Thom Krystofiak: Tempted to Believe

Agnosticism, Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, skepticism, Spirituality
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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…”


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David. And I'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 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 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 You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on Bristol If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace, you can send me an email graceful or you can check out the website graceful My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

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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Book Review: Scout Mindset with Jimmy

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The tricky thing about motivated reasoning is that even though it’s easy to spot in other people, it doesn’t feel like motivated reasoning from the inside.

Julia Galef

My returning guest this week is Jimmy. Jimmy and I review Julia Galef’s book Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t. We explore the book from two lenses: Deconversion and Secular Grace. Jimmy brings an intense focus on humility, self-honesty and truth seeking to the conversation. The perfect complement to Julia’s book.

The best description of motivated reasoning I’ve ever seen comes from psychologist Tom Gilovich. When we want something to be true, he said, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to accept it. When we don’t want something to be true, we instead ask ourselves, “Must I believe this?,” searching for an excuse to reject it.

In contrast to directionally motivated reasoning, which evaluates ideas through the lenses of “Can I believe it?” and “Must I believe it?,” accuracy motivated reasoning evaluates ideas through the lens of “Is it true?”

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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.


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Alice Greczyn: Wayward – Spiritual Warfare & Sexual Purity

Adverse Religious Experiences, Authors, Bloggers, Book Review, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Purity Culture, Religious Abuse, Religious Trauma
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My returning guest this week is Alice Greczyn. Alice has written a new memoir called Wayward: Spiritual Warfare & Sexual Purity. In it, Alice tells the harrowing story of growing up in an Evangelical family that attempted to live by faith. They moved from place to place believing the “Lord would provide.” Alice describes it as being “homeless.”

Alice came of age under the oppressive sexual and purity mores of the “Kiss Dating Goodbye” era. She tells the story of being shamed while on a YWAM mission trip to India for being “flirty.”

And that’s I think the greatest mind f*** of Christianity as a whole: these awful feelings are called love. They’re done in the name of love. My wires of love and shame and fear and guilt and self hatred were so crossed and it took me years to even see that wiring.

As an adult in her 20s, in a desperate but final act of faith, Alice tests God. God fails. And Alice begins the difficult process of letting go of faith. This is a dark time of panic attacks, depression and self-harm.

When we’re told God is love, and love feels like this horrible, self-hating guilt complex, what is love, how can we recognize good love?

With the help of secular therapy and the discovery of the term, Religious Trauma Syndrome, Alice began her recovery process. She studied the science of faith, neurotheology, and began to understand herself and those around her who still believed. In this new freedom, she rebuilt her life reclaiming her autonomy and discovering what real love feels like.

And again it [understanding neurotheology] alleviated the pressure. God wasn’t ignoring me. There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t broken. I wasn’t this chronic sinner who was just born defective and unable to feel the love of God because I didn’t have enough faith. It’s simply to be a matter of science and that’s how most things are to me.

On top of being an author, Alice is an advocate for those questioning their faith. Her organization, Dare to Doubt, is a resource for those who are no longer satisfied with their faith tradition’s explanations and demands.

Yet this demographic [millennial “Nones”] is also resilient. We are as brave as the martyrs we were raised to be. We are battling the spiritual war we were trained to fight. We’re just not on the side of religion, and believe us—no one is more surprised by this than ourselves. We are condemned, prayed for, and loathed as much as we are feared. But persecution was once our fuel. Our skin is thick with the courage to fight for truth as we see it, and where we once saw through dogma-colored glasses, we now see through the lenses of relativity, reason, and the validity of our own experiences. It is easy to dismiss us as bitter. It is understandable to write off our deconversions as desperate attempts at individuation and rebellion. It is compassionate to ask us why we left, instead of praying for us to rejoin.

From Wayward


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I'm trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest reviewer on the Apple podcast store. Irish heretic. Thank you so much for rating and reviewing the podcast. Please consider subscribing to the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. One of my favorite aspects of the podcast is when people write in to me and tell me their stories. The last week and a half or so I've received three just incredibly poignant emails from people who are in the middle of or long past a deconversion process and finding the podcast lets them know that they are not alone. That is, ultimately the entire point of what we are doing here is to say that many have gone before you, you are not alone. This is normal. This is human. Let's remind each other that we are not alone. I wanted to mention here that on the blog, gracefully I now have a number of book recommendations and the links for those books are using the Amazon affiliate program. So if you happen to be interested in any of these books, and you buy them after clicking on the link on my website, I'll get a little bit back from Amazon, which will go to the production of the podcast. On today's show. My guest today is Alice Greczyn. Alice has written a new memoir called wayward it's a harrowing tale of growing up in an evangelical family that was attempting to live by faith being led by the Lord, which in Alice's words ultimately meant they were homeless for much of her growing up years. Alice grew up in the 90s under the influence of the book, kiss dating goodbye. There was a tremendous amount of sexual repression and idealistic views on courtship, dating, sexuality. And in her memoir, she goes through with just heart wrenching honesty, telling her story of growing up in that environment. As you're about to hear, Alice is an incredibly inquisitive intelligent person. She has since done a lot of research in neuro theology. And it's fun to be reading the book and she's telling a particular story, and her current self breaks in to point out the science of the situation. It ends with a lot of triumph, and ultimately, Alice's dare to doubt organization that helps people going through faith transitions. I highly recommend the book wayward it is an amazing book that is gripping. My understanding is that Alice has a limited number of signed copies available. If you are interested in a signed copy, you can go to Of course, I will have the link in the show notes. attentive listeners may recognize Alice's name. She was on the podcast way back in July of 2019. So if you enjoy this episode, you should go and look that one up as well. I'm very proud and excited to give you my conversation with Alice Greczyn.

Alice Greczyn, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Alice Greczyn  3:59  
Thank you. It's such a pleasure.

David Ames  4:01  
So you have the dubious honor of being the first repeat guest. So you're back to the Oh, yay. Yay. Yeah, that

Alice Greczyn  4:11  
is awesome. What an honor.

David Ames  4:12  
Yeah. And you've written a book called wayward and it is absolutely amazing. You know, again, I get asked often to read books, and some of them are good, some of them are bad. But this was ripping. It made me blush. It made me want to scream out loud. I recognized myself. I felt paternalistic, like protection for you. Just just a range of emotions, but that is all down to your writing ability. So my first question to you, Alice is, is there anything you cannot do?

Alice Greczyn  4:47  
Thank you very much. I can't I can't sing or play music at all. I feel like I feel like I do a lot of things and I feel pretty confident that I can teach myself almost anything But I don't know if you if I put a little bit of power into it. But But music No. But thank you, I really appreciate your your kind words. I mean

David Ames  5:10  
a lot. So you are human,

Alice Greczyn  5:11  
after all, Oh, yes, very sorely human.

David Ames  5:15  
Just in case anybody doesn't know. So Alice has had a successful modeling career successful acting career, she started the dare to doubt organization that helps people transitioning through faith transitions, with lots of resources there that's dare to So you've just done an amazing number of things in your life. And now you are an author? No, I

Alice Greczyn  5:36  
am an author. And I have to tell you, as soon as I got my first shipment of hardcopy books, which just came in the mail a couple of days ago, my my boyfriend was asking, what's the part that I was looking to the most about actually getting to hold a physical copy of my book in my hands, and I thought about it and I said, being able to speak about this in past tense, because for so long, I've been writing a book or working on a book or in the middle of publishing a book. And now I get to say, I wrote a book, I'm an author. So it's a pretty fun feeling.

David Ames  6:09  
So I'm gonna start with the the title wayward is such an evocative, single word. Tell me what that means to you and why you chose it as a title.

Alice Greczyn  6:18  
Thank you. So wayward. For those who grew up reading the Bible. They may remember the wayward woman frequently mentioned in the book of Proverbs. And she's mentioned as in painted and very much the light of a harlot as a scandalous, scantily clad woman who stirs lust in men. In some verses, she's made out to be like she's married, and she's cheating on her husband and seducing men. In in the churches that I grew up in, though, I mainly just heard the wayward woman talked about as symbolic of everything that I was not supposed to be everything that women were not supposed to be, you are not to be sensual, you are not to be beautiful, you are not to be free. You are to be submissive, subservient, and chaste, and duty bound. And so for me, when I was thinking of titles for my book, wayward was a working title for a long time. And I always assumed that a publisher would change it, because I'm reading writing blogs, they're like, don't get attached to your title, you know, but, but my publisher loved it. And then I also came up with the subtitle, which is a memoir of spiritual warfare and sexual purity, and wayward, you know, in a secular sense waver, it also has connotations of being willful, of being rebellious of being, like a wayward child like a who just won't listen won't do what's expected of them. And so I liked that people who grew up with in religion would recognize it, possibly from the biblical references to the wayward woman. But I also liked it because it, it still says something to a completely secular reader of like, oh, it's, it's I like that it's a singular word. That hasn't been overused in the book market, because I did a bunch of research. And yeah, that's, that's how I came up with it. And that's what it that's what it means to me.

David Ames  8:08  
Awesome. You start off the book, talking about just the nature of a memoir and human memories. So you kind of acknowledged that this is your story, or your telling of the story, which includes a lot of your family. So yes, it's talking about that, like what what is it like to start to write a memoir and acknowledging that, you know, memories can be valuable?

Alice Greczyn  8:29  
I'm really glad you asked that actually, because as someone who reads memoirs, a lot all sorts of memoirs, I feel like there's not a whole lot that I can find anyway, about memoir, authors talking about the complex journey of writing a memoir, specifically how it relates to your loved ones that may appear in the book, whether their names are changed or not. And I did change quite a few names in wayward. So later on in my book, without giving away too much, I definitely get into a more neuroscientific look at faith and the effect of faith on the human brain. And some feedback that I got from earlier drafts was that it kind of seemed a little out from left field, like, Oh, why, why are we in a science book all of a sudden, but for me, understanding the science of mystical experiences truly was crucial to my healing and making peace with my religious past. And so I felt like having something at the beginning of the book, that is sort of a nod to neuroscience, where I talk about, you know, memory is fallible, and it changes as we need it to changes as other people influence it, and share their stories of what happened. And I mean, we've seen this, we see this happen all the time. And, for example, when there's a crime and police interview, say nine witnesses to the crime, people tell different stories, not because they're making things up, but because that's how their brain internalized it maybe the person was wearing a red jacket, but someone said no, it was blue. No, I'm pretty sure it was orange. Right? Memory really is some objective and there's so much to be explored. But I wanted that disclaimer there at the beginning because A, as I'm sure, as I'm sure you can imagine any listener or other writer can imagine, writing a memoir has definitely dredged up a lot of family stuff. And it's not been easy. Negotiating this venture with the people that I love, I am still close to my family. Unlike a lot of other memoir writers in my genre, my family and I are not estranged, I'm still very much in touch with them very close to them. And that made it a lot harder, it'd be a lot easier. In some ways. If my family had disowned me. And I don't say that my life would be easier. I want to watch my words here. But the publishing of this memoir would be easier. I understand now why people wait until their parents die, or they've been disowned before they publish a memoir. But there's so much love between my family and I. And despite how difficult it's been at times, they've remained very supportive. And I do try to make that clear. But that disclaimer there at the beginning is for them, but also for myself, and also for anyone who reads memoir, because I think myself included, it's very tempting to take an author's perspective as the cold hard truth, forgetting that this is the cold, hard truth to this person. Some things are objectively verifiable, like, where did we live in this year. But some things are not like someone's tone of voice or how I interpreted they meant for me to feel when they said something to me. And I wanted to I wanted to make clear that I take responsibility for how I interpreted things, whether it was things pastor said, my family said, the music I listened to, you know, this is how this is my narrative of what happened. And if you ask anyone in the story, very narrative, what happened, it will be different. And I feel like stating that upfront. I hope that does a service to memoir as a genre, because we all know of famous memoir, authors who have gotten busted for making things up. And yeah, part of me wants to cover my own ass and be like, disclaimer, I'm not saying this is the truth for everyone. But yeah, I think I think that that's what's beautiful about memoir, too, is it does ride that line between fact and fiction, and storytelling, and that little tiny, it's only like one paragraph or two long, I think there on the on the first page, I just wanted to own this as my recollection. And that way, people can just take everything that I say with a subjective grain of salt.

David Ames  12:28  
I just appreciate it like for me, I think we've talked about before, you know, the honesty is such a rock bottom and authenticity. And I just saw that throughout the book, as you were working to convey what you honestly felt and how you were honestly responding to the events around surrounding you. And as you say, you were still owning all of that you weren't, you weren't blaming other people. And I just really appreciated that. I try not to thank you. One more compliment. And then I want to talk about that neuroscience for a minute. Yeah, we got back in touch in discussion about Sasha Sagan. And actually your writing really reminded me of her book in one particular way. Very eloquent prose, you're wrapped up in the story. And then you'd have these moments where you would modern, Alice would break through. So you'd be describing, you know, the charismatic church worship event, and then you'd break through kind of modern? Well, neuroscience says that, that reminded me so much of Sasha. So very good compliment to you that I think your writing is great is a huge, all of that, including the storytelling and the kind of modern skeptic in you coming through, it was just amazing.

Alice Greczyn  13:41  
Thank you, that is a huge compliment. I really appreciate that.

David Ames  13:46  
So to talk about neuroscience, so it's kind of starting at the end a bit, the book kind of ends in, you know, semi triumphant, you're talking about taking control of your life back and we're gonna get to this in a minute, you know, handling the trauma after both your experience growing up in Christianity and then leaving that faith behind and and just you know, the physical problems that that you wound up having. But it ends triumphantly a view, discovering how you're going to seek meaning in your life, how you're going to have purpose and ultimately ends with a dare to doubt reference, which I just loved, I absolutely adored. Thank you. What are some of the things that you've learned from the study of neuroscience? I think you dropped the term neuro theology as well. What are those things? What have you learned from those things?

Alice Greczyn  14:34  
Oh, man, I feel like if first of all if I if I went back to school and did life over again, I honestly feel like neuro theology would be a field that I would deeply explore as much as my non mathematically inclined brain could. But yeah, I love it. So for those who don't know, neuro theology is sometimes defined as the neuroscience of spirituality or faith, my working definition for in the book And how I how I use it. It's the neuroscience of what are collectively called mystical experiences. And the way that I grew up those mystical experiences were called the Holy Spirit. So my, my background for most of my childhood was in charismatic Christianity, which is very emotive, very falling to the floor, being slain in the Spirit rolling around shaking, praying in tongues, prophesying, massive outpouring of laughter and crying, like it's a very, very demonstrative expression of Christianity that, that people will say is, is Spirit let, and I faked it. I think I talked about this before on your podcast, I faked it because I would go up to receive prayer and people would put their hands on my forehead and you know, pray over me in tongues and in English, and nothing would happen. I was hurt when I was really little by a pastor finally just like pushed me over, and it really hurt my neck for for a while. And not to mention, like psychologically traumatized me, because it left me with this complex of what's so wrong with me that God won't touch me himself that this man had to literally push me down on a flight of stairs because I wasn't falling over in the Spirit. And so to prevent anything like that from happening again, I decided that I needed to fake it. But caveat, I don't think everyone was faking it. I think a good number of people were, but later on in my book, when I am learning about the neuroscience of it, I'm like, What the hell was that? Because if not everyone was faking it. And I don't really think they were like people like my parents. What, what was that? And I learned that, that what I grew up being called being slain in the Spirit, or the holy, the Holy Ghost, was called so many things by other cultures, other religions in various times and places. Kundalini Yoga might be one of the more widely known parallels to it, where there's similar symptoms of entering basically a trance state, feeling electricity in your body. Speaking in tongues, you know, or glossolalia I don't know if I'm pronouncing that right. But yeah, and, you know, being touched on on the forehead, the third eye, like there's, there's so many others, like in Christianity, we would never say the third eye because that would be demonic. That's so Hindu derived. But you know, in other cultures there, there are these ecstatic trance states. And I call them soberly induced mystical experiences, because an acid trip is also a mystical experience, but obviously not soberly induced, you're ingesting a chemical substance or, or a plant derived substance. So I really needed to understand for my own well being and being able to move forward, what the Holy Spirit was what soberly induced mystical experiences were. And spoiler alert, we don't know, guys, we don't really know exactly, why is the human brain capable of doing this. But what I did learn was enough to put my mind at rest, that whatever this was, was not unique to Christianity, it did, it was not a testament to the power of God, it was not a testament to the truth being found only in Christianity, and furthermore, charismatic Christianity. And I think that, that that understanding, being able to see brain scan images of, say, Buddhist monks who are meditating or nuns who are chanting, and a lot of the research that I did outside of the book, because I only wanted to devote one chapter, but just in case it was too sciency. For some people, even though I know I know, a lot of others will really like it. It really brought me a level of peace, to be able to just see it. It's like, oh, no, this is not mystical at all. This is just chemicals firing off in our brain. These are just meetings of neurons. And what I learned is that oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine play a significant role in, in getting a person to an elevated opiate state. So there's there's several researchers that I quote in the book, and one of them is Dr. Michael pur singer, who has since passed away. But his work was really influential to me in understanding the the high of getting high on Jesus, which is totally possible. For some people. I don't think that everyone and I say this from my own experience, and also from talking to many other people who grew up like me, not everyone's capable of this. And we were taught that that meant that there was a sin in our life that was blocking us from feeling God or that we just didn't have enough faith. You are always the problem in Christianity. You are the center, it's up to you. And you know, God would have a miracle for you if you just had faith, but you have to be ready to receive it. And it's like, not everyone's wired for that, for whatever reason, whether it's genetic, I delved into a lot of the the genetic arguments for faith and also why some people genetically just aren't hardwired to be inclined that way that brought me a lot of peace to because, again, it alleviated the pressure of like, there was nothing wrong with me. God wasn't ignoring me. There was nothing wrong with me, I wasn't broken. And I wasn't this like chronic sinner who was just born defective, unable to feel the love of God, because I didn't have enough faith. It's simply to be a matter of science. And that's how most things are to me. And if not science that we can understand today, then then inspiration for the tools that we need to develop to understand them tomorrow. And in the future, I think that nothing can be I don't think that there's anything that needs to remain on. No, I think it's just a matter of time and tools. That is my opinion.

David Ames  20:31  
You know, it's interesting, I think my experience fell somewhere in between, like, I had some real charismatic experiences, you know, feeling of warmth, you know, breaking down in tears, and just feeling a, you know, presence. I was also always kind of an outside observer to myself, and recognizing when I was kind of faking it, and when I wasn't, but the thing that I really related to, as you were describing, kind of the charismatic experience is that there is almost an addictive quality of chasing after that experience, so that your experience with the Toronto Blessing and your parents experience and the charismatic experience in general often can devolve into chasing that feeling chasing that experience. And you've just described quite eloquently the science behind why that might be the case, the hits

Alice Greczyn  21:19  
of God or the Holy Spirit or whatever, whatever version of that you find and whatever your practice is, it is neuro chemistry, it is replicable. And it can become addictive, because it taps into the same part of the brain as drugs and sex like it can easily be it puts you in a new fork state. And there usually is a cutting down when you have a bunch of these neurons firing off just like when you when you might do a certain drugs say there can be a come down. And I remember seeing it a lot as a kid, like we go to these conferences or a revival, like, you know, a week long this or a weekend here. And I feel like my parents would just be on this high for like a week after when we got home. And then there could be a crash and who's to say what that crashes in my child mind. All I know is what I observed. Like I can't, I can't say for sure what my parents reasons were, but for the ups and downs of everything that I that I saw as a kid, but But it made a lot of sense to me learning about that, because I do think that a lot of people, like you said they keep chasing after that feeling because it supposedly it feels really good. I never felt it. Okay, all right. But it does seem like it feels really good. The closest that I came to feeling that and I wrote about this in the book was when I was 13. And I went to a friend's youth group meeting. And I cried there while my friend was praying over me. And I was crying because of the words that she was saying, and her prayer, the things she was saying made me feel so seen. And I was in such a lonely, depressed place. That it she saw me, not God she did. But in the language of God, and because I I grew up seeing people cry under the touch of God, I decided it must be God touching me through her and seeing me through her. And so because I was crying and so it made me feel like oh, God's really touching me because I'm crying. And it's like though I was just on an endorphin high and and my heart was just cracked open by confession and all of these other things and you're logically speaking, there's a lot mass hypnosis plays a large role in this too, and priming ourselves for those open, transformative mystical experiences. And I wouldn't go so far as to say that pastors and worship leaders are deliberately trying to hypnotize crowds to orchestrate mass cognitive experiences, as Dr. Peter Singer would say, but that is often the result. And I think I think music plays a very deep role in that because who hasn't been to even a secular concert and found themselves in sort of an almost like group hypnotic trance stay of just feeling good and everyone's swaying and raising their hands? And yeah, it's, it's a, I do think it can be addictive and easy to lose oneself.

David Ames  24:18  
So I feel like we would be doing a disservice to the book if we just focused on the hard science because there's so much humanity in the book, I think a theme that just comes through very strongly is the loneliness you experience as your parents moved you about from place to place and you refer to many friends throughout the time and you there's just a sense of, and don't take this the wrong way, but its sense of desperation, like you need that connection to that friend comes through. And then you mentioned when a friend prays for you and you're breaking down crying because that is an expression of love or stranger or somebody you just met. A young person, your same age, prays for you and expresses actual care and you Do you are breaking down? Because that's what you need. And then all the way at the end with the hindsight of the human connection that you were longing for it was it was that what you needed? Was that intentional? Or is that just so hardwired into the story? I don't think

Alice Greczyn  25:22  
that was intentional. But I'm glad that that translated, no. And I would not disagree with that I desperately needed human connection as as do we all and for those who don't know, like, in my book, yeah, my, my family moved around constantly, as I was growing up, and I was homeschooled my whole life. So I was always moving from one place to another, never really being able to have friends for very long. And I do think that ought to be all about sciences is explaining the how the what is is human connection, is love. Really, ultimately, I think, and it's, it's interesting, because today, especially working with dare to Tao, and in a lot of the secular spaces that I that I've that I've found years being one of them, humanism is such a recurring theme. And I remember somewhere in my book, towards the end, I like I write that people would say I'm anti humanist. And it's because I just don't think humans as a species are innately good. I just, we could all end tomorrow, and I'd be fine with that. Like, I could see us very much as we're just a virus on planet Earth taking up and not giving back a whole lot to Earth. But, you know, I that's like, there's so many ways to dive into that angle. And I do I, well, there's part of me, that very much sees it that way, I don't feel anti humanist because the other thing that I also write is, I think we I think most of us who are able have the choice to die, we always have the choice to kill ourselves. And when we don't, whether we consciously choose not to, or we just can't, it's never even crossed our minds, there's an act of choice to be here. And I think for me, I was very conscious of that choice. Because when I lost my faith, I lost my sense of meaning I lost my purpose, as many of us do. And I did not find comfort in in, in what I've come now to be known as humanism. At first I have now because I had to put a different lens on it in order for it to resonate deeper with me. But I think that in making that choice to stay alive, and in seeing ourselves objectively is just this, this primate animal that's just wired for connection, we just want to be loved. We want to be accepted. We want to be part of the clan, we want to cuddle, we want to have sex we want to eat, we want to feel good, we want to help each other. Those traits of humanism, I can totally get behind like those the love. And that is what keeps me wanting to live. Sorry if that sounds like Tanger does. In fact, I've

David Ames  27:45  
written down two quotes, if I can, if it's okay, yeah, yeah. For me, the key to happiness lay and wonder, instead of sending my mind into an answer lists, spirals trying to find out the meaning of life, maybe I needed to rephrase my quest as that I'm looking for meaning in life. And a little later on, I was taught to deny the pleasures of the flesh, I came to realize that the physical and material world I was told to fear and abstain from was the very thing that made me want to live, I think, right, that leapt off the page to me, like, that's exactly what I find is kind of the problem with many religions, not all of them, but like it is that it is denying the humanity the things that make us human, are the pleasures of the flesh as it were, like, and so when you're denying yourself all of those things, you're missing out on the goodness of life.

Alice Greczyn  28:32  
Yes, I 100% agree. I think it's, um, and I find this in non religious spiritual circles too. Like there's that that adage of we're a spiritual being having a human experience instead of we're human beings having a spiritual experience. I very much disagree with that. I don't, I don't believe in spirits. I don't believe in souls, I view that as a synonym for what I would call consciousness. And I'm inclined to suspect that consciousness is a product of the brain and that when our brains die, consciousness does, but I don't know, I'm open. You know, it's definitely a field that I that I like to explore. But again, I think, I think embracing my humanity and my flesh really was the antidote to my depression. Because there's so many years of hard wiring of us being taught to deny your flesh, you know, lean not on your own understanding, deprive yourself of pleasure, because pleasure is sinful. And it can lead to temptation of all sorts, whether it's the temptation to overindulge and drink or food or sex. And I spent so much of my young life living for the afterlife, as as did most of us, you know, that the afterlife, the spiritual plane is so much more important than this one. And that was, in my opinion, deeply, deeply, wrong, deeply harmful, and when I lost my faith I had to refine that in myself, I had to rediscover my flesh, I had to re reacquaint myself with myself with my body with my senses. I also right, right after I lost my faith and on wanting Lee became an atheist. I gave God a test. And he failed. That That same week, not even maybe a week or so later, I write that I, it was almost as though I lost my senses in a literal, in a literal way. My sense of smell was the only thing that I remember that I still had. But like I couldn't, I felt so numb. Of course, I could still hear things but like I didn't, I felt so removed. I was in like a dissociative out almost out of body state. And I had to relearn how to connect with myself. Because Christianity, for me, basically taught me how to be very disembodied how to not trust my gut, how to not follow my instincts and not use my mind and definitely not to indulge or gratify my flesh. And just because we don't believe in something anymore, as most of us know, does not mean that it leaves our body that doesn't leave our nervous system. And so, it was both exhilarating and terrifying to, to learn how to be in my body. Yes. Yeah. It's something that should be so basic. But it's, it's difficult. And I think I think a lot of it would be hard to explain to people who don't know otherwise. You know, it's like, how do we articulate that? That journey? Like what has it been like for you, I'm sure you've had moments where you've needed to reconnect with your body and learn how to listen to yourself and gratify yourself without pennants or guilt or shame. You know, it's such a, such an individual journey that I'm sure it's different for everyone. But I candidly share mine.

David Ames  31:49  
Yes, there are definitely parts that made me blush. For anybody who's a believer who might be listening to this, it is deeply honest, it is not sensational, for sensational sake, it is expressing what it is like to grow up, you talk about hitting puberty, getting your period, masturbation, you were deeply influenced by kiss dating goodbye and trying to navigate relationships. You have this idea of your future husband and protecting that in some way. And the part that really made me want to scream was that you mentioned the scene, you're on a missions trip with YWAM. And your friends are accusing you of being flirtatious. And I thought, Oh, just the negative peer pressure. And and again, the denial of just being a person of regular human being. We've kind of avoided things so far. But like, let's talk about what were some of the things that you later recognized as religious trauma from Marlene, what else book? What were some of those experiences for you that that were traumatizing

Alice Greczyn  32:54  
that that instance you just mentioned definitely was is one of them. So I was 15 when I went on a mission trip to India, through YWAM Youth With A Mission for those who don't know, they have like a teenage almost like teenage mission summer camp, sort of program called Mission adventures, or at least they used to this was in I believe it was the year 2001 Because 911 happened shortly after that. So 2001 I'm 15 We go to India and I'm a full on purity ring wearing like good little Christian girl never held a boy's hand never kissed a boy like totally saving myself and my future husband and write in letters, the whole the whole thing. I dressed very modestly and especially modestly in India, like we weren't allowed to show our shoulders, we all had to wear like baggy pants and long skirts. And three of the other kids who were in my youth group who were on the mission ship with me. One of them a guy basically confessed his feelings for me and wanted to get to know me better. And I was like, Oh, I don't date but thanks very awkwardly in my very inexperienced, blundering overly formal way. But then it came out that I was struggling with feelings for another guy in the youth group on this on the same mission trip. And I would have never acted on these feelings. Even if he liked me back. I wouldn't have dated him because I was I was waiting but I was I was wrestling with so much guilt over even having a crush on this guy.

David Ames  34:22  
You're 15 Yeah. Yeah. Is that

Alice Greczyn  34:30  
so normal? So number my hormones are raging and like I Yeah, you know, like I'm, I it's, it's totally normal. And I've been having crushes since I was like a little kid. But I in the in the book, I knew I focus on this one crush because he was probably the most significant crush that caused me the most. I caused myself the most guilt over it but but yeah, I so you know, I have feelings for this one guy, Zach. And but this other guy Luke likes me and I I don't want Luke to know that I like Zach, because I'm so mortified that even like him to begin with, and long story short, it all comes out. And then these three kids on the mission trip basically say that I've been flirting and sending mixed signals and distracting all the men in the whole team by by with my flirtatiousness. And I was so not a flirt guys, like I, I wasn't I was so and they they give instances like for example, on a bus ride from New Delhi up north to this other place, it was like an eight hour bus ride, the air conditioner broke. And it's so hot, it's like August in India. And I had these pants that would zip off into cargo shorts, like the long kind. These were not cute, sexy little convertible pants. These were like REI, like baggy, just you know, camping pants that were like long cargo shorts. I zipped off the lower half of my pants, guys. andalas scandalous. And furthermore, I put my feet up on the bus seat in front of me, which I was accused of doing it on purpose so that my legs will be right in front of my seatmate who happened to be a dude. And I was accused of trying to get him to notice me by like flaunting my legs in his face. And it could not have been further from the truth. I was so hot. I was just trying to stay conscious and cool off anyway. And like they were long cargo shorts. I was not like rolling them up all the way to my hips or anything like that. But and even if I had been so what right? But yeah, like thing instances like that. I just felt so I still to this day, like I'm flushing right now my body thinking about I don't think I've ever felt more ashamed than I did in that moment when those three kids were calling me out. And I don't think that they were consciously trying to come down on me and make me feel ashamed. I think that they were exercising what the Bible says to do, which is for Christians to call each other out on their sins and hold each other accountable. So that, you know, one black sheep doesn't ruin the whole flock at cetera. And I think, of course, it's ironic that this the shame conversation comes on the heels of one of the guys confessing his feelings for me. But it yeah, like I mean, there you go with like, victim blaming rape, culture, all of that stuff. It's always the girl's fault. She should have done more to guard her modesty.

David Ames  37:17  
And then here the religious layer is saying there's biblical precedent for saying this kind of thing. And totally and that's on that's laid on top of you your responsibility for the boys purity in some way or another, which is absurd and ridiculous.

Alice Greczyn  37:33  
Totally. And I ended up going to each male on that team and apologizing to them with a pastor accompanying me because God forbid, I believe.

David Ames  37:42  
Yeah, yeah, that also had me screaming. Yeah. Yeah, that just felt like again, I apologize for the paternalistic aspect of this but a sense of protectiveness for you. We're kind of friends we're internet friends, right? We don't really know each other. But we're, we're internet friends. And, you know, so I have a I've legitimately feeling like the pain that in the shame that you would feel and here's a female pastor, someone who should have known better, who is walking you around having you apologize to a set of boys and I just, I guess what I'm trying to say. Allah says, My heart was broken reading this book for you. And it just the downside, the negative side of purity culture isn't something that I personally experienced. And so when I read something so honest and forthright the way that you have written this, my heartbreaks, not just for you, but for many of the millennials that we see these days who are coming out of religion, Christianity, specifically down that purity culture, and of course they're traumatized. Of course they are.

Alice Greczyn  38:49  
Your Empathy means a lot to me, I've noticed I'm getting like watery eyes. I'm, I appreciate that and No apology necessary for any sort of paternal looking out for instincts that you have or felt. No, I hope that it resonates with people who went through things that were similar because I know I've found so much catharsis in reading other people's stories like that, like Linda Kay Klein's book pure, all about purity culture, from an evangelical Christian perspective, I was just sobbing all throughout that book reading story after story like mine, and far worse. And the shame is so so. So scarring, and I know of course, boys and men struggle with with shame to you know, like, it's, there's more hard data on how it's affected women in the long run. Maybe because physically, we we manifest more physical symptoms of it, but it's, it is absolutely debilitating. And I do hope that it'll help someone else know that this didn't just happen to you. So so many people have their own story of how they were shamed, even if not on purpose, because the true mindfuck of it is, is it's not called shaming someone. It's called love. Have and the woman youth pastor who was escorting me as I was apologizing to these men and boys. She was so it was it remains a little bit confusing but she was so gracious and reassuring to me like oh, don't beat yourself up about this, you know, like I had way more to repent for when I was your age and you know like I'm so impressed by what a godly young woman you are, like all of that, like it's like, but yet she was escorting me with this and and I was still doing I wouldn't say she made me do I honestly and I write this in the book, I honestly can't remember whose idea it was, it could have even been my own because I felt so bad. But surely an apology was necessary. Because if I've been this, this whore of Babylon and everyone's seen it, but me, then surely I need to own up to it. And she was there as like a chaperone figure who was reassuring me and like, comforting me and handing me tissues and telling me not to beat myself up. But they're with me doing this. And that's I think the greatest mindfuck of Christianity as a whole is these these awful feelings are called love. They're done in the name of love and my wires of love and shame and fear and guilt and self hatred were so crossed and it took me years to even see that wiring and I probably could have written a lot more about it in the book too but you know, had I had to cut it down to a book sellable size but but yeah, there's there's there's so much about and I think that I think it's something that I know I've seen a lot of X religious people struggle with are those wires and I write about in the book later how how that wiring affected my whole views on marriage on child rearing, because when we're told God is Love, and Love feels like this horrible like self hating guilt complex, what is love? How can we recognize good love? That's not to say that I didn't know good love. I did. You know, my parents deeply loved me and I I've had friends who have deeply loved me, but I had to, I had to relearn love, in a secular sense. And it was my secular friends as I was still a Christian, that showed me that that made me feel what it's like to feel just accepted. I never felt accepted in Christianity, because you're never good enough. You can't be accepted because you're wrong or sinful. And my secular friends when I was like, in my late teens, and I was living in Los Angeles, like, it was so discombobulating because I felt what I thought could be actual love. But it was not coming from a god source at all. And that was confusing, but also eventually incredibly liberating, because it made it made love accessible to me. It made love real to me. I didn't have to feel God to to know love. And that was huge for me.

David Ames  42:59  
One other aspect that comes out is you mentioned Luke already. But Luke, later in the book expresses a bit more than just some feelings. You want to tell a little bit of that story?

Alice Greczyn  43:10  
Yes, so Luke was one of the guys in India on the mission trip who, like he just said, confessed his feelings for me. And ended up being part of the night of shame, I'll call it. And fast forward two years later, I moved out to Los Angeles to because I believe God's opened the door for me to pursue an acting career. And I turned 17 A month after I moved to LA, because I was homeschooled, I'd already graduated from high school. So I was basically a very young adult. And I was here on my own, after my mom and siblings went back to Colorado and love to be here. And Luke, from Colorado, ends up coincidentally, in Los Angeles at the same time as me, and he was three years older than me. So I'm 17. He's 20. And he moved out here for something else and had family here. And we because I didn't really know anyone else in LA, he didn't either. We just became really, really good friends. And I reiterated to him at some point that, you know, like, I did not date we were definitely not dating, I could not have been more clear. And I didn't really feel like he was trying to date me. I thought we were just hanging out as friends. But I always felt such a burden to like beat boys over the head, making it crystal clear that there would be no misunderstanding, I wouldn't have to have a night of shame. Again, this is nothing. I mean, nothing. This is just platonic as platonic guests.

David Ames  44:36  
So I have teenage daughters. Yeah, they are objectively beautiful. And we have this conversation a lot, right? Like they want to have male friends. And, you know, I'm telling them from the boy perspective, you know, yeah, it's good that you are just as clear as you possibly can be. But it's a burden, right? It shouldn't be on them. It shouldn't be on you, but it is

Alice Greczyn  44:56  
it is and the grace that I can extend toward that In a secular sense as well, is we're just animals we're hardwired to, to breed and may and and, you know, at teenagehood, like most of us are already in our reproductive years. And I think that it's pretty natural for especially societally speaking for boys to be the pursuance. And therefore girls to bear the burden of having to clarify like, Nah, I don't, I'm not leading you on, I just want to hang out, you know, or, like, Y'all go to prom with you, but just as friends, you know, whatever it is. So yeah, it's a sucky burden. But I could I could just be like, well, it could just be one of those things in life. I don't know. I had that. Maybe it's just what I tell myself. So it feels less awful. Totally be that. But yeah, I. So yeah, couldn't have been clearer that you know, still saving myself for my future husband. And long story short, one day out of the blue, he, he, he's just like, God's show me or my future wife. And I just, I, I believed him completely, because who would make up something like that? And we both know, the world we came from, we both went to the same church, we both know the purity culture. And it's just not uncommon in that world for God to reveal who spouses are. And I've come across one question that people always ask, especially if they did not grow up, like me was like, essentially, in a graceful way, like, how did you fall for it? Like, why would they like clearly this guy is projecting his own motives and using God as a way to get you? I disagree with that. I think that I think that there was genuinely a part of him that genuinely believed that we were supposed to be together and that it was God's plan. Like he was a very godly young man, a great guy, a great friend. I loved him dearly, just not in that way. I did not. I was not attracted to him. I didn't feel romantic feelings for him. And I would guess that he did for me, but I would not say that he used God to cover up his ulterior motives. Like, I would think that would be false.

David Ames  47:00  
I think you're being kind but okay.

Alice Greczyn  47:03  
Yeah, maybe it was next. Maybe it was next. But I think I think he did believe that. And he came out one day, and I just went along with it. Because I think another thing that's important for people who, who have not yet read the book, or heard me on your other podcast episode, like I, just to make it again, clear, God never spoke to me. God always led my life through what he told other people, God spoke to my parents. God spoke to my friends, God spoke to my youth pastor. And I just by the time I was 17, I just gotten used to that I just gotten used to God never touching me. Never slay me with the spirit, never giving me a word, you know, or really putting something on my heart like I, I just accepted that for whatever reason. God didn't talk to me directly. Maybe he might one day, but patriarchy is a big deal in evangelicalism. And so God led my life through my dad. And it made total sense to me that God would lead my life and talk to me through my future husband. So that that for anyone who's wondering is why I went along with it, because it just wasn't surprising to me that God hadn't told me anything about marrying this guy, because God just didn't tell me anything. Period. And again, this was a very dear friend of mine, and I knew the sincerity of his faith. And I, I just was like, okay, and I thought it was also a very, I was struggling so many feelings of betrayal, not just from him as a friend, but also just I felt like God betrayed me because the promise of purity culture, right is that you you do all the right things, you save yourself. And then when God does lead you to your future spouse, it's going to be this epic love story that's like far exceeds your own fleshly imagination when you when you let God write your love story as the purity culture book by Eric and Leslie ludie stated, you know, he's God's going to reward that faith, he's going to reward your obedience. And so I thought that God's revealing of Luke being my future husband, it was jarring for so many reasons, but one of the main reasons was, but I don't have feelings for him. How can this be the epic love story that I was promised? I did everything right, God, I held up my end of the bargain. How can this be? And I felt like the answer that I told myself was, oh, well, this must be the fact that I don't love him that way, but have to marry him It must be God teaching me not to be shallow you know, it's shallow to want to be sexually attracted to someone it's shallow to that I'm that I don't care from that way and you know, it's it's or it's because I'm I couldn't stop masturbating. And so God's punishing my sin by making me marry someone that I'm not sexually attracted to like, that's what I that's what I thought. Yeah. And so I there's a way to justify everything. But that was my line of thinking. And yeah, that's, that's that.

David Ames  49:54  
So you know, stop me if I'm giving too much of the story away, but I also was cheering when your mom kind of sat you down and said he really challenged you. You know? Are you sure? Are you really, really sure. And you kept giving the answers you thought she might want to hear. And she kept pushing until you kind of told her the truth. So good for her man.

Alice Greczyn  50:14  
Yes. Oh, gosh, I know, I know, I'm if it had not been for my mom says. So here's the thing, guys, listeners or people who haven't read it yet. It wasn't just Luke, who was saying that God showed him that we were supposed to get married. My dad and Luke's mom also said the same thing. So there's an external confirmation of God's will, which was crucial to the whole courtship of purity culture, the external confirmation, especially from godly elders, like parents, affirms that you're on course with God's plan and not your own flesh. So my mom, however, did not hear from God that I was supposed to marry Luke. And yeah, she sat me down. And she could tell I was deeply unhappy. This was about two months into arbitrable a month or two into arbitrary level. And I, she could just tell, I lied to her. And I was like, No, I'm happy. You know, like, this is what you know, of course, I'm happy. He's a great guy, you know? And she could she's like, Are you sure though, like, and and I just crumbled into tears. I couldn't hide it from her anymore. And I'm so grateful that she, that she essentially like disobeyed what appeared to be God's plan, and gave me that out. And I also would like to say here, and I say this in the book, my mom had stopped going to church. By that point, my, she had already begun her own deconstruction at that point, although she would not have used that term. But that was also why I didn't trust her right away. It was because like, well, she's off the wagon, totally using her to tell my flesh what it wants to hear that I don't have to marry this guy. And so I still struggled. But ultimately, and it's not spoiling anything like I'm I'm not married, never have been I didn't end up marrying him. I broke it off. And it was the most terrifying thing I've ever ever done to this day.

David Ames  52:00  
Yeah, I think that's what what struck me is you write about it being the most disobedient, you would have ever been to God, that you felt so strongly that that confirmation from your dad, his mom, and he himself that you were disobeying God by, by not having feelings by deciding not to marry this person.

Alice Greczyn  52:23  
Yes. So So I think for sure I had I was, I believed at the time that I was a sinner just by being born, but also because I did struggle with things like lust, like, I don't know, just micro sins, nothing over like stealing, but just, you know, pride, whatever, whatever it was. And so I disobeyed God, sort of, you know, in my own heart and in private, but never in such an overt way, where it affected someone else's life, at least not that I'm aware of. And I felt like, it was so scary, because I wasn't just disobeying God's plan for my life, but his plan for Luke's life. And so I just, I thought, for sure, like, really, really bad consequences were going to happen because I was told, I was taught that God never punished us for our sins, He just allowed consequences to happen, which is the same fucking thing. So it's just semantics. Bottom line, when you go against God, bad things happen. And so I felt like for the first time in my life, I was deliberately and consciously stepping outside the umbrella of God's protection through my mind knowing deliberate sin of not going through with this plan, therefore opening myself up to Satan and all the hell that he would wreak on my life. And I, I was just waiting for it. i There was about like, a year after I ended my betrothal, where it was just what I now know is like major symptoms of religious trauma. But at the time, I just thought I was just waiting for Satan to get me and I it was anxiety, it was self harm. It was like disordered eating. It was it was self violence, it was just true mindfuck I would just I would be driving somewhere and I would just forget where I'm driving and just be crying on the side of the road, I was just waiting for the road to open up and swallow me whole and an earthquake as punishment for my son. And it sounds so weird to say now, but I genuinely believe that, that the consequences of my son would come and get me and I would I was gonna have to, to accept it. And you know, nothing bad happens. Of course, nothing bad happened. I moved on with life and eventually, but that was the turning point of my faith. That was where my deconstruction began, I would say was when I ended my betrayal. I was still a Christian for three years afterwards. But I was a different type of Christian I was starting to explore more liberal Christianity and I wanted desperately to believe that there was still God and he was still a God of love, and forgiveness, and I started focusing on those Bible verses. Was that told me what I wanted to hear that God was real all of my faith hadn't been a total waste my life did still have meaning and purpose and God but it was just a different type of God not the must obey me type of God it was the live your life Ecclesiastes sort of God

David Ames  55:17  
dearly love Ecclesiastes. Oh,

Alice Greczyn  55:19  
I do too. I still do I think of it as a very interesting philosophical book on like, what is the meaning of life? Nothing. It's all just smoke it spit into the wind. Like, it's like an ode to hedonism that for some reason still did not manage to get edited out of the Bible. But yeah, I was more I very much wanted to believe in God, just the Ecclesiastes version. And then even that just I couldn't hold that up anymore eventually.

David Ames  55:57  
You hinted at it earlier, you have kind of a moment of testing God. And one of the things I find fascinating about the vicious cycle of Christianity in particular here, but But faith in general, is by saying that you can't test God. You feel bad for doubting for wanting proof wanting something. So can you tell the story about the spice rack and kind of testing God a little bit?

Alice Greczyn  56:24  
Yes. So okay. So I, I reached a point I was 20. And my boyfriend at the time had sort of like innocently asked me like, Oh, why do you still believe in God anymore? And I was just stumped. And horrified at my stump Ignis, just like I don't know, I felt like I attributed to like, Oh, I'm just flipping out, because I feel put on the spot. But his question just, I couldn't shake it for weeks afterward. And we were watching was trying to watch this documentary called Jesus Camp. And it was so triggering to me, I couldn't make it even 10 minutes into the film, I had to stop it. And it brought up all this anger of like being ignored by God, because I saw these little kids doing what I used to do as a kid like having their hands in the air and crying all these grown ups were praying for them. And maybe some of them are knocking them over. I don't know. But it just, it was really triggering to me. And I was like, I need to know if God's real I can't, like I just couldn't shake it. And so one day, and you'd think something like this would would require like a big elaborate plan of like, how am I going to, like, I would have thought that I would have put a lot more thought into

David Ames  57:34  
it while being fleeces and things like that. Yeah.

Alice Greczyn  57:38  
I feel like I would have made something ceremonious about it or just, I don't know, but I just couldn't shake it one day I was just washing dishes at my sink, just totally mundane. And it was like a hot sunny afternoon and, and I just couldn't wander anymore. I was like, I just I have to test God now. And I had all these Bible verses screaming through my head about do not test the Lord your God. And I was like, I God if God's there he he's gonna get it. If he's really this God of love. He's totally going to have compassionate understand this is not coming from a place of pride or arrogance. This is coming from the most humble place of desperation of God, I want so badly to believe in you. You please, please, please make yourself known. It was not coming from a hottie like oh, yeah, of God's real do this. It wasn't like that it was it. I could not have felt more vulnerable or broken or desperate. And, and I figured, you know, even though it was wrong to test God, if he was really the God of love that I had believed him to be, he would understand and His grace and mercy would cover over any disobedience that that I was committing. And there was a spice rack on my counter. And I just happened to look over it and I was like, oh, man, like I just knew what my test had to be because my test had to be God. If you're real you need to knock over that jar of cinnamon. Because I need I need I needed God to know that like, he couldn't prove himself to me in a way that he chose it needed to be a way that I chose because I knew how slippery My mind was into making anything proof of God like I didn't want to hear my neighbor's doves and think like oh yeah, that's God answered me I didn't want to all of a sudden have a breeze blow through the window and be like, Oh, that's God answering me he does exist I could not afford that type of self convincing faith anymore. So and like you know, it's just a jar of cinnamon you know, this is the this is the God who's done so much more than that, you know turn people into whole pillars of salt and part of Oceans and you know, like all of that so I was like, This just has to be it and I waited and waited just my eyes glued to that jar summit and of course nothing happened and then I bargained with God you know the stages of grief I was in the bargaining stage like okay, it can be it can be another spice you know, knock over cumin knock over nutmeg, like any Okay? doesn't just just any any of that. And eventually I just realized just accepted like, nothing's happening. And it's it was such a weird, disquieting feeling of this slow admission for me of just like, holy shit. Like, there's no one there like, I'm, I'm just talking out loud, like, like, I'm just no one's listening. I just felt like I'm like a little kid talking to an imaginary friend and just all sudden realizing, Oh, they don't exist. And I but I and I felt like strangely, nothing, right? And that there's that numbness that I was talking about earlier, it was just sort of this like, like, I shouldn't be feeling so many feelings, like God was my whole life. And all of a sudden, he doesn't. I know, he doesn't exist. Like, I should be feeling more about this. And I couldn't. And the feeling caught up with me later.

David Ames  1:00:51  
Yeah, yeah, let's get to that. I just want to react to that really quickly. You've expressed something there that I've been trying to express about that those early stages. And I talked about the absence of a sense of absence, well said. And what I mean by that is, shouldn't it feel like something is gone. But the point is, it was never there to begin with. So you've just expressed something that I feel is really deep about the process of deconversion of recognizing, nothing has actually changed? Yes.

Alice Greczyn  1:01:23  
i It's like, how do you grieve someone who didn't exist, you know, when when a loved one dies in front of you or not even in front of you like, there, there can be a certainly a delayed reaction, but like that, it's like they were here, and now they're not. And that is very tangible. That is very obvious. But when you never felt or heard from God to begin with, and all of a sudden, it switches your mind is like, Oh, well, then that just means he's not there. It's like, but I've for 20 years, like been, or 21. I think it was 21. At this point. It was just it was just confusing, sort of. And yeah, I think you actually articulated just now better than better than I could, you know, it's the what did you call the absence of, of a sense of absence? Yes. And it was just the area's thing that I didn't. I didn't reconnect to my feelings again, until a week or so later, when I caught myself praying out loud out of habit. And I just like, froze, like, what, what am I doing? There's no one listening. And that's when the grief hit me. And it was just a spiral from there, guys for the next couple of years.

David Ames  1:02:32  
Yeah, so you talk about the process of trying to find a maybe not overtly secular therapist, but someone who wasn't going to be, you know, either new agey or Christian. You know, somebody who was going to actually help and you eventually do find that, but do you want to just talk about, you know, what did help you through what was very difficult time? It wasn't all sunshine and roses after your deconversion Oh, no,

Alice Greczyn  1:02:58  
I would have like Starbursts have fun and freedom and exhilaration sprinkled between like debilitating psychological trauma. I began having really bad panic attacks, that at the time, I didn't correlate to my loss of faith at all. I just thought I was going crazy out of nowhere, for some reason, because, and in large part in retrospect, I think, I didn't know about religious trauma, then I never talked to any other ex Christians. There, the internet wasn't what it is today, where you can just search a hashtag ex Christian and find a whole community. This was before, before Twitter and everything so and honestly, even if those things had existed, I would not have explored them. Because I think I would have been too afraid of people who were anywhere close to that world. I was so triggered by just the word God, it it like it wasn't even until a couple years ago that it wouldn't make me like flinch inside i since since doing dare to doubt I've, I've had to talk about God so much. And hear about God so much. So I feel pretty totally neutral about it now and good like I can, I can talk about this from a positive place. But for a long time, I just I just wanted to forget it. Honestly, I didn't, I didn't want to have any more power over my life. And so I think that was another reason I didn't attribute any of my post faith, depression, suicidal ideation or other struggles to my loss of faith, because that would be an admission that God still had power over me in some way, even though I no longer believed in him. So yeah, I it was really hard for me to find a therapist that I could that I felt I could trust. I've said before that I think I think that, at least in my experience that might be partly because I live in Los Angeles, which was a very woowoo spiritual kind of city. But I think therapy and ministry have a lot in common. I think the people who are drawn to pastor ship or minister professions, like therapists and counselors are people who genuinely want to help people. And so I think that there's a My experience a lot of overlap between the spiritual community and the psychological health community. And it was, if I felt spiritual vibes or saw spiritual books or a fucking crystal in the office of a therapist, I was like, no, no. Like, like no offense, but no, I because I in therapy you need if you're trying to get the most out of it, you need to be vulnerable, and you need to trust this person. And it's not to say that spiritual therapists are not trustworthy, they just weren't for me where I was at, or even Christian therapists, for that matter, you know, like, wherever, wherever you whatever is helping you grow. Like that's, that's your journey, you know, but for me and mine, I couldn't trust anyone that graduated from a Christian university, for instance, I would Google this shit, I would like look up, like, where did they go to school? You know, like, well, what is the Pepperdine stance? Oh, they went to Pepperdine? Nope. You know, like, it's like, I don't I don't care if it's because they have a good Psychology program. If their value system mentions God, nope. So I needed to know that I if I was going to go to therapy, it needed to feel very safe. And I did eventually find that with my therapist, it was very safe. And I was in therapy for three years, a little bit off and on, but mostly on following my deconversion, I probably would have still stayed in therapy, except I ended up booking a job that took me out of town for a long time. And then I was feeling a lot more level than and not to say that I haven't gone back to therapy at different points in my life. Since I have I am a big advocate of therapy, I totally understand why some people have an aversion to it. I think it's a because I've come across those therapists that I did not feel were a good fit for me. And if those were the only experiences with therapy I had, I probably be very anti it. But anyone who's wondering if therapy can help them. It's up to you. But I would advocate for just keep trying. And that's part of the reason I made dare to doubt is because I wanted to make it easier for people to find therapists, especially secular therapists who have who understand religious trauma, because I think, and again, you mentioned Marlene Brunel. And I certainly read about her work in my book, she wrote this book leaving the fold. And she is a therapist who is ex Pentecostal. And it's part of her mission now to help other therapists recognize signs of religious trauma and to be able to help them help their patients because I think it's natural for a lot of even secular therapists to recommend spiritual practices like meditation. I know many people who get a lot out of that, and I didn't it felt too much to me like prayer.

David Ames  1:07:33  
Yeah, I I'm a huge skeptic, as well on that, on that front. And one of the things I think you capture in the book, and you said this on our, our first episode together, you said, you stopped being good at fooling yourself? Yes, I couldn't lie to myself anymore. God, that's so good. And I feel the same way. Like, it is the seeking after an altered state. Now, if you're gonna, you know, if you want to get high or go get drunk, or what have you, fine. But, but there's, there's still an element of that spirituality where you're seeking some altered state. And for me, my humanism is about experiencing the humanity right, and not trying to be something other than human. And yes,

Alice Greczyn  1:08:16  
I just know, I just felt that in my body when you said it's like, yes, we don't need to try anymore. Right? We can just be yes. Yeah, no, because you're so right. I think that's part of that's the nail on the head of why spirituality doesn't really hold much of an appeal to me, like if the if there's a practice involved. Not only does it mildly, at this point, but it still does trigger me a little bit. And I'm like, Oh, this is my quiet time. I'm sitting down to meditate, you know, that it triggers me a little bit and like a prayer throwback. Not only that, but like it's not, I can, I can accept that. Some things aren't instantaneous. They do require a discipline and a practice before you start seeing the benefits of it. Anyone who's ever tried to work out regime knows that. But the difference between a mental exercise and a physical exercise, my muscles are sore when I work out, I know it's doing something. I don't know anything's happening. If I'm just sitting there, trying not to think and observe my thoughts of like, it's just a mindfuck. To me, I'm like, no, no, I don't I don't think this is for me. It's just not for me. But you know, Sam Harris is one of the most renowned atheists that we have. And he is a huge advocate of meditation. And I've done some of his guided meditations, thinking like, oh, maybe this one will, you know, feel safer to me and it definitely feels safer. It's just an i It's just still not something that I like to do on a regular basis. But I've just accepted that to me. Going for a beautiful hike, or cuddling with my cat and basking in the sun is so much more fulfilling. It's being in my body, it's being in my senses, because meditation is they say, you know, the number one thing, usually for a beginner in meditation is to focus on your breath. And in some ways that is very much like be in your body, but it doesn't work for me. Great for you. if that's helpful to you, but

David Ames  1:10:01  
yeah, and it might sound like we're bashing on that, but I what I like to say is you're an experiment of one, what works for you is a part of this self discovery process. And you know, if meditation is meaningful and valuable to you, that's fantastic. I joke about all the time that running for me is very meditative. You know, that's my thing. You know. So whatever works for the person is really where they should totally totally.

I do want to end just on a bit of the the triumphal bits that I mentioned. So you, you began, dare to doubt. I wanted to read you one more quote from this, you're talking about the millennial experience and to contextualize that often is the people who grew up with the kiss dating, goodbye and a lot of that spiritual purity burden. You say, Yes, this demographic is also resilient. We are as brave as the martyrs we were raised to be. We are battling the spiritual war, we were trained to fight. We're just not on the side of religion. And believe us, no one is more surprised by this than ourselves. We are condemned, prayed for and loathed, as much as we are feared. But persecution was once our fuel. Our skin is thick, with the courage to fight for the truth as we see it, and where we want saw through dogma colored glasses, we now see through the lens of relativity, reason and the validity of our own experiences. It is easy to dismiss us as bitter, it is understandable to write off our deconversion as desperate attempts at individual individuation and rebellion. It is compassionate to ask us why we left instead of praying for us to rejoin just just it's amazing. Allison's just totally beautiful. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. So I've been talking to Alice Greczyn and her talking about her new book wayward, which should come out February 2, if I'm not mistaken. And this episode, if everything works out, right, we'll be out the day before. So I will have links in the show notes for your new book. That's exciting. How else can people reach you?

Alice Greczyn  1:12:11  
You can follow me on Instagram at Alice Greczyn it's just my name. I'm assuming you'll have a link where people can see the the Polish spelling of my name. So Alice Greczyn and then you can also find me on Twitter at Alice food. And check out dare to doubt two, if you're someone who's been deconstructing David, the graceful atheist is on their dare to is a resource site, just Yeah, featuring different resources for people from different backgrounds. Right now. There's there's several different religious backgrounds that I have resources for if you're in the middle of deconstructing from any of them. But yeah, check out the book. And David, thank you so much for having me on here. Again. Always a delight to chat.

David Ames  1:12:51  

Final thoughts on the episode? Well, my first thought is go buy this book. It is absolutely amazing. It is available on Amazon. I will have links in the show notes. And on my website. It is available on Alice's website, As well, from our conversation, I think you've got a really good feel for just how incredibly intelligent, passionate and articulate Alice is. And the book represents that as well. As I was trying to hint at the overwhelming feeling that I personally had while reading it was just a protection for Alice and feeling aggrieved and angry for her. But in the book, she does not come off as bitter in any way. This is a person's reflection back on an entire lifetime of the experience of growing up Evangelical, experiencing the negative sides of that environment. And then slowly but surely overcoming that. There are many difficulties along the way, including self harm and suicidal ideation. So this was not an easy process for Alice, which makes the book all that more poignant and powerful as she tears out her soul to tell you her story. I also want to encourage everyone to check out dare to that is Alice's organization that is helping people go through faith transitions. She has a tremendous number of resources there. She has been much much better at that than I have. No matter which faith tradition you are coming from. She has resources for you, and that includes lots of non Christian religious backgrounds. I want to thank Alice for being on the podcast and for sharing. So powerfully her story and the book with us. As always, one of the main drivers for me is about honest V and self honesty and Alice represents that so, so well, I wish Alice all the best luck with the book, I hope that all of you listening will go out and buy it. And I hope to see more books from Alice in the future. Thank you, Alice. As I mentioned at the top of the show, I have just been amazed at some of the emails that I've gotten of late of the stories of people going through difficult deconversion processes. I just want to thank you for listening. I want to encourage all of the listeners as a community to have each other's backs. I am interested to hear from you if we need to provide some kind of online space for communication amongst the listeners, I have thus far been hesitant to do so based on the fact that virtually every podcast in this space has its own community, and I am not a particularly good community organizer. What I'd really be interested from hearing from you all is if there's someone who would be willing to admin, say a Facebook group or some other online group that would allow people to communicate with one another that would be able to do moderate and basically own that I'd be very interested in hearing that. Please get in touch with me graceful We will continue to have some exciting episodes coming up, including my conversation with Mayor Simka and my conversation with Troy. Representing y'all means all as well as many others, so please look forward to those upcoming episodes. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings.

Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves from 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 If you have audio engineering expertise and you'd be interested in participating in the graceful atheist podcast, get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces, and you'd like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google secular grace, you can send me an email graceful or you can check out the website graceful My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings

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Barrett Evans: The Contemplative Skeptic

Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Humanism, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Grace, Spirituality
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It is proper to doubt.

My guest this week is Barrett Evans, author of The Contemplative Skeptic. Barrett wrote the book for those who are skeptical but drawn to spirituality.  A former evangelical seminarian and ex-Roman Catholic, Barrett is an agnostic who has retained a fascination with contemplative spirituality.  Building on what he learned in his divinity, counseling, and historical studies, he draws on hundreds of religious and secular sources in an effort to combine honest doubt with the best of contemplative experience.

Perhaps ironically, dogmatic religions claims now seem to me to critically undercut two of the most valuable spiritual ideals for fallible people – humility in the face of complexity and honesty in the light of human limitations.

We discuss how honesty and humility lead to doubt. Barrett’s look at comparative religion reveals the reasons for doubt and the wisdom of a contemplative life. We ask what does it mean to be “spiritual.”

And as history of religions and other psychological phenomenon show, delusions can be passed from one person to another with some rapidity, especially if they are in close relationships and it is a time of stress or excitement.

The tremendous range of religious diversity is one of the greatest reasons for skepticism towards any particular religious belief.


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Dr. Anthony Pinn: Humanism and Race

Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Race, Secular Community, Secular Grace
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My guest this week is Dr. Anthony Pinn. Dr. Pinn is the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities, the Professor of Religious Studies. the Founding Director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning Rice University, and the Director of Research of the Institute for Humanist Studies. Dr. Pinn has written a number of books on the intersection of humanism and race. In this episode, we discuss his book, When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer.

We spend so much of our time making fun of and belittling theists.
That’s not very productive.
You don’t transform the world that way.

I learned quite a lot from Dr. Pinn. Both about humanism and the experience of black humanists. Ultimately I was challenged to change my behavior, to “do my homework,” and to understand that it will take dismantling of white supremacy in humanist communities in order to gain the great benefits that diversity brings.

This sort of fundamental change this movement towards diversity and equity means giving up comfort.
You cannot request comfort and say you are interested in change.

Throughout his book(s) and in the interview Dr. Pinn calls on our humanist values to be less ignorant, to include black and other historically disparaged voices, and to develop our own vocabulary and ways of experiencing awe without calling on theistic traditions. “We can do better.”

[Our] goal should not be removing religion …
Religion is really simply a way of naming our effort to come to grips with who what when and why we are …
But it seems to me, the larger more compelling goal is decreasing the harm that we do in the world.






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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be a graceful atheist. First off, I just want to thank my newest monthly supporters. Again, I want to say the caveat that in a time of COVID-19, and the economic problems that we are facing, unless you happen to have literally expendable cash on hand, I'm not asking for you to support but it does help, we will go back into the podcast. Anyway, I want to thank new supporters, Libby n. And James T, along with Joel Wu and John G. Thank you for your support. The first thing I'm going to do with the money that comes in is to pay MCI beats for the rights to the waves track. It is currently being used as a creative commons. I will be purchasing that so that MCI receives some support as well. If you find the podcast useful or helpful, I would ask that you please rate and review it in the Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. I have a bit of exciting news. My wife Michelle and I have been talking about deconstruction lately. I don't want to get too excited to hear that I don't think that she's changing her mind in any way. But she rightly points out that after we went to Bible college together, the two of us went our separate ways. And when we came back together and eventually got married, we had both gone through ministry a bit of burnout, and ultimately, what she now calls deconstruction. And she's right. We've also recently been listening to the Michelle Obama podcast and one of the first episodes is Michelle Obama and Barak talking with one another. And I commented about how cool their rapport is with one another. And I jokingly said, We should do that some day. And it was her idea, my wife, Michelle, to do an episode, and it was also her idea to request questions from you, the audience. So I know that there are many of us out there that are in relationships where one partner has either D converted or deconstructed in some way and the other partner is still very much a believer. We jokingly sometimes call this the unequally yoked club from Captain Cassidy's blog role to disbelief. If that's your experience, I would ask that you would send me and my wife in some questions about our relationship how we are or not making it work. And you can do so either via email graceful Or you can send me a voicemail on the anchor app or through any recording device and send it in through email. Michelle and I will answer those questions on the episode that she and I are going to record shortly. On today's show. My guest today is Dr. Anthony Pinn. Dr. Pinn's resume is a thing to behold but I'll hit the highlights here on his website. He is the Agnes Colin Arnold professor of humanities at Rice University. He's the professor of religious studies. He's the founding director of the Center of engaged research and collaborative learning at Rice University and the director of research at the Institute for humanist studies. Beyond that Dr. Pinn has written a tremendous body of work on humanism and race. Today, he and I discussed the book when colorblindness isn't the answer, humanism and the challenge of race, and we will have links in the show notes for Dr. Anthony Pinn's books. I learned a tremendous amount from this book, not just about the issues that black humanists face, but about humanism itself. Obviously, the most challenging part of the book is on the issues of race. And what Dr. Pinn does brilliantly in the book is The uses the very values that we humanists say we hold dear to point out where we have fallen down where we have been hypocritical, where we have not applied those values when it comes to the topic of race. I cannot do justice to the full argument that Dr. Pinn puts forth. So without further ado, here's my conversation with Dr. Anthony.

Dr. Anthony Pinn. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Anthony Pinn  4:50  
Thanks for having me.

David Ames  4:52  
Dr. Pan I'm very excited to have you on I feel like I can't quite do justice to your CV but some of The titles that you have in your bio, the Agnes Colin Arnold professor of humanities, the professor of religious studies, the founding director of the Center for Engaged research and collaborative learning at Rice University, and Director of Research of the Institute for humanist studies. Does that do you justice at all?

Anthony Pinn  5:17  
Yeah, that's fine. Thank

David Ames  5:19  
you. And you've written just a, an enormous body of work, a number of books that began with a book entitled, Why Lord, suffering and evil and Black Theology. You've written a book with your with your mom, as I understand it, the fortress introduction to black church history. And then the book that we'll be discussing today is when colorblindness isn't the answer, humanism and the challenge of race. What I'd like to begin with is your experience of faith and maybe what gets you from growing up in a religious household to writing a book like, Why Lord, not suffering?

Anthony Pinn  5:56  
Well, I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and a portion of my family was deeply religious, my mother's side of the family. So church was part of our week. We started out attending a Baptist church in Lackawanna, it's outside of Buffalo. Bethlehem Steel was the anchor for Lackawanna. Okay. My grandfather was a deacon in this small Baptist Church. And that's the church we attended. My mother eventually decided that was not the place for us. And so we started attending a non denominational church, maybe five minutes from our home in Buffalo. That church was very small, so small that the senior minister was also my Sunday school teacher. One Sunday, we're sitting in a circle in his office, and he asked a question, and what do you want to be when you grow up? And so you heard the typical things while your Doctor President, when he got to me, I said a minister. And I wasn't quite certain wise that it perhaps it had something to do with the kind of status that ministers have in the community, right, that there was something about the minister that marked out future that marked out visibility, importance, and I claimed it and his response was, okay, we start next week. Yes. And so as a little kid, might I'm lining the hymns, offering prayers, opening the doors of the church. And this goes on for a while. And eventually, I'm ordained a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, oldest black denomination in the country. And as a deacon, I can marry Barry and baptize, right, went to college in New York City, in part because I wanted to get out of Buffalo. I just didn't think I could be myself my best self, and buffalo. There was just something about it that that wasn't to my liking, right. And so I went to New York, and park to get away from Buffalo, but also because the person who had been the pastor of this church, it was a fairly new pastor, young guy was also moving to Brooklyn, he'd been given a large church in Brooklyn, and I'm in New York, I'm working at this church, and I'm in college. And my assumption was, I'm going to change Colombia for the Lord, right that yeah, power of the Lord is going to transform this place. But these people didn't believe as I believed, for the most part, and they weren't nervous about it. Right? I'm thinking they're going to hell. And they're thinking, what should we do this weekend? Right, that they're, that just weren't fearful of hellfire. And something that was particularly troubling for me as these folks who did not claim belief in Christ often treated me better than people who did say, they loved the Lord and they were leading they were living in accordance with the Lord's will right often treated me better than those folks. I'm working in Bedford Stuyvesant at this church, and if this is the early ad, so crack cocaine, gang gaming, a hold on Big City Life, right. And so I'm encountering young people who are having a easier time planning out their demise and thinking in terms of a bright future, and nothing that I had in my theological bag made any difference. So over the course of time in New York, it became increasingly difficult to preach this faith to believe this space, when it seemed to make no substantive difference in life that I was answering the questions people didn't ask and condemned questions that they did. Hold here, right. And so my, my sense of faith, my sense of God is radically changed. Changing. But I needed to get out of New York after college because people needed Reverend Pinn to have answers, not questions, right. And I didn't have answers. I was finding it extremely difficult to hold on to this faith. Still interested in ministry, but a very different form of ministry. It was a form of ministry that understood the church as an occasion to make change in the physical lives of people, right to make a difference in daily life that this church was the occasion for that it wasn't about personal salvation, it was about social transformation. I went off to seminary in Cambridge, Massachusetts, still interested in church, but a very different sense of church. I'm working at a church in Roxbury, and that's Roxbury, late 80s Not Roxbury, 2020. It's not a highly place, it's the place struggling, okay. And I'm encountering again, kids who are having an easier time thinking about their demise than their future who understand wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood could result in death for whom Economic Opportunity revolved around selling crack on the corner, not college. Yeah, right. And the faith had nothing that was on this. And so it reached a point, I'm finished the Master of Divinity program, I'm moving into the Ph. D. program. And it reached a point where I had to make a decision, I could not continue to participate in an institution that I did not think that any worldly good, I could not preach a theology that I no longer believed. I could not invite people to be close to a God that I wasn't convinced was there. And so I was willing to be a lot of things, but I was not going to be a hypocrite. So I decided I needed a different way to be of service. I contacted the minister in charge of the church and told him I would not be returning, I contacted my bishop to surrender my ordination. And I left. Wow. And for a while I wasn't quite certain what to call myself. I knew what I wasn't. Right, Christian. But for me, it wasn't simply that Christianity was faulty. From my vantage point, theism was faulty. So it wasn't a matter of moving from Christianity to a different theistic tradition, none of it, I thought had any substantive ability to make a difference in the world. But with time, I came to call myself a humanist in terms of what I do, and an atheist in terms of what I no longer hold to be true.

David Ames  12:34  
Wow, so much is there I think what is really interesting is you're describing the failure of theistic traditions to meet real world problems, to meet people where they're actually out. And the flip side of this, and I see this definitely in your work, and it's something that I'm constantly trying to get across as well is that I want humanism to be blood, sweat, and tears boots on the ground, something that is living and breathing and actually touches people's lives. And you've touched on on this already, and we'll talk about it from your book, but you differentiate between religion and theism. Could you expound on that a little bit?

Anthony Pinn  13:14  
Yeah, theism is the belief in God or gods. Religion is something different from my vantage point, religion is a kind of quest for a complex subjectivity. That is to say, religion is a wrestling with the who, what, when, where and why we are questions, you don't need God or gods for that. You just need to be committed to a desire for meaning, right? And I get a lot of resistance from from some humanists and a lot of atheists when it comes to issues of, of meaning, right? That we are not seeking meaning we are not ritually driven. But of course, we are right. Folks who go to the American Atheist meeting every year, sit and listen to talk, have a certain procedure for listening to talks are involved in ritual. You don't have to have God rituals, repeated activity and founded space. Atheists have ritual. Humanists have ritual. And so my argument is, ism is one thing, but religion is really simply a way of naming our effort to come to grips with who, what, when, where and why we are.

David Ames  14:21  
I love that because, you know, I think ironically, sometimes theists will say that atheism or humanism is a religion and I think, yeah, and like it's, you know, we often as as particularly the atheist community will respond with, you know, horror at that statement. And yet, really, just as you've described as a way of organizing people to come together to seek meaning with one another. That's not a bad thing necessarily.

Anthony Pinn  14:45  
No. I think my from my vantage point, I think humanists and atheists surrender language too quickly. Right, simply because theists have claimed terminology doesn't mean they own terminology. Right? Right, and that there may be some elements of the vocabulary, that grammar that is still useful for us that allows us to explain and explore the all we feel when we encounter the world, that sense of wonder, is it restricted to theist? Right? The atheist and humanist ought to be able to understand themselves in relationship to something that is much more profound and bigger. And that might simply be a larger arrangement of life. Right? A larger sense of community doesn't have anything to do with God or gods. Right.

David Ames  15:39  
As I mentioned to you Off mic, you know, I use this term secular grace. And what I mean by that is that the thing that we need most the thing I think, that is just hardwired as a human being, is to feel known to be understood to be loved to be accepted. And we actually get that from one another. It's my having conversations like this, it's my deep friendships, it's my significant others relationships. It's, it's our interaction with one another that we derive meaning from. And that's really what I'm trying to do with this idea of secular grace and again, sounds exactly like what you're describing. The book we're going to discuss today is how colorblindness isn't the answer, and humanism and the challenge of race. Clearly, this moment in time, after the killing of George Floyd, the number of black Americans who have died at the hands of police, Breanna Taylor, the list is so long that it's ludicrous. And one thing that I am definitely concerned about is how humanism can participate in Black Lives Matter and be again, boots on the ground and something real, something meaningful. And when I asked you which book I should read in preparation for this, this is this the book that you suggested, and boy, it is it's a profound moving book, it is challenging on every level, we'll get into that a little bit, what I'd like to do is just, I want to tell a little bit about my experience of reading the book, and then we will go through the questions that you pose throughout it. My feeling of the book is that the first half of the book is questions you've been asked 1000 times that out of exhaustion, you finally wrote these down to say, read the manual. I'm from the tech world, we do things called frequently asked questions and RTFM means I spent the time to put this down on paper, please go look at that rather than wasting time. Maybe that's unfair. But it strikes me as the exhaustion of black people in general being asked to explain what should be abundantly obvious to everyone. That was my experience of the first half. The second half I think you are posing, or suggesting to humanist in particular, the questions we ought to be asking ourselves the questions that would provide a meaningful change or a meaningful interaction to help black people in America. So maybe we could go through some of those questions. And you can explain just a little bit about about each of those. Sure. So in that first section, where we're these are kind of the questions you probably have been asked 1000 times and in some ways they they reveal an ignorance maybe of the questioner. But at the same time, you're you're gentle in suggesting that you understand why, particularly white humanists might ask these questions. But So beginning with, why does your community embrace religious traditions that have been used to do harm?

Anthony Pinn  18:44  
Well, what we need is a much more complex understanding of how let's take Christianity, for example, how it is functioning within the context of black communities, that on some level, sure, blacks embracing it, are embracing strategies that were meant to dehumanize. But you cannot explain a Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser or Denmark vz, that way, who argued that this same religion required them to physically fight for their freedom, and if folks had to die in the process, so be it right. So here is a kind of revolutionary stand that this same Bible, the same doctrines motivated them to make change. Can't think of the civil rights movement and have such a narrow understanding of how religion has functioned within African American communities, regardless of how one might think about it. Religion was a factor. And it wasn't passive. Right. So religion, on one level, used to harm blacks, but there are also ways in which blacks have actively tried to reshape the Stockman so as to provide a sense of their own humanities. It's a complex story, right? But it seems to me coming from humanists and atheists the better question in this is this, why hasn't humanism been more attractive? Rather than blaming victims? Let's look at this orientation and figure out why it hasn't been more attractive, in part because humanists and atheists spend so much time dogging out religion and the religious and not as much time offering people a safe place to land, right. And if you're talking about African Americans, you are talking about a population that already faces double jeopardy, at least double jeopardy. And so to claim humanism, or atheism is to add another way in which you are despised, and what do they get for their effort? Nothing other than a critique of the churches they've

David Ames  20:59  
left, right?

Anthony Pinn  21:02  
And it requestion is about their culture. Right, so the question is, why hasn't humanism been more attractive?

David Ames  21:10  
Right? I wanted to touch on just a couple of things that you bring up in this section. I love the way that you describe I use the word earthy several times and you're describing a humanism as earthy and I love that you used the Blues as an example almost of anti spiritual is kind of the the opposite of spirituals. And, you know, I, you mentioned Willie Dixon's coochie coochie man, and my all time favorite is muddy waters mannish boy, which is also a reference to Bo Diddley's. I'm a man which is a part of it. It's a reference to Willie Dixon's. And I've never thought of those as manifestos of humanism. But as soon as you said it, it clicked. Like, it is the opposite. It's it's a breaking away from the religious constraints.

Anthony Pinn  22:01  
Yeah, right. And so in the same way, you have folks who use Christianity as a way to counter Christianity, think think in terms of Ida B. Wells, who was deeply religious, deeply Christian, and extremely critical of violence against African Americans, right. She provides a profound critique of lynching and terms of the blues you have someone like Ma Rainey or Bessie Smith, who celebrates black bodies that are otherwise despised, that celebrates the pleasures that black bodies give other bodies, and a larger society where these black bodies are demonized, despise, and destroyed. Right? So you get on one hand, the blues, critiquing theism, but on the other hand, you have the blues, critiquing anti black racism and dehumanization through a celebration of black life.

David Ames  22:57  
And, in fact, the mannish boy is about saying, I'm a man. Very famous pictures from the civil rights movements of black men with signboard saying, I'm a man to say, I'm a human being I exist in this world, I'm embodied here,

Anthony Pinn  23:13  
rightfully occupying time and space.

David Ames  23:16  
Absolutely. Yeah. The other other thing that I think that this touches on with the the blues, and obviously has been a part of the black culture of the black experience is kind of outsmarting the white culture around them that all the way back into slavery of being able to have the songs where they're passing on information, passing on hope, what have you, in a way that is coded such that the white people around them are not getting that and it strikes me that the blues isn't anyways, is that as well, during that civil rights time period?

Anthony Pinn  23:50  
Yeah, there's something deeply poetic about it, you have a population, using the language forced upon them. Right, a language that was initially used to belittle them to dehumanize them, right to construct them as something that as as other and here you have the them using it to critique that very system to celebrate themselves to critique that very system, and why it's not even recognizing what's taking place.

David Ames  24:21  
So let's go on to the second again, this is a question that just are not a question, but a statement that sometimes people make that again, may reveal some ignorance. And the idea is humanism is driven by reason and logic. So it doesn't see race as a biological reality, that should determine any significant dimension of life. And yet it does, correct.

Anthony Pinn  24:42  
Right? It is not a biological fact. But it is a social fact. And it's a social fact that can be deadly. And so humanists and atheists don't gain ground by simply saying, it isn't biologically real. It isn't about us and simply pointing the finger at the religious right, pointing the finger at theists saying, Well, if we didn't have religion, we wouldn't have these problems, which is just it's not true, right? It is not true, that we can turn to the enlightenment that so many humanists and atheists uncritically embrace, and you find a deep anti black racism from folks who are not claiming church, they're claiming reason,

David Ames  25:25  

Anthony Pinn  25:27  
And so there's, you know, we have to move away from the assumption that humanism and atheism are prophylactic against nonsense. This is not the case that humanists and atheists can be just as racist, as fundamentalist Christians can be.

David Ames  25:44  
Right. Yeah, it's interesting, I think, the experience of deconversion of having had a faith, a theistic faith and then becoming a humanist. I feel like that what one of the things I bring from that experience is some humility. I've had the experience in my life over and over again, of being wrong, deeply wrong, profoundly wrong about the most important questions in life. And I think that one of the great criticisms of the atheist community is that they are blinded by their own sense of the power of their own reason. And I think that what we need as a community and Titan, the entirety is some humility, about recognizing that our reasoning didn't go haywire. It can lead to, you know, undergirding racism, rather than defeating racism, it can lead to terrible atrocities, if you think of the time of Eugenics and things of that nature. So you know, reason can go terribly, terribly wrong. And we need a quite a bit of humility as we come to this, to have other people challenge our own reason and be willing to say, I might be wrong.

Anthony Pinn  26:57  
And I think humanists and atheists often have a misguided and go, mind that the end goal for too many is the dismantling and removal of traditional forms of religion, right, getting rid of this stuff. It seems to me a better end goal is radically decreasing the harm that theists and non theists do in the world. Right? Right, that the end goal ought to be the development of ways of living that are more nurturing and healthy for the larger web of life. And if folks want to continue to go gather for worship services on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so be it. But it seems to me the larger more compelling goal is decreasing the harm that we do in the world.

David Ames  27:47  
Couldn't agree more, again, just alleviating suffering, providing the environment for people to thrive. That should be the goal of humanism. I've loved the way you much throughout the book, you kind of speak to humanist ideals or thinking and turn them in such a way that particularly white humanists are forced to look at themselves. One of the ways that you do that, as you describe how we humanists, or atheists will long for spaces in which they can talk about the atheist bias within the world. And then you point out the need for cultural spaces for black Americans, black humanists to have the same, right that they the exact same way that we need to have a space where we feel safe and comfortable, we can talk to one another. And we're understood, we don't we're not going to be misconstrued that black humanists need exactly the same,

Anthony Pinn  28:43  
right, right. A space in which we can catch our breath space in which we don't have to explain why we're angry.

David Ames  28:55  
The third question that people might ask human is would be of great benefit to your community, wouldn't it if only we could get more of you involved?

Anthony Pinn  29:04  
And the question again, one, why isn't it more appealing? Yeah. And secondly, when I get that question, for me, the answer is a question. More of us for what reason, right, that often what humanist organizations, humanist communities want, are more shades of the same. That is to say they want African Americans to come but don't change anything. Right? Right, just fit in, don't change anything. And it seems to me if we're really serious about diversity, it means fundamental structural change, right? So organizations have to then reinvent themselves so that they are compelling with respect to this range of participants, radically rethinking leadership and leadership structures, radically, reimagining communities of concern, radically rethinking our vocabulary and our grammar, right that this requires a tremendous amount of change. And it seems to me that what humanists and atheists have to become aware of is this, that this sort of fundamental change this movement towards diversity and equity means giving up comfort. You cannot request comfort, and say you're interested in change,

David Ames  30:29  
right. And, as has been commented on in a number of contexts, the feeling of bringing a subjugated group up to equity can sometimes feel by the group that's in power as a loss of something a loss of power or what have you. And we have to be willing to include a diverse group of voices, including in leadership roles, including in a being voices for our movement, that includes a wide variety of perspectives.

Anthony Pinn  31:03  
It means recognizing and wrestling with something that so many would rather ignore white privilege, right, that this has to be acknowledged and dismantled, that all of this has been set up for the benefit of a certain population that has to be rethought and rearranged. And that can't be done, if the demand is to remain comfortable.

David Ames  31:28  
That's a good segue, the second half of your book you are suggesting to the humanist the questions that we ought to be asking ourselves, and the first one is about the nature of privilege. The idea here is an end, let me quote here, white privilege isn't about having wealth. No, it's about the positive assumptions that follow and inform the life of white Americans. It's the often unspoken and unrecognized access to the workings of social life that come with a membership card of whiteness. What of this privilege, are you, me, US willing to surrender in order to promote equality, and justice and what is gained by doing the right thing regarding the negative effects of privilege, I want to linger here just a little bit, and just mention a bit of personal story. I have a slightly complex relationship with race in that my father's side of the family, I have a Mexican American grandfather and Spanish American grandmother, which makes me you know, genetically three quarters white. And yet my father's side of family is very culturally Mexican American, very, you know, they were Catholic. They were Gatos, they were you know, cowboys, really. So me and several of my cousins, you know, when whenever we get back together, we talk about how it what it's like to have to be wise we are, I mean, in all ways I pass as white, but to also have this part of part of our lives and, and I sometimes think of it that I haven't experienced racism myself, but I feel like maybe through a dim glass darkly, I have a sense of something that's out there. And I say all that to say this, that. Even with that dim perspective, the events of the last year, including up to including your book, were revelatory in breaking down my naivete. By a twist of fate. My last name is very Anglo, and not Mexican sounding, understanding. And so I know how many times I've had the benefit of the doubt that the career that I have now, you know, I worked my butt off, but I absolutely understand how many points along the way. Privilege played a role in allowing me to be where I am today. So again, just to set that all up to say, I think that white America, in 2020 is going through, as you mentioned, uncomfortable, but a process of learning of recognizing, in a new way that the modern day suffering that black Americans are going through in a way that we were probably trying to lie to ourselves to hide, to minimize to rationalize to, to ignore. And now we are unable to ignore it is in our faces and it must be addressed.

Anthony Pinn  34:38  
Yeah. And it's not about purity, right. I mean, that doesn't exist. And so it's not simply a question of lineage. It's a question of social perception. How is one perceived socially, right? That makes a world of difference how one is perceived socially can be deaf clearly. How to the relative Those of George Floyd, right and this word we're clear on. And so we make a mistake when we assume that white privilege is synonymous with economic advantage. That is not the case. But even how economic struggle gets mapped out and articulated, differs. So it's often the case for African Americans are struggling economically, the popular conversation is they just don't want. They're unwilling to work to get. But for whites, it's a matter of the system being unfair, right? So they are not understood as being inherently flawed, right. Whereas African Americans based upon white privilege and anti black racism are understood as embodying the problem. For whites, the problem is external to them. And we often and there's an added dilemma there, that we often try to get at this through the individual. And that doesn't work. Right? We're not talking about Jim Smith over here, versus Robert Jones over there. It's systemic, as a group, whites have done so much better than any other group. And there is privilege in place unspoken social privilege in place that makes that the case. So it's not a one, one, it's not the end of it. We're not talking about this on the level of the individual. We're talking about this on the level of communities.

David Ames  36:37  
I think that's the word systemic is the revelation that feels like White America is experiencing right now is, and let me be clear, black people have been saying this forever. It's not. And we're gonna get to that we have no no excuse, right? There is no ignorance is not an excuse. But that the visceral experience of seeing the system work against black people, black bodies, black lives, is again, unendurable at this moment in time. It should be. Yeah, yes,

Anthony Pinn  37:15  
it should be. But it's, it's surprising the number of people for whom this isn't a turning point.

David Ames  37:24  
I feel the burden of having now read your book. Again, you don't give any space for ignorance as an excuse. But even having read your book, it feels like I am more compelled now. To be more vocal to be more outspoken. Again, I feel guilty about all that, that it takes. It takes something like this, but I'm trying to be honest here to bring out what it feels like this experience of trying to learn to try to be less ignorant. In this chapter, you you make one provocative statement that I'd like you to expand upon, you say that the term people of color is not helpful. Why do you say that?

Anthony Pinn  38:08  
It isn't helpful, because when we use that phrase, we mean everyone other than white people. Right, so what it does, from my vantage point, is allow whiteness to remain normative. Because then there's whiteness, and everything else that has been othered. Right? So it allows whiteness to remain normative. It also suggests that white people are not raced. When every population is raced, the difference is some populations are raised to their disadvantage, and others are raised to their advantage. And so this idea of people of color, again, allows whiteness to remain normative, that allows whiteness to go unchallenged, and allows whites to remain invisible when it's convenient. And it renders everyone else hyper visible. And so it seems to me more authentic to our history, to say people of a despised color. Or we can do what's even better than that. And that is to recognize how bulky and awkward our language is, and specify groups

David Ames  39:28  
to enumerate them to list them out to call them out by notice that you in many times do you refer to the Native Americans as well in your book that as also a despised group that has been deeply affected by white supremacy deeply hurt deeply affected,

Anthony Pinn  39:46  
and in ways that we we have often been rendered invisible, right. We don't often talk in terms of the land we occupy. And how we got that land right Even so even despise populations existing within geographies that were violently ripped away from others, right. So there's this animosity, this racism, this anger, this violence is layered, right. And we often fail to acknowledge that.

David Ames  40:25  
And it's interesting the way that we the education system as well that we just gloss over. Even the way we teach about slavery, the way we talk about states rights, quote, unquote, the way we talk about Manifest Destiny, the way we are taught these things is whitewashed. To begin with, I'm definitely more and more aware of that as time goes on of the simplicity, in the way that we we talk about our history without acknowledging deep problems.

Anthony Pinn  40:57  
Yeah, yeah.

David Ames  41:00  
So again, another of your your posed questions, setting that up, knowledge is a certain form of power. And humanists read and study, they work based on logic. And with much energy they suggest that theists do likewise, logic and reason rule the day, the question is, how much of this call for knowledge information is applied to the issue of race, and racism. And again, this is where I've mentioned that, you know, this book was uncomfortable, every time my inclination was to squirm a bit and to look for excuses or to find a way out, you very effectively stop that from occurring. But again, I love the way that you are using the humanist ideals to say, you need to face this truth, if you say that knowledge and study and and understandings important than race has to be at the near the top of that list.

Anthony Pinn  41:52  
Yeah, the number of humanists and atheists who believe that ignorance on this issue is okay, right, that ignorance should stop the conversation? Well, I just don't really know anything about this. That is unacceptable from a population that understands itself to be deeply committed to reason, logic and learning that learn something about this, right and stop assuming that African American humanists and atheists have some obligation to teach on this. Right, if that is the case, if we have to deal with these with toxic attitudes, toxic understandings toxics arrangement, then we ought to receive hazard pay. Yes, it seems to be humanists and atheists rather than saying, I don't know, and patting themselves on the back, or to say, I don't know, and start reading. The materials are easy to find so many of them on our New York Times bestsellers list, you define, exactly. Get them read them learn. Yeah. Because humanist communities cannot say they are taking seriously African Americans, for example, and learn nothing about us.

David Ames  43:18  
Using the idea that the value of education and saying that we have no excuse that the information is available, and that should be a top priority of humanist organizations is providing or pointing to black humanist voices to learn.

Anthony Pinn  43:37  
Yeah, and I think, in addition to that, we've reached a point where white humanists have to take some accountability and responsibility for this, because black humanist didn't create the problem, we suffer from it. And it seems to me that white humanist have to also start talking about the need for change and addressing strategies. So we ought to be able to go to these large gatherings of humanists and atheists and have more than the usual suspects talking about racism. The population that benefits from it should be publicly trying to dismantle it.

David Ames  44:21  
There are lots of parallels to the deconversion experience of the systemic part of systemic racism means that it is so culturally ingrained. It's like asking a fish what is wet feel like? We as humanists should be better at recognizing when we have failed to see the wetness to see the systemic racism and yet, that is just as pervasive within humanist organizations as it might be envious or just secular environments.

Anthony Pinn  44:53  
Again, we have a commitment to learning. Right? We have a commitment to discovery we have have a commitment to critical engagement. So we ought to be able to get our thinking on this, right?

David Ames  45:07  
Absolutely. I think one of the notes that I took reading this chapter was Do your homework. Just yeah, to the to the overachieving kid, you know, do your homework. We know what we need to go learn and where it find it. We just need to do it. Yeah, yeah. On to the next section here, you describe difference as an opportunity. And you say that quotes, more shades of the same end quote, is a comforting strategy, because it highlights the familiar while giving the pretense of difference. Its natural, but unproductive default position when racist the topic or the challenge? And the question, what kind of racial justice work? Might you find and promote if differences understood differently?

Anthony Pinn  45:55  
My understanding is the way in which US society is framed, the way it is constructed, it's very logic is premised upon a sense of difference as a problem to solve, right, that we've got to move from all these different things to one unified thing. And that is just poor thinking, right? It seems to me, we really ought to reach a point within humanist circles in which we understand the value of difference the way in which different gives us opportunity to adjust and to rethink our assumptions that it provides a certain type of strength that provides opportunities that don't emerge, if everything and everyone is the same. Yes. So just in terms of practical elements, so rather than bringing in African American Humanist into our organizations, and assuming they should just blend in, recognize that in bringing in African American humanists, we're called to change our organizations, that their presence provides an opportunity to rethink what we've been doing.

David Ames  47:04  
Yes. And it occurs to me that we often talk about diversity as almost like a checkbox, like we need to have diversity, check whether it's done or it's not done. And yet, what you're making a compelling argument for is the the benefit of diversity. And it strikes me that there's a strong parallel between the ethos of the scientific method, which kind of relies on almost antagonistic skepticism, in order to better come to closer to the truth, a closer approximation to reality. And in a similar analogous way, the diversity and competing ideas, computing, cultural perspectives, competing life experiences, can help a group come to a better understanding of how to live life to thrive, to be human in this world. Yeah. The last section, and I love this, this was so this was so much fun for me learning from unlikely sources. So you talk about hip hop culture and the built in diversity that's within the hip hop culture. You say that, you know, some people can come to the hip hop culture and say, Well, why is it violent? Why is it so materialistic, that kind of thing, but you say, a better question is, what can we learn from hip hop?

Anthony Pinn  48:27  
You know, I mean, because to to raise the question of why is it so violent? Right? Why is it so antagonistic? Why is it so committed to dollars? doesn't distinguish hip hop from the larger arrangements of economic life in the United States? Right? What's the difference? Right? Can we say the same thing about so many other organizations and development, right, that that doesn't make Hip Hop unique? And so I bring up hip hop for a couple of reasons, one, to reinforce the necessity of discomfort, right that this is not a population that humanists and atheists necessarily turn to, although we share quite a bit so for example, hip hop culture, develops within a context of black and brown despised young people trying to come to grips with the world. Humanists and atheists understand themselves as being despised disliked within us society. Yeah, right. So we share that, right. But whereas hip hop has grown from that point, to become internationally, influential Hip Hop shapes, popular imagination, it shapes our vocabulary and grammar, it shapes our aesthetics. It seems to me rather than getting on board with a traditional critique of hip hop, we humanists and atheists who are also despised might want to ask the question, what are they doing right that we're doing wrong? Right and just look systematically and strategically at how hip hop culture has grown. So for example, one of the things that hip hop culture has done that we have not effectively done is develop a vocabulary and grammar that is organic. That speaks from and to us. We've not really done that night. So hip hop culture has developed a way of naming and communicating the world that is organic. And in part, what they've done is highly poetic. And by that I mean, they have destroyed language in order to free to express a different reality. Right? We have not effectively done that. Right. So again, my argument is simply we need models of successful transformation. And Hip Hop culture provides one of those models it has done over the course of a relatively short period of time, what we have been unable to accomplish in almost 200 years.

David Ames  51:04  
Along the lines of the point, you were just making you say this, that humans are still playing by the rules offered by theists. And that there's almost a sense of the humanist is asking to be liked, please like me. And so we're still using the theists language, we're still defining ourselves in opposition to the essence. So I think what you're trying to say is, we need to be creative and create our own vocabulary, our own way of talking about the world and about ourselves. That is not just within the confines of the theists game,

Anthony Pinn  51:37  
we need to be proactive rather than reactive, that we spend so much of our time together, making fun of and belittling theist, right. That's not very productive.

David Ames  51:51  
Yes, no, it is not.

Anthony Pinn  51:54  
You don't transform the world that way.

David Ames  51:58  
Some of the points that you draw from the hip hop community, we'll just touch on them and ask you to expand on them this idea of thick diversity. What did you mean by that?

Anthony Pinn  52:09  
Well, within hip hop, it seems to me you have a significant appreciation for a range of beings a range of expression, a range of ways to occupy time and space. Right? There isn't one way there is all of this, all of these possibilities, these conflicting and competing ways that all constitute an element of hip hop culture. Right? Well, it seems to me humanists and atheists have been too preoccupied with trying to boil things down to one way of being right that atheists do this. They're concerned with church and state, not gay rights, right? They're concerned with this. They're not concerned with that humanists are concerned with these issues, not those issues. Humanists talk this way they conduct themselves this way they think about ritual this way, we need a greater sense of diversity, and difference, right, a greater sense of what our culture has the capacity to hold.

David Ames  53:15  
Right. Another thing that you point out is the significance of the ordinary and live this I'd like to but please expand upon it.

Anthony Pinn  53:23  
And it seems to me one of the things you get in hip hop is a profound appreciation for the ordinary, the mundane markers of life, the mundane elements of pleasure, and engagement. And I think that sort of appreciation would give humanists and atheists a different way of valuing ritual, and the production of meaning. Right, that none of this is lost on hip hop culture. And so it seems to me it provides humanists and atheists with a way of gaining greater clarity concerning the web of life, and the role we can play and nurturing that.

David Ames  54:13  
Again, to maybe play off of the theist for a second, the what's interesting about this is that theism in many ways is the denial of our humanity. It is saying that our natural passions are wrong, that it's trying to make us less human in some ways. And I think this idea of significance of the ordinary is to embrace one's humaneness. Right, and to, to revel in some ways in that that earthiness to use that internal use.

Anthony Pinn  54:44  
Yeah, I wouldn't, I wouldn't say it's a denial of our humanity. I would say it's a distrust of our humanity. Okay. Right. It's the assumption that it's the assumption that we have necessity are going to do the wrong thing that we start out Behind, right. And in that thinking there is a preoccupation with rejecting anything that might constitute an opportunity for sin, this kind of distrust of ourselves anything that might lead us down the wrong path. It seems to me that what we have with hip hop is what we have with the blues, a celebration and an appreciation for connection, togetherness for the messy nature of life, right that both of them the hip, hip hop, and the Blues have a deep appreciation for the messy arrangements, the messy nature of life.

David Ames  55:40  
Right. One of the last things you mentioned here is and I love the way that you frame this call it measured realism. Can you expand on that for me?

Anthony Pinn  55:51  
Yeah, it seems to me that, I'd argue it makes sense for theists to be hyper optimistic, radically optimistic in terms of possibility. Because from their vantage point, they don't wrestle alone, right there. They're not trying to change the world alone. There is a cosmic force that shapes the universe that is on their side, so they can be highly optimistic, right? That is not the case. For humanist and atheist, it's just us. And history demonstrates, we are likely to get it wrong. But it also demonstrates we have the capacity to start over to try to get it right. And so what I'm calling for is a sense of that messiness, the way in which we are prone to get it wrong, that all we have is human accountability and responsibility, and that alone won't win the day. Right. So I one of my favorite thinkers is Albert Kumu. And I like witty, I like the way in which he frames the myth of Sisyphus that he argues that Sisyphus is not defeated by this ongoing chore given to him by the gods, right, he's going to be responsible for rolling this rock up the hill forever. And this was supposed to break him for commu. He says, No, he is not broken by this he reaches a point of lucidity of awareness, he becomes better he develops a better understanding of his circumstances. And that alone is the when one must imagine Sisyphus happy. And so what you get from Kung Fu, and I think this is absolutely right, is a need to understand that our struggle is perpetual. That we will find ways to do harm. Our struggle is perpetual. And so I want this measured realism is a move away from outcome driven strategies.

David Ames  57:46  
Right, I want you to expand on that as well. Yeah. So rather

Anthony Pinn  57:49  
than so what would you get with the civil rights movement, for example, and even more recent conversation 2020 conversations is, if we get our actions, right, if we think properly, and we act properly, we can transform the world. I don't know that that's the case. So rather than the kind of hope that that generate, I'd much prefer to think in terms of persistence. Right? I don't know that we will fundamentally change any of this. But we do this work, not because we know we will, when I leave that a theist, we do this work, because it's the last best option. Regardless of whether or not it wins the day, it's what we can do, that perhaps the best we can do is to generate a loud and persistent no to injustice, and measure our success by the persistence and the volume of that no perpetual rebellion. I don't think humanists and atheists ought to be talking about transformation the way he is talking about it, right? Because we're not working with the same tools, right?

David Ames  58:59  
Because I want to hear criticisms of the things that I hold, dear. I think one of the criticisms that is out there from secularists about humanism is that there's some implicit teleology that there's something that's drawn from Christianity. And what I find interesting is that that is not what I think at all, I think it's precisely because we don't know that everything is going to turn out okay. That we must feel compelled to do something to do the right thing. Because there's no teleology, nothing is driving the moral arc of the universe in the right direction. We have to go out there and try to bend it to be a part of that process to be a one of those voices.

Anthony Pinn  59:43  
Yeah, we don't. Yeah. I don't think that it's teleological in nature and that we don't assume that there is purpose behind any of this. Right, right. The universe has no particular purpose for us. I alberca. Mu is correct. We ask the universe questions and answer with silence, right, it is not here for us. It has not generated some sort of purpose driven existence for us. From my vantage point, what we have is an unreasonable level of optimism that history should demonstrate this level of optimism with respect to human activity. And human capacity for change isn't reasonable?

David Ames  1:00:28  
Yes, history is painful when it's looked at unfiltered. Absolutely. If

Anthony Pinn  1:00:33  
anyone, if we just look at the the history of this country, there is no justification for that high level optimism. We have continuously gotten it wrong. And we move from Obama to Trump. We have continuously gotten it wrong. Yeah.

David Ames  1:00:53  
So I think we've gotten through your book at this point, I have a handful of questions that I legitimately just want your take on the question that I brought to the table before reading the book that might also be naive. And we've answered it to some degree is the broader question of why why humanism has failed to capture hearts and minds in general, not just the black community. But then to frame that just a little bit. I went through the this, you know, loss of faith experience. And the first things that you find are, you know, the four horsemen, you find debate culture, you find hostility towards Christianity, which is justified, don't get me wrong, it's all that is justified. And I felt all that and, but it took a while to find kind of humanist voices talking about what do we do now? So okay, you know, we we now understand what we don't believe, what do we believe? And and what do we value? What do we find out? What do we do about it? And I find like that those voices, they're all out there that people like yourself, there are lots of podcasts. There's lots of tons of books. But those aren't the first things that people find. So how is it that we have failed to be compelling to the nuns? Let's say that

Anthony Pinn  1:02:07  
NES? I think, because we by and large, had we offered little that is constructive. Right? When we tried to develop a language of life when we try to develop community and, and rituals of meaning, we often strayed into something that is fear, some light think in terms of ethical culture, or the UAE, right, that we haven't developed ways of thinking of speaking and doing that are uniquely us, we do so much of this by negation. Why would that be compelling?

David Ames  1:02:45  
Yeah, I think we have a lot of work to do. You point out in the book, the humanist tendency to look uncritically at particularly Enlightenment thinkers, particularly when we look at the founding of America and slave owners who wrote our founding documents. I'm also reading at the same time, Daniel Allen's our declaration and finding the beauty of the egalitarian nature of that document. And we're also in the moment in time in which Hamilton just came out on on Disney plus. And so I think it's on everyone's minds, how ought we to look back at what there are some very humanist ideas built into some of the America's founding documents? How should we be looking at those?

Anthony Pinn  1:03:36  
Right, so here's the example I often give that I don't know very many humanists, or atheists or free thinkers or skeptics who don't have deep appreciation for Thomas Jefferson. And while they should, embracing Thomas Jefferson, bringing him into our various movements, also brings in sexual violence and anti black racism. Right, so we have to have a kind of critical and informed appreciation for these figures, right, what we often do is shift into a kind of celebration that ignores shortcomings. And so it seems to me and embracing these figures. We are then held accountable to do two things. Recognize the anti black shortcomings within our our movement, our thought, the gender bias within our thought, right, and do better. But we have to get to that point, right. But we It seems to me to many humanists, and atheists still want to think about our movement outside of the confines of anti black racism and other forms of social injustice. Not recognizing that these things are deeply embedded in a humanist understanding of the world, whether one's thinking about David Hume or, or Thomas Jefferson or the list goes on, right, it is deeply embedded, and we have an obligation to wrestle with that.

David Ames  1:05:15  
Right. And even the Constitution itself has amendments, we can do better. We can rethink, and better.

Anthony Pinn  1:05:22  
Yeah, because it My attitude is the constitution in and of itself is a fantastic document. It celebrates a wonderful experiment. It just didn't include everyone. Right? And then moving to include everyone requires not just a shift in the language of that document, but it requires structural change in the country to accommodate those new ideas.

David Ames  1:05:50  
One last question that I have for you. And again, this is me being a bit vulnerable. I think, my hesitancy to address the topic of race is a balance of not wanting to be performatively woke, and to not make it about me, which I know I'm guilty of that in this conversation. I'm still learning. And I, you know, I want to know how to be a better ally how to participate, how to be a voice that supports black lives, and yet doesn't make it about me doesn't make make it about Yeah, my wokeness my, yeah, my experience. What advice do you have for me or people like me,

Anthony Pinn  1:06:38  
I think there are several things that are important here. One is to be in conversation with the community of concern. Ask that community of concern, how you can be helpful, what you should be doing, get your marching orders, and be quiet. And by that I mean to say, you don't get to lead anything here. Right, right. If you're committed to addressing anti black racism, find an organization find a community, ask what you can do. And don't assume you get to be in charge of anything. Right. That's how that's one way. You keep it from being about you. Because you're just you're getting your instructions, and you're doing what this community says would be helpful, and you're leaving it at that. I'd also say finally, it requires avoiding the litany of what folks have done, right? Right. So don't don't ask to be a part of a movement. Don't ask to be an ally, and then rehearse all of the wonderful things you've done to make a difference,

David Ames  1:07:48  
right? Absolutely. Well, thank you, Dr. Pinn. You have been incredibly gracious with your time. Oh, my pleasure sharing your wisdom. Can you tell people how they can get in touch with you and your work?

Anthony Pinn  1:08:01  
Yeah, you can. Most of my stuff is available on my website. It's just Anthony Or you can follow me on Twitter that's at Anthony underscore pen. Those are probably the best two ways to reach me.

David Ames  1:08:16  
Fantastic. Thank you, sir. I appreciate it so much.

Anthony Pinn  1:08:19  
Thank you. Thank you.

David Ames  1:08:27  
My thoughts on the episode, some of the conversations that I get to have change me, this is very much one of those conversations, I cannot unsee the arguments that Dr. Pinn has made both in his book, and in our conversation. I hope you can hear during our conversation I was attempting to be honest. I also realized that in many ways, I was also making it about me and the exact way that I was trying not to do but I hope if you happen to be a white humanists that you could hear what needs to change what needs to be learned, what excuses that we would tend to move towards no longer apply, based on the argument that Dr. Penn is making. I want to thank Dr. Penn for his graciousness in giving of his time, sharing of his wisdom and being patient with yet another white person talking to him in ignorance. I am a little less ignorant. Having had this conversation you haven't read this book I highly recommend not only the book when colorblindness isn't the answer, but all of Dr. Pinn's work. I am profoundly changed even in the way that I understand humanism in general, not just specifically about race. In talking with Dr. Penn. I'll highlight here the distinction between religion and theism. The point that Dr. Pinn is making is what we actually want as humaneness is to come together and community and to find meaning and purpose and wonder together. And that kind of is a definition of religion. So it isn't religion that we have a problem with it is the supernaturalism it is theism it is believing in something that doesn't have evidence. I'm also fascinated by his discussion of using the theists vocabulary and the desire for some in the atheists or humanist community to be liked. It's almost like we are we're trying to get the theists to not agree with us, but to like us somehow. And in that sense, we are using their vocabulary and we are playing by their rules. I'm inspired by Dr. Pinn to see how we can have a humanism that is boots on the ground that develops its own language that develops its own way of speaking about its own way of reaching out to the world and effecting actual real change of alleviating suffering, of making the world a better place without referring to theistic or teleological frameworks. Lastly, I'll just say that we as humanists, and those of us who are not a member of a historically disparaged group or race, need to do our homework, we know where that information can be found. And we need to go do that we need to have empathy to recognize someone's experience that is not our own. The history of black people telling the white community about the systemic racism that they were experiencing that horrific tragedies that they have faced, throughout at least all of American history, if not well beyond that. And the unfortunate truth is that the white community has typically ignored this 2020 has made that impossible. My naivete over the last 16 years or so watching the election of President Obama and then the violent response to that has broken down that naivete on a daily basis, to the point where I think how could it possibly be worse, and yet, every day something new occurs? Even just recently, there was a discussion on Twitter, it was a philosophical discussion that really isn't pertinent. A black mathematician, chose to share the memes of hatred and racism that in his direct messages from people, I just horrified and knew I couldn't believe it. If this killing of George Floyd hasn't shocked us, I don't know what will. So my secular Grace Thought of the Week is do your homework, go find a book from a black author from a disenfranchised, disparage group, read it, empathize with it, try to put yourself in that person's shoes. Try to understand why they might be angry, try to understand why people might riot people might be so mad that they go to the streets, what drives a person to be angry. We should recognize this above all other people as atheists and humanists, the entire x Evangelical community is about the anger that is felt having grown up in an oppressive culture. We should understand this more than anyone else. And yet, we often don't apply that when it comes to race. Do your homework. As I mentioned in the intro, I'll be talking with my wife, Michelle, about our relationship on mic coming shortly. And if you have any questions that you'd like to pose to one or both of us, I'd ask that you please send that in, either as a voice message or as just an email at graceful Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and being a graceful human being.

Time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith trend? position you want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on. Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing, please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well, this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.

This has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Jessica Hagy: The Humanist Devotional

Atheism, Authors, Bloggers, Book Review, Humanism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Grace
Click to play episode on

My guest this week is Jessica Hagy. Jessica is the artistic and comedic genius behind the blog, Indexed. She has recently written a book titled, The Humanist Devotional. Jessica is an artist, an author, a comedian, a marketing and social media guru.

Get as humble as you can.

Jessica grew up secular and calls herself a humanist. It is not that she rejected the bible, but rather that there was so much more for her to learn. In the episode she uses the analogy of a library card as granting access to the world’s knowledge. Access that she took advantage of.

Small talk can get big fast.

We walk through her 10 steps on how to be an interesting person and re-imagine them as how to find meaning and purpose as a humanist.

Do something!





 10 Steps on how to be interesting



Secular Grace


Why I am a humanist

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to start with a brief comment about the current events in the secular world. The hosts of Good Mythical Morning Rhett and Link have both published their deconstruction stories on their podcast Ear Biscuits, I highly recommend that you go take a listen to that. beyond just their very public deconstructions, as well as other high profile former Christians who have come out as either D converted or deconstructed has prompted a fair amount of hand wringing amongst the believers and apologists in particular. And I just wanted to state here that many of the hot takes we hear from the apologist class, about why people do convert are just dead wrong. And I propose to you if you are a believer, or if you are an apologist, that you talk to people who have deconstructed their faith, or D converted, and ask and listen, rather than asserting the reasons that you think people did convert. My podcast is full of many people telling their stories of deconversion. Listen to these stories, listen to the very common message of very dedicated believers trying to follow God to the best of their ability, and finally having to admit to themselves that it does not work and they no longer believe. I personally think that adult deconversion so not someone in their young adulthood in teenage and early college years, but somebody who has lived out their faith for some time, it was a life altering faith and life defining faith. And that type of person. D converting, says a great deal about faith and religion more than apologists give it credit. So I'll just leave this open. If you are curious about what makes people D convert, you should actually ask one of us and I will make myself available. Please contact me at graceful If you're interested in having discussion, or coming on the podcast to have that discussion. Now onto today's show. My guest today is Jessica Hagy. Jessica is an artist, a cartoonist, a comedian, and author and a social media guru. She does her artwork on the wildly popular blog indexed, check out her blog at this is Today we discuss two of her books. One is called the humanist devotional. And it was her mentioning this on Twitter that prompted our conversation. And a second book that she wrote several years ago called How to be interesting. Before we get to that conversation, I just need to note here that during the editing process, I noticed that during this conversation I come across as very mansplaining. And I just want to apologize to Jessica, I think Jessica is an amazing artist. She's incredibly talented, and her work speaks for itself. The only thing that I'll note here is that Jessica grew up secular and never had a faith experience herself. And so there are many times in which I was tying it back to what I perceive is my core audience, those people who have D converted or deconstructed from a fundamentalist faith, be the judge for yourself. Jessica is amazing. And her work is amazing. And if you need to stop this podcast to go look at her work, you should do that. Otherwise, I now give you my conversation with Jessica Hagy.

Jessica Hagy, welcome to the Graceful atheist podcast.

Jessica Hagy  4:14  
Thank you for having me. Good to talk to you.

David Ames  4:17  
Occasionally, once in a while, Twitter is a good thing. This might just be one of those good things I happen to see, I believe was the Friendly Atheist advertising the fact that you had just now written a new book called the humanist devotional. Yeah, I tried to keep my ear to the ground about humanism and those kinds of things. In like 15 minutes, we established that we would do an interview together. But I have to admit that I was entirely ignorant of your work. So I went out and looked at all of your work. And it turns out, you are a cartoonist, an artist, an author of multiple books. A hugely successful blogger, a poet, you have a TED talk. You're a man Half geek, a comedian, a marketing guru, an observer of humanity, a social media ninja, and effectively nerd crack cocaine and making us all look bad.

Jessica Hagy  5:11  
A lot of adjectives to Trump,

David Ames  5:13  
is there anything that you cannot do?

Jessica Hagy  5:16  
I cannot dance or sing.

David Ames  5:20  
Tell us briefly about the books, you've written some of your work, you know, in your own words,

Jessica Hagy  5:24  
yeah, a lot of the work I do focuses on using graphs and charts and that sort of visual format to tell stories and to get ideas across. Because it seems like there's sort of a visual grammar embedded in sort of lines and directionality, that adds a lot of punch to really any sentence you throw at it. So it's a format I've had a lot of fun with. And I started doing this sort of work in around, Gosh, 2006. So in internet years, I'm like, a billion years old and should be fossilized. But I put up a blog of that called indexed, and then index became a book in around 2008. And another book came out in around 2012, which is how to be interesting, which is done the same sort of formatting and things like that. And that did really well. And then I picked up the Art of War, which is really, really weird. It's like 300 sentences. And I thought, like, these are captions, and they need images. So I illustrated the art of war. And that was another book that came out. And then I did, I've been illustrating other people's books like crazy since then. And then the humanist devotional is one that just came out now, which is one of those things like there are all these devotionals and daily readers, and they're all sort of very Christian centric. Yes. There are a lot of other goofy nerd people out there who would just kind of like to read something that's philosophical without being religious. So I put this together, which is 366 different meditations. But they're daisy chained in sort of alternative Venn diagrams. And even talking about my work, you can probably hear people out there being like, what the heck like, but it's one of those sorts of, once you see it, you get it formats. And that's, that's what I'm up to now.

David Ames  7:18  
Yeah, I wanted to address right off the bat that we have the impossible task of trying to describe a visual medium in words, which is just Yeah. So for my listeners, just go out and Google indexed or Jessica Hagy, and you'll find it immediately. And I find like, it's kind of deceptively simple, particularly that a graph or the Venn diagram, art is packed with information. And it's almost like a joke, right? There's a setup. And then there's a moment aha moment where you get it. Yeah. And then I've also seen that you've you've actually done kind of as you've presented your work on stage. It is almost comedic. It's almost like you're doing comedy work. Yeah.

Jessica Hagy  7:58  
Cuz explain sort of talking my way through a diagram. And then you hear people in the audience like, get it? Yeah. And the time lag between showing it and the weird giggle is that like, wonderfully awkward, like, I know it's coming. I just have to wait for everybody to kind of look up and, and read the thing. Yes, yeah, that's always been one of my like, most awkward, but I kind of own it, because I know the punch line is coming. If I don't say anything, sort of moments.

David Ames  8:24  
The reason I mentioned you being a comedian is that's a real skill, the the timing and the delivery of the patience to let the audience catch up to what you have presented visually is a really, it's very good.

Jessica Hagy  8:38  
Thank you. It was one of those. It's, I just started drawing things and not really being present in a live space while they're being absorbed. And the first couple of times I did it, I was sort of like, what is going to happen here? Really fun, or people are just going to look at me like crazy person. Yeah, out of here. That's awesome.

David Ames  8:57  
I wanted to ask, just from an artistic point of view, I've heard other people or other artists talk about the freedom of constraints. Yeah. So you kind of set out this constraint of being on an index card and just talk about that a little bit to make it easier to to make it harder.

Jessica Hagy  9:15  
Honestly, the the sort of generation of this started when, way back in 2006, I, I was working as an advertising copywriter. And I heard that everybody needs a blog. Every writer needs a blog, but everybody was doing these sorts of like, this is what I had for breakfast this morning. Graham like made that almost sexy. And I didn't want to do that. But I had access to free office supplies at work. And I was just like these little index cards, I can just like squirrel these away and fiddle with them. And I just started taking notes on them and I was using them for taking notes at class at night. I was getting my MBA because writing Victoria's Secret taglines was running my brain. And I was just trying to figure it out like Have something to do with things. And the graphs were a lot of school. And they were the opposite of everything I did in my day to day life. And I just started sort of using them as an escape doodle. Yeah. And then I was just like, and I can fit three index cards on a scanner. And that's three things. So I thought I'd kind of like snuck around by grabbing a really small format.

David Ames  10:24  
I want to get more to your work, and specifically the humanist devotional, but I'm curious what your story is, where as far as leader, did you grew up? Was there any religion in your home, were you always a humanist, um,

Jessica Hagy  10:35  
I grew up with my dad converted to Catholicism to do the wedding for my mom. And she had us in Catholic school. But I also had a library card. So that didn't, those two veins of information gathering didn't quite match. And I remember doing the due up the stand up confirmation move, where you have to stand in front of the microphone and swear that you believe everything. And I did that. And I was just like, I felt so dirty. And I was just like, I'm out. I'm, that was that was bad. That was bad news. That was a bad feeling. And I'm just gonna keep reading my library books. And that's just how I've been

David Ames  11:21  
very cool. My podcast is very much targeted at people who did have a faith into their adulthood. Yeah, and who subsequently recognize that it isn't true. But the thing that rings true to me about that statement you just made is I went to Bible college, and in college, it was all about, you know, learning to think critically, and to question things. And immediately afterwards, to be, you know, certified to get the first step towards becoming a pastor was the sign on the dotted line, you believe these things, you will preach these things. X, Y, and Z. And I felt just exactly as dirty. Even though I was very much a believer at the time. So it's interesting, interesting point of honesty there.

Jessica Hagy  12:05  
That nagging feeling of like, Wait a minute. Yeah, I think sometimes you see, like, some kids are really like, of course, like, whatever, just go for it. Like, how could you worry about this? And it's like, I worry about everything. I overthink everything. How can you not overthink this large piece of stuff that they're like telling you all the time? Like, how can you not like fiddle with, like, what's behind it? So anyway, that's just one of my neuroses, that probably led me down this path. So Well, I think

David Ames  12:35  
and asking the big questions, and you're trying to put those out in a meaningful art, both artistic and philosophical kind of way, is really interesting combination.

Jessica Hagy  12:49  
Yeah, I remember one time I was, I don't know, like eight or 10. Like, I just figured out how to ride a bike. And I was like, why am I me? Wow, like, such a dumb, why am I need? And then like, the next the next week, we had, oh, this is how genetics works. And you're just like, whoa, like, there's an answer to every stupid question I've ever had. There is an answer out there. And that was just the most like, if I can ask that kind of question to myself and have it haunt me, and then get an answer to it. I can find everything I can just find out like, it's gonna be okay.

David Ames  13:26  
Yeah. So let's talk about the the book, the humanist devotional, a little bit, again, just some of my story I what I found really profound, after what I call D, converting, losing my faith, and really doing what you've just described, exploring science, exploring philosophy, was the discovery of the age of these questions that humanity has been asking and attempting to answer these questions since the beginning of recorded history since before that, and really, I felt very rooted in kind of a historical tradition of question askers. And so I really feel like that's kind of a bit of the heart of your, your book here. But talk to me about the decision to make this book and what are the sources that you drew upon?

Jessica Hagy  14:10  
So I was listening to a lot of lectures on philosophy, like historical, how did this civilization become thinking like this? And how did that idea spread around the world? Or how did it not? Or who picked up what, from where, and I was just like, that was a really fascinating sort of interesting way to think about, oh, this idea is really built on 7000 years of other ideas that have all like fallen into it. And I always love quotations and how they sort of distill things like you can get an entire philosophy that took 7000 years distilled in one sentence, like, what is that like? Oh, that's, that's such a cool sort of like linguistic chemistry. And I had the, the Yale book of quotes, which is like the official quotes, and I always had like little note cards in there. I didn't write in it, but it was just full. And then I was looking around in a used bookstore and I found other I found Bartlett's, I found the Forbes book of quotations, I found another couple really old ones, like, you know, they're good when they're like, yellowed. You open them up. And I was like, okay, so you can't search the internet for quotation. So you also get like, Abraham Lincoln loves to twerk. And that just, nothing's real. So you have to go to these like, original source books, and going through those. And then I just started sort of picking out the ones that I liked, or what really echoed, really, to me, I'm putting them in order. And that's how the book came around. So it's a lot of things distilled, and a lot of things reorganize, and hopefully they get redistilled. Like the watercycle. Like, it rains, and it falls down and it comes back to something else. So yeah, that's what I tried to do.

David Ames  15:56  
And then you've described you kind of hinted at it, or at the intro of the breakdown of a sentence that there is a form to that. And that's that's part of the way that you draw this art.

Jessica Hagy  16:07  
Yeah, I think the the sentence as an object for people is, it's so useful, it can say a lot of things. And yet it can have wiggle room for interpretation, and that interpretation, sort of accordion motion of how does this sound to your ear? And how does it look on the page? And how does one sentence contradict another sentence and let them both be true. And so that was I was part of the fun of putting these together in the arrangement that I ended up putting them in,

David Ames  16:37  
I noticed that your style changes from time to time. So the humanist devotional is not exactly like index, and the Art of War is not exactly like I have the other the other two. Is that just exploring new Artistic Media?

Jessica Hagy  16:51  
A lot of the things that I do are, I wonder if I could tweak it a little bit. And so I fit in with my own format, just to see maybe if it's something new or something different? And a lot of the times it's okay, you've done that. Now, what are you going to do? It has to be a little bit different, or it's not fresh enough to sort of like sell out to the public. But if it's a total divergence, then it's like, that's not you. Right. I'm sort of keeping that knitting going with like switching up the stitches.

David Ames  17:22  
Interestingly enough, today's message in the humanist devotional is really on point. And there's two quotes, Abbie Hoffman sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger. And Arthur C. Clarke. How inappropriate to call this planet earth, when it is clearly ocean. And then your Zinger is sudden realizations can make previously held ideas seem silly. I had already marked this one out as something I wanted to chat with you about because it describes the feeling of deconversion. So precisely. Now, I realized that's not a part of your particular experience. But for those of us who go through it as this huge paradigm shift in which all of our sense of reality has has changed. Sometimes that feels instantaneous. Sometimes that is drugged out over a long period of time. But this captures that so well, sudden realizations can make previously held ideas seem silly. I mean, that just encapsulates it entirely.

Jessica Hagy  18:21  
Thank you. You know, one of the things about putting this together was every page has to resonate with the people who read it. Yes. And so nothing could be too specific as to a certain certain feeling and yet had to be big enough that it would be understandable. Do you know what I mean? That sort of how can this really be a real shock for you to open up the book and really feel related to it on any day that it works? And I did when I was working in advertising. I wrote a lot of horoscopes for different brands oh god yeah, yeah. So remember to

David Ames  19:00  
make you feel dirty.

Jessica Hagy  19:03  
I feel okay the worst thing I wrote a lot of marketing for JPMorgan Chase and subprime housing market and around 2004 2006

David Ames  19:12  
So it's all your fault yes.

Jessica Hagy  19:15  
I can't believe in hell because I but the idea that you got that distinct like this feels like something I've actually experienced like thank you like that's what I was really going for to get. Every time you open the book up it should speak to you but that it should speak to everyone but you specifically and use and all of that and so that makes me feel great that it's

David Ames  19:41  
stuck. But I see what you're tying it together with a little bit of the idea of a horoscope it's it's broad enough, that that we see ourselves if they did the Rorschach test, we see ourselves in it and we we connect it to our own personal story.

Jessica Hagy  19:57  
Yeah, but that's another weird linguistic trick. like is when it's when the sentence begins with, you know that all of a sudden, the people are like I do, okay. And even before you get to the next part of the sentence, they're already sort of bought in, and the second person really pulls that through. And I think when you put any sort of book or object together, if it's always you're thinking of the reader, as you, you're here with me, I'm thinking about this, how would you feel? And that's like, I got far enough away from my own sort of like authorial perspective on this, that I was always in the readers mode. And that felt really good, especially working with other quotes. I was always sort of an outside observer. And that made editing it a lot easier, if that makes sense to

David Ames  20:44  
kind of and actually sparks another question of, how do you think of yourself? Do you think of yourself as an artist or an author or something else,

Jessica Hagy  20:55  
I always just have artist and writer because I, I draw and I use words so heavily. And everything is really sort of linguistically and poetically inclined, even if it is drawn or painted, or presented in a format that's not typical, like block of

David Ames  21:13  
text, right? In our email exchange, you said something really, I thought was beautiful. One of the things I wanted to do with the humanist devotional was present humanism as a more optimistic way of thinking, as opposed to a philosophy that's merely an opposition to religion. Oh, yeah. So again, that really resonates with what I am trying to do. But let's explore that idea. What did you mean by that?

Jessica Hagy  21:38  
So even thinking about just talking about our own sort of, how did you had a serious break and or reorganization of your entire life when you left your religious scenario? And I think mine was more of a just like, huh, man, these other things, right? And it was, it was never like, this is terrible. And you should stop, you should stop this. It was more just like, well, I, I found this other really cool book and like, I'm going to read that instead. And so the instead was always more appealing and uplifting. It offered something, as opposed to just be like, No, I don't like this. And a lot of the atheism spaces are really sort of not up with thinking but down with religion. Yeah, that doesn't feel good to me. Yeah,

David Ames  22:24  
I should have said this ahead of time. But any criticisms of atheism are welcomed, because I criticize it all the time? I think this is exactly part of the problem is if we are just purely in opposition to you know, that's silly. That's just not a very interesting position to take.

Jessica Hagy  22:44  
No, and it's it makes it makes a very small mindset, like, can't you can't grow from a point of no, yeah, you can grow from a point of, I want to see what happens in this petri dish. But you can't grow from I'm just going to set this building on fire like that. Yes, that's it just makes people uncomfortable. And it doesn't offer them anything like uplifting, right? And you can be uplifting in any sort of way.

David Ames  23:13  
Yeah, you know, I think that's, that's a really good way to describe your work, not just the humanist devotional, that even index there is a hopefulness in there, there's something inspirational about the work that you do, whether that's I don't know, if it's intentional. I think if

Jessica Hagy  23:29  
I'm going to draw something or write something it can be, it can be a little bit snarky. Like, this is an odd subject. Yes. But also like, but in the context of the world, like, it's kind of fun. Yeah, there's, there's, I mean, even true, evil is absurd. And it's evilness, right? So the capturing the absurdity and the sort of wonder of stuff is my default setting, I think.

David Ames  23:53  
So I had said to you about for me, the way I try to encapsulate this is to put the humanity back into humanism. And so one of the things that I found, again, as as this was a discovery as an adult, imagine just, you know, waking up one day and discovering this, you know, huge world, that library card of these writers and philosophers and just reveling in that. Yeah. But one of my criticisms of humanism is that it tends to be kind of locked in the intellectual high tower, right? It's this from a philosophical point of view, you know? And it's a debate culture and it's, so I'm really interested in in talking about humanism as normal people as a as a regular human being with emotion and feelings, and it feels like that resonates with your work as well. Yeah, and

Jessica Hagy  24:43  
but so much of just reading philosophical texts. I mean, that stuff is chewy. You just you open it up, and you're just like, that paragraph is gonna take me three days to really sort out in my brain what this guy's talking about like okay, I know So this is important and foundational, I should understand it, but really like, what does it mean day to day real people real feelings? Like, what's the soundbite and I hate to be so like, short attention span theater about it. But really like, what is the what is the main chunk that I can carry with me and interpret into other ways and so much of philosophy and religion and arguments like that? It's good to know and good to understand and all of that. But the the human to human conversation isn't like, ancient Greek arguments. Yes.

David Ames  25:39  
I'm trying to decide, should I quote back to you some of the things and get your spin on them, or I love a few of these, like, what is valuable is not new, and what is new, is not valuable. Every generation has to relearn everything their ancestors already figured out that one really? Oh,

Jessica Hagy  25:57  
yeah, going through just like 10s of 1000s of quotes. And when you find one that's just like, that is sticky. And that is, that's some real, real juicy stuff there. And the things you said, were not 12th grade linguistic acrobatics, of vocabulary and things like that. They're really straightforward observations. And that's the kind of stuff that really works for me, because you can take those apart and put them back together and really present them and let them do the work for you.

David Ames  26:30  
I wanted to talk about just from a creative point of view, almost a confessional on my part. I am kind of the stereotypical white ish guy, who when I went through this transition, I thought, Oh, I have so much to say to everyone. And the fascinating thing was coming to recognize, again, the oldness of these questions, the oldness of even the answers that I find so compelling today are so derivative, I find that though I am still obsessed with the idea of expressing things in some unique way expressing it in a in a non derivative way. Is that something that you try to do as well?

Jessica Hagy  27:10  
Yeah, it is. One of the things like the more I read, the more I feel like I haven't had an original idea in 1000 years sort of thing. Yeah. And when you are just sort of bombarded with something. And then you're, I'll be doodling out things or thinking about the next thing. And I'll be like, Did I read that somewhere? Did I have that thought myself? Is that something I've accidentally stolen? And translated into my weird format? Like, what? Where did that come from? And then I'll have to sort of google myself to make sure I'm not plagiarizing other people on accident, like three years later, or something. And it's one of those. Thank goodness, there's Google, because you do realize that everything is so interconnected, and people are always doing these different things. But I think you can't, it's always going to be like a weird Xerox, right, like you make a photocopy gets a little mocked up, you do it again, like the JPEG falls apart, something changes. So you might feel like you're being derivative, or you're not, or you're not having an original idea, but you are in your own way, like you're having an idea with your spin on it. Always.

David Ames  28:14  
Yeah, and I you know, culture is inescapable. So we are swimming in the ideas of our peers, and those have gone before us. So in some sense, absolutely. Everything is derivative. It's nothing new under the sun. But we are definitely putting our own spin on things as we try to put something out in the world.

Jessica Hagy  28:34  
I think I think that is one good thing to think about. And I think, the process of learning something, it's a new idea in your head, like there's an actual chemical reaction that's brand new, when you learn something, even if 100 People are sitting in a classroom, I don't think the idea will stick in everyone's brain in the same way. Right? That makes sense. Like if even on like a basic chemical level, your idea is your idea the way you've learned it with your memory and the whole thing, right? So fiddling with art is comforting in that respect, which is at least it came out of my brain after it went through the like diagnostic system of all my senses and things like

David Ames  29:15  
one of the things I find interesting, or I attempt to do is to do what you've described to distill some idea into a sentence. And I actually find that another thing that Twitter is reasonably good at is forcing you to put an idea into it's the simplest form you can you only have certain number of characters. Unlike you, however, I can't do that on anything close to a daily basis, you are producing just a tremendous volume of work. It amazes me. So how do you keep How do you continually come up with these ideas?

Jessica Hagy  29:47  
Part of its fun and part of it sort of the great spite driven capitalist machine, which is you have to prove yourself over and over again every day. And I'm sort of like I can and I will And then I just keep making things. And the more things I make, the easier it is to make them if if the habit forming function of that has any use. But yeah, I've been I've been drawing these little graphs and charts and now it's almost a secondary dialect for me.

David Ames  30:18  
So I'm wondering if you would be willing, I, I know your book, How to be interesting is several years old. And I have to admit that I haven't actually read it. But the various summaries of it, it strikes me that your 10 steps are not only about how to be interesting, but they also somewhat answer the question how to have meaning in your life. Yeah, I wonder if you'd be game if we could talk through some of those and see how they apply to humanism?

Jessica Hagy  30:50  
Oh, sure.

Yeah, that's a, that's a good notice. Thank you.

David Ames  30:55  
I saw some summaries of the 10 steps. And then I've seen a couple of YouTube videos of you describing it. And I was just struck by how these 10 steps also force a person to consider what they find important in their life. So if we can't, we'll just go through some of them. So step one is go exploring. What does that mean to you, and then we'll talk about how we can apply it.

Jessica Hagy  31:19  
I think so many times when people are feeling stuck, or bland or blah, they're not moving, and they're not letting themselves think about new things. And they're not letting themselves sort of go and find out. And it's it's that feeling of like, you've got a library card, you can open up anything you can you got Google, you can check anything out, you can go outside and watch people like, even going to a mall and watching people can become an artistic career if you're just if you just sketch. And that really was the first like, Well, what do interesting people do? And the answer is kind of something. It doesn't really matter what the something is, as long as you care about it and have a love for it and have a curiosity about it.

David Ames  32:03  
For people, again, probably not my target audience who were former, let's say evangelicals, or fundamentalists in one way or another. One of the very exciting things is that some ideas, some some sources of information were off limits whether that was overt, overt or implied, that means they're valuable. Yeah, exactly. So this one again, really speaks to me of, you know, I just went through this voracious reading process. In the first couple of years of reading anything, I could get my hands on it. So this idea of exploring, not only physically going to different places, but also the exploration of ideas of things that might have been off limits at one point in time going, Yeah,

Jessica Hagy  32:45  
I can take that even, like, even down a closer sliver, but in advertising, people would be like, well, I can't I don't have any ideas today just don't have any ideas. I'm just gonna read some of the annuals, like the advertising annuals of the award winning stuff. And it's like, you can't think about advertising. So you're gonna think about advertising some more like no, like, read something else, or like do talk to people who aren't in advertising and that just like the insularity of any organization, crew, religion, anything that builds that sort of sense of, Well, this is what we do, right? This is what we think about all the time. And there's so many wonderful, interesting people out there who don't know about what you do at all. And there were all the fun stuff is,

David Ames  33:30  
this resonance is great. So I've talked a lot about this idea of being in a bubble. So when I was a believer, it was hermetically sealed, right? Everything was self referential and self reinforcing. And anything that wasn't self reinforcing, was rejected was thrown out of the bubble. And so this exact idea of you know, you're in this box, and the only way to get out of that box is to start looking outside of the box. And those ideas outside of the box will show you how small that box was.

Jessica Hagy  34:01  
Yeah. And I think there, there are some people that you meet, and you're just like, how did you become that person? Like, how did you make a life for yourself? Like, cutting out paper puppets? Like, how did you become master? Like, what? Tell me how this happened? Or sometimes even just like, How did my accountant become an accountant? Like, how does this happen? How do these people find these things? And I mean, everybody has some sort of weird bubble that they're in or weird non bubble or, and then the bubbles collide. And you're just like, I can learn so much from this weird puppet master and this accountant and we should have dinner all the time.

David Ames  34:39  
Yes. So the Step Two for how to be interesting and we're trying to apply it to finding meaning is the one that I really love is share what you discover. So we've done this exploration and now we should give it away.

Jessica Hagy  34:54  
Oh, no, I think somehow I've segwayed right into that, but that's where your bubbles like meet each other and You're just like, did you know that? One of the crazy weird facts? And I think I found this on Twitter too, is that when you get scurvy and this is kind of gross, okay. Yeah. But when you get scurvy, one of the pieces, the main fundamentals of the vitamin A or C, or whatever it is that the lack of is scurvy. Every wound you've ever had reopens? I did not know that. Whoa, can you imagine? Like,


stubbed toe, every zit every, every little wound, like your body has that as a memory, and it's still encapsulated in you. And it's only held together by a lemon every now and

Unknown Speaker  35:43  
I reading that I'm just like, Did you guys know? And people are like, no, but

Jessica Hagy  35:50  
and then all of a sudden, like a weird conversation starts happening about like, well, I did this. And did you know that this happens. And one thing that happens when you get a tattoo is that tattooing is in your lymph nodes forever. And just like conversations that way? Yeah. But the conversations that you end up having eventually did become really personal. And really sort of I learned this or I felt this one way, just by talking about random information. Yeah, if that makes sense, like small talk can get big fast.

David Ames  36:19  
It totally does. Again, I'm sorry to keep being self referential here. But this podcast, I often am interviewing people who have gone through a similar faith transition into myself. And there's many, many commonalities, but there's always something unique. There's always some special twists that their particular story has. And I find that the telling of one story is this super cathartic experience. The other thing I've learned through this process is people want to tell their story. So when you just ask them, what's your story, they just explode and begin telling their story. That

Jessica Hagy  36:57  
that is really true. And one of the things about I that I got asked a lot, when How to Be interesting came out was, well, what do you do if you're shy? And you don't want to meet people like, well, one, you don't have to be outgoing to be extremely fascinating. And the other thing is, if you want to be interesting, no more things. And the easiest way to do that is just ask somebody else about themselves, and people will tell you.

David Ames  37:19  
Alright, so step three is do something, anything?

Jessica Hagy  37:24  
Yeah, I think that idea that you have to be really good at anything, is a bad place to start, because nobody's really good at anything when they first start doing it. Right. And so there's the idea that if you just keep keep on practicing, or keep practicing, you'll become an expert and able to help other people do it, or you'll become really knowledgeable in one thing, and you will develop a love for what you're good at by actually doing something you're bad at if that, if that lines up.

David Ames  37:57  
I had to definitely like get over. Like, you know, I know what a really good podcast sounds like a really well produced one. Yeah, this is not it. I have to get over myself of you know, it's not going to be perfect. But I can I can do it this well. So I'm just gonna do it and see if anybody's interested. And it turns out, yeah, there's a few people. Gosh, what

Jessica Hagy  38:18  
was it there was this beautiful thing that was on, there's a YouTube video that has 4 million hits of how to open a can. Somebody needs what you somebody needs your information, like put it out there, like just do it. Like just, you'd be amazed, like, people will find you. And it's so cool.

David Ames  38:38  
To tie back real quick to step two, one of the things I often encourage people to do is write down their story, you know, they don't have to put it on a blog if they don't want to or something, but just write down the experience that they have gone through. And you can do you can apply that to anything, you know, you've had a great vacation, write it down for posterity, so that five years from now you can look back and say, Hey, that was a really good vacation. So again, your step is do anything, something about just the act of creating of doing something is just a really positive thing.

Jessica Hagy  39:09  
Yeah. And it's the idea of an exercise. So physical exercise, mental exercise, artistic exercise, social exercise, like there is a strengthening that happens, the more the more it's done, or just the act of doing it and saying, You know what, I went for a run. Am I a runner? Now? I painted a picture. Am I a painter now? And it's like, Yeah, take that and run with that. Go. Do it again.

David Ames  39:35  
Yes. Your fourth step is embrace your weirdness.

Jessica Hagy  39:39  
Yeah, I mean, the whole idea of if you're going to be interesting, you have to have some prickly part that stands out on the sphere. That is your identity, like, there has to be a hook or an angle of you that is slightly different. And people's idea of what is slightly different is amazing. So like you're like in your head past life, standing out in one way, or asking one weird question could define you forever. And that would be, that would be the, the weird part of you that you'd be known as, and you know what that's dig into that, like, see where that takes you, because that's something other people have noticed is already off about you. And not off in a negative way, just often, uh, not exactly the same as everyone else.

David Ames  40:27  
So two things I want to say about that one as it applies to, again, deconversion when you're in in that bubble, people begin to feel shame. They feel like, there's something wrong with me because I'm different, right? Or why can't I fit in? Why can't I go along with everyone else seems convinced by this, but I'm asking these questions, and you know, what's wrong with me? Embrace that move on. Go with it, let it

Jessica Hagy  40:51  
it's not, it's too because our entire culture is all about, like, icons. And people who do one amazing thing and people who stand out and are amazing. And also at the same time, like, absolutely encourages conformity so much. And it's just like, look, it's going to be that loop. And you're either going to fit in precisely at all times everywhere. And that will stress you fuck out for the rest of your life, because it's impossible. Or you might as well just run with the thing that is a little bit. Not exactly like everybody else. And you'll get credit for it.

David Ames  41:26  
And we don't remember people who conformed.

Jessica Hagy  41:30  
No, and if we do remember them, it's because there are a lot of them, and they frighten us like Children of the Corn style.

David Ames  41:38  
Your step five is have a cause.

Jessica Hagy  41:42  
Yes, you've got to believe in something bigger than yourself. You can't be it's just you being like, I'm going to be the best at this, this and this, you're not because you're not doing something that actually matters. And once you find something that actually matters, then one, you don't have the excuse that you can give up on yourself because it's bigger than you. And two, it actually we'll be bigger than you because it's not all wrapped up in just you.

David Ames  42:12  
This one I think is really pertinent for this idea of meaning, again, as you come out from having this prepackaged idea of what your purpose in life is to suddenly realizing I have to figure out what my purpose in life is. That's incredibly freeing, but it's also terrifying, right?

Jessica Hagy  42:33  
The big feelings are also are good and bad at the same time.

David Ames  42:36  
Yeah. So this idea for me for a cause I recognize, hey, I can use I can repackage these, the skill set of connecting with people talking with them. empathetic, I can repackage that and I can, it's just a different audience now. Now it's an audience of people who are leaving their religions in the middle of it. But again, I encourage people just it doesn't have to be that it can be anything you can find what you're passionate about what you're interested in and go after it.

Jessica Hagy  43:03  
Yeah, I mean, people build lives around amazing things, their entire societies about foraging for mushrooms around here, I'm in, I'm out in Seattle, and the people who are experts in that are experts in literally life and death because you can get a bad one and like your livers gone in an hour. Yeah. Or they're just the details and the like the passion for foraging for mushrooms. Maybe they will save the world or maybe dog rescue will save the world or Gosh, what's that weird parable where the guy's walking down the beach after the storm when all the starfish are out there? Oh, I'm not sure I know. Like all these all these dying starfish went up and he starts pitching them into the sea. And this other guy walks by and goes well, you can't see him all the guys like when I say this one. Yeah. And like, it's such a like, hokey little Hallmark story. Doesn't get me every time because it's like, yeah, just do my one thing that like, feels good to do it. And you did something good. So

David Ames  44:07  
yeah, you don't have to be limited by perfection. Do do what you can do.

Jessica Hagy  44:13  
Well, nobody's ever been perfect. So

David Ames  44:17  
your Step six is minimize the swagger.

Jessica Hagy  44:21  
Yeah, I think the one thing that everybody I've ever met who's really really wonderfully interesting is not me, me, me I did all this. It's more like this is a cool thing. And the cool thing is a big umbrella for other people to go into. And therefore they're not off putting and they get to do more things because they have more they attract more friends and fun stuff and the whole bit of it and the self reference before action all the time will just hold you back like what if people see me or what if this or what I'm that or anything and it takes the fun out of so much.

David Ames  44:58  
I talked about epistemic humility that, who it's this sense of, I already know things that limits you from learning new stuff. So when you embrace the fact that you are an ignorant, limited human being, and there's this vast array of things to learn it, so if you can start with, I don't know, and I want to, there's all these things that you can go explore and learn.

Jessica Hagy  45:25  
Oh, yeah, it or that you've met those people who are like, Don't you know who I am? Or what is this? And they are not fun. They're not going to be like, well, let's go find out or what is that? Or they're not going to ask any questions.

David Ames  45:40  
So again, I think this one applies to some of the negative aspects of the atheist community in that some of the off putting nature of that is that it is about intellectual dominance. Oh, yeah. I'm the smartest person in the room and bow down to me kind of thing and it isn't appealing.

Jessica Hagy  45:58  
And it's so dead ended. It's an absolute dead end of just like, Well, I figured this out. Well, then. Okay, move on. You have nothing to talk about.

David Ames  46:09  
Let's see, Step seven is give it a shot.

Jessica Hagy  46:13  
Yeah, I think that is that really is the willingness to try things. And that's the whole guy's got 4 million hits on a can opener, like, go for it. And the worst thing that can really happen is that you don't do anything. And then you're sitting in your chair like, well, I don't I have anything to do. And just like, because you didn't do anything in the first place. Yeah, you might as well just take a job, like, not even a big one. Just something.

David Ames  46:39  
Yeah. And sometimes just realizing that, you know, if you attempt something, the worst thing is that the worst possible outcome could be that it fails. You've learned something.

Jessica Hagy  46:49  
Yeah. You've learned how not to fail in that. Exactly. And that's exactly

David Ames  46:54  
my work. It happens to be in technology. And it is a humbling process. It is mostly did this thing work. Now, did this thing work? No. It is a iterative process of failure to figure out what the right solution is to something. And yeah, that if you were hung up on making a mistake, you would be frozen in inability to do anything. Oh, that's

Jessica Hagy  47:19  
yes, I have a so I have a six year old and getting him to draw things. At first was really hard until I was like, it's just art. It's just paper, you make one and then you make the next one different. And he's like, Oh, he's like, it's all practice. Like, it's all practice all of it. Like, there's no final and he's just like, okay, and now he draws like crazy monsters have weird things and cuts up snowflakes. And because it's all practice, and just kind of thinking of that iteratively like that, but it's so freeing, because it's not failure, then if it's just, we're gonna figure out something else. And we'll just keep going.

David Ames  47:56  
Absolutely. Number eight is hop off the bandwagon.

Jessica Hagy  48:02  
Yeah, I mean, this talks, probably the most directly

David Ames  48:06  
to you. Yes.

Jessica Hagy  48:08  
And I think to once, if everyone's like, I have to be this exact person, this, I have to be fashionable in this certain way. These are the hot topics, these are the hot things, then you're never going to become the mushroom hunting extraordinaire, that you are destined to be the very fashionable things that all your friends or everyone's told you to do. And if you look at just the billions of things that you could spend your life really investigating, none of them are trendy, none of them for long. And you might as well do what is actually fun and interesting to you. And it doesn't have to be what everybody else is super into.

David Ames  48:51  
Absolutely. And the beauty of the internet these days is that if you have some niche interest, there's probably 100 200 people out there who are interested in that.

Jessica Hagy  49:03  
And they probably have like extraordinarily good like group chats that can be like I found this weird problem. Can you help me with it? And they're like, yeah, like my father in law is into vintage tractors. And the vintage tractor repair community is intense and tightly knit and they know some really cool stuff. Just like oh, well, that's how you rebuild the ball bearing setting or whatever it is. On a 1949 This kind of tractor and I'm just

David Ames  49:32  
wow. Yes, that's awesome. That's awesome. For sure. This one applies to the target audience here. You know, you're going with the flow, you're going with what everyone thinks so to speak, and you're in your bubble. And it is that moment of what does it look like if I if I hop off bandwagon where the revelation of reality kind of hits you. So Step nine, is of direct one grow a pair?

Jessica Hagy  49:57  
Yeah. I mean, a pair of whatever you've got or whatever. To me personally, yeah, but that is really that's just stand up for for yourself. Like don't don't let yourself be steamrolled. Just be assertive about what you care about and what you need. And don't let the world abuse you.

David Ames  50:16  
So again, this kind of going back to taking risks and recognizing that each person has something unique to share with the world, and that's valuable.

Jessica Hagy  50:25  
100% and because of the, there's the drive for conformity, and stay in line and know your place, and don't be insubordinate, don't be superior, don't be anything, just be invisible, seen and not heard until you're 110. But the idea that everybody does have a little bit of something that comes in handy is how civilization happens, right? Yes. If everyone just like sat and like plowed the field, well, who's gonna harvest it? Where's the food coming from? Where's the water? How did the house get put up? Where's the fire, like, everybody has different jobs, even if you just break it down to very primitive needs.

David Ames  51:05  
The last one is kind of related is ignore the skulls.

Jessica Hagy  51:10  
Yes, I think every kid that's ever been a little bit odd or a little bit interesting or artistic or curious or precocious or not good at something enough is going to get scolded into conforming and abandoning whatever it is that they love. There's a book called orbiting the giant hairball, by a guy who used to, I think it was Hallmark. And he drew greeting cards and things. And he would go into classrooms and teach kids art. And he would ask the first graders, how many of you are artists? And they'd all raise your hands. Yeah. And if you went into like, the seventh grade and say, How many of you are artists? And you might get one like, half raise hands, right? Like, what the heck happened? That, that is how we are that we beat artistic stuff out of kids. And if we're beating artistic things out of kids, what other interesting skills have we just smoothed out by the time they're not even to puberty? Right. And that's just an unlearning how to be well behaved is tough.

David Ames  52:21  
Well, and again, this one applies pretty directly to the target audience hear of you will have your detract detractors, when you come out to say that I no longer believe you will definitely get people who are not going to be very happy about that. And to tell you why you're wrong. Yeah. And it's very important to realize that, you know, to kind of expect that that's going to happen and to be prepared for it and to recognize that you can stand your ground, and you don't deserve abuse, you know, you can say no to people, and you can shut them out if you need to. So,

Jessica Hagy  52:54  
yeah, any any self assertion will probably be met with some pushback of any kind. I, I believe in this No, well, I love these people. No, I want this No, like you're and if you just listen to all the knows you'll, you'll live in denial about everything in your life. All the little brain chemicals will just be like, but I have ideas,

David Ames  53:19  
then you'll never get off to step one to just starting go exploring. Just wanted to say a story for just totally reinventing your work there.

Jessica Hagy  53:29  
No, I think that's beautiful that I really liked that that book can apply entirely to how to out yourself as a free thinker. Like that's, that's beautiful,

David Ames  53:39  
and find meaning in life. Is there a question that I haven't asked, is there something that you'd like to share that, that I haven't prompted? Well,

Unknown Speaker  53:48  
oh, gosh, no, but I was always I always wonder about

Jessica Hagy  53:52  
other people, and how they came to sort of thinking about how they come to think and what was like, was there like an absolute moment you had?

David Ames  53:59  
I have somebody that I have interviewed on the show, and a guy named Matthew Taylor, and he said it beautifully. He said that I suddenly realized I no longer believed and the suddenly refers to my realization, not the process. The process took years. Yeah. Wow. And another way of describing it is kind of a phase transition. Right? So all these things are bubbling under the surface, these little changes, you're getting bumped by ideas and other thinkers that are nudging you around and then and then there's this precipice moment and which, for me, personally, it was very sudden, for me it was, oh shit, I don't believe anymore. Like, I literally had that moment in time. For other people that's very slow drudging doubt that just, you know, claws out them for years upon and so, as we've discussed, people are unique. They have a different experience. Mine was slowly allowing secular right and thinkers to kind of explore. And I have the this idea, hey, my faith is so strong that it'll stand up to scrutiny. Spoiler alert, it did not. So when I took seriously the questions of a secular thinkers, and what is sometimes called the outsider test for faith and looking at my particular faith from a perspective of even another branch of Christianity, I looked at Mormonism briefly. And I thought, well, this is crazy. Oh, they think I'm crazy. Oh, yeah. That was another kind of chink in the wall. And it's definitely incremental. But that realization can be very sudden.

Jessica Hagy  55:41  
Wow, that's amazing.

David Ames  55:44  
Good question.

Jessica Hagy  55:45  
Well, congratulations on getting through all that. Because anytime you grapple with anything that changes like who you are identity wise. God, that's so huge.

David Ames  55:56  
It is kind of a big deal. Yeah. I'm continually amazed the people that I interview their stories, I had a pretty easy, right, I live in a relatively liberal area. And but people like you know, in the Bible Belt, where the entire culture is centered around Christianity, and for those people who come out. It's an entirely different experience. And I'm just profoundly humbled at their bravery, their ability to be true to themselves.

Jessica Hagy  56:24  
Yeah, that is, wow, that's just a deep, a deep, heavy thing to carry.

David Ames  56:29  
Yes. So the book we've been discussing is the humanist devotional, we've also discussed how to be interesting. You've also done a book on the art of war. How can people get in touch with you? How can they get in touch with your work? How can they find you?

Jessica Hagy  56:45  
You can find me at Jessica Hagy dot info that has links to most of my things, or they can find me how you found me on Twitter. I'm just at Jesse Nagy. And if you Google index, you'll probably find me pretty easily too.

David Ames  56:58  
Absolutely. And I recommend the Twitter account, because you get almost daily, I think it's daily new infographic almost every day.

Jessica Hagy  57:06  
Yeah. Because now that RSS is dead, or went out. You better post your stuff everywhere. So that's my hub.

David Ames  57:16  
Jessica, thank you so much for sharing your time and your artwork with us.

Jessica Hagy  57:20  
Thank you so much for talking.

David Ames  57:28  
Final thoughts on the episode. Again, I just want to apologize for being mansplaining. And for recontextualizing, or reinterpreting Jessica's book, How to be interesting. It is an incredible book on its own. Under her original point of how a person can be interesting. I found it interesting that it did apply to how to find meaning in one's life as a humanist. So I think it worked in both ways. But again, my apologies to Jessica. Jessica is amazing. And her artwork is amazing. And the just raw intelligence that comes across in her work is something to behold, please go buy her books, and check out her blog at this is The humanist devotional is a beautiful thing, you should definitely go by that, as well as her book, How to be interesting. I particularly loved her analogy of the library card. So instead of just rejecting the Bible, her argument is that there are so much more wisdom to be found out in the world, so much more knowledge to be gained. In all of the great literature and science. All of the books that are in the libraries of the world are worth reading, and that information is worth gathering. The library card is a wonderful metaphor for gaining the new knowledge when you come out of the bubble, you are suddenly free to go explore ideas to go learn new information, and read and experience sources that were off limits before. And that is an incredible freedom. I am very jealous of Jessica that she was able to have that experience from a very young age and she was so wise and mature to recognize that early. I also really appreciate Jessica's admiration for the stories of regular people that she says at one point that small talk can get big fast. So just going out and talking to people and having them tell their stories is a profound experience. And for those of us who have D converted telling our deconversion stories is a cathartic experience. But reach out to the people around you and ask them to tell you their stories that both will be an experience for you And a profound thing for the person who gets to tell their story. That is the secular Grace Thought of the Week. Again, I want to thank Jessica Hagy for being on the show. By we'll have links in the show notes for her books and her blog, as well as her social media contacts. Until next time, I am David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist please join me in being graceful human.

Time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.

This has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Sasha Sagan: For Small Creatures Such As We

Authors, Book Review, Humanism, Naturalism, Podcast, Religious but not Spiritual, Secular Grace, Spirituality
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My guest this week is Sasha Sagan. Sasha has written a beautiful book called For Small Creatures Such As We: Rituals For Finding Meaning In Our Unlikely World. The book title comes from a quote in the book Contact:

For small creatures such as we,
the vastness is bearable only through love.

Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan from Contact

Sasha and the book she has written embodies Secular Grace and carries on the graceful life philosophies of her parents. Sasha has a galaxy spanning perspective on life that only the child of physicist can have. Sasha has an infectious joy about life. Listening to her or reading her work it is hard not to share in this joy.

In her book, Sasha argues that we as human beings need ritual in our lives to mark the passage of time, to celebrate the momentous moments in our lives and to mourn the loss of loved ones.

[Ritual] is really important to us.
Sometimes, when people are not religious or were religious,
there’s an urge to throw the baby [ritual] out with the bath water.
We still need these [rituals] even if we do them in a secular way.

We discuss secular grief in the face of the loss of her father, Carl Sagan, when she was 14 years old. Sasha shares the wise parting words he had for her and the ongoing impact he has had on her and the world.

Seeing life itself as worthy of celebration, For Small Creatures Such as We is part memoir, part guidebook, and part social history, a luminous exploration of all Earth’s marvels that require no faith in order to be believed.







Secular Grace

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Well, as usual, I'm going to ask you to go to the Apple podcast store and rate and review the podcast. This really helps other people discover the podcast. If you found value or entertainment in the podcast, please tell somebody about the graceful atheist podcast. On today's show, I spent a fair amount of time talking about deconversion and interviewing people who have gone through the transition of a loss of faith. But actually, my favorite topic is what I call secular grace, or putting humanity into humanism is the answer to what now post deconversion. After you've left your faith, what do you do? That's actually the impetus that drives me to continue to do the podcast. So it is a treat for me when I get to interview somebody who is also a humanist who is concerned with putting humanity into humanism, and that is my guest today. Sasha Sagan. Saucer is a writer, a television producer, a filmmaker and an editor. She is an essayist, she has now written a book called for small creatures, such as we, which is actually a quote from her very famous parents, Andrew Yan and Carl Sagan, in the book contact. The full quote, that the title comes from is for small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love, which may be the most secular Grace quote I've ever heard. Sasha has book incorporates her parents graceful life philosophies. And she focuses on the rituals that we as human beings come back to over and over again, for those of you who may have D converted or deconstructed, the idea of a ritual might be terrifying, actually. And that's okay. But Sasha points out that cultures throughout history and all over the globe tend to come up with rituals around the same time periods. for the same purposes. The obvious examples are births, weddings, and funerals. And so this is not necessarily something to be frightened of. saucers book is beautiful, and beautifully written. And I recommend it to everyone. There'll be links in the show notes. And now I give you my conversation with Sasha saying

Sasha Sagan, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Sasha Sagan  3:02  
Thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be here.

David Ames  3:05  
Well, thank you for coming. So Sasha, you are a writer, you've done television production, you're a filmmaker, you're an editor, you've been in major newspapers, you're an essayist. And now you've written a book called for small creatures, such as we rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world. It also turns out that you have very famous parents. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself about your work and about your book?

Sasha Sagan  3:31  
Yeah, um, I was very lucky to grow up in a household where wonder and awe for the universe, as revealed by science was part of our daily life and dinner table conversation. And part of the way I was raised to see things. So I'm sort of goes hand in hand with that, but maybe not necessarily, is also a secular household. And so what I became really interested in over the course of my life, I lost my dad when I was 14. And then as I grew up, and got married and got ready to start a family of my own, I started thinking about, well, how do we celebrate and mourn and do the daily or weekly rituals that make up life in a way that is a reflection of our modern understanding of where we are in the universe, and how we got here, when the infrastructure for that kind of thing historically has been religion. And, you know, I think that those of us who don't believe are still entitled to mark time and have weddings, and have funerals and we still need those things. So combination of the way I was raised, and then what I experienced and just being generally kind of an outgoing social person who likes parties and celebrations led me to just talk Fact. And I've found that, you know, it's something really relevant to a lot of people, especially when you get to those points in life where you have to really examine these questions, whether it's when you plan a wedding, or you have a little kid who has a lot of questions about why things are the way they are, or when you lose someone, and you have to sort of really examine what that means. If if you don't believe that there's anything beyond what we have evidence to support.

David Ames  5:29  
Exactly. So my podcast, just very briefly, is on the subject of what I call secular grace. And really, that is simply just putting the humanity into humanism. I love that, and focusing on the fact that we still need each other even though we don't have a faith. But yes, it is, in fact, the human interaction our relationships with each other, that is the meaningful thing in life. So. So I have to tell you the just a brief story of the kind of emotional arc that I went through, yes, please, as I discovered you and your work. So I'm on the lookout for authors, writers, bloggers, podcasters, that are on the subject of humanism. And so when you began promoting your book, I just saw that the title, I didn't make the connection. And I thought, Oh, that looks really great. I'm definitely going to get that book and read it. And, you know, a little time passed, and I started following you on Twitter. And then I realized, Oh, you are that Sagan. I did not realize that you were Carl Sagan daughter and and Julian's daughter. And then I read the book. And I've got to tell you, Sasha, I just was really profoundly moved. Oh, thank you. By the time I was, I have the book in hand, I knew that we would eventually have this conversation. And part of what I wanted to do was to say, really focus on you and your work, and not exploit the fact that you're famous parents, but your dad is just in virtually every page. It's in Yeah. And the grief that is present there is just both poignant and beautiful. And so the first thing I just wanted to say to you, I know you speak Spanish is, is Lucia, anto I feel it, I feel it, I like it, just every page, it left it left off the page for me. So your your ability to convey the emotion and depth was just really profound. And I just thank you for writing this book.

Sasha Sagan  7:32  
Thank you so much. That's really kind. And you know, it's funny, because it's like, there's, of course, some part of me that's like, oh, I want to do my own thing or whatever. But like, because of the way my parents raised me and their work, and lots of my job like that, those are the major cornerstones of my identity, you know, yeah. And so I've gotten to a place where I'm like, This is me carrying on what I can have their legacy and their work, right. My mother's work continues. And she's an amazing science communicator, also and writer and producer. But I think that's who I am. And I think if I can sort of extend some of those things that they taught me that really were impactful, and maybe in my own way, continue that on, I'm comfortable with that. You know, it's I don't mind that at all. And I'm very proud to be their daughter, and very lucky.

David Ames  8:31  
Well, I do want to talk about secular grief a bit as we move forward. But first, let's just start with the title of the book actually comes from the book contact. And it turns out that your your mom wrote that line. So tell us about the meaning behind that. Yes.

Sasha Sagan  8:45  
So my parents started out with the idea of the story as a movie. And they worked on screenplays and you know, movies, there's a lot of moving parts, and it takes a lot to get a movie made. And this one took 18 years. And during the time, when they were trying to develop that and trying to get it made, they wrote it as a novel. And I parents collaborated on everything. And the line that the title of my book comes from is for small creatures, such as we the vastness is bearable, only through love. And I think that there's something about that that really sums up what you were just talking about as well. And it's sort of the antidote to the existential crisis. You know, that feeling of like, we're tiny, the Universe is big, we're gonna die. We're here for a second matter, like, you know, all this stuff that you're really concerned you off the deep end quickly. Yeah. And it's like, well, how do you get through to the other side? You know, the existential crisis that's real and sometimes you have to just freak out. But when you get through that part I think that it's like, well, then what do we have? When it's one another, and we're here right now. And this is the moment where we're here. And it's not forever, but at least, we have this moment, and we're in it together. And the farther out we see ourselves in the universe, it's tiny our planet is, the larger the cosmos is, it's makes it all the more precious that we have one another. Otherwise, it would be really, really hard. And so I think I think that there's something to that where you can find some of the comfort that doesn't always get associated with the really scientific worldview. And that perspective?

David Ames  10:42  
Well, I like what you just said that the existential crisis is real, I sometimes feel like I, you know, I hit the genetic lottery, and I have a predisposition to see the wonder, in life, even from a purely naturalistic scientific point of view, it's still totally awe inspiring to me. And I don't work at that. It just happens. And I just wonder how can we bottle this up? What your parents represented what you are carrying on, you know, how can we bottle this up and give it out to other people?

Sasha Sagan  11:12  
It's such a good question. I mean, I think the first step, if we were really doing it on like a grand scale would be to just like, pay public school teachers a lot of money and get people who are really enthusiastic about not just I mean, science, but math and history and all these things. I have the utmost love and respect for public school teachers, but it's really hard job. And it's a really hard job to do for very little money. And I can't imagine not getting jaded at some point. But if you have a couple of great teachers in your life, who are like, This is amazing. Look at this thing. And, you know, we stop sort of maligning facts as like cold and hard. And we have this a way of teaching children that there's beauty in what is real, and like, my daughter is like, almost two and a half. And like when she sees the moon, she freaks out. All excited. It's like, Mardi Gras. And like, we talked about it, and it's orbiting us, and we were at the sun. And it's so amazing. And we like make a really big deal about it when we see the moon. Yeah. I mean, it's easy to be like really blase. Yeah, Simone, congratulations. It's like, that's sort of really natural in a way. But there's something about once you learn something, and once it becomes really matter of fact, it's like you lose some of the stunning astonishment that you felt when you first discovered it as a child. And I think if we can preserve that, I mean, the example that I always want to give, and the thing that I still cannot get over is like, if we told children like, there is a secret code in your blood that connects you to your ancestors, to your relatives, and to everyone on Earth, and everyone who ever lived, and the earliest humans and the first one celled organisms, and like it's in there, and whether you believe in it or not, it, you can send a little bit of your blood or saliva off somewhere, and it will tell you who you are like, that's like out of a fairy tale. And by the time you're like, in middle school, and you have like a worksheet about alleles, and chromosomes, it's like, none of that. Astonishment is there, right. So I think it's really a matter of presentation. And if we could get some of the skill sets and enthusiasm that you so often find in religious settings, you know, as like a really like, a preacher who is just like, totally giving their all to what they're saying. And we could have some more of that in, in the sciences, among other areas of learning. I think we could make a dent.

David Ames  13:59  
Yeah. I'm trying to resist the desire to just quote you back your book. But I loved that quote you just described about, you know, if we taught science and math in the same way that a good preacher does, yeah. The other quote is that somewhere along the line, and I'm probably not recording it well, but that as we get scientific and naturalistic explanations that we've lost the wonder we've lost that. Yeah. And so I think people like yourself, can bring that to the subject, and it's such a vital role.

Sasha Sagan  14:33  
Thank you. I think you I think we have it in there. But it's like, I don't know the feeling of like a thunderstorm or something like that. It's like we innately being sometimes it's our experience of nature is fear, especially like a natural disaster. Oh, yeah. But that feeling of, Wow, this is enormous and majestic. And I think even when you understand it deeply, and I think you do this especially with weather like on the news like the meteorologists like when there's a hurricane like they are, they have a reverence and awe, and they understand it from a totally scientific point of view, right? Right think there are moments where we have this, we just sort of have to extend it a little bit, pull it out a little bit, dry it out a little bit in in society.

David Ames  15:26  
So one of the things that I think I have struggled with quick history I was a was a person of faith for many, many years. And that faith dissipated on me. And here I am today doing this. But one of the things I thought was interesting about your book is you don't shy away from words like spiritual or magic. And I find myself always using scare quotes, when I use those words. How can we recapture those words or redefine them?

Sasha Sagan  15:57  
It's such a good question. I'm like, Adam, logically they do come for me, even magical comes from the Magi. Right? These are like religious words, sacred holy, but I can't help but not use them, because they also illustrate how I feel about Nietzsche. And I think, you know, those words, developed in a language that was majority believers, you know, majority Christians. And so they have that history in that connotation. But words evolve and mutate also. And I think that as our understandings change, I think that those words can change, too. And I, you know, I use quotes too. And like, I've definitely gotten questions in the last few months, as I've been doing press for this book about like, well, how can you describe yourself as spiritual? I wouldn't use that word. But, you know, do you consider yourself spiritual even though you don't believe? And how can that be? And I think it's, you know, there are nuances that are missing in our vocabulary. You know, and that's true. So often, there are words, this thing and our language often, and we have trouble describing things sometimes because of that. But I think that those words are still the closest we can get because it evokes this feeling that I think we all really crave of like the just like the chill in your spine, and like feeling part of something enormous. And whether that is a theological concept, or a scientific concept, that like pit of your stomach, like sparkly feeling is something that I really think that we want, and that we almost can't avoid, because every time we understand something more deeply, or have an experience or you know, something scary happens, or something amazing happens. There is that sense. And I think as time goes on, we'll figure out what to call it. But yeah, just seek it.

David Ames  18:05  
Yes, yes. Really, it was a compliment that you went out ahead on didn't hesitate. I find myself hesitating all the time. Can I use this word? Because when I say often woman for me is soul when I say yes. Oh, it has evocative, profound meaning. And, you know, I mean, the core of my being, I don't write, I don't mean something other than my body. I'm sorry. Anyway, I just think that we need to just redeem those words. There's another religious term.

Sasha Sagan  18:34  
I know I mean, either. So many theistic expressions that I love, and you mean also, like when I like drop something, like I say, like Jesus Christ. Like, oh, my God, I mean, how many times do I say Oh, my God, and I'm like, I can't like I what am I going to do like make up something to explain that's like about, like, trials. Oh, my double helix. Like, I'm totally nervous. Like, it would be way too weird. Like, or like a one of my favorite expressions. And I wish I had a secular version of it is God willing, and like to say, like, oh, well, when we go do this, or whatever. What I really mean is, I hope it works out, right? No, or like, you know, people talking about like, a job or planning for a baby or like, all these things. And it's like that idea that like, well, we don't know how things are gonna shake out. We're terrible at predicting the future. But this is what we're planning at the moment. Yes, it's like, I wish there was a two word way to say that. But I don't have one yet. So sometimes I say that and they're like, what are you what are your whole thing is and I'm like, I know.

David Ames  19:51  
I find it charming. I think that's. So the book is primarily about rituals. So I'd like you to talk about Some of them that you described, but also, why are rituals important to human beings?

Sasha Sagan  20:05  
It's a great question. And it's so amazing because we're so all over the world and disparate cultures that had no contact with one another, we all decided we need some rituals, and a lot of them happen around the same time, same times of year solstices and equinoxes. And same times of life, verse coming of age death, you know, we all like these are really important. And we do them in really different ways. But and it's not every culture doesn't have exactly the same landmarks in terms of when when they but there's a lot of overlap. And I think it's really my mom always says, there's no refuge from change in the cosmos. Yeah. And I think that's really what it's about, we are on this planet, and the seasons change, and it gets cold and hot, or wet and dry, depending where you live. People appear, you know, out of other people's stomachs, and, and they grow up and they're kids, and then they're adults. And that's really weird. And then we go away. And we don't know where or what it is. And there's just so much to wrap our minds around that. We have to process all these changes. And I think the rituals, in the most basic sense, like a funeral, like, Well, why do we have that? Because we're like, Oh, my goodness, this person was just here. And now they're not here. What do we do? Yeah. And I think that, you know, no matter what the rituals are, we're like, Okay, this is the framework. This is what we've been doing for generations. This is how we handle this very difficult thing. Yeah. I mean, sometimes it's how we handle a really wonderful thing, like people getting married or something like that, you know. And I just think that it's, it's really important to us. And I think what happens is sometimes when people are not religious, or were religious, and then veer away from it, really, there's an urge to like, throw the baby out with the bathwater, right? But I, which is understandable, and I get it. But I think that we still need these things, even if we do them in a secular way. And that's what I'm really interested in is how, how we can do that. And sometimes how we can still honor our ancestors and what they did, or something you loved growing up. Without necessarily subscribing to the theology that it came from.

David Ames  22:36  
Definitely, I think that when a person goes through, particularly a faith transition, where they had faith in and then lose that faith, kind of the first thing that you see online is the much harder kind of debate culture or style of that loses all the wonder that loses all the awe and there's a trepidation for being a part of a group being apart. Being part of a community, in even the word ritual might be terrifying to some people. for that. I think I came through that and realize that, you know, it's a very natural explanation to say that human beings need rituals, and that every culture, as you have mentioned, throughout history and time, has had rituals for these life stages, and that we derive something from that we derive some meaning from that. And so on the other side of faith, or if you're secular from birth, you still need these moments, to mark time, as you say,

Sasha Sagan  23:35  
Yeah, and just I think it's like, in many cases, it's to like, increase joy. I mean, you know, when it's cold, and the days are really short. And the weather's really bad. You know, it's like, oh, well, we should make things really nice and like decorate them and make them be more light and have like delicious food and a party. Maybe that's like, seems so natural, and it's such a good call. Yes, that is a really like around the winter solstice is a really good time to try to cheer ourselves up with like, cookies and cookies and presents. Yeah, totally. Oh, yeah, definitely. Let's

David Ames  24:19  
do that some

Sasha Sagan  24:20  
more. Yeah. And I think that that kind of stuff. Once you peel back the specifics of the lore, or the mythology or the theology, you end up with the same throughlines and so much of them are rooted in nature. There are about astronomical Meteor illogical or biological changes, and that doesn't require belief.

David Ames  24:45  
One of my favorite different authors, Jennifer, Michael Hecht, and she talks about a graceful life philosophies, and I definitely feel like that is something that you are conveying here of just a joy in life. But one of the things I was struck By in your book is that you'll be in the description of just a very human event. And then the scientist and you will just jump through there one that just literally made me laugh out loud was you were describing, being in the same the same position around the sun, you know, in a year and then taking the scope out and saying, Yeah, but that sun is actually orbiting the center of the galaxy as well. So we're really not in the same place. And I just, I literally started laughing out loud. This is a scientist as well. So how do you blends that scientific knowledge that scientific exploration with kind of this graceful life philosophy,

Sasha Sagan  25:39  
I think it's like, the more we understand, I mean, if you get pleasure from like, learning, you know, the more we understand, and you know, it's always more amazing reality, when we just like really use the scrutiny of the scientific method, it is always more astonishing and more amusing than our than what we came up with, as human beings. And I think that that is really a source of joy. And think, wow, we couldn't possibly have imagined, you know, the scale of the Universe, or, you know, all these things that are so beautiful, or even like how the solar system works before we have the information to measure it, and all these other things that are so breathtaking. And that brings me a lot of joy. And I think that there's just something about the connectedness, the our desire to feel connected, and then realizing the thing we're connected to, you know, we're part of, it's in us we're in it is so much larger than, you know, 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, we imagined it to be and it's like, it kind of just puts a smile on my face this idea that, like, we're so bad at predictions. I mean, it's kind of like the god willing thing. But we have this system, where we can test things and try to figure them out. And we still know very little, but we're on the right track. And we will know a lot more than we used to. And it's like, there's just an endless number of, again, a sort of religious word revelations ahead of us, and we're gonna find out more and more, and, you know, we won't live to find out everything and but there's so much around the corner that will just take our breath away. And we live in a time where there's a lot of new information available, which is just so lucky. I mean, you know, if you're a really curious person who was interested in our place in the universe, and you lived, you know, in the year 1000, it would be like kind of a drag.

David Ames  27:49  
Very much. So yeah, I often wonder how useless I would have been at any other moment in history.

Sasha Sagan  27:58  
Right, where it's like, each of us is a both a product of our time. And we have these like anything's and but ya know, it's so true. It's like, another 1000 years, they'll say, Oh, my goodness, can you imagine if you lived in 2020? It would have been horrible, you know?

David Ames  28:18  
This question kept coming to me as I was reading it, and I want to pose it properly. There are times where I wondered, are there times in your life where you are reluctantly, a skeptic? Are there times where you wish there was something bigger?

Sasha Sagan  28:34  
Oh, that's interesting. Well, I don't feel that way. To me. The secular worldview is bigger. In my view, even though there is not a person like creature looking after us. I think it would be actually harder to try to understand why terrible things happen if there is a very good god who is taking care of everyone, then it is to be like, it is random and chaos. And the fact that anything ever works out is amazing. But, you know, like, that's sort of my do the way in which I am sometimes maybe not reluctant, but I feel that internal conflict is we all have these experiences, like really unlikely coincidences, where it's so hard not to be like, Wait Is race Raizy I write about that a little bit in the book happens all the time. I mean, little, like, cliche, is you think about someone and they call and like, of course when that happens, I'm like, holy

David Ames  29:47  
Yeah, but

Sasha Sagan  29:48  
I think and I have that like innate reaction of like, this is like a clue into the inner workings of everything. But when I really think it is So is that we are really good pattern recognizers, we love patterns. That's why you can understand the random sounds I'm making right now to be words and ideas. It's a huge advantage as far as our species, but we're so good at it that we see patterns where there aren't any. And it would be impossible. Like if you think about how many random thoughts you have in the course of a day, and how many people you run into, or call or get a text from, over the course of your life, it would be impossible that they wouldn't line up once in a while, right? But I still think it's amazing and worthy of like celebration on my big freakout when it does happen, because it's like, Well, someone does win the lottery, you know what I mean? Like, like, the chances are slim, but sometimes it lands and you whenever you get the jackpot or whatever, and you're like, Oh, amazing, you know,

David Ames  30:52  
statistically unlikely things happen all the time.

Sasha Sagan  30:56  
So, so cool, but I don't, even though they have moments where I'm like, you know, the Twilight Zone theme in my head is like, I still I still think that it totally statistical explanation is still like, fantastic.

David Ames  31:15  
Yeah, that's a great answer, though, that the scientific answers are the are the bigger perspective than magic?

Sasha Sagan  31:21  
I think so i That's the way I see it. And they're intrinsically beautiful to me, too. And I think there's like this idea that it's like, oh, this emptiness of space is like, so scary and negative. Whereas I still find it beautiful and comforting in a way that, that in all that we're here, I'm this little evolved perfectly to, like breathe the air and drink the water and feel the light of the star. I mean, that's, that's amazing.

David Ames  31:51  
Yeah, one of the ways that I tried to express this, this is back kind of back to the existential crisis. But that, you know, we learned the Copernican principle that we are not the center of the universe, we're not the center of the solar system that we have no special place in the cosmos. Right. And I would say the flip side of that is as, as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in this cosmos. And that makes us incredibly rare and incredibly precious. And the fact that we can communicate with each other, yeah, builds profound meaning and profound comfort. I just watched the movie Ad Astra. Oh, yeah. I don't know if you watch that. But

Sasha Sagan  32:30  
I haven't seen it. I have a toddler. So I don't get Yeah,

David Ames  32:33  
exactly. Sorry. Yeah.

Sasha Sagan  32:36  
Do you have a movie reference from before?

David Ames  32:41  
I feel yeah, I've got teenagers now. So I remember. Very quickly, I won't bore you with this. But the premise is the father has gone out looking for proof of, of extraterrestrial life. And he's obsessed with that to the exclusion of everything else, and that the son grows up and is also an astronaut and goes out to find him. And the son learns the lesson the father didn't, that it's humanity, that we are not alone. We have each other. Right. Anyway, it was just deeply profound. It was very, very slow movie I don't recommend everybody is going to love that movie. But anyway. But I couldn't I couldn't help but walk away. Like what a deeply humanist message.

Sasha Sagan  33:21  
Oh, wow. Yeah.

David Ames  33:24  
So your book from literally the introduction? I think I tweeted this right after I read it. The first tear was shed, you know, in the introduction.

Sasha Sagan  33:34  
Slash sorry.

David Ames  33:35  
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, that is a very high compliment that there's so much pathos, there's so much of yourself vulnerability in the book is deeply profound. Just very quickly, I lost my father when I was three or four, I don't really have a lot of I don't like to have a lot of conscious memories of him. I'm so sorry. Thank you. And then I lost my mother in 2015, shortly after my deconversion, so a lot of Oh, wow, a lot of grief. You know, right, as I was also experiencing the loss of so I, you know, and I think I've spent a lot of time processing that that's not a raw emotion. I'm not trying to elicit anything here.

Sasha Sagan  34:22  
I feel for you. And I'm that's really hard. And it's complicated, I'm sure. Yes. Yeah.

David Ames  34:28  
It's very complicated. But so again, thank you for the book and for the rawness of the grief that comes out on on the pages. And I think one of the topics that I'm most interested in is this idea of how do we grieve in a secular way? Right. I think you mentioned when people come up to you and they don't realize that your father has passed away. And they'll say, Hey, tell them how much his work meant to me. Yeah, you have to be the bearer of bad news. It's like, like, oh, just crushed my heart. Like I couldn't believe that. What You must have to go through. So one of my first questions is having so much of your father be a part of the culture and including things like on audiobook. And early your mom and dad's voice on Voyager that's just left. I mean, it's inescapable Is that does that make that grieving process harder? Or easier?

Sasha Sagan  35:21  
Oh, no, it makes it easier. I mean, I'm so lucky. First of all, because of, and I write about this a little bit, because of the nature of my dad's work. I have like all this footage of him talking in his voice and like audio book on like, his Cosmos, but also, like him on The Tonight Show, and like, all this stuff. And still, I mean, there's like video of him I've never seen that I know is still out there that I can like, look forward to 23 years after his death, so that I feel like so lucky. And that especially because, I mean, now everybody has video of everybody in their family, you know, whatever, opening presents, or whatever. But like, in 1996, it wasn't like that. And just because of the nature of his work, I have this, which is so lucky, and the love that people still feel for him and like, you know, once in a while, like the flip side of the, oh, tell him I love his work. And I have to be like, Oh, actually, he's not here anymore. And it's like, so awkward, partly because people are just generally so uncomfortable with death that like it's like, you know, we don't know how to talk about it. We don't especially and not in a secular way we don't know how to. We don't know what the right thing to say is there's all of that those experiences are really hard. But what I get much more often, which is the flip side is people saying, I just discovered him four years ago, and I've read 10 books, or I was born after he died. And I love him. He's my favorite writer, or you know, that kind of stuff where I'm like, wow, this really is, in a secular way. It's an extension, you know, he lives on a little longer in this non literal way. And I'm so grateful for that. And that makes it so much easier. And like, I feel like, what's really hard about grieving is being alone, um, you know, and isolated. And when I think other people miss him, too. And they still think about him and read his work and talk about him. I'm like, Well, that is extremely comforting. That's what really like, he honestly just like, helps me enormously so. So I feel like the majority of my experiences to do with him and his work and his legacy are extremely positive. But then once in a while, there's ones where I'm like, Oh, this is excruciating. But that's okay, too.

David Ames  37:50  
Well, I again, one of the more touching moments in the in the book is you're describing him apologizing to you near the end, and that he understood what you couldn't at the moment that this would be a life defining moment for you that everything would be affected by it.

Sasha Sagan  38:08  
Yeah, yeah. And I was 14, and I just didn't understand. At the same time, I'm like, What does anyone on Earth, like if I was, you know, 50? What I understand what I mean, like, we don't get it, and it's really hard, but like, I just didn't understand that this would be, in many ways, the defining event in my life. And that he, he understood that, that this would be a lot harder than I think I understood at that time, or for many years afterwards. And it was so but it was it may it was like the kind of the end he was very ill obviously. And so it was like the kind of thing that like made no sense, right? Of course, as the years went on, it became very clear why it was a really loving, thoughtful, true thing to say. And it's like a, almost like a riddle. You know, it's something that takes a long time to unravel to really understand, but it was really loving. And it was really, I mean, it's I still feel love from the last, you know, days and hours, even though more than two decades has gone by.

David Ames  39:25  
Well, that's short, an incredible amount of wisdom on his part. Yeah, there's no one will doubt or two have that kind of foresight to pass that along to you. Yeah. The other thing I think is beautifully told in the book is this idea of that those that we have lost live on in our memories. You refer back to a culture that has a distinction between ancestors and the living dead, that they live on in our memory and you quote your mom is saying she recognized that there's there's almost a second death When the last person who knew you dies, yeah. Can you talk about that? Just

Sasha Sagan  40:05  
yeah, I think about that a lot in the book I talked about someone we knew had a toddler. And they came by the house. They had, you know, my dad had met the toddler many times. And then they came by the house at some point in the months after my dad died. And and when they left me, this little boy was the youngest person, I think my dad, you know, knew, right. And my mom said, after they left, my mom said, you know, it's like, you win you, Oh, will you die again, when the last person knew you dies. And there is something about that there's, it makes me think of there's this. There's this record, somebody heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech, and then ran home and phonetically wrote down how he spoke, like, what his syntax and intonation was. And it was like, of course, this is so changed by technology now, like I was saying about, like having, you know, video of your friends now. And it's like, this idea that like, well, you know, now everybody who ever heard Abraham Lincoln speak is gone, too. And it's like, that's another way in which were done. And some people very, very small handful of people, you know, if your profile is on a coin, or there is a statue to you, or, you know, the most smallest, smallest percentage of people who ever lived, or we just know their name, even if we don't know really anything about them, the century when they lived the part of the world. But other than that, we go away. And that is something that, you know, there's two approaches to that, or three, maybe one is to deny it, you know, and if you say, Okay, well, that's not your belief system. If you believe that we don't go away, we just go somewhere else. And we continue on. Okay, that's one approach. Another approach is to sort of try to fight it with like, you know, I don't know, like cryogenically freezing, like, you know, all the things that we come up with to deny that in another way, and that's okay, too, you know, but the third way is to say, Okay, well, that's how this works. And we'll be gone at some point. And even if we figure out the, you know, whatever technology, you know, the sun's gonna burn out and 5 billion years, the Earth is, you know, maybe we can emigrate to some other planet, maybe. But things that we hold dear and the world, literally and figuratively that we exist, and now is not forever. And so, I think there's really something valuable. The third way way I would approach it is to face that and say, Okay, that's real. But we're here right now. And so let's do what we can to make the world better to find joy, to experience, love, give love, all these things that will make it so that when the time does come, it'll not feel as bad. I think.

David Ames  43:19  
I've described kind of a parallel concept of giving up the idea of the soul. Where there's this psychological need to believe that we go on, I think, as well to believe that our loved ones

Sasha Sagan  43:36  
Yes, I mean, more. So almost. Yeah, almost more so. Yeah, yeah.

David Ames  43:42  
Yeah. And you know, and I would love to believe that I would get to see my mom and my, well, yeah, like, I'd love to be able to believe that. But I recognize that, you know, having again, for me personally haven't gone through that transition. That part of the reason that was so difficult was coming to grips with the finiteness of of life that Yeah. On the other side of it now, and I'm not this is not original in any way. But the idea that it is finite gives everything poignance there's Yeah, every moment with my my family, my loved ones, my daughters, my wife, friends is, is valuable, precisely because it is rare and fleeting.

Sasha Sagan  44:24  
Absolutely, absolutely. If we lived forever, and there was no urgency to anything, it would be, first of all, it would be a totally different existence, people would operate in a totally different way. And there would be nothing unique or valuable or special about each moment. There's no beginning and no end. And I think that it's really easy to see that as a really painful thing, but I think it's also the source of all the positive things,

David Ames  44:55  
right. And then just lastly, a concept that you hint at in That is just being lucky to have lived at all. You just I think you say we were we, you know we existed. That fact that we are alive today is its own profound miracle.

Sasha Sagan  45:13  
Yeah. And I think that that's like a lot of what at the beginning of the book is about is like an all the different things that had to happen for you to be alive right now. And all your different ancestors who had to cross paths, and all this unbelievable plagues and invasions and wars that somebody had to survive, to get to the point where right now in the present, your you know, listening to this podcast, you know, is really astonishing. And I think that maybe there would be some other version of each of us, but we would have different ancestors with different combinations of qualities and idiosyncrasies and allergies, all sorts of other things. And I think the idea that, like you being exactly you at this moment happened, like if we can find a way to celebrate that. And I think the way that we find it the most is when we fall in love, because then you're like, wow, you're you and you're so amazing. And you have all these qualities that are so wonderful. And it's like that we sort of can glean it when it's an another person or when you have a new baby, and you're like, Oh, my goodness, you're this. Oh, I see my great uncle's funny expression. And like all these things, yeah. And so we get it like at the best moments of our lives, we get these little glimpses into that. And I think if we can find a way to to extend that into other parts of our lives, I think it would be really worthwhile.

David Ames  46:48  
Absolutely. Yeah, that's beautiful. I'm sorry. I said Lastly, and really, I've got one another. One more, one more question. Again, on this on this side of faith, or those of us who were believers, church or synagogue or provides this community this built in Yes, community. I really love the story you tell you tell about your your girlfriend's getting together. Yeah, regular basis to talk about how you have built community in your life.

Sasha Sagan  47:15  
Yes, I definitely. I mean, I strongly feel that the hardest part about being secular for me is that you have to like really put an effort to congregate, and I'm very social. And I like being in group situations. And it's just if I was really devout, I would have that in my life and all these different ways built in. And I because I'm not I have to make it. So one of the things that I did, sort of second half of the years, I lived in New York, I lived in New York for a long time, we moved to London for two years, and then came back and all of a sudden, I realized I miss my girlfriends so much. And that like seeing them one or two at a time was not enough. And I that I had all these interesting, amazing women who they would like each other it wasn't you know, and that together, we could really sort of form this like little tribe. And so it wasn't anything. I mean, it's totally doable. You can try this at home, just once a month, we had a dinner, we picked a restaurant, and I would send out an email. And sometimes it would be five or six of us. And sometimes it would be 12 or 13 of us. And the restaurant was extremely accommodating when we were constantly running away and being really loud, and all these things. So that was good. And we would once a month have like dinner and cocktails and talk and what was so for me rewarding was all these other friendships bloomed between women who, you know, someone I grew up with, or someone I went with, to college with, or someone you know, had worked with. And then after a lot of people started to move away from New York, which just happens, you know, and then and then I moved to Boston, and these friendships went on and all these different cities and people started doing ladies don't we call it the ladies dining society in other places. And even though I wasn't doing it anymore, it carried on and I that is something that I feel really grateful for. And I think there's something there is a real like you see it, there is a need in society for this kind of thing. And you see it as like there's, I mean, these things could be co ed or for men or whatever show seemed like these women's workspaces popping up in different cities. And you see like these will, you know, different groups where you're like, people want kind of a home base and like something in their life that's regular and steady and feeds them intellectually, emotionally in some way. Literally, dinner party. And I think that a lot of people crave that and I think if you're secular you know sometimes it's a little bit more of a drag and you got to put it together yourself, but I think it's worth it.

David Ames  49:59  
You I think that the lesson from that chapter in particular is just being intentional about building friendships. And yeah, maybe setting a time and setting a place and making that happen. So yeah, in effect to ritualizing.

Sasha Sagan  50:14  
And having a group to go through the ups and downs with

David Ames  50:18  
absolutely, yeah, somebody there just to hear the good times and the bad. Yeah, exactly. Well, if it's not obvious, I love the book. So much the book is, for small creatures, such as we are rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world. And the author is Sasha Sagan, Sacha, how can people get in touch with you? How can they find your book?

Sasha Sagan  50:40  
Oh, it's sold wherever, wherever you get your books, you can find it. And I'm on Instagram and Twitter at Sasha Sagan. My website is Sasha And you can email me there. Tell me what you think I'd love to hear from you.

David Ames  50:56  
Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and.

Final thoughts on the episode? Wow. All I can say is again, it was a joy to speak with Sasha. I find it wonderfully fulfilling to talk to another person who has the same sense of gratitude, awe and wonder at the world, while also holding purely naturalistic and scientific ideas about the world. And she so beautifully tells those both in the book and in this episode, about how her parents pass those things along to her. And now she's passing them along to us. I loved her answer when I asked about whether she was a reluctant skeptic. And she pointed out that the scientific answers tend to be bigger and more awe inspiring than any magical or theistic answers ever could be. That was a profound answer. I think in my interview, when we discussed her father, Carl Sagan, I often focused on the grief, I want to highlight here as well, the joy that comes across in Sasha's book, and in the podcast episode. Clearly, he has had a tremendous impact on her and the impact on the world continues to reverberate in her life. I just really appreciate Sasha, his willingness to share both the grief and her joy in her relationship with her father. I still can't get over the quote that the book title comes from, for small creatures such as we, the vastness is only bearable through love. And it turns out that it was Andrew Yang, who wrote that particular line that encapsulates so much of secular grace. And another theme that Sasha and I hit in the episode of she quotes her mom is saying there is no refuge from change in the cosmos. And Sasha talks about having to face the reality that everything will cease, including the sun burning out and the heat death of the universe. But we're here now. And let's do what we can to make the world a better place that to encapsulates secular grace. I want to thank Sasha for coming on the program for giving me her time and for sharing with us, her book and her insights and her graceful life philosophies. I will have links in the show notes for finding her online on Twitter and as well as links for her book, I highly encourage you to go out and get the book and read it. As the chaos and randomness of the cosmos would have it. Sacha also did an interview with Bart Campolo on the humanized me podcast. And I think it's a great discussion. And I highly encourage you to go and listen to that as well, especially if you can't get enough of Sasha Sagan. Are you still here? Oh, good. I've got a couple more announcements for you. One is that I have recently done an episode of the relationship podcast from long distance to marriage with Andrea and rich. You might ask why would I do that episode while they were doing a series on secular relationships or inter faith relationships, I went on with my friend Alice Gretchen from dare to doubt, Alice from the perspective of being very choosy about the partners that she chooses and what their faith positions might be in me from the perspective of being in a relationship with my wife, who is a believer, and D converting and middle of marriage, and trying to focus on the love that we have for one another and our shared set of values. Anyway, I highly recommend that you check out from long distance to marriage in the next week or so. I think that was a fascinating conversation. And then the second thing I wanted to bring up is that I occasionally do a call or a Hangout with people who are not interested in publicizing their story, but they need to tell it to somebody. And I generally will do a 15 or 30 minute call with people just to let them tell me their deconversion stories. And a common theme that I hear from them often is, what can I do? How can I give back? I just wanted to highlight that you can do many things, you can start a blog, you can start your own podcast, you can find groups with You can start your own book club, any secular activity of any kind that build some community is a great way to go. But I'm gonna highlight one more thing. I haven't pushed it very often. But I need to reiterate again, how much better I think this podcast could be if I had a bit more community support. So this is a call out to you if you have a talent in any area, graphic design, audio engineering, marketing, social media expertise, website, design, anything that could help make this podcast better, help more people. I'm gonna just put out the call to the community. If you're interested, please get in touch with me. Send me an email at graceful I'm gonna slightly alter my typical sign off and say my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please join me and be graceful in your lives. It's time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.

This has been the graceful atheist podcast

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Jennifer Michael Hecht: Doubt A History

Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Deconversion, Humanism, Naturalism, Philosophy, Podcast, Secular Grace
Jennifer Michael Hecht: Doubt A History
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My guest today is Jennifer Michael Hecht. Jennifer is a poet, an author, an award winning academic and an intellectual historian. She has written numerous books from a secular perspective. I asked Jennifer to come on the show to discuss her book Doubt: A History and its profound effect on me post-deconversion. She is one of my intellectual heroes.

It is hard to express how much this book has influenced other secular writers and thinkers. This book has strongly influenced my other two favorite books Greg Epstein’s Good Without God and Katherine Ozment’s Grace Without God. Both of which quote Doubt throughout.

Jennifer proved to be as profound a thinker as her reputation makes her out to be. It was my privilege to attempt to keep up with her in this interview.

I am indebted to Jennifer for coining the term “graceful life philosophy.” My concept of Secular Grace is an attempt to live a graceful life philosophy.

Great believers and great doubters seem like opposites, but they are more similar to each other than to the mass of relatively disinterested or acquiescent men and women. This is because they are both awake to the fact that we live between two divergent realities: On one side, there is a world in our heads— and in our lives, so long as we are not contradicted by death and disaster— and that is a world of reason and plans, love, and purpose. On the other side, there is the world beyond our human life—an equally real world in which there is no sign of caring or value, planning or judgment, love, or joy. We live in a meaning-rupture because we are human and the universe is not.

Jennifer Michael Hecht


Jennifer Michael Hecht’s website:



My review of Doubt: A History


My story on the Deconversion Therapy Podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


Support the podcast


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. If you've ever thought to yourself, I really want to hear David be less graceful and more mean and catty. Well then I have a podcast recommendation other than my own. I'd like to recommend the deconversion therapy podcast the hosts Karen and Bonnie ticket comedic look at the deconversion process and in particular the silliness of evangelical life. They're often read listener submitted stories and so I submitted a story from my experience as a youth pastor back in the 90s. If you want to hear my story about attempting to be a hip, young, long haired youth pastor in the 90s, check out the May 9 episode of The deconversion therapy podcast on today's show. My guest today is one of my intellectual heroes. One of the great things about doing this podcast is getting to interview people whose work has had a profound impact on my thinking, and deconversion. My guest, Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, a historian and a commentator, and author of numerous books. And she literally wrote the book on doubt. She's also an award winning academic, she wrote the end of the soul scientific modernity, atheism and anthropology. Her current book is called stay a history of suicide and the arguments against it. It's a secular argument against suicide. But I asked Jennifer to be on the podcast to talk about her 2004 book doubt, a history and its profound impact on my thinking, post deconversion. There are three books that have had a major impact on my thinking. Catherine cosmonauts Grace without God, Greg Epstein's good without God. And Jennifer Michael Hecht's doubt a history. All three of these books have been important for different reasons. Jennifer's doubt a history really helped me understand the intellectual history that we inherit as secular people. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is going through either deconstruction or deconversion to help ground yourself in the history of others who have doubted before you. It is amazingly comforting to realize that not only are my doubts not particularly original for today, my doubts are not particularly original for 2500 years ago, and that is the kind of context that a book like doubt a history can give you. As you will hear Jennifer and I talk about how old these questions are and that humanity has been wrestling with the concept of doubt and belief. For most of our history. The book is a crash course in philosophy, ethics and religious thought. It encompasses multiple millennia, and circumnavigates the globe, including cultures from around the world. What could be a dry and potentially boring subject I found riveting. Page after page I came face to face with my own ignorance and the wisdom of humanity. Over the centuries. Jennifer has written a book that contextualizes the modern moment of secularization in the West. And for that she is my intellectual hero. And now I give you Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  3:58  
Thanks so much. Glad to be here.

David Ames  4:00  
Jennifer, you're a poet, you're an author, you have a PhD in History of Science, you're called an intellectual historian. And you've literally written the book on doubt. I want to just give a quick moment for you to talk about some of your current work I understand your previous book was called stay history of suicide and a secular argument against it. And that you're working on a current book now, the wonder paradox, a guide to using poetry to find meaning in folk ah, and rest in some clarity of mind.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  4:33  
Yeah, we're still working on the subtitle on that one. But yeah, paradox is what I'm working on now. And, and yeah, the The truth is that the books are very different, but in a lot of ways they do all cohere around the question of how people live it outside of religion, or having moved on from it or not. having, you know, come into their own in a culture that isn't, that doesn't find it as their focal point. And there's all different ways that people have structured meaning the, the modern sense that, that without religion, you don't have a lot of these things is very temporally local. It's a very, it's a very momentary and historically specific experience. And so when I start looking outside the present moment, to see how people deal with certain kinds of things that we associate with religion, I always find a wealth of, of ideas and lives lived generations lived under different conceptions of, of all these types of religious ideas. So the Wonder paradox right now is, is a direct response with poetry, seeing how how ritual and wise words that sound good and feel good and that you've returned to have influenced people's lives outside of religion within religion, but without belief with religion with belief, but without all sorts of other kinds of configurations. And as you said, the the anti-suicide book stay was really an investigation into how people who weren't going to just answer that question with God says know, how they respond to what it could mean to to each other and to ourselves to to ask questions about whether it was morally straightforward. Whether or not you could take your own life.

David Ames  6:44  
Right. Right. I think that's an important book for our time as the as we see a movement of secularization. Yeah. And suicide is always an ever present danger. So yeah, I terrible podcast hosts, I have not yet written those. That book, I plan to read it very shortly. You've graciously come on the podcast to talk about a book that you wrote in, it's 2003. Right? It's a long, long time back. I appreciate you taking that time. One of the selfish goals of the podcast for me is to just become a little less ignorant. And just to TSF, a little bit, I've read your book, doubt a history a couple of years after my deconversion. And I just found it so profoundly important. And mainly because of my own ignorance. I came from an evangelical background where my ignorance of history and in particular, secular history, philosophy, philosophical history, was just profound. And on top of that, to make matters worse, there's this sense of hubris like, you know, well, I probably I understand these things already. And then even going through the deconversion process, oh, I have these original experiences, it must just be me. And reading through the book was not only recognizing my ideas are not particularly original for today, they are not particularly original for 2500 years ago. And I find like this is just a really useful thing for people to to be grounded in to recognize our place in history. Before we jump into some of the specifics of the book, would you like to tell us about your particular spiritual or faith journey? Where are you at? Where did where was your background growing up?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  8:37  
My background growing up was a, I was raised, you know, Jewish household we were practicing. But what's called conservative Judaism at the time, all the names have sort of shifted a little bit, but my dad's a physicist, and so he didn't believe, but also came from the same world of Brooklyn, Jews, second generation. And so third generation in some cases. And so, I grew up on Long Island and in around New York City, so I do a lot of Catholic kids, and I suppose more than you would in the middle of the country. But yeah, for me, the my personal history of secularism, so I decided that that is I came to my own understanding that there is no god or anything supernatural at about age 12. I mean, I know I was age 12. And it did hurt at first. But, but not for that long. It really was literature though. It took me a while to realize that's what it was but this beautiful quote, by Rainer Maria Rilke saying, to live the questions. Mm. like that, we can't come to the answers that even if the answers were handed to you now, you couldn't, you couldn't really know them not only couldn't really know that you couldn't know them at all, he compares them to to, you know, wisdom in a language in a book in a language you don't understand. And the book is worth something, but you really can't understand it yet. And to me, at 12, it was a revelation that, that you could live the questions that you could, that you didn't have to believe, now that there were no answers, because what you thought of as the source of answers previously, no longer holds, holds good. The idea that wisdom is indeed something that you have to work through both in living and through a long process of learning. That was very emancipatory, for me that that meant that whatever I couldn't figure out now was not a closed door. On the other hand, I? Well, I was gonna say that I've had a pretty solid sense of what I thought in terms of believability, the notion that there that I could conduct my metaphysical investigations the same way I conduct my life investigation, so no evidence, really no reason to tolerate the proposition. Right. Right. And, and that worked, okay. But, again, one grows and one learns. So Buddhism became something that was very fascinating to me to figure out, to what extent millions upon millions of people across, you know, 10s, of hundreds of generations were living without supernatural ideas. And what what you find is that it's a little divided. So there's Theravada Buddhism, where you really do strict, strictly state without supernaturalism Mahayana Buddhism, which, as I explained in doubt, they come to the idea that you could believe in the weird and absurd and unprovable through a kind of rational progression, about what you can't know. And when rationalism gets to its edges, where it breaks down a little bit, there are paradoxical problems with being a human being trying to understand the world. Right? Not problems anyone can get anywhere past. And so some, some of the, the Buddhist world also goes into this world of irrationalism, on the good faith of so the world's irrational. But yeah, again, also looking, looking into Confucianism, how much how much of the non supernatural, non theistic religion that is essentially set out there was influenced by local customs and religions that were superstitious, right. And what I found was a tremendous amount of people all over the place throughout all different periods of times, specifically banishing the supernatural, and saying, well, then what do we make of life without it? So for me, I processed through taking on certain amounts of all these different religions to the point where I am now, I have a great deal of respect for all of them, and also a great deal of concern about how much how much everyone who talks about these different religions, is promoting their own point of view. And so we have to be, we can't say that they really are atheistic, because atheism as we understand it now, is very historically specific to this moment. I rambled a bit, but I personally came from a position until 12. I believed to some degree, then I stopped and was a pretty standard kind of atheist very scientistic. Until Yeah, I guess at Columbia, doing my PhD in history and reading about different cultures, atheists, cultures, in history, and finding out just beginning to get the sense that there was more to be understood there and coming to understand that instead of scientism, I really find more truth in what I'll call poetic realism, right? A commitment to realism, but with an understanding that there's more truth in some of the connections we glean through beauty and feeling and surmise. And so that lands me in a rather odd place.

David Ames  15:00  
Well, I think I can identify, I think one of the things that I tried to talk about on this show is that we are human beings and not Vulcans. And one aspect of the modern version of atheism is kind of a pure rationality, that kind of tries to ignore the three dimensionality of human beings. We are emotional, we are whatever you want to term spiritual, for lack of a better term, right? We have, we have these feelings, these things are important. And so I was familiar with your concept of, of poetic atheism. And I think that's a really good way of putting it. So

Jennifer Michael Hecht  15:36  
yeah, I've sort of moved to calling as to saying poetic realism. In the same breath, I think quite a gazhams. Important still, because I personally think it's important in this moment in America. And it started with Bush, I remember telling interviewer as well, I wanted to, I wanted to use very neutral words, so as to not stop conversation before it started, right. But but as the evangelical started rising up, I started to feel like well, if I'm appreciating other people coming out and saying the word atheist, then I'm going to do it too. And I still have no problem with it whatsoever. And I also think it's important that I keep saying it, but it is. It's just a word that is first of all negative as so many of our words are, and also hung up on Abrahamic theism. The idea of one God, the the Judeo Christian education that everyone in the West receives tilts towards the notion that monotheism and theism itself is a very ordinary aspect, a very ordinary way for human thought to go and it isn't, it just isn't the way they argued it without the evidence was to say that everyone else was primitive, and they were headed there. Right. And that is patently absurd now. But it's what a lot of our whole subconscious notion of what standard normal human religion is. So saying you're an atheist is ignore is sort of separating yourself from all these people who didn't believe in God without having ever heard of them without having ever entertained the notion of an afterlife. And so, realism is a terrifically complicated word you, right, everyone thinks they're being realistic. But still, I felt that it was it was intelligible enough. So I tend to use them both both phrases, that I'm a poetic realist come up poetic atheists to make the point of the atheism but also to, to open it up and ask, well, you know, in what traditions this all falls in?

David Ames  17:57  
Yes, I again, relate a lot to that I could very easily use the moniker graceful humanists, but I keep graceful atheists, because I think it's important to be out and allow to help others to come to that as well. But my focus is very much about humanism, and how do we connect with one another and live life? Well. I do want to circle back really quickly. The title of the book is doubt a history and not necessarily atheism history. I understand that it's somewhat of a historical accident. But I find that it's a a serendipitous one, I believe that the word doubt is so evocative. And, you know, doubt leads to questioning and questioning leads us maybe in circles, but eventually to some truth. evokes, in me the idea of somebody who has skin in the game, the doubt or cares about? Yeah. Tell me about your conception of doubt. And what led you to want to research it?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  18:56  
Yeah, exactly. You reminded me that in the Introduction to Data, I say the the, the strong believer in the strong atheist in a way have more in common than the great mass of people who don't think about these rights. Yeah, who are sort of hypnotized by, by life enough, my daily life enough to and the concerns that you see in daily life and television and commercials that, that world, that world, you know, it would be hard to argue against it if it went on forever, and it was always happy. But it doesn't tend to serve people that well. And even if it does, it ends and it ends for other people in your life before it ends for you. That is if you try to ignore the situation we're in, it will come crashing in and the if you're not familiar with it, it will destroy you. So we have always known or from the beginning of human records that that we try to prepare ourselves a little bit with by remembering the pain that how happened in the past. And by putting it into some kind of conceptual structure. Yeah, everybody. It doesn't last very long periods of history where people aren't trying to figure out the best way to live, we are living in a very strange, multifocal moment and and that really just means we have to do that extra little bit of work of looking for the material that will save us. In some periods in time, it's handed to you in a little bit more of a coherent way, even at the worst. But we're in a very, very complicated moment, because we've just human beings from different local contained groups have never been able to speak to each other the way they can't today. And so we're all overwhelmed with choice.

David Ames  20:53  
It's an information dealers, and half of the problem with the internet is not necessarily finding something to learn, but rather to figure out which things are true. Right filtering processes, the new chat, the modern challenge, that's also

Jennifer Michael Hecht  21:11  
you know, that depth of knowledge. So, as you were saying before, the notion that look, I, I can see the world, I'm smart, I talk to people every day who seem like they know less than I do. So I probably have a pretty good handle on this. And then to, yeah, what's located in doubt, and of course, there's a million things I left out of that giant. To see that. If you look for this stuff through history, you will be surprised at every turn. I already had a PhD in history, I had been teaching Western Civ and world history and then history of medicine for years already, when I started to write down, I thought I knew the story. I thought I had picked up as I went along, reading all sorts of history, little stories of atheists and religious doubters, everywhere I looked. Yeah. And yet, when I looked at any overall survey of history, or even of any period, or place, the atheists were gone. And people were still there, but they were being celebrated for other things they did. And if you were only an atheist, you only showed up if if, you know, if you if the big movement came up against you. So they were there, they were still the names were still in the books. But to a remarkable degree. Only when I looked up real close, when some historian had looked closely at a little period, they didn't find it. They didn't leave out the atheist. So I knew about them. I also thought of certain periods of time in certain places as being totally, totally encompassed by religion. But I thought I would just sort of put a sign Here Be Dragons and and we go back to you know, the civilized places where there was culture and sophistication. So like I said, I was already a historian, I had already co authored a Western Civ textbook I, and I thought I had the material. When I brought up the proposal, I had the material laid out. But when I went and did the research, the wealth of personalities and ideas and different takes on things, ideas that seemed like they had to be modern, that showed up in medieval Spain that showed up in Syria, I mean, that, that real color, real flavor, really understanding the ways that different people process these, these ideas about life that are in religion and outside religion. I mean, it certainly blew my mind to the point where I saw that I wasn't writing a story that was a minor story within the larger story of history. I was rather, again, a metaphor I use in in the preface to the book or the introduction. That was it was like looking at a map upside down. It was the same story I learned, but celebrating the times of confusion, which are actually times when people are asking questions and people are suggesting different answers. And people are tolerating the possibility of several answers without a desperate need to pick one and march with it. Those incredibly sophisticated, complex, distressing periods, they tend to make us feel a little ill at ease when we live in them, which makes us write literature which means we have we have the record. And so there, there was just a tremendous The amount of stuff that even as a historian who cared about these things, until I did the research, and really looked up close, I didn't know and was quite astounded, and quite, in some ways you feel better, because you see, you don't have to make all these points there in the world. Right? Like, you're not alone, even if you're alone when you're in a football stadium, and no one else agrees with you. There's millions of people who do agree with you, right? That's a good feeling. A bad feeling is to realize that coming up with some of these answers doesn't save the world. They come out, they help, they can make a wonderful period of time, but there are opposing forces. In in each of us even of just fear and weariness, and, and despair, which can, can put you in other places. But the, the hard part also Well, one thing was I realized by the end of the book, that the reason that we didn't know these stories, as well as we should have was partially the Cold War. It took me a while to really see this, I really had to do some research, some of which, you know, just sort of the highlights ended up in the book, but to really come to understand that in this country, in the United States, during the Cold War, it's in the 50s in response to this fresh, godless, calm animosity with the USSR. That yeah, that not just communism, but atheism because because they were associated with each other became a taboo because it was downright treasonous. The same way Catholicism is treasonous in a in a, you know, during the the age of religious wars, when a country turns Protestant, these kinds of existential belief systems. And so all these books that used to be on the shelves everywhere, came off the shelves. It's remarkable of the extent to which the history of atheism gets shut down in the 50s. And, yeah, there was research I did for a while on, on what I was calling the lightbulb years saying that the first half of the 20th century in the United States was the single greatest period of atheism, including today, that is, before the Cold War, we still haven't gotten back to that level of, of, of certain kinds of freedom. So that, you know, Edison says, you know, in in the, you know, the teens, I think it's 1913, says two New York Times on the front page of the times they asked him about, about the afterlife. And he says, No, of course not. I'm a person of proof and science and mechanism, proof that, of course, there's no afterlife. They'd asked him because William James, up at Harvard had said that just in case, he will try to contact people in case he was so curious about the afterlife. So he had died. And you know, when is your new him said they were contacted. So they went around. And now I don't think somebody who was primarily a maker, the way Edison was, would feel quite as comfortable saying that to the New York Times as in the teens, I'm just saying, even out we can look back and say, Wow, there were many famous men and women famous for other things not famous for their atheism, who were publicly avowed atheists. You know, Sam Barnhart, you know, like, actresses just coming out early part of the 20th century. So, so that was a one of the big parts of realizing the differences with doubt.

David Ames  28:56  
Yeah. And again, I think one of the things that just strikes me about particularly looking at a overview the way you do in the book, I'm just seeing various cultures and various times in history, where we've been wrestling with this as humanity from the beginning, these are old questions. And I think he said something very insightful. Near the beginning about even if we hand you the answers, it's almost like we each individually as a society have to go through that process of asking those questions. Even though again, in history, these questions have been grappled with already.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  29:35  
Right? And, and we will always have to, which is kind of the wonderful, terrible thing about being human art is not going to get old. Because we're because it's, it's not just that each individual has to go through the story on their own, but that each individual is responding to a new world in a way If they're the culture that's around them, and where they are, in their moment of history makes all the words they're using special.

David Ames  30:10  
I mean, right? The context matters.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  30:12  
It matters so much. And I think we forget that if, if, if you want went to read Newton right now, you'd be way better off trying to read a book written in this century, about Newton, then reading Newton. And one of the reasons for that is that he's, it's long enough go of course, Principia, a Roman Latin, but, but is the last great work written in Latin in that way. But but the the point is, even John Locke, you know, get closer up to the moment, the words don't mean the same thing. So if you just pick a paragraph and read it, right, you know, 911 people were posting this poem by Whitman, called the firemen, because they were so grateful to the firemen. I'm a New Yorker, I was here and we were feeling very grateful for, indeed, you know, someone I knew who was in the force, passed away that day. And but yeah, the Whitman poem was about the guy in the train, who keeps the fire going back in steam locomotives, there were guys who just had to keep shoveling the coal and keep it going. So yes, it was a hard working man, sacrificing himself, but it was the completely wrong fire man. And I know it's a bit of a digression. But I'm saying that the words means so many such different things. And, indeed, what Americans made up out of Christianity is found nowhere else in history, this very direct relationship with this almost male friend, Jesus character. That's, that's a very American invention. And so an atheist, now, you now are responding to a different religion than anybody else has, and you lost a different thing. Now, there are other things that religious people in the past as they became atheist sloths that you don't have to worry about, because you never had them. There are, you know, the, the ancient Greeks expected to be able to follow their heart and their feelings, but sometimes a Damon sometimes a spirit of one sort or another, or a god would take you over and have you either get in a fight, or fall into a romantic situation, or write something you didn't know you believed in, or do all sorts of things that are out of character, or in, in any case, when they decided, oh, that's all not true. And that did happen. They felt bereft of that, right, but they didn't sit around saying, I don't believe in the gods anymore. Now, I won't live forever, because the gods never offered eternal life for human beings in ancient Greece. So. So yeah, each of us come, each of us comes into the problem in our own moment, in our own way, and then yes, to process through. And, you know, there, there are these beautiful realities of being a natural creature, who has, who has feelings and, and observations of a world happening on many different levels, all at the same time. And comprehending one's vastness and one's limitations, realizing the extent to which you're part of a web of things, right, and your place in it, and the complexity of all of that, that there's something in there. Well, Emily Dickinson says that the brain is wider than the sky for put them side by side, the one the other will consume. And you besides So, the sky the universe is much bigger than you. But you know, the universe and the universe doesn't know you. So who is really the the point of this strange, beautiful, real reality? Yeah, so we are stuck in these mortal beings in these mortal situation but there's something that happens between us and something that happens within us, that is beyond words. And that leaves us the, the great adventure of living our lives. Attempting to speak from What we're actually experiencing to put that into words or colors or shapes to communicate to reach someone else, or at least to reach ourselves to say, yes, I've made something that pleases me in the way that the universe does and to have that communion. But the greatest is the one between other human beings and the way that something real happens in our relation to each other. That is, all the magic you need more than anything else.

David Ames  35:29  
Yeah, the two things I wanted to say. One is, and this ties back to the topic of suicide, as well as that, I think we've taken the Copernican principle too far, where we've, we've, you know, we've said, man, we're just a tiny speck in this massive universe, and we're totally pointless. And the flip side of that is what you describe, right? That we are conscious beings, we are observers of the universe. And so I would say, even if you are alone on a desert island, thinking, your thoughts that is so rare and so precious, those thoughts, those conscious thoughts, that there's meaning in that, and we are meaning makers. And I could not agree with you more that one of the primary ways that we make meaning is by interacting with one another, it's our relationships with family, with friends, with our community, and with the wider world. And I one of the things I talk about on the podcast a lot is that as people go through a faith transition of one kind or another, they might be very angry. And, and one of the dangers of that is you've got this all this newfound knowledge, this, you know, the sledgehammer of, of argumentation, and and you're angry, and the most dangerous thing that can happen is you burn bridges to the people that you actually care about. Oh, right. Sure. And so one of the things I just tried to convey is that, yes, you're angry that anger is valid. But sometimes we have to be the bigger person, and the people that we love, really, ultimately is the meaning in our lives. And and, and that's what we need to find precious.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  37:11  
Yeah. I agree entirely. And it's a very interesting perspective. I have certainly had many consequences about from being a vocal atheist. But coming from a New York Jewish background. It wasn't, I certainly didn't have to lose friends, I certainly did have some struggles there. And continue to in certain ways, but But I certainly know what most Americans who are coming out of, you know, in fact, for many, many years, I would attend a lot of atheist conventions, because I was invited to speak. And, yeah, the people that you meet there, who who is going to go, why would you choose that as your vacation? And so it is people who very often are coming from a world that that treated them with a lot of hostility as they started to ask questions. So they needed this, this other community. And, yeah, I was very moved to see I bought the book. A boy erased that they made the movie about recently. I purchased it before I saw that I was quoted in it. Oh, there's, you know, a blank page between parts and little quote from Foucault and a quote for me, I was delighted to see but the quote was, it was moving because I wouldn't have thought of this as what my quote was just outside the turf war between religion and science, more nuanced arrangements may be made. You know, what this person is saying is he came out of a world that was very religious, and it was sort of trying to stomp him out, in his very being right. But he loved those people. And he did negotiate, you know, his mom goes with him now to these readings and stuff. And so they, when you love the people, and they love you, you can get past things, even if it takes years sometimes. But if the atheist world around you tells you that the only way to be an atheist is to hate all religion, and not all of them do, right, their atheist crowds where they are very friendly to religion, but very, very strictly atheist, others who are very anti religious, but okay, about a certain amount of supernaturalism. Right? So it's not even a coherent category, but still to just realize that everything that we think of as part of religion has been part of non religious human culture at one time or another, and so you don't actually have to throw out anything that doesn't fit. The the many of the ideas and feelings and rituals that are that we think of as attached to superstition or theism detach very easily. And it feels like you're doing something either hypocritical or offensive if you've never seen it before, that's one of the greatest things about knowing the history of this thing. You just realize how many thoughtful brave permutations of belief and, and ritual and life and getting along with the people around you? How many indeed there have been and, and it's hidden from us for a lot of reasons, including the belief that atheism either didn't exist, ever, right? Or that it was so dangerous, that no one spoke it out loud because you get killed. That isn't true, either. So there's definite hiding, and we have to, we have to do our research with that notion. But yeah, the things that we think we have to hate, because they came along with, with ideas that were oppressive to us, we can end up living in very small box, if we don't do the simple history of looking around and seeing what's been there. And again, what's so great about that, you know, research and writing of doubt for me, what were the characters, these amazing men and women, I mean, the women running around 19th century America, living off giving speeches where they would get chased out of town afterwards for their atheism, wearing you know, the petticoats and like, the whole thing, but managing, and some of them getting invited to the White House. And all these stories are still around, you can go to where the building was where there was a church of science, and there's a plaque on the wall. The stuff is, I always tell everyone, there are atheist screens in every religious person's library, because they just don't know that that's what that book is. You know, even the Leviathan people think of Hobbes Leviathan as just a political work, but it's goes on and on about what he finds ridiculous. sanity,

David Ames  42:25  
right. Can we talk briefly about you have a chapter on women in in the history of doubt? I want to just bring it to a modern question. There are times where I want to just relish in the concept of doubt, because I, again, I think that it leads ultimately to truth. But there is a dark side, there's a flip side to that, and the idea of the Dunning Kruger effect. And in particular, I think very highly competent women in our modern society can also have a negative side of doubt where they they doubt their own abilities as yourself being a very highly competent woman or in our society. How do you distinguish between doubt that is good self evaluation and doubt that is debilitating?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  43:14  
Ah, well, it's a good question. I guess the, the doubt that I'm talking about in the book is almost always doubt in received knowledge. And the question of doubting oneself is you know, that's an eternal balance. Because if you don't, you're just going to be an ass. Yes. And so anyone who's too successful tends to stop being able to do this balancing work. Which means that you know, all these things that make us doubt ourselves all these you know, and if anyone looks and says oh, she's got seven books and a couple more we for every success for most people I know certainly writers there are so many failures for every success you know, a rejection times 10 You just That's why they say don't do it unless you you really can't not because they've so the the self doubt part the world the world make sure that most people take a couple of real intellectual body blows now and again, you know, and and I find it remarkable watching the great you know, was watching up Fossey Verdun on on FX right now. He's just incredibly celebrated artists. You see it everywhere, when they have one small reversal want, you know, one On batch of critics, that doubt comes back in and it can be debilitating to the point where you can't do anything. But and I don't know, I don't I don't know how anyone. All I know is to do good work and to actually finish anything that that double need is predicated on a balance between self doubt, and a kind of dumb courage. Yeah.

David Ames  45:29  
I feel that if I can jump in here, I feel that way about the podcast, right? I have to have a certain level of cognitive biases to even do the work. Who's going to listen to this? Who are you listening out there? I don't, I can't hear it. It's amazes me that anybody is listening. But when you create something, and when you put it out into the world, and other people identify with it, that's an amazing thing. And so there does have to almost be dumb courage to just just put things out there.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  45:59  
Yeah, I think so. I think so. Indeed. I just reading out, Antonin Otto talking about Vincent van Gogh and saying, nothing has ever been done. No great work, but also No, almost small work, nothing gets done, nothing new gets done without it being driven by, by an almost crazy kind of anguish, pain or need. So it's not it's like, yes, it's, it's a little dumb courage, but the courage of moving forward, but there also is almost has to be something chasing you from behind some feeling that you that you need to, to, to try in this direction that you need to do it. And because what else could overcome the tremendous, you know, frustration of trying to do anything? And the feeling of who am I? Why should I bother? Right? But we have to always just juxtapose that with the there are people throughout history have changed the world, practically on their own, you know, on their own standing there and being fierce enough to gather a small group around them. And that group standing there and being fierce enough so that other people see, there's an option for it. So, you know, Maslow's pyramid of of needs, yeah, you have to have some of your needs, taken care of in order to do these daring things, like the podcast. On the other hand, if you were really completely settled, I'm not sure you would try a new skill, right? Why not enjoy the things you're already doing. So this thing really is complicated, because I think as you become more mature, in some ways, you have fewer needs to that what being more mature is certainly in our culture, and in many others, to act to not have the need to be celebrated. And to get the attention and to to be applauded. Now. So if maturity means being able to sit quietly, when are we going to hear from these people? When are we going to hear from the wise, right? So it has to be this endless adjustment of what you, you know, an assessment of what you really have to offer of what would feel good to try of your motives, all of these things. And there are going to be times when just feeling bad about yourself, it's going to be enough to make you paint every day. Because you need to do something right. Other times, you're going to feel great about yourself. But if everybody stops painting, when they're in love, we're not going to have any love paintings. Right? Right. So it's a it's it is very complicated. And we do I think all have to trust ourselves. I guess you and I are sort of in the same ballpark age wise, but when you know, when you're in your 20s, you're just trying so hard. And as you get older, you do start to be able to get get the kind of perspective that that allows you to maybe try some things without quite the same desperation. And that allows you to I think, sometimes get work done that you couldn't when you were younger.

David Ames  49:29  
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and I look back on, you know, in my youth was when I was I went to Bible college, I did mastery for a few years. But you know, I look back on that not only from the secular perspective, but just the, the lack of wisdom at that time in my life period, you know, that, that, you know, you've I've lived a few more years. I've got a few more experiences. Yeah, give me give me some perspective.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  49:53  
I mean, I guess I evaded the question a little bit about the the, the female extra burden. And I have to say it's, it's it's frustrating is the the way that the culture uses women philosophers, women thinkers as compared to their male peers. I, I have found it distressing and mostly managing it by trying to think about other things. I'm not really at peace with it and I'm not feeling terribly hopeful. And I'm not sure I would advise a woman or young woman I cared about to necessarily put themselves in this position,

David Ames  50:49  
right? Well, I can tell you that I'm incredibly grateful that you have. Thanks. I want to just quickly tell the listeners, you have to read this book, or just doing the research for today I looked at I've read it on Google Play Books. And so I can I can capture the notes, the highlights of that I have 230 highlights. There was no way there's no way to summarize the book without reading it out loud, right. It's just it's a huge summary. And if you are a person who makes memes, this is just a wealth of quotes, you can just mine quotes all day there. I do want to hit just a couple more themes. One of the one of the things that really spoke to me, was this idea of doubt as a feature and not a bug of Christianity, and you specifically highlight Pauline Christianity. Yeah. And I think that's absolutely true of the modern era, in particular Evangelical Church, if it's truly faith alone, if it's trading, just the belief, then the the natural flip side of that is, is doubt. Can you expand on that idea? A bit?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  52:02  
Sure. Yeah, that's a fascinating territory and a lot of different ways. The truth is the idea of doubt, in religion and doubt, in God's disbelief and belief was really never central to any religion, I can find any record of before Jesus, the reason it happens is because Christianity is a crash of two streams of culture, the Judaic Hebraic, one and the Greek idea, and by the time of the Common Era, the Greeks have a whole, you know, they have libraries full of atheism, and religious doubt built along all sorts of different scientific or psychological or philosophical lines, we divide them up in those ways. And, you know, in the, in the Republic, so, Plato is, is we're talking about, at least, he's, he's talking about fourth century BC, right BCE, and he's saying all the youth are atheist,

David Ames  53:18  
right? Kids these days?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  53:20  
That's right. Because Because there have been all these different, there are lots of different ways that that the gods have been dissected and seem to be cultural ideas. And so the religion of the Jesus sect of Judaism, which is what Christianity is, for its first 100 years is a request to believe in not just the Judaic God, which had gotten huge in the sense of being all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent, but gotten so small in terms of anything you could say about him, right? Can't say anything about him. He doesn't look like anything. There's never been a God that didn't look like anything that wasn't a stipulation of Gods before. It was a very weird thing that the Jewish temple had an empty place where the god usually would be at the Sanctum Sanctorum you know, so. So this god that doesn't have features was tolerable by rationalism, in a way that when the Jesus cult goes with Paul, as you said, the Paul line changeover that this isn't a religion about Jesus's critique of contemporary Judaism. And what it really was, was Jesus wanting to kick the Romans out of Jerusalem It was now there's a regular political message and all of that. But when you when you get to Paul, and the religion is now mostly about his death and revival then from that point on the, the, you require a leap of faith and that's when that phrase gets invented because the Emperor's until Constantine it you know In, in what 325 AD, the common error that's what they you see before before the Roman Empire makes Christianity no longer illegal it doesn't make it the religion of the of Rome but it makes it no longer illegal 300 years we had to not get killed or choose to be martyred, right? So had to find a way to get along with the Romans. And that had to be in a philosophical language that accepted that they were talking about a God who was eternal, but who had a face and a mommy. And you know, what a spleen? Does he have an appendix? All of this had been laughed at by by Greek skeptics already looking at their own gods, right? So really took this idea that there was that religion was about a leap into belief over disbelief. Again, yeah, you can even nowadays you can search online, any Bible and just look for the word belief in the Hebrew Bible. And it's really only a you know, I believe it was Thursday when I mean, it's not usually right. And then look, search for it in, in the Christian Bible, and there it is, in this, you know, it'll show up in red, all like a big chrysanthemum around Jesus this and and that goes with the magic as well, all of this notion of let's believe, despite reason. So Christianity is it's a brilliant idea. It's an it's an it's a marvelous theater for human experience, right? This coming towards and away from a belief in a kind of ideal, not everyone wants the ideal that's in this box. And the closer you look at it, do I want to live forever with my family really? Loud worshipping, like, what is that? There's no image of that, that really meant. But if you say it's an ideal, still, there's very localized ideal. It's a kind of pretty human activity, I think I think there's a beauty to that, imagine the ideal, and then attempt to believe it, there's a beauty to it. It's not my thing, unless the reason I believe it, is because I have evidence, it's just elusive. And that I, I have incorporated into my life and my work, the notion that there are things that we believe that we have evidence for, but they're elusive, like love, like justice. And that, though, I'm always very careful when I use words that seem religious, I think the notion of faith, that we can have human faith in ideas that are not measurable the same way, you know, evaporation and condensation are measurable, and yet, are demonstrably real outside one's own self. They're real within the human group, right. And sometimes we can look at things that are elusive, but real within the human group and say, I want to work on my own ability to have faith in say, that I am part of a world of feeling that that I can relate to and how I can be moved by and that I can move that that requires faith, it requires faith to feel that all of this matters without anyone watching. How do I work on that phase? One thing is by asking myself, why would help if anyone was watching? You know, if there was a God out there, what taking notes? Why would that be more satisfying, but I was raised in the West in the Judeo Christian world, and it does feel like I'm sure it feels like if we were being watched and recorded somehow, that we could say, well, you know, that's why it's worth it. But that's a mistake. Right? It doesn't mean it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. So. So yeah, I didn't remember that question.

David Ames  59:33  
No, no, no worries. Let me let me ask a quick history question that I legitimately am just curious about personally, and then we'll hit my last theme, and we'll, we'll start to wrap up. Great. So I'm fascinated my tiny amount of, of education in was in Christian church history. And we studied things like Gnosticism and you know, we have the Nicene Creed, that's really a risk. response to narcissism. And I kind of trace it back a little bit to and tell me if I'm incorrect in doing so. It to Plato, and these ideas of, of, you know, the Platonic forms this idea of these things are, are more real in their abstract ideas than then the natural world around us. Is Plato the first to come up with dualism? How does that play out in history? What's your opinion on that?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:00:30  
Yeah, I guess it's an interesting question. And the way you're phrasing it, I guess. I guess Plato definitely stands out as having described the problem for us in a way that we didn't see before. And that was sufficient to, you know, basically set up the playing field. You know, up until this point, to some degree, the truth is, I guess, in most cases, what we see, is that kind of conversation happening about language. So how is it that we know what a chair is, since all the chairs are different, right, is that that's the sort of obvious version of it. There's, there are ways that all of this floats in and out of kind of all science and, and all poetic description of the world. So that, you know, just in the way we came up with atoms before the electron microscope, it's, it's a kind of metaphorical extension, in part of the same notion of, you know, an ocean wave is not a thing. It's the ocean waving. And, and, you know, an apple that comes into the universe, you know, first it's a flower and it comes out, and then it it shrinks back and, and ends up withered and disappears, again, was for a moment the universe appaling in the same kind of way. Yeah. And following Alan Watts, the great Buddhist teacher, You are the universe Ewing, for a moment. And, and that aspect, where we're recognizing that the whole world is in flow, I think interacts in an interesting way with this idea of there being sort of Platonic forms of there being either these ideal forms, or the forms are not really so important. They're more the shapes that an underlying flow is, is taking out. But I want to ask you find more about your question. Tell me more about your interest in that specific Nexus.

David Ames  1:02:55  
Yeah, I guess, I guess what I'm saying is a tremendous amount of problems come out of the concept of dualism. We're still debating that today, right? Is consciousness a function of the brain? Or is it something else? Right? So we're, you know, Descartes is asking, you know, I think therefore I am, he's got separation. Right? What is the physical and what is the conscious and we are still having that same debate. And to some degree, I just want to shake my fist at Plato and blame him.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:03:29  
Interesting, right? Yeah, I don't. I don't see Plato, for one thing. I, he's a great philosopher. And I know that he was against poetry in certain ways. But I think he was just mostly against religious poetry. Those are the ones he names. But he's it for me as a poet, philosopher, so that for one thing he has to be because we don't know the order of his works. So we don't know. We don't know the order of his work. So he did very contradictory things across his life, sometimes very poetic things that if he was a poet, I wouldn't hold it against him at all, to hold two opposing positions in two different forms. So he, so he's, he, for me, what he actually believed even about these things, is up for grabs to some degree among them. So there's that. This other thing, I just want to say, look, when I think about the best reasons to believe in some of the most attractive or vontade of the consciousness can be separated ideas. I give it I give it straight thought. And I have to say that I think if there were no other animate life forms, I would say that consciousness is so different from rocks and even so different from trees, that I just don't know whether I would What I would make of it? I wouldn't say, I didn't know.

David Ames  1:05:04  
Whereas, which is an honest answer. Yes, yeah. But I am now

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:05:08  
surrounded by ants and flies and cats and dogs and polar bears and chimpanzees and bonobo, and I can look at this planet. And even without looking at its history, where did we come from just looking around, as people throughout history have done and said, this consciousness thing is clearly part of matter. I don't know how conscious an ant is, but it is a lot more conscious than, than a rock, right? I have more in common with the ant, you know, then the rock and the ant have in common? We're doing stuff. Yeah. And to see consciousness on all these different levels of scale, to me, leaves no room for, for mysticism that this consciousness is extraordinary. It's poetic, but it is demonstrably part of the natural world. For me, if you're not going to assign a heaven or possible little, what an exhaust of energy from the death of an ant. Just as Ecclesiastes says, you know, a man dies like a dog, why should he die? Otherwise? Why should a dog dog spirit not go up? If you're believing that a man says so? For me, the idea that this consciousness is somehow inextricably bodily I just that just seems pretty bedrock for me. So the next question is, can I regularly convinced myself to be happy about that? Yes. You know, yes. Because if the content if consciousness was really separate from the body, then you could tell me stories about how maybe we're in a computer simulation, but we're not right. I mean, you you know the difference between watching a TV show you even know the difference between a dream and being awake, maybe not when you're dreaming. But when you're awake, you know? Right. And part of the reason you and I both know we're awake right now is because we can feel the weight of ourselves in our chair, the coolness of the air against our arms, also that we're hungry. Also the five thoughts that are flickering at the edge of consciousness, the birds, there's too much going on. Yeah, maybe stuff up fiction. It just doesn't have the detail. Yes. The detail is all from there's so much that's happening because I am an embodied creature. Yes. And this outrageous amount of information that is synthesized through this being that is me that I did not create. I can't think of a more delicious, strange position to be in. Yes. So as much as it's a it's a heavy burden. It's also one I wouldn't put down. Yeah,

David Ames  1:08:20  
yeah, I have to I'll have to have a computer scientist on the podcast to talk about, to me that to even contemplate the idea of a simulation that would take the computational power of the size of the universe to compute, right, the detail level that we experienced, so it seems like that's a non starter for me personally. Like I'm I'm very cognizant of your time, but I've got one more theme that would just kill kill me if we didn't get to. And, and again, just to express my gratitude for you coined the term graceful life philosophy, and I just need to set up briefly why that's, that's meaningful for me, I am on a fool's errand assistive physio task to try to redeem there's another religious word, the term grace, this idea. For me, what I call secular grace, is that people and we've talked about this throughout the podcast, so far, people need each other. We need to be we need to feel accepted by one another. We need to feel loved by one another. We need to feel belonging to your group. And you can do all of that all those things are available in a perfectly natural, naturalistic perspective. HUMAN humanity provides that and so that's that this idea of secular grace, but you've said it so beautifully, and it was the first time I'd kind of read someone else put it into words. And and then you go on to describe throughout history, the many graceful life philosophies that are strewn throughout the history. Can you tell me what that means to you? Maybe an example or two

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:10:00  
Yeah, I was delighted to hear you describe to me some of that. And, and it made me really happy because I think it's, it's such an important place to start from. And yeah, I wanted to share with you that I had to come up with the term graceful life philosophy, because not only were there not good enough terms, but the terms were a little negative. So, historically, they were often called Silver philosophers as opposed to the golden ones. And the difference is clear in the fact that it's the same insult that's in self help. Okay, the notion of the notion that the work of the work that we do on ourselves, I think it's because it's one of these things that everyone does a small version of, right, we advise our selves, we advise the people around us, and we come up with life hacks that we then tell other people, so self help seems like it can. Well, not just seems it can be this, this lower form of, of philosophy. And that's how it's been viewed through history. So even philosophers who did both the, you know, who studied either ontology, or eschatology or phenomenology, whatever specific metaphysical problems they took on that were about time, or, or cause and effect? Or what origins could mean? Or what endings could mean, the philosophical questions that we hold up, as, you know, as the golden questions, these are the questions about that are practically what was left when physics took everything else you could measure, but it's still physics kinds of questions, right? And then there's these other questions, a lower kind of philosophy, how should we live? Well, how come so many times the same people are doing it, or people in the same crowd are doing it? Because they actually aren't? Because graceful life philosophy isn't a lower form? It's a human version of the same question. And so it's the question of then. Okay, so given that we are separate, and yet, and yet commute communal, how shall I live? Given that time, is always moving? And yet, repetition is constant? So then how shall I live? And so these questions aren't separate, but they needed a name that didn't have to be defended with, you know, oh, this is ancient self help that would have denigrated it, if I called it that they kind of said, this is, you know, self help is really just silver philosophy. That's still denigrating it. So I did, it did make sense, just in terms of the conversation, to keep it as philosophy, but to separate it from the, how does the world work? Separate from our US question? This is the how does the world work? You know? And then how do we live within it? And how do we want to live? The point was, these people weren't saying, Oh, just, you know, just get all the plant and physical pleasure you can out of it, and then die, or just try to make a name for yourself, and then die, or, you know, get as much power as you can. Everybody knows these things. Don't make you happy forever. So there's always this voice that comes after and says, Well, look, if materialism or power or winning isn't working for you, then how do we live this thing that is graceful? Yes, I very much was thinking of the word grace in there that that we are talking about, not just how to live well, live well with others, but to live in tune with the most, the richest, most poetic aspects of being human. And the world we're in is constantly pulling us in both directions, right? There's this, you know, the beautiful trees and birds and this whole outside world right outside. And yet, we also have to get some dinner on the table and have to do all these mundane things in order to make that happen. And, and again, that's why I rehabilitate words like faith, with the same need and grace with the same need of, you know, putting into that category of things that take you know, when I talk about if you're talking about grace in a religious setting, no one thinks anybody's walking around always in a state of grace. So why Why does do do we philosophers and poets and humanists think that our philosophies should keep us in a state of happiness at all times? It can't possibly, it's going to require the same stoking of faith in hope and beauty and rebirth and the healing properties of time. Right? And keeping at bay, some of the more negative stuff and trying to build in ourselves the capacity to be of use.

David Ames  1:15:33  
Yeah, absolutely. And find find meaning and purpose and something to, to drive your desire to live. Yeah.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:15:41  
But also to know that it is, it would not be even normal to feel good all the time. It's not what you're looking for. You're nobody feels meaning all the time. Nobody's in love all the time. I mean, you know, everybody. The more real this stuff is, the more elusive it is. And yet, the struggle is, you know, is worth it. But we do have to help each other in that belief the same way. Any belief requires a certain amount of mutual shoring up. And but you know, that's the answer to your question. I mean, for me, done a lot of interviews, I, you know, I sort of started to say no to a bunch of them after a while, just because I had done so many. And, but you know, this conversation, it's, it's cool, it's good to hear your story. And, you know, I hope people listening, you know, feel feel moved as well. But I feel moved, you know, and it feels it's great to hear that the work that I've you know, all of this interaction after it is what keeps our heads above water.

David Ames  1:16:50  
Yeah, no, and I, you know, I do the podcast for selfish reasons, right? Because I get to have these kinds of conversations. What I found was, you know, as an unbeliever, I was interested in asking these big questions. And now as an atheist, I'm still very much interested in asking the big questions, right, questions that don't have answers, right, and to connect with other human beings who are interested in the same questions is this very powerful thing to happen? Yeah.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:17:18  
So powerful. And, you know, I hope you will hear from a lot of people because certainly, you know, it's not as strong as as you know, in maybe 510 years after doubt, just hearing from people a lot of the time I would get emails from people and it was, it really did show me that this work, you know, I think it makes you feel good. And actually, really, there's a world out there and that's how this conversation started. Right? That that, um, went to Twitter and and searched my name mentioned, you know, and that's, that's that little, you know, spider sort of just flicking the string and just trying just listening is, you know, is anybody out there and, and realizing that even one little response, just electrifies everything?

David Ames  1:18:04  
Absolutely, absolutely. Jennifer, I could keep you here for hours upon hours. I hope you might consider coming back on the podcast, maybe when your next book comes out. I'd love to I think I have 1000 Other questions I could ask you. Tell people how they can get in touch with your work. What's the right websites to check out? What's your Twitter handle?

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:18:25  
I have a website, Jennifer Miko, I'm also just Jennifer If you want to say hi, and and my books are on Amazon stay and as we've been talking about doubt history.

David Ames  1:18:39  
Absolutely. And I will provide some links to Amazon in the show notes. Terrific.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:18:44  
Thanks a lot. It was great talking.

David Ames  1:18:46  
Yes. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. You're welcome.

Jennifer Michael Hecht  1:18:49  
Bye bye.

David Ames  1:18:58  
Final thoughts on the episode. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Jennifer Michael Hecht as much as I did. The breadth of her knowledge and insight is incredible. And I really could have asked questions for hours upon end, many of which I didn't get the opportunity to do so due to time constraints. I would have liked to ask Jennifer about growing up Jewish, as well as subjects she touches on in the book about reinterpreting the stories in the Old Testament. She has a wealth of knowledge and I highly recommend the book, doubt a history because it gives one such a sense of context. And in our moment of secularization in the West, that's crucially important. As Jennifer mentioned, she has written several other books, I'll make sure I have links to her website, as well as Amazon links to her books. I want to thank Jennifer for being on the podcast and graciously sharing her time and wisdom. As a last thought, I just want to talk about the virtues of doubt itself. And here I want to distinguish between what we discussed in the podcast this Dunning Kruger effect where highly competent people doubt themselves, versus the kind of doubt that leads to self evaluation and self reflection. I believe that doubt leads to truth. I believe that doubt helps one to discard bad ideas. If you happen to be a believer and you are having the long dark night of the soul, rather than feeling guilty about this, lean into those doubts, explore what they are telling you. Go investigate. Read your favorite apologists. Does their argument make you feel better? To talk to wise counselors? Do they make you feel better? Ultimately, you may even want to read sources that disagree with you. For all of my time as a believer, I believed that if faith was worth anything that it could live up to scrutiny. So my one piece of suggestion is scrutinize your doubts scrutinize the answers that you get. Take time to evaluate what you accept as truth. Doubt leads to Time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing. Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist or you can send email to graceful You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.

This has been the graceful atheist podcast

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