For Apologetics, You Aren’t the Target Market

Blog Posts, Critique of Apologetics

Like David, I’m not a huge fan of apologetics. I’m also not a huge fan of counter-apologetics. I’m OK that they exist; I just don’t want to participate. It feels like that quip about wrestling a pig, “Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.”

However, like last week’s post about having an answer, I can’t help myself. In my defense, my main goal is to encourage those of us who are still dealing with remnants of the faith we grew up with.

When dealing with apologetics, one thing to keep in mind is this: You are not the target market. Apologetics is not for unbelievers. Apologetics is for believers. David calls this dynamic The Bubble.

The bubble is a way of expressing the self reinforcing nature of faith. Everything points towards the center: god. Most of the people a believer comes into contact with are believers. Most of the content believers choose to consume is from other believers. Everything the believer experiences is interpreted in light of the bubble of faith. All of the experiences, people and content that do not reinforce the bubble are cast as sinful, outsiders and “worldly.”

Apologetics isn’t about convincing people on the outside that Christianity is true.

Last year, I had lunch with a former pastor. My honest-to-goodness goal was to try to keep bridging gaps—to rehumanize atheists in the eyes of the Christian and to rehumanize the Christian in my own eyes.

My fantasy: I would listen to understand. I would try to honestly portray what I believed. I would gently push back when appropriate. I would be a Graceful Atheist, by gum!


What actually happened was what felt like a caricature of a conversation between an Atheist and a Christian. The kind of conversation the Christian goes back to their Sunday School and says, casually, “Yeah, when I was having lunch with My Atheist Friend…Oh, did I not mention I have an Atheist Friend? So, about My Atheist Friend…”

Past Jimmy wrote: “A bit tropey…didn’t feel like a real conversation. How to get to something that really matters in a situation like this?” I talked to people afterward, and the consensus was: These conversations aren’t worth it. If it starts taking turn toward apologetics, change the direction.

In the end, Apologetics is about protecting an identity, and protecting an identity is something people will do with great violence. And the further away you can keep the conversation from the vulnerable core, the better. It’s not the path of self-honesty, or grace.


PS – Counter-apologetics often suffers from the same problems as apologetics. You’re defending something rather than attempting to honestly find out what’s real. (See “Soldier Mindset” in Scout Mindset)

Having An Explanation Doesn’t Make You Right

Blog Posts, Critique of Apologetics

When Christians say, “You have a God-shaped hole in your heart,” that can be interpreted as, “You know that uncomfortable feeling you sometimes get when you wonder, what’s the point of it all? We have an answer: You need God.”

We humans are meaning-makers. “Significance Junkies,” in the words of Carl Sagan. We find meaning where there isn’t any, and are dissatisfied until we have answers. “We need to get to the bottom of this.” “Heads must roll.” “They must have forgotten their lucky socks.”

As Captain Obvious would say, life is hard. Making sense of things makes things a bit more tolerable. It can blunt the force of an often overwhelming number of details.

Given that, what’s more satisfying: someone who says, “Yessir, I’ve got your answer right here, ” or someone who says, “Gosh, I’m not sure we know enough to answer the question”? We’re pitting simple, powerful confidence against wishy-washy, weak-kneed evasiveness.

We itch when we don’t have an explanation. We have to know why. It may feel like we are wired this way, but it can land us in very comfortable but very wrong places.

Here’s the thing, just because you have an answer for something doesn’t mean it’s a true answer. Just because you have an explanation doesn’t make you right.

When Christians tell you they know…

Where matter came from. God did it.

Why the universe exists. God did it.

Why children die of cancer. The Fall did it. God’s mysterious, unknowable, but wise sovereign plan did it. Our need for free will did it.

Why you deconverted. Your desire to sin did it. You never being a true Christian did it.

It does NOT mean they’re right.

When you don’t have an answer to those questions, it doesn’t mean their answers are right.

Sometimes we need to sit with the uncertainty. Recognizing we don’t know something–and sometimes we can’t know something–is radically more self-honest than pretending that we do.

– Jimmy


Daniel: Office of the Skeptic

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Grace, skepticism
Click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Daniel. Daniel is a social scientist with a master’s degree in psychology. He grew up in the United Church of Canada, but church wasn’t a huge part of his life until high school. He then went to bible college and worked in ministry. He tried to experience God like others were, but it just wouldn’t happen.

He took on the “Office of Skeptic,” for himself. He hoped it would help both his faith and the church. He could articulate questions and doubts that others couldn’t. Were these miraculous stories true? Was God really even there? If so, what the hell was he doing?

Unfortunately, this only kept him in the church longer than he needed. By 2020, he’d been an agnostic theist for years and was finally seeing the harm done in North America by White Christianity.

Now Daniel writes and speaks, sharing his knowledge with those struggling with addictions and other mental health needs. He no longer looks to the supernatural for miracles but knows how much human connection is the true healer.


Study: Religious Identity and Morality: Evidence for Religious Residue and Decay in Moral Foundations


“I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God—like spiritual experiences during worship services—was very common, and I could never manage to actually feel those things.”

“[I had a]…brief but memorable career as a Christian Ghostbuster…”

“He took me under his wing and informed me that why I couldn’t feel God’s presence was because it was all blocked by demons. Obviously.”

“Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by more mundane means or is the spiritual explanation the best or only explanation?”

“To have someone convince [another person that they don’t need their] anti-psychotics because of [their] faith is something that hadn’t even occurred to me before…it was deeply alarming and stuck with me for years afterward.”

‘[In seminary,] many professors would make logically sound arguments but they’d be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded…”

“For many of the Christian intellectuals I was trying to learn from…critical thinking was a valued skillset up to a point. When we approach the underlying tenants of the faith, we’re suppose to stop…they’re simply too sacred to be questioned.”

“I was trying to find a reason to stay.”

“It’s the human connection that we make between us that’s really changing our lives.”

“I was encouraged by my new [secular] professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge, truth and understanding.”

“Me staying in this religion…despite the fact that I was basically agnostic. It’s lending validation to all those Christians who are actively working to make the world a worse place…”

“If we don’t have practices in place—like scientific thinking, like the scientific method…we’re always going to be taken in by things that we’d rather believe or that are easier to believe.” 

“Apologetics: Philosophy, but done badly.”

“I don’t shy away from uncomfortable questions or even more uncomfortable answers. That has been such a valuable change in my life and has led me to some incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships…even some from bible college.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the best are going to be ahead.”




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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest reviewer on the Apple podcast store Manu Andrew, thank you so much for the kind words, you can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store, you can rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. The deconversion anonymous Facebook group continues to thrive and many of its members have been guests including this week's guest, please consider joining the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Daniel. Daniel has a master's in psychology. He focuses on addiction psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology enjoys the process of reading and interpreting research. And that's actually why he's here. Community member in had posted an article entitled here's how religion imprints us even when we walk away the article and ultimately the study underneath it were funded by the Templeton Foundation, which very much has a theistic bias, but it was still very interesting and prompted this conversation. Daniel has a fascinating personal story being bright and inquisitive. He stayed in the church for longer than he would have by taking on the concept of the Office of the skeptic within the church until he found he could no longer believe. Daniel also discovered that he has the attention deficit side of ADHD. And that plays a fascinating part of his story of deconstruction and deconversion as well. Here is Daniel to tell his story.

Daniel, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Daniel  2:20  
Thanks for having me. Daniel, we

David Ames  2:22  
had an interaction with each other in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, we were discussing a Templeton article about people who D convert, and I just thought your responses were incredibly cogent. And it turns out that you have some expertise. So you had real input here. And so I'm really excited to have you on, I'd like you to just introduce yourself really quick and maybe talk about what that expertise is.

Daniel  2:50  
Certainly, my name is Daniel. I'm Canadian. And I've also worked in mental health and addictions for just about a decade and a half. And my educational background, which made me most interested in commenting on that article we were mentioning, is that I have a Master's of Science in Psychology. And so throughout that process, I focused a lot on reading and assessing and interpreting research from very various perspectives in psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology and learning how to recognize what's good research, what's bad research, and really been a big part of my life since then.

David Ames  3:33  
Excellent. In the second half of the show, we're going to discuss the article that we just reference as well as just your experience in the field. But I want to hear your personal story first. So like we always do, what was your religious tradition growing up?

Daniel  3:48  
So I grew up in a Presbyterian home, attending the United Church of Canada, which is an amalgamation of several denominations, including Presbyterian and Episcopalian, it's exclusive to Canada. My family was not especially conservative, nor were they especially liberal. And well, he would have said that we were Christians. Growing up, it wasn't something that was discussed very frequently. I do remember having conversations about it. You know, when our family dog died, I asked him, you know, what happened to him? And can we go visit him and those kinds of things, and that that gave me I think, like a lot of people when your family pet dies, you get a bit of that first touch of the fear of death, which is probably a depressingly common story. What one of the things that's important in contextualizing my growing up and my identity formation is the fact that I had undiagnosed ADHD. Now ADHD comes in a few different varieties and most people are most familiar with the hyperactive subtype because that's the most outwardly visible. I flew under the radar because I had primarily inattentive type, which was less recognized in the 80s and 90s. Mostly just meant that people viewed me as a bit of a space cadet. I was insatiably curious but unfocused, I was frequently accused by my teachers of being lazy. It also able to work in bursts and for lengths of time and accomplish things soon as incredibly quickly. So I was identified as gifted, but unmotivated. Yeah, something I'm sure. Yeah, exactly. Now, a lot of neurodivergent children, including people with primarily inattentive, ADHD, struggle with relationships, and understanding how to act around other people in ways that are considered normal. So like a lot of people who grew up with similar experiences, I would often mimic the people around me or attach myself to stronger personalities and groups, and take on their opinions in order to fit in and to feel safe and accepted. This, I would go undiagnosed until I was about 27. When I was a teenager, I was invited to an evangelical youth group, and that little voice of curiosity inside of me had this whole new world to explore. I identified more and more strongly with this new group, though, I also learned a lot of new things like the evangelical concept of salvation and hell, which really amplified that fear of death that I'd had growing up. After a year in that group, I prayed the center's prayer and was baptized again, even though I'd already been baptized as an adult. I guess I needed a second coat. Yeah. And then my life really revolved around church, I attended youth group a couple times a week, as well as church on Sundays, I gained a valuable group of friends, couple of whom still talk to me today. But despite the fact that I had a new group to identify with, I was still struggling in a lot of areas. One was identity and identity formation, I still difficulty forming opinions of my own, I'd gravitate towards the strongest pains in the group without really putting a lot of time and effort into thinking about them. The other issue is that I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God and having spiritual experiences during worship services, and so on, was very common. And I could never manage to actually feel those things. I think partly because, while I was very curious, I also I didn't, I didn't lie to myself very easily, I, people would say, I'd really felt the presence of God during that song, I would go, I don't know what that means, like, Tell me about it, and how do I get there too, so they would often talk about experiencing the presence of God or feeling God's love or affection. And those weren't feelings I could just manufacture. So this led to years of rededicating my life to Christ and doing altar calls and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and eventually going to Bible college, which gives me a big wake up call. This period of time is one that i semi affectionately refer to as my brief but memorable career as a Christian ghostbuster. Okay.

So, early into my first year of college, I, we were all supposed to find Christian ministries to, to volunteer with. And so in the first few weeks, I started to volunteer for a local Christian drop and Center. This center was run by a man that I can only describe now, with the benefit of hindsight as a, as a spiritually abusive megalomaniac. He ran out of this drop in center, in addition to, you know, play foosball and stuff with kids. He ran a deliverance ministry, which, for those of your listeners who don't know what that is, it's a ministry that revolves around casting out demons from people who don't know they have demons in them. Yeah, these demons could be demons of lust, demons of depression, demons of anxiety, all sorts of things you would normally find in Frank Peretti novels. If you ever read those?

David Ames  9:16  
Absolutely, yeah. I distinctly recall the Christians around me in the late 80s, you know, being really influenced by Frank Peretti. And, and I was when I was thinking, this cannot be like, even as a as a believer, I thought, you know, this is this takes this too far, somehow.

Daniel  9:34  
Well, I was the I was immersed in those books. I the church pastor gave them to me and said, like, this is really going to, you know, if you like Lord of the Rings, this is going to be great for you. And so I was very intrigued by this deliverance ministry, and the man took me under his wing and informed me that the reason why I couldn't feel God's presence is because it was all blocked by demons, obviously. And he also said that he wanted me to come in and work with him in his defense ministry because he had determined that I had the gift of discernment. So I could, according to him, I could feel when demons were nearby and I could tell what they were doing. And that was for an impressionable kid, especially one like myself, who was gravitating towards the strongest ideas in the room, and grew up reading sci fi and fantasy. This was, this was everything I'd hoped to hear. This was my Jedi moment. Gandalf had just sent me off. You know, Hagrid just told me I was wizard like, This is it? This is what I was waiting for. Yeah. So for a couple of months. That was, that was life, and I was becoming more invested in it. But there was one night where after the drop in, center had closed down, and we were doing the deliverance ministry stuff, one of the volunteers, were going to do something that was referred to as manifesting where it they appeared to be possessed by a demon, they spoken a strange voice, their behavior was very strange, very bizarre. And the deliverance ministry leader tried to have a showdown and exercise them which didn't do anything. And so four hours of this into the wee hours of the morning occurred. And after about four hours, the volunteers spouse, volunteer who was manifesting, their spouse showed up with a bottle of antipsychotics that the deliverance ministry leader had convinced him to stop taking, oh, wow, yeah, they took their antipsychotics and then they calmed down, and they went home. Okay. And I identified this retrospectively as a massive wake up call for myself, not only because I got exposed to a genuine, you know, mental health condition, that was misidentified as something spiritual, but because it made me realize, I was not thinking for myself, I was not thinking critically about what I was being told or what I believed. And if I wasn't careful, I was gonna get taken in by all kinds of foolish beliefs that would be harmful for myself and for others. That was the moment when I think the switch got flipped inside me when that voice of curiosity became the voice of skepticism. From that moment on, when people start telling me things about their experiences with God, about hearing the voice of Spirit with, you know, my my new reactions, they have to gravitate towards them and say, Oh, wow, like, Tell me more, I believe you. It was to put the brakes on the Start asking questions. Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by a more mundane means? Or is the spiritual explanation the best or only likely explanation? That also, this whole experience also really cemented my interest in psychology, and gave me an incredible amount of sympathy for people who were struggling with mental illnesses in the context of the church. To have someone convince you that you didn't need your anti psychotics, because of your faith was something that hadn't even occurred to me before that night, and immediately became deeply alarming. And something that stuck with me for years afterwards. So I stayed in Bible college and for the last half of Bible college, I connected with a few professors who were strong advocates of critical thinking, who helped me to grow those skills. I also benefited from being my wife, who had an incredibly strong bullshit detector. that to this day, is still much better than mine. So I left Bible college still a Christian, but a much more cautious person. And it will be a long journey for that newly planted skepticism to grow into agnosticism.

After college, I started working for Youth for Christ, ironically, also running a drop in center, but in a different community than the one I volunteered for I spent almost seven years there. I genuinely tried to do my best to improve people's lives. But my new skeptical outlook on life really made me question a lot of what we were trying to teach youth. And while I made a lot of friends with others in the ministry field, I often found rifts appearing between myself and those friends, I would question the things they were taking for granted, and things that they didn't want to be questioned. Throughout this whole time, my ongoing lack of any spiritual experience or feeling the presence of God, and all that still weighed on me, and I, it made me question if God was really there, which then brought up those fears of hell and fears of dying. But I'd read at some point during this period, I read CS Lewis is cosmic trilogy, which I'm not sure if you've read or not. I've read it. I've actually read it. Yeah. Which I actually really loved. It was a great series, and there's a character In the the final book, that hideous strength, named McPhee, and he's the only non believer in this group of people who are trying to save the world. And he's kind of presented as a as a bit of a dick. Like he's always questioning people. And he's always saying like, well, but are you sure? And no, could this not just be something in the weather or whatever? And, and he's, the other characters are obviously kind of irritated with him. But the leader of their group says, oh, no, he's our skeptic. And that's a very important office, you know, it's an office in the church, just like the office of priest, the Office of confessor, the Office of evangelist. And I identified with that so strongly, I thought, well, this is why I can't feel God is so that I can, I can hold this office and the church, the Office of the skeptic, that's my job. And that belief, I think, me in the church a lot longer than I might have otherwise.

David Ames  16:00  
I relate to so much of this, Daniel, just so you know. I mean, that, you know, being marked out as, like having discernment. And, you know, I think bright analytical people within the church, get that tag and find it difficult to really get into the emotional experience that the people around them are having. And yet, you know, you're wanting to be a part of it so badly that you know, you're still continuing on, even though there's part of the kind of the back of your mind saying, is this quite right, it seems there's something maybe off,

Daniel  16:33  
I can remember somebody reading somewhere, somebody had written about a similar experience, how much longer must I put up with such unbearable silence from the throne of heaven? I remember feeling that so deeply, like, yeah, like what, like, what the hell God, and this idea that, hey, you are fulfilling a special place in the church, you're, you're here to be the skeptic. The Catholic church even has somebody employed to go out and check on If miracles are legitimate or not at the office is referred to as the devil's advocate. And I sort of identified with that. And while I was in ministry, I actually went to seminary and threw myself into Bible classes, theology classes, philosophy classes, but also classes in counseling psychology, because that's what I was most interested in. That was the degree I was going for. A lot of the biblical theological philosophy courses were taught by professors who spoke very highly of critical thinking and the importance of a rational face. But more and more, I was convinced there were limitations on how they were applying their critical thinking. Many people, many professors would create logically sound arguments, but they'll be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded or unsupportable, or non falsifiable. And I began to learn that for many of the Christian intellectuals, I was trying to learn from and trying to grow from critical thinking was a valued skill set to a point. When we approach these underlying tenets of the faith, we're supposed to stop and give those things some space, some things are just too sacred to be questioned, or too sacred to be skeptical about. You had a previous guest named Matthew, who said that he, he had to believe that somewhere somebody knew those answers, that would be sufficient. And you said to trust that guy knew what he was doing. He knows what he's doing. I'm okay. And I really related to that. I saw I looked for that person. I read Alister McGrath, Terry Eagleton, like tons of theologians and Christian philosophers, David Bentley, Hart, just trying to find that person. Yeah, I also read Christians who weren't philosophers, but who were scientists, Francis Collins, for instance, Human Genome Project, I sought for those strong rational arguments for God's existence that would help me satisfy that skeptical nature I had I kept finding that theological and historical arguments would either be flawed or erroneous or would run out long before my questions would. Even though I was actually seeking for that evidence. I think a lot of people think that when you when you leave the faith, it's because you were trying to find an excuse to I was trying to find a reason to stay. And outside of even the insulated North American Evangelical tradition, I found great Christian thinkers whose arguments also fell short and when their arguments ran out their reasons for believing boil down to personal experience. Yes, shutting have.

David Ames  19:38  
Yeah, right. Okay.

Daniel  19:41  
Yeah. So I kept asking, like, is this really all you guys have? Am I supposed to rely on your personal experience as a reason for my faith? And I was I was always disappointed.

So about 12 years ago, I left both ministry and seminary, and I transitioned to secular Employment First as a counselor working with adolescents. And then as a public health educator in the area of mental health addictions. If someone had asked me when I left ministry, at the time, it would have said that I was an agnostic theist. I was trying to believe, despite my doubts, and despite the lack of personal experience, yeah, I was disillusioned, but I was determined to keep on trying, still hoping I would find arguments for the existence of God, they were actually convincing. Like another one of your guests, Lars said, I was just I was holding on to hope that was all I had left was the hope. My faith for the next 10 years was almost completely intellectual. And more than ever, I told myself that this is because I was in the office of the skeptic. And I was just doing my best. I do want to stress though, and this is important to me, too, that there were many Christian thinkers, educators I encountered, who were very good for my growth and development. One man in particular, became my mentor in the counseling program. He had a strong scientific mindset, before he became a counselor and got his doctorate in that he had been a pharmacist. And one of the things he did outside of the seminary was give talks to churches and Christian groups about how it was okay for Christians to take antidepressants. He gave talks on the history of anti psychotics, and I went with him to some of those talks, and saw him change so many lives, and how I saw him open up churches to the possibility that we could actually feel better without having to feel guilty at the same time. And as he got older and, and moved away, he gave me his blessing to, to continue some of those talks. And I started giving those talks and similar talks on faith and mental illness, at churches, at Christian conferences, not only locally, but then actually across the country. And I was so gratified that he opened up that possibility for me, because I did hear from a lot of people who wound up deciding to get help, because of some of those talks. That mentor, stated, dear friend, and we stayed in touch for many years. And earlier this year, he he passed away due to cancer. Yeah, it was, it's a, it's, I count one of the greatest gifts I've received in my life, that I was able to speak to him the day before he died and tell him how much he meant to me, and how he changed the direction of my life. We didn't talk about faith or God, I just told them how much I loved him and loved what he did for me and the path he set me on. And the fact that he was still cognizant of our conversation and is able to respond and express his emotions for me as well. It's something that I really, I really valued. And I I'm still I still have very fond memories of that work that we did. Within the church.

David Ames  23:21  
You know, again, just a lot of parallels my Bible college experience, I had a number of professors that were very focused on critical thinking, I had a mentor, theology professor who, you know, I refer to occasionally on the podcast, and I can see all the positive elements of that relationship and what I learned from those people, even though I'm no longer a believer, and I think you said the most important thing there that it was the, you know, the impact on your life from one human being to another wasn't about spirituality, it was about someone caring for you, guiding you and giving you mentorship

Daniel  23:59  
and, and teaching me the value of being a good and empathic communicator. Watching him do public speaking, really lit the bug in it for me and I? I spent hundreds of hours over the last decade doing public speaking both through my work and outside of it. And, and every time I do, I can't I can't ever do it without thinking of him in some way. And like you said, it's that human connection that we we make between us that is really what's changing our lives and something I've just never regretted as the work that he and I did, even though I've, I've had cause to regret some of the things I did and said was in ministry should never, never has it been the work that he and I did.

David Ames  24:58  
There's a number of direction means, I want to take, I want to wrap up just one element of what you talked about that I think is really important. And that is, in all of the skepticism and the doubt you were looking for a reason to believe you were looking for evidence to believe the fact that you were unable to find that evidence is not your fault in any way. And I think because sometimes the apologists approach is to blame. The doubter, like it's the doubters fault that they won't accept the argument. But as you pointed out, you begin to recognize the unfalsifiable falsifiability have a premise or it like you say, it can be a sound argument, but it's based on premises that don't have any founding.

Daniel  25:46  
Exactly. And that all came even more clear to me when I left ministry and started continuing education. We did, we did join a new church, around the time I left ministry, it seemed to be a bit more progressive. And that was kind of fitting with the more liberal direction that I was leaning in. And I started going to a secular university, taking my master's in psychology and the degree because the science degree it focused heavily on social science, research methods, data interpretation, quantitative analysis. And this work only built on that skeptical, critical thinking foundation I've been building and been strengthening since I was encouraged by my new professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge and truth and understanding, especially when it came to things that I wanted to be true. So then I started saying things to myself like, well, you know, even if there's no God belonging to a church is good for community, and the church has a lot of good in the world. So I'm just going to, you know, I became even more agnostic, and then the pandemic hit. And that progressive church we belong to, just took a drastic turn, the pastor that I'd gotten to know and would have considered a friend and had over for beers. He believed COVID was a conspiracy, that there's something satanic going on. He was increasingly going into conspiracy theories from the pulpit, or from the Zoom call. And, and then also encouraging people to break restrictions. And many people in the church started doing that, at a time when, when not only was the pandemic really kicking off, and we were quite uncertain about what the the timeline was going to be like, there were other social issues coming up with the murder of George Floyd. And the pastor and the church really swung in a kind of awful direction on that, too. We tried having some talks in our church as a community about, hey, like, we should talk about systemic racism as a as a church. And the pastor had strong opinions that rationality and human compassion couldn't change. And because he was unwilling to budge church leadership, decided to say, well, you know, we're gonna follow our pastor and align themselves more closely with him, and a lot of people left the church. And it was around that time, I realized, you know, based on a few comments I'd received that, me staying in this religion, we identify myself as a Christian, despite the fact that I was basically agnostic, it's lending validation to, to all those Christians who are actively working towards making the world a worse place, or to oppress or to abuse others. And we often talk a lot, especially in the addictions field about validation how it's why people often will seek to use substances together, not just because it's more fun, but because it lends validation when you're, you know, when you're doing something that you think might not be the best for you. And again, this isn't to cast judgment on any amount of substance use more just to talk about the the psychological work we do to reassure ourselves that we're doing something that maybe not that might not be the best for us, it can be as simple as smoking cigarettes. Validation is also the feeling we seek when we're young and stupid and doing things with our friends that when people ask you, well, why did you do that? Once seemed like a good idea at the time, my friends. And I started realizing that I was I was an academic and social scientist and I was in the church. And there are people who were in the church were looking at me and saying, Well, he's still a belonging. So clearly, what we're doing must be okay. And that that really made me conclude that if I stayed I stayed identifying as a Christian. And I was probably doing more harm than good. And that was a decision I made for me. I don't think that that decision would be right for everybody. I think there's a lot of agnostic theist who choose to remain in the church and who do a lot of good in it. For me, I couldn't anymore. And so in the fall of 2020, I began to outwardly acknowledge the inner experience I've known for some time, right, that I was no longer a Christian, and I was an agnostic. And that was that. And that really kicked off an unfortunate period of time where I was very angry. At the church, I wouldn't say I was angry at God, because all of my angst about God really vanished when I realized I didn't think he existed. At least not in, not in the religious kind of sky god format like, is there? Is there an unmoved first mover? Is there something out there, like think when your previous guests, Doug mentioned, like cosmic brain, and we're all just cells in it? Like, I've got no idea? Yeah, but from a religious perspective, I just couldn't do it anymore. And so I wasn't angry at God. But I was angry at the church at specific Christians, groups that were doing COVID denial or secret mass church services, which we had a lot of those in our area, especially as I worked in health care, doing mental health addictions work, much of which actually revolved around supporting staff in the health care system. And so I was actually involved in several projects, helping to support staff who were overwhelmed by the results of the pandemic. I, you know, I throughout that process, I talked to and interviewed and worked with countless nurses and frontline staff, and frequently they break down in tears during our meetings, just that the death and the, the destruction they were experiencing in the system. And so to go from that, to see people I called friends, you know, sneaking out to do church, or buying fake masks on the internet, or spreading lies about vaccines, it was just an abhorrent to Me and I became very resentful and angry. And I'm sure like a lot of Yeah, like a lot of your listeners, I'm sure, just getting very stuck in that place. And unlike a lot of people with ADHD, when you get stuck in an emotional state, it can be even harder to get yourself out of it. Because your mind is, is racing and going over that rumination of your, of your grief and your anger and your frustration. And I was stuck there way longer than I should have been. And it was, it was some really hard realizations for myself and some conversations with my wife whose bullshit detector is still strong and was blaring when I was in the room to point out, Hey, you're not doing okay, you got to, you got to, you got to stop this. And I realized I was turning into one of those just ain't, you know, angry ex Christians. And that isn't what I want to be. And so I decided that I wanted to take a more gracious and graceful approach to life, I'd been putting the work in over the the latter half of the pandemic to really make some changes and try not to be such a jerk all the time.

David Ames  33:38  
Well, I mean, you just stated the premise of the podcast, right? It's like, we want to first acknowledge that to be angry is good, right? There are times when you need that anger to push you out of the comfort zone, and you need to make that change. But that one doesn't want to remain within that anger for so long that it starts to hurt you because it's not really affecting the questions.

Daniel  34:00  
Exactly. And what we often say in my field is that anger is a secondary emotion. Okay, you know, it happens because of something else. Anger comes from hurt, anger comes from grief, anger comes from fear. And so I had to kind of get to the roots of my anger, which which was grief. And then and since then, even though I do say, you know, agnosticism describes me perfectly. I identify as a humanist because humanist is a positive term talks about what you're working towards, not what you're working against.

David Ames  34:34  
Absolutely. And for sure, when I'm talking to people that I don't know, I'll say I'm a humanist, rather than say I'm an atheist because I want to talk about what I do believe in people. Yeah. As opposed to what I don't believe in right

so a couple of things here. I want to dig into I wasn't in dissipating. But as we're talking, I want to dig into just a bit more, I want to talk about grief. And I want to talk about addiction as it applies to religion as well. But so much of the deconstruction deconversion process is grief, we are losing what can feel like for some people, their best friend, someone who knows them, who loves them. So it feels like loss of a very deep meaningful relationship, we potentially are losing friendships with family or friends, and then ultimately, we're leaving, we're probably losing community as well, for some of the reasons that you might remain for a long time. Because you you need that community and so grieving the loss of all of those things, is quite a lot to have happen all at one time.

Daniel  35:48  
Yeah, exactly. And the the, the emotions will kind of compound on each other with interest. And, and especially if you are in communities where apostasy is is taken very seriously and responded to very punitively, then you're, you're going to be experiencing all the same feelings that somebody who's being attacked by anything, you know, attacked by a wild animal, you're going to your experience, your your fight or flight response, right, your your sympathetic nervous system is going to activate and you're going to live in a space where you've got all kinds of stress hormones, and such going through your system and your heart rate is going to be up all the time. And it's it's, it's exhausting. And it's, it's damaging to our, to our systems into our brains, living in a state is not sustainable.

David Ames  36:43  
And then I wanted to talk about addiction in the sense of how it might apply to religion, I think the obvious example might be more charismatic Pentecostal expressions of faith that that should be a bit more emotional, there's, there's kind of an obvious dopamine hit in that experience. But even without that, I think you hinted at this idea of affirmation of experiencing the acceptance of the group. And so is this even a topic that is studied at all like that there's an addictive nature within spirituality or religion.

Daniel  37:18  
I'm certain if you went down the Google Scholar rabbit hole far enough, you'd find something that somebody has published somewhere about it. I, you know, even working in the addictions field. We don't even use the word addiction that much we use words like substance use disorder, and, and so on. And one of the reasons is because there's a lot of there's a lot of behaviors that are that are harmful, that fall into a category where we would identify it as an addiction, that have nothing to do with drugs, you look at look at gambling behavior, for instance, problematic gambling, also gives dopamine hits, you know, in similar fashions as substances do. You look at sex addiction you look at now, like online gaming, addiction, and, and all those things, there's, you know, the word addiction can get attached to them. And there's lots of you know, there's there's lots of politics around it sometimes. And there's lots of baggage around the word. And what we often talk about is maladaptive behaviors. These are behaviors serving a purpose. Now, all addictions are maladaptive behaviors, but not all maladaptive behaviors or addictions. So some maladaptive behaviors could be, for instance, you, you go through relationships in with certain patterns that always end up in, in tears and self destruction in the end, because that's, you know, that fits your that fits your personality that fits your upbringing, it fits kind of how you were, how you were raised, or the patterns or relationships that you experienced. Now, that might not be an addiction, even though people seem to do it compulsively. But it is a maladaptive behavior. So I would say that there's a lot going on with religious experiences, in particular. So you mentioned dopamine, as well, in neurotransmitters that really gets activated when you're having an ecstatic experience. Another would be endorphins, you know, which are some of the neurotransmitters that get impacted by the brain's opioid system. So things like heroin, that's probably a very similar feeling. So yeah, I think that there's definitely something to be said for looking at looking at people who retreat to those things, as a as a way of unhealthy coping. But I would also say just as much there's there's benefits from religious groups or from community in general that religious groups can provide. I think the important factor to remember there is just like you pointed out earlier, these benefits are occurring because of humanity. They're occurring because of human connection and in connection. I, I worked in ministry for almost seven years, I've worked in the, you know, mental health addictions field for over a decade, I've never seen anybody who just spontaneously got made better from these things, because because God did it. Right, I wouldn't count a lot of people who would say, Well, you know, religion was important part of my recovery, and they would find out how their religious community was there for them. And, and I think that's a, that's a benefit that we should think carefully about losing as we talk about, you know, church, attendance declining, not a bad thing, necessarily, but what are we replacing it with? We need to be diligent and trying to create community. And I think that the community you've created online, as, as part of that, certainly,

David Ames  40:48  
definitely, I'm very conscious of, you know, trying to build some form of community, because you can't just say, leave all of these wonderful things about being part of community and give that all away and do it on your own. Now, you know, that is that is not a very attractive message.

Daniel  41:04  
Totally. And I think, you know, maybe, maybe adjacent to when we talk about, like mental health addictions and church, could be how the church impacts people's ability to be skeptical and to think critically. You've had people on your podcast before, talk about things like, you know, cognitive dissonance, I think, yes, yeah, it's come up. And, and so when, when, when I talk about cognitive dissonance, what I'm generally talking about is that state of psychological discomfort or distress that we feel when our beliefs are in conflict with, with evidence or with our own actions. So believing in religious ideas, when the evidence contradicts them, like evidence from history, trying to believe in the Bible, or you're still smoking when you know, it's bad for you, those feelings cause cognitive dissonance. And then that triggers something called motivated reasoning, which is a process by which we attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance by accessing, constructing or evaluating arguments in a very biased fashion to arrive at your preferred conclusion. So when I think about churches in psychology, I often think about how we, how we engage in motivated reasoning, as I was doing for many years to try to find the best arguments to support a position. And that's just one example of a cognitive bias, right, like, those things that we do to get to conclusions quickly, and that impair our ability to reasonably solve problems. And there's lots of cognitive biases, and you've had guests talk with them before. And it's it's a fascinating area of study.

David Ames  42:51  
Yeah, and this is why I often say that this has nothing to do with intelligence, because actually very intelligent people can rationalize more, right, like they the capacity to an adult, it's all the human condition of that motivated reasoning. And so, again, apologetics being an example.

One other thing I want to jump off of what you just said, too, is sort of the, you know, the, the need for skepticism is important, because, as you saw on the front lines of COVID, that for the people who began to go down the rabbit trail of various conspiracy theories, or even just ignoring the science, right masks, work, vaccines work, that kind of thing, and for whatever reasons, motivated reasons or otherwise, begin to deny that there are real world consequences that the, you know, first responders and the Yes, nursing and Doctor staff were able to see and you are getting to see indirectly, so that beliefs have consequences, and why that skepticism is necessary in the world we live in.

Daniel  44:07  
Yes, exactly. I love how you pointed out that intelligence is no substitution for good skeptical practices. I think you mentioned in one podcast, how our scientific thinking is how we guard ourselves against getting taken in by our own cognitive biases. Right? And that's completely that's completely true. And that's the best way I think, to describe it because even very intelligent people have human brains and human brains are designed to do I say designed human brains have evolved to do things to to conserve mental resources in everything they do. It they are just to think, give attention to detail and solve problems in ways that require the least calories possible. Because we're, we're we're evolved to save energy wherever possible, including in the brain. And it's a it's a giant pain in the ass. But it's it's how we're, it's how we're just going to work forever. And if we don't have practices in place, like scientific thinking, like the scientific method to hijack that process, where we're always going to be taken in, by things we would rather believe are things that are easier to believe. And there's, there's countless examples of that. Even very skeptical people, scientific people can get taken in by all kinds of things, if we're not careful.

David Ames  45:37  
Absolutely. Because I know the schedule of the podcast coming out prior to your episode will be Tom Christofi X, he has a book called tempted to believe. And he goes into a lot of detail about these various things. And kind of the lesson that I drew out of that is summarized in the Fineman quotes, the first principle is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I love that quote. And that kind of captures it. So this is less about saying, Oh, look at these other people how they're wrong and more recognizing, how can I go off the rails? How can I start to take in things that don't have evidence that are unfalsifiable that, you know, are, Tom's word is off grid, meaning, you know, something that does not have scientific evidence,

Daniel  46:26  
I think that's a very good way to approach it, treating yourself as treating yourself as a gullible person is probably one of the best starting points for engaging in scientific thinking. Because often, we'll see even in even in published peer reviewed research, we'll see people who have clearly started out with their study with a bouquet of axes that they want to grind. And they and they just get there one way or another. And one of the things that we talked a lot in grad school was how to recognize how to recognize bad research. And there's a number of practices people engage in that, that can create the results they're looking for. And that's not meant to say that we shouldn't trust research. But it is meant to say we should really be diligent in utilizing the peer reviewed process. And in looking at where are, you know, where information is coming from following that lineage, from start to finish of information, and it's been a bit of a, you can really, you can really drive yourself bananas during COVID Trying to fact check everything that you see. And I had, I had engaged in a lot of long and useless conversations with friends who just keep moving the goalposts as I kept bringing back all these things you're saying is wrong because of this? And they say, Well, what about you know, Bill Gates and depopulation? No, no, we can we can put that to bed and it's no big deal and, and then say, well, what about masks make people sick? Okay, well, let's go over that. And then, by the time you get through, you're only back to the beginning of the conversation.

David Ames  48:19  
Yeah, it's unfortunate that the human condition is such that the easy answer, the simple answer to complex problems is much easier to accept than the real world complexity that actually exists.

Again, this leads into this is a good segue to discuss kind of why we're, we're chatting together. As I mentioned, in the deconversion, anonymous Facebook group, we I think it was even former guest Ian had put up a article by the John Templeton Foundation called here's how religion in Princess even when we walk away, and this is an article that talks about how people remain pro social and pro moral, even when they walk away from Christianity, as we somewhat pointed out, in that the Templeton Foundation does have a bit of a bias. Although they are attempting to do real science. They definitely have a theistic bias. And that does come through in the article. There's some interesting things to talk about it I understand you have some notes about that as well. Just kind of want to get your feel for for the article, and then we'll jump into some of the specifics.

Daniel  49:33  
Sure things so we're really talking about two things here. We're talking about the article, the Templeton Foundation, and we're talking about the original research study, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. And so the article in Templeton is by one of Templeton's? I don't know if journalists is the right word we'll say journalists, and it's a boat. The research study that That was produced by a number of a number of researchers, some of whom were actually paid through the Templeton Foundation for the study. So that's, that's part of the lineage there. I gave it a quick skim on first glance just through the article itself. And thought, well, there's there's some, I've got some concerns here. And then actually having gone and, and found the study itself in full text and downloaded it and read through it and highlighted it and doing the doing things that I don't get to do as much since leaving grad school. So those kind of fun nerdy things I actually don't think the study is is all that bad in general, and what it's trying to look at, I did have some, some kind of thoughts about both the article and the study. But for me, one of the most useful things to do when when talking about research is to try to say what makes research good. And you know, for the I'm sure you've probably had guests talk with this multiple times at length through the benefits of your listeners who may not have heard those episodes, we generally ask four questions when we're talking about research. The first is, is it valid? Does it have validity? does it measure what it's intending to measure? The second is, is it reliable? Would repeated testing or repeated studies produce similar results? The third, is it generalizable? Can you take those findings and broadly apply them to other settings, individuals or groups? And then the fourth is sort of adjacent to the first three, it's what have a bias, you want to examine bias, you want to know what bias exists without resorting to making ad hominem arguments against the study just because you don't like the people who did it. It's also important to have as unbiased research as possible, which is why research is more valid when it comes from unbiased, unbiased sources. So independent drug studies, for instance, are more valuable than ones paid for by pharmaceutical companies, right? And we can all kind of guess why.

David Ames  52:15  
It's great in your own paper, but yeah,

Daniel  52:17  
exactly. So so going into the study itself, like the article was clearly written, to kind of showcase how Hey, like, even when you leave religion, stuff sticks with you. And there are a few kind of bits and pieces we can dig into about that. When I look at the study itself, which is always where I try to start, I do agree with the author's assertion that religious nuns, those who those who grew up without any religion, are different than religious dons, those who D converted at a later date. The name of the study itself is religious identity and morality, evidence for religious residue and decay in moral foundations. And right off the bat, my, my thinking here is, I questioned the use of the phrase decay and moral foundations. Yeah, in the title. First of what first reasons because it's not actually in the study anyway, they don't say decay of moral foundations in the study. It's not a social science term, like decaying world foundations. When you see it in articles online, you generally it's describing like the moral decline in society. So also, its decay in moral foundations isn't really what they were studying. They were referencing how a specific moral values associated with religious beliefs may linger for a time after you leave that religion. So for example, you know, you're a conservative Christian, you, you leave the faith, you become an atheist for whatever reason, and you still kind of don't really feel super keen on gay marriage, you know, and then after a while, you realize, okay, no, that's yeah, I am okay with this, actually. And I think it's a good thing. So that is how specific moral values will change over time. They didn't find and they they weren't even looking for if people who leave their religion have their overall morality, decay. That seems to be the implication in the title and that there may be an unintentional implication like, I don't think it was just based on how I'm reading. How I read this and how I read the article and knowing what I know but the Templeton Foundation I, I think that was probably intentional to create a bit of a slant. It's also something that you frequently find in ideologically driven research, you find data and then you present it as something slightly different, or meaning something slightly different than it is actually means, which calls into question the validity of your research. It's where we have to look very carefully at the studies themselves, and not just the journalistic articles about those studies.

David Ames  55:12  
Before we keep digging into this, I want to touch on just one thing that you mentioned that does drive me nuts and, and I get it right if you are doing sociological studies, you have to create categories, and you have to pigeonhole people into categories. But one of the things that that is a bummer to me is that the Dunn's the people who are not just nuttin, which can mean you know, you could be spiritual but not religious, but completely done with theistic worldview, or supernatural worldview is very hard to capture. Not everyone says that they are an atheist, like that's a pretty that's a pretty strong bold term that not everyone is comfortable with. And in the studies, you know, do you think that will begin to get more targeted to separate? The nones no NES from DUNS?

Daniel  56:00  
I hope so. And I hope that more groups than this will start doing that research. It's been a it's been a minute since I've done a lot of deep digging into the current state of the psychology and sociology of religion, you know, that that world? Yeah, mostly because my, my work generally revolves around more social psychology or psychopharmacology. And that's where I've really been just kind of, were public health psychology, that's where I've been spending all my time. I think a deeper dive into the psychology, religion, sociology, sociology of religion, we'll likely find some research that kind of goes dip his toes a little bit further into this. But it's not something that I've had the time or the inclination to really spend a lot of time on right now. I if there hasn't been that real distinction made in the past, from the sounds of it, but to hear the authors say it, this is an understudied area. And they had some, you know, they had some previous papers they referenced, but if it's under studied, and we're just really getting getting used to the idea that hey, there's, there's more than one kind of non religious person out there, I would expect that this is going to become more and more relevant as church attendance drops, as religious affiliation drops. And as, as our world continues to evolve, as a result of increased scientific knowledge and increased knowledge of increased general knowledge of things like the, the evolutionary origins of human morality, I think that there's a lot of people who are learning a lot of things that's making it difficult for them to stay in their religious tradition, whatever that is, this is only a group that's going to be growing in the future. And, and new and growing groups are social science, research, bread and butter. That's, that's what we're interested in. We want to know what's happening here. We want to know if it's gonna happen elsewhere. And we're all giant nerds. And that's what we're here for.

David Ames  58:17  
So your, your reference there to kind of the evolutionary source of morality, I think, is what's critical here. So my response to the journalistic article, I didn't dig as deep as you did, but to the journalistic article is that they have the cause and effect backwards. So they seem to be implying that religion causes morality, and therefore it's surprising when someone leaves religion that they remain moral and pro social. And I tend to think that it is the reverse that the people who are pro social and and have a moral sense of moral conscience, tend to become religious. And if those same people leave, they remain so and so it's not surprising. But I wonder what you think in that on that area?

Daniel  59:04  
I think that's a really good way to put it. That very pro moral people will often gravitate towards systems that are going to allow them to practice that morality. There's a lot out there. Right now in the apologetics world. Generally, when I'm talking about apologetics, I refer to it for refer to it as philosophy but done badly. So you see, you see, you see things like the argument for morality. William Lane Craig is especially fond of this one. And it will talk about how like there's there's no possible origin of human morality or universal human morality except for God, because there is clearly universal human morality. Clearly there must be God. And that's in like the most nutshell this kind of version. But looking at the field of evolutionary Psychology, which is something I've really just scratched the surface of as a, you know, as an ongoing student. The origins of altruism morality, are very easily explained and even observed in nature and in, in natural selection, it makes perfect sense how pro social behaviors would contribute to group survival, right? That makes total sense how acting in ways that are altruistic that benefit the group at large, will result in the increased odds of group survival against the forces of nature. We can even observe this kind of morality in animals. And there's many studies out there looking at morality in rats or other other creatures, a rat will go through great lengths to free another rat, if that rat is trapped, and won't even save food for that trap rat, like in advance of it getting out of its trap, we see several examples of how these behaviors will benefit the group growing up, especially in very pro social species like rats and like humans. So we have with ample evidence for the development of moral systems based on the promotion of well being and the reduction of suffering in in animals and multiple species. Why would humanity be any different? That's often been something that I've, you know, over the years become increasingly convinced that that that the argument from morality is one of the most easily dismantled, double, but most tightly held reasons for people to continue in their religious belief, when they're faced with evidence to the contrary, the argument morality is an incredibly powerful poll. Yeah,

David Ames  1:02:06  
you mentioned William Lane, Craig. But I also think of CS Lewis. So Mere Christianity, this basically begins with with that he uses the term fairness that we have, in his terms, innate sense of fairness. And yet, the idea of an evolutionary morality explains both the commonalities and the differences between cultures. And if there were, from the theist point of view, an objective moral standard that we, you know, somehow intuitively innately knew we would expect a lot more conformity throughout culture.

Daniel  1:02:42  
Yeah, and we really don't see that. Right, we see, we see drastic differences that you wouldn't expect to find if the law of God was truly written in all of our hearts, but the you would expect to find through the results of in group formation, and how those in groups protect the members and how they punish deviation. You know, that's a that's a system that very succinctly explains variations in human behavior and human morality, and does so without appealing to the existence of a being who is apparently giving us a universal morality, but being kind of bad at it. Exactly. And I'm not surprised to see the Templeton Foundation kind of circle back to that argument for morality as a, as a foundation for some of the ideologically driven research that they're that they're doing. That's that's their, their purpose is to find, to find the intersections of science and faith, which, in general, would be something that I would support, I would like people to be more scientific about everything your faith included. But the foundation is a bit problematic, because it it really builds itself as a scientific foundation, doing research with religion, but it's a religious organization, doing research with some science. A few examples are in, in other studies they've done and other pages on their website, talking about the decline behind the decline in Youth Mental Health, you know, and they, they reference well, it could be due to a push to have children wrestle with questions of their own gender identity early in life, which is, you know, another ideologically driven statement. They, they celebrate problematic figures like Mother Teresa, who, you know, there's a lot of history there that I think many Christians don't realize is deeply concerning about how her funds were spent and how she actually was treating people. And then just, again, as I read through a number of the articles on their website, I found a lot of issues with how they were referencing studies as having established facts or having established data. And then when I would go and find those studies and read them, isn't actually what the research was saying. And they were making pretty big stretches in getting to their conclusions. Like there was one that they said, well, reduced participation in religion might have health consequences. So, you know, if you if you reduce your participation and your religious group, you may have increased, you know, rates of some health issues, which isn't actually what the research showed, it showed that certain groups that had higher standards for things like smoking and alcohol consumption, if you were participating in those services more frequently, you are less likely to be having the associated health issues with those specific behaviors. So that's, again, you know, taking something that we found and research and representing it as something slightly different to try to make your point. Yeah, that's, that's first level college stuff, I tend to get frustrated by that kind of stuff pretty quickly when I found it. And Templeton isn't unique in that there's a number of you know, far right organizations, the the Heritage Center, in the United States, for instance, is notorious for publishing research studies where they engage in piles of questionable activities like confusing correlation with causation, mislabeling their graphs, something called P hacking, which is where you just kind of keep changing or adding variables until you get sufficient numbers that you say, Okay, we found a result, and now we're going to run with it. Something statistically significant. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then just like drastically, misrepresenting what their results actually show. Yeah. I've, I've put far too much time in on social media, trying to convince people like, No, this is actually not legitimate what you're reading and this is why, and it's unfortunate, but those pesky cognitive biases that we've talked about have really make it challenging to change people's minds.

David Ames  1:07:24  
Well, you've just given us another reason why skepticism is important.

Daniel, before we wrap up, is there a topic that I haven't asked about that you definitely wanted to get across anything else that you wanted to say?

Daniel  1:07:46  
So my gravitation towards humanism has led to interesting conversations and connections in my personal life. Now more than ever, I've really leaned into the office of the skeptic, even though it's no longer one that I hold in the church. I don't shy away from uncomfortable questions, or even more uncomfortable answers. And that has been such a valuable change in my life, and has led me to some incredibly, incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships that I've started developing, including with several people who I went to Bible college with all of whom are atheists now. Oh, wow. You've really connected over that. Have I lost friends? Yes, absolutely. And that has been sad. Have I lost opportunities? Yeah, I, I have lost opportunities that I could have had to teach at my alma mater, the Bible college, I went to and asked me to come back and teach a number of courses, and I had to inform them that I was no longer a Christian, and I'd be happy to come and teach if they would have me and, and they said, you know, wasn't gonna work for them, which I understand, you know, no hard feelings whatsoever. But it's also led to other opportunities. I, I now write a mental health column for the local paper. And I've been using that platform to discuss things like critical thinking cognitive biases, why our brains struggle with scientific thinking, and even tackle some theist objections to atheism, like the psychological origins of altruism and morality? Well, there's been some challenges, I would say that the biggest challenges have been caused by my own development and my own need for maturing and growth. And I've definitely come to the conclusion that the best days are going to be ahead.

David Ames  1:09:53  
That's amazing. I want to give you just an opportunity. If you have any recommendations for things what should we be reading Is there other podcasts besides this one, YouTube channels, that kind of thing that would be beneficial for people.

Daniel  1:10:07  
So I've been really interested since I went on this part of our part of my life's journey in the works of Carl Sagan. So the demon haunted world was an incredibly important book for me. And it really opened up my eyes to how how scientific thinking could work and the, the benefits of that and written in such a beautiful and poetic way that nobody could write quite like Carl Sagan and I, you know, I just, I just love the way he presents the world, and is able to write and be so hopeful and so kind, and so gracious. In the face of, you know, all the issues he is passionate about, including agnosticism and humanism and science education. And you know, I think I there's a YouTube video out there with his speech, the pale blue dot, where he, he gives this speech and it's got, you know, various scenes from science and from films. And I watched that once a year as a, as a spiritual pilgrimage. I guess you could say,

David Ames  1:11:26  
yeah. I often say, by the way, that I am a second night, atheist, you know, in the vein of that in the sense that I still have so much wonder and awe at the world at the cosmos, that there's no loss of that, you know, joy and wonder and mystery, while still having high standards for evidence.

Daniel  1:11:47  
Yeah, I completely agree. And like I said, nobody could, we could say it quite like Carl, exactly. Another. Another book that I would recommend, is one that I'm starting to get into how minds change the surprising science of belief, opinion and persuasion, by David Mcrainey. Really a very good, very good entry point, if you don't have graduate level education and psychology, right into the real depths that cognitive science can bring in the richness of human experience, and how we, you know, how we learn and grow and how we resist learning and growth, right? He's a science communicator, and I think he does a very good job of, you know, bringing some of these things across. I think those would be some of the ones that I would recommend the most I'm working my way through some of the classics, you know, the, The God Delusion and some Christopher Hitchens, but also acknowledging that sometimes the perspective they bring can encourage the feelings I was having when I was feeling stuck in anger. So treating those books like they're hot cups of tea, yeah, taking them in steps. You know, I love it and, and moving on. And if, if anybody is interested in learning more about ADHD, especially as as an adult, I would suggest the book scattered minds by Dr. Gabor Ma Tei. Dr. Mateos work was the reason why I sought a diagnosis at age 27. Reading him describing his experiences as an adult with ADHD. The hair went up on the back of my neck. I you know, I felt like he'd been looking over my shoulder my whole life. He described you know, having to have a novel in his pocket at all moments in case he was in line at the grocery store because even 60 seconds of idleness was enough for his brain to consume him utterly. And I just about threw the book across the room I but it was it was one of the best things I could have done for myself because it contextualize my life and my experiences. So well. So scattered minds, the origins and healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. It's, it's a, it's a great read and can really if people are wondering, is this what's going on? For me, that might be the book that puts them over the edge.

David Ames  1:14:32  
Excellent. Those are amazing recommendations. Daniel, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thanks for having me.

Final thoughts on the episode? As I said in the interview, there are a lot of points of comparison with Daniel story and mine. The thing that I really really resonate with is his idea of the Office of the scout Deke, for those of us who are inquisitive, we get tagged with that idea of having discernment. But there are definite limitations on that discernment. You can only question so far. I love the framing that Daniel brings to that of taking on the Office of the skeptic, even though that kept him in the faith longer than he would have otherwise. The other thing that I really related to was that recognition of the difference between psychological explanations or spiritual ones, he told the story of the individual who after having their medication, completely calm down. So was that a demonic attack? Or was it the person just didn't have their meds? In the slow creeping realization that there are naturalistic explanations for every spiritual experience that one has, including one's own. Yet another thing that I really relate to in Daniels story is the recognition of the limitations of apologetics that even the critical thinking believers have limitations and the flaws within apologetic arguments become overwhelmingly obvious. unstated, or even sometimes stated premises are unfounded, don't have any evidence, or as Daniel points out, are unfalsifiable. And so it is assertions all the way down. There is no foundation to the apologetic arguments. That's sad, especially when like Daniel, you're an inquisitive person, and you're actually trying to find a reason to remain in faith trying to find reasons to believe and you're struggling to do so on, you're going to what are considered the best intellectual arguments for Christianity, and you see the flaws immediately. There's some grief involved. Even today, I often will read an apologetic that I have not heard before, and there's some tiny part of me that hopes that it'll be worthwhile that it'll have something real to say. I have yet to find that apologetic that doesn't have obvious premises that are unfounded entirely. Daniel's observation about apologetics and the limitations of intellectual curiosity within a believing structure like Christianity is that some things are too sacred to be questioned, that captures why those limitations are there. Of course, the conversation revolved around the Templeton Foundation article and study about how religion and Princess even when we walk away, as we discussed in the conversation, the obvious theistic bias of the Templeton Foundation comes through. But I really want to hammer on the point that the causation is going the wrong direction. That pro social and pro moral people tend to become religious. And if those same people leave religion, they remain pro social and pro moral, is not the other way around. And yet the theistic organization like the Templeton Foundation wants to make the argument that religion is the cause or faith is the cause of morality. I want to thank Daniel for being on the podcast for sharing with us his insight and his educated perspective on research, his eloquent expression of the need for a scientific mindset and for skepticism, as well as his honesty and talking about ADHD, his personal deconstruction process. Thank you, Daniel, for being on the podcast. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is again the need for skepticism. A couple of weeks ago, we had Tom Christofi AK on talking about his book tempted to believe. And this episode with Daniel just reinforces the need for a skeptical mindset to protect yourself from all of the sources of misinformation, disinformation, and untruths. Again, I want to say that skepticism is not cynicism. This is not about destroying sincere things, or just sacred things for the sake of destroying them. Skepticism is about the desire for truth. What is real, what can be substantiated? What can we hold on to that will be unshakeable? The irony is that is the verbiage and rhetoric of Christianity that Jesus is supposed to be the rock that that is supposed to be unshakeable. As we heard from Daniel, as he delved into the apologetic arguments, finding that there were deep problems with those arguments, and that it turns out to be a subjective experience, from our own faith experience to the person who told us about faith from the person who told that person from the person who told that person all the way back down to Paul and Peter, and maybe Jesus Himself. These assertions of the supernatural and atheistic deity are unsubstantiated all the way down. But this need for skepticism goes beyond faith and religion. Just in the last handful of years, we have had a masterclass in misinformation and disinformation both in US politics and now in world politics. And the need to be able to discern what is true validatable falsifiable versus what is assertions what is rhetoric is critically important in today's day and age. And as Daniel and I pointed out in the conversation, that beliefs have consequences, if you believe that vaccines don't work, that is more than a personal decision for you, that affects everyone around you that affects every human being you come into contact with. If you believe that masks don't work, that affects more than just you. And these are just the obvious examples. There's 1000 others of how taking on misinformation for you personally affects more than just you. If the word skepticism is too harsh a word for you use the idea of the scientific mindset. both Daniel and I are huge fans of Carl Sagan. And his book demon haunted world that Daniel mentions is an amazing book, in that you see how Carl Sagan loved the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence, but that he held his standard, the scientific method and the scientific way of thinking to such a high degree, that standard was so high, that even though he was out to find that evidence, he could not say that extraterrestrial intelligence exists until he finds that evidence. Likewise, I've had conversations with believer after believer after believer who want to lower the bar of evidence. I literally had a conversation with a believing lawyer who wanted to lower the bar to say that the hearsay of the Gospels and the hearsay of the New Testament was valid evidence. And my point is, if Christianity is true, and this is the most important thing in the universe, the most important decision that any human being will ever make, shouldn't the standard of evidence be the highest it can possibly be? For something so important? And the fact that it isn't, and that apologists want to lower it is the indication that it is unfounded and untrue. As we said before, we've got some amazing episodes coming up. We have Jessica Moore, who talks about surviving purity culture and what you do after that, and we have another Arleen interview of boundless and free. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful.

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

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Seth: Deconversion Anonymous

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, Podcast
click to play episode on Apple Podcasts
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This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

This week’s guest is Seth. Seth was the oldest child in a large homeschooling family who attended attended mostly non-denominational churches. He was always studious and had read through the Bible multiple times before adulthood. 

In high school, Seth made his faith his own and dove deeply into Youth Earth Creationism. He studied at a state university and a few years after graduation began work at The Creation Museum.

“It was a dream come true for me but also turned into not-a-very-good experience…”

While living near the museum, Seth was introduced to a fringe religious movement he describes as “Messianic Judaism meets evangelicalism meets conspiracy theories.” In the Hebrew Roots movement, Seth discovered teachings he’d not encountered before and some doubts began to creep in. 

[Sharing the gospel] I went into detail on all the doctrine and as I was saying I realized I wouldn’t believe it if I were hearing it from somebody else.

Over the next year, Seth continued to experience conflicts between YEC and Hebrew Roots. The two ways of thinking were at odds—flat earth or round, scientific cosmology or the broken body of a leviathan? 

My faith “tendon” was getting stretched and stretched and stretched.

There was a point … it felt like part of my brain just broke and almost in an instant I realized I couldn’t believe anymore.

By 2020, Seth realized he was an atheist, no longer able to convince himself to believe again. 

So, finally realizing that I didn’t believe and admitting to my self I was an atheist was some of the most terrifying moments of my life on an emotional level.

“I was climbing up that slope the whole time, getting closer and closer to God and then…I stepped over the edge, and I just plummeted.”

  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Luke Janssen: Recovering Evangelicals

Agnosticism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, ExVangelical, Philosophy, Podcast, Podcasters
Click to play episode on
Listen on Apple Podcasts

This week’s guest is Luke J. Janssen, M.Sc., Ph.D., M.T.S., Professor Emeritus, Dept. Medicine, McMaster University, and co-host of the Recovering Evangelicals podcast. He is a scientist in medical research. During a faith crisis he began taking courses on theology which turned into an M.T.S degree.

I’ve been face-to-face with faith and science my whole life.

Luke tells his story in four 15 year phases: his early years as a nominal Reformed Christian, his young adulthood as a Pentecostal/Charismatic fundamentalist, a desconstruction phase, and where he is now, with a “small part of him that won’t let go” and a belief in a creative force.

It is just that I couldn’t pretend anymore.
I just couldn’t pretend that I was a believer.
I just simply didn’t believe.

Luke and his co-host, Boyd Blundell, cover many aspects of desconstruction on the Recovering Evangelicals podcast. They discuss various apologetic and scientific arguments and honestly reveal what they do an do not believe now and why.

Recovering Evangelicals
… for those who were once very comfortable in their Christian faith until the 21st century intruded and made it very hard to keep on believing;
… for those who are intrigued by science, philosophy, world history, and world religions, and want to rationalize that with their Christian theology;
… for those who found that’s just not possible, and yet there’s still a small part of them that won’t let it go.



Recovering Evangelicals


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. As usual, please rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. onto today's show. My guest today is Luke Jensen. He is the co host of the recovering evangelicals podcast. The tagline for the podcast is for those who were once very comfortable in their Christian faith until the 21st century, intruded and made it very hard to keep on believing. Luke is a scientist who's done medical research at the university level. And he also has a master's degree in theology. And as his website describes, he has been face to face with faith and science and that debate for all of his life. As you're going to hear as he tells his story, he has gone through multiple phases, faith and deconstruction. At the latter half of the conversation, we try to dig into what he does believe currently, and that is a journey in and of itself. You can find Luke on the recovering evangelicals podcast on all the major platforms. Luke's website is That is And I will have links in the show notes. A special thanks to Joe a mutual listener to both the graceful atheist podcast and recovering evangelicals for getting us all together. I got introduced to Luke and Boyd, his co host, and I really appreciate that. Thank you, Joe, for reaching out. Here is Luke Johnson to tell his story.

Luke Jensen, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Luke J. Janssen  2:20  
Thank you for having me.

David Ames  2:21  
Hey, Luke. So we had a mutual listener of ours, Joe who introduced us, he was a big fan of you and Boyd's podcast recovering evangelicals, and this one, and so that would be great for all of us to get together. And so far, our email exchanges, I really am fascinated by the work that you and board are doing. I've gotten a chance to listen to a handful of those episodes. And again, just really impressed with the level of openness and rigor that you guys handle those questions. And so I think it's gonna be a lot of fun to have you on. I want to give you just a couple of seconds to hear to say, who you are like your like your your resume, so to speak of where your education was, and things of that nature.

Luke J. Janssen  3:06  
Okay. And I'll just comment as well on that, that Joel bringing us together. He's basically sent an email to the three of us, you, myself and Boyd, and he just said, well, to us, at least he said you should go and Dave show. Yeah. And we went we looked at each other when Dave show who's and the now your email was CCD in there, but your email is graceful And so we just thought that was a moniker that was a name. For a month, we didn't know who Dave was. And then some of the things happened with oh, that's who DAVE Yes. Yes. So it was great. So to answer your question, then, so I'm 6061 years old, went to university worked as a, as a scientist in a lab for just about 30 decades, just over 30 decades. And I'm now retired from that. I just wanted to move on to other things. And the work that we did was in the in the era of asthma, looking at cell function, that sort of thing.

David Ames  4:02  
Interesting. All right. And you have a master in science, Master's in theological studies and a PhD in pharmacology and physiology. Is that correct?

Luke J. Janssen  4:13  
Yes. And actually, you know what, now that I think about it, I'll have to talk about the MCS later on, because I forgot to even mention that. But yes, so in, I did my Master's and PhD in medical sciences. And that's what that formed the basis of my career for 30 years. And it was near the end of that, that I was going through this faith crisis. And amongst other things, I thought, you know, what, I'm gonna take some courses on campus here. And one course became three became 30. And then I thought, you know, get a masters and MCs so there you go.

David Ames  4:39  
That's, that's awesome. Yeah, I think blade refers to that. You know, he says, the type of person Luke is he just went and got a master's in theology.

Luke J. Janssen  4:47  
Well, it was easy because it's on campus. I didn't have to go far and then as an alumnus, as a member of the of the university I could take the course of for free Okay, so it was easy, but it was hard work. I will say

David Ames  5:06  
Well, we're here to hear your personal story. And you have really interesting story of faith transition going kind of in multiple directions. But let's begin where we always do with the faith tradition you grew up or what was, what was your faith, like when you were young?

Luke J. Janssen  5:20  
Right? I'll break my life up into four different parts. It just seems to be that what happened to my life, fell out over 15 year blocks. The first of which then was obviously when I was a kid, we grew up in a Christian reformed setting, which for the listeners who may not know what Christian reformed is, we were very Dutch and very Calvinist, I think a lot of people will know Calvinism is all about Yeah, I found that to be, it was more of a social identity, that group that I was in there. And again, remember, I'm just a kid, I'm less than 15 years old. But it was more of a social identity, it was just an in group, it was the place where your friends were your co workers, where a lot of your family members were there. And so it was just the place you were, it was the society, the social group that you were part of. And I wouldn't really say at least for me, as such a young kid, it wasn't a personal commitment to a worldview or a religion. But it was a very formative part of my life. It it shaped my initial views on who God is, or what God was, God was a very angry god, a very judgmental God. Obviously, he was absolutely in charge. And it also shaped how he saw humans how I thought I was led to believe that he saw humans, humans are utterly evil to the core. Not much good for anything else, but burning in hell. So And how was very prominent in the thinking when I was a kid again, and I think to some extent, I can see generally speaking in the Reformed faith, it also meant that I was utterly young earth creationist, I just took the Bible, literally, but then again, not that I spent a lot of time in the Bible, it was just when things were said, or you hear from the sermon from the the pastor at the front, you just took it at face value. And again, it just wasn't a particularly personal thing with me, it was just the water that I swam, and that was the first 15 years of my life.

David Ames  7:11  
Okay, I guess my question then to you is, did you internally have faith at that point in time? Or was it truly just cultural at that point?

Luke J. Janssen  7:21  
It would, it was very much cultural and not a personal thing. I certainly had beliefs and values that were shaped by that community, and I live my life by it. Well, that's not totally true. There are many times they didn't, but you, you strove to abide by the social norms, that sort of thing. But it was not a personal thing. Certainly not a personal relationship. Okay. But even to say that it was a personal belief. I don't know that I would say that,

David Ames  7:47  
okay. That's actually relatively similar to me. I grew up in a nominally Christian family, you know, they were believers. But that wasn't talked about much we didn't go to we didn't go to church. And so, my grandmother, I remember this this moment. So clearly, I was about 13, or 14. And my grandmother realized that I didn't know what the apostles creed was, like, she just about died of shame, like she had failed. And so I kept asking, like, you know, who is this God character anyway, kind of thing. And it wasn't until my late teens, that I became very serious. But anyway, proceed. So what happens after this?

Luke J. Janssen  8:24  
Okay, so then the next 15 year block of my life from 15, to 30. And it really begins with my parents, again, my parents were Calvinists. They were Dutch, and they both grew up in that whole system. But they had a major conversion experience. And I'd say this is they both had a major conversion experience. But it seemed to be more dramatic with my father. He had the from what he tells us, as I understand his background, he wrestled really deeply was religious issues, especially the idea of being one of the elect. This is one of those ideas that Calvinists are big on that, basically, some people have chosen to go to heaven, and some are chosen to go to hell. And that's just the way it is. It's nothing more to it. And he, my father really wrestled with that whole idea of being one of the elect, as opposed to the ones going to this very fiery hell. And he was deeply fearful that he was one of those assigned to hell. Now, I'm not clear on all the details, but what I do know is that he did have a very profound personal experience. It was a deeply religious experience. And it literally changed him overnight. He was a different person because of that. became very passionate about his new faith, which I'll now call the charismatic or Pentecostal faith. I mean, it took a few years for to really evolve fully into that Pentecostal charismatic. I'll use the word phenotype. Yeah. But certainly, it was a very sudden, emotional, profound commitment to this new kind of faith and it became the only thing that he could talk about even to this day. So that's what happened to him. And again, that was roughly when I was 15 years old. For a few years, I resisted that he of course would be one to take while he did take, take the kids to these various fellowships, various church groups, home study home groups. Every Friday night, we went to this one place called visa UK a very charismatic kind of a place. And I was very resistant to that for a couple of years. Until it basically was coerced into an all say, joining the team and air quotes there. It's it's an experience, I'm not sure how much really to get into, except to say, at one moment, I was completely against being, you know, joining this faith that he held. And just because of the circumstances that I won't get into the detail, it was basically I was pushed against my will into this new faith. Now, I don't want to just, I'm not going to put the blame all on him. I did accept that new worldview. I did. I did pray the prayer, say the words and became a Christian. And from that moment on, I was committed. But I do have to say that though the way to happen was rather coercive. And that's really all that I'm going to say. So bottom line is I've resisted for a number of years and now all of a sudden I dove in headfirst and I became one of them as well. I think I was sincere. I do think looking back on myself as a 18 year old I was committed. I sincerely held that belief. And I became Uber involved. I taught and was involved in the Sunday school groups, college and career group. I was part of that I was in a Christian rock band. This is hilarious, because I was a keyboardist even though I have absolutely to this day do not have any experience whatsoever with Keith Morgan's. I just simply had enough money to buy a synthesizer and I now became the keyboard is for this Christian rock band, which you know, toured for about a year didn't last long, but it came from the summer camp, and we played every year at the summer camp. But there you go, yeah. Went on all kinds of evangelists, evangelistic campaigns, if our church would, you know, have something going reaching out into the neighborhood or, you know, bringing your friends to Sunday, Sunday school, where their college and career group. There was one year that Billy Graham came to our city Hamilton in 1988. And so I was part of that.

David Ames  12:16  
Okay, that's probably a big deal.

Luke J. Janssen  12:19  
Yeah, so so very much I was, I was all in and I was serving, I played my guitar. I did play guitar. I didn't play the keyboard, but I played the guitar for youth group for worship services, that sort of thing.

So that's me being involved there. But then let's talk about what you know, what did that what did this mean? I went to church twice on Sundays, and at least once midweek, that midweek would be say the Wednesday night Bible study or the Friday night youth group and college and career, that sort of thing. So three days a week, if not others. And they were very emotional services, especially, you know, as you know, if the service is two or three hours long, which today is unbelievably long, but during the last half hour, things got really emotional, a lot of a lot of emotions, and especially the Sunday night service, that's really what it was all about is just driving towards that final hour, where a lot of emotions were being poured out. Went to revival meetings to various healing meetings. You know, I'm sure people have heard of Benny Hinn, there's a few others but Jesus festivals, there was the the, the folk gospel businessman conferences, they also had their events. And I was all always part of that. I was pretty committed, needless to say, and I bought into that for the first five to 10 years for sure. And what did I buy into? So I read the Bible, literally, I saw it is absolutely inerrant and infallible. Which obviously meant then that the creation accounts, they were literal. That's the way it happened six days, I was a young earth creationist. And I even started to write a book at that time. So now we're, you know, in the in, I'm past my undergrad, university experience, and getting into my postgraduate experience, where I was starting to write a book that would finally prove to the world that young earth creationism was true. And you're listening, you'll remember those days, I said, lots of coffee, lots of lunchtimes, with bread talking about young earth creationism, and I was working on this book, which needless to say, never happened. Yeah. Interesting. And it's not just the creation accounts that it took literally, of course, there's the destroyed Israel coming out of Egypt. That whole story I took literally, yeah, if you've seen the 10 commandments with Charlton Heston, Charlton, has you seen that movie? That's what was in my head? Yeah. And many of the stories, the Old Testament, the teachings of Paul, all these things I just took at face value, what it said on the page, I just took it that way, right? I was absolutely certain that we were in the end times. You know, that whole beast and the Antichrist thing. Speaking in tongues was part of it as well. The another thing that I refer often to the cosmic Vending Machine God, basically whenever you need something, you just pray for it, whether that be a healing, whether it be passing a test, or, you know, people often refer to getting a parking space, that kind of thing. Well, I believe in this cosmic vending machine, God, you just asked and expected to get it.

David Ames  15:21  
I love that analogy that that really captures kind of the the attitudinal position towards oh, I need a parking spot.

Luke J. Janssen  15:30  
Yeah. And it never occurred to us. It certainly does now, but never occurred to us that we expected God to answer that kind of a request, but not you know, this kid who's got brain cancer or, you know, kids. It's more heartbreaking when it's breaking when it's kids, but kids starving in Ethiopia, God wasn't paying attention to them, but he would find me a parking spot that just never occurred to us at the time. Now, having said that, I, part of my background there, part of my, what I grew up with, was this belief in miracles. And I I'm not sure really, I can't really remember whether I believe them or not, I certainly went to those kinds of meetings. I went along with it, not just went to it, but went along with the whole idea. But I'm not sure I can say I really believe that. Because the fact is, I didn't pray myself for healings. i If I really believed in it, then I would have done that. And I don't remember ever praying for myself or for other people for their healings. I mean, certainly not. You know, the whole. Well, there you go. Yeah, Demons, demons were everywhere. That was also part of my background, in the Pentecostal circles, we are always and that's going to play into the third part of my life where I reject the whole thing. We'll come back to that. And then the last thing that I believed in at that time, and it was a last thing that I can get rid of, that I had to wrestle through was this idea of the personal relationship. The whole idea that, you know, God is my, my, my personal buddy. And Jesus is my personal buddy. And, you know, I believe that wholeheartedly. But from time to time, if you asked me at that time, I would express some frustration that it was kind of hard to really see how it worked. Just didn't live. I didn't, didn't experience that personal relationship. In our podcast, we did a number of episodes that deal specifically with that. And maybe if your listeners are curious, you can see what I mean by that. But so there you go. Yeah. So those are the things that I believed that's the church I went to we saw the church down the road, we had this euphemistic expression the church down the road, which was basically, you know, any Baptist Church, and things like that. They were second class Christians. We were the true Christians. Oh, gosh. And of course, and of course, you know, Catholics, they weren't even Christian. Going to Hell, yes. That was what we absolutely believed. Yeah. So here's the thing is we're getting close to my 30s. The second the end of the second part, 15 year block of my life. All these uncertainties began to accumulate questions that were being raised, there was cracks forming in the wall, contradictions and mistakes that I read in the Bible, they just were becoming a bit of a problem a bit too much of a problem. I mean, I say, when I saw these contradictions or mistakes, even when I was in my 20s, I noticed them and you just quickly filed them away. But now they're beginning to sit in my brain a little bit longer. And I was beginning to puzzle with them, until I've quickly filed them away. Yeah. And here's the other funny thing that I do remember, at the time feeling odd about the idea that even though I was very Evangelical, evangelistic, I was also always, you know, not always, there were many times I was telling my friends or again, when I worked with the when I volunteered with the Billy Graham crusade, I would tell people about my face and about what I thought they needed. But, and I know I'm not sure I've articulated this, but I do remember thinking to myself, certainly become a Christian, go to church, but don't go to my church. My church is whacked. I want to be kind of a Christian. I honestly did think that even though I went there for years, and clearly, you'd think that means that I believed a good bit of it. I do remember thinking to myself, when I'm talking to people witnessing is the word that we use when I was witnessing to friends are telling other people. I was always thinking do go to church but Dakota mind because it'll weird you out. That's fascinating. Interesting. Yeah. It's funny that it never bothered me at the time. Yeah, yeah. But it did still attend for many, many years, even as these doubts and questions and concerns were building. And I do remember now, for stepping to the present here. I do remember reading your how to D convert article, David. And these are all steps that I read in there that these are all classic deconversion stories, people who are fully committed. And then one question after another begins to build and and then, as your article then talks about the whole deconversion idea. We also boy I also talked to Brian McLaren in one of our episodes about the same sort of thing. It's the exact same sequence of events. So that's the end of the second half of my life.

David Ames  20:18  
So again, you know, it's it's I know, we're going to we're going to diverge at some point. But it is interesting, the number of parallels, I think you and I are contemporaries, and two things that really struck me. My first real church experience, first of all, was my my mother, who had a dramatic epiphany and a transformation from drug to drug addicts to functioning human being that that was my impetus to become a believer. I was all in, I felt like I had a personal relationship with Jesus. So that's slightly different. But Pentecostalism was the first exposure that I that I had in the 80s timeframe of Frank Peretti. And there's demons under every boy. Yeah, that whole. So that could definitely relate to that. So and then, you know, a long period of time of attending church, but having questions and not knowing at the time that the word was deconstruction, right like that, that, you know, I slowly began to see, well, this can't be an Eric, because there are problems. And like, and grappling with that, but but still absolutely remaining unbeliever for a few decades in my case. So right.

Luke J. Janssen  21:24  
Now, I'm curious. And if you want take this out of the final cut, I'm curious, you said that you said you did have a personal relationship. I'll say that I claimed to have had one, but it didn't feel it. And here's the funny thing. There were times where I would begin to feel something and then it really is, yeah, I'm just creating these feelings. I'm just, you know, crip, tensing these muscles. And it's through the breathing and through various things. I'm beginning to feel something and I was smart enough to know at that time, you know, what, I'm just creating this feeling. And I didn't want anything to do with that. Did you have more than that?

David Ames  21:57  
Yeah. So you know, it's, I think you've probably had the same experience. When we're talking to say, an evangelical today, you have this weird experience of kind of defending your former faith. And so I'm going to do, I'm going to do a bit of that, obviously, my perspective has changed today. But I had this sense of conscious contact is what I used to call it right. I was not terribly disciplined to have prayer time, half an hour out of the day, that kind of thing. But I felt like I had continuous contact as it were. So I know that you talked about feeling I definitely had a feeling of connection to God and a feeling of of relationship. How I interpret that today is radically different. But, but at the time, that's what I experienced.

Luke J. Janssen  22:42  
Right? And no voice is obviously now. The other thing, I mean, I would hear people say, but I feel,

David Ames  22:49  
you know, feel, you know, like the the language is so hard to pin down. But like you feel guidance, you feel a sense of God wishes this or that, that kind of thing. Yeah. As opposed to, you know, literal voice, right.

Luke J. Janssen  23:10  
Okay, so I'll jump into the third quarter of my life. And I'm going to call this a slippery slope phase, which everyone can relate to that expression. You've heard it all the time. In your article to deconstruction, how to deconstruct article, I think you call this the critical mass stage. Yeah. And so here's an interesting story. I said that I was gonna come back to demons, which demons was one of the things that we believed in. And I said that played into the ending of this part of my life. I can distinctly remember that one Sunday that we were in that Pentecostal church I was going to at that time, and I think many of your listeners are going to know the name. Benny Hinn, faith healer, he had a brother or has a brother, Henry Hinn, and I'm pretty sure it was Henry, they both did the same kind of thing. But Benny certainly rose to very big fame. But I think this one was a service being led by Henry hand. And I just, I just remember in this service, again, in the background, over the over the weeks, months years, leading up to this, I was beginning to have less and less conviction about what we were doing. But in this particular service, as he was winding up, you know, turning the crank to get the emotions primed up. He had a stand up, put our hands to the front of the church, put on our palms to the front of church and said, Okay, now we're going to Castle, the demons from the North. Now, I want you to turn around, we're going to Castle, the demons from the south. And then we had to cancel the game from the east and from the west. And I distinctly remember leaning over to my wife, and even though I would still say I was a well certainly wasn't full fledged believer, and even to some extent, Pentecostal, I remember leaning over and said, We're not coming back here again. This is this is too much. This is whacked. Yeah. And we didn't. I think I was only there once again, years later when I was there for a funeral for a friend of mine who was there and otherwise we never went to that church, let alone we never attend Did Pentecostal churches and that sort of thing after that? It just was there was too much emotion and too much weirdness, I understand. Yeah. So we started going to another church and actually several churches, we had to find a place. And I'll just characterize them I was basically Baptist, because I think a lot of your listeners will get a sense of what a Baptist church is like. And that's the kind of place that we went to. At that time, I still saw united and Anglican churches, they were basically dead churches. That's what I would have said at that time that he was dead churches. But we'll go to these other churches that are certainly not on the other end of the of the spectrum, the Pentecostal type. And it was during this time, once we left that, we did find a church that we attended for quite a while for a decade at least. And I was quite happy there. But these questions were beginning to accumulate during that time and really accumulate with a vengeance with force. And I'm going to break those up into three different I'll call them forces or influences on my life. The first which would obviously be science. I was a scientist, I went to university, worked in the university and use science in my life. And it was at that time, and again, I was a young earth creationist again, at that time, every new dinosaur fossil, every new discovery of another evolutionary adaptation, when I learned about them finding basic building blocks of life in meteorites, and I read about what, so Stonehenge and Sumerian tablets, that sort of thing. Every time I read about these things, the all confronted the beliefs that I grew up with, they all challenged my faith. It was certainly the young earth creationism that I grew up with. Yeah. And it was just a constant onslaught. And I found myself developing this split brain mentality, I had the Monday to Friday brain that I took to work. And I might even use words like evolution and adaptation, that sort of thing. I will use them but I certainly didn't really think that way. And then this Sunday brain that I had, that was a whole different worldview, young earth creationism, creationism still, and I really maintained that kind of dichotomy for a long, long time, the Monday to Friday brain and the Sunday brain are two different parts of my thinking. And I kept them very compartmentalized. And I know that that's not, it's a short term strategy, it's not going to last very long, you can only hold that kind of dissonance for so long. And, and so we'll come back to that. And that's the one of those three influences in my life. The second one then would be the morals and ethics that I read about in the Bible. The classic list of things that seem to bother so many people, the Canaanite slaughters, the ones that are included, often included, apparently innocent women, children, animals, the completely male oriented thinking of so many stories and values, you see, you sell a slave, and if the slave is male, you can get this much money. But if it's a female, you get half as much or if a child dies, you get more for a son and a daughter, and so many other ways, there was very much this male oriented thinking, and a blatant discrimination against women and slaves and foreigners and children. And It puzzles me now, I don't know why I didn't see those kinds of discriminations before, or at least they didn't bother me. Somehow they made sense. I don't know what else to say about that. One of

David Ames  28:23  
my observations was, obviously Grace was a major part of my Christianity is, and I'm continuing in a secular fashion. But I talked about how I had Grace colored glasses on when I went over that Scripture. And it wasn't until I like took those Grace colored colored glasses off to just read it, the text as it is, and just see what it actually says that the horror of what is Is there really struck me.

Luke J. Janssen  28:51  
Yeah. I guess what I was doing, I guess I'm saying the same thing you just did. In my own words, I just think it was again, my biblical literalism working against me, I believe those stories as real events, the stories of the Canaanites slaughters as an actual events. In other words, it was a God ordained event. I just use it because that's what the Bible told me. And I realized now that these are very much stories that people told. But that was another influence that began to chip away at my my faith system, the morals and ethics, the biblical morals and ethics actually ruined my faith

and then the third one was world religions, which for decades, I believe that any other world religion was was well, you can't call them demonic but we would have there there this satanic Islam, long list of world religions that you just dismissed us completely. Well, certainly non Christian, but more than that satanic because we will use those kinds of phrases that back when I was still young and naive and very foolish. But here's the thing. My job as a scientific research researcher took me into contact with so many people of these other faiths and religions, even going to their houses for dinner, going to conferences and rooming with them sometimes. And it's, it's embarrassing to admit that what I found was I was very confronted with the idea that these people were not the evil monsters I thought that I was expecting, right? I expected these to be very different people that were just night and day different from me. And they were wicked to the core. And what I found, though, was that these people were fundamentally good, they were sincere, they were kind and compassionate. And when we did talk about religion, they were not offensive. And the funny thing was that they were also just trying to be right in the eyes of a God that they believed they were just trying to be good. Yeah. And what really brought this part this influence, this destructive influence in my life, what really brought it to a boil was reading a book, I read lots of books, but this one in particular, I know it hit me like a hammer in the center of my face, Kite Runner by Colette Hossaini. And very briefly, basically, the story is of a kid who grows up in Muslim Afghanistan in a modern setting, I think was like the 1990s or something. This kid makes a decision. He's only he's a young teenager, I think he's 12, I think, when this happens, betrays a friend, which leads to some horrible consequences. And, and then this haunts the kid, right from the moment it happens for his whole life, and then the rest of the book. I mean, that's the first chapter, I think. And then the rest of the book is him as an adult trying to reconcile, not only to find this friend and to apologize, and to get forgiveness and reconciliation, but he's also going through this journey to reconcile with a God that he knew the only one he knew, which happened to be a law. And again, he grew up in a setting this, Afghanistan, Muslim iscan Stan, where there was no other story paints that as if there was no other Christian influences, it was just Muslim. And so this kid, now a man is just trying to get reconciled with God, whom he calls a law, because that's the only god he ever knew. And it struck me as I was reading the story. And still in this, this Christian phase of my life, I was thinking, as much as this kid just wanted to get right with God, too bad, he's going to hell because he's Muslim. And, and then it dawned on me that this is I couldn't tolerate this anymore did not seem right. The kid just wanted to be right with Allah and wanted to apologize to a friend. But he was going to hell because he wasn't a Christian. And I just couldn't justify that anymore. That really was the nail in the coffin on that part of my life.

David Ames  32:43  
Well, we talk a lot about that. It's not one thing. It's 1000 things. And we often focus on the first thing and the last thing. Right, right. And yet there are many points in between that, but so it sounds like this was one of the last things for you the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak.

Luke J. Janssen  33:00  
Well, certainly one of the last things that basically had me beginning to say, You know what, I'm not sure I'm a Christian anymore, that's for sure. But but it was a long list of questions that finally got me to well, we'll come to that in moments. So it did start a whole cascade of changes in my thinking questions that I now actually started asking with vigor, I didn't just kind of quickly ask me that and realize, oh, I don't want to go there and file them away. So I actually began to deal with some of these. And it was a long, hard journey of deconstruction, you know, with air quotes, that what people usually think of deconstruction, meaning just taking a sledgehammer and breaking everything, which I now have learned, deconstruction can mean, a very, excuse me, can mean a very different thing. Sure. Maybe we'll talk about that later on. But I started going out for coffee with friends with people I respected and was asking these questions and trying to reconcile them trying to have them make sense. And I just found myself giving up ground on so many things that I once believed with full conviction. And so what kinds of things naturally obviously one of the first things to go I think the first thing to go would be this, the inerrancy and infallibility infallibility of the Bible. How could that not happen? All these stories that I took at face value, and now I'm saying they could not have happened, it doesn't make sense. It's not right, you know, again, getting back to the canine Canaanite slaughters. So that was one of the first things that that definitely went, I stopped reading the Bible literally. We can talk more about that later. Things like atonement theology, I was very much I grew up Calvinist and for a long time I had I held this idea for decades held this idea of original sin, and that whole idea of Heaven and Hell and reward and punishment. Christian exclusivism though the whole idea that Christianity is the only way to get to heaven, and then that one of the other things I already mentioned this, but it was one of the last things that I had that I found myself wrestling with was that personal relationship even into my 40s and 50s, I still thought I'm supposed to have this and I just was not able to experience it not able to realize it. Without generating it myself. That's the thing. I think I could have been someone who would say, Yep, I feel that personal relationship. But I would know deep inside, I'm just generating as a friend of mine, as a friend of mine calls that the warm the warm fuzzies just generating the warm fuzzies. And then I call that God. And that was one of the last things that I've finally had to let go of. And it took me so long to get rid of that. That idea.

David Ames  35:34  
I think people will relate to that. Yeah. Yeah. And I know there's a more to the story. I'm anticipating that but yes,

Luke J. Janssen  35:40  
well, so now we're getting nearer to the end of that third 15 year span of my life, I found it necessary that I had to accept that I was no longer a believer. Definitely agnostic, that's for sure. But I've not wasn't quite comfortable calling myself an atheist. I wouldn't call myself an atheist. And that's because I'm a scientist, scientist says, Well, if you if you say this, you have to mean it in the meaning of the word. And to me an atheist is somebody who knows that there is no God. And I can't, I couldn't say that, then we can come back later to the fact that I still can't say that.

The interesting thing was leading up to that admission that okay, I'm not a believer, I'm certainly an agnostic, leading up to that there's all this fear of walking to the edge, and you know, the panic and the uneven uncertainty of coming to that. But once you do make that step, it was just a feeling of liberation. I just found that. Now I can now I can breathe easy. I can, I can be honest with myself, for starters, and I can, there was a joy and a peace. Let's put it that way. I actually enjoy MP. So I've given up this faith that I'd had for 40 or more years,

David Ames  36:55  
we talked about just the release the you know, best self honesty, you lose the need to defend your Faith anymore. And yeah, there's some very interesting things that happen. And the irony is how evangelistic it sounds when you try to describe it, you know, like, literally, you know, scales falling from one's eyes kind of thing,

Luke J. Janssen  37:18  
right? No, Dave, in your show? Do you? Have you had people talk? Or have you talked about this allegory of Plato's cave?

David Ames  37:25  
I'm very familiar with that. I don't know that. We've talked about it a lot on on the podcast. So if you want to give the listeners just a brief overview,

Luke J. Janssen  37:33  
okay, so and the reason I'm doing this is because this is now I'm feeling that in my life, in that part of my life, I was feeling this whole Plato's cave experience. Yeah. So very briefly, I haven't really thought to do this. But let me just try. So in Plato's cave, you've got this guy stuck in a cave, he's chained, and he's just seeing shadows on a wall, cast by some fire or something like that. And he just sees shadows, doesn't make sense. He's looking at it. And things don't make sense. But he eventually managed to get free, which allows him now to walk around the cave. And then he sees that these shadows are actually just, they're just shadows of A, he had been building an image of what the shadows meant. And now he knew what those shadows were all about. He knew what was creating the shadows, he saw it from from a whole different angle, He then proceeds to walk out of the cave. In the process, as he gets to the top of the cave and breaks out in the sunlight. Now he's absolutely blinded, and he's scared to death, because he can't see anything, doesn't know where he's going. But eventually, he, his eyes accommodate, he can now see clearly, things as they really are not no longer just shadows on a wall, in the cave. But now he sees the sky and the trees and everything around them. And he sees what things are really all about. And there's this feeling of of elation of joy. And then he realizes I should go back into the cave and get my buddies out of that cave. Yeah, and so so that's where I found myself at this point in my life that I had walked up to that edge with such fear and uncertainty, and the blindness of, you know, if I let go of this, and I let go of that, there's nothing there to catch me. And I didn't know what to do. But once I finally did, there was that feeling of, of release, you use word release, and joy and peace. And then I did feel that I wanted to go back and tell the people that I've been going to church with about, you know, what, all these things were talking about. Maybe there's a different way to look at these things. And I really began to as so I started a blog called reaching back into Plato's cave. I wanted to reach back to them and help them pass that those questions that we're all dealing with. Yeah. So that was very much a decision that I made to finally say, you know, what, I don't believe all those things. So in that sense, I'm not a believer, and I'm definitely agnostic. And I just want to clarify, I often want to clarify, I want to say this to people I'm talking to. I'm speaking now to two different groups of people, the ones who are Christians and the ones who are atheist. To the ones that are Christians. I want them to know that this is not a rejection of a faith. I have had, because it's not that I just chose to stop believing, and certainly not motivated by wanting to have a different lifestyle, you know, the whole sex drugs and rock and roll thing. It's just that I couldn't pretend anymore, I just couldn't pretend that I was a believer, I just simply didn't believe, at least not all the things that I used to believe. And so a lot of Christians will become judgmental. At this point, some Christians will become judgmental at this point. As if I had a choice, I didn't have a choice, I didn't just know that the faith was real. And I chose to believe differently, I just couldn't believe it anymore. And then the other thing I want to say is to the to the atheist, and it's, it's one thing to say that you can give up a lot of these faiths, but it doesn't mean that you have to reject the whole thing. And I just simply dropped the things that I couldn't hold anymore, which was a lot of things, I'll admit. But there still were some things that made sense to me, they still do, and I hope we can talk about some of those. We're in the fourth quarter of my life that I'll be getting to

David Ames  40:58  
Yeah, I you know, I said this loop to you off Off mic. And I'm just gonna say it here that that really the podcast, as I started, it was for those people who, when they looked around at what they had left, it was so little, that what remained was so little that they maybe they don't call themselves atheists, but they they don't say that they're more than agnostic in some way or another right like that. They can't they there's nothing left for them. That was my personal experience. But I want to acknowledge that people go through the deconstruction process and land in different places, there's a wide spectrum available to people. And one of the things that I find exciting about that is that that people get to go and explore, to learn to find out what they believe and why. And that's ultimately their autonomous decision that they get to make, right. And so I just want to make sure that that's clear from my end that although the podcast does generally focus on the D convert, where I'm acknowledging there's a pretty wide spectrum for people to experience.

Luke J. Janssen  42:05  
Good. So now I'm sure there's listeners that are wondering, well, then what do you still hold on to? The one thing that I just could not shake is the idea that there's this, there is a creative force, a life force. And that's simply because again, I'm a scientist. And so when I look under the microscope, and and see what cells can do, when I look at it through a telescope, and to see what's out there, it just leaves a feeling in me that there's something bigger out there. And I just, I can't believe that this whole thing is just some crazy cosmic accident. I just can't go there. Now, I know that some people call that a God of the gaps. And I have often wrestled with the fact I've been against people, not against people, I've been against the arguments that are based on a God of the Gaps argument. I'm just against those. And that's the thing I said, all I'm doing is holding on to a God of the gaps. But I'd been corrected on that partly through some thinking. But I'll be honest, it was also in a lot of these podcast episodes that I've done with Boyd and there was a an episode we did with Steven Freeland to chemo that they're more recently as well, where the point is made. It's not that it's a God of the gaps. I'm not using it as an explanation of things. It's more it's a sense of awe, there's this awe in looking at the stuff under a microscope or at the end of a telescope, and just being in awe and just feeling that there's something bigger out there. I have no evidence that there is no God, I don't have evidence that there is a God, this is not my evidence for God, when I look through the microscope, I don't say, well, that's proof that there's a God, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying, there's an awe that there's something bigger called the life force, a creative force. And it just makes more sense to believe that, that there's this creative life force, rather than this is just a cosmic accident. That's where I stand on that whole idea.

It just makes believing certain things make more sense. For me, it's more intellectually satisfying. Again, it's not proof. For God. It's not proof that we exist for a purpose. But I also don't have definitive proof that there's no God or that we don't have a purpose. If you're going to be adamant on this, you have to acknowledge that. In this case, you're you're making a choice. I don't know that anybody has proof that there is no God or that we're not here for a reason. They don't have that proof. They just, I would say that they should acknowledge that they're making a choice to believe that and I just choose to believe that there is something bigger out there, and that we do exist here for a purpose for purpose that there is meaning to our existence. And I know that some believers will, will have problems with me referring to God as a creative life force. But here's the thing. I've moved past the idea of God is a personal God. A personal Buddy, He's not someone more closer to me than my neighbor or even than my wife, he's not a personal Buddy, he is he so I'm using, I'm using pronouns he, as if God is a person, and that's again, something that boy and I've talked a lot about in our podcast, God is not a person, he's not a he or a she or an IT, he's, he's it God is way beyond personification. And, and certainly I would call God a life force or credibly force in a lot of other things.

David Ames  45:29  
You know, it's interesting, I just want to jump in here. If you're if you ever get a chance, go back and listen to marriage Simka a, I did a an interview with an Orthodox Jewish person. And, man, the language you're using right now sounds almost exactly for what he was talking, you know, the the kind of a, the core of being, that being itself kind of force of being as it were, I'm struggling to use the language, but it just what you just said really struck me as very similar to potentially Jewish thinking,

Luke J. Janssen  46:01  
right? So I hang on to this idea that there is something bigger out there. And if I find out, I'm wrong, I don't feel I've lost anything. And even as I say those words, I don't want thinking, I don't want people thinking that I'm just, you know, the Pascal's Wager idea, I'm not just choosing to believe because it's in the hopes of being right about getting into heaven, I'm quite comfortable with finding out that we only have our life here on earth, and that there's nothing more after that I don't need to have a reward of heaven. For making this choice. I just choose based on what I see and what it feels that there is something bigger out there. And well, I certainly don't believe in the whole health thing, that's for sure. I grew up with and believed in this idea for 50 years, the idea that God hates humans, because we're so sinful, and that there's nothing he can do but just burn us up or even worse, torturous for an eternity, I find that I can't believe that. I do believe that people can create their own hell here on Earth. And I'm working my way through parsing the words of Jesus, when he's talking about hell, that he's talking about people creating hell on earth. And it goes both ways, I think you can create Hell on Earth, you can also create heaven on earth, if we can just get it together, okay. And that's where this whole meaning making thing comes together, I just choose to play in a team that's all about making meaning, making a difference, learning how to get along, learning how to love learning how to make things better, that's just a choice I made to be on a team. And if there's an afterlife, and there's a heaven, that's great, but I don't need that to make this choice.

David Ames  47:31  
So it's really interesting, Luke, because I use a lot of the same language without the underlying metaphysics. And I'm not trying to argue here, I just want you to understand where I come from, from my perspective that human beings are meaning makers, we make meaning that is part of what it means to be human. And this concept that we talked about on the podcast of secular grace is that human beings need to be accepted, we need to be known, we have a deep seated needs to be known by one another. We are social creatures. And this idea of secular grace is a proactive love, call it agape if you want. But just that that is the attitudinal direction that we should be facing is loving one another. I know that's not original, I appreciate that I'm stealing that. But that, from my perspective, there's no underlying transcendence necessary for all of that to remain true. That all is a human experience, that that all of these things can be natural. So it's fascinating how close you and I are, is what I think you're a great guest. This is this has been this is a great conversation. So I really appreciate it.

I think my question that leaps out is, what is the Bible for you now? So there's a lot of deconstruction that's happened. You have this sense of the creative force. So what does that? What does that say about the Bible? What does it mean to you now?

Luke J. Janssen  49:02  
For me the Bible. So I use an analogy. And in fact, I'm trying remember we use it recently in an episode, but for the longest time, that's right, it was it was an episode we did with Peter ends. And I asked him, What do you think of this analogy? For although the longest time I had this idea of the Bible as the user's manual, you know, you've got the user's manual for your car or for your stereo system. It's a manual. It's written by the maker of the product that we're talking about. And it's written to the people who are going to buy this product and how this is how you use it. Here's what you do and that sort of thing. That's what I thought the Bible for decades. I thought that's what the Bible was written by God is, you know, I might have been had to admit, okay, yes, sure. There was a human holding the pen, but basically, God's moving his fingers God's whispering in his ear, or is putting the thoughts in his head. And it's a it's a book written by God giving given to us humans to tell us how to live. And I've since realized, that's not realized. I've since come to accept the fact that it's not a user. As manual, it's rather a diary or a notebook. The whole idea that humans for millennia for 1000s of years have been have been looking up at the sky, feeling that there is this bigger thing out there trying to make sense of it, writing down their notes, writing down the stories that they told. Some of those stories are intended to tell us, okay, here's what happens when you do things this way. And here's how you could look better. Some things are written to basically say, here's how we did it, because we thought we were right. And boy, were we wrong. Now, now they're not that boy, were we wrong is not even admitted implicitly in the story. There's a lot of stores in the Bible that people look at and go, How can that be in that Bible? And I think it's there because the people at the time, this is what they did. And you look, we can now stand back and look at what they didn't realize how it just goes, it just goes downhill from there. So a lot of words to say, I now see the Bible as much more if not, well, largely, you diary or a notebook written by humans. And we get to look at those diaries and notebooks and take some lessons from them. And, and to some extent, we're writing back into those books when we interpret those biblical books. I mean, let's face it, a lot of the things that are written in the Bible have been interpreted so, so hugely differently. And that's why we have so many Christian denominations, they take the same passages and personal differently. And that's what we're now doing. We're taking those scriptures, looking at what those people wrote down and how they saw things and we're now applying our meaning to what they wrote down as if that's what those people meant all along. That's a lot of words to say where I see the Bible now.

David Ames  51:36  
And it's okay if you I'd like to dig just one step further. In that do you see the Christian bible as special or different from say, the Koran or the Bhagavad Geeta, Geeta, or any of the other collections of human wisdom that are out there?

Luke J. Janssen  51:52  
Only special in that that's what I grew up with. Okay. It's full of strange stories. It's full of, of, of disturbing stories, and it's full of things that I'll call untruth. I have looked at pieces of the Bhagavad Gita pieces of the Quran. So I'm not an expert on those and my point. My point is this. They contain a lot of truths. They may contain a lot of untruth, I don't know what those are. So I'm not going to say that they do. But I'm led to believe that they contain some untruths, and some disturbing stories. And but then so does the Bible. I mean, I will never deny that the Bible has a lot of very disturbing stories and a lot of wrong ideas, to be honest. So here's an example of what I'm talking about. The Israelites, if you if you take this Bible at face value, it talks about the Israelites having just come out of Egypt, they've been wandering around for a while, they're now setting up a religious system in the desert, and they're looking forward to getting into Canaan. And we're given these laws, presumably from God. And one of the first things they ask about is, well, what do I do when I need to sell my kid into slavery? And there's some words there that talk about what they need to do when they sell to kids into slavery. What do you do with a raped woman? And the solution there, presumably from God was, well, you have to make that woman marry her rapist, and there's no opportunity for divorce. There were opportunities, opportunities for divorce and other situations. But here in this case of rape, no, there wasn't. How can I? I can't say that that was God speaking. I think that was a human speaking a male speaking, were a bunch of males speaking. And that would be an example of what I'm talking about. When I say that there are things that are wrong in the Bible. Okay. And I think the Bible is intended to force us to ask some really hard questions and begin to look past the words. And really, yeah, actually, that's not the best way to do things.

David Ames  53:40  
Where I think we agree is that I think the the collections of human wisdom are a particular group of people in a particular time writing about how they made sense of the world, how they interacted with one another. And what 21st century eyes, that can be horrifying. So yeah, I think from the anthropological point of view of just kind of having kind of a step back and saying, trying not to just judge it, but to recognize that's, that's what they thought at that time. And we can take what we we think is useful, and rejects critically, what we find to not fit in the 21st century anymore.

Luke, another topic that I was interested in, I heard you allude to it in relatively recent episodes of the podcast, but I was never able to go back to the the archives to hear the detail is that you wrote a book about the soul. And so I'd be really interested to hear what your perspective is on the concept of a soul.

Luke J. Janssen  54:43  
So that actually came out of my studies when I did this master's of theological studies. Again, I want to say that I didn't just decide to get an MTS, I first took a course in Genesis what to do with Genesis because I wasn't a scientist and I did not know what to do with that whole creation account. So I took that course and then another and another until it finally became a degree. Now during that time taking all those courses, one of the things I began to learn, it really became so blatantly obvious to me and certainly is now was how thinking developed over time, I used to have this mentality that, you know, the Old Testament people believed this way, if you can't see me in the, in the audio, but I'm holding my hands as if I'm holding a basketball. This is what the Old Testament believed about things. The Old Testament, the ancient Hebrews believed about things. And then there was a change in thinking when Christ came on the scene. And now the New Testament again, have their new basketball. And they see things differently. But I really saw how thinking changed over 1000s of years. And in particular, on this topic of the soul and the afterlife, I realized that the very ancient Hebrews had a very different view completely different than what you might read about later on in the Old Testament, or certainly the New Testament, and certainly compared to now. And what also became apparent was that the changes in the thinking coincide when you when you take into account when these different books of the Bible are written. Some are written well. So we can argue about exactly when they're written, but certainly some are written from the point of view of many, many 1000s of years ago, say 6000, or 4000 years ago. Some of them were written from a context that's more like say three or 4000 years ago. And when you look at the at the timing of the changes in the thinking, when different books, the Bible convey a whole new understanding of the soul and the afterlife. They coincided with when these ancient people, the ancient Hebrews were in one context or another, they spent 400 years in Egypt, for example, they had a certain view, let me back up even further. So before they were in Egypt, they were Babylonians. Abraham was a Babylonian and we know about what the Babylonians believed. And there's hints of what a Babylonian, a Hebrew wise Babylonian faith look like some things that Abraham did, and people around him talked about, you can see now this base Babylonian influence. And they very much had a Babylonian look on what the soul was like and what the afterlife was like, then they end up in Egypt, and they're there for four or 500 years 430 You can hear different numbers. But the bottom line is they're in there for for almost five centuries. And if you look at anybody today, who comes from an immigrant family, and they are second or third generation in a new country, like Canada, or the US, those second or third generation kids are so North American eyes compared to their parents and grandparents who are so old school from the old country. Yeah. And there's a complete difference in just the course of a couple generations. Now you'll look at these ancient Hebrews they've been in Egypt for for almost 500 years, they're completely Egyptian eyes. And you can see that now in what they talk about. When we're referring to the soul in the afterlife. Then there's this encounter with the Zorro, Zoroastrians, the Persian Empire, Daniel, Daniel sees a whole has a whole new perspective on the soul and the afterlife. And it's largely because of his his contact with the Persians and the Zoroastrian faith. And then you come certainly Greek Greek thinking absolutely changed the way the ancient biblical writers saw the soul and the afterlife, it became a very platonic view on the soul in the afterlife. And then then you come to Paul and Paul was a completely Hellenistic Jew, and sees things very differently. And now we're today 2000 years later see the soul in the afterlife completely different yet again? Yeah. So that was the that was the generation of that book. It was a lot of learning. It was not a particular course, it was certainly was not my thesis while I was doing that master's degree, but it was an accumulation of all kinds of examples that I came across where the thinking of the ancient biblical writers how that thinking on all kinds of issues just changed over hundreds or 1000s of years.

David Ames  59:02  
And for you, personally, what was what would your position be on the soul?

Luke J. Janssen  59:07  
So that's what the book is about. And we did a number of episodes on that. And I'm just actually editing right now, as we speak. I'm editing an episode that will come out in a number of weeks where we talked about that. For me, the soul is an emergent property of the brain. Now, what is an emergent property? Basically, it's it's, it's a property that emerges out of basic constituents that you would not have seen those things there if you just looked at those basic constituents. So for example, I'm going to just try to quickly come up with analogies. You look at artificial intelligence or virtual reality. You can play virtual reality and you feel you're in a whole new virtual, you're in a whole new reality. But that's only because of a lot of circuits, a lot of software, a lot of electrons, and all the things are coming together to produce a whole new experience. And out of that emerges of unexperienced you can't it's a lot potential, if you don't have words for people will talk with civilizations that a civilization is based on people, people are built on organs. Organs involve chemicals, chemicals involve protons and electrons. And at each of those stages, you can't predict a civilization when you just look at the electrons and protons, neutrons. You can even predict the molecules. And then once you have molecules, you can predict the civilization all these things are emergent properties of, of the basic constituents. So the brain, the soul is an emergent property of a whole lot of nerves, a whole lot of reflex pathways, a whole lot of neural processing. And from that is an experience of what it what's going on around you who am I, I see myself immersed in a world where I am situated in a, in a social setting, I'm a member of a family and a social group, and a country all have these things feed into my personal experience of what is real to me. And that's to me, what the soul is all about the soul is what defines you, it defines your hopes, your fears, it defines your memories, all of these things, and we can route those in. The neural processing is an emergent property of that neural processing.

David Ames  1:01:24  
One more question on this. I didn't I didn't see us going this direction. But I'm really you're just you just make me very curious. To me, you've just described consciousness. So are those synonyms for you? And I guess the ultimate question is at death, does the soul continue on for you?

Luke J. Janssen  1:01:42  
Okay. First of all, no, I would not call consciousness and soul or mind or personality, the same thing, consciousness is just an awareness. And so even bacteria will have an awareness of a chemical gradient, for example, or light source, they have that conscious awareness. And so that would be consciousness. Now, soul and mind and personality certainly would include consciousness. It's one of those fundamental ingredients, they lead to a personality and a mind and a soul.

David Ames  1:02:11  
Can I Can I jump in and just correct? How about sentience? Is that a better word?

Luke J. Janssen  1:02:16  
Okay, so I haven't thought about that. So sentience, and and sentience is, you know what? I have to think about that that day, because sentence would be I think, it is a property, but I'm thinking more it's like a, it's an action of some kind of like, it's more of an action word to me, whereas soul to me is an experience. It's a it's a property. Okay. So there's overlap, I'd have to think about that one day.

David Ames  1:02:42  
Okay, great. Yeah. Hey, I succeeded. I got you to think.

Luke J. Janssen  1:02:47  
Now, you said, What does that mean for the afterlife? So Christians will talk about the resurrection, but he'll talk about the resurrection. And I firmly believe if you're going to believe in the resurrection, I don't know that there is I don't know that there's an afterlife, I really don't know. I honestly don't know that there's an afterlife, I believe it's possible, I have no idea what it looks like. But if there is they talked about this resurrection body, that body can look like anything. It doesn't have to be this physical body that I currently own today, which is a completely different body than they had 20 years ago. And let alone 40 years ago, I've had many bodies, and they've all looked very different. I know, we all grew up and by the you had five is not what you had 15 or 30. You get the idea. Yeah. So. So this emergent property that I call the soul works in the body that I now have, the nerves that I have, and the pathways that are ingrained in my brain. But in theory, those could be embodied in something else. People today talk about being embodied in a computer when you talk about transhumanism and, and being loaded up into the where they call it the metaverse, they talked about that. And it's something that actually they actually could believe would be possible. And in theory, if they could upload all your memories, all of your experiences, your preferences, the laws, you grew up with the values, you held all these different things. I would I would struggle to say that's not me that was embodied up there. If they had all those qualities and all those things of me, it'd be hard to say, well, that's not me. And then of course, that raises all kinds of other weird philosophical questions. So I think I've answered your question, David. Yeah, the afterlife could be a reimbursement in something doesn't have to be this biological body and probably wouldn't be a computer but who knows what it could look like.

David Ames  1:04:39  
I lied to you just a second ago. I've got one more question along this line. Because and I'll set the context for so for me personally. The last two things to go were the concept of a soul, my soul, specifically mine. Right, not just not just theoretically, but the idea that I have something that that will transcend to death. went for me. And the second are the really the truly the last thing for me was the resurrection of Jesus himself as a literal event. So I'm curious if you believe that Jesus was physically, literally resurrected from death, true death.

Luke J. Janssen  1:05:16  
Right. Okay, so I will take both of those. Let me start with the first one, though. So I think people will struggle with the idea that I talked with the soldiers being just an emergent property, especially the Christian believers amongst your listeners, and who here this will struggle with that whole idea. And yet, all you need is a brain injury, and you become a different person. There's stories, and people always pull out the story of Phineas Gage, people have a grandmother who's got Alzheimer's, and all that really is is a brain injury. And they recognize that that person is becoming less of who they once were. And sometimes they become a different person, they suddenly start acting and doing things that are completely different. Lots of stories of people having other forms of brain injury and becoming a whole different person. It's just bizarre. And the point is, if there really was a separate thing called Soul, write a thing called the soul that was writing in your body, you could have a brain injury, and that soul should still be there. But it's not. It's totally dependent on the brain, the machinery. So that's, we could go on at length about why I hold this view. But okay, so enough on that, yeah. Now back to the Jesus resurrection thing. Again, I don't know, I'm still wrestling through where I stand on who God is, whether he's an interventionist God. Certainly, to me, God represents a whole lot of moral values, good and love and that sort of thing. But whether he's an interventionist I don't know, if he were, if I could somehow be convinced that he were, I could see him looking down on these humans and saying, You know what, they could do things better here, I know this, the I have a better will for them. I'm going to send someone down there. Now, before I go any further, this is not I'm not going down the path where I'm going to send somebody down there. So I can rip him apart and spill his blood and pay for since that's not what I'm getting at. I think rather, if he were an interventionist God, he could send somebody in and say, Hey, guys, there's a better way. And here's how you do it. Get along, forgive, you know, that kind of thing, all the values that Jesus stood for, and which is why he was killed. And if that were the case, if this Jesus was either, you know, well, if this Jesus was there for that reason, and was killed for that reason, I could also imagine an interventionist God saying, You know what, now they've killed them, they've really done it, I'm going to bring them back, partly to put a spotlight on this guy, this guy is not just another guy who died from some good values. Here's a guy who stood for the values that I want these humans to finally get into their heads. And I'll put a spotlight on that. I would believe that such an interventionist God could conceivably be raising from the dead. So I haven't answered your question. I can't say yep, I believe that that's what happened is consistent with. I'm obviously not done wrestling through those questions. But I want to be honest with myself, and on the one hand, say, okay, look, I can't say that. I know that that's what happened that there was this interventionist God who did raise Jesus after Jesus made the point. Hey, guys, here's how to live. I'm not going to say I absolutely believe that. But on the other hand, I can't say well, I'm not going to say, it's not it's not possible because even as a scientist, I'm going to know that there are things that are now possible that were not possible. 100 years ago, we do things now today that are routine. We bring people back to life. We resuscitate, we don't we don't resurrect we resuscitate people, we do all kinds of things that are that were impossible. And now we realize, well, we just didn't know all the rules. We didn't know all the physical laws. And so I'm not going to deny that it's entirely possible. I can't say no, it's impossible. I just don't know how to say yes, it happened beyond saying, Well, I want to believe that it did.

David Ames  1:09:03  
I think that's very honest. So thank you for, for letting me dig deep there. I definitely want to spend some time though, on your podcast recovering evangelicals. So I want to begin that with how did that come about? What what was the impetus and and how did you avoid Connect?

Luke J. Janssen  1:09:22  
Okay, so again, I begin all those questions when I was in my 30s 40s, began a lot of questions. And eventually it became a blog site. And I started the blog, a lot of these questions, reaching into Plato's cave. And, and then that transformed into a podcast because one of the people that I had coffee with was this boy who happened to be at the time he was a no, not at the time. I knew him as a kid in the youth group. I was one of the helpers I used sponsor. I worked with our youth pastor and helped run the youth program with him. He did all the work. We were helpers, but boy was one of the kids in there and And, and then years later, I mean, I haven't even stopped to think how many years later, I then encountered Boyd again, that same youth leader brought the two of us together. Boyd and I, we had coffee he was there as well, we actually was a beer and french fries and that kind of thing, that scandal there. But that's where I had a good long chat with this boy. And he began to clarify a few things for me. And at the same time, at that particular time, I was wondering about doing a podcast. And it just turned out that, you know, the everything conversion, I began doing this podcast with this boy who I knew from long before, one of the reasons I wanted to work with Boyd said, he has a whole different background. Mine is very scientific with some little bit of religious an MTS degree. Whereas boys is very much philosophical and theological, he had that training. And he's a very sharp guy very quick in his mind. And I really thought, you know, this is the kind of guy that I can work with. So that's how the podcast started. So now I'm just going to very quickly do the blurb from my my podcast, so it's recovering evangelicals, I just want to point out to anyone who's trying to find it. We did start this podcast in January 2020, with that name recovering evangelicals. And just over half a year later, another group started with the same name on Facebook, recovering evangelicals. And then it was about a year later. So now, one year after I started, then another person started with a podcast called The New Evangelical, the new evangelicals, podcast, and the new evangelicals community. So a little bit of overlap there. And then another person came up with recovering evangelical podcast, she had the singular, we had the plural, but otherwise, it's the same name. So just want to call attention to the fact that there's at least four groups with very similar names. And we were there first.

David Ames  1:11:51  
Yeah, I'm giving you credit, then. Okay. So maybe just give my listeners overview of some of the topics you cover. And, and then we'll get into maybe who your audience is.

Luke J. Janssen  1:12:02  
Okay. So what we what the goal of the podcast is to just deal with questions that make it hard to believe it. And it's called recovering evangelicals, we've had a number of times a number, a number of episodes, where we explain why we call it that people who are trying to recover from evangelicalism, or even people who are trying to recover evangelicalism because we think evangelicalism is very, very broken today. So we're targeting those people who come from an evangelical background, or at least want to hear about that. And people who either have left behind, they've just given up on belief entirely, or people who are struggling with it. Maybe some people, some listeners are ones who are who are fully committed to the faith themselves, but they're working, they may be youth workers and working with kids who are asking these questions. So. So a lot of words to say, our goal in this podcast is to deal with those really tough questions. And we deal with ones like, you know, Original Sin and atonement theory, that personal relationship that I referred to earlier, we'd have a number of episodes to deal with that directly. Things like heaven and hell, or controversial things. young earth creationism for sure we deal with a lot, but things like intelligent design, religious trauma we have dealt with in the past, those are the kinds of topics that we have covered.

David Ames  1:13:17  
Yeah, great. And I'll just say that you guys tackle these issues with a high degree of rigor. So you come prepared, there's clearly research that has been done. I appreciate that you, you know, you bring the scientific perspective. And Boyd has the, the philosophical background as well. And you both have a theological background. And so it's, it's exceptionally well done, and I'll give you give you props for that. So.

Who do you see as your audience who are the people who are listening?

Luke J. Janssen  1:13:55  
Well, I kind of alluded to that. So there are people who have moved from one version of Christian belief into another, or they moved out of Christianity into an entirely different religion. We've I've heard from them as well. Some people who see themselves as agnostics, and some who are outright atheists, one of the most recent while this goes back, I'm going to take a guess. Five or 10 episodes. So to go we had somebody in particular who has just moved on from the Christian faith. A great guy I loved doing that episode with him. He and Redfern is his name.

David Ames  1:14:26  
He has been on the podcast I love him. Yeah.

Luke J. Janssen  1:14:31  
And and so we want to reach out to those people as well. Some of those people just we use this phrase scratching the itch. These people who even though they've left behind, they haven't left behind. They still come back whether they're aware of it or not. Well, the fact that they're listening to our podcast means that they aren't coming back to it. But they're just often finding themselves thinking these questions, they come back to scratch the itch. And so those are the people that we're talking to.

David Ames  1:14:58  
Luke, this has been An amazing conversation, I think you and I could talk for hours upon end. If ever we are in the same town at the same time, I would love to have coffee or beer or whatever, so that we could chat and spend a few hours. I hope this isn't the last time that we work together. But thank you so much. I do want to give you just one last chance to you how can people reach out to you? Where can they find the podcasts, that kind of thing?

Luke J. Janssen  1:15:21  
Well, they can email me at Or go to the podcast, which is at Luke J. Excellent. Didn't do that too fast. They can find me on Facebook, of course. And we have a private discussion group which people can join. We do ask a couple questions, three questions, and a lot of people asked to join and they don't ask questions, well, then they don't get in. So we just want to know a few things about these people, we

David Ames  1:15:47  
do something very similar. I appreciate. Luke, thank you so much for telling your story. Good to be here.

Final thoughts on the episode. As you can hear, Luke is a really interesting person who has lived on that edge of science versus faith for all of his life. I've said this before, I really find it fascinating the number of people who have a young earth creationism as a part of their primary faith tradition. So here I mean, you know, Luke talks about not being fully committed as a younger person, and then eventually making a personal commitment, but having that be a foundational part of one's theology, and a very strong emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible. Between those two things really are the main cracks that happen, that as a person tries to hold on to the inerrancy of Scripture and a young earth creationism, against the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, begins that process of deconstruction for many, many people. I appreciated Luke's honesty and talking about his younger years and not being entirely in and his description of his deconstruction of letting go of that inerrancy letting go of young earth creationism, as well as his honesty in still believing in something that he cannot look at the complexity and the beauty of life and not have adhere. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but not have an author or a designer of some kind or another. As I mentioned, throughout my conversation with Luke, it was fascinating to me, how close he and I are. And yet, I am comfortably on the other side of deconversion. And he maintains faith. On some level, I don't know that he would call himself a Christian any longer, but he has some sense of the Divine, something transcendent. I appreciate the tone of the recovering evangelicals podcast that they are very much trying to do what I'm trying to do in being an open, safe place for people to land. I think I'm on one side of the fence, and they're on the other side of the fence. But we're really trying to do the same work. So I appreciate it very much. I want to recommend for those of you who are interested in some of the apologetic arguments and what that sounds like from people who still maintain some level of faith, but who have deconstructed and let go of an evangelical fundamentalist perspective on the Bible. It is very interesting. As I mentioned, it's very rigorously done with a lot of research and intelligence, with Luke bringing the scientific perspective and Boyd bringing a philosophical and theological perspective. And like some of my guests who are in deconstruction, but would not say that they are D converted. They are working it out. And they are working it out on Mike in public. And I think that's really fascinating and interesting to listen to. So I can't recommend enough the podcast recovering evangelicals. You can find them wherever you find your best podcasts. You can also find Luke at That's And of course, we'll have links in the show notes. I want to thank Luke for being on the podcast and for sharing his story with honesty and being willing to dig deep. There is a potential at some point in time for me and a few other people being on the recovering evangelicals podcast. We'll see if that pans out. But thank you Luke for being on the podcast. I really appreciate it you and your story. Secular Grace Thought of the Week is it is also okay to be d converted to be done. I think for those in my audience who have crossed that Rubicon and They call themselves non believer or non theist or, or even an atheist or what have you, it's less about knowing that there is no God, the way that Luke framed it, and more about being done trying to find evidence for something that no evidence has been found for yet. I've intentionally had a number of guests who are deconstructing who are not de converts, to hear that voice to hear that side of the conversation. But one of the primary reasons for this podcast is to provide cover for those of us who say there is no more, there is no baby in this bathwater, and I am done. That is okay. I completely respect the agnostic position and not being willing yet to make that call. I think a much larger proportion of people who begin deconstruction are in that space where it's much more of an agnostic point of view. But I just want to make clear that if you are a listener, and again, you don't have to use the word atheist, but you no longer believe that a god or transcendence or supernaturalism exists. You are not alone, and you are okay. Next week, we have Robert peoples of the affinis project, Robert has done a tremendous amount of work in moving secularism forward in Arizona. He is a humanist and has a secular Grace perspective on life. And I'm excited for you to hear his story. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human.

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

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Matt Oxley: Raging Rev

Atheism, Bloggers, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Podcasters, Secular Grace
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This week’s episode is Matt Oxley. Matt has what he calls a “Bapti-costal” background—mainstream Southern Baptist with “some extra flair and drama.” At six, he was saved, by thirteen he was “hardcore about faith” and by high school, his beliefs were his whole world. However, at nineteen he left church over doctrinal issues, called it a “sabbatical” and took a few years to genuinely examine his convictions.

“The prayer was, ‘I’m willing to give you up to find the truth,’ and ‘you’ was God.”

He knew he had to believe the “cardinal doctrines,” if he was to accept all the other beliefs, but how much could he see was wrong and still ignore it? He was no longer one hundred percent sure he believed in God, much less Christianity, and it didn’t feel like God was doing anything to help him believe.

“I just felt like I was out. I was empty. The faith was gone. I could not refill the tank.”

Eventually he admitted to himself that he was an atheist. At first, he became an “anti-apologist,” spreading a different gospel, but over time he found a balance.

“I find myself as a person with a lot more grace to give today.”

Now that eternal retribution is no longer a possibility, Matt holds his beliefs lightly. He is able to parlay with both Christians and humanists, asking hard questions and stirring up all kinds of discussions—Biblical history, Jesus versus Paul, fundamentalism, capitalism, sexuality, and more. 

“I feel that’s like ninety percent of my social interactions: trying to fool people into representing their faith well.”

Today, Matt’s gospel is love. He no longer believes in a god or in strict dogma, but he is optimistic about the church’s future. He’s influencing it for the better, one kind and hard conversation at a time.

Raging Rev

Pastor With No Answers



Secular Grace

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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Will: Heretical Theology

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Humanism, Podcast, Secular Grace
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This week’s guest is Will from Heretical Theology.

Will grew up in a Methodist church until high school, when he began attending youth group in what he now calls the, “cult church.”  Years later, will he and his wife were still at that church, he would have a seemingly supernatural experience at his brother’s church in Florida. The decide to move, and not only was there a megachurch waiting for them, there was also Disney World!

Will and his wife dove right in! They served at the megachurch for about five years when his wife began to doubt her beliefs. Eventually, Will resigned himself to being alone in his faith. 

“Just figured I’d be that church leader who has an unbelieving spouse.”

Slowly, however, Will’s fundamentalist beliefs shifted. He wanted to understand the Bible better, so he could understand his wife better. He decided to take off his “Jesus colored glasses,” and read the Bible differently. It wasn’t long before he had a number of issues with what he was reading. 

Then enters the Republican nomination of Donald Trump. Will felt like he was in the “twilight zone,” not understanding how Christians were getting behind Trump.

“Plot twist: I was a follower of Christ; not a follower of Trump.”

He and his wife stopped going to the main services but were still in small group. The pastor met with Will to discuss “ministry,” but instead Will needed to pour out all his questions and concerns. The pastor dismissed them. It may not have been intentional, but it still hurt. A few months later, he knew he no longer believed. 

“I was like, ‘God and I are done.’”

Today, Will uses Instagram to share what’s learned from the Bible.

“I know some shit about the Bible, and I would like to put that to some good use.”

He’s taking the “decades of useless Bible knowledge” he has to teach and challenge people, in hopes that his followers will outgrow him and move on to do amazing things. 


  • Sam Harris (books & podcast)
  • Bart Ehrman (books & classes on Wondrium)
  • Paulogia (YouTube)
  • Yuval Noah Harari (Books: Homo Deus21 lessons for the 21st century & Sapiens)



Join the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group!


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Ask Me Anything 2021

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Humanism, Podcast, Religious but not Spiritual, Secular Community, Secular Grace
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Ask Me Anything 2021.

Questions from Sheila, Emily, Rick and Mark, Jimmy, Arline, Judah, and Matt.

Deconversion How To

Still Unbelievable—Deconstructing-a-Deconstruction-Deconstruction-els542—Discussing-Sean-McDowell-and-John-Marriot-on-deconversion-part-1-e195h0h

Paulogia on Babylon Bee’s ExVangelicals

Exvangelical on Evangelical response to Deconstruction

Secular Grace

Anthony Pinn

Amy Rath

Bart campolo

Why I am not an Anti-Theist

My Deconversion Sotry


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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest reviewer on the Apple podcast store. Thank you to Jay eight G I ll E. I appreciate the review on the Apple podcast store. You too can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store or pod Thank you. For those of you who don't know yet, we do have the deconversion anonymous Facebook group that is a private Facebook group, there is a thriving community there, I really encourage you to participate. This will be the last episode for the 2021 calendar year, we'll have an episode that will drop on January 2. By doing every other week during the month of December, Mike and I have been able to have a bit of rest. So I hope you don't mind too much. Thanks to Mike t for all the editing in 2021. But he is off on this episode. On today's show. Today's episode is an Ask Me Anything episode. We did this kind of in a rush. I had asked for questions a couple of weeks ago, and people waited to about Wednesday of the week before I'm releasing this episode. So what you'll notice is I have some very long answers and some relatively short ones. And that it was to try to get everybody who asked the question in this is my first asked me anything. I am hoping to do more because I think this is an interesting format. So if you didn't get your question in this time around, please consider sending in a voicemail either recorded on your phone or you can use the anchored on FM app to send me your question. And I will just gather those together for the next round maybe several months from now. So today I'm going to respond to some direct questions, respond to some questions that I've had in interviews, and then a couple of other things that are just on my mind. I am going to have a bunch of links in the show notes. So when I make reference to something, I'll try to have a link for that in the show notes. So here we go.

Shiela  2:44  
Hi, David, this is Sheila from Oklahoma. My question for you today concerns apologetics. When we were believers, we were taught to always be prepared to give a defense for the hope we have in Christ. Now that we are not believers, do you feel it is equally important to defend our unbelief in the same manner?

David Ames  3:04  
That is an incredibly important question. And it's going to give me the springboard to talk about another topic that I think we need to discuss. But to answer you directly Sheila, the short answer is no. And I of course want you to learn as you go through this deconstruction process, or come out the other side of it. There are just many things you don't yet know and going and educating yourself is a vital part of that process. I'll probably be referring to this multiple times today. But I have an article called How to D convert in 10 steps. It's a joke title, unfortunately. But it does go through what I call the quest for answers stage where you are at a point where you're now free to go find out what things are true. And there are no topics which are off limits. So from that perspective, you should have an answer for yourself. But I really want to bring home that you don't owe anyone an answer or an explanation. And I want to be clear here, I'm not saying you should never take on criticism or have people question you, but that's important, like learning how to have those discussions is good. The point that I want to make, Sheila is that we're having this moment, particularly since 2016 and the advent of the ex banje articles as as just a whole exponential wave of people are leaving the church. We're now beginning to see a serious backlash, particularly from evangelicals and prominent pastors and apologists are constantly attacking deconstruction and they are using straw man tactics to minimize and rationalize why people are deconstructing, rather than looking at themselves looking at the theology Je the systems themselves, it is much easier to say you Sheila must never have believed, you must not have really known Jesus, you didn't have a relationship with God, you didn't have a born again, experience. You will have either believers in your life, pastors, leaders, and apologists who will come at you almost immediately and expect you to have an entire worldview on day one, that they will pick it that to try to undermine your deconstruction deconversion, because you don't yet have a complete meta ethical structure or an idea of where you get purpose and meaning. The Evangelical response to particularly X Vangel articles in the current wave, which I need to point out is only the current wave we've had, I think, multiple waves of people leaving the church, obviously, throughout all of history, but just in the last 20 years, you have the new atheists who, as much as I criticize him all the time, we're kind of a vanguard of saying, critique of religion is no longer taboo. You had late aughts, bloggers and early podcasts. The wave that we're in now is bigger than just intellectual issues. It's moral issues against the church. It is the embracing of the LGBTQ community, it is the denial of sexual abuse within the church, it is 1000 things that now lead a person to begin questioning. And as I say all the time, it is not one thing, it is 1000 things. And part of the difficulty is that from an apologetic point of view, they want to limit it to just a handful of things, a list of five or six items. Almost all of those will be blaming you for your own deconstruction. And it is a way for them to ignore the implication of these waves of people leaving. And to get a visceral feel for why. Imagine if the apologists and the leaders handled the death of a loved one in the same way they are handling deconstruction. When a person is in the middle of deconstruction, they have lost their best friend, they've lost the companion who knows them the best, the one who loves them unconditionally, they have lost in very real practical terms, a community, they may have lost family members and friends. It can be the loneliest and most grief inducing period of time in a person's life. And imagine if the apologists did that to someone who had lost a loved one. Well, you can't grieve because you don't have an accurate theology of the afterlife. You don't have an accurate theology of Heaven and Hell, or you don't have an accurate theology for salvation, whether or not your loved one was saved. Can you imagine? And that is the equivalent of what is actually happening. deconstruction is a grief process. So if by chance, there are any evangelical leaders who are hearing this, your response should be one of love, and not of trying to undermine the person's experience for why they are deconstructing. The analogy continues in the sense that when you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it is incredibly difficult to articulate that pain. When you're in the middle of deconstruction, you're probably the least capable of articulating what is happening and why. And my biggest problem with the apologists is that the few of them who have actually spoken to someone who has deconstructed at all often are talking to someone in the middle of it, and they are hearing grief. Not a complete meta ethical, philosophical grounding of why Christianity isn't true. I can't say it simpler than this early on in my deconstruction and deconversion. I wanted desperately for my Christian loved ones and friends to understand why. In fact, the first blog post that I ever did about my deconversion The first paragraph say, for my loved ones for so that you can understand why and how this happened over the last five to six years, having talked to apologists, I've talked to apologists who focus on deconstruction, I have talked to multiple friends of mine. And including my wife, I've come to the conclusion that it's virtually impossible for the believer to understand the real reasons why we do convert, because if they did, they would be in that process themselves. The real reason is that it's not true. If it were true, it wouldn't be D constructible. True things stand the test of scrutiny. Like I say, it's not one thing. It's 1000 things. They want to focus on. What we're able to articulate, you know, I had a moral problem with the church, not loving LGBTQ people. I was hurt by the church, and the leadership did me wrong and I left, or I could no longer accept the inerrancy of Scripture. They want to blame that right. It's not just one of those things, you question one thing and you begin to ask yourself, What else might not be true, and it is the domino effect of one thing after another, being shown to be untrue. At the end of the day, we deconstruct the Bible. We deconstruct theology, we deconstruct Christian morality, we deconstruct the church. And the last thing to fall for most people is deconstructing God. I no longer believe such an entity exists. And there's no way our believing loved ones, or the apologists can ever understand that, or they would be deconstructing themselves.

To tie this up in a bow, I want to refer to a number of podcasts and blogs of late that have addressed from the D converts point of view, the evangelical backlash. I was on Andrew and Matthew Taylor's podcast, still unbelievable A while back, and we did an episode called deconstructing deconstruction, where we looked at an apologists point of view on this and tore it apart. If you ever want to hear me be less than graceful, it's when I go on someone else's podcast and I can unload a bit. Still unbelievable. Just did a recent episode, actually two of them with Andrew, Matthew and guest David Johnson from the skeptics and seekers podcast, and that was really good as well going through that. Paula GIA from YouTube fame has just recently addressed this and he takes a look at a Babylon B video that was making fun of X angelical. And then finally, Blake Justine's podcast X angelical. He just recently addressed this as well as his is a bit more meaty it has got a lot of links and references to various evangelical leaders and apologists. And it's worth listening to as well. So clearly, we're having this moment where this topic is coming up. Sheila, I know I went way long on that question, but thank you for sending it in. And I hope that answered it for you.

Next up is Judah. Judah has just recently recorded an episode with me so his episode will be coming out in January. And Judah very helpfully was pushing me on the topic of grace and the dark side of grace. I've hinted about this often and generally just lightly touched the topic. But I liked the framing that Judah had. Judas question was particularly aimed at the way that grace is used within the Christian context. It is basically a Get Out of Jail Free card such that somebody can do atrocious, heinous acts against humanity, and just ask for forgiveness, and they are supposed to be entirely forgiven. Another context might be in the case of abuse where in the Christian context, one feels guilt or pressure to forgive the abuser. I'm thankful to Judah for asking those questions and for pushing me on this because I want to make that very clear. especially in the case of an abusive relationship or situation, you are under no obligation to forgive that person. And that is definitely not what I mean by secular grace. To say it succinctly secular grace is much more about being willing to accept the vulnerability of others. And likewise be vulnerable with one another. With people that we trust. I don't mean, the entire world on Facebook, or anyone who asked I mean, your best friend, I mean, your soulmate partner who's been with you forever, someone you trust with your life. Those are the kinds of people that it's important to be vulnerable with and to express your love for them. In the public sphere, it's about giving the benefit of doubt to people and not assuming that they are terrible human beings. I've already done a bit of that today, going after the apologists, but I actually work really hard at trying to see the humanity of people with whom I disagree vehemently. It's super easy to fall into the pattern of those people are bad, they are evil. Does that mean that I don't hold them accountable? Absolutely not. That's the point of Judas question. And the point that I want to make here. It is about love with justice, as I often tried to explain to some of my more conservative family members, if justice were truly blind, if the police officers who have shot and killed black men and women over the centuries, literally, but particularly of late, if they were held accountable, we wouldn't be having protests and the kind of civil unrest that we currently have. In my lifetime, since Rodney King, I've witnessed uncountable numbers of times where a person of color has been abused by the police and the police have gone either uncharged under charged, or acquitted, in cases where it seems fairly obvious that that should not have been the case. Of course, I believe in, you're innocent until proven guilty. That's a bedrock foundation. What I'm saying is, if there wasn't an obvious statistical disparity in justice, we wouldn't be having these kinds of conversations. So secular grace is not about letting people off the hook. In many ways, it is holding people to account. So particularly in the public sphere, secular grace is about Yes, give the benefit of the doubt, recognize the humanity of even those who you find atrocious, but hold them to account. Justice is important. In the private sphere, secular grace is amongst the consenting, you're not vulnerable with people who are a threat to you, you are only vulnerable to people you trust, literally with your life. The proactive part of secular grace is to be open to people who need some secular grace, who you don't already know or have a relationship with. I mean, this is just a restating of Be kind to one another. My guess is, there's nothing complicated there at all. I can tell you from watching the deconversion anonymous Facebook group that you all have figured this out, you are doing secular grace with one another in a way that I am just astounded by and I often have guests on who exemplify secular Grace better than I do, and I am blown away by this and love it. That's fantastic. So at the bottom of it all, it really is about loving people. And that does not mean letting them off the hook. Judah emailed me a second question that I'd like to address. He asks, Do you think there remains a place for the anti theists of the world? Do they serve a constructive purpose in any significant way? Or is it simply a stage of development? This is a really interesting question, because you could basically describe my work with the graceful atheists both the blog and the podcast and As trying to be the antithesis of anti theism. However, I have really good friends within the secular community who who believe very strongly that their work countering or doing counter apologetics is really important. And I think there is some small place for that. So let me explain. On the one hand, I'm diametrically opposed to the debate culture and the hostility. And in particular, I'm against treating believers as if they are stupid, because they believe my straightforward explanation for why I think that is that I am the same person I was when I was a believer as I am now. So to whatever extent I was intelligent, then I'm intelligent now or vice versa. And I was totally in 100%. And now I'm 100% out, I'm much more convinced that the community belonging happens first. And the beliefs come along afterwards. And that any one of any intelligence can fall into an organization or an ideology that from an objective point of view is untrue. And in fact, my understanding is that there's lots of research that would suggest that more intelligent people are better able to do so because they can rationalize and justify with more sophisticated reasoning than someone with slightly less intelligence. So it's actually the most dangerous thing you can do is say, I'm impervious to bad ideas, or cults or bad ideology. So my work is definitely not anti theism. And I have a blog post that says why I'm not an anti theist. And the primary reasons for that are I don't think people come to faith, nor do they leave faith purely for rational, intellectual reasons. That is a major factor that was a major factor in my deconversion. I generally speak about it primarily in intellectual terms. But it was a multifaceted process that included my intellect included, my intuition included, my emotions included my relationships and experiences. And it was a whole person who went through that process, not just a Vulcan rationalist. And so I think the pure focus on what I'll call hyper rationalism, or hyper rationalist, counter apologetics is noise in the vacuum. I ultimately think that apologetics itself is bad for believers. And so therefore, I also think counter apologetics is bad for all everyone involved. So the debate culture is the thing I was trying to be different from, because everybody in our uncle is doing that on YouTube and podcasts. At the end of the day, whether you think there's a role for anti theists or not, that area is definitely covered. And I don't think any more of us need to do that.

So if I were hard pressed, I would have to say that if it is done carefully, kindly and graciously, that some counter apologetics, which could be construed as anti theistic, are a good and okay, and probably necessary, but that for the vast majority of us just actually caring about people actually having a relationship with believers and showing them that we have morality and joy and gratitude and an ethical framework outside of Christianity, that's going to do more to break down their stereotypes and to make them think, then coming at them for why Pascal's wager is no good. In other words, I think love conquers over arguments. And secular grace is about loving people, including the believers in our lives. Judah, thank you for questioning me, and I want to make clear, explicitly stated on Mike, that I want constructive criticism, I want people to push on the ideas that I'm putting out there. There is nothing that cannot be criticized that I have to say, I imagine there will be large swathes of you who disagree with me on a number of points. And that's fantastic. I'm sliding into a slightly different topic here. But I want to point out that I am a pluralist. That's actually what secularism is it is about pluralism that no one ideology or person or group or organization has a law Knock on the truth, including me, and especially me. So that we are all working together to figure out a closer approximation to the truth. So please keep the constructive criticism coming. And to put my money where my mouth is, when I first started the podcast I explicitly had in mind that Christians could come on the program and criticize my humanism, or my atheism, not very many have truly taken that opportunity. But I'm saying it here. If you are a believer, and you have some constructive criticism, or want to actually dialogue, and again, I point out the difference between debate and what I call an honesty contest. But that door is open, you can reach me at graceful

Emily  26:06  
Hi, David, this is Emily. Lately, I've been finding it a little hard to stay positive given that this pandemic is stretching into almost two years now. And the news from around the world can just be a bit depressing. And I was wondering, what gives you hope, when you're feeling down about the general state of the world? Thanks,

David Ames  26:25  
Emily, thank you so much for the question. I wish I had a much better answer for this an answer that would make everyone have more hope in the world that we live in. But I want to be somewhat realistic as well. Also, I'm going to talk about gratitude in a another listeners question a little bit later. So gratitude is definitely a part of what keeps me grounded. So we'll talk about that in a different listener question. I think the main point I'd want to bring about is to think locally, we as human beings, we are super easily overwhelmed by things that we can't control. We have very little control over international politics, or even US politics, we have very little control over this pandemic. And when we feel out of control, we can start to lose hope. The truth is, we've never been in control of those things to begin with. And so we really haven't lost anything. But particularly as D converts, we can feel that loss of control, because we no longer have prayer to turn to. And that loss of a sense of something to do, can be really difficult to manage. This idea of thinking locally is about the things that you can change things you do have control over. I think one of the most insidious parts of the pandemic has been that the very thing that we need as human beings in the time of crisis, and the time of the pandemic, is to be with each other. And that's the very thing that causes the spread of the COVID 19 disease. And so we have to be very careful about selecting our pod of people that we are with. But I do encourage you to do that. Make sure that you have other human beings to be around that you know that they are vaccinated, and you're vaccinated, and it's a reasonable risk level for everyone involved to get together. I'd also say be proactive in connecting with people over zoom or any other digital communication mechanism. They are definitely a distant second to being physically in the room with somebody but it is better than nothing. So if you have a friend or loved one who lives far away, or where it would be an unreasonable risk to go visit that person, make sure that you're the one reaching out to say hi, hey, I need to talk I need to vent I need to connect with you because I love you and I miss you. Basically being proactive about our human connections, I think will help us to be hopeful as well. The pandemic in particular has been one of waves every time we think that things are getting better. In this case, we have a new variant. So we had delta and now we have Omicron. And that can be really challenging, but remembering that this too will pass. sounds trite. But you know, we know from the 1918 flu pandemic, we will get through this. It may take longer than all of us hoped for but it will eventually end and we will go back to some form of normalcy where we're able to connect with each other on a normal basis. In regards to the politics of the day, certainly within my lifetime, this feels like the most polarized and angry that we are at one another I for sure for myself feel more anger on political issues today and Since 2016, than I ever have in my life, I think the really important thing to try to remember and this is hard, and I'm speaking to myself more than, than the listeners here is to remember that these are human beings to that people that we are opposed to, even diametrically opposed to, it's super easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they are evil, that they're wrong. And they're terrible human beings. Rather than recognizing that they are human, they have had a set of experiences and a set of cultural influences that have led them to come to conclusions that I disagree with or that you disagree with. But recognizing their humanity, we might be able to build a bridge and have some communication. And you might be the person who changes their mind on something, rather than coming in hot and telling them you're wrong. You're stupid, you're evil, trying to understand why did you come to that conclusion? All of this to say that when we recognize these intractable problems, or really human problems, there's some hope there, right? People can change their minds, it is in fact possible. And you might have an influence on the people around you. I hate to be a broken record. But you know, why do I have hope? Because I believe in secular grace, I believe in people. If there's one thing that theistic religion and Christianity specifically do well, it is giving people a sense of hope. I think that hope is built on an untruth, that there is a divine entity who is in sovereign control of the universe. But there are some fictions that are helpful to human being. So having hope, in believing in people is what I do now. People can do atrocious things, I know that in reality, but to quote Joss Whedon against all evidence, I believe in people, and that gives me hope. We've seen how people can do the wrong thing. But people can also do beautiful loving and kind things. And let's be those people in the world. Let's seek out those people to be connected to. And let's try to influence others to do the same. I hope that was at least moderately hopeful, Emily, but thank you for the question.

Rick, and Mark asked a couple of questions in email. I thank Rick and mark for listening to the podcast and for emailing me this question. I did say ask me anything. So this is one I have had did not anticipate. They ask, Do I have a health care directive? And if I understand their email correctly, that's specifically about if I was unable to decide or speak for myself, would I object to prayers, religious ceremonies, or the reading of sacred texts and religious discussions? And I hate to disappoint you, Rick and mark, but no, I don't. And to be totally honest with you, I don't think I would. And I'll explain why. Constantly in my life, I don't know about yours. I have family and occasionally a friend who will say, I'm praying for you. And I could be mad at that I could bristle and be uncomfortable with that. But generally, what I say to that is Thank you. Because what I hear them saying is I care about you. And I'm thinking about you. Do I think prayer does anything? Absolutely not. But maybe it makes that person more concerned about me, maybe that person will take some action that would be helpful for me in the future. And so I just find that as an expression of their care for me. Likewise, both my previous pastoral experience and my being old and having lived through the loss of a number of loved ones, I found that funerals are for the living, they are not for the debt. So I have specifically said to my girls, that whatever makes them feel better. Whatever helps them to grieve is what they should do. I don't have any particular requests for my let's say, funeral. Just in case you also meant Do Not Resuscitate directive that I would consider that is something that I don't currently have. But it's something that I would consider in that if I truly were in a position where say my vital organs could be donated in a way and there was no hope of brain recovery. I would be willing to do that. But specifically in regards to denying the religious aspect of how Oh, my either hospital stay or funeral would be handled is really again, in my mind for the living or for the bereaved. And I don't care. Because it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't change anything. And it's just not a thing that I am terribly concerned with. So if you are concerned about that absolutely have that directive. And it sounds like maybe having those conversations with your family would be important as well. Rick and Mark, thank you so much for the question.

Jimmy  35:41  
Hey, David, Jimmy here. I have a question about gratitude. Why is it okay to be grateful without being grateful to someone? I know you've mentioned, we don't need to be grateful to someone or something. And I know that that's essentially how I practice anyway. But the question occasionally bugs me.

David Ames  36:01  
Jimmy, thank you so much for this question. Knowing you, I don't know that my answer will be satisfying, because I'm certain that you have already spent hours thinking about this from every possible direction. I'm just going to say that I think gratitude and specifically a practice of gratitude is incredibly important. That was maybe given to us for free in a theistic religion and Christianity. But recognizing that we have people and things to be grateful for, just that alone can give us some hope to refer back to Emily's question. I'm sure I'm repeating myself here. But something from the 12 steps from when I was 16 years old, has always stuck with me. And that is being grateful for the small things. And what that means is, it can be difficult to be grateful for big conceptual ideas like world peace, or the economy or climate or something that it just is bigger than ourselves. And it is a focus on the small and local. And my favorite example of this is I love to have a bunch of pillows, I have multiple pillows on my bed. And every time I go to bed at night, I squeezed into those pillows, and I think I am so grateful for these pillows, and it is such an absurdly small thing. And yet, I derive a tremendous amount of gratitude from that small thing. So find the small things that generate huge amounts of gratitude in you and be conscious of them. To the heart of your question, and even the way you phrased it, is it okay? Not to be grateful to to someone, I will refer back to my conversation with bryce Bryce was my friend who was an atheist when I was deep in my Christianity, and I was having a conversation with him about how grateful I was for my children. But I was trying to explain to him at the time, I was grateful to God for that. And now here I am on the other side of the fence. And I've learned that gratitude is both an experience that happens to us. And, as I mentioned, a practice that we can work out in our lives and discipline that we can have in our lives. And I generally say it this way, that the objects of my gratitude are both, too, and for the people in my life. So my wife, my two daughters, my family, my friends, including you, Jimmy, that I'm both thankful for. And to those people. I think what's so difficult for us as the converts is we were ingrained with this idea that if anything good happens to us, it's to the glory of God, and we should be grateful. And if anything bad happens, it was probably our fault. And that is the vicious cycle that we need to get out of, and having a practice of gratitude for very practical, real things. And being grateful to and for the people in our lives is a way of overcoming that limitation. Again, Jimmy, knowing you I am sure you've already thought of these things. And it's probably wasn't a terribly satisfying answer. But I hope it gives you a sense of gratitude in your life as well. Thanks for the question.

How did you inform your kids if you're changing views out of there, take it. Lars, thank you for the question. I'm not sure this will be very satisfying answer because one of the first conversations I had with my wife after I told her she said she wanted to be the one to tell my girls and I let her do that. But almost immediately afterwards, I was just very matter of fact with them. I'm an atheist. The thing I really made explicitly clear to them was that I loved them no matter what they believed that I would encourage them to explore their spirituality that I would back them up to go to church, I would drive them to church, I would buy Bibles for them, I would do whatever I could to support their spiritual growth. And I made that super, super clear. And then I've said this on the podcast before, but as they got older, I was explicit with them as well that I didn't want to teach them what to think or believe, but how to think. And one of the practices of that was critical thinking in non religious areas. So we would be watching TV and an advertisement would come on. And we kind of jokingly deconstruct the advertisement for what was the real message, what was being sold, what lies were being told that kind of thing, and it kind of became a family game. And so we practice critical thinking in all of these other areas that are less emotionally fraught. And as my girls have gotten older, we've had much more direct conversations. And I think they have had their own faith transitions, not necessarily to atheism, but they're definitely not where they were when they were younger. I'm not going to speak for them. I'm not going to say more than that. So again, that's not a terribly interesting story. But that is how I tell my girls.

Another interview that I did was with Matt Oxley, that episode also will be coming out in January. And Matt has a really interesting place in the spectrum of the work of deconversion. And deconstruction, Matt is really on the side of being there for the Christian, the believer, in the middle of the process, or very, very early on in the process, he does a really good job of speaking that language so that he can be listened to at all in a way that I think even the title graceful atheists would push people away. I'm aware of that. And I find it fascinating the work that Matt is doing. If you just took a surface view of Matt's work, you could be confused into thinking that he's still a believer, and he is not. But again, he speaks that language so well, that that could be unclear. And in some ways, he's almost referring to himself as a Christian, or at least walking out the teachings of Jesus. So the question that we discussed and I'd like to expand upon here is, is Christianity redeemable? And I think this is important topic, because each of us has to ask the question, should we be a progressive Christian? I think most of my audience is done with fundamentalist Christianity. But why aren't we progressive Christians? Why aren't we able to just live in the metaphor and continue to enjoy the community and the ritual aspects of Christianity? In some ways, I'm probably the wrong person to ask this question, because I feel like I really skipped past any concept of spirituality here. I mean, the supernatural kind, almost instantaneously, I had deconstructed Christianity. And the moment I admitted to myself that I no longer believe that a God existed. It's like I came crashing down to earth. And my epistemology is science. What we can test and what we can validate with data and criticism and what stands up to scrutiny is true, and what doesn't, isn't. And of course, there's a ton of philosophical questions that don't fall into that category. And I love philosophy, and I love debating those things. But I understand the difference between a philosophical discussion and a scientific one. And I like to use the terms true for things that actually have stood this test of criticism over a long periods of time. I digress. The question is, is Christianity redeemable? I said to Matt, and I've said other times that the most dangerous word in the English language is God. And the reason for that is that let's say you are a progressive Christian, and you don't believe in a transcendent, a supernatural being. But you use God as a metaphor. You say that as a communicator, and everyone who hears the word God will enter Corporate that the way that they understand God. Ironically, I think the 12 steps has this nailed down that God as you understand him, or everyone has their own conception, and there is no way to refer to the metaphor without bringing in 1000s upon 1000s upon 1000s of interpretations of God, so that the progressive Christian can say, God is the ground of all being and God is love. But the evangelical fundamentalist, here's the theistic God who judges people and sends them to hell. And there's no way as a communicator to disambiguate that if using that term, my opinion is that Christianity is similar, that the word Christianity, I've had Christians on who asked me, Are you sure you're not a Christian? Because I'm trying to walk out secular grace? And obviously, that has roots in Christianity? My answer is definitively No. I am not trying to be a Christian, I'm not trying to redeem or change Christianity. And here's the thing, Christianity has been tried, in more ways than can be counted with just the major parts of the Christian tree, Catholicism, orthodoxy, and Protestantism, and then a myriad of particular sects of Christianity within, particularly Protestantism. Half of those have always wanted to go back and really implement what Jesus had to say, to really be the followers of Jesus in the modern world. The problem is that Jesus had some great things to say he had some wise things to say. But the Bible and the New Testament are just full of cultural specifics. Once you take all the time to separate the cultural specifics from the Supra cultural elements, you wind up with a very, very small, ethical framework, be good to one another. That's about it. My point is that trying to do Christianity is unlikely to succeed without becoming just one more of the 1000s of denominations of Christianity. I'm trying actually to say that grace is a human concept. All religions are human concepts. But But my point is that grace itself is a human concept. And loving people is a human concept. And the great wisdom literature throughout history includes that, because we're all human. And we all need to be loved, we have a need to be loved and accepted. And families, relationships, communities work better, when we explicitly try to love one another. So that is a universal concept that is embedded in virtually every world religion. And I'm not adding anything new here, calling it secular Grace, I'm just delineating that there is no need for a supernatural element to act out grace. So I call it secular grace. And that is to distinguish it from the Christian conception of grace, which, as we talked about earlier, has a very dark side, in that it can forgive atrocities, which is not the point of secular grace. I want to make clear that I love what Matt is doing. And for those of you who are still believers, those of you who maybe have de converted, but you're still able to speak that language and you're close to believers, please continue to do so. I'm a pluralist. I think it takes all of us to do the things that we can do. In some ways, the work that I'm doing is pulling the secular community towards the humanity. I'm trying to put the humanity into humanism. And so in some ways, I'm pulling from that direction. And if other people like Matt Oxley people like Derrick Webb, who are pulling from the other direction, pulling Christians towards a secular grace, that's fantastic. We're all doing the best that we can. And that is really, really important. Thank you to Matt Oxley for bringing up the subject at all for doing the work that he does and for challenging me on this particular area

our community manager Arlene wrote in a few questions. She asks, what do you do for fun? And what are you passionate about? You've already heard me talk about running. Running is an identity. For me, I have run about 1200 miles every year for the last five or six years and lots more before that. It is the most important thing to my mental and physical health I can think of I feel incredibly grateful that the thing I enjoy doing is also physically healthy for me and mentally healthy for me. I used to race marathons, half marathons, things like that, I tend not to these days, I just enjoy running. In fact, I often say that running supports my podcast addiction. So my next thing that I'm passionate about is podcasts. I've listened to a ton of podcasts, I tend to listen to science and philosophy and politics, when I'm not listening to deconversion specific things. I am passionate about doing the graceful atheist podcast obviously, or I wouldn't do it. So I really enjoy that as well. I enjoy indoor rock climbing with my daughters, both daughters at different times in their lives have been interested in that. I'm not great at it. I love doing it. I think it's fantastic. And then what will be abundantly obvious to everyone is I'm a super nerd. So I really love science fiction, particularly movies and books. I consume a lot of science fiction and various media. I think really good science fiction really tells us more about what it's like to be a human being than it does about lasers and spaceships. And so I really like thinkI nerdy sci fi, so I'm super passionate about that. And I enjoy that. And lastly, Arlene asks, is there anything that you used to do that you'd like to do again, and I'm not sure if you meant this for the Christian point of view, but I'm gonna use an example of that. So I used to do a lot of public speaking, and I generally don't do so anymore. Occasionally at work, I do demonstrations, things like that. I've done a few like workshops, training people on a particular technology. But I'd like to do some speaking again, when we had Amy Rath, on from nonlife. She really inspired me to do like the lightning talk kind of concept. And as soon as we're done with COVID, I'd really like to do that again, I think. Whereas on a podcast, I can ramble like I am right now, in a presentation in front of people, you have to be a little bit crisper in your writing. And that would give me the inspiration to do that. Thank you, Arlene, those were great questions. Thank you so much for asking.

The last two questions are questions that I asked myself as I am doing the podcast. The first question is, is this religious? Or another way of asking it is, is humanism a religion. And for many of you, you may be screaming no at the top of your lungs, as you listen to this. And for many of us, leaving our religious traditions meant that we'd never wanted to have anything to do with the term religion ever, ever again. And there certainly within the secular community, a very, very strong, anti religious attitude. My perspective on this is a bit nuanced. So please do listen to the whole context of what I have to say here. I certainly think I would have fallen into that category of running away from religion in the early days of my deconversion. What I think I have learned since then, is the human needs to connect with one another. And to have a shared sense of meaning and purpose. I had Anthony pin on which was a great episode, I encourage you to go check that out. And he makes a very strong distinction between theism, which is a belief in a supernatural deity and religion, which he defines as the collective search for truth. I love that definition of religion. And here's another important point. James Croft recently said this on Twitter, but it's, I think, a common concept. Everything is secular. All religions are secular. All of it comes from humans. yanks, it is mundane it is religion may be the most human cultural artifact of anything. It is our drive to connect with each other and try to figure out how do we live in a chaotic universe? How do we live with each other, without killing each other? And how do we avoid falling into a nihilistic dark, deep pit of despair. All of those are human needs. And the scary word religion is a good way of accomplishing those. We've talked about secular Grace quite a bit in this episode, and I will refer you to my original blog post on the topic. I said there that the ABCs of secular quote, unquote, spirituality are all something that is a deeply human experience that has nothing to do with a supernatural realm. We can experience all in nature, we can experience all at one another, we can experience all at a talented athlete we experience or day in and day out. It is the context of our Christian indoctrination, or training or discipleship or what have you, that we interpret or to be a supernatural, theistic God. And as soon as you let go of that, you can not only enjoy awesome experiences, you can seek them out. I happen to like indoor rock climbing, and part of it is that I'm scared of heights. And I enjoy the experience of overcoming my fear of heights. It is an awesome experience. So the first ABC is is all. The second is belonging. And here, I mean, the collective belonging. This seems so obvious, in that the cultural context of the day, we have identities in our belonging, the most obvious one in the secular world is political identity. We are more polarized now than it feels like in my lifetime, although people like Ezra Klein point out that maybe earlier in my lifetime was the exception to the rule, and the polarization we're experiencing now as probably the norm or the reversion to the mean. But even within the secular community, there are divisions that you may not be aware of. But what I see as the basic humanism, of caring for people and fighting for human rights, and the freedoms and rights of people who have been historically disparaged in one way or another, and held down systemically, that seems like basic humanism, one on one to me, but there's a division within the secular community that is anti social justice warrior or anti woke, or any number of ways of describing that, that I'm on one side of that polarization, and I can't help it that is important to me. We belong to and have identity within groups. We are the D converted, we are the deconstructed, or the deconstructing, and that is an identity. Some of us identify as acts of angelical. If you're in the LGBT community, that is probably a major part of your identity. People even obsessively identify with a sports team, I have a few teams that I follow, and it cracks me up at how intensely I can identify with that group. The point is, we need to belong to one another. The thing that is important is finding healthy groups to belong to, I think what we're doing with deconversion anonymous, as a community is a healthy way of belonging to a group. And we should seek those out. The big thing that we lost as we left, our original faith tradition, is community having a sense of these are my people. And we need to go find who are your people? Who are my people? The obvious answer is that you are my people. The people listening to this now are my people. But it can be more than that. You can go be a part of a book club or a cycling group or a running club or the knitting circle or what have you something anything that you can be among other people who have a shared common goal with you And the final ABCs, of secular spirituality is connection. And this is the one on one human connection, this is your best friend, this is your significant other with whom you have spent significant amounts of time building trust. Again, as, as we talked about earlier, this is not just some random stranger off the street. This is someone that mutual trust and respect has built up over time. That connection of being vulnerable with another human being is profound. When you were going through puberty, probably talking about what was happening to you to your best friend was really cathartic. Admitting to your first crush, to a best friend was probably really, really cathartic. When you first told someone that you were having doubts, and if they handled it, well, that was probably really, really cathartic. The first time you say, I no longer believe to someone is incredibly cathartic. This is connection, that human connection. And we are hard wired to need this, to want it to seek it out. And we should, we should do so with eyes wide, open and critically and carefully. And we should proactively attempt to connect with one another. All of this is what I'm attempting to describe as secular grace, these ABCs of secular spirituality. Back to the question, is this religious? And I'm going to say yes, given the context of defining religion as the collective search for meaning, and what I've learned from people like Sasha Sagan, who wrote for small creatures, such as we, and much of what is in Carl Sagan is writings as well. And Catherine cosmonauts, Grace without God, not only do we need the community, the belonging, the connection, we also need ritual, like we talked about in the holiday episode about establishing new traditions, we are hardwired to need to call out major moments in our lives and physically enact a ritual to commemorate those moments in our lives. Sasha seconds book talks about birth, the Age of Reason, marriage, death, graduations, all of these things are moments in our life, where they are significant events, and we want and need to share those with each other. So given that as a definition of religion, yes, I think humanism is a religion. And yes, I think what we're doing with the community is religious. And that's okay.

If you find yourself screaming and running away as fast as you can right now, I hope to keep you I hope you understand the full context of what I'm saying. I am not saying something transcendent, supernatural, beyond nature, is occurring in any way. I am saying that all religions are human. And this is just another expression of that. I'm also not saying that everyone should be a humanist. Again, I'm a pluralist, I think we as a society, need to allow differing points of views, including points of views that we are diametrically opposed to. They should all be open to criticism, public criticism, and we should work out what is the most effective for us, as a society. I think that secular Grace has a role in the market of ideas and market of ethical frameworks. And I want to express that in the public forum. But I am open to criticism. And I understand that not everyone will find this meaningful or useful. And in fact, when I had Bart Campolo on the podcast, he basically was saying, not everyone cares about what I call the ABCs of spirituality that they don't care about spirituality at all. And some of you might find even me saying that this is religious to be offensive. And again, just ignore me on that topic, and I hope you'll continue to listen the The second question that I asked myself that I think is really important, is related to the first. And this is more personal. I'm going to ask the question, and please don't stop listening. I'll set the context. I asked myself, am I creating a cult? The obvious answer is no. But I think it's important for me to worry about that question. If you have ever been in pastoral work, or leadership in a church, if you've been a worship leader, or if you have your own podcast, or a YouTube channel, the experience of this modicum of fame and I am very realistic about how small how small this fame is, but is intoxicating. There's just no getting around it as a pastor, and when I was younger, in my 20s, and now as a podcaster, and someone who is attempting to express humanism, express secular grace, I am acutely aware of the intoxicating nature of having fans. Here's the thing. I rarely hear criticism, I mostly hear the very good things about the podcast, I get so many emails of people who say, I found your podcasts, I'm in the middle of deconstruction. It's a lifesaver. And of course, that's hyperbolic they, they'd be okay with that without the podcast. But that's why I do what I do is, I want people to know that they are not alone, that all of us have gone through this before them. And we can hold their hand through the process. But again, that has a pretty profound impact on a person and they can start to hear my voice as being authoritative. And that terrifies me. I want to have people challenge me constructive criticism, asking for clarity for me. In other words, I don't want it to be like it was as a pastor in the Christian church where a pastor often can get away with being unaccountable. I don't mean this in the Christian accountability sense, either. But what I mean is that I expect to be wrong, I expect to get it wrong. Often, I expect to say the wrong thing to do the wrong thing to maybe even hurt people, which would, would be the thing that would hurt me the most. And I need to know when I'm doing that, because I wouldn't do it if I were aware, aware of it. So this is just an open invitation for you to reach out to me, you can do so via email, graceful You can DM me if you need to. But anything where you think I could learn from something, and I could grow as someone who is attempting to lead in this area of secular grace, feel free to do so. And I will take it with as much humility and self criticism as I can muster. So am I starting a cult? definitively not. I am acutely aware of the ability to fall into a cult of personality. In my discussions with our lane, about the community deconversion anonymous, I was very explicit about this is not about me, this is about people coming together and connecting with one another and practicing secular grace, caring for one another. I would just be a bottleneck. So not only do I not want it to be a cult of personality, I don't want to be the block for people to connect with each other. So all of this to say not only do I not want this to be a cult or a cult of personality, I want you to actively participate in making sure that it is not. Well this wraps it up for the first ask me anything and wraps this up for 2021. I definitely want to do more asked me any things in the future. So in the meantime, If you think of a question you want to have me pontificate upon. Or if you have a criticism that you'd like to hear me respond to, please send a recorded version of your question. You can do so on an app on your phone, or you could use to create a voice message for me. As 2021 wraps up, I definitely want to thank everybody who has participated in the deconversion anonymous community, I'm amazed at how that has exploded. I feel bad that I took so long to try to start it. I should have started it in 2020. But I want to also thank our lien so much for managing the community, as well as doing copy editing and just generally being incredibly helpful. I want to thank Mike T for editing we did 40 some odd episodes and 2021. That was a lot of work that Mike did. All of that was volunteer. Thank you so much, Mike, for all the work that you did. Thank you to Logan Thomas for redoing our graphic design, the logo and various images that we're using. And I'll do this as a plug again, I'm so much more interested in people participating in the podcast and the community in one way or another rather than, say giving money. So if there's a way in which you can participate, you have experience with PR, social media editing, Production Music, if you want to help Arlene with community management, all those things, we are looking for people to jump in. And in reality, as I've already admitted the religiosity, the Church provided a place for people to use their talents. I want a secular version of that to find where people can exercise the things they enjoy doing, the hobbies, their talents, and things of that nature. So we'd love to be the place where you can use your talents and gifts. So please reach out with that, and until January. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful.

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

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

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Jose Ramos: Deconverted In The Pulpit

Atheism, Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, ExVangelical, Podcast, Unequally yoked
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This week’s guest is Jose Ramos, Hannah’s husband from her episode two weeks ago. 

Jose’s family converted to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and his father became a pastor. They were taught that the IFB had the “pure word of God,” and it was their purpose to evangelize and change the world.

“I had this sense…that God was going to use me in a special way to impact the world. To be that young and to have the weight of the world on your shoulders is…looking back, traumatizing.”

Throughout his teens, Jose’s only rebellion was, “like a month partying with [his] brothers.” Later, he went to Bible College, and then started preaching. He met Hannah and took over his father’s Spanish speaking church. Studying the Bible for ministry, however, brought more questions and doubts. 

“If I wrestle with these questions and allow myself to doubt, shouldn’t my faith come out stronger?”

Over the next year, he continued preaching but knew he didn’t believe. He left the ministry and later told Hannah why. After another hard and depressive year, he knew he was agnostic.

“Even when I realized, ‘I am a full blown agnostic,’ there was still this sense of, ‘I can still come back.’”

Jose gave Hannah the space to go on her own journey. They still attended church as a family, but he did not try to change her. Today, their stories can give comfort to other couples facing religious doubts and uncertainties. 

Jose’s honesty and vulnerability show the grace and goodness in his own human heart. No more looking forward to heaven or fearing hell, simply being present in each moment and looking for the beauty found there.





Sam Harris’ Making Sense

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Ginna: Deconversion Anonymous

Critique of Apologetics, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Deconversion Anonymous, ExVangelical, Podcast, Secular Community
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This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

“It was both a mental and emotional decision, it was a whole being decision.”

My guest this week is Ginna. Ginna is a software developer in her 30’s. She went through deconversion in her 20’s after suffering depression during her college years. Even though there were Christians around her who were on medication for their depression, no one was public about it. The implied stigma kept her from reaching out for help and kept her from finding the right treatment when she did reach out.

“God can’t be bothered to help children survive, I seriously doubt if god is getting you a parking place at the game.”

After college Ginna went to a “shelter for honest questions,” called L`Abri to find answers. Her questions were pointed and personal. The questions of theodicy, divine hiddenness and theological evil. She “had a really good time, but [she] didn’t get answers to the questions that [she] had.”

“[I realized] they are not ready to answer these questions either.
The answers they have satisfy them, and they don’t satisfy me, and I don’t know what to do with that.”

After a brief stint in a liturgical church, which she loved, she stopped going to church and gained a new perspective. She realized she could no longer believe in a god where there was no practical difference between non-existence and said god being evil.

“It seems unlikely to be true. And if it is true I am worshiping a mad man.”

Ginna eventually received the help she needed for her mental health. She tried multiple different doctors and therapies until she found the right combination. Today, she is excited about exploring secular community and growing as a human being.


We are very excited to announce the new private Deconversion Anonymous Facebook Group. The group will be administered by Arline from episode 71. Please join us in building a community of graceful human beings.

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