them is that of acceptance. And, of course, obligatory spoiler, spoiler alert, the linchpin of the movie is that she can see past present and future because she's learning this special alien language. I'm going to pull out a couple of quotes. If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things, if you are omniscient about your life, or then and then that's sort of near the middle of the movie. And then at the end, despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it. And if you've watched the movie, you know that there's some hard stuff that's going on, it's, you know, second watching, it's pretty clear what's being foreshadowed. It's pretty muddy the first time through, I think, intentionally. But, you know, whether we like it or not the life we have is the life we have. It's the one that we are currently living. And the you know, acceptance is such a major part of living at well. I'm kind of obsessed with not dwelling on the past. And this is it's just such a powerful like, you know, regret I find problematic. Guilt I find problematic. Number all these dynamics to sort of have us looking back at the past and beating ourselves, our present selves up about it. I almost hate it. I'm not willing to dismiss all of it. I'm not willing to throw it all away, but but I just keep finding reasons to try to avoid regret altogether. Just, you know, just let it go and look forward. And on a related note, Alan Watts did a he had a little spiel, you know, you hear recordings of Alan Watts every solid Unlike in video games and stuff, it's the weirdest thing. He's really recordable, I guess. But he he asked us to imagine dreaming a dream where we could live a 75 year life over and over again. And the first time through, you're like, it's the perfect life totally comfortable. You love it. It's just total, all pleasure, no pain. And then at the end, you're like, oh, let's change things up. Let's do it again. This time, we'll throw a little uncertainty in there just to make things interesting. And then you sort of iterate on that over and over again, and eventually you land on your life right now. Which I thought was a pretty powerful framing of just how uncertain life can be and just how rough it can be and how it's the life we have it can be if that makes any sense. So yeah, arrival wonderful movie, and now completely spoiled.

David Ames  40:56  
I'm gonna spoil it further that was on my list. The one of the main ideas, you've just, you've just suggested is would you live the life knowing ahead of time, and one of the main storylines is a very rough relationship with the main character and her daughter. It's very difficult. And, and then ultimately tragic. The daughter dies at the age of 25. And so she is still making the choices that lead to that her daughter existing and, and loving her and experiencing all of that pain and tragedy. And I just think that's just utterly beautiful that that you know that the humanism there of you know, love does involve pain, love is difficult. Relationships are hard. And yet they are still worth it. Even if you know it's going to end even if you know, tragedy is looming. It's still worth it. And I think that's just a beautiful part of that that story.

Arline  41:59  
Yeah, yeah.

Jimmy  42:01  
That's one of the rare movies that I could watch. I don't know. Twice a year. Yeah. Very, very, very few movies like that. That even watched twice at all.

Colin  42:14  
Not spoiled Jimmy. Everyone should watch it. Yeah. Incredibly constructed and filmed. And yeah, the vote the language, the way they represent the language is yeah, it's, it's wonderful.

Jimmy  42:29  
And I'm partial to linguistics myself to begin with. So the whole idea of Zeno, linguistics is different topic.

David Ames  42:40  
And I'll say a plug for Ted Chang short story is amazing. And the book, stories plural of your life is an anthology of his short stories. It's just absolutely amazing. I talk I've actually got a blog post about one called Hell is the absence of God, very relevant, really, very, very relevant. So

Jimmy  42:59  
yeah. And his second volume, exhalation stories is also he deals a lot with religious themes, spiritual themes, to being being two different sets of themes. Very, definitely worth reading.

David Ames  43:14  
Fantastic. I'm going to reorder mine because everyone did secular grace. So I've got I've got a deconversion one to talk about next round. But the one I want to talk about is somebody related to and I was actually going to almost pair them with the rival so this was perfect. Jimmy, thank you for planning it this way. Is Interstellar. Interstellar is a Christopher Nolan movie who I'm just like, he's like crack cocaine. For me. I also love Tennant and inception and basically everything he's ever done, but the premise of Interstellar is the relativity and the way that time works. And so, the the main character of the father is an astronaut, he goes out into deep space towards a black hole. Time and relativity, time and relativity take place and so his daughter is aging back at home. But the the heart of the story is that he is like almost communicating with her throughout this and they keep touching base over time. And I the the analogy that I love in this is that that love is fifth dimensional, right? Ultimately he gets to directly communicate with her in real time. And again, spoilers. And then at the very end of the film, he meets her in her old age, he is still young, and he meets her in her old age and it's just this incredibly touching and loving moments. But for me the analogy of love as fifth dimensional also springs to mind why religious thoughts? takes place right? Like If I kept I repeat to myself all the time, love is fifth dimensional. And it has this deep and profound meaning for me. But of course, I don't mean it literally. And I can see how easy it would be for. If I were passing that in for that, that story along with someone else to begin to take it literally, you know, like, let's say three generations later to begin to take that literally. So you can see that impulse to do that. And yet, I still think that this is an amazing analogy and that, and that love transcends space and time, metaphorically, and connects us as human beings.

Jimmy  45:38  
The love of your past parents to your past self has meaningful impact in the future and being able to rely on just just just a specific example. Being able to rely on the love of someone else. Moving into the future. Yeah, I like it. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Colin  45:56  
And that theme to that theme, that musical score, right. That was in the airport in Charlotte. Last week. And somebody the piano player was playing it.

David Ames  46:11  
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Jimmy  46:15  
So my, my son and I were watching the the movie on our previous TV, which was a hand me down of a hand me down or something like that. And all Christopher Nolan movies just basically start clipping on the speakers. So it was very hard to hear. Yeah. But anyway, we were watching this movie. And it's the scene where he's leaving his family, which is as a father of daughters is pretty rough on me. And so I was sitting there watching this, then my, my wife and two daughters come back in the room, or they come back from some event or something. And my daughter sits down next to us and starts watching with us. And then she left and said, I hate this movie.

David Ames  47:06  
Yeah. All right. So we're doing a snake draft. So it's back to Jimmy. So your number two choice.

Jimmy  47:13  
Alright, so authenticity. My movie for authenticity is Mrs. Harris goes to Paris. Which was a surprising, you know, it's, I tend to go very Wait, I weighed Rotten Tomatoes fairly heavily in my day, you know, whether I decide to watch a movie or not. And it was pretty high. And sometimes that just means it is what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything but more. And sometimes it means this is an AMAZING film. Well, this this was a good story. It was just a really good story. And it's hilarious because she's an English woman. She goes to France and she meets some people who are heavily into existentialist philosophy, like, just rattling off to each other all this these technical terms and stuff. And it occurred to me while watching this, she is like the ultimate existentialist when Mrs. Harris, she is a widow. She is middle aged, she's working class. She decides one day she's going to buy ay couture, handmade couture gown from whatever the the fancy brand was. doesn't stick. It was a It's a well known brand. Anyway, you've all heard of it.

David Ames  48:35  
High fashion. Yeah.

Jimmy  48:37  
So but she's just this regular lady. And she just decides she's going to save up the money to go to Paris and order this gown, which makes sense. You go to a store and you buy some stuff. Well, she arrives. Yes, Christian Dior? That's right. So she arrives in Paris and immediately she's just contact with people contact with people, all kinds of different people. She's showing kindness to everybody. She's just bringing people together, just making human connection, sort of overcoming all these boundaries. So the the people the staff at Christian do don't know what to make of her. But they're kinda like, this is kind of cool. They're, they're sort of like, we have no idea what to do with this lady, but we like it. And then she brings, you know, she brings the two existentialists together and blah, blah, blah, and, you know, whatever. Not not to spoil absolutely every detail of the movie, but it was it's hilarious because one of the dynamics of existential philosophy, existentialist philosophy is that of a facticity. So, we're born with different characteristics. You know, you're a man, you're a woman, male, female, whatever, you're white, you're black. You're An American, you're French, you're upper class, middle class, you're a nerd, you're a jock, you're whatever, all these things, and to live an authentic life is to sort of transcend, that that indeed involves transcending that and in, she just was in the process of doing that, just by living her life, she transcended the fact that she was middle class or working class by deciding to buy an upper class gown, even though she really didn't have anywhere to wear it. She transcended, like, all these different expectations of her. One major theme throughout was just her age and how you sort of become invisible when you're, the older you get. And so, but she didn't, she didn't stand for it, she, she took various actions to sort of overcome that. So I was, it was funny to me when it occurred to me, but it was also kind of delightful, just because here's this middle aged English lady. And she's like, way more actually existentialist than these. Talking about start, whatever at each other. That was pretty cool. It was a good movie.

David Ames  51:16  
I liked the message, too, of just, you know, being comfortable with yourself being comfortable with who you are, and, and not feeling out of place where maybe other people think you're out of place, like you're just comfortable with yourself, and you accept yourself and you're able to move about the world.

Jimmy  51:33  
And the point is, yeah, and I kind of went overboard on the existential side of things. But the point is that she was living an authentic life. Yeah, that's Yeah, exactly what you're saying. Yeah. Yeah.

Arline  51:44  
Yeah, I especially admire women who can do that. Because that is it does not come naturally to me. And for years being like, I grew up in a home where boys were more favored than girls, and then become a Christian. And they're like, that's true. And it's like, okay, so you just keep going and believing it. And then coming out of all that, it's like, oh, I can, you know, be my whole self. I can, my husband uses the phrase exert my presence, like, yeah, it's like, for me, it's hard to set the gym. Nobody's ever said anything unkind or been rude. But I see these women who can just go in there, and they just do it. And I'm like, I have to talk myself into it all the time to like, just exist and not be apologized all the time. So yeah, I want to see that, that that movie sounds really good.

Jimmy  52:31  
And if just to put a book plug in how to be authentic, is as a good introduction, especially to sort of feminist existentialism, because it's, it's very accessible introduction.

David Ames  52:47  
Awesome. Yes.

Arline  52:48  
my happy place.

Colin  52:51  
Well, I just want to say, Arline, thank you for sharing that. That's absolutely, that's, that's kind of the, the heroic thing I was talking about earlier. Is, is overcoming a story. And in your case, not an internal story a, a cultural programming. You know, just like, that's really, really interesting to hear. And it seems like there was progression over time. And I resonate with the mantra idea to like, I need to notice the thought and then provide a new thought that

Arline  53:29  
is really wallpaper in my mind's time and I was like, Oh, I like that. Take that. Yeah, I like it.

David Ames  53:36  
That's great. Daniel, you are up for your second choice.

Daniel  53:42  
Well, I think this one might be a little esoteric. Just because it's, it's not a it's not in Western media at all. There's a short Japanese animated film named Jota, Ruby, no, Moray II, which translates to in the forest of Firefly light. And I know one thing that was really hard for me when I was D, converting, when I was looking at what I was losing, I was losing the idea that, hey, what about the afterlife, like we all want to, you know, we all want to go on forever, I think is the kind of natural biological inclination and we, we have a survival drive. It does not like to be thwarted. I think even when I was talking through, like becoming agnostic and becoming a humanist with somebody, they said, Why don't you want to go to heaven when you die? And I was like, Well, I gotta think there is a heaven. Like, it's not like I do you want to go Disneyland someday? And I don't think I don't think it's real. And I was really distressed by it. And I think that one of the messages that we get, especially evangelical Christianity is that Your life is precious, because it's just going to go on forever and ever. And it's going to be this never ending thing. It's going to be amazing forever. You know, and, and that was a really hard thing to let go of. And early into it after I D converted, I watched this short film, which is about a girl who when she's, I think she's six years old, she goes into this, this forest and Japanese mythology, there's these spirits called yokai, that live in deep in the woods in the mountains and things like that. And they're, you know, there's sometimes tricky, there's sometimes mean, and it's sometimes pleasant, you don't really know what you're gonna get. And when she's there, she meets a young man. And the young man is a human, but he, he was abandoned there as a child and was going to die. And the yokai saved his life. But on a condition, he could grow up and grow up very, very slowly, he would live many, many lifetimes of a human being, but he would never be allowed to touch another human being if he touches them, he disappears forever. And so it's a little bit funny and sweet at the beginning, as this six year old is just like, I want to I want to play with you, I want to spend time with you. And he's like, don't touch me, like, this is the stairway kind of thing. And they slowly become friends. And she returns to the woods every summer because she's visiting the woods while she's staying with her grandparents and, and it's about her slowly growing up, and then slowly becoming closer. And as she reaches his, you know, age, and their equal age, they realize that they're falling in love. And, and he can never touch her, and she can never touch him. Because if he, if he doesn't, then he's gone forever. And it's it's about navigating this kind of really bittersweet beauty of this relationship, knowing that you actually can't have something forever. But it doesn't make it any less beautiful, or any less meaningful or any less special. And I actually am not going to, I'm not going to say the ending because I do think this is something that you all should watch, and that everybody listening to this should watch. And go into that little journey. It's it's a 42 minute film. So it's not like a big ask, that's what I'm saying. But it is a it is a theme of, you know, being authentic and being true and being loving. And understanding that something is not beautiful, because it lasts, something not precious, because it lasts, it can be beautiful and precious, just as it is. And nothing can ever take away that time that you had. And I think that watching that was in a weird way, kind of healing for me. As I realized that I didn't need to, you know, I didn't need to experience like the quote unquote loss of heaven as a as a loss anymore. Because the time that we have here that I have my children with my wife or my parents, with my friends with people like yourself, this is this is always going to have happened it's always going to have been a part of the the universe no matter how long it lasts. I think that this this story reminded me again of how of what makes us human. Humans elevate things, that's what makes us special we, we take normal things and we lift them up, we elevate things in ourselves and in the world above where they actually occur in nature. Like we look at chemical reactions in their brains, and we call it love. We look at the colors of a sunset, and we name it beauty. We look at life and decide that so wonderful. We told the story but it lasting forever and even though it won't last forever. No matter how long the universe is here. The time that we had. We had we will always have been here and that's what that movie did for me in a weird way this animated film

David Ames  59:14  
that's beautiful. And I think we're constantly fighting the you know the Christian conception that it it isn't worth it unless it's eternal. And and it actually turns out that it kind of is the opposite right like that. Because life in general or love or what have you. He is finite and has an ending. It makes it so much the sweeter while while we have it while we are here.

Daniel  59:40  
Exactly. Okay.

Colin  59:41  
Thank you if I can make a quick Oh, it's my turn. Yes. Your turn interjection to Daniel's beautiful description of that. The forest of the Fireflies. Two themes you mentioned the not being able to touch the person you love. There's a show called pushing daisies. Men have a similar dynamic. And it's so interesting and it's a really cool, totally different reasons. It's really really cool to watch these two characters in love who can never touch each other. And then there's also a movie from last year a couple years ago called wolf walkers, which is an animated movie. Yeah, that is also about she's told to never go into the forest. And when she does, she discovers the opposite, I guess into what she's been told the people who are dangerous, or the wolves, I guess, are not dangerous. So gosh, amazingly watched

Daniel  1:00:37  
wolf walkers with our kids and just like the whole family just kind of wept like it was such a beautiful family we do that did Song of the Sea and the Book of Kells I think it's an Irish studio and it's it's just fantastically beautiful films. The most unique animation style ever seen. I have yet to see Pushing Daisies but I've heard that it is another weird entry in Lee paces IMD page just he's such a diverse actor. So I've heard lots of

Colin  1:01:15  
good things. Yeah, it's it's really great canceled before it's canceled too soon. So I, I am writing down the movies that just themes you all are mentioning. And I just I just love one of my great loves in life is movie. So in an effort to stretch your knowledge or your what you are aware of, and maybe some of you've seen it. There's a documentary called Kumari from 2011. And it is a trip. A man named Vikram, who grew up in I think, New Jersey or Brooklyn or something is of Indian descent, but he's American. Goes to India and sort of observes the Swamis and the yogi's and the spiritual teeth, the gurus. And some off about it for him. He he sees hypocrisy, he sees inconsistency. And so he goes back to America, and he presents himself as a guru. And he speaks with a fake Indian accent. He's mimicking his his mom who was Indian born, and he grows his hair long and his beard, and he begins to attract followers. You have a sort of a unknown narration where he's talking about the process. And he is you know, he's wearing the orange robe, and he's got the staff. And he is saying nonsense, essentially, there's just nice things, and people are following him. And you start to watch these people evolve in really positive ways. They get more into yoga, they find levels of peace with broken relationships, a woman loses a significant amount of weight that she'd never been able to lose before. People start meditating. And throughout it, Vikram Kumar Ray is beginning to freak out, because his intentions were good. He was trying to poke fun at this idea of the guru. And these people believe him and he doesn't know how, where to go from here. Yeah. And he, I feel like it's important to share the end. But I'm suddenly debating on whether it's I feel like I've teed it up really nicely.

David Ames  1:03:44  
Yes, that's right. Yeah.

Colin  1:03:47  
So there's a scene at the end of the movie that is, I think, one of the great scenes in documentary, you know, the world documentaries, which is where he unveils himself to these people, and he does his best to soften it. But it is, it is ugly, it is a rupture for these people. And for himself. He's he's, you know, really regretted a worried about what this will do. And he says the message I want to share with you ultimately, is that the only guru you need is the one that is inside of you. And that's why I did this. And in a sense, all of the changes that you made you made you used me as a sort of a catalyst but you did it. And what's really cool is some people walk out and are there's sort of an end a title and credits where they tell you where people are. And one woman a couple have never spoken to him again. One went on to get her yoga certification. One said how can I help you in your next adventure Vikram because You're a special person, one is paying off her bills and still made it meditates every day, the woman who lost the weight has kept it off 10 of the 14 people who followed him have stayed in contact with him. And I guess agreed with the accidental premise thing, which is that you have so much power and magnificence within you, we all do. And you don't need a guru. Here's how I look at it. If there are people listening, who are still, within a specific religion, it's important, I like to try to be respectful and say you're doing a lot of it. That your your beliefs, I'm not challenging your beliefs at all. I'm just saying that there is a credit and a pride that you deserve to feel. And that is something that I learned in my journey through and then out of evangelical Christianity was I was doing so much of that the whole time, I was waking up early to read a book to edify myself, I was forgiving people, I was going deep with people I was, you know, doing all of these things, and you get to go like, that's a that's a good person. You know, a good heart. So, Kumar, Akuma are a it is, it's a trip, man. That's a great.

David Ames  1:06:34  
That sounds awesome. I've just got one comment that I want to move forward is that, you know, again, apologetics is always saying, you know, how could How could Christianity have spread so far, and like, these little examples of many religions that pop up, even in a scenario where it was, you know, under false pretenses as it were, like, just this is the human condition, we want to follow people, we want someone to say here, I have the answers. Do what I say? Like, that's so common that it you know, it's happened throughout all of history. So I just I think that that's a really interesting.

Colin  1:07:10  
And just to add to that, David, some religions have a replicable, scalable quality to them. There's a there's a way that they grow. And there are other ways of thinking that just don't have that fire. And one of those I think of as the the UU the Unite Unitarian Universalist Church, it's just not the imperative. Yeah. To grow into scale and to convert, it's it's meant to be a refuge to people who left that. Exactly. So it's just fascinating, right? Because then you have, you know, Mormonism or Christianity or something, where it's, it's, there's this imperative to go out and, and to grow it. So, yeah, it's, but yeah. Okay.

Arline  1:07:54  
So my happy place is middle grade fiction, preferably with strong female lead character, not necessarily. But so there's so many great books, middle grade fiction is, like five stars highly recommend adult children there. It's just perfect. It's not vulgar, and has all the gross things that adult stuff can have that isn't for children, and then it, but it's not, not that picture books are dumbed down, because that's not a true statement. But it's not like little kid kind of books, it middle grade fiction tackles really hard stuff. So for authenticity and secular grace, harbor me by Jacqueline Woodson. So it starts with these six kids who are thrown together in this room, where once a week, they will meet in at their school, and there are no teachers, and they just talk and they're able to have conversations that they can't talk to anybody else about. They can't necessarily talk to their family, they can't talk to friends, because people will judge them. But they're sewn together for this. I can't remember if it's an experiment or a class or how they how they did it, but they call it the art room, a room to talk. So they're in the art room, and once a week, they hang out in it at the beginning. These kids there there's one kid whose family is like his dad maybe deported soon. One kid who's dealing with like, racism at school and racism, racial profiling just in his neighborhood. There there's just so much Oh, one little girl that's right. Her father is incarcerated, she doesn't get to see him so there's just all these different kids who normally would not have hung out would not have been friends. And they build this relationship this room becomes like a harbor for them one and they they become a harbor for one another. And oh, it's one of those just it's a tear jerker. Sweet, wonderful story, but also, like I said, it just tackles really hard things that these kids are dealing with that it's fiction, but are very real experience. It says that kids are having. And, and the way they come alongside one another the relationships that are built and one of the, towards the end the the main, the main character who's telling the story, she says Back then we still all believe she's talking about when they were kids when they were young when they were kids, you know, these, they're in middle school, but when when they were young, she's back then we still all believed and happy endings. None of us knew yet how many endings and beginnings one story could have. So like these kids have gone a year together. There has been, you know, family and prison and all these these crazy things happen in I can't remember. But I know, the immigration services come at one time, I can't remember if the dad is deported or not. But like, just they didn't realize they could be for one another, like a savior, a friend of champion, all these different things that they didn't need, they didn't need grownups for and then they didn't need like supernatural help for they were able to be it for one another. And it really is. It's a very short book. It's not very long. But it's, it's incredibly it's one of the most moving middle grade fictions that I've ever read. And it's, yeah, it's a beautiful, it's a beautiful story. And thinking about like me, personally, I did not have that when I was that age, like middle school. Like, I don't know if you've guys who have kids who've watched turning red, but like in turning red. She's like, all freaking out because she turns into the red panda. And our friends are like, Oh, we love you. And they just like, run and hook her. And I just again, because I cry on movies, I just burst into tears when we watch that into like, triggered Alyssa just burst into tears. Because I was like, I did not have that people were so Daniel, you talked about being bullied. That was me. Yes. And cruel. Like kids were so cruel to me. I had horrible middle grade experience. And so just seeing the kids in harbor me and the way they come around each other, it's it's incredibly moving in just wonderful. And, um, and like, the things I didn't have, I didn't have the parents to go to because they didn't take the bullying seriously. Kids are kids, they'll do what it you know, girls or maiming girls, you know, all that stuff. But But yeah, it's it's a fantastic book for any age, and it's on audio, which anytime there's a great narrator that can just make a book even. Even better. So, yeah, it's pretty good.

David Ames  1:12:28  
Awesome. Yeah, the secular grace for kids, you know, like, the, like, school is rough, you know, like, you know, for them to experience that, you know, understand their need for community with one another, and to protect one another that that's beautiful. Okay, so we are rapidly running out of time, I have a hard stop in 20 minutes. I want to do a quick speed round. So literally one minute 60 seconds. I'm sorry, we can't do it justice. But we're going to do our last pics in in a speed round. And we're starting with Arline.

Arline  1:13:05  
Alright. The Wizard of Oz. Nice. Yes. They're literally like, let's go see some supernatural guy. He will give us all the things we need. Just kidding. This guy's a complete try. Turns out it's we've had it the whole time. And we could totally do it. And I was like, wow, this is exactly this is deconversion and secular grace. They're like we will make sure you make it to AWS whether or not you know I get a heart or whether or not I get a brain and I was like, Yes, I love it. There you go. Wizard of Oz. I love it. Fabulous. Middle grade fiction.

Daniel  1:13:38  
Completely agree or lean? That's a great pick. I I've loved the story for a long time. And I think it completely fits with the theme

David Ames  1:13:45  
I call in Europe.

Colin  1:13:47  
Okay, I'm going to do two really fast. Perfect deconversion stories Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, an equilibrium starring Christian Bale. And I will not spoil these I'll say that Oblivion is a story about the sort of post apocalypse world where Tom Cruise is told not to love what's left of the world. But he feels this connection to it. And that takes him somewhere. There's a great quote up front, where he looks at his partner and he says with questions I asked she doesn't the things I wonder about, you won't. I think that's an incredible parallel for relationships where one goes a different direction. Equilibrium really quickly, is about a also a future world where people cannot feel human emotion. They've decided that all danger war, violence comes from emotion. So they take a tablet every day that cuts off all emotion. He's like the lead enforcer of this and then he stops taking his dose. Yeah, and you watch this guy have all of these firsts that I think people who have left an orthodoxy discover listening to music, physical touch, reading literature, looking at a sunrise. And it's like he's a baby. Like he's blown away by these things. It's very moving for a movie that has a lot of gunfights in it. That really spoke to me, right? Just being allowed to expand and experience more.

David Ames  1:15:24  
Both of those are awesome. Those are fantastic. Yeah.

Jimmy  1:15:27  
The sense of what I'm sorry, the sense of wonder, maybe being allowed to delight in stuff. David, you were talking about? Yeah. Daniel, David, we're talking about how cynics cynicism is sort of a default these days. Being jaded means being realistic and seeing people delight in things is just Yeah.

Arline  1:15:48  
Or then you had something. Yeah, just wanted to say like any dystopian fiction, like is deconversion like The Truman Show, The Giver quartet. All of those are like, there's this one person who realizes

Colin  1:16:03  
the matrix Yeah.

Daniel  1:16:07  
That the matrix and equilibrium taught us that you cannot D convert without engaging in a lot of martial arts battle. That's right.

Colin  1:16:15  
And I missed that. Personally. I never got to kick down a door and

Daniel  1:16:22  
yeah, let us make up for that by just getting into fights on Facebook.

David Ames  1:16:30  
Daniel, you're up for speed round.

Daniel  1:16:33  
Speed Round. All right. I am going to start a stopwatch. This is gonna be super dorky. But I can't I can't not go there. Somebody feed Phil. It's it's a it's a travel show. It's a food show. I know calling your apps. There it is. It is a good show. My wife grabbed me and said like, we got to watch this show. And I said I don't love, love, love, love reality television. I don't love food shows because all these snooty, like, except accepting Anthony Bourdain. You know, it's always snooty, people doing snooty things I just couldn't be bothered. And this is the opposite of that. It is a it is the lead writer and the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. So he's a comedy writer, and he loves food, he loves people. And he goes to all these places, and he meets like fascinating people. He does like food trucks in Bangkok. And he does, you know, these little stalls in, in Israel that have been there for like 1000 years. And he does all kinds of things in in cities all around the world, and just loves every person he meets completely authentically. Rosenthal is is Jewish. He's a secular Jew. And he is just here for everybody's everything. Like he's going to Buddhist temples, he's going into churches, he's going into synagogues, he's going into restaurants, most importantly. But also he goes to people's homes like he, he meets chefs at restaurants, and they invite him home for a home cooked meal. And he's just in there with their kids and their families. And just the explosion of delight that he brings with him everywhere is just the that's the kind of humanity that I want to belong to. And I see everything he does as just being this just absolutely no holds barred joy in every kind of human interaction you could possibly have. And and a lot of people love it. It's got I think six seasons now. I think Season Seven is on the way. It's it's really, really delightful. Most people who are like food critics hate the show, because they say things like he doesn't criticize anybody. Yes. Yeah. And it's amazing.

David Ames  1:18:49  
And also, the the recognition that people are people then even dramatically different cultural experiences. We're just human beings and like we connect with each other and even just laughter in the human touch is a connection with one another and that binds us together regardless of where we came from. So

Colin  1:19:11  
Daniel, I think of how, Phil when he takes a bite, he smiles with his entire body. You know, like, yeah, he's like, whoa, and what you find is these like, Thai? Grandmas are like just feeding him food. Yeah,

David Ames  1:19:30  
just so it's so fun. Yeah,

Colin  1:19:33  
he's the ultimate you know? Guest Yeah, just

Daniel  1:19:37  
don't get it so skinny. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It looks like it weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, and he's like six feet tall.

David Ames  1:19:46  
Last comment really quick, you know the importance of, you know, breaking bread with one another to use a Christian term like I think there's value in doing communal meals to with one another intentionally And that that is such a meaningful thing as well. Mike, do you have anything?

Mike T  1:20:05  
Yeah, I was thinking of something. You know, I'm a music lover. And I don't know how this ties into what we're talking about. But I thought it was a sweet movie A few years ago, a movie called yesterday. Fans. So this this guy is like a singer songwriter. He's kind of washed up, he can't really make it his songs are not very good. Some kind of event happens a blackout he has accident. He wakes up in the and there's no existence of the Beatles at all. Nobody knows them they slightly they've never existed, but he's a big fan. So he knows all their songs and stuff. He starts playing yesterday to his friends and they're just mesmerized by it. You know the words and the poetry and he's like, You got to know the song you know, and for he answered, he realizes it. Nobody knows about the Beatles. So he starts playing their songs board. And it's like, almost overnight, he becomes a the world's biggest music sensation, you know, playing Beatles stuff. And that's awesome. Anyway, kind of towards the end. I think there's a few people that that know about it, though. It's not just him. So they realized that the Beatles, you know who the Beatles were at one time. And anyway, they he, he's feeling awful about it. And they just tell him well, you know what, you know, it's okay. Keep singing the songs, you know, because this really, you know, it's speaking to people and I just, I just thought that was might be a good thing to bring up.

David Ames  1:21:45  
Yeah, for sure. And music is so deep. We've talked about that a lot to that, you know, that both manipulative Lee with worship, but also just inspirationally. I've been listening to a lot of more secular gospel music that, like Lawrence comes to mind, they've got a song called don't lose sight that just just inspires me every time I hear this song. So yeah, music is the Jimmy

Jimmy  1:22:13  
I'll go with Jaber Crow, by Wendell Berry. I may have mentioned that in my episode, but it's, it's a book about people, really, people in nature, in community, warts and all normal people, messed up people, all kinds of things. And I've been through it twice. It's the kind of book you finish, and then you just sort of stare at the wall for a while.

David Ames  1:22:44  
Yeah, yeah.

Jimmy  1:22:47  
Yeah. Highly recommended.

Arline  1:22:50  
Yeah, it's, it's on my TBR list. It's, it's been there for a long time, though. I keep having so now, I will definitely read it.

David Ames  1:22:58  
For my last one. And because we have, we're running out of time, I'm really just gonna do this as a recommendation. I'm gonna try not to spoil too much. But it is severance on apple plus, it is an amazing story incredibly well written incredibly real, well executed. The premise and I'm not giving away anything here is that the technology to split your consciousness so that the A version of yourself independent version of yourself goes to work every day. And the remaining part of yourself experiences the rest of life without having to go to work? This is deep philosophically about identity and consciousness and ask some incredibly deep questions. But beyond that, within the realm of work, is it and I'll just say, the obvious also, it is also a deep criticism of capitalism and office culture. But beyond that, is there's a religious aspect, very hinting of Mormonism and, and the Puritan work ethic. And that is interwoven throughout the whole thing. And as you can guess, there is the the, the work versions of themselves begin to you know, want to discover more about the real world and then without giving away too much, you know, the experience of being a fish out of water, that kind of thing. So highly recommended. I would love to do an entire episode with some or all of you on on seperates it is absolutely amazing. So with that, I just want to say thank you to this group of people the podcast, wouldn't be what it is, without each and every one of you. You've done incredible work, either behind the scenes or in front of the mic. You've supported me my mental health and my vision for the podcast. I just cannot say enough. How grateful I am for all of you guys. This is for whole years. It's just, it's amazing that we are here.

Arline  1:25:12  
Yes, it's exciting to be part of it.

Colin  1:25:16  
Love to see how it's become this bigger thing and just affect so many people and brought people together. And yeah, thank you, David for taking that little seed of an idea and just persisting. Yeah, it's gonna grow.

Daniel  1:25:31  
Awesome. Yes, yes. Thank you, David. Yeah.

Colin  1:25:35  
Actually, for Did you say four? Yeah, for you happy four years. Yeah. Amazing.

David Ames  1:25:47  
Final thoughts on the episode. It is hard for me to overstate how important the people you just listen to our to the podcast. I know I'm repeating myself so much. But Arline has done almost everything, including the community management and CO hosting, copy editing. But she is the engine that drives the podcast, she helps with a lot of coordination in the background, the podcast would not be where it is that today without our lien. Same goes for Mike T, the amount of editing time that Mike spends is amazing. And you guys get a weekly podcast instead of a monthly one. Because I couldn't do that at all. There's no way. As I said, Jimmy and Colin have been really helpful for my mental health, for supporting me for giving me ideas for letting me bounce ideas off of them, and actually providing a slightly critical view to tell me when I was wrong at times. And that is incredibly valuable. And I really appreciate it. And Daniel, for sure is going to be that type of person. Daniel, I have not spent quite as much time with each other. But we already can tell that there's a deep connection there. And I want to see what more Daniel can do within this community with the podcast and as a support for me as well. So thank you so very, very much to all of you for supporting the podcast and what we are trying to do here to spread secular grace to spread humanism, to provide a safe place to land for people in the middle of doubts, questioning deconstruction and deconversion. And lastly, I want to thank you the listener, obviously, none of this happens if you aren't there. I've tried very hard not to focus on numbers. I've said a number of times that we could double quadruple the numbers if I were more antagonistic, more debate oriented, and just bash Christians, that's pretty easy to do. But having a message of secular grace and caring about human beings is not terribly popular. As we talked about in the episode, being sincere is not going to go viral. I wanted to do that. Anyway, the mission of the podcast was to allow people to understand they can accept their own humanity and the humanity of others. And coming out of religion of various kinds, particularly very traditional particular, very high control. That is quite a challenge. That's difficult. And it is really hard to do that alone. Hopefully you haven't felt alone as you've listened along with other people's stories. Hopefully, you've heard your story, as someone else told their story. And that magic, that connection, is what will help us. That's what this podcast is all about. I want to put out one more time that participation in the community and the podcast is not about status, or lien, Mike, Jimmy, Colin, Daniel, there's nothing special about them. They just were willing to do work, they were willing to participate. So if there's any area of expertise that you have, or even just something you're interested in doing, please let us know. Reach out to our lien. Reach out to me and let us know. As I've said, social media, graphic design, even audio work, website design, marketing, there's just 1000 different ways that you could participate in the podcast. Please reach out to us if you're interested in doing that. And thank you so much for being a listener. That means a lot. Next week, our lien is talking to David Hayward, the naked pastor. That's going to be an amazing conversation. In early April, I'll be talking to Holly Laura, that's from the mega podcast, really excited about that. And many many community members in between. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by Mackay beads. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full Episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast, a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by

Praying is Pretending to Do Something

Blog Posts

Did you know that elevator buttons usually don’t do anything? Yes. They are actually programmed to do nothing while you’re hammering on them, willing the doors to close, dadgummit.

Then why do elevators have them? Mainly to give you a sense that you have some influence over your situation–to make you feel like you can do something. I heard once that ATMs make their whirring noises to keep people from kicking them to make sure they’re doing something, though that may or may not be true.

Elevator buttons and ATM noises are about you, not about elevators or ATMs.

Why am I talking about all this?

Many of us were raised to pray for everything. When you pray, you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

  • When someone says they have cancer, saying, “I’ll pray for you,” gives you a warm feeling of helpfulness.
  • When you hear news of a school being attacked by some terrorist, praying gives you a sense that you’re fighting back against an evil world.
  • When you have an anger problem, parying about it makes you feel like you’re solving your anger problem.

But prayer isn’t helping someone with cancer, making the world a better place or solving your character flaws.

It merely makes you feel like you’re doing those things. It’s fake effort.

Cue Captain Obvious: Life is hard, and having a “thing we can do” in the face of overwhelming complexity may help us cope. So, like elevator buttons, prayer is about us.

At its best, prayer can help us work through our thoughts. But at its worst, it can make us feel like we’re doing something while keeping us from actually doing something.

What other kinds of fake effort are there? Many of us were raised to feel guilty for things. But feeling guilty isn’t undoing the past; it isn’t solving our problems and it isn’t making things right. It’s fake effort.

Like elevator buttons, guilt is about us. At its best, it may motivate us to get up and do something different.

But at its worst, guilt accomplishes nothing and harms yourself in the process.

So, beware fake effort! Don’t forget the real goals you’re going toward and do the work.

– Jimmy

PS – If you want a real mind-trip, look up “moral licensing.” All this fake effort plays right into it.

Jennifer Michael Hecht: The Wonder Paradox

Atheism, Authors, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Grace
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This week’s guest is Jennifer Michael Hecht, bestselling author of Doubt: a History plus many  other works. Her latest book, The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives comes out this week!

Jennifer is a poet and historian and in this interview, she makes a solid case for the important place that poetry—and other art forms—can have in our lives. 

“It’s got to be a poet who says, ‘This virtue still matters,’ because we’re at a moment where we don’t even know what to do with things that are not fairy tales but also not physics.”

This is a great conversation that you won’t want to miss!



The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives


Previous appearance on the podcast


“…a poetic way of looking at our lives can do a lot of the same jobs that religion can do, and we need to explore that.”

“We have these profoundly complicated feelings, and how do you express that? To some degree, it is inexpressible…but poets are going to try and capture that ambiguity.”

“The main poetic subject really is to look at things that are kinda too hard to look at…the inner experience of mortality, that inner experience of ambition despite mortality, which is the paradox that all of us have to face.”

“You don’t need to collect hundreds of poems. You need to seize on a few, return to them and let your life grow on them and their intricacies grow on you.”

“It’s got to be a poet who says, ‘This virtue still matters,’ because we’re at a moment where we don’t even know what to do with things that are not fairy tales but also not physics.”

“What is between the factual and the nonsense is the whole realm of humanity.” 

“When you see the larger scope of how human beings manage the fear of dying, you don’t look around for a replacement for heaven anymore.”

“There are many rituals in any given faith that specifically welcome everybody, that welcome outsiders…You can do the ones you’re invited into.”

“Human beings aren’t robots. Rituals weren’t for God. The rituals were always for human beings, and it’s good for us to keep doing them.”

“The next generation is going to believe bad things if we don’t give them good things [to believe].”

“I call myself a ‘poetic realist,’ and I call myself a ‘poetic atheist.’”

“I feel very strongly that the way to the future is pluralism and rationality. I believe in those things so much that any indoctrination is not going to be what I want.” 

“…you gotta go out and be with people…[and] you need some time alone to think.”


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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 United studios Podcast Network. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the 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. Shout out to all my patrons. If you too would like an ad free experience of the podcast you can become a patron at any level at atheist. If you are in the midst of doubt or questioning or deconstruction, you do not have to do it alone. Please join us at deconversion anonymous where we are trying to be a safe place to land for those people who are questioning doubting and deconstructing. You can find us at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. My guest today is Jennifer Michael Hecht. Jennifer is one of my intellectual heroes and she has written a new book called The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives. Jennifer was previously on the podcast four years ago and 2019 where we discussed her book doubt history. Jennifer is one of those people who is able to capture the joy and wonder of life from a secular perspective and put it down on paper. I describe her as one of the very few people on the vanguard of ritual and meaning for nonbelievers. She coined the phrase a graceful life philosophy. We discussed multiple phrases that she coins in this book, including interfaith lists, cultural liturgy, dropped by in lie ceremonies, and poetic atheism. Jennifer is a historian and an academic but she is first and foremost a poet. And that comes through in her writing. And in our discussion here today. The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives is out March 7, please go out and get this book. It is absolutely amazing. Here is my conversation with Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Jennifer Michael Hecht. Welcome to the Graceful Atheist Podcast.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  2:45  
Thanks so much for having me,

David Ames  2:46  
Jennifer. It amazes me. But it was four years ago that you and I chatted about your book doubt. That was all the way back in 2018. You were so kind to come on then the podcast was two months old, I think at the time. So it's like, what a transformation since then. And we were discussing the fact that you are currently at that time writing Wonder Paradox, which is your new book that is out on March 7. So I'm so glad to have you back.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  3:14  
Thanks so much. I'm really delighted to be here. And Wow, you've grown and served so many people. And it's just amazing thing you've you've managed to do here.

David Ames  3:22  
I appreciate it. Yeah. And I think the I think the listeners are probably sick of hearing me recommend your writing. Almost anytime anyone asks me about books at all, you are at the top of that list. So you remain my intellectual hero. Thank you so much for the work that you do as well. I won't go all in on your your bone a few days. But I think your bio is understated. It says that you're a poet and a historian. And that is there's a lot packed into those two words. I think you've been a professor or you've written a number of books, including academic books, you want to talk just a bit about the work that you've done over the years.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  4:03  
Sure. You know, I started out as a poet, and I thought I would do really I was in high school sort of college college and I thought I'm gonna write poetry. But I wanted a day job. My father, until very recently was a history. I was a sorry, a professor of physics, at Delphi on Long Island. And so the idea of teaching the idea of going to graduate school so I think I thought about, about doing history of literature, history of poetry, but in graduate school, I fell in love with the history of science, and have very poetic it was how how very much in order to do science. You have to try as hard as you can to go from one rational idea to the next, but one does history of science. By unraveling that, and that is much more of a sort of, by your guts feeling to realize well, how how would certain ideas, perhaps stay in a certain line of thinking longer than they should have, and then sort of try to figure out, oh, it was stuck to this and that all of this kind of work is much more cultural and literary. But doing the history of science, of course, brought me into the history of atheism. And I was already an atheist, and I was just overjoyed to see such weird and interesting people. You know, I wouldn't say that all atheists through history have been as weird as the group that I happen to find when I was doing some history of science work for my PhD. And found some some early anthropologists, they'd really sort of invented anthropology in a sense, and they were atheists, and they were, they saw what they were doing as, as a way of promoting atheism, their science. So this is not in the history, the way we look at any of these subjects. So that was an immediate Oh, this is fun and weird, and I gotta track this down. And that experience made me realize, oh, every time I try to find a straight history of atheism, there isn't one out there. People were either making everybody atheists or nobody atheist. So that work was a delicious side slant that took me you know, that became my main branch of how I was operating in the world, to bring that kind of history of atheism, history of religious doubt, history of debt, religious doubt, that leads people to new religions, not always to agnosticism or atheism, a whole bunch of varieties of watching the ways that sometimes ritual disappears. But faith stays sometimes faith disappears. So all of that kind of work, for the longest time was somewhat separate from my poetry. And I read poetry as well as write poetry and I and I've taught on the graduate level. So yeah, eventually those things were going to come together and they finally have is our ex, I'm really looking at the ways that, that the, that a poetic way of looking at our lives, can do a lot of the same jobs that religion can do, and that we need to at least explore that at least all of us just up a click of observation about how these things operate in our lives, you gain, you gain some power, you gain some peace, just little adjustments, of naming some of the real things that are happening around us, you don't even have to seek to change them. Just naming does a tremendous amount. And that's where, where the book starts just talking about that phenomenon.

David Ames  8:06  
You know, it's interesting that you say naming things, because I think you are amazing at kind of coining a phrase or a word, we're gonna go over some of them in our previous conversation. And he talked about graceful life philosophies, which I felt was such a beautiful term, and you know, evocative, and there's a number in this book, I do want to get the subtitle out. So the book is called The Wonder Paradox,: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives. And it is out in early March, march 7 of this year. I wanted to begin with you, Jennifer, by kind of confessing that, you know, I'm the cretin. I am the the troglodyte here, and that poetry isn't a significant part of my life or not something that I'm cognizant of. So I think reading, reading this book made me more aware of where poetry tends to be more with music for me personally, but it you know, where poetry was, in fact, a major part of my life. So So let's begin by just talking about why poetry What is it about poetry that you think has such meaning for human beings?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  9:16  
Well, I do believe that, in a sense, when I say poetry, I'm speaking about art. And I'm even speaking about the poetic aspect in science. And some scientists are good at ethics explicating that but of course, who's going to be best at doing this kind of poetic work is people who have trained themselves to think in terms of very densely packed, rich ideas that because of the way they use language, are a little bit fluid in the places where, if you lock it down, you're only getting half The truth, right? Nobody totally loves their loves other human beings loves everybody in their lives and totally hates them. But we have these profoundly complicated ID feelings, right? And how to express that? Well, the answer is, to some degree, it is inexpressible the way that humans feel about their lives. But it's poets who are going to try to capture that ambiguity. But I think what you said at first is so important that I think that a lot of people experience, let's guess, 10 poems in the course of a year that just crossed their desk because of today, because of the inter webs, there's no question that's where it's happening. But in the past, it happened by many other ways that we used to have the advice columnist Ann Landers, and she was constantly being asked where a certain line of poetry came from, and then she would print the poem, and people would keep that piece of paper on their refrigerator. For decades, I mean, there have been many different ways where, and I walk into people's homes, and nowadays I look around, and I will often see some kind of poem on the world, on the wall, often a good poem. And they, and they, the people, somebody put that on the wall, because they had that kind of connection to it. Now we do it on the internet, and what is it that happens, you read it, and sometimes it doesn't work for you, you don't read it all the way through. But every once in a while, not infrequently, you read one of these poems, and you, you know, it makes you take in a moment of breath, you have a slight moment of a change in perspective about who you are in the world. In fact, that's the main poetic subject, the main poetic subject, really, is to look at things that are kind of too hard to look at most of the time. And that's where we get our gigs, right? What what nobody else is talking about. And what is that, that's that inner experience of mortality, the inner experience of ambition, despite mortality, which is just a paradox that each one of us has to negotiate and, and the idea that the culture rightly tells us that an adventurous life is one at home, building things or out there forging ahead, and you can't kind of do both, at least not at the same time. All these paradoxes that we live with, that poetry sees as its main business, so when these poems, you know, maybe 10 lines of have an idea across your desk, and it means something to you. I'm suggesting that that's a great place for us to grab that poem. Keep keep it safe, return to it. Don't you don't need to collect hundreds of poems you need to seize on a few and return to them and let your life grow on them and and their intricacies grow on you. And most cultures in society have had something like this, but in the non religious world right now, we are lacking in some of this conversation.

David Ames  13:23  
Yeah, that's that's kind of a summary of that, of what you've just said, you say that poetry can help us make up for the loss of the supernatural can connect us to one another, and to meaning in our lives. And I think that's what I really connected with with this book. I feel like you and just a handful of other people in the world are on this vanguard of you know, how do we live a full meaningful life secular people with the wonder with the or with the the full range of human experience instead of what can sometimes be a hyper rationalist perspective that denies the emotion and human experience?

Again, how do you feel like poetry brings particular to lead to secular people, this sense of meaning?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  14:24  
One of the things that I'm seizing on is the notion that a lot of us are already getting meaning from our lives and from art and literature, and science. But we haven't taken that one little step of saying that this, that the things that we do to nurture those feelings are a kind of I I'm very careful to not say replacement when I'm writing because these are the Religious doesn't come first, right? In the society, it's in the culture, it's in religion, and it goes back to society back to certain culture, all of these ideas are not. But for us, if we're speaking, especially in terms of sort of American, Christian or post Christian audience, we're looking at very specific things that were lost. And that we can look at and say, Well, what, what's missing there, and it really takes not being too furious or to a vengeful at religion, you have to understand I have listened to enough of your show to to get a sense that a lot of the people in your audience were raised in religion in a very toxic way. Now, I met many, many people and have stayed in touch with people from from the middle of America, but but who have that experience, and so I'm very, you know, I was very sort of traumatized myself and coming to understand it. Because, you know, because of what I do, people tell me a lot of stuff. Sure, I can imagine, but, but where I come from in terms of where I live, which I live in Brooklyn, and I write for other literary and educated people around the world, and I hear from them. So I'm writing to people who might be pretty much thinking that religion is neither their friend nor foe, right? They just feel that modern life is modern life. And that in what I call drop by and lie religion, though, I don't mean it in a mean a negative way. I really think sometimes it's the only way you get to get together with maybe your family. But it's worth thinking about, if the only times you do go to a house of worship is just drop by and say things you don't believe. And so, you know, I look in the book at ways of avoiding that, but but the specific notion that there are a lot of people who just feel atomized and alone. And if they were to realize how many people no matter what religion they started from, are really trying to guess try to make a better world try to try to stoke and fan compassion and empathy and just attempting to do the right thing. Even that notion of the right thing. It's got to be a poet, who says virtue still matters, because because we're at a moment where we don't even know what to do with things that are not fairytales, but also not physics. Right? What what is, is in between the factual and the nonsense is a whole is the whole realm of humanity. Right? In the book, I say, you know, with our white coats on we can I understand that love is about facial symmetry or something, you know, making a good partner but, but we live these questions and explaining it doesn't explain it away. We live here, and it's where I want to live. And where I live is full of emotion and meaning. I wouldn't say much justice, but that turns out we have to work on but, you know, love is real. And we know that it is something and we know sometimes we're not even experiencing it. Sometimes we're left out in the rain. But the notion that love is real, there's a bunch of things that we can put in that category. Right? And and we forget that and I think meaning is one of the things that's in that category. We don't it's not easy to take it apart and say where it comes from. But what in the human experience can stand up to such a question really were asking, you know, how much more can we know about it and in different kinds of ways, but certainly the idea of explaining it to the point where it doesn't exist when here we are all living in meaning and living with love and if all of its difficulties. Yeah, it becomes important to champion the poetic again to say we can't we don't always we're not always doing that kind of research experiment. Sometimes we're doing one that's more internal.

David Ames  19:46  
Actually, yeah, the chapter on love poetry, you know, I felt myself just gets swept away and some of the stories you're telling like, you know, you kind of compare and contrast rom com versus kind of more a deeper that maybe more painful perspectives on love in poetry and story. That was just it was definitely captivating. And it's one of those things where I think what you said that really struck with me was like, you know, I've been coupled for a couple of decades now and then getting excited about other couples that you know, who are kind of in the middle of that that infatuation phase man that poetry is, is attempting to, to capture the chaos and the joy of all that.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  20:27  
That's right, and, and also to sort of celebrate all sorts of versions of love, including the kinds that in our society, we, you know, except for that sort of single image of older people walking down the street holding hands, we tend to celebrate new love rather than the love that we say we believe in which wraps families and puts down roots.

Another thing that sweeps all around, this is something that for me, I made up kind of as a joke, at first, I was just writing and I came up with the term the interfaith lists. And it just made me laugh, the interfaith less, you know, because the interfaith was such a specific moment in in mid 20 century, and though it survives on in some ways, but the interfaith was made me laugh, because, oh, well, it's not clearly an exact term, it's just saying that there are so many of us all around the world, from all sorts of religious backgrounds who have these positive, warm feelings and base our progress and action in terms of both science and, you know, trusting in the other people who are who are really working in the direction that we want to see the world go in, including climate change, and all these kinds of issues to realize that, that the interface lists the people who perhaps are, you know, on a given holiday, or something are feeling a little left out from those public celebrations. But once we realize that there are a couple of us in any gathering around a Christmas tree, for instance, you start to be able to feel the people like you who are out there in the world, I don't want to talk too much about my last book, which was a stay a secular argument against suicide. It really did learn from that experience, kind of I learned to feel the people out there. Because when someone in your world, even pretty far out, does take their life, you realize what they meant to you? And what a soul not doing that meant to you because you suddenly feel a tear in the fabric way over there. Yeah. And that just made me learn to when can you feel the fabric? When do we feel that we're connected? And how can you know, how can we enhance that feeling so that we're not alone. And that definitely came into this book and saying, you know, we're already doing a lot of the things that I'm talking about. I'm just saying, if we can become a tiny bit more aware of them, right? naming a few of their parts, we can start to just build a song, just the tiniest bit better life makes a big difference.

David Ames  23:38  
Yeah, absolutely. You actually, you know, you're answering questions I haven't asked yet. But like, I felt like Wonder paradox was an extension of stay. And how that's relevant to my audience is, they come from a very conservative theological background, typically, and and then when they lose that they have the believers in their lives telling them well, you have no justification for your morality, you might as well be a nihilist, that kind of thing. And kind of the entire purpose of this podcast and these discussions is to say no, you this is a human experience, all that wonder are human things and like you get to keep that with you. And I feel like that is the through line between those two books that all of this is is the human experience and it's wonderful in our interconnectedness with one another is a way that that builds that up to remind us that we are not on an island alone and that there is great meaning in us being together with one another.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  24:38  
Yeah, and there's tremendous pain in being a human being but that's true pretty much no matter what you believe not what you believe you're gonna have to struggle with it when the pain is hard and you're gonna have to struggle against you know, egotism when when you're feeling super happy because you know, the The, the idea for me is it, you know that you want to lean on something that for you is pretty steady. Right? And so for me, you know, I so to lean on human beings is a great leap of faith, but at least I know they exist. And I know I am one and I, every once in a while have it in me to be able to lean out and help someone else. And, and yeah, the, the, the magic of that is, is what I mean by the poetry of our lives and, and also the, the beautiful repetitions that happen through life. Again, it's something that we can, we can coax ourselves to be able to notice and see. And it is it's just, it's just that little extra bit of joy and control that make life a little bit more more worth living. But I mean, especially outside of a religious framework. And I say that from kind of an American point of view, I will say the book because I've spent the last however many years I'll say decades now I got my PhD in 1995. So I have been studying the history of religions and the present day of religions all over the world since then, and that has made me into a person who finds even the word atheism. So Christian centered in a way. And so are Judeo Christian centered or the world is mostly filled with people who don't have a single god with a single morality and an afterlife where you go on having what tea and cookies with your relatives where you actually have things. So even if there are afterlives in these other religions, they are not like the Christian afterlife, where I do go on actually doing things. And, and that's a big deal for people who are coming out of Christianity to realize that, that it's not just a matter of loot, losing the supernatural, it's losing this particular very specific religion at a specific moment in history. And, and it creates, you know, a shadow version or a chasm in just the shape of where you thought you had this special, special characteristics of life of not dying of these things. And, but when, when you see the larger scope of how human beings manage fear of dying, you don't look around for a replacement for heaven anymore. What what what human beings mostly do is not looking in that direction, they place the the big contest of life, all in terms that are not about that, that idea that death is a chasm that you're gonna fall off and that chasm is the empty space of heaven that it's it's x Christians that are most worried about that. And that tells us that you can focus elsewhere. It's not a matter of, of just being up just having lost something. You walk into a larger world and see oh, people have been a mad seeing this life and a lot of different ways. And yeah, it's amazingly freeing. Absolutely. Right. It for for audiences who are very much in that world, it still feels you know, I can remember after doubt, doing a talk in Salt Lake City, they invited me I went, you know, yeah, it out, like, who invited me and how that happened. And there were a lot of people in that audience who who came because they knew who I was and wanted here they came from far and wide kind of thing. But there were also students at the, at the community college. And and some of the questions were, well, what about the miracles? You know, that's a very long swing between kinds of questions that I'm getting. But and yeah, sometimes I know that, that the message I'm giving right here is going to sound like it's, it's yeah, it's a step away from religious pain. It is because I'm saying to people, when you land all the way on this shore, and you're just going through the motions of these dead old rituals, and you feel a little hypocritical All and you feel a little letdown, you can put some of the meaning back in by thinking about that moment with a poem, bringing that poem back in and thinking about the other people in the world who are celebrating in a similar way, with their families with that ritual. You know, what I'm saying brings up the question of cultural appropriation, people have to think carefully before they do other people's rituals. But there are many rituals in any given faith that specifically welcome everybody, welcome outsiders, for all sorts of reasons. But most often, because everybody knows that feeding outsiders is a blessing, right? So that happens in all sorts of cultures. So you can do the ones you're invited into. These days, we intermarry in such a way someone in your families related to a holiday, you might want to try out in that kind of way.

But mostly what I'm trying to say to people is that human beings aren't robots and rituals weren't for God, the rituals were always for human beings. And it's good for us to keep doing them. You can invent new ones, if you want. And I think on some level, every family does just out of, you know, sure, you're close enough to where they have ducks. So you have to do the ritual with chicken, it's just how it is. But when people start to say, Okay, I'm gonna make up a whole bunch of rituals on my own. Well, then you're asking other people to do your wacky ideas, and sometimes it's just not going to fly. Whereas if you say to people, Look, I know this is bizarre, but what we're going to do is going to cut down this tree, we're going to make a circle of like, you have all these odd things, but everybody's been doing them forever, and look around and Miles is doing. So it's a lot easier to just insert some of your own ritual into that. But I think a lot of people still feel I know that a lot of people feel guilty and confused, let down and hypocritical, saying words, they don't believe in situations that they couldn't help be in. And they alternative for them as nothing. So what I'm saying is, I hadn't joined the party, here's how to make sure you have some meaning. Realize that the rest of us from all sorts of different things are doing the same kind of thing. And then the fun is okay, so then how can we make all of this more fun and delicious? One thing, the next generation is going to believe bad things if we don't give them good things. Yeah. See that?

David Ames  33:02  
Everywhere? Right? Yeah. So you've been circling around the holidays and your term have dropped by and lie, for sure. That is a sentiment that, that we hear from people who have gone through this faith transition to say, you know, what do I do at Christmas? What do I what I do at Hanukkah are my My favorite tradition. And I think the message that that comes across in wonder paradox is that you get to own that you get to mix and match, you get to build new traditions that you don't have to be left, high and dry. And then ultimately, you can also just participate, knowing that this is a human ritual, and do it anyway.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  33:43  
Right, and, and, you know, I'm basing these kinds of claims on a lot of History and Sociology. So that, and and all these years of just studying the varieties of ways that things have gone in history, and then going out and being invited to give these talks, and I didn't even realize there was an atheist movement until I wrote out, it didn't. They just started inviting me. That started that was just old white guys in the room. Right. And that changed while I was there, you know? Um, that came out in 2003.

David Ames  34:23  
Yeah, that was right. Right. Before there's kind of the explosion of it. Yeah.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  34:29  
And, yeah, enough, so that I was sort of able to look at at what was going on just in the beginning. So yeah, it's been having all these different experiences of learning about the stuff I'm talking about, but then going out into the world to give talks, where I'm invited, so I'm not going into sort of hostile crowds. I'm going to places thought they've liked the message, but very often religious places because they're interested in these questions. And hearing so much specific trouble around ritual ritual having to do with holidays, as we've discussed a little bit, but also rituals having to do with funerals, weddings, and baby welcoming ceremony. Were were other things that are heard a lot. And I've also heard some people's little solutions that made it into the book as just sort of templates for how people do negotiate these things, sometimes rather beautifully. But yeah, the I think that there's a way in which what I'm arguing for is almost the sort of poetic common sense of a lot of secular people living today, I was just able to spend these decades being able to show why indeed, we are doing things that make sense and have historical strength and muscle to them. Beautiful poetry already exists. And yeah, very much saying, I think we're doing smart things. And here's some of the reason why you should feel good about them instead of conflicted.

David Ames  36:16  
I think one of the things that really helped me is, it's an idea that you expressed in wonder paradox that I've also heard from people like James Croft, and Anthony pin. And the concept is just that everything is secular, meaning, religion and ritual are our human inventions. And so everything is secular, and it flips it on its head a bit to say, I haven't lost anything. I, you know, everything is secular, I can you know, I can participate, how I want the specific quote, and in your book, you say, but surely religion is a human creation to organize human needs for celebration, gathering, meditation, inspiration, and comfort. And I also like the way that Anthony Penn put this, he basically said, religion is the human collective search for meaning. And I feel like that that's in the zeitgeist right now. And it has a lot of relevance for this audience as well that, you know, coming out of that, again, you haven't you haven't lost anything, you can just recognize the humanity in it and recognize your own humanity.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  37:19  
Yeah, I think that's great. I think that's really good. Of course, once everything is religion, we're back into a kind of swampy language. We can put that aside and say, Okay, this is a beautiful formulation and not need to associate it with everything. Because we can step back and say, relive religion can be a template for hypnotizing and controlling and abusing people, by people who for some reason seem obsessed with sort of power and control and all sorts of things that we know, a religion does that make people want to break out of it. The in the book, I use the interfaith lists, and I associate myself with that, but I also call myself a poetic realist, I call myself a poetic atheist, and I still am a poetic atheist, I just want to make clear at all times, that there's a ton of things I don't believe in, God doesn't really have that special place in that category of being nonsense. For me. There's a whole range of human behaviors that I look at as saying, Well, you know, that kind of story doesn't do a thing for me, because of aspects of its nature that make it in into the wound category, right? But all of this is subjective. Like when, when does a moment you know, and so we define our terms, right. So, in the book, I say, you know, sacred is something that is a word that predates the religious and people use it to mean what people hold sacred. In the social sciences today, this is how I'm using, but I don't use the word spirituality in the book. But people use it to describe me and they're not really wrong, because, again, this is muddy language territory. Exactly. So I invented a term partially because yes, when you invent a new term, in order to try to be more specific, you also realize how inadequate the old terms are, and you find new associations. So you know, when anything you make up that doesn't work doesn't stick so you don't have to worry about that. Unless you're, you know, trying to be a historian. I'm really careful. You know, I only make up terms when I really feel they don't know how else to speak about the thing is matter of fact, I tend to make them up for myself as a shorthand, because I need a way to write about something and that I realize, oh, I should use this term more. But yeah, I like poetic realist because it doesn't really need a definition. realist I believe in, you have to be careful with the term realism. Of course, it's had some artistic moments where people used it more. The reason I've avoided it in the past was because people who believe in religion believe what they're doing is real. So what does it even mean to whereas rational at least has a, you know, they believe they're being rational too. But we do have a definition of rationality that it's a little bit more separate, right. But I felt that once I said, poetic realist, it was like saying poetic atheist, but with a little bit more reach. But you'll notice I almost never say poetic atheists without poetic realists without working poetic atheist in into the conversation because I want people to know, I am still an atheist and one full of fire and brimstone. You don't be right, you you do a grace, relate the ascent doing a poetic atheist? What are we trying to do? We're up against a wall of people who are rightfully very angry, and using anger as the way of communicating where they're at. But there's just too much you lose in that in that kind of fight. Right? Exactly. Yeah,

David Ames  41:21  
I tried to make it clear that the anger is super valid. And you might sit in that for a while, but you don't want to remain there forever. Right? You want you want to get out eventually.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  41:31  
Right. And it's good for people to know where to go in the culture to find different types. I mean, not that we have to be locked into what we are. And I think anybody listening for anger in anything I do can find it. You know, yeah, I feel very strongly that the way to the future is pluralism. Rationality. Yeah. I believe in those things so much that any indoctrination is not going to be what I want and any kind of retrograde ideas that are not based in rationality. Right, right. But within that spectrum, within that world, we do need people to know where they can come if they want to feel big, interesting. feelings and ideas that live in the world. We believe in you and I need Yeah, not find somebody who's furious at religion because that story is only one part of what we're what we're talking about.

Without doubt, I even was constantly at pains to make the distinction between people who were arguing against fables. And I include the resurrection of Jesus as a fable. It's a story that didn't happen, because it's too much not what happens, right? Yes, exactly. Then there's another kind of person who says they believe in God who really believes in something awfully like poetry, progress and love. And they tell me, I believe in God, and I tell them, they don't and we happily can break bread together. Exactly. There's really no difference in what we believe. Because there are many people who choose to say they believe in God and choose to relate to the world, believing in God, just you know, just like there are atheists who still believe the universe is going to bring them something that's often close. Right? So, so yeah, I think it's, it's super important that people know, yeah, there are atheists who are taking into account a very, very wise kind of belief and still saying, Well, for me, it the big reason not to do that is because it gets you you don't focus on how to make the human world stronger and better. You're still assigning a little something out there. So for me, that's not my direction, right? But, but it's really important to say, yeah, there are all these different distinctions. And sometimes you're you're in one where you say, you know, I I'm not in a place where I need to be arguing against the parables. You know, I know that there's something well, there's some there are different conversations everywhere. It's so important to be meeting people where you're meeting people, as I met them, when at when the doubt talks were, well, the pandemic gave us put a stop to a lot of uh, yeah, hearing that people are so abused by religion or abuse by powerful people who just happened to be hitting them with the Bible. Yeah, that they really need this conversation to take place on all these different levels in a slow burn to really see what's, you know, in some of this stuff with our parents. We never saw it out right. We just get stronger we learn how to deal.

David Ames  45:03  
Man, there's so much there I want to respond to I'm gonna let me just do a quick lightning round and just say, I agree with you that I think I've generalized beyond just religion to say, you know, traditions that are rigid, that lock a person into a certain view of the world that may not be true. And so it you know, it is beyond just the religious context, but anything that is that proves itself to be untrue in one way or another. And I think the, what you were describing there about the, the closeness and you, you and I discussed this last time about the ardent believer and the ardent atheist have more in common than the kind of the middle masses. But I often say that the, you know, the most dangerous word in the English language is God in that, you know, you can be in a room of 1000 people, and you say the word God, and there are 1000 different interpretations of what that actually means. And I've liked that you kind of work with the messiness of the language, it's so hard to say anything about like, spirituality. You know, as when we get close to that some of these concepts and what we really mean is about the experience of being human, but all of the verbiage implies something else, not because that can be very difficult.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  46:12  
Right? Well, you know, I mean, when you're working from the Abrahamic religions, you got Moses coming down with morality written in stone, are for what isn't, it isn't written in stone, constantly take into account the context and the situation and what's going on. So it's, it is kind of comic Yeah.

David Ames  46:50  
Couple more things. One other term that I think you coin that we've been circling around is this idea of cultural liturgy. So some of the, you know, the rituals that we go through that are that are, in fact, secular already. And I thought that was a beautiful term that we need in the world.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  47:05  
Thanks. So one of the reasons that cultural literacy liturgy seems so important to me at and again, just to give a sort of example of, for instance, we could talk about just the, you know, colored lights at, at holiday time that are, at this point, their cultural liturgy, rather than a religious artifact for many people. But, but also, you know, we go to weddings and see the same poem there. And we think, Oh, this is trite, or used or cliche. And who would say that about a biblical prayer, right? Oh, you know very well, that whatever was good enough to get in that book, whatever people keep saying that helps. And it helps partially, just because you've seen other people get married to it. So that consistency is not a bad thing, it's a good thing. And that's something that really needed to be said, so that there are poems and music that are already cultural liturgy, and that we should encourage each other to embrace them. If you see a great poem read in a movie, and you want to incorporate that you don't have to think of that as something on original. We don't want original at a funeral, or we, we want something to hold on to something to be able to revisit that stays strong for us, because it was already there. Yeah. So that that became a really important thing to be able to see that there already are some things like that, that while no individual person could plant the flag and say, Now, this is cultural liturgy, we can notice that the whole culture is gently moving towards, in a way certain things and we can situate ourselves in that world. Yeah, as you said, Before, you can know that why isn't your natural and real relationship with the religion you were born into just as valid as the people who encountered that religion a century, two centuries, three centuries ago. And, and I can show you that those people changed their religion because it match how they lived. They it happens every generation. And And there, there are generations that move towards and away from what we would call unbelief that we don't even realize was unbelief for them because we certainly grew over it. So yeah, that's that's part of the reason that this book that's really, you know, it's really my heart. But if he did, it needed constant, it needed the scaffolding up history who would have believed well, not only scaffolding that the historical example about how all This stuff changes makes you feel braver to reinterpret. And also just to not think that everything we're doing today must be bad, right? It is the invention of the future.

David Ames  50:13  
A couple things on that one, I like to, like a thought experiment for people is to say, you know, if you had a time machine, and you can go back to any point in time in the history and be amongst the believers of that time, would you do that? And do you think that you would recognize it? And you know, I think my intuitive response to that is that, no, it would be radically different. Even if you drop the Christian into Jesus's time, right? It would be unimaginably different than what they think it is. Because of just the constant change.

Another thing that leapt out at me that you talked about is, in this idea of coming up with your own traditions that you talked about, somebody asked you and you said, Well, we made it up. And they asked you, can we do that? And then you said, well, Who's stopping you? stopping us? I love that, like, you know, we have the ability to make those new traditions for ourselves.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  51:17  
That's right. And and what gives us that ability is some kind of authority, which if you can't find it outside yourself, it only takes out, it only takes flicking that switch on in your head to realize oh, okay, that means me. I think it's, it was especially interesting for Jews, because we have this notion of a kind of most orthodox down to a most reform, which is not reality really. It because they come in at different times come into America, I mean, and so these things are all just, it's really quite a mess. But the sense that there's a more orthodox version of your religion can make you feel like, oh, they wouldn't believe in the stuff I'm doing. So I should add a little bit more. And this was a realization Oh, they wouldn't believe in what I'm doing anyway. If I add a ton more, because the person I'm doing it with is the wrong faith three generations back or something. And I can't fix that. And I won't fix it. Nor do I believe in the distinction being made. And so now I'm angry and up against it. Right? If you think it through you, you feel like rejecting it. But yeah, if you if you start from there and say oh, they already don't, nothing I do is going to make the absolute orthodox feel like I'm doing it right? Yes, you can save yourself. Okay, well, then whose team Am I on? And I'm on the team of of other people who are trying to make a more beautiful world for our kids in the next generations. And, and that is a clarifying moment. Yeah.

David Ames  53:00  
A very freeing Absolutely. For Hank, I believe you give this thought experiment to your students. You said you wake up tomorrow morning and can't find anyone, anywhere. By all indications you're alone on the planet. What do you do that you say to your students? Sorry to do that to you. But most of you were headed for an existential crisis anyway. So this way, I'm here to get you out. Again, I loved I think this I think in our previous conversation, we talked about how we each kind of have to go through and the culture itself and us individually have to go through these deep questions. Anyway, over and over again, that there is no kind of free ride that we have to ask these these hard questions and get through it. And this seems to me like a very personal one, you know, what is meaning for you if you were the only person on earth?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  53:47  
Yeah, absolutely. Isn't it so interesting, and so much depends on how you interact with other people. So I think that I'm kind of a gregarious, but Ultra introvert. Okay, I really, whether nature nurture, I am going to be very engaged for a long, long time on my own before I even look up notice that Oh, right. Eventually it happens but I have so many projects in the house that I can forget to go out and without it being a sad thing on Yeah. I mean. So I think that I am always lecturing people ongoing you got to go out and be with people because that's the message I need. Okay, because naturally my I don't need the message. You need some time alone to think right? I know I forget that other people need need to practice that and to you know, so I have that's more something I have to remind myself and I do of course, but And that question about the world being empty for me I'm was something that, you know, interaction with students eventually kind of threw that back at me to sort of look at myself and see that this idea of the end of the world, I've been showing it to people partially because I want to show them how connected we are. Much everything would stop it for us individually, if everyone else went away. And when you're talking to college students, they it really is an original thought for a lot of them that even three meals a day with a fork is a thing. Why should we three meals a day and even these tiny little questions of, of how we live that I can show them through travel? Right, you can see that when you go to another country. And I think it's always important if somebody has been to England where you know the language, but you still don't know how they behave. It's still another country. Yeah. And, of course, you can get farther and farther away from anything, you know. And it is a classic, classic idea that the past is, is another country, I would ask people that question because it was a way for me to remind myself how much I need people. And I would imagine in the thought process that what would save me was again, some sort of project that I would put my life into, even if I was alone, I would find, and that project would be very human based, right, because I'm a human being. But whatever it would be, would be based on continuing the values that I was sort of started in. But so it's an isolated way to be very public. But I think that what was so important for so many people that they would always come back to it and want to talk about it is this notion that that whether you're alone or with people that were making the meaning together, and you can enhance or decrease that, that connection, and that when it comes down to it. It's really just us, it's just us and, and mortality is the problem that were handed, or each one of us is handed. And if you don't think much about that, you still may think about the idea of the choices that you make in a single lifetime. And you want to let you want to live the life that you want to live. And just that that is a burden that each of us comes into life with, if we're lucky, write the script for us. And there's tremendous processing that we have to do. And so that's why the book is divided up into sort of problems that people would have problems like shame, or, you know, problems, about how to talk about death, outside of heaven to young people, really specific kinds of problems. Then there's one chapter that's on holidays, that's a very broad look, that kind of invites you to think about the specific things in the holidays you like either the song or the drink that goes with that how to really sort of parse through what what you bring into the holidays, and what you might be able to tinker with in order to connect the holiday with a specific emotional experience that religions most religious holidays, they either they're commemorating a historical thing sometimes, but very often, it is about exploiting shame, getting over your shame, sometimes having to recognize it first face it, apologize to people. And those are very often about fasting or bathing going to where certain river is just even thinking about these things can help us realize, oh, human beings throughout history have suffered this weird thing of shame. Yeah, how we've coped with it, and then showing how it's coped within Shakespeare poem and that so they're short chapters that deal with very specific issues. Yeah,

David Ames  59:26  
I have to tell you, let's see, I've got I've got this note here somewhere that I laughed out loud, and I'm probably going to murder the German name here. The HC HC minutes twist on Heraclitus seems to be playfully denying the religious idea of washing oneself internally in a river you can't get clean even once. I love that and the reason I do is like my first philosophy, one on one with Heraclitus said, you know, the idea of that changes the only constant in the world and the predecessor to him was saying, you know, you can't step in the same river twice. And he's the one who said you can't step in the same River wants anyway, I just that was a little personal present to me. So thank you. I love that

I want to hit my last two topics that you talked about marriage a fair amount and the the ceremony of it. But I also wanted to just draw out pertinent to my audiences when somebody has gone through this faith transition, and they are still married to a believer. So a couple things I think are really useful there. You talked about strong bonds can go along with fierce contrary forces. And you also say it also shows that love is a mess, a serious mess. And there's a lot of deconstruction, excuse me, destruction and remaking, total destruction, total remaking new substance remade form, married people are separate, yet united. And there's some hope in there. I think it parallels the st. Perell concept of a second marriage to the same person. But like that happens, just a little personal note that happens to be true in my life. I'm married to a believer. And I know lots of people kind of need to hear that message. We talked about change being constant, and also the individuals in a marriage and the marriage itself is constantly changing as well.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:01:17  
Yeah, absolutely. And specifically, the issue of being married to someone who's still in religion. So interesting. My husband's from a Catholic background, but also, but I think, you know, we've definitely over the last 23 years come to a lot of, of understandings fresh together of the world so that, you know, you build a new world. Yeah, I think it's a really interesting problem. And I think that it's like, I feel like, yeah, I feel like people are operating from similar values in lots of different ways. Right? And so yeah, my husband coming from this Catholic world, and me coming from a secular intellectual, Jewish kind of world. And, you know, he was in Hoboken. I was on Long Island, we met in the middle and, you know, the Lower East Side. And, and we, so we have all this background that was different. But, you know, we grew up watching the same commercials on TV, like, there's so much, you know, not every place in the in the world can you just say, dibs and point to something and everybody knows that, that means dibs. There's all sorts of shorthand. And I think sometimes you you do end up taking on some huge challenge in your marriage. But you don't realize that two people who are both Christian or atheist, but one is from a different country, and there are a lot of these people. They have this endless need to explain really basic terms that you and your wife may have so much that you just know, bedrock, common language. So yeah, you're putting on top of it something, you know, there's no, there's no fully diminishing the challenge of that. Sure. No, having a different, you know, especially if, you know, you have different ideas for what you would want the kids to be and stuff like that. That's challenging stuff. But I do think, yeah, if you had if you also were from different countries, you know, you have something on your

David Ames  1:03:39  
hands. Yeah, that'd be challenging. Yes.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:03:43  
Remembering sometimes there's these tremendous commonalities that can support, you know, two trees going in opposite directions on the top of that.

David Ames  1:04:05  
And then the last topic is the chapter on death. And I feel like this is an area that we need to talk about so much more, right, and that religion has tended to own but the thing that really leapt off for me was you were talking about travel for the purpose of spreading ashes can send mourners on a physical adventure to a loved place. And that actually, again, just happened to be my experience. I lost my mom in 2016. And about a year later, I went on a road trip to California took her ashes to the beach. And I found like, that was such that process. I went by myself, I didn't take family with me and like, you know, being alone and literally physically having her ashes lit, you know, grieving on the drive there. That whole process was really deeply meaningful for me and helped me to close out that chapter and feel like I didn't have to say, well, she's in a different place. I I knew she was gone. And I could I could let just absorb that during during that trip. And I think that, in particular for newly secular people, death is difficult. And, you know, how do we process that? How do we how do we build rituals around that that are non religious that still give one comfort?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:05:19  
Yeah, absolutely. Your story so, so meaningful to me and, and it really is, once again, a case of like, how you did all the right things for your heart. And, and yet we're in we're not even a full century into Americans commonly cremating their loved ones, right. And so here, we have a sort of by accident, by default, because we came up with this idea of, well, you know, I don't have to bury the ashes. So where should they go. And because we do think of wonderful places, they are very often at a distance. And so without having planned it, we've created this new cultural liturgy. But but one that I would say is like, it's in a very early phase, it's not named. And people have, you know, they feel a bunch of different ways about it, especially, for instance, it takes most people quite a while to take those ashes and do something with them. Yeah, and your guilt all over the place about it, I hear it from you know, famous people just chatting, oh, I still have any, and they seem upset. Whereas when, once you notice, oh, this is part of the process for a lot of people, they need to sit with this for a second. And, and whatever that means, when you realize that everybody's trying to figure this out. And there are some beautiful things that are, that are coming into being. It's, again, it it collapses, the cultural and the sort of ex religious, but what it mostly does is it gives us a way to talk to each other and be together and to try to try to think of ways to comfort each other through this strange experience.

David Ames  1:07:10  
I think the crux of Wonder paradox is in this sentence, much ritual seen as religious is a fundamentally poetic, artistic amplification of the natural sacred. I love every word in that sentence. That the ritual aspect, the coming together the funeral, however, whatever the thing is, right? It is important that we physically act out these things. And there's some there's something meaningful in that, and necessary as a human being.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:07:40  
That's the I specifically, say over and over, because it's something that I can miss if I don't pay attention. I can intellectualize and think well, I'm thinking about washing my hands like that is I made that metaphor up to show myself thinking about washing your hands forever, will not get your hands clean, right? There are, you know, things if you want to put your heart through a difficult passage, you do have to sometimes do things. Yeah. And that's something that only by by compare and contrast between when I do and when I don't, that I know for sure for myself, that showing up matters for reasons I do not have to understand. For myself, and for the people around me,

David Ames  1:08:23  
Jennifer, I could talk to you for hours someday, I want to be in the same physical place as you and just you know, buy you the beverage of your choice and just sit and listen to you forever. Need to wrap up, unfortunately, can you tell people how they can get the book. So your name Jennifer Michael Hecht, and the book is called wonder paradox and it is out March 7. How can they get the book

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:08:44  
and it will be? You can contact book or It's with FSG. For us, Drew Macmillan. And yeah, it'll be in all the bookshops. And also, there'll be audible and Kindle. And forward to hearing from people. It's pretty easy to find me from my website, and I'd love to hear from people.

David Ames  1:09:05  
Yeah, and the website is Jennifer Miko, hex is That's right. That's correct. Okay, so we will have of course, links and things in the show notes. Jennifer, it was such a joy to speak to you again, thank you so much for the thinking that you put down on paper is more meaningful than you know. It's just very important. So thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:09:25  
I really appreciate it.

David Ames  1:09:32  
Final thoughts on the episode? This is one of those times where I just want to read quote, everything she said in the book and everything she said in the conversation. Please go back and listen to the episode again. Please go out and get Jennifer Michael hex book, The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives. It is out March 7. You can get it on Amazon and various other booksellers. So many things In this conversation that leap out at me, number one, as I said at the beginning of the conversation, poetry isn't something that I consciously think of on any kind of regular basis. Reading this book, I realized how much poetry is in my life and what an impact that it has. And so I appreciate Jennifer just revealing that to me in her writing. As I said in the intro, Jennifer is amazing at coining terms. Language is so difficult. The term atheist has so much baggage has so much unintended implications. It has been very difficult to find words to describe ourselves. Secular Humanist has a lot of meaning to me, but means almost nothing to the general population. She talks about inter faithless as a way of describing ourselves, and Jennifer calls herself a poetic realist or a poetic atheist as another way of trying to describe someone who doesn't have a belief in the supernatural but also experiences blunder and joy and love, and the all of the experience of being a human being. I loved her concept of drop by and lie, if you've ever been in a church service as an unbeliever. And in particular, if you've been at a wedding, or some very high ceremony example of that, you really can feel very false for being there really does feel insincere, and yet you are obligated to be there. I think the most important thing that Jennifer is saying that Anthony pin is saying that James Croft is saying that I am saying is that these are all human experiences. My favorite line of hers in this conversation is that human beings are not robots. Rituals weren't for God. The rituals were always for human beings. And it's good for us to keep doing them. I absolutely love that. I could keep re quoting everything but please go read listen to the conversation. Jennifer Michael hex book is The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Pur Lives. It is out on March 7, go get the book and you will find out why I still consider Jennifer Michael Hecht, my intellectual hero. Jennifer, I want to thank you for being on the podcast. As we said in the interview, the first time you came on was two months into the podcast. I'm so happy to be able to help promote your book here. And thank you again for putting into words, a graceful life philosophy that we can embrace and experience the fullness of being a human being. Thank you, Jennifer. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is just how worth it the human experience is. The theistic worldview will say that non believers, atheists agnostics, the interfaith plus whichever term you prefer to refer to yourself as that we have no reason for living, we have no reason for morality, we have no reason for being good to one another. And my experience, and I think Jennifer Michael hex experience is the exact opposite. On this side of deconversion, I realize how important our lives with one another are. For those of you who have ever had times of depression, or questioning whether life is worth it, my answer is emphatically Yes. Jennifer Michael Hecht's answer is emphatically Yes. The other book that Jennifer wrote is called stay and is all about the secular reasons for living and experiencing life and why it is worth it. And the Wonder paradox takes that the next step of not just, why live but how to thrive, how to have the fullness of the human experience. One of the main themes that keeps coming up in all of her books, in this podcast and in various other places is our connection to one another. For those of us who are in a healthy place, we have to take on our obligation to love other people to to reach out to people to know that they are loved, so that they know that they are cared for in a way that maybe our previous faith traditions provided and we no longer have those things. And for those of you who might be in a pretty lonely place right now, you need to know that there are people who care about you, there are people who love you, and there are people who are invested in your life, you can always reach out the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, we are trying to be a safe place to land for those people who are doubting, questioning and deconstructing, as well as those people who are just lonely. You are welcome. We want you to be there. If you need more immediate assistance you can reach out to recovering from religion their website has a way to connect with somebody immediately you can begin talking about your experience. If you're in crisis, and you're in the United States, you can call 988, the suicide prevention hotline. And you can also reach out to the secular therapy project to find an ongoing therapist. So there are resources for you if you need them, you are not alone. Next week is the four year anniversary of the podcast. I have our lien, Mike T. Jimmy, Colin, and Daniel on to talk about our favorite movies, television programs, books that talk about the themes of deconversion and secular grace, you would be surprised it shows up a lot. And we just generally have a good time and celebrate the four years. So join us next week for that. In a couple of weeks, our Lean interviews David Hayward and that is an amazing conversation. As I hinted out last week, I will be doing a promotional exchange with mega the podcast and I'll be having Holly the rat on the podcast in April. So be looking forward to that as well. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful. The beat is called waves by MCI beads. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

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What Is Guilt For?

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Guilt: that racking, nagging and debilitating sense that you should have done better, been better, that you messed up again. What’s it for? What good is it?

Recently I’ve written about dealing with the past. It’s something I and many others have to confront when coming out of something like evangelical Christianity. One of the biggest issues I’ve had to face is my own sense of guilt: guilt over evangelizing others, condemning gay people, teaching my kids they could burn in Hell for eternity. Yikes.

So again, what is guilt for? What does feeling bad get us? Why do we run ourselves through the wringer like this?

We can’t change the past; it’s not like we can hop in our Delorean, hit 88mph, and go back to fix our mistakes.

We can, however, affect the present, but guilt isn’t action. It isn’t the same as doing something about whatever you’re feeling guilty about.

Is guilt supposed to make you feel like you’re doing something about the problem? Is it supposed to make you compliant with authorities like family, church or society? Is it a way of showing someone you’ve harmed that you care about making it right?

Maybe it’s all those things, but the best I can dredge up is that guilt is usually like a pastor who only ever uses fear as a tactic. You may get some motivation in the short term, but it wears you out. You can’t keep it up over the long haul.

But what if you could do better without depending on guilt for motivation? What if you could be kinder and more gracious without feeling bad about what you’ve done? Or at least obsessively, persistently feeling bad?

My point is this: guilt seems to be optional. It’s probably even harmful and less effective than alternatives, at least most of the time.

So what?

Well, to start with, don’t expect to stop feeling guilty overnight. It takes time.

Also, don’t feel guilty for feeling guilty. (Ain’t the mind a funny thing?)

But do consider whether you should give yourself permission to skip the guilt altogether. Treat yourself with compassion, look ahead to who you want to be, and keep walking!