David Hayward: Naked Pastor

Artists, Authors, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Podcast
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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
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More from Carlo Rovelli


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast 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 patreon.com. 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 patreon.com/graceful 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 facebook.com/groups/deconversion 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 pasture.com. 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. pastor.com. 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 hayward.ca, which stands for Canada. And then I saw that's kind of boring, and I really wanted.com And so I, I called my blog, Church pundit.com. 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 pasture.com 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 astra.com 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 pastor.com 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 atheist@gmail.com for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com. This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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!


Jennifer Michael Hecht: The Wonder Paradox

Atheism, Authors, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Grace
Listen on Apple Podcasts

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.”


Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


Secular Grace

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Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

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 patreon.com/graceful 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 facebook.com/groups/deconversion. 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 shop.com or amazon.com. 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 it.com. 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 atheist@gmail.com for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Black American Authors You (Perhaps) Didn’t Know Were Humanists

Authors, Blog Posts, Humanism, LGBTQ+, Politics, Race

As a Christian, I was limited in who I could read and learn from—a short list of dead white men and an even shorter list of living white women and men. Since leaving religion, I’ve opened my mind and heart up to writers from America’s past and present, and it’s been good for me.

Writing their own legacies in the face of injustice and hate—often at the hands of God-followers—these authors offer an abundance of humanist wisdom. After all, if no gods are coming to save us, humanity’s future is up to us. It’s up to all of us. 

James Baldwin

Go Tell It On the Mountain

The First Next Time

Ta’Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

The Water Dancer

Frederick Douglass 

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

My Bondage and My Freedom

Langston Hughes

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

The Ways of White Folks: Stories

Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Tell My Horse

Alice Walker

The Color Purple

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose



Heather Wells: Trustworthy

Authors, Autonomy, Captive Organization, Deconversion, ExVangelical, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Purity Culture, Religious Abuse
Trustworthy: A Journey from American Christianity to Freedom
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Heather Wells, author of Trustworthy: A Journey from American Christianity to Freedom. Heather grew up in a happy Christian home, attending a variety of churches—from “Women cannot wear pants,” to “There are drums!”

She married at eighteen and expected to have a similarly happy marriage as her parents, but no matter how hard she worked—both literally and metaphorically—that was not going to happen. Heather felt like a spectator, watching the men around her plan her life.

It took years of a one-sided marriage, churches refusing to help and zero answered prayers for Heather to realize she had to be her own savior. Once she had a well-paying job and more education, she no longer needed others to rescue her or her family.

Heather now enjoys a life that is her own and no one else’s. She is the trustworthy one. She can look to herself—her own intuition, her own knowledge and education—for what is best for her. That is a sweet gift that no one can take from her.





I have the freedom and confidence to call myself, Trustworthy.

“…the men were deciding my fate. I was just a bystander.”

…I tried to trust God, and I prayed a lot.

It’s a little easier for women to be financially trapped, especially coming from the Christian background where training in other skills is not always encouraged for women. So what else are they going to do?

…I started to think, Is this a cult that I’m in? because if we can’t consult with anybody else or counsel with anybody else and they don’t want me to visit certain people…”

…the scales fell off of my eyes and I began to see things for what they were…I had been praying for so long and there had never been an answer.

If God has this plan for my life, and I’m just ‘with the wrong people,’ why should that get in the way of an all-powerful god. That doesn’t really make sense.

Once I had financial security, that’s when I could drop all of the weight: I’ll be okay…Now, I can support myself and my children.

The further I stepped away from region, my world got bigger and bigger and bigger.

…Christianity often teaches you not to trust yourself.

Even if it feels as though everything has been stripped away from me, and it looks like there’s nothing left, I can be something…I’m going to be something amazing and beautiful and imaginative. I just need to give myself the chance…


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Secular Grace

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Joe Simonetta: Seven Words

Atheism, Authors, Deconversion, Dones, Humanism, Podcast
Joe Simonetta
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Humanist author and speaker, Joe Simonetta, grew up in a Catholic home with good values. He and his brothers “did well,” and he is thankful for the foundation his parents gave him. As a young man, affected by all the suffering in the world, he vowed to be part of the solution. He has lived a fascinating life, holding degrees from multiple universities, traveling extensively and enjoying all kinds of professions. His full bio is available here

Joe is hopeful about the future and has three basic rules that he believes can change the future for humanity: Be healthy. Be kind. Respect the environment. 


Website and books


“What triggered me was ‘suffering.’ When I observed the suffering in the world, it really disturbed me.”

“All the while I had this in the back of my mind; this concern about the state of humanity…”

“I said to myself, Do I really have to read all these books? [Metaphysics and religion] could not be this complicated.

“As I studied all the world religions, it just hit me: There’s nothing here…This is old stuff…the products of our infancy of our intelligence.”

“Everything is connected to everything else. We exist, not separately, but in communion with all other living things…Everything’s in relationship. That’s the nature of the universe.”

“What level of thinking are we at? What level of thinking do we need to get to? And how do we get there?”

“These primitive instincts and emotions which are a biological reality and these antiquated and divisive and dysfunctional supernatural religious beliefs…are a lethal combination of behaviors…and they must be overcome.”

“Religion is clearly an obstacle to human progress.”

“The current great extinction is caused by…us! It’s caused by humanity.”

“Be healthy. Be kind. Respect the environment.”




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Thom Krystofiak: Tempted to Believe

Agnosticism, Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, skepticism, Spirituality
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Stay skeptical? This week’s guest is Thom Krystofiak, the author of Tempted to Believe: The Seductive Power of Claims About “The Truth.”

Thom grew up Catholic but as an adult began practicing Transcendental Meditation. He followed gurus and groups for decades but was never quite convinced of the more spectacular claims of TM. 

Thom shares about his experiences in the TM movement and what pushed him out. He also discusses important questions people, regardless of their belief or skepticism, could ask themselves: What do I mean by truth? How do I find the truth? And how much does truth really matter? 


I am, by nature, a skeptical man. My skepticism shows no signs of
mellowing, but grows sharper and deeper with time. And yet I have spent my life surrounded by believers.

[Is it] better to be fooled many times than to be a skeptical man[?]

Am I missing something?

“Why is that I’m not susceptible to any of the beliefs the people around me hold…”

“[Flying] wasn’t happening yet for us as individuals, but maybe if we put three thousand people together in one place…maybe that’ll be something!” 

“…the rise of fake news and alternative facts and the more bizarre conspiracy theories…all of these things are based on beliefs and they’re based on beliefs that do not have evidence…’”

“Some of our greatest societal challenges…resonate with these same principles: How much does the truth matter, what do you mean by the truth and how do you find the truth?”

“It’s not just a matter of, ‘Do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what’s true?’…it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions of evidence.”

“Some people have given—either themselves or others—the license to make things up…”


Thom’s personal site



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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David. And I'm trying to be the case with our community manager Arlene continues to run the Tuesday evening after the podcast drops hangout. If you want to be a part of that, please join the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Thom Krystofiak. Thom has written an amazing book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth, quote, unquote. What Thom has done here is really describe what skepticism is, why it's necessary and how to be skeptical without being cynical, and without being a jerk about it. What I think you're going to find interesting is that Thom's religious experience, although he grew up a Catholic is really about his time in the transcendental meditation movement, and more from a new age point of view. So what's interesting is, he's bringing skepticism from that perspective. And he begins the book by asking the question, Am I missing something? And the book is really the answer to that. I loved this book, I this is the book that I wish that I had had when I was going through my own deconversion. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Thom, and I hope you and to help you go out and get the book. tempted to believe. Here is Thom Krystofiak to tell his story.

Thom Krystofiak, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Thom Krystofiak  2:06  
Thank you, David. It's a pleasure.

David Ames  2:08  
Thom, you've written a book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth. And as I just mentioned to you offline, this could not be more timely. I said in previous promotion of this particular interview that if I were going to give it a subtitle, I would say it is skepticism without being an asshole. I might have been a little bit more catchy. Yeah. And that is kind of right in the lane of what we're trying to do here on the gristmill atheist podcasts. So you are incredibly welcome. So glad that you're here.

Thom Krystofiak  2:47  
Thank you, thank you so much.

David Ames  2:49  
What I'd like to do is begin with, you know, your personal journey and for lack of a better term, your spiritual journey and what that was like, and then we'll jump into the book after that. Okay.

Thom Krystofiak  2:58  
Yeah, let me try to boil it down. as briefly as I can, you know, I did not go through a difficult deconversion process in my, in my life, I was raised as a standard Catholic, I went to Catholic schools all the way through high school, including Jesuit High School. But, and I of course, absorbed all that as you do as a child. And you're more or less, I'm more or less assume that was just the way things were. But, you know, my my leaving the church or leaving belief of that kind took place quite naturally. For me, it was just the way my mind started asking questions, even when I was, I suppose around 16. And then, strangely enough, one of the Jesuit priests sort of there were some liberal priests in our, in our school, he thought it was a wise thing and what was called theology class, to assign Sigmund Freud's the future of an illusion, which is, which is all about Freud's idea that religious beliefs were illusory. And here's the psychological reasons why. And that really spoke to me. But in addition to that, my own thinking just about how is it that we can possibly know all this really definite stuff about the nature of the universe, so that'll happen. And so it was, it was, it was graceful. For me. It was graceful both for me, and it was, it was treated gracefully by those in my life. You know, luckily for me, I didn't have a problem with my parents, you know, freaking out that, that I had left the fold that they had invested in, you know, in so many different ways, right? There weren't that kind of they were those kinds of people, so I didn't have that issue. Even my teachers at school they knew by the time of my senior year of high school, they knew where I was but they didn't cause trouble either. So I had a graceful exit, it was easy. Okay. Then what happened to me is when I was in college, I started for whatever reason, beginning to have a sense that perhaps there's something more to this reality than what the day to day that we're all in meshed in. Now, whether recreational drugs had anything to do with that, or whether it was just some sort of natural curiosity, I don't know. But I was interested in the possibility. And so when I heard various people in groups talking about ways to open to greater realities, I was intrigued. And I explored a few of them. But the one that got me was Transcendental Meditation. And the reason it got me ultimately, in the beginning, was because they had embraced scientific approach to verifying the benefits. Right. So I mean, the kinds of benefits let's put it this way, a scientific approach to to verifying some changes that happened into people and people who practiced TM. You know, they certainly couldn't verify the broader claims that they may have been interested in. But they, but they had that scientific attitude, they had done some pioneering research that was published in Science Magazine and Scientific American. And, and I will say that, that hooked me I said, okay, if I'm going to try something, this is the one. So that's what I did. I liked it, I liked the way it work, the effects it had on me. And so I, as, as the years of few years unfolded, I got seriously interested and became a trained teacher of Transcendental Meditation, which, you know, this is, as people may know, this is a, a program or a practice that was brought out to the world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In the old days, I mean, some decades ago, a lot of people would recognize that name. These days, not so much, probably. But, you know, he was the guru of the Beatles, etc. That's the way he was always talked about in the press way back then, you know, millions of people learned all around the world, 10s of 1000s of people were teachers, it was a big deal. And as you can imagine, we we'd go, we were in the training was done in Europe, I was in Europe anyway, I was pursuing my own studies, but the trainings were generally in Europe, and they would last, you know, over the course of the entire training might be six months or more. And so you're completely enmeshed in this world of people who are absolutely enthused not just about the practical fruits of meditation, but about these ancillary claims that are more and more extraordinary about, about what the universe was about, and what human life was capable of, and so forth. And being in meshed in math for six months. And having, you know, you naturally have a desire to do well and be part of, you know, to be a good teacher and be part of this whole thing. I naturally was drawn to at least partial acceptance of some really extraordinary things. Now, I don't I don't think I ever became a full on believer in the sense that many people are believers and things about some of these claims. But they certainly enticed me and made me think they were possible. And so I'll just briefly mention a couple of them. So the the biggest thing that happened during the time I was doing that training was an advanced program was cut was brought out, in addition to the regular 20 minutes, twice a day of meditation, which was the whole thing in the beginning, an advanced program was brought out which was basically human levitation, the ability for the human being, to fly, not just some sort of internal thing that felt like you are floating but actually, the claim was, yes, we're talking, floating, flying through the air. And, and I was, you know, some people did it before I decided to try it, because, hey, why not? This is, this would be fantastic. If

David Ames  9:32  
it was. Yeah.

Thom Krystofiak  9:36  
You know, it's a little weird to say that I would even be willing to try it because it's so outrageous. No, that's such an outrageous claim. It flies in the face of just everything we know about physics and science. And that doesn't mean I don't rule things out is completely impossible if they fly in the face of current scientific knowledge. You know, there are things we can learn that we haven't learned yet, but this is pretty cool. pretty far out there. So, but nevertheless, I was far enough into it to say this is worth a shot. And some people had done it that I knew before I did a little bit before I did. And it came back with some, you know, reports that sounded like they were verifying the thing in some way. Anyway, so I jumped in and did it. And it was extraordinary. It was absolutely one of the most extraordinary things I've ever done in my life. And I think a lot of people might say the same, just the way the body reacted to this, essentially just a mental process. That was that was engaged. And it's, it's something that I think would be a great subject of scientific research exactly what is going on there where the body does some things it's never done before, in response to a mental stimulus. And so it was wild. It was incredible. It was energetic, but it wasn't flying by. It wasn't levitation by any match.

A couple of years later, after I had done this, and then come back, and I was teaching meditation, and here in the US, I, marshy put out the word that he wanted to gather 3000 people, this was in Amherst, Massachusetts, to do this technique of skill of yogic flying together for the first time in human history, you know, and I said, okay, at that point, I was willing to entertain the possibility that, okay, it wasn't happening yet for us as individuals, but if we put 3000 people together in one place, and we're all doing it simultaneously, maybe that will be something and something extraordinary. And, as I said, in the book, when I when when I did that, for the first time in that large group, I was expecting something to happen. You know, exactly what, who knows, but something really different from what had happened ever before. Right? And it did. So, you know, that's not to say there were it's not, it's a rich internal experience. It's something that people get value out of, and a number of ways by doing it. Maybe even some integration of brainwaves, and mind and body and all these things have been explored. But certainly it wasn't what the claim was, it didn't happen. Of course, it hasn't happened since. So that's one thing. And then my wife and I moved to a little town in Iowa called Fairfield, Iowa, which had about 9000 people at the time. And again, Maurice, she made up made the call in 1983, to say, let's get 7000 people into this little town of 9000. And all do this together. And that will really crack the world open. It wasn't so much, oh, we're gonna fly. Isn't that really cool? It was more. His focus was always what can we do as individuals that will affect the collective consciousness is the word he would tend to use the collective consciousness of the whole human race? Is there somewhat, and he certainly believed, apparently that, that, that that should be possible. And originally, the idea was, well, let's just get enough people to practice TM just to meditate, and that will change the world. And then as that wasn't happening fast enough, he said, Well, let's get this advanced group. And let's get them together. And then we'll see what can really happen. And so we said, Great, we quit our jobs, we moved down here along with 7000 people, it was an, again, a really amazing experience. And then, many of those people were encouraged later to stay, to form a permanent community to keep doing this together. And they built two large dome structures where the people would come every day and twice a day and do this. So the idea was, well, we'll keep doing this and then we will finally crack it all up. So this group here in Fairfield, that up maybe about 3000, stayed over time, not the first day, but they managed to arrange their lives so that, you know, they could somehow support themselves. Some entrepreneurs came started some businesses brought businesses, people managed to support themselves and got rolling here, and states, so maybe two to 3000. At the peak, we're here. And there's still probably 2000 here. And this group of people that I was now fully enmeshed in because I never lived in a community of two or 3000 people who believed a lot of very extraordinary things I'll just mention a few in a moment. And so all the people around me that I associated with believed a raft of things and these would be The one I already mentioned, you know, possibility of human levitation. Another one would be the fact that certain practices, they're called the Yagi O's, and in Sanskrit or an Indian lore, but these are basically just practices, performances can influence by performing some ritualized event, chanting some stuff in Sanskrit pouring some materials on some objects, you know, whatever the ritual was, that can eliminate problems change the course of, of a person's life accompany even as a society. And of course, the idea that a large group doing something together like this would like, like these practices would utterly transform human human life on a collective level. And belief in astrology, it's called Jyotish. Again, the Indian version is called Jyotish. But it's essentially just astrology, that it's a perfect predictive science. And on and on, so I'm surrounded by a belief in karma, you know, the fact that everything that's happening to us was because of things in past lives, or parent lives, and it's all highly orchestrated. And reincarnation, you go on and on. And this was the assumed coin of the realm among the people I was living with, including my wife. And I was curious about some of these things, but really not not a believer in any of any of them. Yeah. Especially, you know, as the flying, it became clear that wasn't really happening that one drifted, drifted away, even from my consideration that it's any kind of likely event at all.

So this was the origin of the book for me over the book that I wrote, because in my own internal exploration process, which was, why is it that I am not susceptible to these beliefs that everybody around me is holding to one extent or another in the early days, especially? And it was just a fascinating question. It wasn't just a intellectual academic thing, like, Oh, I wonder why it was also it wasn't like I had tension about it, or felt that I was horribly missing something. But I did wonder if I was missing something. Because a lot of a lot of these people were quite admirable, quite intelligent, etc, accomplished. And they managed to believe these things and found some sort of benefit in their lives from believing these things, apparently. And I wasn't. And so I'm going, what, what am I missing here? And so I just tried to dive into that, and exploration on many, many different fronts and different levels to see. Was I missing something? Or were they just applying criteria about reality that I could not subscribe to, due to lacks a lack of evidence, basically. And that, you know, that's essentially what I what I came to, and feel comfortable with. And that, to me, let me say one more thing that a major demarcation or separation that I make in the book is between something that someone chooses to have in their life because they like the way it feels, they just like, like having in their life, and making a definite claim about something about the universe or the world, or how human life works, a claim. So to me, a claim is something about, about an event that will appear in the material world, I claim that astrology will predict this in my life. Well, I want to see that prediction come true. It's a claim or the claim that you can levitate we want to see we need to see the levitation otherwise, let's not talk about it in that in that term. You know, if doing a certain spiritual practice or ritual is supposed to alleviate a problem, let's see does does that actually play out? And so yeah, my focus was on on claims. I'm happy to have people have whatever they want in their life that makes them feel satisfied as long as they're not bending the reality and making claims factual claims about the nature of human life, that really cannot be not only cannot be established, but all the evidence that we do have, seems to contradict it. And as as the years went on here, I mean, we've been here for 39 years. Yeah, so. So it's a long, it's a lifetime, you know. And during that time, many of the people, at least the people that are my closer friends, have had us not the same degree, necessarily, as I am in this journey, but a movement in that direction. And I'm pleased and happy to report that to some small extent, at least, some of the people who've have read my book have had some of that perspective solidified. And it kind of brought together some of the maybe thoughts they started having, but brought together in a more coherent way. That is, how do we want to look at this world? How do we want to evaluate claims about this world to make sure that they're, they're valid, and that they have substance,

David Ames  21:08  
that so many things, I want to respond to their couple things, just just to say that one of the things I've really appreciated about the book is the humility and the kindness with which you describe some of these, in your words, off grid claims. And there's an empathy for the human condition and are and you know, the title of the book, tempted to believe that we are all tempted to believe in things that may or may not have enough evidence for it. Again, very much in line with what we're trying to do here with the podcast that just, you know, we're all human beings, we're all susceptible to these things. And, and yet, we are all after the truth, we're trying to find the truth. So I really appreciated that. One of the things I think, for my listeners is going to be interesting, my listeners tend to be former evangelical Christians, on some part of the spectrum from D convert from deconstruction, you're just doubting to full blown D converted atheists is that this comes at it from an orthogonal an angle, many of those evangelicals, when they were believers would have seen transcendental meditation as evil. And so it's, it kind of sneaks in past some of those defenses. And yet, I was amazed at the parallels, right? This is, again, the human condition. And last thing I'll say is, I also very much appreciated that you acknowledge the difference between the potential positive benefits of the experience and community versus a claim about the way the the universe actually works, and making a really hard bright line between those two. So for example, if you find, you know, performing the ritual of, you know, beneficial to you for your mental health, if you find meditation, or any of these, these kinds of practices, beneficial, more power to that person, not, that's fine. It's when the person begins to claim that this is affecting the world in some way that is beyond the realm of physics, that that's when we start to care about the truth.

Thom Krystofiak  23:09  
Right? Well, that's great. And, you know, I appreciate your noticing what you're calling the humility in the book. And that has been an advantage. I just ran into someone at the grocery store yesterday, he goes, Thom, I love your book. And I didn't know she was reading it. And not not a close friend, but someone I an acquaintance. And she mentioned the same thing that compared to what what you often expect in books that are trying to deconstruct for former beliefs. You often have people like Richard Dawkins would be the extreme example of someone who is often described as caustic, and dismissive and so forth. And yeah, I mean, I didn't want to do that. And I don't feel that so. So that's cool. The one thing I didn't say yet that I want to say, and I think it's germane to what you were just speaking about is that, well, let's let's get into it this way, that the whole idea, the difference that you just summarized between doing something that feels beneficial, or that you'd like to have in your life, versus making a claim about how the universe actually works in observable ways. That's a that's a bright line. You know, that's a clear distinction. Some people many people don't care about the second thing. They don't care if it can be proven if there's evidence for it. They just clearly don't. And, and you go, Okay, well, is that all right? Is that is that just another way of being? And to some extent, I want to sort of go in that direction and be again generous to say, well, that's the way that's the way their life is going. And those are their values, but This is the other area that was not the impetus of my book, but sort of got sprinkled in as the time went on, with the rise of the incredible the rise of fake news and alternative facts and, and really bizarre, more bizarre conspiracy theories and so forth, and the divisive pneus. In our political sphere. All of these things are based on beliefs, and they're based on beliefs that do not have evidence. And these things are not a matter of, oh, well, this is someone's internal life, it's their spiritual life, or whatever it is. And, you know, we shouldn't be too concerned about what they're doing inside their own head.

But when it starts to manifest, as it really seriously has, not just in America, but really around the world, when these kinds of alternate realities, not based on facts start being treated as if they were facts, and building entire, you know, political movements on them. We've got problems. And so this is what started to become more apparent to me even though it wasn't part of my original impetus, that the same kinds of questions that we're talking about here about how you evaluate what's true or not, or whether it's important that you evaluate things in a certain way as to being true or false. Whether you apply the rigors of evidence and rational thinking or not. It it's it's become a matter of really deep societal importance outside the realm of religion or New Age beliefs or, or the kinds of things I was talking about in my background, well, outside of that sphere, as important as all those fears are, we have another big thing on our hands. And it's completely related, just as you said, even though my book is not talking about the typical journey that that a lot of your other guests and people have gone on, you found that it was resonant with some of those same same processes. Well, now we're having, to me, some of our greatest societal challenges outside of those realms, also resonate with the same principles, which is, how much does the truth matter? And what do you mean by the truth? And how do you find the truth? And, to me, the greatest challenge that we face, perhaps, is that people totally disagree about that. What's interesting, though, is there are people who go, especially in the spiritual realm go, I don't, I'm totally not interested in objective means of proving any of this. I have my own internal truth that I am totally solid and clear about, you know, that's one thing where you just sort of deny the applicability of any kind of objective truth you go. That's that's not that's not relevant here to me. And that's, that's a, that's a tough issue. But that's, that's mostly on the subjective or spiritual realm. When you get into these other societal realms, where people are arguing about what's true, or what isn't true. A lot of times the people who are saying really outlandish things,

Unknown Speaker  28:43  
claim to have proof. They're

Thom Krystofiak  28:46  
not saying, oh, proof doesn't matter. This is just the way I feel I have an intimate experience with Jesus Christ or with whatever. Don't talk to me about proving it's irrelevant. They're saying, No, we can prove this. Yeah. So if you, for example, I don't want to offend any particular groups that you have your listeners, but it's an obvious, obvious example, in our society. If, if Donald Trump or some or his fall, so many of his followers are going to say, the election was stolen, they don't say, I have a feeling the election was stolen, or, you know, my, my spiritual guide told me the election was stolen, they say it was stolen, and we have evidence, right, you know, and then they bring it to court. And of course, all the courts so far, have failed to agree that there was any kind of evidence, but nevertheless, the claim is made or a lot of conspiracy theorists will claim that they have evidence certainly the big one is the nine 911 truthers who, you know the idea that it was an inside job and it was totally put up fake thing. They'll put out reams of really impressive looking video discussions with some experts and so forth, proving that there's no way these towers came down in this way from from airplanes. And so this is what gets doubly difficult. Because it's not just a matter of do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what's true? They'll go, yes, of course we do. And we've got evidence. And then it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions, right of evidence, and say, which one of his really holds up. And the problem is that none of us most of us are incapable of doing all of that background, evidential research or checking ourselves. And so we naturally have to ferret out which of the experts or authorities out there in the world are the ones that we have reason to think are reliable. And then we follow those. So this gets really thorny. And that's why the only the only hope I see is in a greater depth of education emphasis, I don't know if this will ever be happening in our educational systems, to the process of doing exactly that. How do you weigh how do you ferret out the the reliability of a piece of evidence of an authority of suppose it expert? You know, how do you weigh these things? You can't just take the one that feels?

David Ames  31:44  
Exactly. And I you do talk about that a lot of just, and within the world of disinformation that basically, we just pick the paradigm that makes us feel the best. And that's no way to do this. I want to jump on this just for a second and say, This is why the book is timely for a number of reasons. You know, I think, you know, even beyond the political and the religious, you know, we're under an onslaught of advertising being thrown at us and with social media, and what have you that we are constantly evaluating claims, whether we know it or not, and being conscious of that, and having a standard is just deeply important. And in particular, and in time of disinformation. And in a time where technology is going to only get make the problem worse for the foreseeable future, that we will have more and more claims that we have to evaluate, having a sense of what the standard is for good or sufficient evidence is just absolutely critical.

Thom Krystofiak  32:44  
That's right, and it's going as you say, it's going to get more and more intense. Speaking about social media, you know, you get, you get the problem of what are called Deep fakes, which are, there's, the better and better ability is of technology to create a video of you saying something that looks exactly like you're saying it even though you would never say that and never did. And so, it's going to go to a completely different level of difficulty, to tell the difference, and to see how any, any sort of authority is going to try to step in, to prevent some of these clearly wrong attempts to fool people. So it's, it's one thing in the old areas, you had stories, you know, if you go back 1000s of years, you had people telling stories about the origin of life, or some savior or some holy man. We, we basically had stories and that worked incredibly well. You know, you have billions of people subscribing to essentially stories that were created 1000s of years ago, or laid down 1000s of years ago, stories passed on were very potent, and they always will be, although, as we've been seeing, at least in in Western societies, for the for large degree, in more industrialized Western societies, that the grip of some of those religious stories has been greatly weakening, you know, in not true all over the world, but certainly true and like in Europe, and, and so forth. And even in the US among, among young, younger people. So some of these stories are not having the same potency that they had before. But but now we're gonna get a whole as you said, a whole onslaught of things, whether it be in advertising or even more, more dangerously, in those parts and those people who use social media to try to change your, your critical beliefs, about about things that really matter. It's one thing to convince you that this is the best bike to buy, you know, Hi, some advertising, you know, it's another thing to convince someone about the reality of some political claim or some or some factual claim, and to do it in a way that that you're completely incapable of, of yourself telling the difference. That is truly alarming. So, yeah, so it's not just a matter of individuals getting better at being able to tell the difference between some someone who's trying to fool him and someone who's giving them a good solid piece of information. It's, again, as I said, the question is going to be to what extent government or society is going to have to try to put some controls over this rampant growth in MIS misinformation that gets more and more sophisticated.

David Ames  35:50  
And again, this is the I don't want to say argument. But the reason why skepticism is necessary. I think skepticism as a word has negative connotations, people think cynicism. And the thing I really related to you, and I think that my listeners will relate to is finding yourself what feels like alone? Why am I the only one who in your words is not susceptible to these these claims like that is the deconstruction deconversion experience, we find ourselves in this hermetically sealed bubble of people saying the same things, reinforcing the same things. We've heard the answers, we understand the answers, but the answers are not satisfying. And the the temptation is to say, maybe there's something wrong with me. And and yet, again, this entire book, and everything you're talking about here is about why skepticism is necessary. And that if the truth matters, you know, we can't we can't make someone value the truth. But if they do value the truth, there has to be some process some way of understanding, again, have good evidence or sufficient evidence, and can therefore be accepted or that need to be discarded.

Thom Krystofiak  37:02  
Yeah, absolutely. It's an interesting process that you and your guests and others go through in terms of that, that we could say, a light a light bulb turning on or something, something inside being activated, to start to wonder about these things. And that that really is the essence, you know, it's like, do we wonder about what's true? I mean, obviously, all scientists have always wondered about what's true. That's that, that sense of, and they do it in a way that is, that is not constrained by necessarily what came before. It's not like, Oh, we've always been told that rocks fall, because it's the nature of things to go towards, you know, the center of the earth. You know, with no idea of gravity, just that it's the nature of things. And someone starts to wonder about that. You just have to wonder, how does, how does this really work? And what's really going on here, that, that light bulb coming on, which doesn't come on for some people? Yeah, it just, it just doesn't, they're, they're happy with, with the world that they're living in, and the beliefs and practices and community that they have, it's working, it's working for them? And it's only when a question comes up internally, to wonder about it and to ask certain questions. And I don't know how that exactly happens. But why it happens for some and not for others. Exactly. Yeah. It may just be that some people are temperamentally more open or ready to ask certain questions than others than others are.

I was on a podcast called Buddha at the Gas Pump, which is a fabulous thing. It's actually it's a friend of my longtime friend of mine, is behind it. He's interviewed like, I don't know, six or 700 people, and they tend to be people from the spiritual world, about all kinds of things. But he, he also had me on, and he was very forthright and discussing the kinds of things that we are. And anyway, as part of that, there was a group that he has, I don't know, maybe 15 People who email around on these questions. And it's fascinating because that group kind of bifurcates and some of them are strongly in the camp of I have had this experience which was so strong, and so opening or was clearly a direct perception of truth. But that's the end of it. That is just the end of it. and it has, there is it's not like they they're incapable of asking questions about all kinds of things, but they're not interested in asking questions about that.

David Ames  40:11  
Right? Protected.

Thom Krystofiak  40:14  
Yeah. And there's a difference between someone who's protected by, by a religious tradition, or the fact that their parents and their schooling and all of the people around them believe it. And it's, it's a whole community thing. And it's just been deeply bred into them. And someone who was absolutely sure, because they had some sort of awakened awakening experience. And, and they don't, and I keep, from now on then trying to get them to think about the idea that it is absolutely true and wonderful that they had this amazing experience. And it had great benefits in their lives, they feel freer, they feel wider, they feel, you know, less anxious, less concern, they feel more connected. These are all great things that anyone would love to have. So there's no question about it happened. You got these fruits. That's wonderful. Yeah. But there's an the tendency to want to claim things about the universe, about the nature of life in general, beyond the experience, and they it's almost always happens, that somewhat someone, even if they have an experiential basis, for some, some wonderful thing, they ended up wanting to make claims about the universe, like everything that consciousness was primary consciousness existed eternally, and it created a matter matter came out of consciousness, sort of like God, sort of like God, God was there eternally. And all this stuff that we see he just created somehow. Similarly with that, so they tend to go in that direction, even though it's that's a claim about things that goes way beyond anything that could ever be established. Right.

David Ames  42:14  
You have some amazing quotes in the book. That's the other thing that I really appreciated about it is like this is well researched. And some of my favorites were from Fineman. The one that I've heard before, but just really struck me was, the first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I feel like that really expresses this. I think Neil deGrasse Tyson said it this way to relate to religion to what you just mentioned, that experience can trump evidence as we have to actually work fairly hard to overcome that feeling of experience that we've we've gained some insights about truth beyond just the the warm and fuzzies. And you know, the sense of awe. Last thing I'll say on this is just that it's the human experience to experience all and all as a good thing. It's when we start to attribute unverifiable or unfalsifiable claims based on that experience at all. Yeah, that's

Thom Krystofiak  43:12  
right. I mean, the quantified men, you know that you're the easiest person to fool. Towards ties directly into the opening, you know, the opening aphorism in my book, you know, whether it's better to be fooled many times, yes, than to be a skeptical man. It's all about the fooling. And whether William James, I get into this a bit as well, William James, who explored spirituality and religion and psychic phenomena, as well as being the founder of American psychology. And philosophy really, is quite an amazing man. But, you know, when he wrote the book, or the essay called the will to believe he started it off with a preface, where he was saying, the person who, let's say, is going to be skeptical about about all these things, is, is is demonstrating that he's, he's afraid to be duped, he doesn't want to be duped. And he's saying he's putting that above some of the fruits that he could get, if you would just let it go. You know, this fear of being duped which is exactly, you know, kind of what, five minutes talking about to you know, the first principle is you must not fool yourself. Why not? Why not? is sort of the interesting question. That's the, the ultimate question, really, why not? And, you know, William James, I think he kind of went off the rails as far as I was concerned, because he was saying things like, Well, if you're always going to be skeptical, you're never going to get married. You're never going to take this new job that might have a risk in it. If you're always doubting everything. You're never going to do anything. In your life, and you go, Yeah, that's true. But that's all very pragmatic stuff. That's Those are choices that you make in your life. You know, whether you doubt whether this investment is going to be rewarding or not, is not the kind of doubt we're talking about. It's not the kind of skepticism we're talking about. We're talking about skepticism about claims about reality and how it actually works, not whether this woman is going to turn out to be the perfect wife for me. Right. So you know, so he ended up being really pragmatic when he was talking about doubt and faith and the will to believe, saying, We have to believe stuff. And of course we do. I believe that it's a good thing that I am, you know, this investment I just got in recently. I believe that's all right. I don't know. But I have a strong feeling that it will be a good idea. I don't hold back and go Well, I just don't know. I just don't know. So we're not talking to some kind of debilitating, absolute skepticism or doubt about everything.

David Ames  46:03  
Right. I'm talking about solipsism. Yeah, exactly. Yeah,

Thom Krystofiak  46:08  
we're only talking about when people make substantive claims about how things are, then make a difference that make a difference to the rest of her life goes. You know, that's where you might want to have some questions. Yeah.

David Ames  46:27  
I wanted to circle back really quick to how some people who who make off grade claims say that they have evidence in my world, in my listeners world, that tends to be apologists. And there's a whole field of evidential apologetics that suggests that there is all of this evidence. And it's clear that it's basically, you know, circumstantial, hearsay, and embellished legend with kind of an objective point of view, when you're talking to that person, they are 100% convinced that they have evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, let's say, you know, there are historical record and, and so one of the, again, one of the experiences of, of deconstruction, deconversion, is when you begin to recognize, I no longer find that, that evidence such as this convincing, that isn't sufficient to the magnitude of the claim, I just want to like, talk about a bit more about the challenge of coping with people who are claiming they have evidence, but that evidence isn't sufficient for the claim.

Thom Krystofiak  47:34  
Yeah. It's a matter of how much yeah, how much leeway you give this the sources of authority in your life. And how much leeway you give to the stories and, and the types of evidence, you know, generally, people who are believing in these, a lot of religious things and other off off grid claims, will give a great deal of leeway, you know, they will give the kind of spaciousness that they would never give, let's say in a court of law, or in some actual proceeding in their own practical life, where they're trying to nail down what really happened or what really is the truth. You know, I mean, Thomas Paine had that story, you know, that. If, if anybody were to come before a magistrate, with the four gospels accounts, which, about the resurrection, which have completely different details, and to some extent, contradictory details about precisely what happened when and who did what, you know, what is this? I mean, you can't possibly accept it, you go. There's something funny going on here. This isn't this isn't this isn't anything like an objective? evidential account? So? So yeah, it's, it's something some term that I use somewhere in the book was some people have granted either themselves or others the license to make things up. You know, you allow things to be declared and accepted as truth. Because of what they the fruits that they give you. And you give a lot of license to the quality of the evidence. Yeah, I've, I've certainly, I, you know, I always like to look at things like, Oh, someone and apologists trying to present the strongest proofs for God or something or for the resurrection. I always think they're going to come up with something really cool, you know, here that I can sink my teeth into. And I'm always I'm always dissatisfied, but I I have there something in me that wants us to, it's not like I want to believe in that sense. It's not like, Please convince me but, but I would, I love to I would love to be blown away. weigh, but the strength of evidence or the strength of an argument. You know, my wife always jokes with me. I don't happen to believe in UFOs, even though that's not that could be a physical reality. I mean, it could be, but I don't think we've got the evidence. I personally don't think we've got the evidence right now. And, but, but she knows that I would love to have a UFO land on my lawn? I would, I would love it. It's not like, no, no, no, I don't want to believe in that stuff. Right. I'd be happy to believe in it. Yeah, if there was good evidence. And so it's not that some people have a desire for belief or to believe certain things, and others don't. I have. I have I don't know about desire, I kind of have a desire to be to be confronted with a, an alien on a UFO. I mean, why not great, or, or a ghost or something? I mean, I don't believe in any of these things. But how cool would that be? Yeah, if it was really something I could sink my teeth into?

David Ames  51:11  
Yeah, a few things about that. Like, I avoid talking to apologists, but when I do I point out that if you really could prove the point you're trying to make you can win a Nobel Prize, right? Like, you know, you discover alien intelligence, you know, you are a million dollar winner. They're like that, you know, all you have to do is have the evidence to back it up. And so I would love to see that kind of evidence for for something that was an amazing claim like that.

Thom Krystofiak  51:37  
Yeah, I mean, you know, there's this guy, what's his name? Greer, the Disclosure Project? You know, that's an example of someone who has assembled huge amounts of military guys or intelligence guys are this that the other thing and all kinds of other fairly obscure evidence, but mounds of it, that it's totally convincing to large numbers of people? It's like this is it. This is evidence this is this is it? Yeah. But as you say, the truly convincing evidence is never forthcoming. Yeah. It's just not.

David Ames  52:22  
You talk about a number of scientists that have, you know, a sense of wonder about the universe. And the immediate person who comes to mind to me is Carl Sagan. And his candle in the dark book, I think, really touches on this, you know, he tells the story of being a young boy, and just really being fascinated with UFOs and extraterrestrials and but his scientific nature took over and even though he would love to be able to have said, there are in fact, extraterrestrials, you know, he could not find the evidence to do so. And what I appreciated about Carl Sagan and I often say like, I'm a more of a Sega nite, atheist than a Dawkins, I guess, in the sense that I have this wonder at the cosmos, this wonder at the universe, and that, and he expressed that so so well, contrast that a bit with you also have a chapter where you talk about people who become dissatisfied, or with the scientific view of the world, and, and basically make a conscious choice to go from a more scientific view of the world to an off grid view of the world.

Thom Krystofiak  53:34  
Yeah, no, that's great. I mean, the example of Sagan who is so great, someone who, as you said, was entranced with with some of these greater possibilities, like aliens and, and so forth, but couldn't go there unless the evidence allowed him you know, he was one of the strong guys involved with SETI, you know, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. And, but if the evidence wasn't there, he couldn't do it. And yeah, I mean, people who get, I mean, one example in the book was, this was a long time ago, but the former president of Columbia, who just came out with this remarkable statement that that where science was going meaning mostly Darwinian theory at that time, was undermining some of his beliefs in the divine origin and so forth of everything. And he just came right out and said that I would, I would rather rest in my satisfying even if they'd be deceitful dreams. Science is is not going to do it for me. And that that's an interesting problem. You know, people will, will wonder whether a view that is based on reason and science Ansan looking for evidence, therefore necessarily putting aside a lot of the things that humanity has taken sustenance for, spiritually for, for millennia, what exactly that's going to do like, some people like Sagan are going to be a brilliant and full of awe and wonder and great people, no matter what other people, if you totally remove these sustaining beliefs that they have, or if somehow they they get weakened, or lost in them. We don't really know what what what that's going, what that's going to do. And so some people do question certainly question whether science, a scientific view, has enough stuff to offer the human psyche. Yeah, those who are enamored by the wonder of the universe and of life and, and evolution and, and at every scale, it's just so remarkable from the, from the farthest reaches of the cosmos down to the tiniest bits of matter, you know, it's all uniformly amazing and wonderful, and those who are susceptible to that kind of joy or or interest are well rewarded by that kind of interest. Some people are not character are not temperamentally or characteristically as susceptible or open to those kinds of joys and those kinds of rewards. And so this is, this is an interesting question that I don't have a solid answer to, you know, those who either tired of science or are not susceptible to the charms of science, whether they just need something else. And so the people I talked about in the book, one was the guy who's known as rom das now, who was Richard Alpert. He was a psychologist at Harvard, with Timothy Leary. And they both did LSD experiments at Harvard, and got thrown out for that reason. And Alpert, when he went to his, his, his dismissal meeting, or his review, or whatever, said, I'm not a scientist anymore. I'm giving up my badge. You know, I'd rather I want to, I'd rather go to India, which he did. Where, where there are these miracles being talked about? And I'd rather believe these miracles, then be a scientist and study, you know, bring out the data anymore. And, you know, there are people with that kind of orientation, that, that they they'd rather have, sort of an extreme example of, of what Barnard Columbia said, where he'd be happy in his deceitful dreams, if they were, if they could sustain him. You know, deceit is as far as being full deceit was not necessarily a problem for some people, if they get the fruits and this is, this is a whole other area of challenge. I mean, I think, I think there's probably, I don't know, what percentage of the people on this planet are, are enthused could be enthused by, and nourished by and by the joys of, of scientific knowledge or true revelation based on evidence about the way this amazing world actually works in our lives and our bodies in the universe. versus those who are, are a little bit cool on that, or cold on that. And once something else, once once some other they want the miracles they want. They want some stories, they want some, some rich, you know, mythology, that's, you know, another person I talked about in the book was Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote, Eat, Pray, Love, that great best seller. And at one point in her life, she says, I'm tired of science, I'm tired of skepticism. I want to feel God in my playing in my bloodstream. And that's exactly what we're talking about here. That especially if she was depressed, your marriage broke, fell apart, whatever she was in a state of pain, and she's going I want the pain to go away. Yeah, I want something that will help get this make the pain go away and replace it with something else. And, you know, science won't necessarily always be able to step in when you have certain kinds of emotional and psychological pain. I mean, forget about pharmaceuticals or whatever. But I mean, in terms of scientific knowledge isn't going to unnecessarily come in and infuse you with all this joy, if you are truly in a needy, needy state emotionally, psychologically, so these are some of the other challenges to this whole.

David Ames  1:00:13  
Yeah, for sure. And I agree with you that I think their new atheist perspective of the end of religion is ridiculous, that's never going to happen. I also found it interesting reading philosophical history that this question has been asked over and over again, what happens if we take the gods away? What, you know, what happens to society, you know, and the attempt to create civil religions and that kind of thing, the way that I, we try to approach it here is to say, you know, that, I think my conjecture is that our relationships with other human beings, is the point is the meaning in life, as it were, not that that the universe has meaning, but that, that we create that between us and that trying to provide some level of community for people to have had a soft place to land as they let go of some of these off grid claims. That's kind of what we're trying to accomplish here.

Thom Krystofiak  1:01:03  
Absolutely. You know, and something I mentioned that people are probably aware of that. There's an interesting example of Scandinavia, which is the least religious least conventionally religious part of Europe, perhaps the world. They have really stepped away from there. They were, of course, Christian, primarily Christian, Jewish, whatever, but primarily Christian in the earlier times. And that has dropped away in Scandinavia to a degree that hasn't been seen in virtually any other society. And if you look at, there are studies that are done of the happiest cultures on Earth, the happiest countries, the the healthiest countries, meaning not just you know, their physical health, but their overall well being. Scandinavian countries are almost always at the top of those of those of those studies. And so, that to me, is now granted, people will say, Yeah, but you know, they're building on this history of Judeo Christian stuff of values. And, and sure they are, but so are all of us. I mean, we're all in Western societies, we're all in mashed in a society that has a lot of roots that way, and we're familiar with all that. And various stories that still resonate with us, you know, the story of the Good Samaritan, or whatever, that's a universal story that is just incredibly moving on an empathetic level. It's not, it's got nothing to do with, who is the god? Or what kind of God is it? Or what's what sort of deal does he have? It's just, here's a human being, how do you treat them, and, you know, but we're all enmeshed in these moral exemplars, whether it be from religious stories, whether it be from other stories, historical stories, you know, we all have plenty of stories, and plenty of examples, even just movies, books, whatever, where there's good people, and that resonates with us, or we know people, you know, we people in our own lives, who were just so touching that they were so loving, or caring or connected, and that resonates with us. And we resonate to with other people's needs and suffering. And so we have that basis. And so in Scandinavia, sure, you can say, yeah, they had Judeo Christian background, well, sure, we've all got all kinds of backgrounds, but what they've managed to do is take the fruits of those some of those stories or feelings and, and myths or whatever, and they're just in the background, they're part of their ethical life, probably. And they move forward without necessarily subscribing to these more outlandish or extraordinary claims about the universe. Without without the gods really without, so the question of what's going to happen without the gods, we don't know if it would always be like Scandinavia, but but Scandinavia being the premier example in the world. Right now. Is, is encouraging. It's encouraging.

David Ames  1:04:23  
And just to wrap this up, one of my favorite definitions of religion is from Anthony Penn. And it doesn't require supernatural claims. It is the collective search for meaning. And so a sense of we are a community and we support each other and we care about each other and we are even pushing each other to good works as it were, you know, like it all of that is good. And it's only when we start to make, in your words, you know, claims about how the universe works, where the story becomes literal in some way. That that's the problem.

Thom Krystofiak  1:04:57  
Yeah. When things sort of solidify I and solidify that way into discrete doctrinal claims, whatever, obviously one of the side effects of that throughout history has been wars fought over these doctrinal differences. I mean, you know, the idea that you have to take these wonderful aspects of human life and, and, and define them and say you must subscribe, or if you don't subscribe any longer, we're going to shun you, you know, these kinds of prac. This kind of adherence to the specificities of these discrete claims, has obviously been harmful in a whole bunch of ways. And if if it were possible to, to have religion in the sense of you just described it, which I think to some extent is what's going on and a lot of Scandinavia and elsewhere, is it would be, I think it would be a wonderful thing, it would be a win win, yeah.

David Ames  1:06:00  
So heading towards wrap up here, you start the book with a couple of questions. Is it better to be fooled many times than to be skeptical? And are you missing something? We'll end with the beginning a bit here. But like how you resolve that for yourself, personally? How do you answer those questions? And again, I appreciate that's the entire book, people will go and buy the book.

Thom Krystofiak  1:06:22  
Well, you know, the book is really a journey that's rather than the book being, I ask a question at the beginning, and then I answer it for the next 300 pitches, you know, it's more, let's, let's look into this. And so it's looking at it from this angle, from this angle from this aspect of history and this aspect of philosophy, this aspect of religion, this aspect of science, it's just looking at it from different facets and illuminating different ways of, of exploring the question. So it's in the book is an exploration rather than a declaration of my of my answer, but but in the last chapter, I think I say So after all that, yeah. Is it better to be fooled? And I admit that it is. It is, for me better to be fooled in certain circumstances. And I talk about that a lot. We don't need to get into it much. But I talked about that, that if if if I was in some horrific situation in the morphine had run out, and they could give me a saline solution, which has been proven to work as a placebo after you've gotten some morphine for a while, and then they give you saline for a while, and it works just about as well as the morphine because the body has that incredible response. Please fool me. Yeah, don't tell me. Sorry, Bob, the morphine is gone. Yeah. You know, I mean, fool me. But I go to some lengths to try to explain why that, to me is an acceptable kind of fooling. And the basic reason is that morphine is real. It's a real thing. It's not like an angel that they're telling me about, which I don't believe in, it's morphine. And that's real. And they're saying, this is morphine, they're fooling me about a specific fact, but not about the fact that morphine works, which is what's working in my brain. So there are ways that I'll be happy to be fooled, but they're more like that. They're more like these technicalities. No, I don't, I don't believe for me. And this is where it comes down to something, David, it's like, who are you? Are you a person who cares about the truth? Who cares to really feel grounded? In what am I doing here? In this world? Who What am I? What is all this? If those are questions that matter to you, then then being fooled about those things is completely off the table. It's completely unacceptable if that's, if that's a high priority for you to feel that here I am in these in these small number of decades on this planet? And do I is it important to me that I make my best efforts to really understand what is true, what is going on what this is, what life is, what all of this is how should I live my life, all of these things? If that's a critical priority, which it is for me, then the idea of being fooled about those fundamentals is completely a non starter. It's just and I you know, I understand that some people in my mind might be fooled about those things, or feeling great about it. Yeah, I'm not trying to take that away from them. I'm not pontificate. I don't go after my friends who are believers and just, you know, assault them with my skepticism. But, but, but for me, for anyone who is has that kind of orientation towards towards a grounding in reality, or grounding and truth, the kind that we're talking about, it's just not it's just not a possibility. And the second question, Am I missing Something I'm not missing something that I that I haven't clearly missing something that they have, you know, they've got some stuff that I don't know. But I mean, that's true all of us have people have stuff that you don't have one way or another. But the question is whether you would really want want that. And no, I'm not missing something that at this point in my life, I wish I had, I wish I had faith or I wish I could believe these claims that I can't find evidence for. Because they'll do something for me. I can't put those two together with the desire to be grounded in truth.

David Ames  1:10:38  
The book is tempted to believe I want to give you just a second to be able to promote that how can people find the book and any anything else that you'd like to promote?

Thom Krystofiak  1:10:46  
Okay, thanks. The book is just simply available on Amazon, both in terms of print, print, book and Kindle. So it's just Amazon, you can just say tempted to believe they will, unfortunately, Amazon always keeps older editions around once they've been published. And I did a preliminary version, mostly because I wanted to have some readers have a book in their hand, as I was finalizing it. Okay, so there was a preliminary version, which is still out there. This is this is the one with the dynamic blue cover with an incredible picture on it. It's not, it's not the one that with text only. And it's the one with, you know, all the reviews and so forth. So it's pretty obvious, tempted to believe on Amazon. And, you know, not necessarily terribly germane to the things we've been discussing here today, but some of my shorter writing over the years on a variety of topics. And other things is in my website, which is simply my last name, which is Krystofiak, which I will spell. It's, it's K, R, Y, S, T O, F, as in Frank, I A K. That's krystofiak.com. And then there's some things there that also talks about the book.

David Ames  1:12:03  
Fantastic. And we will have those in the show notes. And I will try not to murder your last name again. Thom, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Oh,

Thom Krystofiak  1:12:12  
it's been a great trip. Thank you.

David Ames  1:12:20  
Final thoughts on the episode? I love this book. I loved this conversation with Thom, this is so important topic. Skepticism is it's it touches every area of our lives from the onslaught of advertising that we face every day to the misinformation and disinformation that political entities put out to apologetics. And this comes from all corners. It is not just Christian apologetics that I'm talking about. Thom comes from the Transcendental Meditation perspective, and having new age friends who are making in his words off grid claims. And I identified so much with the I feel impervious to these claims. Why is that? What is there something different about me. And so it's Thom's humility that comes through in the book in the conversation that is so profound. When you hear the word skepticism, the first thing that might leap to mind is really argumentative debate style cynics. And it is actually the exact opposite is humility, of recognizing the human condition and our susceptibility to believing things that we want to believe that we want to be true. And believing things that fit within our in group. And skepticism is actually from humility of recognizing I could be wrong. Therefore, I need some evidence to know whether this thing is true or not. The other thing that I think Thom does really well in the book, I'm not sure we completely got to it in the conversation is acknowledging the reality of the experience. These literally all inspiring experiences. Create in us a sense of having touch to the Divine, having touched the transcendent, having gained secret knowledge. When you have the experience, you can't help but make those connections. And part of skepticism is recognizing that it is our ability to fool ourselves as the Fineman quote says that is the problem. And so we are protecting ourselves by looking for objective evidence. But it is the empathy for the human condition that Thom has in the book that really speaks to secular grace, secular grace for our son elves when we believe things that don't have evidence and secular grace for those people, we'd love to believe things without evidence. The book is tempted to believe by Thom Krystofiak is amazing, you need to get this book you need to read it. It is one of those things that I'm telling you, we'll help you through deconstruction and deconversion. We will, of course have links in the show notes, as well as the link to Thom's personal sites. I want to thank Thom for being on the podcast and even more so for the book. I said to him Off mic that This truly was the book that I wish I had had when I was going through my deconversion. So thank you, Thom, for writing such an empathetic, humble and true book. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about humility, about our own ability to fool ourselves. The Fineman quote is, the first principle is you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. If you really absorb that, if you really feel that viscerally. And for those of us who have gone through deconstruction and deconversion that should feel pretty real and present in our lives, you can begin to recognize when you are fooling yourself in lots of different contexts. I'd love a quote from Alice Gretchen when she was on, she said that she stopped being good at fooling herself. And I feel the same way. And if you are like me, and you find yourself skeptical, and you're like Thom and unable to accept claims without evidence, that is okay. It's actually a good thing. And it will protect you from, as we've already said, advertising, politics, disinformation, as well as religion, or supernatural claims. But it ultimately begins with, I could be wrong. And really knowing that and feeling that. So the skepticism that Thom is talking about, the skepticism that I'm talking about is less about saying where someone else is wrong, and more about recognizing where we have been mistaken. We have lots of great interviews coming up. We have got Julia from Germany, who is a doctor and at one point in time in her life, given up her medical career to participate in a healing ministry. And her deconstruction is just powerful and deep. We have Jessica Moore, who is a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, and is now dealing with purity culture, and surviving the aftermath of purity culture, as well as a number of other interviews that are coming up that are gonna be fantastic. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful.

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

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Doug Traversa: Atheist Minister

Atheism, Authors, Deconversion, Dones, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Grace
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Doug. Doug became interested in church when he was in junior high, and when Doug is in, he’s all in. 

He was a believer throughout high school, college and into the military. But then books and magazines happened. Doug began reading more “skeptical literature,” and the questions began. 

Doug’s faith unraveled while he was “an atheist in a foxhole,” but faith in the supernatural was unnecessary. He needed his own strength, and the strength of the people around him.  

He has since been an atheist pastor, finding the human connection he and his wife needed, without changing their beliefs or forsaking their values. As Brene Brown says, “We are hardwired to connect with others,” and Christianity has no longer cornered the marked on community and belonging. 


“When I was twelve, I decided to get serious about my eternal destiny”

“So I began asking harder questions at church, and I soon encountered a pattern I would see again and again as we visited different churches. Once my questions became too difficult (or too annoying), I was told I just had to have faith.”

“I left God behind, at least the version taught in the Bible. I would now be unapologetically atheistic.”

“I deployed for a year…and that was my ‘atheist in a foxhole’ moment. … we were convinced at least some of us were going to die, and I was thoroughly convinced in my mind at that point that this was my last full day on earth. … At no point did I pray, acknowledge God, feel slightly drawn to God…I was perfectly good with: There is no god, and I might die tomorrow. We’ll just see what happens.”

“People have often asked me why I left the faith, and I tell them, ‘It’s because I studied the Bible.’”

“It was my reading of skeptical magazines and literature that gave me the freedom to look at the Bible in a new light, but it was the actual Bible itself that condemned itself.”

“All I can say is I’ve been extremely happy not having to believe in God, not having to worry about saving other people.”

“Having left behind a church that demanded faith, I found a most unexpected church that reveres rational thought and welcomes atheists. Amazing. Having sworn to never set foot in a church again, I find that the universe loves to throw curveballs. To quote Douglas Adams, “In an infinite universe, anything is possible.””

“When you’re taking care of someone else, you’re not thinking about yourself.”


Unitarian Universalist Church of Tullahoma

Doug’s Short story “The Faith I Left Behind” is in the book, The Sandbox



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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Marla Taviano: Unbelieve

Authors, Autonomy, Book Review, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Podcast, Secular Grace
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This week’s guest is Marla Taviano, author of Unbelieve: Poems on the Journey to Becoming a Heretic. Marla grew up in Middle America and moved across the globe and back, searching for God’s will for her life.

She grew up in a loving home and didn’t realize she was in a “white Christian bubble.” Her church was almost all-white, her hometown almost completely white, and then after high school, Marla attended an even smaller completely white, conservative Christian college. 

“I was all-in. [Faith] was all there was to life. That was the focus, the center. My faith was everything to me.”

Marla’s first inkling that something was missing came when she read the book, The Hole in Our Gospel. She had read the Bible many, many times over the years, and here was a new revelation—2,000+ verses about helping the poor?

four-letter words
if you’ve never lived inside / the bubble of
evangelical Christianity it / might surprise you
to find that l-o-v-e / and p-o-o-r were new
and controversial subjects for me / at age 35

From  Unbelieve: Poems on the Journey to Becoming a Heretic

Less than a decade later, while she and her family were part of a multiethnic church plant, Marla began to see more “holes” in Christianity, namely racism and white supremacy. Her eyes were slowly beginning to open.

“Once you start to uncover things, it really is a slippery slope or ‘the unraveling’…It’s all connected. You can’t stop.”

Since 2015, Marla has been back and forth to Cambodia, written a book of poetry, started an incredibly popular bookstagram, been through a painful divorce, connected tons of people to one another and is still sharing her knowledge and wisdom with her followers.

“I feel that there are so many Christians who just go along in their happy little lives and nothing really rattles them, and nothing really happens. So they’re not forced to question things or consider things…”

In her search for truth, Marla asks, “Is this loving to my neighbor?” She may not be certain what her beliefs are right now, but she does believe that love is what will change the world. 




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Geoffrey Wallis: A Voice From Inside

Adverse Religious Experiences, Authors, Book Review, Captive Organization, Deconstruction, Deconversion, High Demand Religious Group, Jehovah's Witnesses, Podcast, Religious Abuse, Religious Trauma, The Bubble
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My guest this week is Geoffrey Wallis, author of A Voice From Inside: Notes on Religious Trauma in a Captive Organization. Geoffrey is Physically In but Mentally Out (PIMO) of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. After recognizing the religious trauma and the cognitive dissonance he was experiencing he found help through therapy. He remains within the Watchtower organization because it is a “captive organization” which enforces shunning by family members and friends.

Geoffrey’s book, A Voice From Inside: Notes on Religious Trauma in a Captive Organization, is an evenhanded look at life inside a High Demand Religious Group. Geoffrey shows Secular Grace in his documenting his personal experience. It is incredibly well written and interesting to read.


A Voice From Inside: Notes on Religious Trauma in a Captive Organization


I Got Out


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Support the podcast
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Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats