Evan Clark: Atheists United

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Community, Secular Grace
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This week’s guest is Evan Clark. Evan is the Executive Director of Atheists United. Evan grew up in a partially religious home, but at six years old, the idea of a god didn’t make sense to him.

He attended a Christian liberal arts college and was able to start its first atheist group. Since then, he’s gone on to create many humanist communities.

In this episode, Evan explains why atheist spaces in the US differ from spaces in other more progressive countries, why community is not the only thing people need, and he shares some of Atheists United’s upcoming projects. 


“‘Why do you need an atheist community?’ It’s not about atheism; it’s about atheists. Atheists are people, and people need community.”

“In the US, we don’t fix homelessness with our government. We don’t fix hunger with our government. We don’t provide healthcare to all of our citizens, and so what is the most powerful, most well-funded institution, outside of government, that then steps up?…religion.”

“There’s something unique about the humanist perspective that we can offer the world.”

“To be a ‘Philosophy Bro’ is abnormal. To sit and ponder literally everything while things burn around me? That is a privilege upon a privilege.”

“There’s so much more value from what I can do…getting atheists together and doing good work and providing transformational spaces for them; rather than being the one who fixes bad ideas of other people.”

“You stay in an organization, and you become active in an organization…when it transforms you, when it’s something that helps you grow as a human being.”

“Humanism starts from the idea that magic isn’t real. It’s a naturalist world…God and gods aren’t things that matter to our universe. We are these small little homo sapiens on a small planet, in a small galaxy, in an unbelievably massive universe.”

“The story of the universe and the idea that you can solve problems…and understand your place in [your community] and figure out moral and ethical problems. I think that’s more beautiful [than religion] because it’ll always improve based on new evidence and experience.”


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. It's part of the atheists United studios podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Welcome back. As you heard in the new intro, the podcast is now a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. As we begin the new year, I want to remind you that we have the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Please consider joining and become a part of the community. I want to thank all the patrons on patreon.com Thank you so much for supporting the podcast. Thank you to Sharon Joel, Lars Ray, Rob, Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Your support is much appreciated. If you would like an ad free experience of the podcast, become a patron at any level at patreon.com/graceful atheist. You will also get the podcast early ish on most weeks. You'll get it a few hours early on occasion. You'll get it a couple of days early. Hang on until the end for the final thoughts section. I'll talk a bit more about some of the plans for 2023 including what the community will be doing. As always special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. My guest today is Evan Clark. Evans bio says he is a humanist entrepreneur, a political consultant and a public speaker with over 14 years experience tinkering with secular communities. In 2019, Evan was hired as atheists United's first executive director, atheists United's mission statement is our mission is to build thriving atheist communities empower people to express their secular values and promote separation of government and religion. But much more than that, Evan is a secular Grace kind of humanist and you're going to hear that in the interview. Evan reached out to me in the fall of 2022, and asked if the graceful atheist podcast was interested in becoming a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. And I am very excited to say that as of you hearing this, we are now a part of that podcast network and I am excited about my sibling podcasts, and the work that Evan myself and the sibling podcasts will do together over the next and following years. Here is Evan Clark to tell his story.

Evan Clark, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Evan Clark  2:51  
Thanks for having me,

David Ames  2:52  
Evan, you're currently the Executive Director of atheists united and I'd love your bio on on the site. It says evidence a humanist entrepreneur, political consultant and public speaker with over 14 years experience tinkering with secular communities. So my first question to you is did you start at 12?

Evan Clark  3:10  
No, no, no. Oh, man, I'm glad I still look that young. No, I started in college. I attended California Lutheran University and I started their atheist club. Okay, I cold emailed the Secular Student Alliance and immediately got a group started by the end of my freshman year, and it was wild. It's a really unique experience starting a Secular Student Alliance. There's only maybe three or 400 of us in the world that have done that before. And then of those, I'm one of like, 10, that did it at a religious University. So we had kind of a unique experience. And I will say Cal Lutheran is not your Bible thumping. Liberty University or Azusa Pacific or something. It is. It is a open liberal arts college. And we had a really great experience. But yeah, I think it is a unique experience being in a religious space. I mean, most of us are in a religious culture, and we deal with religious politics, but then having your college environment have prayers in weird places, and pastors that are on the payroll in a church that, you know, they they closed down classes for an hour each day so people can go, Oh, wow. But luckily, it wasn't forced. So we there were plenty of secular students on campus. And we we built a really unique community. And that was my first that's what really kind of got me excited about this whole thing. I remember our last our last meeting in college I the last one for me, after three years, four years running this group, I challenged everyone like Do you think there's a need for spaces like this after college? And I had already made up my mind by then, but I was trying to see, you know, where everyone was at and what they thought of it. And yeah, I mean, to really think that 1011 years later that I could get paid to be an atheist organizer is just mind blowing dreams do come Um, true for privileged white guy.

David Ames  5:04  
I think we're gonna circle back to some of your like, you know, your growing up years. But I want to talk really quick about Cal Lutheran. So my understanding is that you also became student body president there. Yeah, that's right. How does that work and atheists that at a Christian university? Yeah.

Evan Clark  5:17  
So I mean, it's funny to think back. We were celebrating its 50th year as a university when I was student body president. And I imagine there were probably at least one or two other non theists. But yeah, but there's a difference between being a public non theist, right, like we know, we've had many elected officials in Congress that are non theists, but they won't allow themselves to be that publicly, on all surveys, they identify as Jewish or Christian or Muslim. And I think that's what's unique. So I was the first out public atheist in that position. And yeah, honestly, it really wasn't that big a deal. When I ran for student body president, it was more controversial that I was running against a former roommate than it was that I was running, you know, as a leader of the Secular Student Group. Yeah. So while I do know, some people it probably frustrated or gave them a bad taste in their mouth. And I do know, the like, local press decided to run with it here and there. Overall, the campus was very supportive and never really thought twice. And I remember by the time I was getting out of college, the university was bragging about our secular student group as another form of diversity on campus. Look, we have these atheists, then look at religious diversity. And I do think that helps kickstart kind of an interfaith era for Cal Lutheran, and they've been really active with interfaith work ever since. And I like to think that we helped nudge that along.

David Ames  6:48  
That's awesome. That's actually I think, a positive impact. We say sometimes that there are better and worse versions of religion, and one that's more ecumenical is definitely better. And so it sounds like you had that kind of impact on the university.

Evan Clark  7:02  
Yeah, yeah, I think, I don't know. It's, it's really interesting, building a secular space, and then thinking about how that relates to the rest of the community and culture that you exist in. So, you know, atheists United was founded in 1982, over separation of church and state case in LA. It was a contentious existence, and to be an open atheists in 1982 was kind of a, you know, extremely intense experience. You're talking about maybe losing your job or having to confront family if it's public suddenly. And yeah, Cal Lutheran in 2012. Not as intense is 1982. Atheist organizing. But what I will say is, yeah, it brought the conservative Christians out a little bit more, it brought the other clubs that did interfaith work, a little bit more vocal, and it gave them I think, space for that. What was unique about our group as we explored religion, most secular student groups look like philosophy clubs, actually, it's because they recruit mostly from the philosophy clubs. That's why they looked at why there's a self selection bias there. Were at Cal Lutheran, we decided, because we are identifying publicly as non theists in an explicitly at least a name theistic space, we need to know what we don't believe if we're going to claim that publicly and organize around that. And so what we did is we did anthropological exploration of religion, we went to churches and synagogues and mosques and pagan rituals and Mormon temples. And we, we engaged, we sat through their ceremonies, and we got a crash course in experiential religious studies. I learned so much more through my club than I did through even the religion classes that I took. Because we had first hand experience. And yeah, I'll never forget how much we learned and how much empathy I built and how many patterns I noticed about religion, because we weren't afraid of it, we, you know, openly engaged it,

David Ames  9:08  
man. You know, that's incredible. Because one of the things that I think concerns me is, my point of view is very specifically having had belief, and then going through a deconversion process and being on the other side, some of my criticisms of the atheist community of you know, maybe the last 1520 years is kind of that hostility towards religious people. And I think that comes from a lack of understanding. There's no point of recognition of the humanity of what it is like to have believed and I think just taking a comparative religion class alone, but even going as far as you did to actually sit in on other religious ceremonies is like super valuable. And I think it also not just from the empathy point of view, but it also inoculates you event, right? Right. I think people can be susceptible to you know, if they have a particularly difficult moment in their lives, the love bombing effect of some religions and having an exposure to that could actually be an inoculation.

Evan Clark  10:10  
Yes, and it's such a complex topic talking about how people came to their non theism. So I there as a community organizer who grew up secular, which we can talk about in a second, and I went, I grew up in Massachusetts, I went to Catholic school in first grade and immediately said, this isn't working for me. Okay, all these. They start with stories of Genesis, and I was picking those apart one by one. Yeah, yeah. Nuns hated me. I was a little brat. I was asking questions about how Adam and Eve had two boys and populated the world. And like, I didn't even know what sex was. But I was like, giving them questions that made them have to, like, think or engage that topic. And so they just wouldn't. And that frustrated me more. And so yeah, I decided this God thing isn't working for me in first grade. I didn't find a word like atheist until sixth grade, super flipping through a dictionary, you know, trying to not read in one of my classes or something. And yeah, I found this word atheist. And I go, there's a word for me. I thought it was such a powerful like an identity moment. And then I started using it and realize not everyone liked the word.

David Ames  11:18  
Yeah. Had some connotations. Little baggage. Yeah.

Can I ask real quick? Yeah. Was your family religious then? And did they? How did they respond to that?

Evan Clark  11:36  
Yeah, it was more, I'll call it a I'll call it split religious. My dad grew up, like secular San Diego household. My mom grew up in more of Roman Catholic Massachusetts household. So when we I was born in California, but at the age of two, we moved to Massachusetts. And so I think my mom just had this idea that if you can, if you have the money, you raise your kids in a nice Catholic private school. Yeah. Um, and that's why I went to the Catholic school that I did. But yeah, when it immediately wasn't working out, and we happen to be in the one town in America where the public school is better than the private school. I was able to transition to the public school. And though my mom tried to get us to go to church, and again, this is Catholic, Roman Catholic at that style of church. My dad didn't like he would do it for my mom, but it wasn't something he ever cared about. He clearly didn't believe in he chose to watch football on Sundays, rather than go to church half the time. And so very quickly, I wanted to go I want to watch football with Dad, I don't want to go to church I hate I hate this ritual. It's boring. It's, they make me sit and CCD, and it's all bullshit. Like I immediately just fought back so hard. Yeah. And my mom finally made a deal with me. She said, If you finish first communion, I'll let you decide if you ever want to go to church again. So I said, Sign me up. Let's do it. Awesome. I'm gonna win this. Yeah. And yeah, that's exactly what happened. I did it a year late, because I had complained so hard the year before about leaving the church. And yeah, I finished the first communion, I got my dumb little wafer, and I never went to church again, not till college, actually. And so I actually feel bad because I was so religiously uneducated, from when at that like fourth, fifth grade experience up until college, like I didn't know the difference between a Catholic and a Christian until I suddenly was in college and decided there should be a space for atheists. And then everybody wanted to talk about their religious traditions, and like, you know, Lutheran and Methodist and all these things I'd never heard before. I have to now really engage. Yeah, so it's, it's been a fascinating journey. But, you know, I identify more with the people who grew up without religion, I just have a little bit of more cultural baggage than those that grew up with atheist parents.

David Ames  13:55  
Right, right. Right. Okay. Yeah. And then Evan, I think something that you and I share is, and I think you're doing it better than I am, but is, is obsession with community. So from my perspective, it's that, you know, religion provides a really built in community and the platform for friendships and relationships and building a sense of belonging, and that on this side of deconversion, that that is much harder to facilitate in a secular environment. And yet, human beings need that. And so like I'm just obsessed with ways that we can bring each other together in a secular environment and you are out there on the front line doing that kind of thing. Why is community important to you? Like how did that be? Oh,

Evan Clark  14:39  
yeah. Yeah, well, you're gonna have to get me to stop talking to you. Once you get me wound up. It doesn't it doesn't stop but my my poor girlfriend's heard my rants on these 1000 times. But also to finish the last point. People come at their non theism from so many different perspectives where I come at it from more of I grew up most secular with a little bit of religious baggage you know if if you are traumatized by religion if you have sexual shame or if you spent 10s of 1000s of dollars, on superstitious things, if you have guilt still that is riddling, that is destroying your life then I understand why people have really intense negative responses to religion. And the institutional political side is we we see clear obvious dangers we see, you know, our our queer friends, we see our people with reproductive organs that are not like mine being legislated. We see immigration law, even being connected to religion, like we see oppression that people can draw direct lines to, and if they care about justice and social justice in those means, and they can suddenly see this as either a tool or an inspiration for those. Yeah, to me, it's an obvious, rational way that they got to that conclusion, even if I think some of their arguments might be broken, that lead to bad conclusions, like I don't think, like religion, for me is often more of a tool and a space than it is the actual oppression. You know, the reason people come to belief is that always inspired by the ideas they have, or did they already have those ideas, and then they used religious belief arguments to justify those and I think when you get more nuanced, and the deeper you study, philosophy, rational thought community organizing, I'm much more humbled about people. I just don't think we're the rational brained overmatched people think we are you know, like, I think we're very flawed and we're very biased and yeah, I just don't think the judgment of religious people or religious institutions, which can is one of the like hardest things to define in social science, sure. But yes, what is religion? Right, like, do we count? football stadiums, as you know, next to churches or phrases sorority or religion or is a Buddhist non theist organization or religion? Like these are really complicated questions that social scientists debate to this day.

Moving to the community question, and away from the first one, we desperately need community, but it's going to look different for everyone. So if we start from just the research perspective, if I wasn't to make more personal arguments, research shows that when you participate, I should back up, the way the research was done is more fascinating. They actually found a discrepancy between atheists and theists, when they looked at quality of life, reported levels of happiness, life expectancy, how much you volunteer and how much you donate to charity. But when you dive into the study, and I should say the discrepancy was bad for the non theistic. But yeah, they live longer, they gave more or they reported higher levels of happiness, right? Like, it's just like, Wow, geez, I guess I'm supposed to be religious, if I want to live a good life. Yeah. But when you dive into the research, it has nothing to do with intensity of belief. So it didn't matter that you believe 10 times harder and God than someone lower on the spectrum, with the correlation and causation seem to be more attached to your participation in religious community. So basically, the more you went to a congregational model, the more you participated in pro social behavior, the more pro social benefits you got, you know, which, which matches suddenly, with all of the other social science research that says, When you hang out with people, you have less depression when you you know, when you volunteer more you like, feel happier, and you give more to charity. And so it's really cool when you look at research in that sense, that what I do as an atheist organizer, even if I took the non theism part out if I completely removed atheism and any mention of humanism and all of these recovering from religion thing even if I removed all of that and all we did was get together at a bar and like party once a month, I would be doing a social good that could be improving how much you volunteer how much you donate, how long you live, how happy you are, like, community in and of itself is a proven social good, and that is because we are hardwired social animals and we just this is this is a fact we like can't ignore it. And it exists in different ways for different people, like people are finding online community in ways today that just wasn't possible 25 years ago, we have you know, hybrid communities we have, you know, a lot of structural designs to our society like third places that no longer exist that make it harder for us to actually do this work. But yeah, I will always be an advocate for community because you know, for getting All of the other bigger political and philosophical arguments I could make. And they could make you a good person or society better place. Like I really just think at the end of the day like we improve people's lives by getting them together in community. And in a religious dominated society, where when they leave religion, there are often zero options for you to hang out with other people that share your values on Sunday, people that might visit you in the hospital, if you're sick people that you trust to help you raise your children, people that might be your dating network or your job network, like, we leave that to religion in our society. And beyond that, it turns into political organizing, and it turns into, you know, financial access, and it turns into all of these other forms of power. So yeah, this is why, you know, I get asked sometimes by atheists, like, why do you need an atheist community and like, it's not about atheism, it's about atheists. Atheists are people and people need community and people have needs, and they have goals and aspirations and cares, and that you can build a community around atheism gets really boring really quick.

David Ames  21:09  
Absolutely. And I mean, you've basically described the impetus for for this podcast is, you know, like, pick whatever term right humanism, what have you, we talked about secular grace, but like, it's acknowledging the humanity of, of each of us and our need for connection with each other. And that that doesn't go away when you walk away from religion.

Evan Clark  21:31  
And this is an evolution that's happening, you know, when I think about the secular movement, or the atheist movement, these are phrases you'll hear thrown around by organizers like me a lot, you need to consider that there's different types of movements that are happening simultaneously. So one is a political movement, where we are hiring lawyers and lobbyists, and we're building these institutions in DC that can represent us. And we're fighting cultural stigma and political stigma. And we are have some goals that we as atheist have all come around together for like separation of church and state, or I don't know, taxing churches or whatever it might be. We have a few aligned things that we in large masses have built political power for. But we also seem to have some cultural things we've organized around as well, we are trying to figure out how to build institutions that frankly, look a lot like classic religions. Yeah, and you see a way CES and Sunday Assembly and ethical culture society that have come up over the past 100 years that are building these spaces where secular people can have congregational models of gathering where we can maybe still sing together or or maybe, you know, checking in on each other if we're sick or builds, you know, food networks, in case anybody gets behind or loses a job. Like when I look at Norway, and I see a very secular country, and I see a Humanist Movement that doesn't talk about politics the way we do in the US and isn't building atheist organizations the way we do in the US. I've thought a lot about where the differences were, they looked at us and they go, why on earth would you need an atheist organization, we're gonna go play with some humanist models, we'll come up with like a, a youth coming of age ceremony, but like, that's all we need. And the deeper thing I've noticed is most of this comes back to politics in the US, we don't fix homelessness with our government, we don't fix hunger with our government, we don't provide health care to all of our citizens. And so what is the most powerful, most well funded institution outside of government that then steps up in those spaces and right now, in the United States today, that's religion. We just don't have giant secular NGOs that are in most hospitals and who provide most homeless care and provide food distributions like this is almost all being organized in religious spaces, which furthers religious privilege and gives religious power. Right, if I was to think like a religious authoritarian, the first thing you would do is try to claim government power, which we're seeing we this is the classic modern Christian nationalist religious right. But if you can't get that the second best you can do is limit government power, and and completely control all social and institutional spaces beyond that. And that's why, you know, creating secular education, creating public schools was probably one of the biggest secular achievement in world history for most countries. Yeah. Like, I don't think we stop and appreciate enough sometimes the secular public school movement and what that meant for separating religion and government. Right, and why religious institutions that are authoritarian all want private schools to take back over and they want to end public funding of education right now apply that to churches now apply that to food now apply that to housing, right? They get to preserve power in that way. And so, you know, yeah, we provide community with atheists united, but we also get to challenge that religious power by also doing our own food distribution by also getting involved in local advocacy by showing up at a bunch of events that we've never shown up for, for the past, you know, however old this country is now. So anyways, it's it's really interesting, there's so many dynamics for how you can come at it. And like you have a political movement with some very clear political goals, you can have a social movement that, you know, maybe has your media figures that are constantly in a cultural debate over theistic ideas. But then we also have, like, local power questions that are both cultural and political, that I think local institutions can solve and support, you know, and it's not just are we providing food for people, which is amazing, but it's how are we educating the youth that are going to take over our society? How are we building rituals that are not shamed base, but aspirational and critical and thought provoking and pluralistic? That's what's to me exciting about the potential of humanist communities and atheists, we're not, we don't have to just be reactionary. There's something unique about a secular perspective that we can offer the world. I think

David Ames  26:11  
you just said the magic word there to that pluralism, I think some people can be afraid of the word secularism, and yet, we are not trying to enforce unbelief. You know, on everyone else, it's just to make room for freedom of religion and freedom from religion. And that that actually has, as you've just eloquently enumerated massively positive impacts on society, including things like public education, and some

Evan Clark  26:37  
bros on the internet do want that, right. Like, I've actually started to use the phrase atheist supremacy that I think they're actually arguing for, they really believe that other people are broken, and they need to fix them with atheism. They, they they literally look at them as less than during the pandemic, there was some disgusting comments by a lot of atheists online, that I noticed on Twitter and Facebook around like, Well, Lisa killing off lots of Christians. And I just discussed it by comments like that. Because yeah, sure, if there's a Christian pastor who is getting on the errors, and saying, the vaccines are crap, ignore the science, you shouldn't do all of that. I think they are in positions of power, and they have more responsibility, and I care a lot less about if if they as hypocrites get hurt by that. But most religious people are followers, they are part of a community, they don't have the time to go think about vaccine efficacy, they don't have time. You know, they're in a crap economy with kids and a full life and trying to maintain friendships and keep out of depression during a closed society. And then the person you trust, trust most in the world tells you this is an unsafe vaccine, and you shouldn't go get them and then you get sick because of that, like, Are you a victim? Or did you bring that upon yourself? And I think a lot of atheists because we come to atheism through such individual means and because so much of our language comes from often libertarian Western, like culture. We treat everyone with this, like you are the only one that can answer any question and you have to use rationality and by rationality. I mean, like the Jefferson debate in the street with everyone, you know, philosophy, which doesn't recognize that that's not how most humans think that is not how we actually come to conclusions. In most cases, I can see very emotional journey for most people to have religion or to lose religion, as much as it is a rational decision. And rationality is informed by emotions, but that's a longer rant.

David Ames  28:55  
Again, Evan, I can't agree with you strongly enough. This is literally a conversation that's been going around our community because of I think genetically modified skeptic recently did a post about apologetics and counter apologetics are, are useful, which I tend to agree with. And there was a bunch of pushback from lots of people. And the point is that it's you know, it's the very, it's the philosophy people that you were just talking about, right? I love philosophy. It's like you know, it definitely affects me, but I don't represent everyone Yeah, I

Evan Clark  29:25  
can hang with philosophers as much as anyone and I love it and I love deep questions and I'm one of the few people that will spend hours and hours and hours in those discussions compared to my girlfriend for instance, because zero patients for them she's just like, does it impact my life? If it does, how does it hurt or not? And I want the side that improves doesn't hurt right? Like she there's no debating abortion access with her right there. The philosophy around that as a waste of her time she has finished with the debate and it is emotionally painful to continue to have and I think that's a wreck. cognition of how humans function right? Like, right to be a philosophy bro is abnormal it to sit and say I can ponder literally everything while things burn around me like that is a privilege on a privilege. And so anyways, what I do think, though is we need to recognize that there is some supremacist thought that comes from other places, right? White supremacy exists regardless of religion, we have other forms of supremacy, gender supremacy we have, we also have religious supremacy and some people I think, learn the wrong lessons, they still hold on to some cultural ideas that religion, mostly conservative religion has propagated, which is that, you know, you have to be right, and that you need to fix other people with the truth. And no, that's, that's not actually true. What we need is a society that functions well and prompts people up and helps them get through their lives. Right. And what I find when I look around right now is I see a lot of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples that are doing way more work than we are, when it comes to justice work when it comes to fighting climate change when it comes to science education, like literally the thing we speak most about. Yeah, I've met progressive churches talk more about science than I wouldn't say talk more about we talk a lot. Maybe organized more about, like, science based policy in some cases. And if I look at that, and I also look over here, and I see Richard Spencer, who's an open atheist organizing the Charlottesville rally with frickin Nazis. And I go, Well, should I stand with an atheist? Because they're an atheist? Or should I stand with these people who agree with 99.9%? On like, values, questions, and it's, it's obvious, it's so I've never met an atheist who were like, Yeah, let's go hang out with the Nazis. Right? which defeats the argument that belief is the most important thing. It just destroys that idea. It is actions, it has values it is what we organize around it is our humanity, not our beliefs. And when we recognize that, yeah, belief impacts that belief isn't completely meaningless, right? Like, philosophy is good, so that we keep growing as a species. But that's, that's a feature of a secular ideology. When you let go of Magical Thinking, then appeals to tradition is a logical fallacy. Well, what's the opposite of that? That means progress, we have to challenge our ideas, right? They have to use methods like scientific method for them to be more true. And we will, over time come to better conclusions, and and philosophies, one of the tools in that toolkit. But yeah, when that's all it is, and suddenly it allows you to hold what I would consider a supremacist belief over someone else. Like, I actually think you're more harmful than helpful. And we don't do that in my community.

David Ames  32:56  
I actually love that that verbiage. You know, recognizing the shared values, you may know my story that my wife is still a believer. And I talk a lot about with her, you know, that the shared values that we have that that that's what our marriage can can stand on.

Evan Clark  33:11  
People don't know this, there's actually a staffer for American atheists who is a Christian. Wow, okay. It's completely possible. You know, I have a one of my best friends from college, he joined my Secular Student Group, he was an agnostic at the time, he went to Europe for study abroad, he came back and he's like, I need to, I need to take you out to lunch. I got something to tell you. And I'm like, Oh, cool. He's gonna come out as gay or something. Yeah, I got pregnant. I have no idea what's gonna happen here. Yeah. And he's like, so the only book I took with me was the Koran and I'm a Muslim now. Oh, that's a cool. Coming to my Secular Student Group. He became the vice president of my student group in college and like, I still hang out with him to this day, I couldn't imagine, like losing that friendship over. You happen to go to a mosque, not an atheist group with your time. You know, he does more good work than most atheists. I know. Like, that's what Bond's us. Yeah, we disagree on a few things. Oh, boy. Sure. You know, like, it gets awkward when I talk about like, how he's going to teach his kids about religion, but that's part of society. I don't know, I'm okay with that. I'd rather have that conversation, then find out he's a Nazi. What happens to be an atheist or is like thinking it's okay, that Trump wants to end the Constitution. Like that's way more problematic to me

David Ames  34:29  
to kind of wrap this up. I often say that, again, this concept of secular Grace if you want to be good to people, and you justify that in a theistic way, and I want to be good to people, and I justify that in a humanistic way. Let's just go good. Be good to people, right? Like, we should be allies in that work, even though we disagree with each other's justifications.

Evan Clark  34:50  
And this can be hard like the I came into the atheist movement during the new Atheism era, like I ate up a lot of the talking points. around like beliefs leads to action. It's taken me a lot to try to deconstruct that and look at people more as a bunch of monkeys and shoes trying to figure out how to live lives. But, yeah, I think I think there are some interesting questions here that could be explored more, I'm probably going to leave them to more philosophers and thought leaders than community organizers like me, but, you know, to some extent, belief obviously matters a little like, we know, it does impact actions a bit. We do know, it's attached to identity, it's attached to politics, it's attached to how you organize. So I don't want to be completely flippant about that, like, I do think, you know, the way I'm attacking Nazi ideas, like I think right need to be challenged beliefs have consequences. Yeah. But, you know, I just don't think they're as strong as people often talk about in atheists spaces, I really just don't think it's like I, you know, believe in insert, Evan Jellicle, like, interpretation of the Bible. And that means, like, I beat up gay people, like, we don't actually find those correlations. We do find the community organizations and institutions that organize around, like, oppressing gay people, like happen to be using religion as a tool, and there's some correlations there. But, um, but I don't know where the limits are on that. Because yeah, I think if you're talking to your toaster and your toasters telling you I need to go shoot up a school, like, we clearly care about that belief and want to intervene in our society. But yeah, like the local pastor that helps out with our atheist programs in LA here, like, he calls himself a Christian atheist, and I still don't know what that means. Yes, you know, do I need to try to challenge that and fix that, or, you know, when I was dating a lot, after college, and I would go on a date with somebody who believed in astrology, and I like 99 out of 100 times, that's like, it just means they believe in ghosts, like, it's very similar to like an impact or life zero, they like find movies a little bit more interesting if they believe in ghosts, but it always scares me a little bit. Because if you're willing to believe that some bullshit about the stars can impact like who your identity is, then couldn't it impact you thinking vaccines are bad, or something like, I worry about that. But I don't have good solutions around it. And I find, given our short time in the earth, given our limited resources giving, given the community I'm working on, and what we're prioritizing, there's so much more value I can do from a efficacy stance of getting atheists together and doing good work, and providing transformational spaces for them, rather than being the one that fixes bad ideas of other people. But, but I won't, I won't completely shut down the people that do that, like I do think education is important. It's just education rarely changes the world as much as mobilizing does.

David Ames  38:17  
So I want to key off of something that you just said there too. And this can sound religious, but providing the platform for good works, as it were, or however you define do define that, you know, giving people the opportunity to, you know, use what they are good at in their hobbies or what have you in some kind of way that impacts the community in a positive way. And I know that like you guys recently have done a project, atheist street pirates where you were cleaning out, like proselytizing signs and things of that nature. And you had a religious people along with you also doing that if you want to talk about that for a minute.

Evan Clark  38:53  
Yeah, so that programs called atheists, street pirates, we founded it. During the pandemic, we noticed a lot of illegal religious propaganda. Most cities probably have this and you just kind of forget that it's there. After a while, but maybe a highway overpass somebody put up a sign that said Ask Jesus for mercy or some random telephone pole by Library says, you know, Jesus is coming. Yeah, there's there's a bunch of random propaganda like that that essentially furthers Christian privilege. And normalizes this idea that everything is a Christian space, but they're often on public land, they're on, you know, highways, they're on bridges, they're on telephone poles. Well, that's illegal. That's, that's the shared land that has to be a secular space. They definitely didn't get permission from the city to put those up. But what we find is cities don't have the time and resources to always take those down. And so we started just by mapping them, we created this Google map and we started, you know, seeing how big the phenomenon was. And then one of them that was there for a while we decided, Okay, we're gonna go at like two in the morning and see if we can take this down. hopefully doesn't fall on the highway. Of course, it's la the highway doesn't slow down at two in the bazillion cars out there. And yeah, this kind of kicked off this really odd program that we get a ton of press for where we yeah, we directly map and take down these illegal religious propaganda and it's inspired, even religious people who believe in separation of church and state who believe that for this to be a pluralistic space, you have to also have freedom from religion. You know, freedom, freedom of religion is completely meaning I'm sure a million guests have said this. But it's completely meaningless without your ability to say no to any one religion that approaches you. So yeah, well, I have a I have a local pastor, I met at a local Pride event, and he came out with us. He loved it. He took one of the signs to his congregation and preached that that week about our program. Yeah, at the atheist street pirates were doing. So yeah, we've we've done some really cool things in that sense. And I think what you're getting at, though, as a question is, like, should we institutionalize? Should we build these things that should be there for 50 or 100 or 500 years? And this is the question I always think about, what are we building? And why and what is the like, long term goal of this? Because yeah, in some sense, most atheist organizations are reactionary, that God exists, they exist. They came into existence in the past 50 years. And it's because of the rise of the Religious Right. You know, if the country just turned into Norway, we'd be looking around, like, why on earth? Do you need an atheist community where you talk about atheism, and Christianity and blah, blah, blah, right? You will notice that if you go to Portugal, you go to Denmark, you go to Norway, like they just don't exist. Like, it's actually hard to find atheist communities, the way we have in the US, US we have one or two or three made, you know, atheist communities, for every major city, or hundreds and hundreds of groups you can join. And a lot of that politics, right, it's just obvious we have a religious political movement. And the first and most important group that they will oppress is the non religious, we are the canary in the coal mine for secular government, and for a pluralistic society. In some ways, this is my frustration with our religious allies, including the Satanic Temple and, you know, even Unitarian Universalist is because they think of religious pluralism in only a religious contexts. And they can't recognize that most atheists want to also be non religious, even if we join communities, the language is really important to us, the identity is really important to us. And the government interaction is really important to us. So yeah, it's really cool that the satanists can also give a prayer. But like, what about a group that doesn't pray? Right, that that is that is important. And like, we need to look at a future where most of us don't pray, it doesn't matter. Like now you're forcing us to come up with a prayer to be equal. That is not welcoming. That is not our idea of a secular government. And yeah, it's better than just one religion having access at least we have a seat at the table, the let us do something. But yeah, I like to call it one is the classic secular argument of like a pure secular state, where religion has zero power in religion. And then the other is like a secular light where all religions get equal power. Right. But what happens then is the religions with the most resources and the most organizing, they're the ones that get more time. You know, if I have to compete with the Evangelicals over who gets prayers at city council, like, I see the next 50 years, they're gonna add organizers. Yeah, yeah, not for lack of trying, but like, they just have so much more money. And so many more people that hang out in congregational models that Yeah, could take me 4050 years to like, match that. So that's my concern and why I really think like the secular government argument matters. This is why we don't put up our own signs with the atheists street pirates all the time. Why don't you just go put up atheist signs. I'm like, Well, I don't want to get into a religious arms race. Yeah.

David Ames  44:10  
You're gonna lose. But that's so telling of it. I mean, that's, that is so important. That exact statement that you are not putting up. You shouldn't believe science. You should become an atheist. You're just you're just saying, Hey, this is a secular space and so there should not be proselytizing here.

Evan Clark  44:27  
Yeah. And I think that's a really, you know, I posted recently on Instagram I did this video I observed some guys proselytizing they walked up to guys, old guys walked up to a young guy with his Kid in a Park. I have a minivan and I sometimes like work in the back of it random places around LA. So I observed this whole thing right up close. And they just immediately started talking to him about Jesus and you need to oh man, and you know, everyone's broken and Jesus is the only way to get saved. Can we pray for you? And like I just watched this like 25 minute interaction in the pork It was like trying to run around and like that was trapped. And I put up a video about how like atheist groups don't proselytize. Right. And I got a lot of pushback on that, both from atheists who some think we should, some from people who have experienced atheists who have pushed themselves into the lives to talk about belief. And yeah, I'm just I think it's really important that if we care about a pluralistic society, which is a place where all have equal access and all or treat each other equally, it doesn't mean I believe that they're right. I, you know, when I do interfaith work, the one thing we agree on is that we all disagree. I love interface work, because yeah, it's literally like, I can walk up to a Muslim and I go, like, I think you're nuts. And they look at me and they go, I think you're nuts. And I go, cool. Should we plant that tree now? And yeah. Like, that's okay. That's cool. That's a society. That's a functioning society. Yeah, we could debate that in our spare time. But proselytizing, to me my personal definition of it is going out of your way, and pushing yourself into other people's lives. You know, I've never ever ever met an atheist organizer who wants to go door to door to talk about atheism. Yeah, I will buy ads on Facebook to promote an event we're doing I will, you know, follow the laws and rules around like promoting ourselves, but I don't think we should have special privilege and access to your life, unconventionally, right, I respect your freedom to say no, and we will present our ideas in some places, but somebody responsibility to convince you. And, you know, again, if, if everyone was Nazis, you know, maybe that's what I would be doing, I'd be like, I want you to not be a Nazi. And we have that in different forms today. But I don't know, I think there's so much more work that needs to be done for the millions, literally millions of atheists, agnostics, humanists and other non religious identities in the US, who don't even have community right now. Right, don't even know that there's spaces they can gather, and you can meet other people like you. And you can raise kids in those spaces free of any dogma at any time, that cares about critical thinking the way you do, people that might be able to visit you in the hospital, if you get sick, or help you out. If you lose your job like, that is so much more valuable in most people's day to day life than your, you know, obvious argument, they could have Googled about the problem of evil. So I don't know. That's where my time and energy is these days. And I'm encouraged that there's a lot more people doing it, and there's a lot more resources for it. But we're so underfunded. I mean, like I ever drive by like a Methodist Church, and you're like, Oh, God, 200 year old building, I wonder what it would be like to do our work in something like that. And then you think about the budget, they probably have, you know, they probably spend more on upkeep of that building than like every atheist group in California put together, right. You know, let alone the pastor salary, the youth pastor, the Secretary, the contractors, the marketing budget, you know, they probably spend more on print materials than I have for 16 programs.

David Ames  48:26  
Atheists United is about and I'll just do your mission statement here. Our mission is to build thriving atheist communities, empower people to express their secular values, and promote separation of government and religion. The reason you and I are talking is that you have also started a podcast network and the aggressive atheist is going to become a part of that. So I want to talk about a little bit what that idea is what you're trying to accomplish there. And we've talked about the existing podcast there humanist experience, nomadic humanists, and the beyond atheism, guys that interviewed recently.

Evan Clark  48:58  
Awesome, ya know, I'm so excited that you're joining the network and that there's growth in this type of content. When I look around atheist media these days, I see a lot of I'll call it Christian talk radio for atheists. Yeah. You know, like, and it's not inherently bad. Like, again, I think there's a lot of people craving that content. If if I was just coming out of an evangelical tradition, and I need the language for some of these ideas I have if I need to, like, I'm thinking through a problem about God's existence, or whatever my pastor or priest told me about this topic, like, yeah, listening to some of these, these people who talk about those ideas is actually radically valuable. But there's a lot of questions that come after a secular identity as established that I really want to help promote the content creators that are working in that space. You know, I launched a podcast in 2015. And we traveled the country and we created the whole thing from scratch. Should we didn't have podcast backgrounds. And it was a beautiful experience. But what I quickly learned is, you know, creating contents one thing, getting anyone to listen to it is another. It's really hard to have a successful podcast. No matter how brilliant you are, or how beautiful your content is, you need access to an audience. And so the idea that I've been sitting on for years and finally was able to do this past year was let's take a bunch of awesome underfunded ragtag content creators, you know, atheist content creators who just need a little help. Let's throw them in a network together. And they can promote each other and share each other's audience because their shared values and identity here and the questions some of these shows, are asking overlap with other shows that are coming at them from different angles. And that's been the beauty so far. And we started with the beyond atheism, guys, which you had on your show a few weeks ago, who, who really asked my favorite question, which is Now what's cool, you're an atheist, like, Kay, you can go many different directions. Now, you know, how? What does that tell you about how to handle artificial intelligence taking our jobs? Or how does it handle raising a kid? Like, those are real questions like atheists? Yes. For me, who's been an atheist for 2030 years now? Like, I'm, frankly, bored by the atheism question, like, I haven't heard anything new in 25 years in that in that space. Exactly. Yeah. The interesting, juicy questions are like, how do you raise a kid ethically, like, oh, there's so much unknown in that space, and so much we need to learn and practice and figure out how do you? How do you ethically engage our economy? How do you build communities ethically, right, as a community organizer? Do I go fully egalitarian, like a lot of our socialist roots? Or do we use some of the hierarchies that exist in other organizations like churches? You know, do I, as the leader of the community get on stage and talk about our beliefs and values? Or do I avoid being the face in the center of it? And we kind of use a more equitable model like these are their ethical questions or organizing questions that are super juicy and fun? And I don't have you know, we're not going to find a perfect answer to anytime soon. Yeah. Yeah. So we have podcasts that explore that, or in some cases, we're finding, like in the Spanish speaking world, there aren't even shows that address the questions around theism and atheism, you know, like, the alternative. So we, you know, I wasn't expecting to do this, but we might be bringing on a show that goes at the arguments of God, but for our Spanish speaking audience, interesting. Okay. Yeah, underserved spaces. We have a Jewish humanist podcast launching next week called amusing Jews, like so a secular Jewish perspective, like so secular, they barely ever talk about religion. They're mostly just, you know, talking to Hollywood writers about the shows they work on and their hobbies and Festivus is nice. So anyway, it's like this has been the idea. But what's been really, really, really fascinating is trying to just figure out what programs we should do as a community organization. So most atheist groups, if you were to, you know, go pick a city, Houston, or New York or Miami or something and go to their local atheist group and local humanist group. Usually they have a speaker event, right, we do some type of educational program, they have a service program, usually some type of giving back to their local community. And if you're lucky, maybe like a recovering from religion subgroup that supports people with religious trauma. But one of the struggles you find when you talk to most organizers is people will check them out. Like atheism is still a controversial idea. There's lots of new people identifying as atheists, so people will explore it, but they don't always stay. Right. We don't have a 2000 year tradition of like space you want to hang out in or have rituals that you know, like, make you feel good, like, like, Thanksgiving turkey or something. So how do we build spaces like that? And what is actually the goal of spaces like that? And one of the things I've learned recently, weirdly by reading church planning books, which I never thought, you know, I took this job and there's there's nobody that's had a job like this before me, so I have no one to like, I have no mentors to go ask for advice. You know, atheist community organizers, like a new job title in this world. There's like four of me in the world.

David Ames  54:26  
I know. Yeah. Not that many people do.

Evan Clark  54:29  
And one of the things I found in this, this book recently was about you know, it's about how to turn around failing churches and he talked a lot about how people think they come for belonging, right like you want to find other people like you who share your identity and you just want to like be among them. And that's nice and that's true a lot of people do want belonging that's language we all all use. Every religious and non religious community I know uses this language. But I find that's not why they stay, you know, like I find belonging in a political Oregon. zation, but I won't go to every event. You, you stay in an organization and you become active in an organization, you start donating to that community when it transforms you, when it's something that helps you grow as a human being. And this has been the most transformational idea for me, as an organizer, which is like we need to not just represent people, we need to help people. You know, I'm suddenly looking at things like recovering from religion, not as just a space people can belong together. But as like, truly trauma care. I'm looking at, you know, we added a Smart Recovery Program, which is a secular addiction recovery program, for any type of addiction. It's usually people who like really hated the higher power language in AAA, they want something that's more based on science, smart recovery is the place you should go or at least start. And yeah, like, we are literally helping people's lives. You know, if I can help you with addiction, yeah, of course, this is the community, you're gonna give your time and your money and raise your kids and the rest of your life. And that helped us launch a new program called atheist adventures. And we last year, we went to Death Valley and looked at the stars with an astronomer. And we were asking the question of like, how do we recreate religious experience in a secular sense, right? Like we know, we experience all we know, we feel meaning in certain moments. Well, you know, a lot of us it's been in nature and feeling small or large, based on the context of the experience, right? That's what most religious experiences are, right? Like the reason you walk into a giant chapel in Europe, and you just feel amazing is because you feel so small, suddenly, it's designed for you to feel small, right? And you have a weird moment in your brain where everything kind of fires Well, yeah, you can feel that in Death Valley on a moonless night with an astronomer doing a star talk

David Ames  56:51  
real quick, I have to tell this story, because as an atheist, I happen to be in London. And I went to St. Paul's Cathedral. Yeah. And I had that exact experience of just, you know, recognizing that. Oh, you know, it was it was the architecture, and the, the, you know, the brilliance of the stories, and yeah, and the the beauty of it, and the light filtering through the stained glass. And like, you know, the there was an experience, there were some legitimate experience as a, you know, straight up atheist, and let you know, we can definitely have, especially in nature, I think is a great way to experience that the experience of awe, and it'd be an entirely secular experience.

Evan Clark  57:29  
Yeah, Alain de bitone wrote a whole book on this about how we should be using architecture from a secular perspective to create memory and awe and like, celebrate secularism. And I completely agree. But yeah, what does that mean in different contexts? And how do we communally do that is, I think a really interesting question. Like we haven't figured out there are very few secular rituals that you'll find in most groups around the world. We have, you know, there's been different attempts there are, Norway has a coming of age ceremony that they do for like all 16 year olds, and they spend a year working on like, community service projects and kind of blueprints, and then they talk about it, and then the community recognize them as adults. And that's common, most religions have some form of coming of age ritual. But if you ask most atheist communities in the US, like, we'll get there like I can, I totally imagine that if we are committed to community, the way we're building, we're going to have some types of rituals that represent those. But yeah, what they look like might be different. And because we have no holy books, and we don't need to stick to a tradition, just because it's been tradition, it will look different in different places. But yeah, most most, organizers and scholars in the space talk a lot about birth, death, marriage, coming of age as like four of the biggest rituals we just have in our society. And we have secular versions of them. In most places, you know, I know not in Iran always but like, you can go to Vegas and get married. That's pretty secular experience nine times out of 10. Um, but yeah, like actually thinking about if we want to create our own unique cultural ritual or, or culture, right, like, Can atheist communities do culture making? I'm of the opinion yes. Like we didn't I've been looking through the history of atheists United since I took this job and I found that we did an arts festival 25 years ago in LA right like what is secular and atheist arts and you know, it is whatever we gather around it is not because some old dudes in Europe decided this is the only book that is true it's it's because we through basically a democratic process like decided this is our ritual and we can find value in it or we can let go of it and to me, that's beautiful. Like that's what informs humanism for me like humanism which I No, We're departing a little bit from atheism. But I think there's so tied and 90% of atheists wind up humanists in the US at least. 

David Ames  1:00:06  
And that's this podcast it is about, humanism

Evan Clark  1:00:10  
Yeah. Humanism, starts from the idea that like magic isn't real, right? That it is a naturalist world that God and Gods aren't, aren't things that matter to our universe. And so we are these small little homosapiens on a small planet in a small galaxy in an unbelievably massive universe, right? Yeah. Okay, well, now we want to understand the world around us. How would we do that? Oh, well, we'd probably come up with some method to test our ideas and things like science suddenly become tools that we use for understanding the natural world, which is why science is so popular in human spaces. If we could find a better way to come to answers in science, we would use that, but it's the best method we've come up with yet. Well, you know, how do we think about morals and ethics? And answer these questions while using tools like science and recognizing that with no gods, and no magic, right? Like, we're the only ones that can solve the problems that matter to us. And we have to create or feel the meaning in those things, right? We can start thinking about moral responsibility, we can think about our interaction with everyone around us and somebody might go, Hey, but like, I'm a libertarian, I think I can go off into the woods and not impact anyone else. And it doesn't matter. Well, science, and the natural world tells us that we're all interconnected, right? Like the air I breathe is the air you breathe, right? The history of the universe all moved through time to where like, I'm made of the same Stardust that you're made of. And because there are interactions between those things, like why isn't there more responsibility between those right? Like, I live in an ecosystem, I don't live in a video game where I can exist separate from you. And with that knowledge that I live in an ecosystem, this is my one and only life. And we're using tools like compassion and reason to understand our place and how to be good in it. That's how we figure these things out. Right? Like, I think it's, it's so obvious and beautiful and exciting when we think about it that way. But, you know, we don't always get the narrative, you know, you you lose theism. And maybe you're biased by the idea that I must have come from something or that I must have a church that gives me the answers, but the story of the universe and the idea that you can solve problems, or you and your community can solve problems and understand your place in it and figure out how to solve moral and ethical problems. Like, I think that's as beautiful, if not more beautiful, and I would argue more beautiful. I personally would argue more beautiful, because it will always improve based on new evidence and new experience, we will we won't just accept an answer, because it's been the answer before, if we can find a new way to improve upon it, we have to

David Ames  1:03:00  
man, I think that's got to be where we wrap because that was very well said. Like, it's amazing to meet you in that there are are very few of us, right? There aren't that many people who care about these things in the way that you've just expressed, right? And that's what we're trying to communicate here on this podcast. I want to thank you for being on the podcast. I want to also give you an opportunity to tell people how they can participate with atheists united, how can they find you? How can they interact?

Evan Clark  1:03:28  
Yeah, so atheist, united, we're based in Los Angeles, but we consider ourselves a California nonprofit. We have chapters in San Luis Obispo and Santa Clarita. And I would encourage people to become members, especially if you're in California. That's an ongoing monthly supporter of our organization. donation is always helpful. I'm a nonprofit, I have to ask. But you can follow us on social media. We are on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and probably going to move to Tik Tok soon you can find us on YouTube. Yeah, it's It's wild. We didn't even have time to get into this but like the growing spectrum of atheist experiences, right, like a third generation atheist family has a kid in LA and that kid goes to USC and only has atheist friends and then works at Netflix with other atheists like them trying to find community is so night and day different than third generation Evan Jellicle comes out as gay and atheist and Kentucky, rural Kentucky and like finding a community that's atheist is life or death for them, right? Yeah. And yet, Intel we have more atheist spaces they have to share community where one is desperate to talk about religion and its harm and how they interact with it where one is like, I don't understand why anyone talks about religion. Yeah, and right now they share spaces in LA. We have we're one of those unique cities where we have like people who came here from all over. We have religions like Scientology and Jehovah's witness that are a lot stronger here than other cities. And we also have like one of the most secular, you know, generations and multi generations here, and they're all trying to find community at the same time, and we're all trying to figure out, you know, yeah, we can politically organized together. But what is gathering look like? What does a party look like? What does care look like? So yeah, that's why supporting atheists United is so cool and critical is that we are incubating a lot of the programs that we hope other groups around the country will eventually take off with. We happen to be big, we happen to be really active. We're throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall right now. And if something works, we're going to share it around the country around the world and hope more people do it.

David Ames  1:05:40  
Excellent. Fantastic. Well, we will have links in the show notes, of course, but I want to thank you, Evan, for being on the podcast.

Evan Clark  1:05:46  
Thank you for having me.

David Ames  1:05:53  
Final thoughts on the episode? Well, it's hard to overstate how good it is to find other people in the secular world who also have a secular Grace focus. Obviously, Evan wouldn't use that term per se, but the things that he does is secular Grace boots on the ground humanism, touching people's lives. I highly recommend that you listen to Evans original podcast that is the first podcast within the atheist United studios, podcast network called humanist experience. He did that with Serato, Blaine, Surat, like lived on the streets of LA with the homeless, trying to find practical ways of helping people. I couldn't think of a better description of what secular grace is, boots on the ground, blood, sweat and tears, humanism. That is the kind of humanism that Evan Clark and atheists United represents. As you can imagine, this is why I said yes. When Evan asked for this podcast to become a part of the Podcast Network. Evans work is really important. It is humane, it is loving. It is on the right side of history. And I'm just excited to be a tiny part of this. I'd like to mention the other sibling podcasts that are a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. You've already heard from Nathan Alexander and Troy tub heiress of the Beyond atheism podcast. I interviewed them back in November. I just mentioned the humanist experience that is with Evan Clark and Sarah Blaine. Very well worth your time to listen to it is kind of an NPR style, very highly produced beautiful podcast. And then the most recent podcast to join the network. Besides mine is the amusing Jews who Evan talked about in this interview. I know that Evan is working hard to bring other podcasts online. I anticipate having guest exchanges with those podcasts. And I'm looking forward to all the exciting things that we will do together in the next year. I want to thank Evan for being on the podcast for living secular Grace without knowing what that word is, for exemplifying it for us giving us a practical example to try to follow. Thank you, Evan, for being on the podcast and for inviting us to be a part of the podcast network. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is what obviously follows out of the conversation with Evan and that is about secular community, and how desperately we as human beings need that. It was incredibly insightful what Evan talked about that. The secular community has to hit this entire spectrum of people from people who have been abused and suffered at the hands of the church to people who are third generation atheists who have no experience with what faith feels like. And so the more communities that we have, the more opportunity there is to fill the niches or the specific needs of the people. I cannot say enough how important Arline's work as a community manager has been and will continue to be. I'm in continual gratitude for our LNS work. For those of you who have been a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, you know how important Arline's work is. I want you to be asking yourself how you can participate in the community how you can lead in the community. Do you want to lead a group on a particular topic? Do you want to lead a book club? Anything that brings people together is vitally important. In 2023, as we watch COVID in the rearview mirror, I'm really interested in in person connectivity. If you'd be willing to host something in your local area and there are two or three or four other people in the area. That is the next step for us. And I'm very interested in seeing that happen. Another thing happening in 2023. We're going to have more blog posts from multiple people including Jimmy who's a part of the the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, Arline herself. If you are interested in writing on the topic of secular grace or deconversion, or related secular topics, I'd be willing to have you on the blog as well. If you are interested in doing social media outreach, or the YouTube channel or any other myriad of ways that you could participate, please get in touch with me graceful atheist@gmail.com or reach out to Arline on Facebook. Coming up we have next week I was a teenage fundamentalists. Troy and Brian interviewed me and I interviewed them back in November. My episode on their podcast aired in late November. And I will be releasing my interview of Brian and Troy next show look forward to that. That is a great conversation. I love those guys. They are also a sibling podcast, whether or not they're a part of this podcast network. After that, I have Rachel Hunt of the recovering from Religion Foundation. And man, that's an amazing conversation. Absolutely loved Rachel. I've got a bunch of community members coming up who I will be doing interviews for but the thing I'm super excited about. I will be interviewing Jennifer Michael Hecht, who I have quoted 1000 times from her book doubt. Her new book is called The Wonder paradox. And it is about how poetry can impact our lives. And if you're thinking to yourself, Man, I'm not into poetry. trust me this is it's bigger than that. It is about the all that we experience as human beings from a very secular perspective agenda for Michael Hecht is amazing. Can't wait for that interview and can't wait to share that with you. That'll be in early March. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beats that you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful atheist@gmail.com for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Dr. Anthony Pinn: Humanism and Race

Atheism, Authors, Book Review, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Race, Secular Community, Secular Grace
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

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.






Critique of Apologetics


Secular Grace

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I 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 atheist@gmail.com 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 pen.com. 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 atheist@gmail.com. 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 atheist@gmail.com You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com 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 https://otter.ai

Bart Campolo: Humanize Me

Authors, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Podcasters, Secular Community, Secular Grace
Bart Campolo
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Bart Campolo. Bart is the host of the Humanize Me Podcast. He is the author of “Why I Left, Why I Stayed.” Along with his famous Evangelical father, Tony Campolo, Bart is the subject of John Wright’s documentary: Leaving my Father’s Faith. If that is not enough, Bart is also the Humanist Chaplain at the University of Cincinnati.

Bart and I discuss graceful ways of talking with people with whom we disagree, having conversations that are difficult that touch on religion, race and politics and changing one’s mind. I point out that Bart has been particularly public with some of these conversations, including a book and documentary with his dad, Tony Campolo, a podcast episode with his son, Roman, where they disagree on the hope or lack thereof for our species and a recent podcast episode on race. In short, Bart wears his heart on his sleeve and lives his life out loud with humility, honesty and grace.

We discuss humanism and the burden of being hopeful. Bart pushes back on my assertion that everyone needs awe, belonging and community. According to Bart different people need different amounts of each of those things. At the same time, Bart is facilitating a healthy secular community in Cincinnati providing just those things for the lucky few who attend. They put it this way:

  • Commitment to loving relationships
  • Making things better for other people
  • Cultivating gratitude and wonder in life
  • Worldview humility

I normally have a few quotes from the episode, but as I was writing them down it became a transcript. Bart is eminently quotable. Listen to the show to find out. I will leave you with just one which you will need to listen to the show to understand:

Show your work!

Be sure to listen to the end for a funny story I tell that relates to Bart’s father, Tony Campolo, during my time at bible college.






Humanize Me Podcast episodes that give context to this conversation:
With Roman: https://bartcampolo.org/2020/04/510
On BLM: https://bartcampolo.org/2020/06/515
With Leah: https://bartcampolo.org/2020/07/516



Secular Grace


Send in a voice message

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. As always, I'm going to ask if you enjoy the podcast, please rate and review. In the apple podcast store or wherever you listen to this podcast. It helps others find the show. On today's show, my guest today needs no introduction. But I'll attempt one anyway. Bart Campolo is the son of the famous evangelical preacher Tony Campolo. He is the podcast host of the humanize me podcast. He is an author of the why I left and why I stayed book, he is the subject along with His Father in John rights, leaving my father's faith documentary that's available on Amazon Prime. He is also the humanist chaplain at the University of Cincinnati. As you're going to hear, BART has had quite an influence on me personally, finding his voice post deconversion was really important. I've talked a lot about the debate culture that's out there, the pure rationality, the ivory tower perspective of many atheists, and how unsatisfying that is after about 15 minutes. So finding someone who was talking about a humanism that was boots on the ground, loving people, real blood, sweat, and tears, humanity was really important. And that does have a deep and profound impact on what you hear here on this podcast. It's also hard to overstate the impact of finding the son of Tony Campolo, to have D converted, I don't waste much time in my conversation with Bart bringing this subject up. But for those of you who maybe have been atheists all your life, Tony Campolo is huge in the evangelical community. And so finding Bart Campbell, oh, his son had D converted and was a humanist, was just like finding an oasis in the middle of a desert. Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite conversations that I have had so far. One of the great things about doing this podcast is I get to speak with people that I have a great deal of respect for, and Bart is certainly in that category. I'll stop fanboying out here. Now, I do want to point out that a couple of humanized me podcast episodes will inform this episode, they are almost assumed knowledge in our conversation, and so I'll just highlight them here. One is an episode a few months back where Bart Sun Roman really challenged Bart on a previous podcast episode that he had done in which he was a little less than hopeful about the continuation of the species of human beings. Roman really laid into him on this. And what's important about this is that BART allowed this to take place in public. As I've stated before, many times, the ethos of this podcast is about brutal self honesty. One of the subjects that BART and I discussed is having our minds changed, having our minds changed by other people. And the second episode that you should probably listen to is the June 15 episode on facing up to collective trauma in which he discusses Black Lives Matter and ways that BART himself needs to change his mind. And finally, a third episode, the July 1 episode with Leah Helbling, who by the way, is the podcast host of women beyond faith, which is excellent. But in that Leah and Bart discuss the Cincinnati humanist group, there are four ideals that that tried to live up to. And that is a commitment to loving relationships, making things better for other people, cultivating gratitude and wonder in their lives and world view humility, and that's the one that BART talks about in this episode, but never uses that term. And so it might be a little confusing. Whether you listen to those before you listen to this podcast episode, or afterwards, they will help to bring in the context of what we discussed. I often write down quotes from people during an episode and I found myself basically doing a transcript this episode. It is target rich for quote, mining, if that is your thing. BART has just some amazing turns of phrase here that I think are really important. I want you to pay attention. I want you to listen to this Episode more than once it is that good. I need to add one more thing. I also have learned that the day after BARTON I recorded this session, Bart's father, Tony Campolo had a stroke. I just want to wish him well. And the family well salutes to you all hope a speedy recovery for Tony Campolo. Please also stay to the end of the episode in my final thoughts area, I'm going to tell a funny story that I had in Bible college that relates to Tony Campo. Without further ado, I give you marched Campbell.

Hello, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Bart Campolo  5:47  
Well, thank you, David. It's nice to be here.

David Ames  5:49  
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. You bet. So for the one or two people in the universe who listen to this podcast who don't know who you are, you are the humanist chaplain at the University of Cincinnati. You are the podcast host of the humanize me podcast. You're an author of why I left and why I stayed and you were part of the documentary with your dad, leaving my father's face, which is on amazon prime these days. Is that correct?

Bart Campolo  6:17  
All of those things are true. Yes.

David Ames  6:18  
So one of the things that I've noticed, I've only been doing this for, you know, a couple of years, but you start to hear people say things back to you that you've said before. So the first thing I wanted to say to you is you're probably going to hear a lot of things that are your way of saying things. Because if anything, this podcast is an homage to your work.

Bart Campolo  6:37  
Oh, what a nice thing to say. Thank you so much.

David Ames  6:40  
I really, really appreciate it. So you had suggested a possible topic. And that kind of has not on me overnight. So let's start with that. And that is this idea of gracefully, talking to people with whom you have serious disagreements. And just recently, you've had a number of conversations that have been really interesting, of course, your book and the Amazon Prime story is with your dad, which must have been a very difficult conversation in the beginning. And then recently, you had a conversation with your son, where you had some disagreements. So talk to me a little bit on the on the podcast. Yeah, yeah, on the podcast. So talk to me a little bit about how you approach talking to people with whom you disagree?

Bart Campolo  7:26  
Well, you know, this is a strange moment in our world, and in our country. Like, you can't, there's no way to overstate that. This is a weird, weird moment. And, and I think what's happening is, is that unexperienced that I've had a lot around spirituality, which is like, how do you talk to somebody who really sees the world differently in such a way that it's almost like they're, they're in a different universe than you are? Like, they have a different set of rules, and a different kind of worldview? I think like that's happening in this country to everybody politically, that it used to be that Democrats and Republicans were sort of different flavors of the same coffee, you know, and there was a sort of an understanding like, oh, yeah, like, we share the same goals. But we have different sort of intuitions about how to get there. But it's now so polarized that it's sort of like, if you don't see the world the way I do, I think you're bad. Yeah. And I'm afraid of you. And, and our media is such that we have not only different worldviews, but different facts, like, literally, we get our information from different sources, and it looks very different, you know, and now now around race. Yeah, there's this conversation that's happening about race. And what I'm finding is, is that in this kind of a setting, it is really hard to have a speculative conversation with somebody. And by that, I mean, where you go, like, Hey, I think it might be this way. And the other person was like, oh, no, I think you're really missing this point. But like, they sort of assume that you want to be corrected, and that you're a good person who, who maybe has a different has a wrong angle, rather than you racist, or you fascist or you know, you person that hates America, or, you know, there's a sense in which it's very hard to have a conversation right now, where you can float an idea without fear of being judged, you know, where you can go like, right now I'm seeing it this way. And then also where you can listen to the other person and go like, Oh, that makes sense. Okay, and change your mind. Right? And I feel like I got a head start on those conversations because When I left the Christian faith, you know, all the most significant people in my life, were still in it. And so I had to figure out a way to talk with those people. And it wasn't an option to go like, well, we just won't talk about Christianity, or we just won't talk about faith, yes, because like, that was the center of their lives. And that is the center of many of their lives. And my pursuit of goodness on the other side of faith is at the center of my life. Like it's not, for me pursuing loving kindness as a way of life. That's not like a peripheral issue. For me. It's the center of everything. Exactly. And so we're not going to talk about our spiritual lives, if you will, even though my spirituality is secular. If we're not going to talk about that, we're not going to be very close.

David Ames  10:47  
Yeah, you would lack an intimacy with the people that you love, if you weren't talking about these things.

Bart Campolo  10:52  
So in some ways, it's a little bit like that with like, I live in a black neighborhood. And if we're not going to talk about race, then we're not going to be very close. Yeah. And so we have to find a way to talk about this thing, even though it's really fraught, and it's really painful. And I need to be open to changing my mind. And I think that that's the thing, that if there's anything I've learned, over the last 10 years, since I left the faith, it's been about what are some of the rules of engagement for that kind of conversation?

David Ames  11:35  
Yeah, very interesting. So just a topic or an idea that is a part of this podcast is what I call secular grace. And it's this idea that I observed while I was a Christian, that what we really needed was Grace with each other with human to human. And then through the deconversion process, I realized that well, actually, yes, that's really critically important. We need to be not only loved but accepted by one another without feeling judged. And it really does feel like that is something that we need for this moment in time. The thing that I find interesting about you and your work is that you tend to do this very publicly. So again, I mentioned the conversation you had with Roman, but also just recently, you did, but you're on your podcast about Black Lives Matter and the ways that you need to learn. And so it's approaching it with humility, from your own side to be willing to recognize that, yes, I'm probably wrong in some areas, and I need to learn. And at the same time, being loving or having a loving conversation in which everyone can participate.

Bart Campolo  12:45  
You know, I think, I think one of the crucial moments for me, and this is back in my Christian days, but like, I was working with three or four friends on a big youth project, we were organizing, we got a huge grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and we were trying to put together this program, and we had put it together and the guys, these guys that were buddies of mine, were working on this one part, I was working on another part of it. And at one point, they came to me and they said, Listen, you need to let us go, we need to take this money, what's left of it. And we've got the thing going and, and the thing that you're doing isn't like we need to separate. And I was furious. I felt like they were so ungrateful. I had gotten this grant, I had hired them all on, and now they wanted to kick me to the curb. And, and we went down, and we were in this huge argument about it. And, you know, what was funny was like, there was race involved in this one of them was black, one of them was Hispanic. And they were the strongest voices. And there was a sense in which they were saying, like, you know, this is a program for inner city, young people, like we know what we're doing you what you're doing is a whole different thing. And it's taking away from the project. And now, the short is we're in this huge knockdown drag out argument. And the good news for me is I hold all the cards. I'm the one in control of the money. And, like they're asking me for something or demanding something, but like, I can fire them all. I can do whatever I want. Yeah. But in the middle of the meeting, like as they're as they're arguing, I sort of almost yell back at them. So what you're saying is, and I repeat their arguments, I mean, you're saying this, because of this, because of this, and they and one of them goes, That's right.

David Ames  14:32  
Yes, yeah.

Bart Campolo  14:35  
And all of a sudden, it hit me. They were right. Like, I put it together. Like, in my own words coming out of my mouth. I was like, Wait, that's true that oh, my gosh. And I sat there for a long second. I looked him I said, Oh, I get it. Oh, so you're saying this, right. And he goes, Yeah, that's what he said. And I said, Oh, that makes sense. And one of them looked at me and said, like, what are you trying to do here? What's the game? I was like, no, no, I get it now. You're right. And you let it go. And one of the guys in the room, I still remember this friend of mine named Chris Rock looked at me and he said, I've never seen this happen in my life. And I said, What? He said, I've never actually watched somebody changed their mind in real life, in real time. Yeah. But you just changed your mind.

David Ames  15:35  
It is incredibly rare and publicly.

Bart Campolo  15:38  
But what was weird about it was, is that all the flood of love that flowed into that room? Like those guys loved me in that moment. And if state like they would all they're all loyal to a fault to me now. Yeah. And there was such an exhilaration of going like, Oh, I was wrong. And like, changing my mind meant I took a step closer to being right, or to being good to being in the truth. And for the life of me, David, I don't understand why we don't teach kids when we beat them in an argument to go like, how does it feel to be truer than you were? Or like, when we win an argument, I don't know why we don't stop. And instead of going like, Haha, I beat you go like, Oh, my gosh, you did it. Yeah, you did it. Because changing my mind, or having my mind changed for me by the evidence or by somebody else's better argument, to me is like the ultimate expression of my human potential. Like every human advancement, every bit of progress, everything good that's happened in our species, has been the result of somebody going like, I was wrong.

David Ames  17:03  
Yes, exactly.

Bart Campolo  17:06  
Like, oh, wait, so all the punches don't revolve around the earth? Or, oh, my gosh, you mean, all this differentiation of species like, complexity grows out of simplicity, not the other way around? You go like, this is a mate. It's all about changing your mind. Yeah. And so for me, what I found in that moment, and it found subsequent to that, is that the ultimate, like, in a sense, what strengthens us, what makes us feel powerful, is not when we have the ability to, to manipulate or to change other people to bend them to our well. But when we have the ability to change ourselves, yes. And so for me, I guess early on in the game, I sort of figured out like, Oh, this is real power. And this is real security. And this is also like, very selfishly, you want to get people to like you let them change your mind. Yeah. Like be open to them changing your mind. And what's interesting, too, is is and then they become more open to you change in their mind.

David Ames  18:21  
Right, you've built some trust.

Bart Campolo  18:24  
So for me, that's the key. I have this wonderful quote from Alan Alda, where he says, like, I have this radical idea that if I'm not open to letting you change my mind, I'm not really listening to you. Hmm. And I think so much of the conversation I see going on right now is one person's talking the other person not even listening. They're only listening to try to craft what they're going to say in response, but like, there's no openness to having their mind change. They're just, they're just looking for like, how do I return to this? Nobody's listening?

David Ames  18:54  
Yeah. Ironically, we, as the converts have the experience of discovering that we were mistaken, discovering that we were wrong on something deeply fundamental. In some ways, we have a leg up to have that kind of humility when we go into a conversation.

Bart Campolo  19:15  
Some of us do. I mean, one of the big questions when somebody loses their faith or deconstructs or however you want to describe the process, whether it's passive or active, and because in many ways, you know, my mind changed, I didn't change it. Right. You know, if I could have stopped the process halfway through, I probably would have it would have saved me a lot of time and trouble

David Ames  19:41  
and money. Yeah. And so you know, and so

Bart Campolo  19:43  
somebody's people are feel very betrayed by you when you leave the faith. And you know, I'm always at great pains to say like, Hey, like, I'm really sorry that this is hurting you but like, it wasn't my choice. This happened to me right now. I have to figure out how to make the most of it, but like, it's not that I won't Believe in God, or I refuse to believe in God. I can't I don't, you know, and I'm unable to. But the real question is, when that happens to you, some of us end up that ends up being a liberation into a new kind of in enthusiasm and a new kind of opportunity to live in, because we replace that worldview with another one that sort of inspires us to want to keep growing and to keep loving, and to keep building connections, like, we create a new religion in place of the old one. And for some people, it's just, it's just a loss. And so I think that having your mind changed, feels really different. If it gets changed from something into something else, and that something else is freer, and more vibrant, and fits better. And I think it's very different. When you have your worldview gets broken. And you, you just sit there with the broken pieces, trying to figure out how to get back what you've lost. Yeah. And so you know, that's why I'm very, very cautious about undermining somebody's Christianity, because there's no guarantee that if you undermine their faith in God, that they will then turn into a vibrant, enthusiastic humanist, there's a very real chance that they will just be broken.

David Ames  21:33  
Yeah, and that is actually something that I say, on this podcast, often that I just have no desire to try to take away the faith, particularly from the people that I love, who I perceive aren't ready, they would be asking questions if they were ready. And so I have all the patience in the world, with the people that I love and their faith,

Bart Campolo  21:55  
unless they're hurting people with it, or unless they're hurting themselves with it, you sometimes see that, like, there are people for whom I'm like, Listen, you know, that's, that's hurting you, baby. Yes, you know, people for whom that narrative always cast them in the loser light. And in the, in the failure light. And so there's another way of looking at the world. There's another way of of living. But yeah, when you see somebody who's sort of bearing fruit in that Christian world, and you'd like, Yeah, but it's, it's, it's insanity that none of it makes sense. There's no evidence for it. Okay. But be careful, because you take away their illusion, they may not be able to piece together a reality that works for them. Yeah. In this moment, I think the essence of the big thing is there are a bunch of us that have changed our minds for the better, or have experienced sort of like, the thrill of going like, Oh, I was wrong. And the sort of sense of power and the security that it gives you because you go like, Oh, what that means is like, maybe if I'm wrong about something else, like I'll figure that out, too. Or maybe, maybe there's a way in which this bad relationship that I'm in hate. Some of it might be my fault, or maybe that terrible conversation that we had. If it's all about them, I have no control. But like, if I have a part to play, maybe I can make it better. Yeah. And so once you have that experience, like there's almost like a giddiness that says, Please help me understand, like, what am I doing in this conversation that's making me so angry. And I think that that's for me, the key to the whole thing is, is that when I fight like it when you talk about like, there was this episode that I did with this guy, Michael Dowd. And it was about kind of what's going on in the world and sort of collapse Aryan thinking, and Michael Dowd, and I got going on that stuff, and I can get going on that stuff. And my son called me the next week, he's like, I hated that, that it was a horrible thing. And like, I ended up bringing him on the podcast, and he just rip me to shreds on this podcast. Yeah. And the thing is, is if you listen carefully to the podcast, what you'll see is, is that we're arguing about the thing. But we're also having a meta conversation about how we're talking to each other. And that's the thing is that like, even when he and I are really on the opposite side of the issues, say my dad, like, this is like a thing that we've learned is that you still need to have a conversation that says, Listen, when you use that really calm voice, it really bothers me, like, could you just or, you know, like, you're not letting me finish my sentences. And I need like, you gotta let me finish here. And so then we're not talking about the collapse of the world or about global warming, then we're talking about how are you talking to me? And how am I talking to you, right? And on that conversation. Roman and I are both committed to like, oh, we want to have a good conversation. And so like, if I'm messing up the conversation, tell me and that's the first place where you can give ground and get easy. If somebody says, I don't like the way you're too talking to me like, Oh, I'm sorry.

David Ames  25:02  
Yeah, that's, that's easy to change. It's an

Bart Campolo  25:05  
easy place to give ground. But that's also the place where you demonstrate you, my friend, are more important than winning this conversation, you may not be more important than the issue that we're talking about. But you're more important than this conversation about that issue, right? It's more important that we live to fight another day, as a team or as a family or as a friendship than me winning this no one battle is worth losing that war. Yeah. And you demonstrate that when you're willing to modify the way you talk.

David Ames  25:41  
So I want to kind of synthesize what we've been discussing here. And I want to ask you directly as a humanist chaplain, and, you know, you have a famous dad, and you have this platform on your podcast, in a moment, like now in the middle of COVID-19, in the middle of race relations, the tragedy of George Floyd, the problems with police departments, all the things that we're experiencing in the United States, you mentioned all the politics and we can't talk to each other. Do you feel a responsibility to be hopeful to be a prophet of hope, a proclaimer, of hope.

Bart Campolo  26:25  
It's funny, because I think that people, people often will say to my family, Bart's such a positive guy, you know, he's such a positive guy, and my family just laugh. And they just go like, Oh my gosh, like, this is the most relentlessly negative person ever, like, who explained you why this car won't work, why this new piece of furniture won't work? Why are vacations going to suck? Like, I struggle with negativity in real life? Yeah. And so I think for precisely that reason, perhaps I've become a student of hope. And I do feel a responsibility to be hopeful, but to be hopeful, in a way that like, I'm hopeful, but not optimistic, like optimistic, says, I think everything's gonna work out. And I don't, I don't think there's any reason to think everything will ever work out like anybody who comes telling me that like, in the end, if we, you know, if we use their system, or if we buy into their religion, like there will be eternal Nirvana at the end of it. I don't believe in eternal nirvana. I don't believe in Utopia. Yeah, I think the conflict is baked in. I don't even know if the species makes it out of here alive. The universe just keeps churning. And at some point, I think we get turned into my commitment to humanism is like, this is the species I'm part of this is my tribe. And as long as we're here, I want to make the best of this human experience. I love the human experience. I'm not saying it's eternal. I'm not saying it'll ever be perfect. I'm just saying like, I'm committed to it, right? So my hopefulness is not about utopianism. My hopefulness is this idea of like, things probably won't work out. But in the midst of them not working out. I think that what I do might make a difference for somebody. I think I have some agency here, I think I might be able to offer some comfort, I think I might be able to prolong our time a little bit. I think I might be able to make things brighter on the corner where I live. And so I think what happens is sometimes in the face of these large issues, people go like, listen, nothing I do, makes a difference. Like there's nothing I can do about it. These issues and these forces at work in our society are beyond my control. And like yeah, that's, that's true, but you still have agency, you still can make a difference. There's still something you can do that matter. Yeah. And so I do feel an obligation to tell that story. Right. And try to, in a sense, motivate people to make the most of this opportunity. Yeah, I mean, when you leave Christianity some people are like, Well, if there's no heaven and there's no heaven, we don't live forever, then what's the point of all this anyway? Like if if nothing lasts, why bother? And I go, like, you have this moment? Yeah. Like this. This matters. Like yeah, like this day matters. And I feel like that's, that's the same reality where you go like, well, if I can't really affect the whole system, if I can't change everything for the better than what's the point I got, like, ah, but because this day matters, this moment matters. This person matters. And they matter because you care about them. Yeah. So I do feel, I do feel dry. Part of it is I have to talk my self into acting hopefully every day. And so part of it is, you know, just like that preacher who's in the pulpit saying, pornography is the great evil and we must fight against sexual immorality. And you're like, Hey, I wonder what I wonder what's on his computer? Yeah. Because the ones that rail against it the loudest it's because like they're struggling with it. And so like, when you see somebody like doing like the super upbeat, warm, fuzzy hopeful, humanize me podcast, you go, like, I wonder if that guy has a heart of darkness? Of course he dies. Of course he dies. Yeah. Yeah. And he's preaching to himself. Yeah.

David Ames  30:38  
Well, I think when you did the conversation with Roman, one of my comments was that you are at the top of your game, when you are talking about hope. And it may be barks, that because we lack that we lack that kind of leadership in the world, there are very few voices who are proclaiming hope. And so I think maybe that was what Roman was reacting to, is when you are not hopeless, but less hopeful, that that is kind of diminishing, somehow the work that you do.

Bart Campolo  31:11  
Yeah, he's sort of like, we count on you. We Hey, buddy, we're counting on you. This is what yeah, we need you in the family. Like, this is what like, we need you like be you gotta be your best self for us. Yes, yeah. And I think that that is as good a reason as any, I think for a lot of people that are struggling in this COVID thing, and struggling in this racial moment, is that part of the problem of being caught off from each other is that it's the other people that tend to motivate us to do our best. Yes. And so when we get isolated, a lot of times we lose momentum, because you know, all this idea of self interest to the contrary, human beings are a tribal species, and we're motivated by one another, and by our concern for one another. And, you know, that's sort of our evolutionary trick, that that's how you get people to, like, give it up for the tribe, and, you know, to make great sacrifices is, is you build into them a sense of like, that my destiny is wrapped up with yours. And that, you know, in a sense, like, I'm more concerned about my DNA going forward than I am about my body. What do you think, which is a very sciency way of saying it, but like, what it says is like, you know, I'm part of something bigger than myself. Yes. And when you leave religion, people call it Oh, I missed that. I missed that sense of being part of the Kingdom of God being part of a larger destiny. And it's critical, like, you know, there's this other story about, you know, about life sort of emerging out of nothing, like out of the elements, and organizing itself into a place of consciousness and meaning. And then discovering a pathway that says that, like, love is the ultimate survival skill, like you actually are part of something much bigger than yourself. Yeah. And actually, if you check your impulses, to breathe, and to have sex and to eat, and to find shelter, like they are all wrapped up in, and not just surviving, but propagating this way of life, right. And this form of life, and so yeah, you know, what, you cut people off from each other, and you cut them off from literally the thing that makes life worth living.

David Ames  33:36  
So we've been dancing around it just a little bit. I find after deconversion you know, the first thing that you see online is a lot of what I call debate culture, very, Christians are wrong, and atheists are right and, and it took me a while to find the humanist voices like yourself. Tell me, what does humanism mean for you? Why do you use that label at all? And just define it for me?

Bart Campolo  34:04  
I'll yeah, that's, that's a good question. Because like, I'm not, you know, for somebody who's like a fairly well known humanist like, I'm not really that comfortable with the term. Okay. Winston Churchill once said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, right? And I tend to think like humanism is the worst thing to call myself, except for all the others. Like, I don't call myself an atheist, even though I am one. Because atheist means without God, and I live my life without any kind of connection or consciousness or, you know, belief in God. But when you see the word atheist in our culture, a lot of times people interpret that as against God or against people who believe in God, right? And so like, I don't want to be associated with that. I'm not one of those angry people that wants to tear it all down. And I have a lot of respect for what believing in God did for our species. It was a stage along the way. Yeah, it was the best story we had at the time. And a lot of the good stuff that we have now, in fact, the ability to conceptualize a world without God, that stuff got hammered out by people who are educated in the universities built by the wave and God. You know, so I'm a great respecter of what brought me here. So anyway, I don't want to be called an atheist agnostic. I know what it means is like, doesn't know or sort of, again, technically, I am agnostic, like, I can't prove that there is no God, or that, that I can't even prove that this universe isn't a simulation in somebody else's computer model, right? We're not all in the matrix. I can't prove that definitively. Yeah. So I am agnostic. But again, like it makes it sound like I'm not sure. And I'm really sure about what I value. And I'm really sure about the way I'm living my life. And like, I'm not like paralyzed by uncertainty. So I don't use that word, right? free thinker. Like, I understand, like, that's a lovely term. And like, I aspire to be a free thinker. But like, come on, you don't have to, you don't have to study cognitive biases very long. Yes. Or anthropology very long to know, like, even the fact that I don't believe in God, I can't take really credit for it. Right. Like I was raised in such a way that I am able not to believe in God, if I had been raised in a different place. If I had a different brain, if I had a different cultural mindset. I wouldn't like, I can't even take credit for the way I think. So yeah, no, I'm not going to call myself a free thinker. I wish it was. And skeptic, again, makes it sound like I'm walking around the world looking for things to take issue with or trouble with. And again, like, technically, skepticism is kind of like a scientific word. And it's a good thing to be sure. But in the end, what I want to communicate to people is like, yeah, I don't believe in God, but I'm really committed to life. And in particular, I'm really committed to human life and to try to make as much meaning as I can, in the context of this human life by loving other people. And so like, humanist is kind of the it least connotes the idea. Like, it's not what I don't believe in that defines me. It's what I am committed to. Right. And if somebody says, so you're committed to humanity, I got like, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that would be my ultimate commitment. Right? Yeah. So you know, calling myself a humanist, like I said, is better than all the others. But like, if you asked me to define humanism, I would go like, Oh, man, it's like Christianity. Like, there's 1000. You know, there's as many different forms of Christianity as there are Christians, Bret, to me, when I realized that I had to figure out how to get on without God, you know, I sort of like, well, I don't, I started to sort of go like, I want to make the most of this life, it still feels really like a privilege to have it. And I did some research and I looked around, and I read a bunch of books by people and kind of came to the conclusion like, you know, loving relationships is the thing. Like the people that live their lives, the longest and sort of die. The happiest are people that have a handful of loving relationships, and that spend their lives doing things to make things better for other people and have a sense of gratitude and, and cultivate that and that like, like, the more grateful I am, the happier I am. And so like, I came to the place where I was like, that's what I want to pursue. So if somebody says to me, what's your humanism, because I'll let you know, a humanist is somebody who like is really committed to loving relationships and making things better for other people, and cultivating gratitude and wonder in their life. And who's smart enough to recognize that like, just because that works for them, doesn't mean it would work for everybody. Right? Exactly. And so that's my definition of humanism. Like, like my little fellowship here in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati caravan, those four values, like, we ran them up the flag and a bunch of people secular people were like, that sounds ridiculous. That sounds like Old Time Religion, like, you know, and then a bunch of other people were like, Oh, my gosh, that's what I've been looking for. Like I miss, I missed that sense of focus. So it's like, we're going to be a community that helps each other pursue loving kindness as a way of life. And they were like, count me in. Yeah, like, Okay, so for us, that's our humanism, right? But like for somebody else, it means something very, very different.

David Ames  39:23  
So yeah, man, you've touched on several things there. What I talk about a lot is that just because we no longer have a particular set of metaphysics does not mean that we don't need each other that we don't need community that we don't need to have a sense of belonging that we don't need to experience all we need all those things. Those are hardwired human needs.

Bart Campolo  39:43  
But you know, David, different people need different amounts of them. That's interesting. Yeah. See, when I came out of Christianity, the Christianity went first. But the fundamentalism stayed with me a lot longer. And I went from thinking that Jesus was the one true Path to going like, I got to figure out what the one true path is. And like I was, you know, I became convinced it was this like commitment to like community, and that human beings were tribal species and stuff like that. And then I started meeting like, autistic people, you know, yeah, or people that had, you know, had been traumatized by certain kinds of relationships. And they were like, Yeah, I don't want to, like, I don't want to venture into that. And these people, were still finding ways to be connected to something, some of them to music, some of them were connected to other humans in an indirect way, like, they would stay alone in their room coding, and create things that would be helpful to other people, but they didn't want to talk to those people.

David Ames  40:43  
Right? I can relate.

Bart Campolo  40:46  
And so all of a sudden, like, not all of a sudden, but slowly, it dawned on me, you're still a fundamentalist part, you still want to come up with a way of life that works for you, and then suggest that that's what all human beings need. You know, at this stage in the game, that's part of my, I guess, you would call it worldview humility, where I go, like, think of about a bell curve, you know, where like, most people are in or close to the center of it, I'm gonna go like, I think for the vast majority of human beings, this business of like, a handful of loving relationships, and a sense of doing something that makes things better for other people and is meaningful, and a sense of gratitude. I think that will work for a lot of people that, but I'm not here to impose it on anybody, because I know that there are people for whom that wouldn't be the right. Cocktail, that wouldn't be the right formula, right. And so, I think there are a lot of different ways to make meaning. This is the one that sort of works for me. And so when I meet people that are struggling, and they're sad, I tend to say to them, Hey, this is the thing my friends and I are doing, and it's working for us, like, maybe this would work for you. But when I see somebody who's happily moving through life, in a different way, I am not prone to go like, Listen, you really need to, you know, like, I'm telling you, you, you're fooling yourself, you're not really happy behind that computer screen, you really won't be happy until you're more like me,

David Ames  42:11  
right? Okay, so I'm taking that all in. And I totally agree with you. In fact, one of the things that I talked about whenever I talked about humanism is the beauty of it is that you can choose not to do that. Unlike more enforced religious doctrines, humanism allows for the great diversity within humanity. Yeah, because

Bart Campolo  42:34  
you're because somebody's doing it a different way, isn't an implicit challenge to mind. Like in Christianity, if somebody's thriving outside of Christianity, that's a problem, because my religion teaches that you can't thrive outside of Christianity. So I have to find a way of explaining like this, my dad used to do with me when I first left the faith. He's he just kept trying to like, poke holes in my humanism, and sort of go, this can't be working for you. Because if this works for you, it implicitly challenges my sense that without Jesus life is meaningless, right? And at one point, I finally Dad, it's like you want my humanism to fail? And the thing is, like, do you think if you convince me that without believing in God, I'm bound to be suicidal and miserable? Do you think that will make me believe in God again? Wow. And he said, he said, No, I said, Yeah, I can't believe in God that makes it. Like, it doesn't make sense to me. So I said, If you convince me that I can't find meaning without God, all you will do is convinced me that I am a hopeless wreck of despair. And that kind of backed him off a little bit, is what it says, like, you need to hope that there's meaning outside of Christianity, or else your son is doomed. Right. And I think as a humanist, I need to do the same thing. I need to hope that there are multiple ways because there are a lot of people for whom this way of thinking like there are a lot of people who are hardwired to believe in a supernatural force. Yes. And they're not able not to. And so we better hope that there's a way for those people to thrive. And there's a way for those people to feel a sense of joy in their lives. Yeah. Because otherwise, we have nothing to offer them. And so I like the thing is like, it's not threatening to me when somebody thrives by another path, right? It doesn't bother me, you know, my evangelism. I'm not looking to talk anybody out of anything that's working for him. I'm looking for people who their shit is not working. The stuff is just not working. And those are the people that I'm like, Look, you've tried all these other things. Have you tried this thing? Because here's a way of living. Here's a way of looking at the universe that might work. for you.

David Ames  45:01  
I want to tee up kind of a last idea teed up, David. You hit on this and that what you just were talking about, we often hear from particularly apologists, right? I often make the distinction between the regular believer in the pew and the apologist, but they're often trying to invalidate humanism or anything outside of Christianity. Of course, we come along as humanists, and we say, you know, there may not be inherent meaning in the universe, but we as human beings are meaning makers. And we find somehow, you and I, and many others have found a way for that to be really deeply, profoundly useful, purposeful, meaning making. How is it that that you make meaning how do you teach others to make meaning?

Bart Campolo  45:55  
Oh, that's, that's your that's your question. Yeah, question. Oh, thanks.

David Ames  46:01  
Yeah, just an easy one for the on the way out. Yeah.

Bart Campolo  46:05  
It's funny when you mentioned apologist, I just got a note from somebody that there's evidently this apologist out there. I guess she's fairly well known. Her name is Alyssa Childers. He sent me this interview that she was doing in which she talks about me. And, and I thought she was gonna say crappy things about me. And he said, No, no, what she says is, she says, she doesn't understand progressive Christianity, because she's like, if you don't believe in the resurrection, and you don't believe that, you know, God made the world in seven days. And if you don't believe in the virgin birth, she said, I like BarCamp Hola, because like, he admits it, like if you don't believe in it, in a sense, you probably should stop calling yourself a Christian. Right? But but then I listened to a little bit more of what you said, and I and I'm apologist, they just freaked me out. Because what she basically said is like, the great thing about apologetics is, is that it convinces you that God is real, even if there's no evidence, even if you don't feel anything, even if God never answers a prayer, like but you still know it's real. And I just thought, gosh, you know, lady, you and I are wired differently. That is not a selling point for me. Yeah. So but the thing is, is that we see people make meaning in different ways. And I think that the thing that troubles me the most, is not when somebody is making it in a way that doesn't make sense to me. But when somebody seems to have no appetite for meaning, when somebody is seems unmotivated, when they are listless when they're when they're willing to just exist, rather than to live. My one of my favorite send off lines is Maurice Sendak, in his last interview with Terry Gross before he died, he just told her how much he loved being alive and how much he had had a great time and how much he loved knowing her. And he said, Terry, I'm never going to talk to you again. So let me just say it to you. Live your life. Live your life, live your life. And, you know, it broke her down and broke me. Yeah, you know, because there's a sense in which there's a purposefulness to that there's a sense in which don't let your life just happen live it. You know, and so, the question, I think that's always, even before I became a humanist, even when I was in Christianity working in the inner city was, how do you give somebody an appetite for life? That doesn't have one? And I wish I could say I knew the answer. What I do know is this is that when I was a kid in math, they would they would do these tests, and they would give you the question. And then they would say, you know, like, what's the, what's the square root of this? You know, or what's the quadratic formula? And then they would always be like, show your work? Right? Like, it wasn't enough to put down the answer. You had to show how you got there. Yeah. And I think that I see a lot of people like you, like me, who seem to be living their lives. And the question is, are you willing to show your work? Are you willing to, to articulate the process? You know, are you willing to talk about how you find the books that you read? Not just the books you read, but like how you found it? Right? And are you willing to talk about like, the hard conversation you had with your mom? Are you willing to share about your battle with depression? And are you willing to talk about not just what you love, but why you love it? Like it takes a lot of effort to explain to a child, why we're going to go on the trip that mom planned for us this on Saturday, even though none of us really want to go home because Mom, mom put a lot of effort into planning it, and we're not going to let her down. We're going to go and we're going to make it a good time. And it takes a lot of effort. To explain to kid like, why you sometimes do something you don't want to do, because you care about the person who planned it. Right? It's easier just to say to the kid, I'm Dad, you're the kid, get in the car we're going. And sometimes that's appropriate. But then you got to circle back and say, Hey, can I tell you how that worked? Can I tell you why I did that? Sometimes why I did the wrong thing. But sometimes why I did the right thing and why it matters. In my experience, people develop an appetite for something like coffee, not just when they taste it, but when somebody explains to them why they love it, and what to look for. And, you know, or fly fishing, or bicycle racing, or whatever it is, it's somebody has to not only sort of go like, Look, isn't this cool, but they have to say to you, this is what I love about it, this, look at the nuance here, like, you're not going to notice this, but there's actually a difference between that tire and this tire. And that's why we pick that tire for this kind of race. And they may not end up loving bike racing. But that's how you teach people what it is. To be passionate about something, to be interested in something to develop a taste for something. And frankly, I don't care what you develop a passion or a taste for nearly as much as I as I want you to have one. And so I think if I was a young parent, again, I'm a grandparent, so I'm getting to do it a little bit over. If I'm a friend of somebody who's discouraged, you're depressed, I think there's a tendency to want to talk at that person and tell them what they need to do. And I think you're probably better off showing your work, showing the work of being alive. And talking about it openly, and becoming articulate about why you do the things you do and why they mean something to you. And to that end, I'm gonna give you a book recommendation. Oh, it's gonna freak you out. Okay, okay. And it's the best book I've read in the last week. But it's a classic. I just finished reading Albert Camus, the plague, okay, it is a particularly apt book during the COVID-19 thing, although the plague he's talking about is the bluebonnet plague. And these people are locked down in a village and they can't get out. And people are dying, left and right. And the doctor at the center of it, is the true humanist, who makes meaning out of thin air, and figures out what really matters. And in the book, and I won't give you the trick ending, okay, because it's worth getting to, what I will tell you is, is it in the book, there's a sense in which the great skill of the writer is, is that the doctor shows his work. He shows what it takes to care at a time when it would be so easy to despair. And I think I think it's a beautiful example of what I'm talking about. I think one of the most humanizing things we can do for other people, is to show our work.

David Ames  53:09  
I think that is a great place to stop, I'm going to keep that BART show your work, I'm going to for sure. Be telling other people about that as well. Bart, let people know how they can get in touch with you.

Bart Campolo  53:21  
Listen, there's only one thing I do that has any significance outside of my little community here in Cincinnati, and that's my podcast, humanize me. And it's a place where I, I bring on other people and talk. And I'm always like, trying to find out from other people what they have to teach me about making the most of this life. And I'm glad that you listen to it, David, I'm glad you like it. I'm always glad when people like it. And for a lot of people they get on they go that guy's way too earnest, I can't stand them, I have to turn them off. That boy reminds me of a youth pastor. And it triggers me. But for those of you that can stomach it, that's probably the thing I do that has the most oath. And I send out a little email every week when I send out the podcast. That's my little sort of our daily bread devotional. And from what I can tell from the feedback that I get, there's a subset of human beings for whom that stuff is helpful. Yeah, and if you go to humanize me.com, like there's a place where it says contact Bart, the emails all come to me and I answer them slowly, but I do. So yeah, I'm grateful to you for for letting me into your circle and letting me meet your people. And if any of them are interested, I'm easy to find, as you know, but it is really good to talk with you. Thanks so much. That has

David Ames  54:37  
been that's been a great conversation Bart, I really appreciate you giving me your time. Thank you so much. All right.

Final thoughts on the episode. As I said in the intro, if I began quoting Bart here, I would just restate the entire thing. Listen to the episode. Start again. It's fantastic. I'll just really harp on show you work. That is something that I literally have written up on my whiteboard to remind me it is a simple idea that has been haunting me for the past week or so after we recorded this episode. And it will affect the way that I parent my kids from now on. That's all I can say about that. The one thing I think that is interesting from our conversation that I'll point out here is Bart pushing back on me about what I call the ABCs of secular spirituality, all belonging and community, he pointed out that not everybody needs these things or not everybody needs them in the same degree or amounts. And that's important for me to hear that like I do think that that is a an important human need. But it doesn't mean that everyone needs it in the same way that I do. I'm assuming that if you're listening to this podcast that you think those things are important to some degree or another. But there are many secular people, many atheists out there who it sounds too much like religion, that sounds too much like their former church experience. And it could even be triggering or it could be drama inducing. So I just want to acknowledge that and I think that that's very true. While I will continue to talk about the secular ABCs of spirituality, I will do so with greater humility, the the worldview humility that BART talks about. I want to thank Bart for the amazing humility, integrity, honesty, Grace, with which he handles himself in public, as well as on this episode. I want to thank him for doing the work that he does for being hopeful in his home of hopelessness, and for admitting when he makes mistakes. And being willing to change his mind. I think all of that is an incredible example. And that is BarCamp. Polo showing his work. Thank you Bart. Again, I want to say I hope a speedy recovery for Tony Campolo after the stroke that he had on June 20. I hope that the Campillo family that all of you are well barked. I didn't bring this topic up because we had a short amount of time for our recording session. But I did want to tell this crazy story. I was in Bible college and very conservative Bible College in the 90s. And my roommate was a huge, huge fan of Tony Campillo. At the time, Tony was very famous for a provocative statement that he made in a speech, and I'll quote it here, quote, I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or disease related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you are more upset with the fact that I just said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night. As you might imagine, that had quite an impact on people. So in Bible college, I have a roommate, who was enamored with this statement who decided in chapel to quote, Tony, verbatim, as you can imagine, this did not go well. I just wanted to share that with you. It's a memory that is emblazoned in my mind. Thank you Tony for saying that. As always, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. 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 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 atheist@gmail.com You can tweet at me at graceful atheist. Or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com 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 https://otter.ai

Richard Swan: London City Voices

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, YouTubers
Richard Swan: Director of London City Voices
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Richard Swan. Richard grew up Catholic, became an Anglican and then moved on to Pentecostalism. He was a worship leader and an active member of the Christian music scene including touring as Graham Kendrick‘s choir director.

He began to notice that regardless of his person life the people responded in worship under his leadership. This began his questioning which eventually led to his deconversion.

It seemed to be working and I didn’t like the fact that it was working because it didn’t make sense to me.

Post-deconversion, Richard is now the director of London City Voices, a non-religious community choir.

London City Voices is so much more than your average London choir… We are a community, a group of friends, an increasingly-large group of drinking buddies… and we are also a dynamic non-religious, non-audition community London choir.

Richard has figured out how to use his passion for music to build a secular community. In our conversation, we talk about the power of music to bring people together, how it can be manipulated and what it takes to be a community builder.

Church can give us a little window on [ the human response to music]. If it’s linked to your belief system it can have an even bigger impact. Or not because maybe your a humanist and you just bloody love music and that is no less of an experience.







Deconversion How To

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Dr. Clint Heacock: Reconstruction after Deconstruction

Communities of Unbelief, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Podcasters, Religious Trauma, Secular Community
Clint Heacock
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest this week is Dr. Clint Heacock. Clint is the host of the Mindshift Podcast that focuses on reconstruction after deconstruction. Clint grew up in the Church of Christ with parents who followed the Bill Gothard method of child rearing. Clint now describes this as cultic practices.

What I need to do is discover the authentic Christianity
… and then I wasn’t able to do it.

After pursuing a PhD in Theology in the U.K. while teaching Clint began to recolonize the disparity between what he believed and what he was teaching. The problems with the bible became too much. At the time Clint was hosting a podcast called “Preacher’s Forum.” The content had become too radical for its audience. He then changed the podcast into Mindshift and as his listeners have told him, he began deconstructing in public.

Only when you physically remove yourself and
psychologically remove yourself,
that’s when you start to think critically.

Clint has has had a focus on cult studies, Christian Dominionism and Christian reconstruction where politics and religion meet. He has had various experts in these fields on his podcast.

Best advice: Get yourself educated

Most important Clint has a heart for people. Just because we no longer are religious does not mean we lose our sense of pastoral care.


Mindshift Podcast



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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. As always, if you like what you hear, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast and the apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcasts that makes the gristle atheist podcast visible to more people. Please also consider letting a friend or family member know about the podcast. I've recently had very fun stories of people introducing the podcast to others. And that is really, really exciting. I hope you're doing well in your social distancing. And hopefully the isolation is not too much reach out to each other and connect with people intentionally during this time of isolation. onto today's show, my guest today is Dr. Clint Heacock. Clint is the podcast host of the mind shift podcast that focuses on reconstruction after deconstruction, post religion. I love this conversation with Clint, you're going to hear both of us talk about a pastoral perspective that we are now using in the secular community. I love the tone of the mind shift podcast and what Clint is doing there. He has specifically focused on cults and dominion theology and the way that politics and religion have come together in the western world today. We also discuss if there's any daylight between the concepts of deconstruction and deconversion. All in all, we have a really good time, and I hope you'll enjoy my conversation with Dr. Clint Heacock. Here's our conversation.

Dr Clint Heacock welcome to the Graceful atheist podcast.

Clint Heacock  2:08  
Thank you for having me, David.

David Ames  2:09  
Hey, I appreciate it. I've been following your work for some time. Now. I've listened to your podcast, you're the host of the mind shift podcast, I know you're doing a lot of blogging on medium these days. Give us just the five minute overview of the work you're doing there.

Clint Heacock  2:25  
Oh, man, we only have five minutes. So

David Ames  2:29  
we'll have some time at the end to keep

Clint Heacock  2:30  
it short. My podcast is really about helping people to reconstruct after they've deconstructed their religious beliefs. So they've left their faith. And that has led me into a lot of areas. I started out exclusively focusing on kind of the X Evangelical, and which is my backstory, coming out of evangelicalism. But it's led me into all sorts of other fields like cult psychology, Christian reconstructionism, dominion theology, the Christian right Christian nationalism, because that's, that's part of my story, too. So it's part of my reconstruction to understand the way it works, I guess. And it all sort of ties together. So I'm a former Bible college teacher, I was I was in academics for years. So for me, I love to research things. And so as a teacher, I just have to share them. So that's really the heart of what I do. I just want to be a kind of a teacher. It's my outlet, my creative outlet. And you know, if it helps one person, happy days,

David Ames  3:34  
I hear you know, I feel the same way about this podcast. This is as much for me as it is anyone else. Like I have to have some expression of all this some way to get this off my chest because otherwise you go insane. So you have to. So you've already hinted at it, but part of what I wanted to have you on is to give you a chance as well, to tell your story. You mentioned evangelicalism, but I'm not sure I know exactly. The factors and you grew up in and what that trajectory looked like.

Clint Heacock  4:02  
Well, I was raised in Seattle, Washington. I live here in the UK. Now we've been here about 14 and a half years actually came over here to do a PhD. Yeah. And that's what that's what brought us over here. We luckily we've been able to stay on. So we've this is going to be our home now. You know, we're expatriates and all the rest of it. Right? But I grew up in Seattle, Washington in a really now I would I would say it's a fundamentalist cult, because it was the church was a church of Christ. That was the denomination, okay, but they subscribe to the Bill Gothard which at the time was called the Institute in basic youth conflicts. And so, everybody, not everybody, but our church strongly encouraged everybody, let's say, to attend his seminars, which we did. My family did. I remember going as a kid, 1314 years old, taking notes. And my parents raised us we had a very large family. They raised us according to his teachings, which now I see why me that they're very toxic If I say it's a cult, it is a fundamentalist Bible cults. And so I've done that's kind of part of the cult psychology interest in of mine is I started researching the inner workings of the Gotthard Empire, and quickly came to see that it was a cult to then I realized I was raised in a cult. Yeah. Okay, what does that do? You've got a an the best advice I've heard from many, many ex cultists, and cult experts and psychiatrists is to get yourself educated, educate yourself on what the essentially what they did to you. And so that's kind of where I'm at with this journey. And so yeah, I think I was raised in a very toxic theology. Right? It was the teaching that you had to be baptized in order to be saved as a Christian. So I was baptized ended up getting baptized three times.

David Ames  5:52  
Yeah, yeah. That'll make it work. Yeah,

Clint Heacock  5:55  
the first time I was about 10, or 11. I'd seen that movie a thief in the night, back in the late 70s. And it terrified me that I was going to be left behind in the rapture, as a many, many, many, many people have reported that experience as young children being absolutely traumatized. And so I went to the pastor, and I said, I need to I need to become a Christian. He said, let's get you baptized. And that was the first you know, so every time I'd get baptized, because I was failing, in my view, as a Christian, so I'd get baptized again. And again, because I was so desperate to make sure that I had it right. Yeah, no, I didn't want to be left behind in the rapture.

David Ames  6:35  
I really find this interesting that it's the people who care about it the most. someone like yourself, you really honestly wanted to make sure that you were doing everything properly and correct. Hmm, maybe it was based out of some fear, but it was still a lot of desire to do the right thing. Absolutely. And then that tends to be the people who experience the most trauma at the back end of this. It's true people who

Clint Heacock  7:01  
care the most we really wanted to get it right. And besides the theology taught that if you didn't believe the absolute correct, right things, you were one of those people that stood a good chance of being left behind in the rapture. Wow. So in our case, I would say now, what they call the good news of the gospel was not good news at all. Because that opened me up into a world of absolute anxiety, stress, pressure, what they call religious group velocity, which is constantly monitoring ever, it's an obsessive compulsive type thing. But it's instead of OCD, washing your hands 1000 times a day. You're you're watching every thought that you think and every action that you do, and everything, you know, because God's always watching you. And anything that you do might, you know, make you a candidate for being left behind, or not being a Christian? So I probably pray the sinners prayer, you know, 1000s of times, because I just was every night I'd lay there in bed and think, Oh, my God, you know what, if the rapture happens tonight, I better make sure that I'm covered, because I read it again. And that's what led me to keep getting baptized because I was convinced that I wasn't a Christian. And, you know, the formula hadn't worked the first time. And then the second time, and then the third time. Just keep trying. Yeah, definitely. Crazy.

David Ames  8:24  
Sounds like you were very dedicated as well, you ultimately went on to seek an education in theology as well. Yeah. All right.

Clint Heacock  8:31  
And now I see it, I went to Bible college, I did two masters degrees, and I did a PhD. And I realized now a lot of my motivation, at the time, I didn't see it that way, then. But I was it was to genuinely help people avoid the same kind of pitfalls that I had fallen into. Growing up in church, I was determined, I was going to go to Bible college, then I was gonna go to seminary, I was going to study the Greek study the Hebrew, really take a deep dive into the Bible and theology so that I could explain it to other people in a clear and helpful way. Right, which led me into becoming a pastor and then a Bible college teacher. Because I mean, I am a teacher at heart, I can't help but that's how I'm wired. It's true. And so for me, it was a natural fit, you know, what better thing to teach than the Bible, preach it. And if I could help somebody by my explanation of a particular passage, or Old Testament, New Testament book or whatever, then I was doing my job as a pastor as a spiritual leader. And I see that now that's that was my drive to be a pastor, which, ironically, is a lot of the same drive that I have now. I'm still kind of pastoring people. Weirdly, there's a lot of ex ex pastors out there that say the same thing that we still feel like we're doing pastoral work, it's just we're not we're not preaching the Bible or leading people to Christ anymore.

David Ames  9:54  
Yeah, you know, I often say that, you know, when we when we lose our faith, that doesn't mean that we don't need Eat, connection and belonging and in some cases pastoral care, right? community, it's a human need that we have. And that's the best of religion is how it can bring people together. Obviously, we're talking about the darker side of things. But I'm very fascinated. And we'll maybe talk about this a little bit later of how we recreate the best parts of that in a, a more secularized environment.

Clint Heacock  10:28  
Absolutely, it's true that one thing that church, on some levels they do well, and that is offer community. Yeah, you know, someone Someone said once that it's, it's a ready made community, you just have to slot into it. It's all there. It's all the pieces are there. Once you do the right thing, say the right things, whatever the denomination, or tradition has you do get baptized or get confirmation or you know, Bar Mitzvah, or whatever your rite of passage is? Yeah, then you're accepted. And it's a wonderful thing to be part of a community of people that believe the same things you do more or less, and you're accepted. And you're you do have community I mean, I have I had, and still do have some wonderful friendships and relationships from the church. When I was a pastor, and before I was a pastor, you know, so I don't take that lightly. But like you said, we as humans, we need it. Yeah, exactly. The church is offering it, so why not just slot into become a Christian?

David Ames  11:28  
You know, just briefly my story, you know, I was at a really a cultural, Christian, my, my family were, they were believers, but it was very passive. And when my mom got clean and sober, and she had a kind of an epiphany experience, then we got very, very religious, very fundamentalist. And, you know, I sometimes point out the difference between the people who were raised in it, like if you were raising as a child, the trauma inducing nature of their fear of the rapture, or the fear of going to hell, if you know, as a child, how do you grapple with that, versus even just being a teenager when I converted? You know, I had some sense of who I was as a person and some ability to this is all hindsight, you know, but some ability to separate that and to recognize, that was a little less trauma experience. For me personally, I know, you've talked to lots of people on your podcast. Have you noticed that at all? Have you talked to people that converted at different ages? Yes, in

Clint Heacock  12:28  
fact, I have a bunch of recordings, I haven't had time to edit them down into a complete episode. But I was going to do a study on the differences between first and second generation, religious people, not just limited to Christianity, but cults as well, wherever religions that they were a part of, as you say, there's there is a massive difference between first what they call first and second generation religions or cults. And the biggest difference that I found is that for people who come into it later in life, they develop a process. It's where Robert lifts, and he's a psychologist that did a lot of seminal work on cults and brainwashing. He describes it as this process called doubling, where you almost create a second self, and you have to fit into the group. And you have your authentic self, which is the real you. And then you have the religious self that you almost have to create. They live side by side in a way to fit into the group and, you know, be accepted in that wonderful community. We were talking about the difference between first generation or people second generation who were raised in it, they only ever had the religious identity. That's all we had. So I never experienced doubling, because I never had any other personality other than the religious one. So that's a whole different journey out because it was my whole worldview was I believed it. My parents said it was true. The pastor said it was true. These are authority figures that I trusted, I believed them. Why would they lie to me? They weren't lying to me. They were they believed it. Right. They were convinced. Yeah, they were committed. They I'm not I'm not saying they misled us intentionally. But the damage was done nonetheless. And so disentangling from that is, in some ways, a lot more difficult than someone who? Well, it's a different journey, I should say. It's not not about ease of transition. Some people have a much harder time on either path.

David Ames  14:20  
Yeah. You know, the thing that I'm relating to the most here so for me, I recognize that doubling and my life I've, I was convinced that the church didn't understand grace. As you can see, I've carried over some of those ideas into the secular world. But ironically, when I became a Christian, I thought, you know, I read particularly the the Gospels, and I thought, Man, this concept of grace is so amazing, and it's just that the people who have been in church for so long they forgotten. I just don't remember how powerful this is. And I thought, and I again, I relate to the teacher thing, if I just teach them if I just have the right words, you know, they're gonna get it, things are going to be different. And one of the things I recognize eyes was that people were not their authentic selves, there was the need to present an image. Because if they were honest, they would be judged. And it wasn't possible to be your authentic self. And my theory was that that's what we're where we needed to get to was the ability to have enough acceptance and grace that we could be our authentic selves with each other sorted out, that wasn't going to work. But

Clint Heacock  15:27  
it was a horrible failure. I can Yeah, that was, yeah, I can resonate with that, because that was kind of my philosophy of ministry, as a pastor. And then later, when I taught, I taught for about eight years in a Bible college, over here in the UK. And that was really my driving focus for my students, because they were all heading into ministry. And so I was always teaching them that they need to be raising up men and women to be the person God made them to be. That was my kind of thing, you know, and to be your authentic self. And I didn't see the irony is, of course at the time, but I was on that same trajectory, of trying to encourage people to be real to be themselves, blah, blah, blah. But as you say, most churches are not safe. Yeah, they're not a safe space. So you can't afford to be real. Because as you say, you could be judged, you can be ostracized, that's the dark side of that lovely community, we were talking about, where one minute you're in it, and then you enter into the cult psychology, which again, lifted calls the dispensing of existence, you don't have the right to exist, because you've questioned things or you've bucked the status quo. So you're gone. You're out of here, right? And that's how it works. You're shunned.

David Ames  16:36  
Yeah, and that shunning that that's the loss of that community that is devastating to people? Absolutely. I think the reason that people stay in for so long, even when they begin to have doubts is the idea of walking away from that community is a huge mountain to climb.

Clint Heacock  16:54  
Well, and part of that is to the sub, the sunk cost fallacy. There's I think that's operative as well, as well as the cognitive dissonance. You get to that point where you've put so much into the thing that you can't you can't envision envision any other options other than to stay in right now. Maybe it's gonna get better. Yeah, it has its downsides. And there's people that gossip and backstab and some horrible things happen. And I got burned here and there, but look at the money I've spent, look at the time I've invested. Yeah. And that's part of the deconstruction and reconstruction piece for people that spent, you know, I mean, look at me, I spent decades spending money and spending incredible amounts of time going into schools, and studying and teaching and writing and doing all this stuff for what, you know, for what, yeah, the only thing I have to show for it, someone said to me the other day that the one good thing about all the background that you've got is that it allows you to speak knowledgeably about theology and Bible and you can, you know, talk about this stuff from from an informed perspective. I'm not an insider, and outside or looking in, we were part of the system. So we know what we're talking about. Yeah,

David Ames  18:06  
if only that respect were given, I think. Yeah, I think we're often seen as the, you know, wolves in sheep's clothing. And so anything you say is just dismissed.

Clint Heacock  18:17  
Well, and we're, uh, we're like, ironically, we're in the midst of this Coronavirus, but it were seen as like a contagious virus. I think people that leave the church, especially that were high profile leaders, and I talked to Tim sledge, he wrote the book, goodbye Jesus and all that. But he was a megachurch pastor out of Houston, Texas, I mean, guys that were profile high profile like him. They have vilified him left, right and center, because they kind of have to, you know, when of high profile person stuff like Josh Harris, the guy who wrote I kiss dating goodbye, he repudiated it all. And then they ripped him to shreds. You know, there's been several high profile people that have left recently and you read the articles in the Facebook posts, man. They have to say there they were never a Christian in the first place. And you know, all that.

David Ames  19:08  
It's it. Yeah, it's definitely terrible. I wonder what you would say to those people like what does any deconversion or any deconstruction, those high profile ones, in particular, say to the people who are still in the bubble?

Clint Heacock  19:23  
That's a hard one because it's it's part of that cult psychology. I don't think evangelicalism as a whole is a cult. It's too broad. It's too diverse. It's not a monolith. But there are many, many, many cultic tactics and psychological mind control things that go on within churches. So you have to realize that you're talking to people who, to some extent, are in a bubble. That something that Rick Ross says he's a cult expert. He said that when you're in the bubble, and you're receiving their downloads, it's very very hard to think critically. Only when you physically remove yourself and psychologically remove yourself and unplug as it were from the system and stop receiving their downloads. That's when you start to think critically. But if you're in the midst of the what million what liftin calls milieu control, you're in the milieu that's being controlled by the people at the top. You know, you're literally under their control. Yeah, we never saw it that way. I'm sure you know, when we were part of the system.

David Ames  20:29  
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I've heard what you've just said there in different terms before that did an interview with Cassidy who's the blogger behind roll to disbelieve. And part of her deconversion story was prayer group that they were trying to start. And they only had three people and they were in some closet and a college and you know, didn't have the context. She realized in that moment that she was trying to create the feeling of God's presence, and that it wasn't there. That snap for her. That was the thing that broke her out of the bubble where she could see, oh, it depends on the context. Or in your words, the Milu. You know that? Yeah, it's an environment that you're in whether this makes sense or not.

Clint Heacock  21:14  
Absolutely. And the next, these are all what Robert liftin, he has these eight markers of cults. milieu controls, the first one, the second one is mystical manipulation, which is exactly what you were just describing. When you go into, let's say, a church, you don't realize that you're entering into a milieu or a context that is being you're being manipulated. And it's creating an environment with music and the lighting and the ambiance. And the preacher, and the whole context is manipulated in such a way to make you feel and to you, you are literally on a genuine emotional journey. You really are. There's no question about it. The music is unbelievable, especially in some of these churches where they've got fantastic worship bands. I mean, yeah, like Hillsong, or Yeah, I mean, it's a full on professional concert, you're you're going to see a band that's every bit as good as any professional band is going to be on stage in a major stadium. Yeah, musically, professionally, and they are at the top of their game and they can play the crowd and move you from fast, upbeat tempo songs to slower, more introspective songs, the lighting comes down. Yeah, man, it's it is it is genuinely moving. There's no question about it. But what they do is they ascribe that to God, as you said, and then here comes the sermon. And here's 3040 minutes of rah rah Jesus indoctrination. Few more songs, and you're pumped up. And but it's a religious addiction, because you have to go back the next week to experience the same high, you know, you're always chasing that experience. And so you've got to come back to church and get it again.

David Ames  22:50  
Yeah, definitely. And I think music is such a human connection. For us. It is, when we participate in a shared musical experience. That is a really bonding moment, right now, as we're recording, you know, we know that COVID-19 is an epidemic, a pandemic. And the things that we see that go viral are people out on their verandas, you know, singing with each other,

Clint Heacock  23:12  
right, like the Italians singing across to each other.

David Ames  23:15  
Exactly. It's like that is just something that we need to do. It really is, in a way the religion has kind of hijacked that and taken over,

Clint Heacock  23:24  
that made use of it. And absolutely, I mean, I played in worship bands for years, I'm a drummer, and I felt that emotional, you get that connection with the audience. If, if you hit the pocket, kind of like a thing, where you know how it is, if you're playing live, whether you're playing rock and roll, or blues or worship music, if you hit in the right, the notes with the crowd, as it were, they get into it. And there's this symbiotic relationship between you and the audience. And I mean, I can remember many times where the worship leader would turn and, you know, let's go around again, let's go around it because yeah, there's something happened in here. You can see the audience really getting moved emotionally. And so let's play another bar. Let's play another verse. Let's, you know, keep the chorus going. And we would just flow with it. And we would say at the time, well, we were flowing with the Spirit, man. That's what it was all about. We were just, you know, the Holy Spirit took over and we were just riding the wave and I play in a rock and blues band. I felt the same thing playing AC DC songs. Yeah.

David Ames  24:25  

Clint Heacock  24:26  
We used to end our set with the song from Rocky Horror Picture Show, the time warp, you know, and that always went down just as big as any worship song in a church, you know? Yeah. Nothing like seeing like 400 Bikers doing the time warp dance. At a biker rally. Yeah, totally. It's amazing. And it has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.

David Ames  24:46  
Right? It literally is resonance. Right? It's that like people their emotions are feeding on one another and there's a resonant quality to that and it's feeding back to the musicians and theatre just it's a positive feedback loop. You

Clint Heacock  25:00  
This, and it's a wonderful thing. You know, if you're a musician, you know how it feels. There's a high from playing on stage live. And there's a high from being in a crowd. That's where the band is really killing it. We've all been to concerts, secular concerts, I'm sure where we've seen bands that just blew our minds. Yeah, you know, and it was an emotional experience to see that, especially when you have a band that you've really loved for years, and then they come to town, and you've never seen them live before. Like, oh, man, I got tickets to see these guys. They just exceeded your expectations, you know, and you're on a high. Yeah, and it absolutely is. So you can replicate that in the church? Absolutely.

David Ames  25:39  
I realized that we've kind of gone way out of order here. And I do want to return to some of these subjects. But I want to just real quick, don't want to lose track of what for you personally. klant were the cracks that started to form the doubts that ultimately lead to deconstruction for you. Well, I

Clint Heacock  25:56  
see it now. I didn't see it at the time I see it now as the cognitive dissonance was surfacing. And maybe that was my authentic self somehow in there, even though I was mostly that religious, still was the real me going, Hey, this doesn't add up. And I can remember, even in Bible college, I felt like a hypocrite because I was preparing for ministry. And I had doubts. But I didn't want to stand up in front of an audience or a classroom of students, teaching them something that I felt that I didn't believe in or wasn't working for me personally. And I really wrestled with that problem. For years. I remember going to mentors at Bible College and Seminary and talking to pastors and saying, What's going on here? Because I don't I'm not sure I'm buying this product that I'm supposed to be selling. And I can see that now was it wasn't because it wasn't working. Right. But I could never admit that to myself. I just thought it's something wrong with me. It's always the problem, isn't it? Where doubt gets thrown back onto the doubt or something's wrong with you. It's never God's fault. Obviously, it's not the fault of the Bible, you're just not interpreting it correctly, or whatever your theology isn't right? Or maybe you've got hidden sin your life. There's 1,000,001 reasons why it might not be working. But it's never God's fault. Going back to what you said, I really wanted to get it right. I do not want to feel like I'm a hypocrite standing in front of a crowd, telling them to believe something and that it should change your life. When I myself wasn't doing half the stuff I was telling my congregation to do.

David Ames  27:27  
Yeah. And I've had people on who tell the story where they wanted God to change them they wanted, they were asking, you know, change me I live recognize that this isn't the best I can do help me. And then it was the recognition of that not happening, that there was no assistance, there was no helper available to assist them in changing.

Clint Heacock  27:49  
Yeah, going back to my experiences I was talking about as a kid kept why kept getting baptized because I was begging and pleading God to help me as you just described, and no help was forthcoming. For example, I was I was in the purity culture. That was another part of the toxicity of the doctrine. And I've realized this now a lot of kids raised in the purity culture, they have to suppress their sexuality. So they turned to pornography as an outlet. So I became addicted to pornography. And of course, I knew that was wrong. I felt horrible about that. At least I knew I wasn't having actual physical sex, which was slightly better. But then I was, you know, turning to porn. Yeah. And that was a sin. So I mean, I begged and pleaded, and I've heard many stories of kids like me who did the same thing, asking God to take it away to help me nothing. And why isn't he interested in helping you to become that perfect Christian or perfect kid who doesn't sin? Why? Why not? Give me some help? Throw me a bone. Yeah, nothing.

David Ames  28:53  
I totally get you. I think that on all levels, the repression of normal human sexual desire is destructive, right? It doesn't matter. You know, how you wind up dealing with that, whether that's porn, and I think the church would be so much better if they just said, Yeah, masturbation is normal. You should you should do that. If you want. There'll be a whole lot fewer problems, you know, like, but they can't, there's no way they can. They can't say that.

Clint Heacock  29:20  
I mean, I remember going to pastors conferences, we used to go to the Oregon coast that go to these weekend long pastors conferences. And by about the end of the Sunday evening session, it was 40 or 50. Pastors in a room, and they were broken down. And most of them were confessing all kinds of sins. And the biggest one is pornography. And, you know, masturbation, yeah, asters who could never ever admit that to their own wives for one thing, or certainly not to their congregation. Can you imagine that? High profile pastor went up and said, Look, people I've been watching porn for years. I'm addicted to it. I got a real problem and they'd be out in most cases Yeah. So fast.

David Ames  30:02  
I was fascinated by it when I was in the middle of, you know, I went to a Bible college purity culture was very much part of that. I was just honest with myself, I was, you know, like, I'm going to master. And I would definitely be, you know, I'd feel guilty and I would confess, and that whole cycle, but something the back of my mind was like, this is normal, the statistics on men in particular, but but women to just well over 50% of the whole population, this is just a normal thing. Some tiny part of me recognize that it was just ludicrous to beat myself up over something that was just a normal human thing.

Clint Heacock  30:40  
Absolutely. And you could analyze it, from what we talked about the perspective of doubling your religious self is at war with your authentic self, your authentic self saying, Hey, this is normal, religious selves go, No, it's a sin. It's wrong. You need to confess and repent and get right and stop doing it. Throw away the magazine, stop getting online, stop looking at porn, you know, you've got to get it right and stop and suppress that sexuality until you get married. And you're supposed to be a virgin on your wedding day bla bla bla, that's the culture.

David Ames  31:12  
I know that lots of the listeners will be very familiar with that. I know how destructive that is.

Clint Heacock  31:18  
It is I just wrote an article on Medium about that, because we did a bunch of talking on it years ago with some people in a Facebook group. And I kind of stumbled across a bunch of these comments that I had archived. And I was reading through him about, you know, I asked the question in this group, what damage has the purity culture done to you this x evangelical group, and I got a shocking array of responses. I just started cutting and pasting them anonymously and putting them in a Word document. And it was like 10 or 12 pages long. And I thought, Oh, my God, I gotta do something with this. So I put this article together talking about specific instances of damage that the purity culture does to us sexually, psychologically, etc, etc. It's quite shocking. When you actually stand back and look at what it does. Yeah. And that's all part of the church's toxicity. No, yeah. Wow.

David Ames  32:07  
To again, circle back just a little bit to the personal. So you recognize that there was a disparity between what you were teaching and what you were acting out or what you believe? What did that result in? Did you walk away from that teaching gig? How did that look?

Clint Heacock  32:22  
I got made redundant. As they say, in this country, I got laid off from the teaching gig. Through no fault of my own. It was a case of the college that I was teaching for. I'd been there about seven or eight years, they ran into huge debt. And so they laid a bunch of us off, most of us lost our jobs without any warning, we just were gone. Just like that. I got home from my last day of teaching, just before Christmas, ironically, to get a letter on my table, saying your services are no longer. Merry Christmas. Oh, and by the way, they said, Do you know the college is in financial trouble, you wouldn't mind donating your final month's pay. Oh, my goodness, help us get through this shortfall. After we've just laid you off. I could not believe that. They actually said that. Yeah, I'll give you my last month's salary when I don't have a job to go to now. Thank you very much. I see now that did me a favor. But that was quite shocking. I mean, I cannot imagine a company doing something like that to an employee. Yeah, you lay somebody off and then turn around and say, Oh, you wouldn't mind donating your final month's pay to help us out here. But it was a Bible college.

David Ames  33:32  
That is incredibly tone deaf, very tone deaf.

Clint Heacock  33:36  
And I wrote a I wrote an email to the head of the college saying, I cannot believe you know that you've done this. And you've you're asking me to give you my last month's pay. And I said, I've been there eight years. And that's how I found out I don't even have a job anymore. And his response was equally tone deaf. He said, Well, actually, you shouldn't be upset. You were never actually an employee. You were a contract. lecturer. What's the problem? We just didn't renew your contract? What are you so upset about?

David Ames  34:03  
Man? That's insane. So

Clint Heacock  34:06  
deafness? Unbelievable. What do you see? You're never an employee here. What are you so pissed off about? What just you know? You're not coming back. And that's it. Period. What's the problem? Wow, I don't know. Eight years of teaching for nothing. That's terrible. Yeah, it really is.

David Ames  34:23  
So what made you decide to start to go to the dark side a bit, to start expressing your deconstruction out loud to blog about it and whatever your first steps were? Well, what happened that

Clint Heacock  34:35  
it was the actually the podcast that I started, I've changed the name now it's mine ship podcast, but originally, four years ago, it was called the preachers Forum Podcast. Okay. That was my last gasp of trying to reform the church. So I had gone through this cycle of reading progressive Christians, jettisoning a lot of my fundamentalist evangelical conservative dogma. As, and that was the journey I was on, I was like, Okay, I'm gonna help the church get relevant kind of like you said, your, your path of Let's help the church discover grace. I was that's what I was teaching my students, I was having them question things, and exposing them to a lot of progressive ideas and pushing the limits a little bit. But then I see now that was my journey. I'm way out. Because as I was jettisoning the pieces, eventually there was nothing left. But that journey was to really one last push to kind of reform the church. What I realized is, they didn't want to hear it. Nobody wanted to hear they were not listening. You know, I was just an angry ranting ex pastor who was still a Christian though. And then as I went down the line further and further and further, I realized, I've got nothing left. So that's when I realized that the idea of the preachers forum totally doesn't fit. The name doesn't fit. The brand name doesn't work. It's nothing about what I am standing for. So I changed it to the mind shift podcast. And that's where I guess someone said to me, you're basically you've deconstructed in front of an audience, right? Over the three or four years, that's kind of what I've done. I've entered the name, the preachers form reflects my own journey out. That was the last straw. But the last thing for me was actually the 2016. Evangelical Trump support. Yeah, when I saw that, I said to myself, I'm no longer ever going to call myself a Christian. I don't want to have anything to do with it. That was the final straw. I was done. I said, I don't want to have anything to do with that movement. evangelicalism. Yeah, maybe that's an overreaction. But to me, events have borne out the fact that it's a completely bankrupt system in many ways. I mean, there's some great Christians out there, no doubt, I'm not throwing all the baby out with the bathwater. But for a lot of people, that was their last straw.

David Ames  36:57  
Like my wife is still very much a believer. And she was just crushed by, by that and continues to be crushed every time we see an evangelical who, then is not just a political thing here, but blindly supports Trump. So I know that that has affected the numbers of people huge numbers, that led them to deconstruction. I want to segue here just briefly and ask you your motto of the podcast as reconstruction after deconstruction, can I get your definitions of both of those words? What are those mean to you?

Clint Heacock  37:30  
I would say that the deconstruction part is when people question their deeply held beliefs, you know, on a very worldview level type of thing. And it's very traumatic, it's very scary. There's a lot of emotions associated with it, because it was something that we believe wholeheartedly, like we've been talking about. If we were in the system, especially people that were in any form of leadership in the church or in a religion, it's really hard to question those things. Yeah. What what it's a case I think a lot of people's story is when that cognitive dissonance, that dissonance becomes too much. Yeah, like you said, the cracks, you cannot paper over the cracks anymore. Eventually, the walls are falling down. 50 layers of wallpaper won't, won't hide the structural flaws in the building.

David Ames  38:20  
Yeah. So I've got an article that's similar to one that you've written, but that talks about this process. And I begin with unexpected events happen, something makes you think about this. But then as you go along, there stack up and you hit some critical mass point at which just what you've described, you can no longer pretend anymore, that there isn't a problem.

Clint Heacock  38:41  
You can't do it. And going back to the cult psychology, that's a lot of people. There's a lot of ways to quell the cognitive dissonance. Christianese is a good one. And that's what we use in the church, you know, sort of pithy statements, platitudes, Bible verses that cover and those are sort of that wallpaper covering the cognitive dissonance. We don't understand why things happen. You see in it right now, with the Coronavirus, the COVID-19. Look at the various Christian responses to it. They are scrambling to try to come up with some answers, because there isn't any. Why is this happening? Because they are holding to the presupposition that God is all powerful. God's in control of everything. What the hell is going on here? I mean, seriously, is it a judgment? Is it a satanic attack? Is it they've got to come up with something? And so you see all sorts of people that are walking around quoting Psalm 91, Faith conquers fear and I don't have to wear a mask, I can disregard it all because God's gonna protect me. That's straight, loaded languages. liftin calls it it's thought terminating cliches, and that's what it is. And that's what I did for a long time. As you say the weight finally though, got too much. And I can see now that the progressive Christians was part of that journey. You guys like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell and Donald Miller, because they helped me to see that I was part of a formulaic religion. And once I saw that, I thought, my God, I have been practicing a religion that's been reduced to a formula, what I need to do is discover the authentic Christianity, and then I wasn't able to do it. Okay. It's sort of like Easy Rider, you know, the two guys that go off on their Harley's to try to rediscover the real America, and they can't find it. It's not there, right, it ain't there. And then the end, they end up getting killed, you know, so it doesn't end well.

David Ames  40:38  
This is really where I wanted to go. This is a really interesting thing that you've just said, trying to find the authentic Christianity and then not being able to find it. And I want to preface this by saying that I try to avoid falling into the angry atheist, the New Atheists perspective, there's part of me that gets pulled that direction to just say, you know, just the story you just told, you know, you will have someone standing in front of a tornado strewn Street and their houses destroyed, but they survived. And they'll be like, well, thank God,

Clint Heacock  41:08  
the Bible is untouched, sitting on the nightstand.

David Ames  41:11  
100 people are dead in this massive destruction. But you know, I made it out. So that's great. The ability to miss all of that. But my point is, I want to be this idea of secular grace to be graceful to recognize where people are at, which includes various levels of progressive Christianity, various levels of deconstruction. And I'm confessing my faults to you that I times I can be critical and to try to overcome that. But what you just said is just really fascinating to me in that we have lots of progressive friends who are who are trying to live that out. I'm trying to find that authentic Christianity. What would you say to them?

Clint Heacock  41:49  
That's a good question. Because I had a conversation recently with Dan Koch, who's a progressive Christian. And we went around and around, we had a really good, respectful dialogue. It wasn't an argument. And I come from the same perspective as you I'm not trying to talk anybody out of their thing or into anything, I will have a respectful dialogue, as long as anyone wants to talk with me. Absolutely. And the question that I posed at the end of it all, I mean, we there's no question, but that the church, and I'm generalizing, but you know, including Catholicism, and sure, there's so many abuses, there's no question about it. There's sexual abuse, there's pedophilia, there's spiritual abuse and religious trauma syndrome, and you can have a laundry list, hell induced PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc, etc, etc. And that's caused by the church. So I said to Dan, whose fault is it? Because is it God's fault that all this is so messed up? Or is it the fault of humanity who took something that was pure, and then corrupted it? What we need to do is get back to that pure faith? You know, and I think that was my, my journey, as you said, for a long time. I was hoping to find that sort of X Chapter Two church. Yeah. Oh, community. And that was what I taught my students to aim for. And now I realized that I think I never found it, you know, but for the progressive Christian, I have a hard time supporting some of that I get where they're coming from, I think, because I was on that same pasture. Sure. But I couldn't reconcile it with all the damage that was being done by the church. And I thought, you know, after four or five years of trying to get people to see my point of view, and nobody wanted to listen. I'm done. I'm not I'm not beating my head against the wall here. Yeah.

David Ames  43:37  
I guess the reason I bring this up is, there's definitely part of me that still just wants to say, let it go. You're hurting yourself by trying to make this work. And my argument is this, that if, like, if you do the Thomas Jefferson thing, you rip all the miracles out of the Bible. If you take one more step and take all the archaic morality out of the Bible, you're left with a pamphlet that says you ought to be good to people. Right? And that's about it. And that the baggage that comes with traditional Christianity actually holds people back. And again, I'm recognizing that maybe that's being too critical. And people meet people where they're at and what their needs are. But there's part of me that definitely just wants to say, you can be free from this. And we can recognize what we need from one another as human beings. We still need to have community we still need to have a sense of awe. We need to have a sense of beauty of something even bigger than ourselves, if you will, but that doesn't need to be supernatural. But nature and humanity provides all of those needs. And this is ultimately my argument that even in the church, it was still just humanity that was providing those needs, right with musicians like yourself. It's the pastor's doing. You know, they're at the bedside. I'd have somebody who's dying, feeding the hungry, actually sure the action on the ground was the miracle. It's the people that are the magic.

Clint Heacock  45:09  
One, as you said, look at the examples from church history, what you just were articulating the difference between you go back 100 years, the difference between classic liberal theology and the fundamentalist background, the end of the 19th century up till about 1940s 50s, into the 60s, even where the Liberals tried to accommodate their Christian faith with modern science. And they were saying kind of the same thing. Let's take biblical criticism as an example. You know, all this stuff that was questioning the authorship of the Bible and the Pentateuch, did Moses write it and on and on and on? And they said, Yeah, we believe what these scholars are finding in the text, we don't think it's every word was written by an inspired Prophet and all the rest of it, whereas the fundamentalists, they doubled down. And so we see those two streams, where the liberals, a lot of them did end up as atheists because they finally said, There's nothing left.

David Ames  46:02  
There's nowhere to go. Yeah. Yeah. That ultimately leads me to the next question. I talked to you before we got on Mike about, is there a daylight between the concept of deconstruction, and deconversion. And usually, when I use the term deconversion, I mean, the letting go of faith of any kind of recognizing that it's basically the natural world is what we have. And I guess the point for me was the last two things I held on to the bitter end, where the concept of a soul and the resurrection, and when I realized that I had no reason no evidences no reliable reasons to hold on to those any longer. That was the thing that I was just done. At that point. I wasn't interested in going and exploring other religious traditions, I wasn't looking at other sects of Christianity. I was just done. And I'm curious if you think that most people deconstruct at some point and then fall off a cliff, or is it possible to just keep keep deconstruction going indefinitely? Sure.

Clint Heacock  47:02  
Well, looking at my example, you know, when I was talking about reading progressive Christians, I was deconstructing I was questioning a lot of things I was my mind was being blown. Like I said, when I when I discovered that Christianity that I was falling was a formulaic religion, that blew my mind. But I was still very much a Christian. However, I jettisoned a tremendous amount of stuff from my past, that I thought was absolutely indispensable. And then I realized was not only not indispensable, it was actually quite damaging, and harmful to my own mental health and the way I lived my life and treated other people, but I was still very much a Christian. So like you said, that's, you could say, That's deconstruction, you're questioning, questioning, questioning. A lot of people do that, and then never leave Christianity, or whatever religion they're a part of. They question things. They jettison things. They don't believe certain things anymore. They might believe different things now, but they still consider themselves a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, whatever. But like you say that if you're going to define deconversion, as the point where you say, I am no longer a Christian or whatever, I walk away, I'd repudiate the whole thing. I'm not trying to salvage anything. I'm not trying to save anything. Yeah, I am done. That's that's best must be the difference between deconstructing and de converting. And maybe one doesn't always inevitably lead to the other, but it certainly can. For a lot of people that has

David Ames  48:30  
sure I definitely recognize very similar to you. You can say liberalizing, but I'm also fascinated by the Mere Christianity, Christians who say, wow, you know, these little minor doctrinal differences, they don't really matter. You know, it's really about, it's about the cross about the resurrection. But I feel like I did that I went to that edge where I was just hanging on to the resurrection has to be real the way it stated or I agree with Paul, that this is all worthless. We're the most to be pitied. Right. And, and it was when I fell off that cliff where I realized, yeah, that it wasn't true. I thought it was and I was mistaken.

Clint Heacock  49:09  
Well, and one thing we haven't really touched on, it kind of mentioned it with the liberals. But the question of what Bible are you talking about? Because that's a whole huge problem. Yeah, that I'm sure we could get into somewhere else. But, you know, that's one thing that I was struggling with increasingly, because the more I studied the Bible as a scholar, and I finally I did my PhD on the book of Ezekiel. And one of the things I discovered about Ezekiel was, of course, there was the big debates as to the scholarship of Ezekiel that you need to write the book, blah, blah, blah. And I realized no, it was it was compiled from a bunch of different sources, and that that's the consensus of most scholarship, but certainly in the Old Testament, and there's a lot of questions about the New Testament. And that led me to think, Okay, this fundamentalist conservative view of the Bible, and therefore the interpretations that are drawn from that view of the Bible. Will cannot possibly be consistent, because the text doesn't support that it really doesn't. Scholarship has shown definitively, that is not the case. And there's a lot of questions around the Gospels and the historicity of Jesus. You know, so if you can argue about who Jesus was and what Jesus taught, and we need to recover the true Jesus, which Jesus, right, which gospel? Yes, you know, there's significant discrepancies. One of the things I used to have my students do when I was teaching New Testament, but I would make them study three different passages from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that were parallel passages giving the same account of an event. And I would have them list all the similarities and all the differences between the three. And there was a huge list of discrepancies. And that blew their minds, because they were like, know that they all have to agree they cannot possibly disagree. And I'd say, Well, what do you do with that? Right? Which account is right? Which account is historical? And it's all historically true, but it cannot be because they contradict each other in key details. So who's right which one's correct? You know, there's cognitive dissonance for you. Yeah. So, after that class session, a lady came up to me and said, Are you a Christian? And I said, What do you Why would you say that? The Bible college, just because you're having this question the Bible, and that Christians don't do that. Yeah. So that was her go to answer.

David Ames  51:25  
You know, I often say that my Bible college teachers did their job too well. Hmm. In that, you know, my college experience, at least in the classroom was really good. It was critical thinking it was a bit of textual criticism, it was they didn't take it too far, but a little bit, but they know they would recognize that, yep, the Gospels are anonymous, they are hagiographies, you know, they were acknowledged that much, right. And then the new hand wave about well, it's still authoritative and similar enough. But my point is that they, you know, they conveyed the idea of good exegesis of good study of good hermeneutics interpretation of good, recognizing, you know, what it meant to the off the original author and the original hearers. And when you start to go down that road, and you recognize, as you've said, many books of the Bible are compilations that have multiple authors that have multiple time periods represented, that have multiple theological perspectives that are trying to be a service, you know that when you get to that point where you're just kind of honest with the text itself, that that's what it is, it's very, very hard to then maintain that this is some kind of supernatural developed product as it were

Clint Heacock  52:39  
inspired product. That's the inerrant mistake, free, error free. Look at for example, if you just take a straight reading of the text, you end up with a God in the Old Testament, who commands genocide. Yeah. And he commands laws in the Book of Leviticus and Exodus and other places that are absolutely horrific. We would repudiate them today as human rights violations on all kinds of levels. And so you go wait a minute, if that's the same god of the New Testament, that you're worshipping in a church every Sunday? What about that? Yeah, how can you worship a God who commanded genocide on multiple occasions? And that's the same guy you're singing about and worshiping on a Sunday? What? This doesn't make any sense. And that's just a straight reading of the text. Now, of course, there's a million answers. I studied it myself, the Odyssey, the problem of evil, you know, there's a million reasons why Gods let off the hook. And it's not his fault and blah, blah, blah. But that's bullshit. Yeah, he commanded His people to kill men, women, children, animals, slaughter him without mercy. Yeah, we would condemn that as a war crime today, we sent the Nazis to the gallows for that, for killing millions of Jews in World War Two. And that's just the same scale, maybe not as industrialized the course. But same principle.

David Ames  53:59  
Yeah, for sure. You know, about two years before my deconversion I read through the Bible. And my wife, you know, she'd say, you're angry, why are you angry? At the time, I had no idea why. Now, with hindsight, I recognize I was reading it straight through it all, including the boring parts, including Ezekiel, including the prophets including, and it's horrifying, what it actually says, you know, so if you I always recommend, you know, if you're a believer, read the Bible. Read it. That will make an atheist study. Yeah. The only thing I request is that you see it for what it actually says rather than that's what most people do is they interpret it in light of it for my case, I previously have interpreted all in light of grace, right? Well, God was judgmental because he was bringing the Hebrew people together, you know, needed to keep purity and what have you, but, but when I started to let go of that I took the rose colored glasses off and just I read the text, what does it say? That was devastating. It was absolutely devastating.

Clint Heacock  55:05  
It is. And that was part of my, the shocking journey going through Ezekiel, you know, reading the book from a theological point of view, then I started reading it as a narrative text. That's what blew my mind. It's actually a story about this prophet who's in us in Babylon with these exiles. And he's trying to get through to them and all this. And at one point, God comes to Ezekiel and says, according to text, tomorrow, your wife's going to die, I'm going to kill your wife, and you will not be allowed to mourn for her as a some sort of object lesson to your fellow exiles here in Babylon. And God killed Ezekiel, his wife, and he wasn't allowed to shed a single tear. And that's horrifying. Yeah, if that's true, you know, narrative of historical, whatever. But I mean, that's what the text says, man. What the hell as equal, he was the good guy. That's exactly what he was doing. was obeying. He was doing everything got all the ridiculous things God was telling them to do. And God kills his wife. What kind of a monster is that? The same guy who destroys Job's life or allow Satan to over a cosmic bet with the devil. That job never finds out about? I mean, if that's the God of the Bible, I don't want to have anything to do with that. God, that's what did it for me? Yeah, no way.

David Ames  56:29  
I can definitely relate. I feel like we've done a pretty good job of bashing the Bible and says, I want to turn the corner just a little bit and talk about first of all, like, do you consider yourself an atheist? You pick a term that you identify with? Is there agnostic?

Clint Heacock  56:44  
I'd say I'm more of an agnostic, I think, definitely D converted. Okay, I'm not a Christian. There's no question about that. I don't call myself a Christian. But I'm not sure I have a lot of problems with that. God, like I've been saying, it seems pretty clear. I get passionate when I was talking about Yeah, because I have a lot of questions. If that God exists, the one of the Bible, there's some serious problems, right? I want some answers to those questions, you know, and I'm not getting them. I ain't getting them, you know? And so, I'm not sure if there is a God out there. If the if he does exist, wow, we've got some serious issues to deal with. So I could see the appeal of saying, Yeah, that's probably better off saying it's all made up. And if there's no God, right, I'm an atheist and sack the whole thing off.

David Ames  57:36  
So then I want to use you know, the most generic term that I you know, I often use the word secular to be very generic. I don't necessarily mean atheistic, right, but just not religious. In your life and your quote, unquote, secular life now, how do you find community? What do you find meaningful? How do you experience all?

Clint Heacock  57:58  
I find community Yeah, wherever you can really. It's around shared interests. Ironically, a lot of the things that we did in the church, yeah, music, motorcycles, American football in this country, it was what we call it. I played American football for eight seasons. I coach now, for about the last five years, I've been a coach. So my fellow coaches, the players, the team, that is my I used to say, That's my church. You know, we were we live in North Wales here. We're part of a community of it's a biker club. So we play music, and we have hundreds of people come we do rallies here where I live with bikers from all over the country. I mean, that's community, but it's around shared interests and passions, and, you know, things like that. So that's where I find it. Next, and I, my students, where I teach at the college here in England, I teach carpentry and multi skills to military veterans. And I always end up with some amazing friendships that come out of that, out of the classes that I teach. I keep in touch with people, you know, so it's things that I'm passionate about, I guess.

David Ames  59:05  
Yeah, that's awesome. Can you give me the top three ish books that have been the most meaningful to you through this process or after this process?

Clint Heacock  59:14  
The top one would have to be Robert Lipton's thought reform in the psychology of totalism, which opened my eyes to the whole cult psychology, and then I started relating that to evangelicalism. The second one I think would be take back your life by Janya law college and Madeline Tobias. Okay, which is a very good book about exactly what it says on the tin, you know, yeah, take that's the reconstruction piece, which we never actually talked about, but it's where you start to take back everything that was lost, stolen, smash destroyed from your old self, right? How did how do you do that? The next book, I would have to say now I'm reading with holy terror, Conway and Siegelman. which opened me up to studying the religious right, the rise of the religious right in America, which then led me into studying dominion theology, and which is part of my backstory coming out of Christian education, which is Christian reconstructionism. So those are three of the top books I would recommend.

David Ames  1:00:19  
Excellent. I do recognize we missed a lot of the reconstruction stuff. Do you want to talk about that briefly? Like, what what for you was reconstruction? What do you what would you recommend for people that they're looking for when they are in the process of reconstruction?

Clint Heacock  1:00:34  
The biggest piece of advice, and I've heard this, I asked the same question every time to someone who's Yeah. X religious person, they always say the same thing. They say education is the number one thing, educate yourself. And that's what I've been doing. That's why those books I recommended, were all books that changed my life from a reconstruction point of view, because they helped me to identify areas in my life where I had been controlled and manipulated and was part of that cult psychology. And I was a pawn in a bigger game in a way. And I wasn't seeing it at the time. But now I can look back and actually identify the various tactics that were used on me and many other people in the system. And I know it's true, because I've heard I've heard it from many, many, many, many, many people that say, that's what happened to me. You're describing my experience, right. And that helps me to start to disempower what they did to us and say, Okay, if I can name if I can point my finger to the actual tactic, then I can start to figure out how it affected me psychologically, then I can start to rebuild. And that's the journey I'm really on.

David Ames  1:01:47  
Man, one of the things you just said, there really resonates with me as well. One of the purposes of me doing the podcast is for me, that recognition, when Clint you're telling your story, and I'm just like, Ah, I totally, I totally loved the resume. And like, and, you know, I have guests on that just happens consistently. And then I hear from people who are listeners, and they say, Oh, that person was telling my story. And they all are unique, every story is unique. But there's these brines that just everyone recognizes this. I went through that phase, and that was part of my story.

Clint Heacock  1:02:22  
That's, and that's why the community is a huge piece. So the education is one, finding a supportive community, wherever that is, what we've been saying is that it's critically important, we need community as humans. And it's important if you're coming out of your faith, your religion or a cult, to find a group of supportive people that are, they don't have to be from the same story that you had. But we find that typically, like ex Jehovah's Witnesses, ex Mormons, ex evangelicals, they tend to band together because yeah, they all they all get it. Yeah, you know, they came out of the same destructive cult or whatever. And so yeah, they resonate. And there, they can offer the support that only a person coming out of that particular context can give. And so that's what's really important is to find that community.

David Ames  1:03:13  
Absolutely. I wanted to give you just a minute to plug the work that you're doing, I understand, you've been doing a lot of blog posts on medium, one of which we discussed on seekers and skeptics a bit about the number of different ways that people go through deconstruction, tell us about the work that you're doing these days.

Clint Heacock  1:03:32  
That's true. I've been doing a lot of work, as I was saying, on cult psychology, as well as Christian reconstructionism, dominion theology, the religious rights, so I tend to seek out people on the show that are experts in the field or authors. I've just got an episode coming out with Katherine Stewart, who wrote the book, The Power worshipers just came out in March. And she talks about the rise of Christian nationalism in America and the world really, and I'm chasing down other people to have on the show that are experts in Christian reconstructionism dominion theology, because I find a lot of people don't know much about that. Right? And they're very under informed as to what's actually going on. Again, not just in America, that's the most clear example but we're seeing it in Brazil and other places, where there's alliances with evangelicalism from a political point of view, and their agenda is really quite chilling. They want to establish a theocracy. And it's gonna become like a Handmaid's Tale type thing. And that's really not it's not an overstatement. Actually, quite scary.

David Ames  1:04:39  
You know, and I live in the state so I see Betsy DeVos and you know, that like everything is moving that direction, then what's fascinating to me, it's it's absolutely special pleading. Christianity gets all these perks and but if you were to say, well, mosques should also get money rebuilding or something like no way that's not going to happen. So we have a couple completely abandoned separation of church and state. Exactly.

Clint Heacock  1:05:02  
We have Bible studies led by Ralph drove injured in the White House in Congress weekly. The Congress, they're fine with that Mike Pence drops in absolutely fine. Trump has an evangelical advisory board. And someone said, Well, why doesn't he have a Muslim advisory board? Right? Why does he have a Scientology advisory board? Yeah, they should be in accordance with the terms of religious freedom and religious tolerance in America. Every religion should be equally represented. But why is it only these particular evangelical Dominionists that get to get these Bible studies and all these influences in the Trump administration? So that is affecting legislation right now? Today? They have a vision and they are working to make it happen.

David Ames  1:05:48  
Yeah. And your mind shift podcast? I know. There's a few podcasts out there. They have that name. How do they find your podcast? If they're looking for it?

Clint Heacock  1:05:58  
That's true. Because it's funny. I my wife actually suggest that name. And I kind of didn't realize at the time, there's about three or four. I changed the name, I did all the work. And then I went on there to iTunes, about Oh, my God, there's like four miles. Yeah. What have I done? Then for a minute there? I thought I might be in trouble. That's like copyright issue. Nobody said anything. So I'm kind of playing it safe. But yeah, if you look for my name, basically, I'm the only one that has Dr. Clint, hey, click on it. You'll find me there. That's me. The other ones tend to be like education podcasts, and there's one from a church. So I thought that was kind of interesting. Maybe they'll end up listening to a sermon, and think that it's me. Don't get the wrong mindset podcast. That's your head. You think what's this guy's he's preaching a sermon all of a sudden?

David Ames  1:06:54  
Well, I just wanted to thank you for being on the podcast. And we talked briefly about still having kind of a pastor's heart and really, still acting that out. I hear that in you, I hear that in your work. It's very clear that you care about people. That's what this podcast is all about is how do we care about people more? I think the work that you're doing helping people to recognize the cultic nature of their previous faith is really, really important. Thank you so much for being on the show and sharing all that wisdom with us.

Clint Heacock  1:07:25  
Yeah, thank you so much, David, for being a great host. I want to have you as a guest on mine ship podcast. So we need to talk about how we can make that happen to

David Ames  1:07:34  
that sounds great.

Final thoughts on the episode, there were so much resonance between Clinton I think we have very similar experiences and very similar perspectives on the post religious life and how we connect with one another how we maintain the human needs in community was just a great conversation to have with him. I thought the conversation about the potential difference between deconstruction and deconversion was really interesting. I know I sometimes come across as the stronger atheist. And it's important for me to remember that deconstruction is definitely a part of that process. I'm very much interested in meeting people where they are at, and not necessarily having them conform to what I think they should be thinking. So wherever you are in your deconstruction or reconstruction, I hope you'll listen to the podcast and enjoy it. I'm also fascinated by the work that Clint is doing and specifically the people that he has interviewed in the expertise of cults, the overlap of evangelicalism and cultic, like practices is fascinating. And as Clint himself said, it's not to say that all of evangelicalism is a cult, but there are practices which can be more or less cultic, and manipulative. recognizing those manipulations is important. I highly recommend that you check out the mind shift podcast and in particular, some of those episodes that focus on the ways in which cults manipulate people and see if you recognize some of those things from your faith tradition. Clint really touched on something when you remove yourself from the context, he said psychologically and physically. That's when you're able to get some space to start critically thinking, and that critical thinking may lead to deconstruction. And finally, I think his best advice was get yourself educated. Knowledge is really the key when we are in the bubble. And depending on how high demand the religious tradition you were a part of, there may be many resources or sources of information that were not allowed that were verboten, and now there are no restrictions. I highly recommend that you read everything read the Bible read apology. As I read atheists read everyone and come to your own conclusions, the entire point is that now, you are free to seek information and interpret it in light of reality, rather than in light of a body of dogmatic tradition. I want to thank Clint for being on the podcast and for sharing his heart for people. Again, I resonated so much with him being kind of a former ex pastor or ex teacher, at least of wanting so badly to convey the right things. And then ultimately, that being a part of what led to our own deconstructions in my case, full blown deconversion. Thank you, Clint, for the work that you do, and I hope that everyone will go out and listen to the mind shift podcast, I will have links in the show notes for that. I hope you will stay tuned. I have a number of exciting episodes coming up. I've already done the interviews. I'm really excited about them. One is Amy Logan of the ex Mormon ology podcast. Another is Richard Swan, who is the director of the London City voices. If you haven't heard of them, you got to check this out on YouTube. It is amazing the community that he has built, they sing pop songs and choir. And then they go out to the pub afterwards and hang out with each other. It's amazing the community that he's building there, stay tuned for those episodes coming up shortly. And as Clint hinted at the end of the episode, I will be joining him on his podcast we've already done that interview, and that will be released in the next few weeks. Until then, as always, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me in being graceful human beings. 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 atheist@gmail.com You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com 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 https://otter.ai

Captain Cassidy: Roll To Disbelieve

Atheism, Bloggers, Communities of Unbelief, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Grace
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest today is Captain Cassidy. Cassidy blogs at Roll To Disbelieve on patheos.com. Her focus is on deconversion, counter-apologetics and generally describing the mind-warping nature of religion. Cassidy has an array of metaphors and analogies in her writing that make a vivid picture of what it is like to believe and then not to.

Cassidy’s “Extimony”: She is a former Catholic, was briefly a baptist and then stayed a Pentecostal for a time. Until she realized the context of her faith mattered. While at a prayer group set in a normal university room “out of the context” of a church she realized it was all an act.

And as I look back at my past, I can see all these times when I [rolled to disbelieve] … I didn’t make the roll, I continued to believe.

She now describes herself as “a humanist, a skeptic, a freethinker and a passionate student of science, mythology and history.”

I am becoming more and more convinced that the only way for someone to remain, Christian, is to avoid caring what reality has to say about it.

Join her “Commentariat,” a thriving community of commentators on her blog at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/.



The Handbook for the Recently Deconverted

The Unequally Yoked Club

Newbie Guide

Pool of Faith

Conservation of worship

Doctrinal Yardstick

Atrocity Apologetics


Cat Photos!


Send in a voice message

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Dave Warnock: Dying Out Loud

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast
Click to play episode on anchor.fm

My guest today is Dave Warnock. Dave was an Evangelical christian for almost 40 years. Many of those years were spent in ministry in one form or another. Dave decoverted around seven years ago. His deconstruction and deconversion cost him close family relationships. But he has found love, affection and support in the non-believing community.

In early 2019 Dave was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is terminal. Rather than be overcome with grief, Dave began to talk honestly about dying as an atheist and living your best moments while you can. This became what is now known as “Dying Out Loud”. Dave is on a “world” podcast tour spreading his message of secular strength and hope even in the face of dire circumstances.


“Dying out loud is really living out loud.”

In regards to the fear of punishment and hell:

“It ain’t real let it go.”
“Its gonna be OK, listener, it is gonna be OK.”

“We don’t remember days we remember moments”
“Life is a collection of moments”
“Wait, goddammit, wait. This is a moment. Don’t miss it.”

“Carpe the fucking diem!”

“I am more interested in the quality of my life than the quantity of my days.”

“The human connection is beautiful to me. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful that is”


Dave on Facebook

Dave’s Patreon:

Dave’s Dying Out Loud at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Clergy Project


Send in a voice message

Support the podcast
Patreon https://www.patreon.com/gracefulatheist
Paypal: paypal.me/gracefulatheist


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Leaning Into My Presuppostions

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Critique of Apologetics, Humanism, Naturalism, Philosophy, Secular Grace

Conversely inspired by presuppositional apologetics and continuing my Watershed Presuppositions series I thought it time to write down what my presuppositions are.

Presuppositions are truths you accept without justification. They are accepted a prori and may or may not have evidence to prove them. They are your starting point and the basis upon which everything you believe in is built.

It is important to note that everyone has presuppositions whether they are aware of them or not. Much of the difficulty in having a dialog with those you disagree with is the unstated incongruous presuppositions that you and your interlocutor hold.

My Presuppositions

Ontological and Epistemological

  • The universe exists and has patterns which are to varying degrees discoverable.
  • Conscious minds are a product of the patterns of the universe.
  • Logic and mathematics abstracted from the discoverable patterns of the universe by conscious minds are sound and reliable.
  • The scientific method which uses logic, mathematics and observation is a reliable method for discovering the patterns of the universe.
  • Truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality.


  • Human beings have value and inalienable rights.
  • Human beings are fallible.
  • Human beings are meaning makers.

These are the truths that I hold axiomatically. Some, even most, can be justified, meaning they have evidence. But, for our purposes here, what are the implications of these statements when held true?

You may find yourself saying, “but I don’t believe one or more of these.” No problem. These are my presuppositions not yours. The reason they are useful is for you to understand how I come to certain conclusions and not others. If you can accept them purely for the sake of argument you can begin to understand my worldview. If you cannot accept them even solely for the sake of argument then we have nothing further to discuss.

The universe exists

This one seems pretty obvious. If it seems as obvious to you as it does to me, you have probably never hung out with philosophers.

The purpose of this axiom is to do away with the interesting yet tiresome arguments of solipsism, that the only thing that can be proven to exist is our consciousness. Do we live in a hologram or a matrix? Are we just brains in a vat? So boldly and arrogantly I assert, the universe exists!

photo of galaxy

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Even more boldly I assert that at least to some extent it has patterns which are discoverable. These patters are observable and ultimately knowable to varying degrees of certainty. The old trite saying, “as surely as the sun will rise in the East and set in the West,” is an example of observing a pattern of the universe and gaining certainty that it is true.

Conscious minds are a product of the patterns of the universe

This one is more of an assertion. Fewer people may agree with me here. But I take this as a given. Consciousness is not made of a mysterious non-natural substance. We may not understand consciousness in its entirety … yet. Therefore,  I assert consciousness is a product of the patterns of the universe we find ourselves conscious in.

This axiom is important to do away with the idea that consciousness is something other than natural. The idea of a soul dies hard.

Logic and mathematics are sound

Again, if you find this one obvious, you have not spent much time with either philosophers or presuppositional apologists.

Logic and mathematics are abstractions from the patterns of the universe by conscious minds. There are a few hidden assertions in here that I will point out.

Logic and mathematics do not exist in the platonic sense. We have discussed dualism in this series before it is a difficult one to escape. What I am saying here is logic and math do not have their own existence they are the product of human intellect based on observed patterns in the universe: abstractions. In philosophic language this is an epistemological claim not an ontological claim.

We as conscious human beings observe the patterns of the universe and we abstract “rules” that describe those patters. If I have two sheep and then I get two more I have four sheep. It does not matter if “sheep” are woolly mammals who chew the cud or blocks, or rocks, or anything. We have abstracted the rule 2 + 2 = 4 by observation and human intellect. From basic arithmetic to number theory we have abstracted rules from these patterns.

person holding a chalk in front of the chalk board

Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

The most important assertion here is that logic and mathematics are sound and reliable. It is a feature of logical and mathematical proofs that each step taken relies on the proofs that came before it. If one of the foundational mathematics axioms were not true the proofs built upon it would not “work” as they do.

Don’t believe this one? Then throw out the magic device in your pocket that gives you access to the near sum total of human knowledge. That device, the network it uses and literally the information itself is all built on logic and mathematics.

Mathematics is the language of the universe.

— Neil Degrasse Tyson

The scientific method is a reliable method to gain knowledge

The scientific method is simply a process by which an idea is tested by gathering evidence. If there is strong evidence more credence is given to the idea, if there is little evidence credence goes down and if there is contradictory evidence the idea may be abandoned altogether.

My assertion here is that this is a reasonable and reliable epistemological method, a way to gain knowledge.

The scientific method leads toward truth in major part by discarding bad ideas. Finding true ideas is hard. Validating that an idea is true is just as hard. But by discarding false ideas the options are narrowed down toward true ones.

Science is self-correcting. If tomorrow credible evidence is discovered contracting any of the deeply held scientific theories credence in that theory would drop. Not only that the discoverer of the contradicting evidence would be lauded.

Science tends to assume naturalistic metaphysics. If that bothers you, then you need to account for science’s unreasonable, wild and fantastic success. The entirety of the modern age depends upon the successes of science from medicine to space exploration to binge watching your favorite TV series on demand.

Truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality

Adding to the common definition of truth as that which conforms to reality and adding a bit of the scientific method. I assert that truth is that which can be tested and verified to conform to reality where reality is the product of the patterns of the universe. We should have more credence in something that has been tested and has evidence than something that has neither.

Evidence, testing and validation are important because these are the only tools to convince the skeptic. Einstein was famously not a fan of quantum theory in the early days. But he was won over by the evidence.

If I make a claim, you can believe me or not. But if I make a claim and tell you how to test for yourself and that test validates my claim it is harder to ignore.

I expect the accusations of scientism, materialism and empiricism. Fine. It is certainly true that there are vast areas where science just doesn’t know. And in fact this is a feature: to humbly acknowledge all that we don’t know.

Focusing on the gaps in knowledge misses the point, keep in mind all that we do know. Evolutionary theory explains the vast complexity of life on planet Earth. Theories within cosmology can model the universe back to fractions of a second after the big bang. Gravity waves just recently verified were predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The baffling quantum field theory explains nature’s behavior at the microscopic level which turns out to be deeply counter intuitive.

Even for those things which we cannot measure directly we use inference. We have inferred dark matter and dark energy. These two account for 96% of the material in the universe and yet we cannot detect them directly.

Human beings have value and inalienable rights

This is the basis of my morality: human beings have value and inalienable rights. I assert it thus, and then try to live out the implications. As sentient beings we recognize each other’s great value in the otherwise empty vastness of the universe we find ourselves in. We are not alone. We have each other.

I am a humanist as I have written before. This simply means that people are more important than ideologies of any kind. We ought to treat each other with Secular Grace.

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I appreciate the need to expand this concept to conscious creatures. This has vast implications on how we treat animals and potential artificial intelligences. However, as recent political history has shown we are not very good at treating each other with respect and valuing each other’s rights. So human beings are my focus.

Human beings are fallible

Just as important as recognizing the value human beings pose we must also acknowledge human fallibility. Although, I reject the concept of sin it would be foolishness not to recognize people can be destructive to themselves and others.

Human beings are neither all good nor all bad. If those terms are too loaded, they are neither completely selfish nor completely altruistic. Our motivations are complex and varied and they very rarely reduce to simple identifiable sources.

We are very good at fooling ourselves. We are susceptible to a vast array of cognitive biases. In fact, much of the process of the scientific method is to avoid human fallibility and our ability to find what we want to be true.

However, just because human beings are fallible or imperfect does not mean we are not of great value. Sentience being an exceedingly rare commodity in the universe we find ourselves in, we need to love each other.

Human beings are meaning makers

We humans are the conscious observers who abstract the patterns of the universe. We experience awe and mystery and give them meaning. We define human morality  I assert there may not be inherent meaning in the universe but we humans make meaning.

We are the universe aware of itself.

— Carl Sagan, Julian Huxley, Neil Degrasse Tyson all have said some variation on this quote.

I tend to agree with Hume that you cannot get an aught from an is. Rather than exhausting ourselves looking for external objective truth, morality and meaning we should take it upon ourselves to work together toward greater understanding of human truth, morality and meaning. Though all human moral systems are incomplete, taken together they point toward respect for human value.

Why I Am Not An Anti-Theist

Atheism, Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion, Humanism, Secular Grace

The original title for this post was “Why I Am Not a New Atheist,” but I found there is so much confusion about that term and what it means that this was more misleading than helpful. I settled on “Why I Am Not An Anti-Theist,” as this gets to the point more directly without the confusion.

No more sacred cows

In fact, I am starting this post defending new atheism. By new atheism, I mean the kind of outspoken atheism represented by the “Four Horsemen”: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. These four have written books which were notable for their unabashed critiques of religion. There are many others who are what I would call professional atheists making a living writing, speaking and podcasting. For their unvarnished candor they have been vilified by the religious and ironically deified by atheists.

The problem is for some time it has been considered impolite to critique religious beliefs. In many Western societies, religious views are considered private and unassailable. The old adage “never bring up politics or religion in polite company,” exists for a reason. People hear critiques about their religious beliefs as attacks against them as a person. Suddenly in the mid 2000s here were atheists who did not keep their irreligious thoughts to themselves. They had the audacity to publicly call out the flaws in religious beliefs and point out their detrimental effect on society. How dare they!

Atheists present a challenge to the faithful. The reason there are so many false stereotypes taught about atheists is that our existence is a threat. The existence of people who have in fact heard the gospel, understood it and still reject it cuts at a core understanding of the world for the believer. This is one of the reasons believers often quote their sacred text to atheists, because they cannot fathom someone could understand it and yet not believe it. It must be a lack of knowledge. “If only they understood the real gospel.

So, the reaction to new atheism was predictable. The apologists came out in droves to disprove their arguments. And by ad hominem attacks assure the faithful these angry apostates could be safely ignored. The term new atheist was originally derogatory (even from other atheists). Even though there is nothing particularly new about doubt, atheism or the critique of religion. What was new was the lack of deference to religion and a certain level of audacity.

Atheists have long been telling us that we can be good without God.
The new atheism says that we can be better without God.
— Victor Stenger

For being outspoken and giving cover for doubters everywhere to come out of the closet these new atheists are to be commended. The sacred cow of religious ideas being beyond reproach is dead.


But (you knew there would be a but), if we are being honest sometimes they can be assholes. Sometimes they can attack the believer and not the belief and engage in their own ad hominem attacks. Sometimes they can come across as … well … religious in their fervor. In fact, these are the most often cited critiques against new atheism. Much ink has been spilt defending new atheists against these critiques and yet the critiques persist because of a kernel of truth in them.

Worse still, is the wave of followers who came after. To be clear, I consider myself one of these. Social media amplifies the most vocal obnoxious and angry voices amongst us. It is very easy to be hostile on social media and some have made a career of this. Negativity gets rewarded with shares, likes and retweets. I have certainly been guilty of this myself.

This is what I would term anti-theism, which implies an active attempt to convince believers to abandon their faith. There is a tendency on social media for anti-theism to come to prominence which can start to look like trollling the trolls. It can start to look like an anti-evangelism.

Who is trolling whom?

Let me be very clear, as the position I am trying to convey is nuanced. I whole heartedly believe in secularism. Secularism protects the freedom of religion and freedom from religion. I also believe that religion has had many detrimental effects on society particularly when it gains political power. Religion should rightly be criticized.

However, believers themselves do not deserve our scorn. Most believers were born into it. It takes a tremendous amount of self reflection and honesty to overturn ones deeply held beliefs. If you feel like taking on the professional apologists, go for it. But leave the believers who have not asked for a fight alone.

If the goal is a more secular society

Are there times when believers troll atheists? Of course. I am not suggesting we not defend ourselves. I am arguing that ridiculing believers and calling them stupid is not the most effective way of convincing them.

Even when we use very cool rational logic and reason the backfire effect can stop the believer from hearing the evidence. Let me give you an example. I read Sam Harris’ The End of Faith in 2007 years before my deconversion. My motivated reasoning at the time went something like this:

He sounds angry.
Atheists must all be angry.
But I have peace.

It wasn’t until years later, I read Greta Christina’s blog about why atheists have a right to be angry, and realized I agreed with most of what she was saying. I just happened to be open to rational argument at the time.

If you add to the backfire effect, defensiveness from being insulted, the task for the believer to overcome their indoctrination is insurmountable. If we atheists, either out of exasperation or contempt, come across as mocking we are defeating our own purposes.

I am acutely aware that anti-theist arguments would not have worked on me when I was a believer. I am even more acutely aware that my many family members who are still believers would not respond to this style of argumentation. It takes investment in time, patience and, in all likelihood, the relationship, to provide a safe and comfortable space for the believers in our lives to express their doubts.

Why I Am Not an Asshole

Do I really need to expound on this? People deserve respect regardless of their beliefs. People are more important than belief or non-belief.


If you really want to change the world and change peoples’ minds, love people.  I think I heard that from somewhere.

This post is a part of the series Communities of Unbelief. I’ll be writing more about communities of unbelief, some I choose not to be a member of, some I identify with and others I have yet to explore.

Why I Am Not a Liberal Christian

Communities of Unbelief, Deconversion

I have a confession. I am still a fundamentalist.

I am still a fundamentalist on one issue: the resurrection. The resurrection was my last tenuous grasp on faith. I guarded it against attack as if it were … well, a pearl of great price.

I had long since let go of a literal interpretation of the bible. Genesis? Obviously allegorical. Most of the old testament? Historically unlikely at best. The gospels I thought might contain some of Jesus’ teaching and therefore had value. But Mathew’s description of the events during and after the crucifixion, the dead walking the streets? Nope, no zombies for me.

But somehow, I held on to the resurrection. If nothing else were true, but this one thing it would all be worth it.

You know what would be good evidence for god’s existence?

I took a fundamentalist, literal, take the guy at his word interpretation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:15-19:

16 So if the dead won’t be raised to life, Christ wasn’t raised to life. 17 Unless Christ was raised to life, your faith is useless, and you are still living in your sins. 18 And those people who died after putting their faith in him are completely lost. 19 If our hope in Christ is good only for this life, we are worse off than anyone else.

I am still a fundamentalist about Paul’s statement. If there is one thing that must be true about Christianity for any of it to be true it is the resurrection as succinctly stated by Paul. If that is not literally true, then the whole of Christianity is not only untrue but a waste of time. Not my opinion, it is Paul’s.

But now I have succumbed to the crushing lack of evidence for the resurrection. I can no longer believe that it occurred. The very moment when I realized that I no longer believed in the resurrection I knew my faith in god was over. There was no going back.

Why I am not a liberal Christian

Here is the thing, there a lots of people who reject fundamentalism and its literal interpretation of the bible but keep some form of faith. The trappings of faith: tradition, ceremony, community and spirituality are useful and meaningful for these people. I just happen to not be one of those people.

Over the years leading up to my deconversion I flirted with various forms of liberal Christianity. I read Sojourners. My politics aligned well and I believed the gospel needed to be a practical love on the streets. I read Rob Bell and Donald Miller. I bandied about the term “emergent church” unironically. I read Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. Was I a mystic? Once in a great while I would visit a church with more of an ecumenical bent and less of an evangelical one. But I never found these things satisfying. There was no power in them. There was no Truth with a capital T.

So when my moment of realization came, I no longer believed the resurrection happened, I knew I was an atheist. There was very little equivocation. It never occurred to me to become a liberal theologian and carry on with the trappings of faith. I walked away clean. Well, that is not entirely true, my family members are all still believers so I am sometimes the atheist in church but that is not by choice and may be the topic of a different post.

These days the new hotness is called deconstruction. That is breaking the connection between fundamentalism and faith, letting go of dogma but crucially keeping some parts of faith. But heavily implied  is that reconstruction follows the deconstruction process. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

A very famous example of this is Science Mike, Mike McHargue, who in his book Finding God in the Waves, talks about having faith, losing it and getting it back. Specifically, he comes to understand “God” as the forces of nature that created the universe. Here are his 10 Axioms About Faith.

I am not here to take pot shots at McHargue, I actually have a lot of respect for Mike, but his example is illustrative. I am here to say:

I don’t get it

In the days after my deconversion I was saying to myself, “why bother with a liberal theology?” To be clear I do not believe any gods exist in any way, but for the sake of argument:

  • If god is just the ground of being, should that be worshiped?
  • If god is just the deist clock maker, should that be loved?
  • If god is just the personification of human love and kindness, how is that useful?
  • If god is just the natural forces personified why is “God” necessary when nature is enough on its own?
  • If we all get to define god in our own image (and that is really the story of all of human history), then what benefit is that to humanity?

In short, if god is just these things, then god is not necessary. God is not necessary for meaning, goodness, love, joy, compassion, awe or mystery. We derive these things from each other and the cosmos.

From humanity and nature comes all of the things we hold most dear

So to me, hanging on to a more liberal interpretation of god is not only not necessary it is a detriment. For me, like Paul, it is pitiable. More than just god it is religion that is the baggage. Religion necessarily entails archaic morality, dogmatism and a destructive dualism. Those who are deconstructing I know have a sincere desire to redeem their traditions. I believe it is holding them back. They are unnecessarily starting in the hole. I believe we must let go of the past to move forward.

I recently re-read famously liberal theologian turned atheist, Bart Erhman’s Why Even Bother Being A Liberal Christian. He expresses both the reason it is difficult to let go and ultimately that it is necessary:

Yes, I could have left. But this is the key point: if I left I would have to go SOMEWHERE ELSE. And that somewhere else, in my view, was no better than the place I was leaving. You can’t go from something to nothing. You go from one thing to another thing. And why do that? Only because you can no longer stay where you are.
And so it made better sense to me to try to reinterpret the tradition I was standing within than to adopt an entirely new tradition. That’s why I never was (very) tempted to become Jewish. And not at all tempted to become Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu, or anything else.
But why be *anything*? The reality is that deciding to become *nothing* doesn’t work. We are all something or other. Someone may think that she or he is bold and brazen and a real pioneer to become an atheist. Really? That is bold, brazen, and pioneering??? As if no one else has done that? As if being an atheist doesn’t involve assumptions about the world, beliefs about where we came from, ideas about what it means to lead a good and fulfilling life? Really?

Until I could not do so any more. I eventually had to stop because the very basis of the entire tradition – the existence of a loving God – itself came under threat for me.

When Bart talks about having no where else to go, I get it. As I have mentioned in my discussion of Secular Grace, we in the communities of unbelief have a long way to go to catch up to the kind of community religion facilitates. “You can’t go from something to nothing.” But eventually, Bart felt compelled to let go.

I had a conversation on Facebook , where the question was asked if the term “liberal Christian” was confusing. To which I responded, “yes!” To me it is confusing to continue to use the term “god” when that has ceased to have objective meaning. Even for those naturalists who are liberal Christians they must deal with the implied supernaturalism.

There is more that needs to be removed from Christianity than needs to be retained. If one takes on the task that Thomas Jefferson took, to remove the supernatural parts of the bible, one is left with a very skinny book. If one removes the archaic morality, one is left with a leaflet that basically says: Be good to each other.

You can be good without god

Let go of that which is holding you back.

This post is a part of the series Communities of Unbelief. I’ll be writing more about communities of unbelief, some I choose not to be a member of, some I identify with and others I have yet to explore.