“What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods…and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers’ barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not?”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, page 138
We need neither gods nor goddesses; this world is glorious enough on its own.
Arline guest hosts to ask David anything. David tells his deconversion story. He talks about the beginning of the Deconversion Anonymous FB group. David goes deep on what Secular Grace is and what it means to him.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (deciphr.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
0:00:11 David Ames: This is the Graceful Atheist podcast. Welcome. Welcome to the Graceful Atheist Podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the Graceful Atheist. I want to thank all the patrons, many of whom have moved over from the Anchor and stripe support which is now shut down onto Patreon. Thank you to Joel, Lars, Ray, Rob, Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Thank you so much for being patrons. You all will have access to Ad Free for the podcast forever.
0:00:47 David Ames: As we move into 2023 and become a part of the Atheist United Podcast Network. There will be ads if you too would like to have an ad free experience, you can become a patron for any amount. There aren't any tiers, any amount and you'll have access to that RSS feed. As a part of the move to Atheist United, we are moving the podcast from Anchor to Spreaker. The podcast will be on hiatus for the Christmas and New Year holidays anyway.
0:01:14 David Ames: From the 18 December to the 8 January we are off. You may notice that the podcast may show up in a different way in the podcast application that you use to listen to this. So definitely by January 8 be checking to make sure that you have up to date episodes as of January 8, 2023. I'll try to minimize all the technical hiccups, but there might be one or two. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any problems.
0:01:44 David Ames: This hiatus will be right during the holidays, which I know can be a difficult time when you are in the middle of deconstruction and family can be challenging. First of all, my apologies, but I want to give all of our volunteers a break in this episode. I do a number of recommendations for this episode and really all episodes. If in the show notes you'll see a link that will say for quotes, recommendations and more, follow this.
0:02:12 David Ames: It goes to my blog. Truly, there are a number of book recommendations, podcasts, blog posts, all kinds of information that can hopefully get you through this holiday season. Please hang on to the Final Thoughts section as I want to thank a number of people. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, Arline guests, hosts and asks me anything. You all gave us some questions you wanted me asked in the Facebook group and Arline is here to ask the questions and I am here to give you some answers.
0:02:55 David Ames: As I say upfront. For those of you who have been listening to the podcast from the beginning, some of this will be a bit repetitive. For those of you who've just joined in the last year or year and a half, it might be new information, so I hope you enjoy this. Here is Arline asking me anything.
0:03:16 Arline: David. Welcome to the Graceful Atheist podcast.
0:03:19 David Ames: I'm so glad to be here. Thank you.
0:03:21 Arline: Yes, I'm excited to get to interview you we've had a lot of people in the Deconversion anonymous Facebook group ask them questions, and listeners ask them questions. And so today we get to hear all about the host. David, this is great.
0:03:37 David Ames: Very cool. Yeah. You and I were talking earlier that I'm sometimes concerned that I repeat the same stories, but we have such a brand new set of people that for the die hard people sorry, you're going to hear the same thing again.
0:03:51 Arline: That's okay. We love it. It's good for us. One thing that I do want you to start with is, can you tell us a shortened version of your Deconversion story? And then we have tons of questions after that.
0:04:03 David Ames: Yeah, so the quick version is that my family is very much a soap opera, so it's hard to tell my story without talking about my mom. So I'll just lay down on the couch here and tell you lots of drug and alcohol abuse on and off. Again, being, you know, an adult and then not. And when I was about 17 years old and again, this is after years already of back and forth, she came to me and said, Jesus spoke to me, and it was life or death, you choose.
0:04:45 David Ames: And I'm going to try to choose life. And I was like, yeah, sure, whatever.
0:04:50 Arline: I understand.
0:04:51 David Ames: Again, I'd heard I'll be sober tomorrow stories a thousand times. The next day she was sober, and the day after that and the day after that. And she was great, right? Like, she handed me a Bible and said, if you care, if you want, take a look at this. And, you know, I was an inquisitive kid, so I did something that was very weird. I really, you know, our family was really kind of nominally Christian, so I really hadn't I'd been to a friend's churches here and there. I really didn't have any church exposure, so I read through the entire Bible on my own before I really went to church, right, to have the experience of church.
0:05:30 David Ames: So I fell in love with Jesus, man, this guy. I came for the sick and not the well. And you cleaned the outside of the cup, but the inside is filthy. It's like that stuff spoke to me, and I was just all in. And it's hard to overstate as well the apparent miracle of my mom getting clean and sober. She went for yet another round of impatience for a few weeks and came out but clean and sober. She got a job.
0:06:04 David Ames: Things really did change. Really did, in fact, change, but I really took this on for myself. That was definitely the impetus. But my reading of particularly the New Testament, I thought this Jesus person was amazing. Like, I loved everything about it. It it spoke to the modern hypocrisy of of Christianity in a way that I was already critical of. And so I was convinced by this concept of grace before I even really had the theological underpinnings to explain it.
0:06:43 David Ames: I'll try to speed up the story here. We were also in poverty. I had grandparents that saved me from the most dire consequences of poverty. But I had very little hopes. I was dropping out of high school, no particular prospects of what I was going to do with my life.
0:07:00 Arline: Oh, wow.
0:07:01 David Ames: Then we did get to church. Had a youth pastor. At that time, I was probably late 18, almost 19. They really didn't know what to do with me. They threw me in the youth group as a leader. That kind of moving people up to leadership way too fast. I was good at it. Youth pastor basically said, you could do this, you should go to Bible college. And I will definitely credit him for that's. What I needed to hear, I needed to have someone other than my family say, you could go to college, you could do something with your life.
0:07:36 David Ames: And in that, with hindsight, I now see it was just somebody believing in me. That was like the huge power of all this. And of course, I saw it in spiritual terms that God was the father of the Fatherless because my dad had passed away when I was very young, and I saw this as divine intervention and so on and so forth. Still, to speed up the story, it went through Bible college. I absolutely adored it.
0:08:04 David Ames: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. There was an element of infantilizing students who are 18, 1920 years old. But at the same time, I had incredibly good professors who were critical thinkers. They taught critical thinking, they taught real biblical research, and the technical term is exegesis and herbaneutics. And I ate it up, man. And then I learned the theology of grace, and I was off to the races.
0:08:35 David Ames: And it was like, what the church is missing is grace. They just don't understand this. And I literally felt like God called me to do this thing. Speeding up the story again. I did ministry for a while. I burnt out. I left on bad terms. I had a relationship with it was fully consenting. It had a relationship with a woman. That was frowned upon. As you can imagine, that did not end things. I went on to marry my college sweetheart, who I'm still married to and adore.
0:09:10 David Ames: She is also still a believer, which I'm sure we may get into, but 20 years really like 20 some odd years after that, I remained a Christian and taught Bible studies, but didn't jump into ministry ever again. I went off on my tech career, and that has done really well, and so on and so forth. Having children was a big deal. Trying to convey this to children was kind of putting the mirror in front of me of what like, what am I saying?
0:09:51 David Ames: And in particular, what's something that stands out is when they were old enough to be baptized and really they weren't old enough to be baptized, right? The expectation was they were old enough, but really it just hit me like they don't understand the decision this means, what this means. And I started to feel really uncomfortable with it. That's about the time that I really started to be deeply uncomfortable praying, especially out loud, and expectations in a Christian family to pray for your children and that kind of thing.
0:10:24 David Ames: And I just got more and more uncomfortable and did it less and less. And near the end I had like a year or so, a year and a half before the end. I did a read through the Bible for a year, which is probably my 4th, 5th time through something like that. I wasn't like an exceptionally good biblical reader, but I read through it several times and my wife pointed out to me that I was angry, I was expressing anger and I thought, why is that?
0:10:59 David Ames: And I think it was the first time that I was reading it without kind of a grace rose colored glasses filter. I was kind of reading it for what it says and the judgment and the capriciousness of God was leaping off the page for me at that point in time. And that was, I think, a major milestone for me as I started to I was always a kind of pop science nerd and again, grace focus. So I wouldn't necessarily have called myself a liberal Christian, but on the liberal side of evangelicalism of trying to be open minded for people.
0:11:44 David Ames: And in the very last stretch, I didn't know it at the time, but I was deconstructing without knowing what the term was. I was doing it alone without any outside input. I think what Christians often believe is that, oh, we read atheists and then we deconstruct. But I did all of this on my own. But it was a much more liberal interpretation of the Bible, really understanding. And the thing that I was hanging on to, the last pearl of great prides, to use the term, was the resurrection.
0:12:18 David Ames: For me, if the resurrection happened literally, as it states on the Ten, I was a Christian. And if that wasn't the case, it was super binary for me, then I am out in the bitter end. Like I was just hanging on to my sense of God's presence alone and nothing else. And I found myself being exposed to secular and atheist writers just by accident, right, just in the Twitter feed, you know, and just like not being afraid of it and oh, let me see what this says.
0:12:52 David Ames: And in particular a blog by Greta Christina about why are atheists so angry was probably a list of like 20 things. And I realized I agreed with all 20 of the things. There was like no notes, right? It was just like, she's right. And I think in that moment. And I love the way friend of the podcast been on the podcast. Matthew Taylor says this, I suddenly realized I no longer believed, but the suddenly refers to my awareness, not the process.
0:13:26 David Ames: So that process was those years in the making, but it was this sudden moment of, I don't believe this anymore. And immediately part of it was the idea of a soul. Like, I really viscerally got. I am my body and my body is me. My mind is a part of my body and there is no soul. And then immediately afterwards was, there is no resurrection, and I'm out. I tried to make it quick. That's the quick version.
0:13:57 David Ames: And we'll get into what happens next, I'm sure, in more questions.
0:14:02 Arline: I can empathize with the doing it alone. My husband had deconverted, but it just looked very different for both of us. And so when I was going through what at the time called deconstruction, I didn't know any of these terms either. It's so lonely.
0:14:18 David Ames: It is. Yeah, I know. This is going to air later. I do an episode with the guys from beyond Atheism, and we talk about the juxtaposition of deconstruction, deconversion versus conversion. When you convert, you do it as a part of a community. In my case, it was my mom, right? You do it with people. Deconstruction deconstruction tends to be really isolating and alone. And I thought that was a really insightful thing we kind of came together and described.
0:14:51 David Ames: And so I think that's super common.
0:14:53 Arline: Yeah, I look forward to listening to that episode. And yes, that's very true. Like I said, I had my husband, but in real life, I had nobody from real life.
0:15:02 David Ames: Yeah, he doesn't tell. Johnny's amazing, by the way, listeners.
0:15:08 Arline: He's fantastic. One day, we're going to get him on here.
0:15:11 David Ames: One day.
0:15:12 Arline: But I didn't know podcasts existed. I knew the Four Horsemen, I knew some authors, but that was about it. And so that's one reason. And multiple listeners have said this. Like, when they found your podcast, when they found the Graceful Atheist podcast, it became a staple. It was like, I get to hear other people's stories. I'm not alone, and yet getting to hear the similarities and the differences.
0:15:37 Arline: And now with the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group, we're finding community. We're finding community.
0:15:43 David Ames: Yeah, definitely.
0:15:52 Arline: The first thing I do want to ask you is how would you define graceful atheist? You as a graceful atheist, how would you define that?
0:16:00 David Ames: So again, I'll circle back to mom. My my real first kind of spiritual introduction was the Twelve Steps, going to therapy and a couple of different aspects, going to the inpatient thing that I mentioned. And what attracted to me there and what attracted me to Jesus in the New Testament was brutal honesty, brutal self honesty and honesty with each other. And there was something incredibly intimate in the AANA context when somebody would get up and say, Hi, I'm so and so, and I'm alcoholic, or I'm a drug addict, and go on to describe horrific things and have a group of people love them, embrace them, and care for them.
0:17:01 David Ames: So that's really what I think my concept of grace comes from is like kind of the worst possible circumstances, real, quote unquote sin, right? These people really hurt people and finding that acceptance. And then as I became a Christian, I then had this theological foundation to describe this in this vertical way that God loves people, theoretically unconditionally, of course there's more to the story there, but I realized that that's kind of what I had been looking for.
0:17:38 David Ames: I was not a terrible sinner. Like, I had slept with my girlfriend and things like that, but it wasn't sex, drugs, and rock and roll for me. And in fact, in many ways, I was rebelling against my family by being a pretty good kid, right? But I had this visceral sense of the concept of sin, this visceral sense of, yeah, I could do better, you know, I'm not perfect the honesty. That honesty was a part of it. So over the time of being a Christian, that it changed for me between God accepting me or God accepting the people and then actually witnessing it in other people watching person to person.
0:18:21 David Ames: That that acceptance. That love. And one way I try to describe this is the first time you tell, like, your best friend about your first crush, right, and they don't run away screaming. Or to use a more purity culture example, the first time you tell somebody that you masturbate and they don't run away screaming, right. They're exhibiting grace, or what I would call secular grace, right? And what I've come to learn and what I think is just true about humans is that we need acceptance and love wherever we're at, right?
0:19:07 David Ames: We may have made mistakes, we may have actually hurt people, and yet we still need people to love us and accept us. And so there's some extreme examples like that, but then the regular average person hasn't gone around with a trail of tears behind them. They also need to experience love and acceptance. And for our LGBTQ friends who have been isolated from society in one way or another or felt different than they need love and acceptance, right? And so it just drove home for me over time how much we need this as human beings. And so what I'm trying to express is that there need not be a spiritual or.
0:19:52 David Ames: And here, I mean, like nonnatural I struggle for words, non transcendent aspect to grace. It can just be people loving people.
0:20:02 Arline: I love that. Yes, I am thankful for the atmosphere of this podcast because the Deconversion Anonymous group, like, the audience that we have attracted, want to be those kinds of people, people loving people, and compassion and empathy and grace. What are some things that you have learned through doing the podcast, or how have you changed over the years having done this?
0:20:34 David Ames: I want to tackle the first part of that question first. The number one thing that leaps out to me when I think about what did I learn, is that I had it super easy for a couple of reasons. One, I came to this, as I mentioned, in my late teens, and I was mostly an adult already. I had a sense of identity. I did. I grew up in a nominally Christian house. We talked about God, we talked about Jesus, but there was no pressure at all.
0:21:02 David Ames: There was no purity culture. None of that existed. Right. I had sex before I became a Christian. I knew what that was like. I liked it. I enjoyed it. I felt like that was a part of the grace that the church was missing, was, hey, human beings like sex. That's a thing. So the number one thing that I learned, and just one other aspect that I think was true for me, is there were lots of emotional elements, but it was ultimately a relatively intellectual process for me of like, this cannot be true, and this cannot be true, and this cannot be true, and what else might not be true?
0:21:44 David Ames: And it really was kind of an intellectual exercise over time. It took a long time, but, like, at the end of it all, it was it was breaking down my own cognitive dissonance, my own non critical acceptance of what the church had fed me. Right? So the thing that I've learned is that that is not the case for many, many people. I I think our our main target audience is millennials who grew up during the 90s with I've kissed, dating to goodbye.
0:22:19 David Ames: Purity culture has done an anomaly on these people, hurt them deeply. Whether they're LGBTQ, whether they're CIS, het, it doesn't matter. Like, they were deeply, deeply affected by purity culture. And then on top of that, I never had the hell drilled into me again. Coming to Christianity as an adult and being grace focused, I always thought that hell was not the focus of Jesus's teaching, and that was overemphasized. So I was trying to be a corrective.
0:22:56 David Ames: So again, I never had the sense of existential dreads that our target audience has. So thing I've learned, man, Christianity can be much more damaging, and I would want to expand this to traditional religious teaching. On the fundamental side, I want to be expansive here. Not just christianity can be deeply, deeply damaging to human beings. And that is the biggest thing that I've learned. How have I changed?
0:23:34 David Ames: I think you helped me arlene to be more open. I don't know if we have time to get into it, but, like, when I started the podcast, it was because I saw the atheist environment, particularly the kind of YouTube environment, was very reactionary. Literally half of the YouTube channels were response channels to something some apologists said, and I just felt like, that's fine, and I wanted that for like, a week, but then I was done with it, and I thought, what is next?
0:24:08 David Ames: What's the next thing? That's why I started it. But I still was relatively narrow and that I was still focused on very secular. I struggle for a better word than atheist, but non believer, non theist, non supernaturalist. Right. And I think some of the people you've brought in to have the interviewed, some of the people you have interviewed has helped me to kind of expand, hey, we want to be open, an open space for people questioning in the middle of the process.
0:24:42 David Ames: And the only way to do that is to actually do what I'm saying, really be graceful and love people where they're currently at, which is going to include things that I don't necessarily agree with. Right. And and so I think that has changed me of just loving people spiritually is where they are spiritually, where they are in the deconstruction process and not having to try to define hard barriers for that.
0:25:11 Arline: Some of that was taught to us as Christians.
0:25:14 David Ames: Yeah.
0:25:14 Arline: There are certain goals that people should reach, and so we should help them reach that goal rather than just letting them be wherever it is that they are.
0:25:21 David Ames: Yeah.
0:25:30 Arline: Speaking of a past guest who you interviewed, and she and I met through Instagram, who was in a similar place, in a place of still maybe kind of believing, not really sure, was Marla Taviano, and her question jumped out at me. So I'll jump here. How do you say, Stay so damn graceful?
0:25:52 David Ames: That's exactly how she wrote it.
0:25:55 Arline: And yes, how do you do it?
0:25:57 David Ames: How do you do it, David?
0:25:59 Arline: How did she say become the annoyed atheist or the bitter atheist?
0:26:02 David Ames: Yeah. So one of the things I want to just step back for a second and put context here. One of the things I didn't like about Christian thought leaders, let's call them, but authors, speakers, what have you, is that they would often be very judgmental without the honesty that would be required to make that actually powerful or useful. And so I want to make it clear here that I actually think I'm a fairly judgmental person.
0:26:35 David Ames: I have pretty strong opinions, right. And I'm holding those back 95% of the time. And the part of the podcast is you're hearing restraint from me. Right. I'm not doing the response video the way that I saw my peers do. I'm choosing Volitionally not to do that. And it's a close thing. And if you follow me on Twitter, which I know is dying every once in a while, man, I'll get sucked in and I have to respond to an apologist. It just drives me crazy.
0:27:16 David Ames: So the first thing is the honesty to say that I don't think I'm a graceful person, the graceful atheist moniker is Aspirational. That's why I literally start every episode by saying I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I do not think I am good at this at all. It is hard to have your arms wide open and accept lots of people from different diverse backgrounds. That's a difficult thing to do. And I never, ever want to suggest that I am doing that well.
0:27:49 David Ames: So there can always be we can do this better. It's kind of my constant mantra, I can do this better. And then further honesty is to say, I do get angry, right? Like, I get angry at the Christian thought leaders of today. I get angry at the Christian nationalism, at the politics. I am angry. I don't think that putting more anger out into the world will be helpful. So let me give you a dumb example.
0:28:22 David Ames: Like I see constantly, especially on Twitter, but elsewhere as well, a conservative Christian says some stupid thing and then a bunch of people in my timeline retweet that and have some comment about it. And it's like if we have learned nothing from 2016 to 2020, it's that you cannot feed the trolls or the trolls win. And so, again, it's restraint. It's not that I don't have passionate feelings about these things.
0:28:55 David Ames: It's that I think my end goal of a more pluralistic, more secular, and I mean secular here in the freedom of religion and freedom from religion, not more atheists necessarily, is to not put more hate into the cycle, right into the feedback loop. And I hope that answers Marla's question. But I just fall back on I'm trying and I'm trying to do that every day.
0:29:31 Arline: I'm going to tuck that away. Don't feed the trolls or the trolls win. Because yes, tuck that away inside my mind because I do get pulled into the retweeting and the memes because it is so angry. Why do you think the podcast is so successful? Like, what do people love about it?
0:29:58 David Ames: Yeah, it's hard to separate my own cognitive biases here. So, again, if I take you back to ID converts, I'm looking around online, trying to find a place for me and not finding it. On the one hand, there's kind of a hyper rationality. It's all about debate, it's all about aggressive. Even the good guys. I follow a number of philosopher people who do a bit of counter apologetics and they do it well, right? They do it with kindness.
0:30:36 David Ames: But even them, right, it's still pure rationality. It doesn't acknowledge the human being. Right? And I was feeling all this emotional response. And one other thing I'll say is it was all men, too. It was just men, right? And I thought, there has got to be other people out there who this is hitting the whole person and they want to express that in some way. And I also was cognizant of not like the flip side of this, the other side of the equation is there are 1001 three X pastors and a beer podcast.
0:31:21 David Ames: So the flip side of the hard atheist is the really open minded progressive Christian, right? And I knew that wasn't what I wanted to say either. I think, and I may lose people here, that Christianity is not redeemable. I think we should take things from it and learn from that. I think grace is one of those things, but I think history has taught us that every attempt to redo Christianity, to go back to the basics.
0:31:57 David Ames: Again, I hate to lose people here, but reconstruct Christianity in some way is doomed to failure. So those are kind of the polls and I was trying to hit the middle of people who are asking legitimate questions, but also are experiencing this range of emotions as a human being does. And again, one of the things I learned is that there's real trauma, literal trauma that people are experiencing. And I didn't know that at the time when I was starting and providing a place for that.
0:32:29 David Ames: So I went in with my own cognitive bias that there must be at least some people like me out there. And I did so with the podcast knowing that I could double quadruple the audience by being an asshole, being the hard atheist, doing the response stuff, and I chose not to. Again, restraint, as much restraint as I could have, right? And it has been slow but steady growth and I could not be more grateful for that.
0:33:01 David Ames: Right. I did not need the overnight success. I feel like now we're reaping the benefits of doing it the right way. And I hope that, again, maybe my cognitive bias, but I hope that that's what people are responding to, that the core message is if you find that you can no longer believe, there is still hope, there's still awe, there's still wonder, there is still community, there's still grace. And that's the core message of the podcast.
0:33:33 Arline: Yeah, I think you're right. Those are themes that I see when I talk to different people about listening to the podcast. Those are things that I've heard. Speaking of community, how do you find community? Who do you have in your real life or online life?
0:33:50 David Ames: Yeah, this is a tough one. My best friend lives in the area, so we see each other on a pretty regular basis, so I don't feel like I'm hurting. He's a believer, but we are real honest with each other. I would say that he's in a place where I was five years before my vegan. Whether he will or not, who knows? I've also built some friendships. I'm not going to name drop here, but a couple of people we meet almost once a month and they are kind of a, for lack of a better term, spiritual outlet for me where I don't filter myself.
0:34:36 David Ames: I can just say what I'm feeling and I don't have to edit it. And make it sound pretty or graceful and I really appreciate them. I don't want to call it an accountability group, but it's kind of an accountability group. It's not, but you know what I mean, I get that from those people. And then the other thing, and I think this will be an answer to another question I'm anticipating you asking is that I'm an introverts and that might surprise people, but I build very strong, few very strong relationships and I feel pretty satisfied.
0:35:18 David Ames: I know 2020 was brutal on people and the lockdowns and things, but I thrive. My wife's very similar, we are homebodies, we literally enjoy each other's company and at times to be on our own and we provide a tremendous amount of what we need in other human beings for each other. And so it's kind of a boring answer, but I am not hurting for friendships and I have work colleagues online as well and I meet with a handful of people on a relative regular basis as well.
0:36:00 David Ames: I do want at some point in time to have some in person real world in the same room, breathing the same air experiences. Whether or not I've had time for that in reality is a question, and again, that may be a question that comes up here in a second.
0:36:14 Arline: Yeah, that was one of the questions is you are largely absent from the Deconversion Anonymous group and people were curious why you're not able to be part of it more.
0:36:25 David Ames: Yeah, that is a super honest question and I'm really glad that that got asked. So again, Arline, I'm so grateful that you are here that you've taken on the community management. The reality is that when I started the podcast, first of all, we started every other week. I was doing the editing, the interviews, I was doing all of it and I knew that there just wasn't much more that I could do. Mike came on and made a huge impact. So we went to once a week, he's doing all the editing and we could not do once a week without Mike.
0:37:09 David Ames: I had seen online communities explode just like overnight sensations and then implode and self destruct probably three or four times in the time of being kind of online after deconversion for me. And I did not want to repeat that. I knew that I didn't have the time to start a community and shepherd that for lack of a better term, but like be a leader there. And so I didn't, we didn't for a long time. We started the podcast in 2019 and particularly over the pandemic and the lockdown, I could viscerally feel the need for it and I put out the call like, is anybody interested?
0:38:01 David Ames: And you responded. And again, I'm incredibly grateful. And the point I want to make is that for listeners who are part of the Deconversion Anonymous community, it would not exist if not for Arline. Because I have two things that are competing for my time that is a very robust work demand and family with a partner who is a believer and does not understand what I'm trying to do here. So I have a very limited window of time to do the things that I do, and I try to make what I do in that limited time as high impact as I can.
0:38:39 David Ames: And so that is doing the interviews and trying to provide some high level leadership. And that's about all I can do.
0:38:48 Arline: And I am thankful for that because I can do the group stuff.
0:38:54 David Ames: And I've heard fantastic feedback, by the way. You are a National Treasurer.
0:39:01 Arline: Yes. And I've said this I know I said this whenever I was interviewed and said, again, the atmosphere of the podcast has brought in such wonderful people into the group.
0:39:12 David Ames: Yeah. Let's take a quick second to thank the moderators. So there's a team of people that are moderators and they take that very seriously to try to protect the atmosphere and the environment for people. So thank you to everyone who participates in that way. The last thing I just want to say to wrap this up is that I'll refer back to I'm also an introvert. I'm a part of I don't know how many deconstruction deconstruction Facebook groups. And I think I can count on one hand the number of times I posted.
0:39:51 David Ames: It just isn't my personality. Right? Yeah, I can do this. I do one on one really well. I am terrible in a group. If we ever do a big get together party, I will be the guy in the corner by myself. That is just my personality. I know that about myself and I'm fine with it.
0:40:14 Arline: No, that's good. In the church, extroverted personalities and evangelism and get out and do all the things. Those are very much valued. I read the book, I was still a Christian. Read the book Quiet by Susan Cain.
0:40:27 David Ames: Very good.
0:40:28 Arline: And I was like, I am valuable because yes, similarly, Donnie and I would stay home and be happy. The pandemic, we were like, sweet. We just will work out at home now. Our whole family was perfectly content being at home. And I do love the small groups that we have during the week for the deconversion group. But that fills me up and then I'm good. I don't want to socialize in real life.
0:40:52 David Ames: Yes.
0:40:53 Arline: You told us earlier about some of the things that make you angry. You were very honest about that. What are some things that give you hope?
0:41:01 David Ames: So I'm tempted to grab the Joss Whedon quote, and I know he's kind of not super popular these days, but it expresses what I want to say. I'm actually going to look at my concussion. Joss Whedon said, the enemy of humanism is not faith. The enemy of humanism is hate. It is fear. It is ignorance. It is the darker part of ban that is in every humanness, every person in the world. That is what we have to fight.
0:41:25 David Ames: Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity this is the point I'm quoting. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are true believers. I believe in people, and I know that sounds insane. We're recording this on the day of the election. We don't know what the outcome is going to be.
0:41:55 David Ames: It looks grim. I know it looks bad. But I believe in people coming together and connecting with each other and being honest with each other and yes, showing grace with each other. That that is something powerful. And again, I want to be super clear here. I don't mean in some supernatural sense. I mean in a literal physical sense. It is powerful. It changes people's lives. It makes an impact on society.
0:42:26 David Ames: I think that if we can get beyond the just christianity is bad and actually start to collectively come together and see ourselves as even a political voice, as a civic voice, as a good actor in society, as a group, that that will have a positive impact on the world. And I'm sorry if that sounds sappy sweet, but I honestly believe that that honestly gives me hope. And again, we witness it in the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group.
0:43:04 David Ames: I'm amazed on a weekly basis. I may not post there, but I'd read a fair amount of it. Someone comes in and says, man, I'm having trouble. I got to talk to my mom, I got to talk to my partner, I got to talk to my son. And 20 people come along and go, wow, I had to do the same thing. This is what I learned and I it that gives me hope, right? Like that is super, super powerful.
0:43:40 Arline: One thing that has come up often in the group are unequally yoked marriages. People who have deconverted their spouse is still a Christian or religious in some way. We have some who in the group who are Christians and their spouses deconverted and they're trying to figure out what is happening. What advice do you have? You and your wife are making it work. What advice do you have, if any, for people living in that?
0:44:10 David Ames: Yeah, I definitely want to refer back to I think last year my conversation with Michelle that we recorded or two years ago. I can't remember now what it was, but I first have to say this would not have worked if we both were committed to the relationship. And I know there are times when maybe the relationship won't work and if only one partner is committed and the other isn't, it might be terribly sad, but it may also be necessary for that relationship to end. So I want to preface it with here that I don't want to burden anyone here with more guilt.
0:44:56 David Ames: Having said that, another reason for the podcast was I saw lots of deconverts go out in blaze of gory and burn the bridge on the way out and f you to everyone around them that was still a believer. And I thought, that can't be right either. And I love my wife and I want this to continue. The core advice is this find the mutual values. And that can be challenging when one partner is a believer and one partner is not.
0:45:32 David Ames: But in our case, we have a lot of values. What drew us together, our impetus toward ministry, was about caring about people, right? We shared that. And so when I could put it in secular and again here, I mean, just nonreligious terms, right? Not atheistic, but nonreligious terms. We share these values and how that doesn't change. I think that's step one and then step two is making it abundantly clear to the other partner that you love that person for who they are, including if they are believers for the rest of their lives.
0:46:15 David Ames: The truth is that we as the deconvert may need to be the bigger person. That sounds arrogant, but but there's some truth to that in my How To deconvert in Ten Easy Steps, which is a joke title, which I wish I wouldn't have done, but here we are. Is you have to realize that all that process that we talked about, that took years, and then the realization is sudden. Your partner has done none of that.
0:46:43 David Ames: They have none of that context. They've read none of the books, they've listened to none of the podcasts. And when you come to that person, it's going to hit them like a ton of bricks from out of left field with no context. And that is a brutal thing to do. So you have to be the graceful person in that scenario because you have all the information and they don't. Beyond that, again, I'll refer back to my wife.
0:47:13 David Ames: She has a psychology degree. She brilliantly brought up this idea of in a long term monogamous relationship. And I know there are people out there exploring other options, but if that's you, if you want to be in a long term monogamous relationship, people grow and they grow in different ways and they can grow apart. And you have to kind of reevaluate, do we want to remain a monogamous partnership?
0:47:40 David Ames: And if you do, then you have to accept that person where they're at. Michelle had this idea of a second marriage to the same person, right? Like recognizing, yes, you changed and maybe she changed too. But we were agreeing volitionally, we love each other, we want to remain partnered. I'm big on volition. Right. I think marriage in general or partnerships in general are about will and not warm fuzzies necessarily.
0:48:13 David Ames: And it was just a restatement to one another. We're committed to each other and really trying to listen, really trying to hear where the other person was coming from. It may surprise you that I never correct or try to counter apologetics Michelle, ever. I never do that. There are times when I will carefully bring up a subject and it's clear that it's not going to go, it's not going to fly. So I don't I stop because I respect the boundaries she's telling me she has.
0:48:52 David Ames: Right. And that is hard, man. That's hard. Not everybody is going to be able to do that. These are restraints I've put on myself. Again, by volition, by choice, you out there may not be willing to do that. And that's okay. That's fine. Bottom line is it takes two to tango. You need both partners to be committed and you can't fix that for someone else.
0:49:20 Arline: I saw a meme that said the only time you can change somebody is when they're in diapers.
0:49:25 David Ames: Yes. For real. With teenagers. I agree. Yes.
0:49:33 Arline: Someone did ask. Speaking of teenagers, someone did ask, how have you guys, you and Michelle navigated parenting being in different faith or beliefs?
0:49:43 David Ames: Yeah. Again, both about the marriage partnership and about parenting. I don't want to make this sound like this has been smooth sailing. Again, we have tensions flare up and when we have an argument, 25% of the time, I think it's related to we, we are we have different world views, we come from different perspectives and there's this underlying tension that just never goes away equally with our kids.
0:50:12 David Ames: Again, fortunately, unfortunately, depending on your perspective, they were into their early teens when I deconverted. They had that exposure, a graceful exposure, but they had that exposure to Christianity prior to that. Both of them are definitely not traditional Christians. I don't like to speak for them, but more, very much more on the agnostic side of things than anything, that's tension in the family, that hurts Michelle and I know it.
0:50:42 David Ames: And I've tried to spin the plates of making sure my kids feel free and unburdened by purity culture and are free to make their own choices about spirituality and at the same time to try to any of you who have teenagers, you know, it is them against the parents. And so I have to back up Michelle too. There are times there are times where I put a boundary not quite where I would have and vice versa. I push at times to move that boundary and it is a give and take and it's tension and it hurts.
0:51:16 David Ames: And I wish I had a silver bullet and I don't. And again, for me, it's all about making sure that my kids know I love them and accept them. And no matter if they wanted to be hardcore evangelical Christians, I would love them and accept them for that. If they are agnostic, I love them and accept them for that. And I try to communicate the same thing to Michelle.
0:51:45 Arline: Something I meant to ask earlier when you were talking about the podcast, where do you want the podcast to go? What do you see for the future of the podcast and the deconversion group?
0:51:54 David Ames: Do you have places or how you.
0:51:56 Arline: Want that to go?
0:51:57 David Ames: Yeah, let's do the group first. Again, I'm really interested in now that it seems as though the pandemic is winding down. There doesn't seem as much personal health threat out there. I'm sure there are some of you who have family members who might be ill and that's not true for you, and I acknowledge that and I think that's true. But eventually maybe we want to meet together. And again, I don't know that I'm going to be the best person for that, both from a time point of view and a personality point of view.
0:52:27 David Ames: So I'd be interested to hear people who are interested in making this happen. I know that some North Carolina people and you in the south, there like a few other places have met one another in real life, and I think that's super valuable. So I'd love to see us try to build the infrastructure such that people can do that organically and then maybe also do something a little more structured once in a great while.
0:52:55 David Ames: I'd like to see more people step up, and that's happening just today even. I think there's more push towards an unequally Yoked group thing happening, like for people who are willing to lead, you know, a get together to step up. I know how much this sounds like the small group thing in church, and that's because it is. We're human beings. That's just the way we work. And I'm sorry, but we need people who are willing to just be there, be present, say, I'm going to be here at Wednesday at 07:00 every week, right? Like that's, that's all it takes.
0:53:29 David Ames: And then people will follow, you know, so more more niche needs in the group. So secular parenting, we've already talked about unequally yoked. We've talked about you're doing the sex and sexuality. I think that's an amazing thing. Maybe we need an LGBTQ, maybe we need a black corner, a Hispanic corner, whatever the people need, let's do that and provide that space for people. So as for the podcast, I feel like we go through waves and I'll talk about I'm going to go back to the beginning again.
0:54:10 David Ames: The other thing I noticed about my peers is they would go after all the famous people, of which there is really a very small number of secular people out there, and they'd get four or five of them and they would peer out. And I knew from day one. First of all, again, my personality, I'm not going to go ask all those people, like day in and day out to let me interview them. And I also was interested in real life stories.
0:54:36 David Ames: What is this actually like? I don't want to hear, like, even I at this point, what you hear here is pretty packaged. Like, I've told this story a bunch of times. I know the points I need to hit, that kind of thing. I want to hear regular people, what are they going through? And I've been honest with you. I wanted that to be open to women in particular as well, and not just be a male dominated thing, not just be a white dominated thing.
0:55:02 David Ames: We've tried really hard to accomplish that. I'll let listeners and community members be the judge of it. So I knew I wanted to do just people telling their stories. And here's the beautiful thing. And you and I talked about this, how intimate it is to just be the receiver of someone's story. And I could feel the magic of it right while I was interviewing somebody. This is it. This is the thing that people will want to hear.
0:55:34 David Ames: And again, maybe my cognitive bias, but I believe that sincerely, that that was the thing that was not out there or rarely out there. Yeah. And then I have interviewed I've interviewed authors, some people that I adore. Jennifer Michael, hex jumps to mind. Alice gretchen recently. Tom Cristofiak I love that book. I really like author. We just had Heather Wells, just someone who takes the time to really lay out that story in detail and has much better eloquence than I do to put that down on paper. So I really enjoy that.
0:56:12 David Ames: So we have an opportunity to be and I'm not going to name drop yet because I don't know if it's going to happen. Part of a podcast network that is atheist focused but very humanist in its approach. Basically what we're doing here, and I'm fairly certain that's what we're going to do and we're going to cut this part if we don't. And that would open up the door to a few more famous people, right? So a few more authors, a few more speakers.
0:56:49 David Ames: So I want to lace that in. I do not want to lose the heart of what we're doing, which is the people. And so my promise to you is that will always be the core. That's going to be the core. But if you have a few more podcasters, a few more authors, a few more speakers, that's what's happening. And we're also getting noticed. So even apart from the network thing, I'm starting to get people reaching out to us back to the it's starting to pay dividends, doing it the right way from the beginning and not just taking the easy, quick way.
0:57:25 David Ames: I'm getting solicitations from slightly more, wellknown, people and things like that. So I think you're going to see a bit more of that on the podcast. And again, I want to keep our feet on the ground and it's still going to be about people. The core driving thing for me is about honesty and vulnerability. I think you get those two things, and you have an amazing conversation, and that's what people relate to, and so I'm not going to lose sight of that.
0:57:55 Arline: And that's exciting. That sounds exciting. The last couple of questions, some of your favorites. Do you have any favorite interviews that you've done, favorite blog posts that we can link in the show notes?
0:58:16 David Ames: Sure. Some of my original stuff was before the podcast. It was me just figuring this stuff out. If you read it, you hear me trying to work out what this has become. Right. I already mentioned how to deconvert into any steps. Again, I hate that title, but it has a bunch of Google SEO. I can't leave it. Yeah, trust me, this is not just an intellectual exercise. I was trying to get to what does it feel like to deconvert?
0:58:47 David Ames: What does it feel like? And I feel like I hope that I captured some of that. I've gotten some positive feedback from it. So I would say that my early doc on secular grace and humanism. So those two different blog posts are really kind of my pouring out my soul. I did my deconversion, but it was a bit intellectual. I've had feedback on that, that it was more counter apologetic than most people care about.
0:59:22 David Ames: But if you're into that thing, you'll enjoy that if you're into that counter apologetic things. I also have a set of what I call thought experiments for believers where it kind of addresses some underlying apologetic without just to let the reader come to their own conclusion. Right. I'm not trying to tell them what the answer is. Just like, what do you feel the answer is when you get to ask this question? So I love all of those blog posts for interviews. I've already mentioned Jennifer Michael hecht her book.
0:59:56 David Ames: And let's do recommendations, too, if you don't mind, here.
0:59:59 Arline: Yes, go for it.
1:00:00 David Ames: So her book, Doubt a History, one of the early books I read, actually not the earliest. So, again, I read all the people that atheists read. I read The Four Horsemen. I read a few humanists early on, and it was all very cold and philosophical, and I still was looking for if I was going to describe secular grace. It's humanism with boots on the ground, blood, sweat, and tears, loving people. Right.
1:00:28 David Ames: That's what was missing. And what I found in Jennifer's book was, yes, it was intellectual, but it connected me to history. Deconstruction is not new. Atheism is not new. These questions, I mean, the exact questions now, I'm not talking about just generalities here, but the exact questions you are likely to have gone through. There is a trail of historical references of people going through the same thing, feeling just as isolated, feeling just as societally, left out and apart from the mainstream.
1:01:09 David Ames: And her book connected me to that. It also was humbling. I say this every time I talk about the book, not only are my ideas not original for today, they are not original for 2500 years ago. This is not new. And there's something profoundly comforting about that for me. I love her spirit. She also comes from a secular Jewish perspective, which I adore. Christians who say that humanism is stealing from Christianity. I want to just laugh in their faces.
1:01:45 David Ames: It is all secular Judaism. Like, we owe everything to secular Judaism. That's best. So a follow along to that is Sasha Sagan, that interview with her in it. First of all, I think Carl Sagan is one. You know, I often say I'm a Sagan like atheist, not a Dawkins like atheist. And what I mean is there is still wonder and awe and joy and connection and people. I love people. And I feel like Carl captured that and Dawkins doesn't.
1:02:21 David Ames: Well, man his wife Annie and his daughter Sasa Sagan have extended that legacy, and I love everything they do. Her book, Small Creatures Such as we, captures the need for us as human beings to have ritual again. There need not be a spiritual, non physical, non natural element to the need to connect with each other and mark time, mark birthdays, mark weddings, mark mark deaths, and collectively grieve and celebrate.
1:03:01 David Ames: Right? So in that conversation with Sasha, we talked about, man, how can we capture this and put it in a bottle and give it away? If I could give away to you the feeling that I have the satisfaction and I'm not a nihilist at all, right? 95% of what they accuse atheists of, I feel like that just doesn't apply to me. Right. I have more than what I felt as a Christian because I feel freer. Right? And if I could give away this project is trying to give that away.
1:03:41 David Ames: And I feel like people like Sasha have that. Alice Gretchen, I think I already mentioned she wrote the book, wayward I'll mention it's, in the same tone. Heather Wells, who was just on both of them are memoirs. I think there's a deep place for that. You mentioned Marla taliano hers'book of poetry. The three of them speak in a way that I could never right. That's not my experience. They are expressing an experience that's deeply important in a way that I don't have access to.
1:04:17 David Ames: And so I love those three. Amy rath came on. She has a podcast about nuns. N-O-N-E-S. Love her work. I think she's on to something deep and meaningful and important there. Just in the recent past, ryan Mukowski, Robert Peoples gosh, there's so much. I feel like I leave people out by trying to acknowledge these people. But you can hear in my voice when I'm super excited, right. And it tends to be humanist, skepticism, loving people, right? That combination, some combination of that is going to fire me up and I'm going to be excited.
1:04:58 David Ames: Can I give you more recommendations? I don't know you have more questions. Okay. More recommendations really quick, because this question was asked of me. I think it was via you. And I was unprepared. I came prepared today. All right?
1:05:13 Arline: That's right.
1:05:13 David Ames: Yeah. Often people ask me, what podcasts do you listen to? And the truth is, I don't really listen to the conversion deconstruction podcasts. And the reason is, like, I know that people will age out, for lack of a better term, of the graceful atheist, right? People come to us at a time of need, either during the process or they need a booster shot, so to speak, after deconversion, and they need to feel like I'm not alone.
1:05:46 David Ames: And they probably get satisfied right. Within, let's say, a year or so, right? Like, okay, I have enough. I can move on. And they will age out. And that is a good thing, not a bad thing. I feel like that for me, too, just in the same way that I was just 15 minutes of rationalist atheist and I was done in the deconversion space. Like, you know, I've listened to the podcast. Of course. I still do. I do a ton of research, right? Like, just for the podcast, I do a ton of research.
1:06:15 David Ames: So I still am listening to it. But for myself, that's not what I listen to. So a couple of recommendations. One is. Sabina hasenfelder. Dr. Sabina hasenfelder. She is a science communicator, and she is a skeptics skeptic. I love this person. She has both a YouTube channel, she's written the book Lost in Math. Where she is critical of the Tlcr is the concept of the beauty of mathematics and physics.
1:06:51 David Ames: And she says that led us astray. We're too focused on this aesthetic value and not looking at the data. She is critical of the foundations of quantum field theory, which, as you know, can spill out into things like the multiverse concepts and things like that. She is a skeptics skeptic. I love her. Even if I disagree with her, I respect her beyond anything else. For that reason, she's willing to just stand.
1:07:25 David Ames: And I want to be really super clear here. There is a movement, the wrong word, an intellectual trajectory sometimes called the heterodox sphere. And that's actually my next recommendation I'll talk about in a second that I don't agree with. Okay? So this is the people who are heterodox just for the sake of being heterodox. These are the people who were pushing ivoryctum during the antivaccine, during the pandemic, which I think was it makes me angry.
1:08:07 David Ames: Misinformation, disinformation, makes me angry. That was to build a podcast audience, and it pisses me off. So I do not mean heterodox. I mean willing to stand for the truth based on the data we have, right? And stand in the unknown. We don't know. The other message of this podcast is that the Christian apologetics will say, you have to have this answer. You have to have an answer. And it's okay to just not know.
1:08:37 David Ames: And I would much rather not know something than to speculate and get entrenched into my speculative answer. And that is the description of all of apologetics, but also sometimes philosophy and sometimes even science in some science, anyway. Sabina the second one is a podcast similar in that it is of skepticism. It is decoding the gurus. Two guys, Chris Kavanaugh and Matt Brown, they are both academics, but they are looking at all the famous people that I have avoided talking about so far, people like Sam Harris and Brett and Eric Weinstein.
1:09:22 David Ames: And that heterodoxphere. They are looking at it from an academic point of view, and they are looking at how it feels. Whenever you use the term cult, it gets negative immediately. But how they are abusing their personality, their charismatic personalities for monetary gain. And so it is critical of the critics, right? And so I think it's a super valuable perspective. Another YouTube channel that I really like, that I just found literally within the last month is Matt Baker's Useful Charts.
1:10:01 David Ames: Matt is a theistic Jew. He came, from, what he calls his words a cult. The British Judaism. I don't probably not even calling it right. Anyway, long story short, he's a history buff. He is a religious studies. That's his actual degree, his education, and his business is building, drawing out these charts. So he does things like monarchic lines, successions and so forth. But he has applied that to his religious studies knowledge.
1:10:45 David Ames: And so he has a ton of really well documented, really well resourced researched biblical history from a critical point of view. So he'll be like, here's the Bible's timeline and here's the archeological timeline. It's super valuable, right? Like, was Moses a real person? He tackles that with real honesty, right? And he separates mythology, legends, and history. And there's a bright line there. And I've learned things from him, I think.
1:11:20 David Ames: Man where were you 20 years ago? So I love that one from that podcast is of the book by Neil Silberman, the Bible unearthed similar. This is actually I'm way late to the game here. This has been out for a while. I believe he's at least Israeli, if not Jewish. But again, looking at the actual archeological evidence, is there evidence of 700,000 to 202 million people going through this tiny little space in the Middle East? And spoiler alert, no, there is not.
1:11:56 David Ames: And it's just an honest look at what does the data actually say, right? And I'm just beginning that book, but I think it's great so far. Again, I'm late to the party. Christian Demez is Jesus and John Wayne. One thing I learned what did I learn? I learned that I have been super privileged and ignorant and I have had the privilege of nivete. Right. I was a white ish male in an evangelical patriarchal environment.
1:12:36 David Ames: And similar to Jennifer Michael Heck's book about deconstruction is Not New the Christian Nationalist Patriarchal Elements of the Christian Right and Is Not New And something I would talk about from the Watched it Happen from the 80s, but she's taking it all the way back before the 50s even and just tracing the line of we should not have been surprised by Trump. So the fact that I was surprised is a revelation of my own naivete and privilege. Right.
1:13:19 David Ames: I highly recommend that book. I know you have as well. In my interview of you we talked about Tyler Merit. The name of it is I take my coffee black. He references the school I went to. He is definitely a Christian. But the experience of being a Black Man in 2020. And not only that, a Christian Black Man and his Christian friends and family not understanding, not getting it. And the pain that he'll just what he's so good at is the visceral experience of being a Black Man in America during that time period. And prior to that, too. So I highly recommend his book.
1:14:10 David Ames: Just to rattle off more podcasts that I listen to. You don't have to. Ezra Klein on politics I think is amazing. Yes. Sean Carroll on all things science, particularly physics, particularly cosmology, but also the philosophical background. He kind of blends those two. His his is called Mindscape 538 on politics, political Gabfest on politics. You're seeing sensing a theme here, very bad wizards, philosophy and psychology kind of related to the gurus, but without that critical aspect.
1:14:48 David Ames: So those are the kinds of things that I listen to. And then last recommendation is I wouldn't have known these guys but my teenagers. But Lincoln Rhett are the famous guys from what is it? Mythical Morning. Mythical morning. Yeah. Now. Ear biscuits. They were youth for Christ. Minister they did all kinds of stuff. They didn't talk about that through Mythical Morning. They deconverted and they came out publicly.
1:15:19 David Ames: And the series of podcasts in ear biscuits, both on YouTube and on their podcasts are just amazing. Very, very good. They did like a year after retrospective. All of that is fantastic. Go listen to it. It is great.
1:15:37 Arline: Yes. And Good Mythical Morning is just hilarious and funny and it's just think of a family friend, their kid was like, can we watch Good Mythical, Mythical Morning? Like eating the hot cheetos stuff. I mean, just the most bizarre, random stuff and it was so much fun. And then somehow I found out that they had deconverted and listened their story and so similar to so many people's stories that we've heard.
1:15:59 David Ames: Totally. Yeah.
1:16:01 Arline: Any more recommendations?
1:16:03 David Ames: I'm done. I'm finally done. That was wonderful.
1:16:06 Arline: I wrote a lot down podcast, although I do not need to keep adding to my podcast.
1:16:11 David Ames: Yeah, I hear you. And I'll definitely send you these names. I had to write it down. I would not have remembered.
1:16:18 Arline: Is there anything I did not ask that you wanted to talk about?
1:16:22 David Ames: I talked briefly about kind of having this packaged, trying to have the elevator pitch. So I want to wrap with secular grace is I sometimes talk about this ABCs of a secular, quote unquote, spirituality that's all belonging in connection. So again, I appreciate that this is a little too three points in a sermon kind of thing, but to try to simplify it for people. Again, thing I learned is how much cultural context feeds into our interpretation of the experience of awe.
1:17:05 David Ames: We know that you can use high powered magnet over a person's brain and they will experience God. And if you're in the west, you're going to see Jesus, right? And if you're in Asia, you're going to see the Buddha maybe, or Shiva or Vishnu or what have you, right? And if you're in the Mideast, you might see Allah, right? Your cultural context gives you the interpretation of what awe means to you. And what I'm trying to say is awe is a human experience and we should embrace it.
1:17:39 David Ames: It is a wonderful thing. I experienced that for sure, in nature and in friendship and sometimes in these interviews, right. That literal physical feeling of man. This is amazing, right. I feel that and I no longer have to say that's a god, right? No, it's just two people connecting and that's a great thing.
1:18:00 Arline: Yes.
1:18:01 David Ames: The belonging is what we've been talking about with the deconversion anonymous group. It's to know that you are not alone. You are a part of a people. It's part of what I talked about with Jennifer Michael Heck, that we are in a historical line of doubters. We are not alone, not only for this time period, but for all of human history. As long as there has been belief, there have been doubters, and we are a part of that. And so having a sense of I'm a part of something, I'm a part of this group is a hardwired need.
1:18:36 David Ames: We are social creatures. It's okay to embrace that. It's also okay to be very critical about which groups you are willing to make yourself be a part of. We are not particularly joiners secular people and that's okay too, but it is kind of a human need. And then the connection is back to what I was talking about earlier, about that almost confessional level, one on one human talking to your best friend in the world, the human being who holds your secrets, whoever just came to your mind.
1:19:13 David Ames: That's what I mean by connection. It's about trusting that person with implicitly. You know they are going to hold your secrets. You know that you can tell them anything. You can be angry and you can be an asshole. You can be yourself unedited to that person, find that person, love them, hug them, be the same back for them. That connection is so valuable, so necessary, such a deep part of being a human being.
1:19:40 David Ames: And the whole thing I'm trying to say is if you find yourself no longer able to believe in spirituality of any kind, you get to keep all those things. Those things still come with being a human being. You do not lose them. You do not need to be a fatalist nihilist who succumbs to despair. That is not necessary. And that is the message of the podcast.
1:20:06 Arline: All right, mic drop.
1:20:07 David Ames: I don't have a microphone.
1:20:09 Arline: David, this was wonderful. This was so much fun. I learned a lot and I know our audience is going to really enjoy this episode. This is great.
1:20:16 David Ames: I appreciate it. Thank you so much for doing the interview. I think this is valuable.
1:20:20 Arline: Thanks for being on.
1:20:27 David Ames: Final thoughts on the episode.
1:20:31 Arline: My final thoughts on the interview I really enjoyed getting to interview David. I learned a little bit more about his story, where he's come from, and it reminded me again how much he has a heart for people, how much he has a heart for helping people who used to find community. In the church, but now know that's not something they can believe in or are journeying away from the church and can figure out ways to give them space to tell their stories, to find empathy and compassion from friends through whether it's the podcast or the Facebook group.
1:21:14 Arline: He is putting good things out into the world and it's wonderful and I love it. And it reminds me of how thankful I am that I get to be part of this. I get to be part of his vision, I get to be part of whatever comes in the future. And it makes me excited about the future of the podcast, to see where things are headed and to get to see what the future holds for David and the graceful atheist podcast.
1:21:46 Arline: I love it. It's wonderful and I'm so thankful to get to be a part of it.
1:21:51 David Ames: For the secular Grace Thought of the. Week, it's just my gratitude for everyone involved with the podcast. I'm terrified I'm going to leave some names out here. So please, if I forget you specifically, you are included in all of this gratitude. I obviously have to begin with Arline and all of the work that she's been doing as the community manager of the Deacon Version Anonymous Facebook Group, guest hosting, recruiting people to be on the show, copy editing, just a number of things.
1:22:22 David Ames: The podcast could not happen without her. Equally, Mike T doing the editing, we do about 48 50 shows a year. That is a lot of editing to do and I could not do it without Mike. He is an integral part of what you get to hear. Both Arline and Mike are in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group. So if you appreciate the podcast, please thank them. Let them know how much their work means to you. I also want to thank the moderators in the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group.
1:22:53 David Ames: Thank you to Arline again, lars, Mike, T. Again, Stephanie, Ian and Vanessa, thank. You so much for the work that. You do to help make the group graceful and provide a safe place to land for people doubting, deconstructing and deconverting. Thank you guys. I want to thank everyone who has been a financial supporter of the podcast in the past through Anchor and Stripe. Thank you so much for really years worth of giving there.
1:23:22 David Ames: I really appreciate that. And I want to thank the new Patreon patrons, some of whom have moved over from the Anchor stripe scenario. Joel, Lars, Ray, Rob, Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Thank you so very much. I want to thank Ray from the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group for doing the memes. These beautiful memes that you see of quotes from the guests on the episodes are just absolutely beautiful and it's a great way to promote the podcast and for people to connect and recognize there's something there that they want to see.
1:23:54 David Ames: In this episode, I mentioned there's a couple of people who I hang out with about once a month. You all know who you are and I thank you guys so much for keeping me sane, letting me be myself, and giving me a place to just vent sometimes. That is incredibly appreciated. Again, I'm terrified that I have left someone out. I need you to know that if you have participated in any way with the podcast as a guest, as a member of the community, if you've promoted the podcast on your social media, if you've told a friend, thank you, thank you, thank you.
1:24:26 David Ames: All of that is just so important. For 2023, as I've been talking about, we will be moving to the Atheist United Podcast Network. What that will do will give us. Some more exposure to the wider secular community, hopefully more guests on the show and me as a guest on other podcasts. But also we will be supporting the. Work that Atheist United does and they do a lot of work in the Los Angeles area for the homeless and various other community efforts.
1:24:58 David Ames: And the ad revenue from the podcast will go to Atheist United and will be helping a good cause. A reminder of one more programming. Note that after the 18 December to the 8 January, we are off. We're going to be migrating the podcast from Anchor to Spreaker. Definitely before the 8th, double check to make sure that you still have the podcast in your podcast application. And after the 8th, you definitely have a new episode.
1:25:27 David Ames: And if you don't, I might have made a mistake and you might need to refresh your connection to the podcast. I'm excited about 2023 and everything that we're going to do together. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves from Mackay. Beats links will be in the show. Notes if you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media.
1:26:04 David Ames: You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on podcasters.com. You can also support the podcast by. Clicking on the affiliate links for books on gracefullaytheus.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate with the podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition and do you need to tell your story?
1:26:29 David Ames: Reach out if you are a creator. Or work in the deconstruction, deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast, just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast, there's links in the show notes to find me. You can Google Graceful Atheist, you can Google deconversion, you can Google secular grace. You can send me an email Graceful. Atheist@gmail.com or you can check out the website Graceful Atheist.com.
1:27:01 David Ames: 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.
Stay skeptical? This week’s guest is Thom Krystofiak, the author of Tempted to Believe: The Seductive Power of Claims About “The Truth.”
Thom grew up Catholic but as an adult began practicing Transcendental Meditation. He followed gurus and groups for decades but was never quite convinced of the more spectacular claims of TM.
Thom shares about his experiences in the TM movement and what pushed him out. He also discusses important questions people, regardless of their belief or skepticism, could ask themselves: What do I mean by truth? How do I find the truth? And how much does truth really matter?
I am, by nature, a skeptical man. My skepticism shows no signs of mellowing, but grows sharper and deeper with time. And yet I have spent my life surrounded by believers.
[Is it] better to be fooled many times than to be a skeptical man[?]
Am I missing something?
“Why is that I’m not susceptible to any of the beliefs the people around me hold…”
“[Flying] wasn’t happening yet for us as individuals, but maybe if we put three thousand people together in one place…maybe that’ll be something!”
“…the rise of fake news and alternative facts and the more bizarre conspiracy theories…all of these things are based on beliefs and they’re based on beliefs that do not have evidence…’”
“Some of our greatest societal challenges…resonate with these same principles: How much does the truth matter, what do you mean by the truth and how do you find the truth?”
“It’s not just a matter of, ‘Do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what’s true?’…it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions of evidence.”
“Some people have given—either themselves or others—the license to make things up…”
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David. And I'm trying to be the case with our community manager Arlene continues to run the Tuesday evening after the podcast drops hangout. If you want to be a part of that, please join the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Thom Krystofiak. Thom has written an amazing book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth, quote, unquote. What Thom has done here is really describe what skepticism is, why it's necessary and how to be skeptical without being cynical, and without being a jerk about it. What I think you're going to find interesting is that Thom's religious experience, although he grew up a Catholic is really about his time in the transcendental meditation movement, and more from a new age point of view. So what's interesting is, he's bringing skepticism from that perspective. And he begins the book by asking the question, Am I missing something? And the book is really the answer to that. I loved this book, I this is the book that I wish that I had had when I was going through my own deconversion. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Thom, and I hope you and to help you go out and get the book. tempted to believe. Here is Thom Krystofiak to tell his story.
Thom Krystofiak, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Thom Krystofiak 2:06
Thank you, David. It's a pleasure.
David Ames 2:08
Thom, you've written a book called tempted to believe the seductive power of claims about the truth. And as I just mentioned to you offline, this could not be more timely. I said in previous promotion of this particular interview that if I were going to give it a subtitle, I would say it is skepticism without being an asshole. I might have been a little bit more catchy. Yeah. And that is kind of right in the lane of what we're trying to do here on the gristmill atheist podcasts. So you are incredibly welcome. So glad that you're here.
Thom Krystofiak 2:47
Thank you, thank you so much.
David Ames 2:49
What I'd like to do is begin with, you know, your personal journey and for lack of a better term, your spiritual journey and what that was like, and then we'll jump into the book after that. Okay.
Thom Krystofiak 2:58
Yeah, let me try to boil it down. as briefly as I can, you know, I did not go through a difficult deconversion process in my, in my life, I was raised as a standard Catholic, I went to Catholic schools all the way through high school, including Jesuit High School. But, and I of course, absorbed all that as you do as a child. And you're more or less, I'm more or less assume that was just the way things were. But, you know, my my leaving the church or leaving belief of that kind took place quite naturally. For me, it was just the way my mind started asking questions, even when I was, I suppose around 16. And then, strangely enough, one of the Jesuit priests sort of there were some liberal priests in our, in our school, he thought it was a wise thing and what was called theology class, to assign Sigmund Freud's the future of an illusion, which is, which is all about Freud's idea that religious beliefs were illusory. And here's the psychological reasons why. And that really spoke to me. But in addition to that, my own thinking just about how is it that we can possibly know all this really definite stuff about the nature of the universe, so that'll happen. And so it was, it was, it was graceful. For me. It was graceful both for me, and it was, it was treated gracefully by those in my life. You know, luckily for me, I didn't have a problem with my parents, you know, freaking out that, that I had left the fold that they had invested in, you know, in so many different ways, right? There weren't that kind of they were those kinds of people, so I didn't have that issue. Even my teachers at school they knew by the time of my senior year of high school, they knew where I was but they didn't cause trouble either. So I had a graceful exit, it was easy. Okay. Then what happened to me is when I was in college, I started for whatever reason, beginning to have a sense that perhaps there's something more to this reality than what the day to day that we're all in meshed in. Now, whether recreational drugs had anything to do with that, or whether it was just some sort of natural curiosity, I don't know. But I was interested in the possibility. And so when I heard various people in groups talking about ways to open to greater realities, I was intrigued. And I explored a few of them. But the one that got me was Transcendental Meditation. And the reason it got me ultimately, in the beginning, was because they had embraced scientific approach to verifying the benefits. Right. So I mean, the kinds of benefits let's put it this way, a scientific approach to to verifying some changes that happened into people and people who practiced TM. You know, they certainly couldn't verify the broader claims that they may have been interested in. But they, but they had that scientific attitude, they had done some pioneering research that was published in Science Magazine and Scientific American. And, and I will say that, that hooked me I said, okay, if I'm going to try something, this is the one. So that's what I did. I liked it, I liked the way it work, the effects it had on me. And so I, as, as the years of few years unfolded, I got seriously interested and became a trained teacher of Transcendental Meditation, which, you know, this is, as people may know, this is a, a program or a practice that was brought out to the world by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In the old days, I mean, some decades ago, a lot of people would recognize that name. These days, not so much, probably. But, you know, he was the guru of the Beatles, etc. That's the way he was always talked about in the press way back then, you know, millions of people learned all around the world, 10s of 1000s of people were teachers, it was a big deal. And as you can imagine, we we'd go, we were in the training was done in Europe, I was in Europe anyway, I was pursuing my own studies, but the trainings were generally in Europe, and they would last, you know, over the course of the entire training might be six months or more. And so you're completely enmeshed in this world of people who are absolutely enthused not just about the practical fruits of meditation, but about these ancillary claims that are more and more extraordinary about, about what the universe was about, and what human life was capable of, and so forth. And being in meshed in math for six months. And having, you know, you naturally have a desire to do well and be part of, you know, to be a good teacher and be part of this whole thing. I naturally was drawn to at least partial acceptance of some really extraordinary things. Now, I don't I don't think I ever became a full on believer in the sense that many people are believers and things about some of these claims. But they certainly enticed me and made me think they were possible. And so I'll just briefly mention a couple of them. So the the biggest thing that happened during the time I was doing that training was an advanced program was cut was brought out, in addition to the regular 20 minutes, twice a day of meditation, which was the whole thing in the beginning, an advanced program was brought out which was basically human levitation, the ability for the human being, to fly, not just some sort of internal thing that felt like you are floating but actually, the claim was, yes, we're talking, floating, flying through the air. And, and I was, you know, some people did it before I decided to try it, because, hey, why not? This is, this would be fantastic. If
David Ames 9:32
it was. Yeah.
Thom Krystofiak 9:36
You know, it's a little weird to say that I would even be willing to try it because it's so outrageous. No, that's such an outrageous claim. It flies in the face of just everything we know about physics and science. And that doesn't mean I don't rule things out is completely impossible if they fly in the face of current scientific knowledge. You know, there are things we can learn that we haven't learned yet, but this is pretty cool. pretty far out there. So, but nevertheless, I was far enough into it to say this is worth a shot. And some people had done it that I knew before I did a little bit before I did. And it came back with some, you know, reports that sounded like they were verifying the thing in some way. Anyway, so I jumped in and did it. And it was extraordinary. It was absolutely one of the most extraordinary things I've ever done in my life. And I think a lot of people might say the same, just the way the body reacted to this, essentially just a mental process. That was that was engaged. And it's, it's something that I think would be a great subject of scientific research exactly what is going on there where the body does some things it's never done before, in response to a mental stimulus. And so it was wild. It was incredible. It was energetic, but it wasn't flying by. It wasn't levitation by any match.
A couple of years later, after I had done this, and then come back, and I was teaching meditation, and here in the US, I, marshy put out the word that he wanted to gather 3000 people, this was in Amherst, Massachusetts, to do this technique of skill of yogic flying together for the first time in human history, you know, and I said, okay, at that point, I was willing to entertain the possibility that, okay, it wasn't happening yet for us as individuals, but if we put 3000 people together in one place, and we're all doing it simultaneously, maybe that will be something and something extraordinary. And, as I said, in the book, when I when when I did that, for the first time in that large group, I was expecting something to happen. You know, exactly what, who knows, but something really different from what had happened ever before. Right? And it did. So, you know, that's not to say there were it's not, it's a rich internal experience. It's something that people get value out of, and a number of ways by doing it. Maybe even some integration of brainwaves, and mind and body and all these things have been explored. But certainly it wasn't what the claim was, it didn't happen. Of course, it hasn't happened since. So that's one thing. And then my wife and I moved to a little town in Iowa called Fairfield, Iowa, which had about 9000 people at the time. And again, Maurice, she made up made the call in 1983, to say, let's get 7000 people into this little town of 9000. And all do this together. And that will really crack the world open. It wasn't so much, oh, we're gonna fly. Isn't that really cool? It was more. His focus was always what can we do as individuals that will affect the collective consciousness is the word he would tend to use the collective consciousness of the whole human race? Is there somewhat, and he certainly believed, apparently that, that, that that should be possible. And originally, the idea was, well, let's just get enough people to practice TM just to meditate, and that will change the world. And then as that wasn't happening fast enough, he said, Well, let's get this advanced group. And let's get them together. And then we'll see what can really happen. And so we said, Great, we quit our jobs, we moved down here along with 7000 people, it was an, again, a really amazing experience. And then, many of those people were encouraged later to stay, to form a permanent community to keep doing this together. And they built two large dome structures where the people would come every day and twice a day and do this. So the idea was, well, we'll keep doing this and then we will finally crack it all up. So this group here in Fairfield, that up maybe about 3000, stayed over time, not the first day, but they managed to arrange their lives so that, you know, they could somehow support themselves. Some entrepreneurs came started some businesses brought businesses, people managed to support themselves and got rolling here, and states, so maybe two to 3000. At the peak, we're here. And there's still probably 2000 here. And this group of people that I was now fully enmeshed in because I never lived in a community of two or 3000 people who believed a lot of very extraordinary things I'll just mention a few in a moment. And so all the people around me that I associated with believed a raft of things and these would be The one I already mentioned, you know, possibility of human levitation. Another one would be the fact that certain practices, they're called the Yagi O's, and in Sanskrit or an Indian lore, but these are basically just practices, performances can influence by performing some ritualized event, chanting some stuff in Sanskrit pouring some materials on some objects, you know, whatever the ritual was, that can eliminate problems change the course of, of a person's life accompany even as a society. And of course, the idea that a large group doing something together like this would like, like these practices would utterly transform human human life on a collective level. And belief in astrology, it's called Jyotish. Again, the Indian version is called Jyotish. But it's essentially just astrology, that it's a perfect predictive science. And on and on, so I'm surrounded by a belief in karma, you know, the fact that everything that's happening to us was because of things in past lives, or parent lives, and it's all highly orchestrated. And reincarnation, you go on and on. And this was the assumed coin of the realm among the people I was living with, including my wife. And I was curious about some of these things, but really not not a believer in any of any of them. Yeah. Especially, you know, as the flying, it became clear that wasn't really happening that one drifted, drifted away, even from my consideration that it's any kind of likely event at all.
So this was the origin of the book for me over the book that I wrote, because in my own internal exploration process, which was, why is it that I am not susceptible to these beliefs that everybody around me is holding to one extent or another in the early days, especially? And it was just a fascinating question. It wasn't just a intellectual academic thing, like, Oh, I wonder why it was also it wasn't like I had tension about it, or felt that I was horribly missing something. But I did wonder if I was missing something. Because a lot of a lot of these people were quite admirable, quite intelligent, etc, accomplished. And they managed to believe these things and found some sort of benefit in their lives from believing these things, apparently. And I wasn't. And so I'm going, what, what am I missing here? And so I just tried to dive into that, and exploration on many, many different fronts and different levels to see. Was I missing something? Or were they just applying criteria about reality that I could not subscribe to, due to lacks a lack of evidence, basically. And that, you know, that's essentially what I what I came to, and feel comfortable with. And that, to me, let me say one more thing that a major demarcation or separation that I make in the book is between something that someone chooses to have in their life because they like the way it feels, they just like, like having in their life, and making a definite claim about something about the universe or the world, or how human life works, a claim. So to me, a claim is something about, about an event that will appear in the material world, I claim that astrology will predict this in my life. Well, I want to see that prediction come true. It's a claim or the claim that you can levitate we want to see we need to see the levitation otherwise, let's not talk about it in that in that term. You know, if doing a certain spiritual practice or ritual is supposed to alleviate a problem, let's see does does that actually play out? And so yeah, my focus was on on claims. I'm happy to have people have whatever they want in their life that makes them feel satisfied as long as they're not bending the reality and making claims factual claims about the nature of human life, that really cannot be not only cannot be established, but all the evidence that we do have, seems to contradict it. And as as the years went on here, I mean, we've been here for 39 years. Yeah, so. So it's a long, it's a lifetime, you know. And during that time, many of the people, at least the people that are my closer friends, have had us not the same degree, necessarily, as I am in this journey, but a movement in that direction. And I'm pleased and happy to report that to some small extent, at least, some of the people who've have read my book have had some of that perspective solidified. And it kind of brought together some of the maybe thoughts they started having, but brought together in a more coherent way. That is, how do we want to look at this world? How do we want to evaluate claims about this world to make sure that they're, they're valid, and that they have substance,
David Ames 21:08
that so many things, I want to respond to their couple things, just just to say that one of the things I've really appreciated about the book is the humility and the kindness with which you describe some of these, in your words, off grid claims. And there's an empathy for the human condition and are and you know, the title of the book, tempted to believe that we are all tempted to believe in things that may or may not have enough evidence for it. Again, very much in line with what we're trying to do here with the podcast that just, you know, we're all human beings, we're all susceptible to these things. And, and yet, we are all after the truth, we're trying to find the truth. So I really appreciated that. One of the things I think, for my listeners is going to be interesting, my listeners tend to be former evangelical Christians, on some part of the spectrum from D convert from deconstruction, you're just doubting to full blown D converted atheists is that this comes at it from an orthogonal an angle, many of those evangelicals, when they were believers would have seen transcendental meditation as evil. And so it's, it kind of sneaks in past some of those defenses. And yet, I was amazed at the parallels, right? This is, again, the human condition. And last thing I'll say is, I also very much appreciated that you acknowledge the difference between the potential positive benefits of the experience and community versus a claim about the way the the universe actually works, and making a really hard bright line between those two. So for example, if you find, you know, performing the ritual of, you know, beneficial to you for your mental health, if you find meditation, or any of these, these kinds of practices, beneficial, more power to that person, not, that's fine. It's when the person begins to claim that this is affecting the world in some way that is beyond the realm of physics, that that's when we start to care about the truth.
Thom Krystofiak 23:09
Right? Well, that's great. And, you know, I appreciate your noticing what you're calling the humility in the book. And that has been an advantage. I just ran into someone at the grocery store yesterday, he goes, Thom, I love your book. And I didn't know she was reading it. And not not a close friend, but someone I an acquaintance. And she mentioned the same thing that compared to what what you often expect in books that are trying to deconstruct for former beliefs. You often have people like Richard Dawkins would be the extreme example of someone who is often described as caustic, and dismissive and so forth. And yeah, I mean, I didn't want to do that. And I don't feel that so. So that's cool. The one thing I didn't say yet that I want to say, and I think it's germane to what you were just speaking about is that, well, let's let's get into it this way, that the whole idea, the difference that you just summarized between doing something that feels beneficial, or that you'd like to have in your life, versus making a claim about how the universe actually works in observable ways. That's a that's a bright line. You know, that's a clear distinction. Some people many people don't care about the second thing. They don't care if it can be proven if there's evidence for it. They just clearly don't. And, and you go, Okay, well, is that all right? Is that is that just another way of being? And to some extent, I want to sort of go in that direction and be again generous to say, well, that's the way that's the way their life is going. And those are their values, but This is the other area that was not the impetus of my book, but sort of got sprinkled in as the time went on, with the rise of the incredible the rise of fake news and alternative facts and, and really bizarre, more bizarre conspiracy theories and so forth, and the divisive pneus. In our political sphere. All of these things are based on beliefs, and they're based on beliefs that do not have evidence. And these things are not a matter of, oh, well, this is someone's internal life, it's their spiritual life, or whatever it is. And, you know, we shouldn't be too concerned about what they're doing inside their own head.
But when it starts to manifest, as it really seriously has, not just in America, but really around the world, when these kinds of alternate realities, not based on facts start being treated as if they were facts, and building entire, you know, political movements on them. We've got problems. And so this is what started to become more apparent to me even though it wasn't part of my original impetus, that the same kinds of questions that we're talking about here about how you evaluate what's true or not, or whether it's important that you evaluate things in a certain way as to being true or false. Whether you apply the rigors of evidence and rational thinking or not. It it's it's become a matter of really deep societal importance outside the realm of religion or New Age beliefs or, or the kinds of things I was talking about in my background, well, outside of that sphere, as important as all those fears are, we have another big thing on our hands. And it's completely related, just as you said, even though my book is not talking about the typical journey that that a lot of your other guests and people have gone on, you found that it was resonant with some of those same same processes. Well, now we're having, to me, some of our greatest societal challenges outside of those realms, also resonate with the same principles, which is, how much does the truth matter? And what do you mean by the truth? And how do you find the truth? And, to me, the greatest challenge that we face, perhaps, is that people totally disagree about that. What's interesting, though, is there are people who go, especially in the spiritual realm go, I don't, I'm totally not interested in objective means of proving any of this. I have my own internal truth that I am totally solid and clear about, you know, that's one thing where you just sort of deny the applicability of any kind of objective truth you go. That's that's not that's not relevant here to me. And that's, that's a, that's a tough issue. But that's, that's mostly on the subjective or spiritual realm. When you get into these other societal realms, where people are arguing about what's true, or what isn't true. A lot of times the people who are saying really outlandish things,
Unknown Speaker 28:43
claim to have proof. They're
Thom Krystofiak 28:46
not saying, oh, proof doesn't matter. This is just the way I feel I have an intimate experience with Jesus Christ or with whatever. Don't talk to me about proving it's irrelevant. They're saying, No, we can prove this. Yeah. So if you, for example, I don't want to offend any particular groups that you have your listeners, but it's an obvious, obvious example, in our society. If, if Donald Trump or some or his fall, so many of his followers are going to say, the election was stolen, they don't say, I have a feeling the election was stolen, or, you know, my, my spiritual guide told me the election was stolen, they say it was stolen, and we have evidence, right, you know, and then they bring it to court. And of course, all the courts so far, have failed to agree that there was any kind of evidence, but nevertheless, the claim is made or a lot of conspiracy theorists will claim that they have evidence certainly the big one is the nine 911 truthers who, you know the idea that it was an inside job and it was totally put up fake thing. They'll put out reams of really impressive looking video discussions with some experts and so forth, proving that there's no way these towers came down in this way from from airplanes. And so this is what gets doubly difficult. Because it's not just a matter of do you accept evidence at all as a valid way of finding out what's true? They'll go, yes, of course we do. And we've got evidence. And then it becomes a much more difficult task of sifting through competing versions, right of evidence, and say, which one of his really holds up. And the problem is that none of us most of us are incapable of doing all of that background, evidential research or checking ourselves. And so we naturally have to ferret out which of the experts or authorities out there in the world are the ones that we have reason to think are reliable. And then we follow those. So this gets really thorny. And that's why the only the only hope I see is in a greater depth of education emphasis, I don't know if this will ever be happening in our educational systems, to the process of doing exactly that. How do you weigh how do you ferret out the the reliability of a piece of evidence of an authority of suppose it expert? You know, how do you weigh these things? You can't just take the one that feels?
David Ames 31:44
Exactly. And I you do talk about that a lot of just, and within the world of disinformation that basically, we just pick the paradigm that makes us feel the best. And that's no way to do this. I want to jump on this just for a second and say, This is why the book is timely for a number of reasons. You know, I think, you know, even beyond the political and the religious, you know, we're under an onslaught of advertising being thrown at us and with social media, and what have you that we are constantly evaluating claims, whether we know it or not, and being conscious of that, and having a standard is just deeply important. And in particular, and in time of disinformation. And in a time where technology is going to only get make the problem worse for the foreseeable future, that we will have more and more claims that we have to evaluate, having a sense of what the standard is for good or sufficient evidence is just absolutely critical.
Thom Krystofiak 32:44
That's right, and it's going as you say, it's going to get more and more intense. Speaking about social media, you know, you get, you get the problem of what are called Deep fakes, which are, there's, the better and better ability is of technology to create a video of you saying something that looks exactly like you're saying it even though you would never say that and never did. And so, it's going to go to a completely different level of difficulty, to tell the difference, and to see how any, any sort of authority is going to try to step in, to prevent some of these clearly wrong attempts to fool people. So it's, it's one thing in the old areas, you had stories, you know, if you go back 1000s of years, you had people telling stories about the origin of life, or some savior or some holy man. We, we basically had stories and that worked incredibly well. You know, you have billions of people subscribing to essentially stories that were created 1000s of years ago, or laid down 1000s of years ago, stories passed on were very potent, and they always will be, although, as we've been seeing, at least in in Western societies, for the for large degree, in more industrialized Western societies, that the grip of some of those religious stories has been greatly weakening, you know, in not true all over the world, but certainly true and like in Europe, and, and so forth. And even in the US among, among young, younger people. So some of these stories are not having the same potency that they had before. But but now we're gonna get a whole as you said, a whole onslaught of things, whether it be in advertising or even more, more dangerously, in those parts and those people who use social media to try to change your, your critical beliefs, about about things that really matter. It's one thing to convince you that this is the best bike to buy, you know, Hi, some advertising, you know, it's another thing to convince someone about the reality of some political claim or some or some factual claim, and to do it in a way that that you're completely incapable of, of yourself telling the difference. That is truly alarming. So, yeah, so it's not just a matter of individuals getting better at being able to tell the difference between some someone who's trying to fool him and someone who's giving them a good solid piece of information. It's, again, as I said, the question is going to be to what extent government or society is going to have to try to put some controls over this rampant growth in MIS misinformation that gets more and more sophisticated.
David Ames 35:50
And again, this is the I don't want to say argument. But the reason why skepticism is necessary. I think skepticism as a word has negative connotations, people think cynicism. And the thing I really related to you, and I think that my listeners will relate to is finding yourself what feels like alone? Why am I the only one who in your words is not susceptible to these these claims like that is the deconstruction deconversion experience, we find ourselves in this hermetically sealed bubble of people saying the same things, reinforcing the same things. We've heard the answers, we understand the answers, but the answers are not satisfying. And the the temptation is to say, maybe there's something wrong with me. And and yet, again, this entire book, and everything you're talking about here is about why skepticism is necessary. And that if the truth matters, you know, we can't we can't make someone value the truth. But if they do value the truth, there has to be some process some way of understanding, again, have good evidence or sufficient evidence, and can therefore be accepted or that need to be discarded.
Thom Krystofiak 37:02
Yeah, absolutely. It's an interesting process that you and your guests and others go through in terms of that, that we could say, a light a light bulb turning on or something, something inside being activated, to start to wonder about these things. And that that really is the essence, you know, it's like, do we wonder about what's true? I mean, obviously, all scientists have always wondered about what's true. That's that, that sense of, and they do it in a way that is, that is not constrained by necessarily what came before. It's not like, Oh, we've always been told that rocks fall, because it's the nature of things to go towards, you know, the center of the earth. You know, with no idea of gravity, just that it's the nature of things. And someone starts to wonder about that. You just have to wonder, how does, how does this really work? And what's really going on here, that, that light bulb coming on, which doesn't come on for some people? Yeah, it just, it just doesn't, they're, they're happy with, with the world that they're living in, and the beliefs and practices and community that they have, it's working, it's working for them? And it's only when a question comes up internally, to wonder about it and to ask certain questions. And I don't know how that exactly happens. But why it happens for some and not for others. Exactly. Yeah. It may just be that some people are temperamentally more open or ready to ask certain questions than others than others are.
I was on a podcast called Buddha at the Gas Pump, which is a fabulous thing. It's actually it's a friend of my longtime friend of mine, is behind it. He's interviewed like, I don't know, six or 700 people, and they tend to be people from the spiritual world, about all kinds of things. But he, he also had me on, and he was very forthright and discussing the kinds of things that we are. And anyway, as part of that, there was a group that he has, I don't know, maybe 15 People who email around on these questions. And it's fascinating because that group kind of bifurcates and some of them are strongly in the camp of I have had this experience which was so strong, and so opening or was clearly a direct perception of truth. But that's the end of it. That is just the end of it. and it has, there is it's not like they they're incapable of asking questions about all kinds of things, but they're not interested in asking questions about that.
David Ames 40:11
Thom Krystofiak 40:14
Yeah. And there's a difference between someone who's protected by, by a religious tradition, or the fact that their parents and their schooling and all of the people around them believe it. And it's, it's a whole community thing. And it's just been deeply bred into them. And someone who was absolutely sure, because they had some sort of awakened awakening experience. And, and they don't, and I keep, from now on then trying to get them to think about the idea that it is absolutely true and wonderful that they had this amazing experience. And it had great benefits in their lives, they feel freer, they feel wider, they feel, you know, less anxious, less concern, they feel more connected. These are all great things that anyone would love to have. So there's no question about it happened. You got these fruits. That's wonderful. Yeah. But there's an the tendency to want to claim things about the universe, about the nature of life in general, beyond the experience, and they it's almost always happens, that somewhat someone, even if they have an experiential basis, for some, some wonderful thing, they ended up wanting to make claims about the universe, like everything that consciousness was primary consciousness existed eternally, and it created a matter matter came out of consciousness, sort of like God, sort of like God, God was there eternally. And all this stuff that we see he just created somehow. Similarly with that, so they tend to go in that direction, even though it's that's a claim about things that goes way beyond anything that could ever be established. Right.
David Ames 42:14
You have some amazing quotes in the book. That's the other thing that I really appreciated about it is like this is well researched. And some of my favorites were from Fineman. The one that I've heard before, but just really struck me was, the first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I feel like that really expresses this. I think Neil deGrasse Tyson said it this way to relate to religion to what you just mentioned, that experience can trump evidence as we have to actually work fairly hard to overcome that feeling of experience that we've we've gained some insights about truth beyond just the the warm and fuzzies. And you know, the sense of awe. Last thing I'll say on this is just that it's the human experience to experience all and all as a good thing. It's when we start to attribute unverifiable or unfalsifiable claims based on that experience at all. Yeah, that's
Thom Krystofiak 43:12
right. I mean, the quantified men, you know that you're the easiest person to fool. Towards ties directly into the opening, you know, the opening aphorism in my book, you know, whether it's better to be fooled many times, yes, than to be a skeptical man. It's all about the fooling. And whether William James, I get into this a bit as well, William James, who explored spirituality and religion and psychic phenomena, as well as being the founder of American psychology. And philosophy really, is quite an amazing man. But, you know, when he wrote the book, or the essay called the will to believe he started it off with a preface, where he was saying, the person who, let's say, is going to be skeptical about about all these things, is, is is demonstrating that he's, he's afraid to be duped, he doesn't want to be duped. And he's saying he's putting that above some of the fruits that he could get, if you would just let it go. You know, this fear of being duped which is exactly, you know, kind of what, five minutes talking about to you know, the first principle is you must not fool yourself. Why not? Why not? is sort of the interesting question. That's the, the ultimate question, really, why not? And, you know, William James, I think he kind of went off the rails as far as I was concerned, because he was saying things like, Well, if you're always going to be skeptical, you're never going to get married. You're never going to take this new job that might have a risk in it. If you're always doubting everything. You're never going to do anything. In your life, and you go, Yeah, that's true. But that's all very pragmatic stuff. That's Those are choices that you make in your life. You know, whether you doubt whether this investment is going to be rewarding or not, is not the kind of doubt we're talking about. It's not the kind of skepticism we're talking about. We're talking about skepticism about claims about reality and how it actually works, not whether this woman is going to turn out to be the perfect wife for me. Right. So you know, so he ended up being really pragmatic when he was talking about doubt and faith and the will to believe, saying, We have to believe stuff. And of course we do. I believe that it's a good thing that I am, you know, this investment I just got in recently. I believe that's all right. I don't know. But I have a strong feeling that it will be a good idea. I don't hold back and go Well, I just don't know. I just don't know. So we're not talking to some kind of debilitating, absolute skepticism or doubt about everything.
David Ames 46:03
Right. I'm talking about solipsism. Yeah, exactly. Yeah,
Thom Krystofiak 46:08
we're only talking about when people make substantive claims about how things are, then make a difference that make a difference to the rest of her life goes. You know, that's where you might want to have some questions. Yeah.
David Ames 46:27
I wanted to circle back really quick to how some people who who make off grade claims say that they have evidence in my world, in my listeners world, that tends to be apologists. And there's a whole field of evidential apologetics that suggests that there is all of this evidence. And it's clear that it's basically, you know, circumstantial, hearsay, and embellished legend with kind of an objective point of view, when you're talking to that person, they are 100% convinced that they have evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, let's say, you know, there are historical record and, and so one of the, again, one of the experiences of, of deconstruction, deconversion, is when you begin to recognize, I no longer find that, that evidence such as this convincing, that isn't sufficient to the magnitude of the claim, I just want to like, talk about a bit more about the challenge of coping with people who are claiming they have evidence, but that evidence isn't sufficient for the claim.
Thom Krystofiak 47:34
Yeah. It's a matter of how much yeah, how much leeway you give this the sources of authority in your life. And how much leeway you give to the stories and, and the types of evidence, you know, generally, people who are believing in these, a lot of religious things and other off off grid claims, will give a great deal of leeway, you know, they will give the kind of spaciousness that they would never give, let's say in a court of law, or in some actual proceeding in their own practical life, where they're trying to nail down what really happened or what really is the truth. You know, I mean, Thomas Paine had that story, you know, that. If, if anybody were to come before a magistrate, with the four gospels accounts, which, about the resurrection, which have completely different details, and to some extent, contradictory details about precisely what happened when and who did what, you know, what is this? I mean, you can't possibly accept it, you go. There's something funny going on here. This isn't this isn't this isn't anything like an objective? evidential account? So? So yeah, it's, it's something some term that I use somewhere in the book was some people have granted either themselves or others the license to make things up. You know, you allow things to be declared and accepted as truth. Because of what they the fruits that they give you. And you give a lot of license to the quality of the evidence. Yeah, I've, I've certainly, I, you know, I always like to look at things like, Oh, someone and apologists trying to present the strongest proofs for God or something or for the resurrection. I always think they're going to come up with something really cool, you know, here that I can sink my teeth into. And I'm always I'm always dissatisfied, but I I have there something in me that wants us to, it's not like I want to believe in that sense. It's not like, Please convince me but, but I would, I love to I would love to be blown away. weigh, but the strength of evidence or the strength of an argument. You know, my wife always jokes with me. I don't happen to believe in UFOs, even though that's not that could be a physical reality. I mean, it could be, but I don't think we've got the evidence. I personally don't think we've got the evidence right now. And, but, but she knows that I would love to have a UFO land on my lawn? I would, I would love it. It's not like, no, no, no, I don't want to believe in that stuff. Right. I'd be happy to believe in it. Yeah, if there was good evidence. And so it's not that some people have a desire for belief or to believe certain things, and others don't. I have. I have I don't know about desire, I kind of have a desire to be to be confronted with a, an alien on a UFO. I mean, why not great, or, or a ghost or something? I mean, I don't believe in any of these things. But how cool would that be? Yeah, if it was really something I could sink my teeth into?
David Ames 51:11
Yeah, a few things about that. Like, I avoid talking to apologists, but when I do I point out that if you really could prove the point you're trying to make you can win a Nobel Prize, right? Like, you know, you discover alien intelligence, you know, you are a million dollar winner. They're like that, you know, all you have to do is have the evidence to back it up. And so I would love to see that kind of evidence for for something that was an amazing claim like that.
Thom Krystofiak 51:37
Yeah, I mean, you know, there's this guy, what's his name? Greer, the Disclosure Project? You know, that's an example of someone who has assembled huge amounts of military guys or intelligence guys are this that the other thing and all kinds of other fairly obscure evidence, but mounds of it, that it's totally convincing to large numbers of people? It's like this is it. This is evidence this is this is it? Yeah. But as you say, the truly convincing evidence is never forthcoming. Yeah. It's just not.
David Ames 52:22
You talk about a number of scientists that have, you know, a sense of wonder about the universe. And the immediate person who comes to mind to me is Carl Sagan. And his candle in the dark book, I think, really touches on this, you know, he tells the story of being a young boy, and just really being fascinated with UFOs and extraterrestrials and but his scientific nature took over and even though he would love to be able to have said, there are in fact, extraterrestrials, you know, he could not find the evidence to do so. And what I appreciated about Carl Sagan and I often say like, I'm a more of a Sega nite, atheist than a Dawkins, I guess, in the sense that I have this wonder at the cosmos, this wonder at the universe, and that, and he expressed that so so well, contrast that a bit with you also have a chapter where you talk about people who become dissatisfied, or with the scientific view of the world, and, and basically make a conscious choice to go from a more scientific view of the world to an off grid view of the world.
Thom Krystofiak 53:34
Yeah, no, that's great. I mean, the example of Sagan who is so great, someone who, as you said, was entranced with with some of these greater possibilities, like aliens and, and so forth, but couldn't go there unless the evidence allowed him you know, he was one of the strong guys involved with SETI, you know, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. And, but if the evidence wasn't there, he couldn't do it. And yeah, I mean, people who get, I mean, one example in the book was, this was a long time ago, but the former president of Columbia, who just came out with this remarkable statement that that where science was going meaning mostly Darwinian theory at that time, was undermining some of his beliefs in the divine origin and so forth of everything. And he just came right out and said that I would, I would rather rest in my satisfying even if they'd be deceitful dreams. Science is is not going to do it for me. And that that's an interesting problem. You know, people will, will wonder whether a view that is based on reason and science Ansan looking for evidence, therefore necessarily putting aside a lot of the things that humanity has taken sustenance for, spiritually for, for millennia, what exactly that's going to do like, some people like Sagan are going to be a brilliant and full of awe and wonder and great people, no matter what other people, if you totally remove these sustaining beliefs that they have, or if somehow they they get weakened, or lost in them. We don't really know what what what that's going, what that's going to do. And so some people do question certainly question whether science, a scientific view, has enough stuff to offer the human psyche. Yeah, those who are enamored by the wonder of the universe and of life and, and evolution and, and at every scale, it's just so remarkable from the, from the farthest reaches of the cosmos down to the tiniest bits of matter, you know, it's all uniformly amazing and wonderful, and those who are susceptible to that kind of joy or or interest are well rewarded by that kind of interest. Some people are not character are not temperamentally or characteristically as susceptible or open to those kinds of joys and those kinds of rewards. And so this is, this is an interesting question that I don't have a solid answer to, you know, those who either tired of science or are not susceptible to the charms of science, whether they just need something else. And so the people I talked about in the book, one was the guy who's known as rom das now, who was Richard Alpert. He was a psychologist at Harvard, with Timothy Leary. And they both did LSD experiments at Harvard, and got thrown out for that reason. And Alpert, when he went to his, his, his dismissal meeting, or his review, or whatever, said, I'm not a scientist anymore. I'm giving up my badge. You know, I'd rather I want to, I'd rather go to India, which he did. Where, where there are these miracles being talked about? And I'd rather believe these miracles, then be a scientist and study, you know, bring out the data anymore. And, you know, there are people with that kind of orientation, that, that they they'd rather have, sort of an extreme example of, of what Barnard Columbia said, where he'd be happy in his deceitful dreams, if they were, if they could sustain him. You know, deceit is as far as being full deceit was not necessarily a problem for some people, if they get the fruits and this is, this is a whole other area of challenge. I mean, I think, I think there's probably, I don't know, what percentage of the people on this planet are, are enthused could be enthused by, and nourished by and by the joys of, of scientific knowledge or true revelation based on evidence about the way this amazing world actually works in our lives and our bodies in the universe. versus those who are, are a little bit cool on that, or cold on that. And once something else, once once some other they want the miracles they want. They want some stories, they want some, some rich, you know, mythology, that's, you know, another person I talked about in the book was Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote, Eat, Pray, Love, that great best seller. And at one point in her life, she says, I'm tired of science, I'm tired of skepticism. I want to feel God in my playing in my bloodstream. And that's exactly what we're talking about here. That especially if she was depressed, your marriage broke, fell apart, whatever she was in a state of pain, and she's going I want the pain to go away. Yeah, I want something that will help get this make the pain go away and replace it with something else. And, you know, science won't necessarily always be able to step in when you have certain kinds of emotional and psychological pain. I mean, forget about pharmaceuticals or whatever. But I mean, in terms of scientific knowledge isn't going to unnecessarily come in and infuse you with all this joy, if you are truly in a needy, needy state emotionally, psychologically, so these are some of the other challenges to this whole.
David Ames 1:00:13
Yeah, for sure. And I agree with you that I think their new atheist perspective of the end of religion is ridiculous, that's never going to happen. I also found it interesting reading philosophical history that this question has been asked over and over again, what happens if we take the gods away? What, you know, what happens to society, you know, and the attempt to create civil religions and that kind of thing, the way that I, we try to approach it here is to say, you know, that, I think my conjecture is that our relationships with other human beings, is the point is the meaning in life, as it were, not that that the universe has meaning, but that, that we create that between us and that trying to provide some level of community for people to have had a soft place to land as they let go of some of these off grid claims. That's kind of what we're trying to accomplish here.
Thom Krystofiak 1:01:03
Absolutely. You know, and something I mentioned that people are probably aware of that. There's an interesting example of Scandinavia, which is the least religious least conventionally religious part of Europe, perhaps the world. They have really stepped away from there. They were, of course, Christian, primarily Christian, Jewish, whatever, but primarily Christian in the earlier times. And that has dropped away in Scandinavia to a degree that hasn't been seen in virtually any other society. And if you look at, there are studies that are done of the happiest cultures on Earth, the happiest countries, the the healthiest countries, meaning not just you know, their physical health, but their overall well being. Scandinavian countries are almost always at the top of those of those of those studies. And so, that to me, is now granted, people will say, Yeah, but you know, they're building on this history of Judeo Christian stuff of values. And, and sure they are, but so are all of us. I mean, we're all in Western societies, we're all in mashed in a society that has a lot of roots that way, and we're familiar with all that. And various stories that still resonate with us, you know, the story of the Good Samaritan, or whatever, that's a universal story that is just incredibly moving on an empathetic level. It's not, it's got nothing to do with, who is the god? Or what kind of God is it? Or what's what sort of deal does he have? It's just, here's a human being, how do you treat them, and, you know, but we're all enmeshed in these moral exemplars, whether it be from religious stories, whether it be from other stories, historical stories, you know, we all have plenty of stories, and plenty of examples, even just movies, books, whatever, where there's good people, and that resonates with us, or we know people, you know, we people in our own lives, who were just so touching that they were so loving, or caring or connected, and that resonates with us. And we resonate to with other people's needs and suffering. And so we have that basis. And so in Scandinavia, sure, you can say, yeah, they had Judeo Christian background, well, sure, we've all got all kinds of backgrounds, but what they've managed to do is take the fruits of those some of those stories or feelings and, and myths or whatever, and they're just in the background, they're part of their ethical life, probably. And they move forward without necessarily subscribing to these more outlandish or extraordinary claims about the universe. Without without the gods really without, so the question of what's going to happen without the gods, we don't know if it would always be like Scandinavia, but but Scandinavia being the premier example in the world. Right now. Is, is encouraging. It's encouraging.
David Ames 1:04:23
And just to wrap this up, one of my favorite definitions of religion is from Anthony Penn. And it doesn't require supernatural claims. It is the collective search for meaning. And so a sense of we are a community and we support each other and we care about each other and we are even pushing each other to good works as it were, you know, like it all of that is good. And it's only when we start to make, in your words, you know, claims about how the universe works, where the story becomes literal in some way. That that's the problem.
Thom Krystofiak 1:04:57
Yeah. When things sort of solidify I and solidify that way into discrete doctrinal claims, whatever, obviously one of the side effects of that throughout history has been wars fought over these doctrinal differences. I mean, you know, the idea that you have to take these wonderful aspects of human life and, and, and define them and say you must subscribe, or if you don't subscribe any longer, we're going to shun you, you know, these kinds of prac. This kind of adherence to the specificities of these discrete claims, has obviously been harmful in a whole bunch of ways. And if if it were possible to, to have religion in the sense of you just described it, which I think to some extent is what's going on and a lot of Scandinavia and elsewhere, is it would be, I think it would be a wonderful thing, it would be a win win, yeah.
David Ames 1:06:00
So heading towards wrap up here, you start the book with a couple of questions. Is it better to be fooled many times than to be skeptical? And are you missing something? We'll end with the beginning a bit here. But like how you resolve that for yourself, personally? How do you answer those questions? And again, I appreciate that's the entire book, people will go and buy the book.
Thom Krystofiak 1:06:22
Well, you know, the book is really a journey that's rather than the book being, I ask a question at the beginning, and then I answer it for the next 300 pitches, you know, it's more, let's, let's look into this. And so it's looking at it from this angle, from this angle from this aspect of history and this aspect of philosophy, this aspect of religion, this aspect of science, it's just looking at it from different facets and illuminating different ways of, of exploring the question. So it's in the book is an exploration rather than a declaration of my of my answer, but but in the last chapter, I think I say So after all that, yeah. Is it better to be fooled? And I admit that it is. It is, for me better to be fooled in certain circumstances. And I talk about that a lot. We don't need to get into it much. But I talked about that, that if if if I was in some horrific situation in the morphine had run out, and they could give me a saline solution, which has been proven to work as a placebo after you've gotten some morphine for a while, and then they give you saline for a while, and it works just about as well as the morphine because the body has that incredible response. Please fool me. Yeah, don't tell me. Sorry, Bob, the morphine is gone. Yeah. You know, I mean, fool me. But I go to some lengths to try to explain why that, to me is an acceptable kind of fooling. And the basic reason is that morphine is real. It's a real thing. It's not like an angel that they're telling me about, which I don't believe in, it's morphine. And that's real. And they're saying, this is morphine, they're fooling me about a specific fact, but not about the fact that morphine works, which is what's working in my brain. So there are ways that I'll be happy to be fooled, but they're more like that. They're more like these technicalities. No, I don't, I don't believe for me. And this is where it comes down to something, David, it's like, who are you? Are you a person who cares about the truth? Who cares to really feel grounded? In what am I doing here? In this world? Who What am I? What is all this? If those are questions that matter to you, then then being fooled about those things is completely off the table. It's completely unacceptable if that's, if that's a high priority for you to feel that here I am in these in these small number of decades on this planet? And do I is it important to me that I make my best efforts to really understand what is true, what is going on what this is, what life is, what all of this is how should I live my life, all of these things? If that's a critical priority, which it is for me, then the idea of being fooled about those fundamentals is completely a non starter. It's just and I you know, I understand that some people in my mind might be fooled about those things, or feeling great about it. Yeah, I'm not trying to take that away from them. I'm not pontificate. I don't go after my friends who are believers and just, you know, assault them with my skepticism. But, but, but for me, for anyone who is has that kind of orientation towards towards a grounding in reality, or grounding and truth, the kind that we're talking about, it's just not it's just not a possibility. And the second question, Am I missing Something I'm not missing something that I that I haven't clearly missing something that they have, you know, they've got some stuff that I don't know. But I mean, that's true all of us have people have stuff that you don't have one way or another. But the question is whether you would really want want that. And no, I'm not missing something that at this point in my life, I wish I had, I wish I had faith or I wish I could believe these claims that I can't find evidence for. Because they'll do something for me. I can't put those two together with the desire to be grounded in truth.
David Ames 1:10:38
The book is tempted to believe I want to give you just a second to be able to promote that how can people find the book and any anything else that you'd like to promote?
Thom Krystofiak 1:10:46
Okay, thanks. The book is just simply available on Amazon, both in terms of print, print, book and Kindle. So it's just Amazon, you can just say tempted to believe they will, unfortunately, Amazon always keeps older editions around once they've been published. And I did a preliminary version, mostly because I wanted to have some readers have a book in their hand, as I was finalizing it. Okay, so there was a preliminary version, which is still out there. This is this is the one with the dynamic blue cover with an incredible picture on it. It's not, it's not the one that with text only. And it's the one with, you know, all the reviews and so forth. So it's pretty obvious, tempted to believe on Amazon. And, you know, not necessarily terribly germane to the things we've been discussing here today, but some of my shorter writing over the years on a variety of topics. And other things is in my website, which is simply my last name, which is Krystofiak, which I will spell. It's, it's K, R, Y, S, T O, F, as in Frank, I A K. That's krystofiak.com. And then there's some things there that also talks about the book.
David Ames 1:12:03
Fantastic. And we will have those in the show notes. And I will try not to murder your last name again. Thom, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Oh,
Thom Krystofiak 1:12:12
it's been a great trip. Thank you.
David Ames 1:12:20
Final thoughts on the episode? I love this book. I loved this conversation with Thom, this is so important topic. Skepticism is it's it touches every area of our lives from the onslaught of advertising that we face every day to the misinformation and disinformation that political entities put out to apologetics. And this comes from all corners. It is not just Christian apologetics that I'm talking about. Thom comes from the Transcendental Meditation perspective, and having new age friends who are making in his words off grid claims. And I identified so much with the I feel impervious to these claims. Why is that? What is there something different about me. And so it's Thom's humility that comes through in the book in the conversation that is so profound. When you hear the word skepticism, the first thing that might leap to mind is really argumentative debate style cynics. And it is actually the exact opposite is humility, of recognizing the human condition and our susceptibility to believing things that we want to believe that we want to be true. And believing things that fit within our in group. And skepticism is actually from humility of recognizing I could be wrong. Therefore, I need some evidence to know whether this thing is true or not. The other thing that I think Thom does really well in the book, I'm not sure we completely got to it in the conversation is acknowledging the reality of the experience. These literally all inspiring experiences. Create in us a sense of having touch to the Divine, having touched the transcendent, having gained secret knowledge. When you have the experience, you can't help but make those connections. And part of skepticism is recognizing that it is our ability to fool ourselves as the Fineman quote says that is the problem. And so we are protecting ourselves by looking for objective evidence. But it is the empathy for the human condition that Thom has in the book that really speaks to secular grace, secular grace for our son elves when we believe things that don't have evidence and secular grace for those people, we'd love to believe things without evidence. The book is tempted to believe by Thom Krystofiak is amazing, you need to get this book you need to read it. It is one of those things that I'm telling you, we'll help you through deconstruction and deconversion. We will, of course have links in the show notes, as well as the link to Thom's personal sites. I want to thank Thom for being on the podcast and even more so for the book. I said to him Off mic that This truly was the book that I wish I had had when I was going through my deconversion. So thank you, Thom, for writing such an empathetic, humble and true book. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about humility, about our own ability to fool ourselves. The Fineman quote is, the first principle is you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. If you really absorb that, if you really feel that viscerally. And for those of us who have gone through deconstruction and deconversion that should feel pretty real and present in our lives, you can begin to recognize when you are fooling yourself in lots of different contexts. I'd love a quote from Alice Gretchen when she was on, she said that she stopped being good at fooling herself. And I feel the same way. And if you are like me, and you find yourself skeptical, and you're like Thom and unable to accept claims without evidence, that is okay. It's actually a good thing. And it will protect you from, as we've already said, advertising, politics, disinformation, as well as religion, or supernatural claims. But it ultimately begins with, I could be wrong. And really knowing that and feeling that. So the skepticism that Thom is talking about, the skepticism that I'm talking about is less about saying where someone else is wrong, and more about recognizing where we have been mistaken. We have lots of great interviews coming up. We have got Julia from Germany, who is a doctor and at one point in time in her life, given up her medical career to participate in a healing ministry. And her deconstruction is just powerful and deep. We have Jessica Moore, who is a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, and is now dealing with purity culture, and surviving the aftermath of purity culture, as well as a number of other interviews that are coming up that are gonna be fantastic. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on Bristol atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace, you can send me an email graceful firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
I’ve never felt “called” to be an “atheist evangelist”. I don’t feel the need to convert anyone to my viewpoint or use all the mocking memes out there to prove what a great apologist for atheism I can be.
I don’t see religion going away, so I think it’s much more productive to find ways of working with those faith communities who are open to it, and those seculars who are open to it, than complaining about them top score AAA points or RRR points.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. As usual, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on pod chaser.com or the Apple podcast store and subscribe wherever you are listening. I want to thank my newest supporter Andy all the way from Switzerland. Thank you so much, Andy. Andy has inspired me to set up a PayPal account, as I've had a couple of people asked over the years to be able to give to the podcast but not on a recurring basis. If you are interested in doing that. You can send money through PayPal paypal.me/graceful atheist. As always, I'm more interested in people's participation. If there are things you can do for the podcast, I'm interested in that more. But if you want to support financially, I will leverage that to make the podcast better on an ongoing basis. Thank you to all of my supporters over the years it is much appreciated. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. On to today's episode, my guest today is Chris Highland. He is the author of over a dozen books. He was a Protestant minister for 14 years he was a interfaith chaplain for 25 years. He is now a humanist celebrant, he blogs he has been featured on the rational doubt blog that Linda Scola runs, and he is a part of the clergy project as well. He has been very kind to send me two books from faith to free thought a natural journey. And nature is enough essays for free thinkers. I tell the story in our conversation, but I became aware of Chris's work on the rational doubt blog a couple of years ago, and thought to myself, Man, I really need to talk to this guy. And just recently he reached out to me, he had become aware of the podcast. It's just one of those times where here's somebody who has been saying the same things for decades that I've been trying to formulate over the last couple of years. As I say in the episode, Chris is doing secular grace. So I'm very excited to give you my conversation with Chris Highland.
Chris Highland, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Chris Highland 2:47
Great to be here. Thank you,
David Ames 2:49
Chris, trying to summarize your bone a few days is quite impossible. I was unaware of the fact that you've written multiple books, 12 books, it sounds like you're a prolific essayist, you've written for rational doubts blog, and the citizen times. You're a speaker and instructor. You're a former minister, chaplain for 25 years and you're currently a humanist celebrant does that almost cover all the things that you do
Chris Highland 3:14
makes me so impressed with myself?
David Ames 3:19
I had become aware of your work a couple of years ago caught one of your articles on a rational doubts blog. And I immediately thought, wow, this is, you know, somebody who I have a lot in common with. And so it's been amazing, you happen to reach out to me just recently with a recent article of yours that was kind of along the same lines of a bit of criticism for the atheist community, and more importantly, how we embrace the believers in our lives, how we actually go about doing good in the world, rather than just debating one another and arguing. My summary for this concept is secular grace is the word that I use. And really, I'm just describing my brand of humanism, but my highest compliment for you is that you've been doing secular grace for most of your life, and I'm trying to just trying to catch up. So we will spend most of our time talking about your work. But I'd like to hear first, you know, you were a minister for a number of years. So clearly a very dedicated Christian. And now you're a humanist celebrant and a part of the clergy project to talk to us about your your faith tradition, and what what led to some doubts, and what was that process like?
Chris Highland 4:31
Well, yeah, thank you. That's a That's a loaded question and so many ways. I have tried to approach that description of the journey in many different ways over time, through writing and speaking and just a lot of thinking about and reflection, but it's it's kind of my own personal Exodus as I think of it, but at least it wasn't 40 years in the wilderness. Maybe it was a little bit actually. But yeah, I grew up in the Presbyterian Church in Seattle. And that was my upbringing and got involved in youth groups, from Baptists to evangelical to Pentecostal through the high school years and ended up going to an evangelical college. And the kind of the saving grace, so to speak. And that experience was that in this particular, evangelical college, there was a pretty good philosophy department, and good world religion teacher. So I took classes and really began to blow my mind expand my mind to way beyond Christian, beyond conservative Christian, realizing that there's a whole spectrum of beliefs out there, and it kind of set me going on a lifetime of, of discovery and investigation and what's out there. And and why should I ever think that my beliefs are any better than anybody else's? We're just a part of, I'm only a particle in the in the big ocean here. Yes. And then at my home church pastor in the Presbyterian Church to his, to his credit. In fact, I just recently reconnected with him. He's in his 80s now. And he encouraged me to go to the Seminary where he graduated from in the San Francisco Bay area. So I went down there, partially because it was Presbyterian, because that was my my roots, but also because of the graduate theological union and Berkeley that had, you know, very wide diverse faculty in different kinds of religious branches. So that was my, my ministry, education, my seminary education for the master's degree, but went on to find that the pastor of a church was just not going to fit me. And I kind of fell into chaplaincy, and that has shaped that shaped my my career, my vocation, whatever, whatever you want to call it for a long, long time. And what what made that really special for me and kind of blew my mind even even more, was that these were, these were interfaith chaplaincy. So even beyond ecumenical wasn't just Christian. It was Buddhist and, and Jewish, and Catholic, and Protestant, and Sufi, and a bunch of different kinds of flavors of faith. I kind of think of that as my, my seminary education after seminary, it was it was really getting in the trenches with with people who were mostly outcast, marginalized by by the church communities by all religious communities. And those were my that was my congregation for a whole long time.
David Ames 8:24
Interesting. Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the healthiest things that believers and non believers can do is, is have exposure to that interfaith community right to hear cultural diversity, religious diversity, the wisdom of various different traditions, and just just like you say, have the humility to recognize maybe I don't have all the answers,
Chris Highland 8:48
yes. And their wisdom. Wisdom is wisdom. And truth is truth. I mean, it just it doesn't really matter where it comes from. And, you know, even back in that evangelical college, one course I took one of our books that we were our textbooks, I guess, was the title of it was all truth is God's truth. And I thought, huh, that's already kind of breaking the mold a bit. All truth is God's truth. And now I would say, well, all truth is truth.
David Ames 9:24
Chris Highland 9:26
It really does open the doors and windows and, you know, that's, that's what it's all about to me.
David Ames 9:33
Yeah. I think one other point of similarity is I often say that my I went to a very tiny, very, very conservative evangelical college, but I often say that my professors did too good of job. I wouldn't say they were quite as open as what you were describing, but the they taught me critical thinking and an investigation into the Bible and good exegesis and good hermeneutics and And that laid the seeds that that later I think led me away from Christianity.
Chris Highland 10:05
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Well, I took up somehow I took a year of Greek in college, you know, mainly to study the, the Christian scriptures. But what we did was we read a lot of classical things. So I was reading Socrates in Greek, before it was reading some of the New Testament in Greek. So, I mean, yeah, that can't help but open the landscape. In a lot of ways, you know, the, the little stream that I grew up with, really became a floodplain with with lots of streams of thought. And when, when one of my pious professors said, well, here, why don't you read Nietzsche? And it's kind of like, Well, okay. That's dangerous. But I did it. And I really enjoyed the, the engagement with, with things that made my mind expand.
David Ames 11:04
So I think you identify with the term free thinker more than some others. Whereabouts in time. Did you start to say, you know, I think I'm a free thinker now and not a Christian any longer?
Chris Highland 11:18
That's a great question. I think that I think it was through Susan Jacoby's book, you know, the free thinkers book that she came out with. So we're going back, you know, 15 years or so. And just reading that history of secularism, particularly in American context, pretty much convinced me Hey, if I'm not in that tradition, I sure want to be and it gave me Yeah, gave me an identity are a way to identify that wasn't based on a negative. So I will say that I, I do. I just feel much more comfortable with with a positive like that. And then saying atheist, you know, I really have in my life that it's been all about trying to build bridges be constructive, creative, open lines of communication, where possible, and to refer to myself as a non theist or non believer all the time. I'm not one of those. I'm not one of those, like going through life and saying, I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Republican. Yeah, it's like, that's not a, you know, it's not an identity to live with. I mean, I like what you're doing, because it's, it's focusing on a really positive aspect, that really, in my estimation, I think you feel the way same way I do. It's very important to, to interpret and reinterpret what, what nonbelief is about. So it's not all non non non all the time.
David Ames 13:00
Yeah, I absolutely felt it was important to have a positive statement. You know, so I personally liked the term humanism or humanist, yes, but I like to summarize it by just saying I believe in people. Yeah. You know, we were talking about wisdom earlier in that, you know, if from a more naturalists perspective, you know, religion is a natural phenomenon. It's a human cultural phenomenon. And so that, that wisdom is human wisdom, and we can borrow from it as much as we want.
Chris Highland 13:29
That's right. That's right. And I I'm attracted to that, too. In fact, a couple of years ago, I became a humanist celebrant. And that was partly to, you know, my identity for so many years was a chaplain, clergy person who could work with people of many different backgrounds. And so I kind of people ask, Well, what do you feel like you missed when you let left? All of that left the church left faith? And part of it is that role of being a professional helper, I guess. And so becoming a humanist celebrant really opened up the opportunity for me to be, you know, to perform weddings legally, and be a part of that. So I was working with an organization over the past couple of years. That was a consortium of of humanist celebrants and performing lots of weddings. And I've just found out Oh, a lot of couples were was just grateful. It could be that someone could work with them wasn't going to impose beliefs and celebrate love with them. mean, I mean, what better thing can you do?
David Ames 14:49
That's a pretty pretty good, pretty good deal. Yeah. For people who are in the clergy project, the personality type is someone who is wants to be a helper to be pastoral. And we don't need to be afraid of that term right to to be alongside someone as they go through their life events, the positive ones like getting married, or the birth of their children and the negative ones of losing losing a loved one. And so do you still feel that pastoral? Like, call if I could use the term?
Chris Highland 15:24
Yeah, yes, I do. I guess, at times, I've called myself a secular chaplain. I've kind of just played with that for a while. I, you know, it's not all about titles, of course, and I, I don't need to be a clergy person any longer. But I'll tell you, even though the word chaplain has deep roots in Christianity, that became such a part of my life, that that I respect that term. And, you know, I respect the person, even, you know, a person who's an evangelical chaplain or any other kind, you know, I have my critiques. And I have my own experience, what I think was the most effective what worked the best for the most people kind of utilitarian approach to chaplaincy. But, you know, we, we were always focused my, with my team, working with the chaplain team working with Chaplain assistants, in various settings, whether it was a county jail system, or on the streets and shelters, other places. It was, you know, we had a guiding principle, and it was presence, it was presence ministry, and it was simply being with people. So that takes away a whole lot of extra stuff that people feel like they've got to, you know, you have to have your own agenda. And you've got to be able to convince people and all that kind of stuff and pass along something. And, as I say, you know, becoming a chaplain was really a way to to begin an education that you cannot get in a classroom. It just can't and, and the people that have something to teach are the ironically, I suppose, or sadly, they're the ones that we're not listening to, because we talk too much, or we have our own agenda.
David Ames 17:47
So one of the things that I think, drew us to one another is that we have some criticisms of atheist culture, and particularly online atheist culture. I want to preface this conversation by saying that I think you know, you have plenty of Skeptic bone a few days. So we're not talking about not having a skeptical outlook. And the way I've said it is, you know, it, it's frustrating to me that immediately as people go through a process of, however you want to describe it, the loss of faith, questioning doubt. deconversion deconstruction, the first sources that they land on are going to be very debate oriented, a very aggressive, dismissive, you know, almost angry. And so you've, you've written a couple of these articles where you're saying, you know, does this actually benefit us having that stance towards other believers? Do you want to expand on that?
Chris Highland 18:49
Yeah, well, it's Yeah, I guess I pick up on these a words like, Well, other than the, you know, aihole. There's also just aggression, aggravation, anger, you know, an anti anti is a big one. Yeah. You know, if your whole your whole outlook is to be anti religion, particularly, in this context, I find that number one, I find that sad. Number two, I think that a person needs to look in the mirror and deal with their own stuff. And unfortunately, some of us who want to hold up on me, none of us like to look in the mirror about some of this
David Ames 19:35
stuff. Uncomfortable. Yeah.
Chris Highland 19:39
And so I think that's where some of the pushback is come toward my writing. But, you know, I'm, I'm married to a minister, my my wife is still in ministry. She's very progressive and and she's a teacher and a counselor. And we've been together a long Time. So she's seen me through this whole process and supports me. And that's an unusual story. I understand. That's an unusual story. But But I think what I like to point out to people, and sometimes it's a, I do it in a pointed way, holding up that mirror and say, look in the mirror. It's when people attack religion in general, or religious people in general, oh, they're all deluded. Oh, they're all just, you know, in a fantasy world, they're all really basically stupid idiots. And whenever I pick up on that, I say, well, Where's that coming from? Obviously, they've had a bad experience. And that's what they've learned about religion, that's, that's their experience of religion? Well, you know, I was once in a, in a little splinter of, of Christianity of one religion in the world, I was distant, a little tiny branch. Right. And that, as I've already said, it took a period of time to learn that there was a whole lot more. So I like to encourage, let's just put it this way, I like to encourage people to look in the mirror that and see that, okay, I am angry, I may be very justified to be angry toward my little group, right? Or a big group of it's the Catholic Church, or, you know, some bigger the Southern Baptists or something, I understand I get it, you had a bad experience, okay. So you can get all angry, you want to add that tradition. But, but when you start pointing the finger to make blanket statements, then you're talking about Quakers. And you're talking about progressives of a lot of different religion, you're talking about, you know, Catholic nuns who are doing running soup kitchens, and all of that, you know, a lot of good things going on, out there, in the name of religion, I'm not saying, you know, I'm not going to be a defender of, of everything to do with religion. You know, and I, and I have my own critiques. And I expressed those in a pointed way too. But I, I've done enough self criticism and self critique and self analysis, to know that, you know, it's kind of like calling myself a free thinker. Once again, it's focusing on what can we do to heal ourselves? What can we do to bring people together to deal with what really matters? Does theology matters so much to people that they got to argue about it all the time? You know, and, I mean, one of my neighbors, and I'm kind of exaggerating, it's down the road a bit from us is Franklin Graham. Wow, Billy Graham's empire, you know, is down the road from us here, where we live in North Carolina. And, you know, I could spend my time attacking him and say, See, that's what those Christians are doing? Well, that's not that's, that's only a small part of Christianity. And it's, it's not a healthy part of Christianity. And I've written letters to the paper about him, and I've written blog posts on their, some of their deception when it comes to the Samaritans person and all that. But, you know, I'm not going to waste my time, just attacking one branch of Christianity, one small branch of religion, or religion in general. I mean, what's the purpose?
David Ames 23:47
Yeah, man, several things that I want to respond to you there, I think, one of one of my observations of, of just friends of mine, so friends in the secular community, who, who's still very actively engaged with people online, and you know, in a in a fairly debate oriented style, so people that I care about friends of mine, that still do this, and I think it's part of the, you know, someone is wrong on the internet phenomenon. Right? It's just, you see something that you have a strong reaction to, and that actually should be your indication to slow down and think more. Before I throw anybody under the bus. This I do this too, right. I think that Twitter brings the worst out of me, I take a potshot at a apologist every once in a while, and I immediately think, why did I do that? You know, and there's trollish behavior by Christians and there's trollish behavior by atheists is one of the things that I like about your work and I'm gonna try to give a quote here. The more I interact with free thinking humanists and atheists that the more I see the great opportunities of for building connections, rather than breaking them down, and it's that change in focus right from correcting someone's mistaken belief, from your perspective, to seeing their full humanity and finding out which ways can we work together? One more. One more way of describing this is, you know, I think apologists often critique humanism to say, Well, you can't justify being good or doing good or goodness. And I think, why do you care? If we can do good together, and you have your justification, and I have my justification? Isn't that better for everyone?
Chris Highland 25:40
Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, it does have to come back. I mean, humanism is great, because it's, it's about humans. And I'm a real nature guy. And I know you are too and a lot of this, we are common ground literally is, is the natural world. And we have to find ways of connecting. More people with that. That's one reason why I'm, I'm wearing my Yellowstone shirt today, to remind myself that, you know, the, the national park system, as I see it, in this country, is is made up of secular sanctuaries. I mean, this is the the secular answer to, to the church to sanctuaries is, and that's how John Muir and some of my, you know, my heroes might call them secular saints, sometimes, you know, people who have something to say about the natural world and want to draw people out kind of evangelists for nature. So, so how to do that in a way that that's inviting to everyone. And I love to, I love to say that I think this is responding to your question, let me know if it's not, but I can remember a time when I was in Yellowstone National Park, and I was observing a scene with a probably 100 other people. And it was a scene in a valley and there was a grizzly eating an elk. And there were bald eagles waiting to get their part of the snack. And then there was a moose that came running out of the woods chased by a wolf. And we all got to see that in one scene right in front of us in the wild in the wild. And he's kind of just I would just want to freeze that scene and say, okay, is that is that a Baptist over there? You know, is that a Catholic? Is that an atheist watching this scene? And it didn't matter? It's that sense of, it's that sense of awe and wonder and wildness, that I think, is really the core of our humanity. And why not? Keep urging, nudging us all toward that, instead of suddenly wanting to divide everybody up? Which is what religion tends to do? Why should atheism do that? Right? Why should atheism do the same thing that religion does breaking into this group and that group and getting and arguing and all that kind of stuff? There's a place for that, I honor a certain amount of what I hear from some of the more famous atheists the face of atheism out there. But I am concerned as you read in, in my one of my latest articles, I am concerned about what is the face of, of atheism? Partly because I want to, I wonder what is the face of free thought? What is the face of secularism? And if you ask people out there, you know, what do you think of or what do you think of if they only come up with these debaters and the agitators and the militants, and all those folks that are so anti religious, I want to say wait a minute, there's a whole bunch of us who aren't like that, right.
David Ames 29:20
One of the things I've observed is the nature of social media is such that provocative tweets or posts get a lot of attention. So if you say something about, hey, we ought to be kinder to one another and love one another. It's, you know, crickets. Nobody responds, but if you say this group is stupid, you know, retweets and likes and so I've been very cognizant of restraint of restraining my desire to, to score points. And again, sometimes sometimes I don't live up to that but that but I'm aware of that as as a phenomena and so much of what we see, both in books and YouTube and social media is that the scoring of points is raised above actually trying to connect with one another.
Chris Highland 30:15
Exactly, exactly. I've never been really a debater, I know I can, I can certainly I have a voice and I speak up and I write most of it, have my have had my shares of share of arguments and with people, but you know, a lot of this, I think David comes back to semantics. You know, I think I think choosing our words a little more carefully. Instead of speaking of religion, as I said, and some great broad brushstroke to say some religion, some religious people, some Christians, or as I said earlier, if you come out of some tradition that's been, you know, you feel like you've been abused, it's been at least a particular church you came from or whatever was, caused some trauma in your life and cause you agitation in your own life, then, then I understand you deal with that. But, you know, I like to bring up the possibility that someone could say, well, some in that church, now, I could probably spend a lot of time we could talk for an hour or more just about the Presbyterian Church, because that's what I grew up with. That's what I've known the best. That's what I was ordained in. I know that church probably better than any others. And I have a lot of criticisms. And here's the thing. I have a lot of friends, close friends and family who are members of the Presbyterian church now. Right, right. And so if I'm just going to say, well, Presbyterian, you know, the Presbyterian churches like this, well, someone's going to point out right away, and say, Well, Chris, don't you remember that other Presbyterian Church and what they were like, and don't you remember when they came out with this social justice statement? And they have these programs that are doing good in the community? So Oh, yeah, you're right. I forgot your right. So I forgot that I need to add a qualifier that says some Presbyterians. Yeah. You know, and so you do the same with with Christianity itself. You say, Well, yeah, there's a segment of Christianity that I have a real problem with, and I'm pushing on all the time, which is Christian nationalism, and some of that a member of the Americans United. And I, you know, I really believe strongly, we need to push, push back on all of that. But then I know a whole lot of other Christians who are anti that too. I don't want Christian nationalism either, right.
David Ames 33:26
So you mentioned that your wife is a minister, and my wife is very much a believer, and we are navigating that together. And, you know, as I've often tried to tell her is that I love her for who she is, which includes her beliefs, right, that makes her part of who it's part of who she is. And I think of my my in laws are some of the most generous, loving, caring giving people I've ever met in my life. And they are both theologically and politically conservative. Right. So I mean, we have some disagreements. But so to point out that there are very, very good people who are believers is just a statement of fact, and we don't need to feel like we need to tear them down in order to work with them.
Chris Highland 34:14
Right. Yeah. And I have a chapter in one of my more recent books on difficult conversations, and it relates a conversation with one of my family members. And, you know, she and I have some some very divergent thoughts. So these things, and we have some, some heated discussions, but we don't yell and scream, and we end by saying love you talk to you soon. Right. You know, and, you know, what's the problem with that? I mean, that really bothers some, some of the atheist circles that, that just think, well, you've just got to argue and argue and argue, and until you convince them well, that what is the difference between between being an atheist evangelist, and being a Christian evangelist, if you're just there to like you said to win, you gotta win, there's gonna be a winner and a loser. And then you can walk away saying, Great, I, I convinced them well, what did you convince them up that you're unable? Good for you.
David Ames 35:25
One more quote of yours. I think this is from your more recent article, let me see if I've got this prepped here. I don't see religion going away. So I think it's much more productive to find ways of working with those faith communities who are open to it, and those seculars who are open to it, and then rather than complaining about them to score points, the point I want to jump off on is I think in some ways, there is a unstated or implicit and sometimes overt implication that secularism will just overrun religion entirely. And I think I agree with you, you more, I think religion is a human phenomena. And so I think it's not going away anytime soon. And so, if secular, as secularists believed that their role is to eradicate religion, I think that's a fool's errand. Yes. So I'm curious, you know, in what ways do you see that, that we could be more interfaith as secular humanists or a secular person and interact with people of faith in a positive way?
Chris Highland 36:33
Yeah. Well, that's the That's the million dollar question, I think is what are we what are we going to do? What are we going to do now and into the future, when, you know, there are a lot of forces that want to fracture, fracture us and divide us? And really, David, I think it comes back to relationships. And, you know, I guess I get, some people probably get tired of hearing me say it, but I, you know, if someone has critiques of religion, but they've never talked to a Buddhist, or a Quaker, or even somebody in their own tradition, that that maybe wasn't in a small town in the Midwest or something, I don't know. Right? It comes back to relationships. I, I published a book a couple of years ago called Broken bridges. And it was, you know, really a collection of my, my essays that I write the columns are right for the Asheville citizen times. And the focus of that book, it wasn't a lot of, there weren't a lot of essays in there. But the focus was, you know, let's look at what's broken. And then let's make some decisions. Some bridges should just crumble and fall, let them go right now. Other ones might, maybe there's a way to repair those, but we're not going to be able to do it. One group of one faction of our of our culture or society is not going to be able to do it by themselves. So we have to find a way cooperate, and then then becomes that that real, free thinking moment when we say, well, maybe maybe a bridge over there would work better. Maybe we need to try something different. And what if that difference is, well, can we put aside our theological problems, our belief divisions, those broken bridges? Can we put those aside to finish this project, this program, work with these people deal with this issue, this this critical problem in our community, where it doesn't matter what you believe, or don't believe, right? That's, that's what intrigues me. And I will say that, you know, for 25 years of my life in those chaplaincies, I was working shoulder to shoulder with people that theologically No, I'm not there. I'm not going there. Right. But we didn't have the time. We didn't have the time to argue those things, or sometimes to even discuss them. It was it was okay, there's, there's that person over there who's dying on the street, what are we going to do for them? And then everybody adds their solutions to the to that issue, which might come down to that one person. And that's what that's what gets me charged up. That's what energizes me is not always focusing on the Broken bridges, but where where we can either repair or build a new one.
David Ames 40:00
Yeah, I, I love everything about what you what you said, let's get about the business of, of doing good in the world together collectively. And if we're just focusing on the parts that we disagree about, we aren't effectively doing good in the world. And if we can just accept one another as in the fullness of each other's human humanity, we can work together and have a positive effect on on the world.
Chris Highland 40:27
Yes, and I just want to add real quick here that I can already hear the criticisms because people say, Well, yeah, but you can't, I'm not going to work with those people are I can't, those people aren't going to want to work with me, maybe, you know, maybe that's true, that that's those, that's the broken bridges that maybe just need to crumble. But it might also be that, that you or I might not be able to, to make a connection, and build a relationship with that particular person, or that particular group or organization. But somebody else who has some, some, you know, relationships or connections that are already there, have some other way has some other way to make that connection. Let them do it. Right them do it if you if you can't stand Baptists anymore, because you came out of a tradition, where you just kind of you just can't stand it anymore. I'm not gonna deal with those people. Good, don't do it. But but others who, who are okay with that, and are open to that, and, and maybe have the time and the energy and the patience to try to try to build those bridges, let them do it. Right.
David Ames 41:40
I think sometimes we need to step back and be more explicit about what our goals are. And I think you've touched on briefly here already, but one of our goals ought to be more secularism, more pluralism, meaning in the non scary version of that, right. So we're not saying more people who are non believers, but rather, freedom of religion and freedom from religion, right, that's ability to truly allow people there to follow their conscience and, and still give all rights and privileges and citizenship to everyone. And one of the things I think that the problem is, is that we we approach it as a zero sum game, sometimes like we, like we have to win, atheism has to win in some way, instead of what I think our goal ought to be is acceptance of everyone. And then that is truly a marketplace of ideas so that the best solutions can fall out of that. Why do you think it is? Maybe like, just give you a an impossible question, why do you think it is that we as human beings, we want to put people in a box and add categorize them? And and say, this is the other and this isn't? That person's not on my team?
Chris Highland 42:58
Well, yeah, yeah, you're right, I'm not going to answer that. It's, it's, um, it does seem to be I mean, I guess we're tribal. And, you know, we want to identify somehow and with with one particular group of people, that gives us some, some way to make sense of our lives and give our lives meaning. And it's always the other, we don't understand them. We call them them. We don't want to deal with that group. Those people. And you know, what, what really changed me or let's just say, helped me evolve a more inclusive viewpoint is working with those folks who are marginalized the outsiders and, you know, working in a county jail for 10 years. You know, I was conducting seven gatherings a week, for 10 years in county jails, women, men, people and maximum security people and minimum security. And I had to go through some real change and you know, those people who are those people who are in jail, and I found out that there are some great people who end up in jail and some very hurt people who end up in jail and some very guilty people are in jail and some very innocent people who are in jail so I mean, just all across the board like that. And then the same on the streets working with people in the we do we all we always call them something that they don't have we say their home less home last. And, you know, we just we got to know people as people, right? Maybe they don't have a house. They don't have a permanent dwelling, but they're people. So it's I guess I'm gonna say it again. It's that relationship thing. It's like, it's like, Do you know any of them? Right? Know when when a family member told me a few years ago, they started complaining about, about gay people and all the gay marriage and gay, this and all. And I ended up saying, Well, what are your What are your gay friends telling you? That's a classic question. Yes. You know, and in applies in all these different areas people complain about all those people on the street. Have you ever talked to one of them? You know, do you know any of the names of those folks? And it does change things. So, you know, one of the things I'll say, to address your question, I think, David, is that the mentality we come to the world with? In other words, our worldview makes such a huge difference. If we see it as a battlefield. Right, where we're all you know, it's let's go out there and fight. We're the defenders, we're the defenders of reason and critical thinking and truth and all these things, you know, then I don't there's not going to be any hope for for people to ever work things out or find just find ways of working together. And you mentioned about, you know, should we be working on pluralism? Well, part of it for me is kind of flipping the question around saying, Well, where is the pluralism? Where is the cooperation already going on? And how can we participate in that. And I've seen it the most in interfaith communities. And I don't really like the word interfaith either. But it's a huge step forward from ecumenical which is just Christians working together, to people of different faiths working together. And then when when my wife was the director of a large Interfaith Council in the Bay Area, people like me were part of that, and and Wiccans. And some of the some of the, the Muslim members had a hard time with the Wiccans. And some of the, you know, hardcore, people of one faith didn't necessarily like the fact that I was there. And I would call myself a secular person. So so how do we, how do we look at a person and see a person instead of slap a label on them and say, well, let's go to the battlefield?
David Ames 47:58
So I've got a question about humanism. But I guess I first need to find out is, is humanism, something that you identify as, is that a thing you care about? Or is that not a term that you use?
Chris Highland 48:10
Yeah, well, as I mentioned earlier, you know, I am a humanist celebrant. So I guess I have to have some affinity. Well, I'm just gonna say that it's just it's just to me, it's just based on people being human together, practicing ethics. And, you know, whether people call it a religion or not, it doesn't really matter to me, because you as you brought up earlier, you know, I don't see religion disappearing, I see morphing, evolving, as it always has done. And if we're just talking about institutions, well, institutions come and go and leadership changes and dogma and creeds and everything, change over time. But the kind of religion I think we're talking about is is more what I get from people from some of the naturalists and scientists. You know, I love what Carl Sagan says about us. He, he used the word spiritual in spirit, and he didn't. He didn't throw that out. He didn't throw that the spirit words out with the bit with the Christian bathwater. And he went back to itself that I learned way back in college in Greek and looking at original languages that these some of these words came from very earthy, naturalistic things. It's a breath, it's the breath is the wind. Like you can't get more natural than that.
David Ames 49:39
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Chris Highland 49:40
So that's human.
David Ames 49:42
Carl Sagan man, I can't say enough good things about him in that, you know, he so eloquently expresses hard science, and awe and wonder, and that's a that's a beautiful combination that is relatively rare.
Chris Highland 50:01
Oh yeah, I get to be with Neil deGrasse Tyson this evening and a Gathering Online gathering by the Center for Inquiry. Okay. Neil deGrasse Tyson will be speaking for an hour and live and so it'd be kind of, that'd be cool. Like, a mini Carl Sagan.
David Ames 50:22
That's right, he is carrying on the torch with cosmos. Yeah. Sorry, that was a bit of a digression on humanism, I often ask people who are active humanists. Why do you think humanism is, is so rare? Or people or the identification with humanism is so rare? Or another way of asking that is, why is humanism fail so badly?
Chris Highland 50:48
Alright, well, I was suspicious of it for quite a long time myself. Partially because I'm such a nature person. So when you talk about the focus is on human humans. Right? I thought, well, that's not enough, you know, I. And so I guess I defined myself one time as a natural humanist or something like that. I think once again, it comes back to how comfortable we are with certain labels. And then we I think we need to be able to define those labels in a way. That's why I keep coming back to will, how am I going to define better do a better job of defining free thought, and free thinking? So my wife and I have a couple of years ago, we went on the freethought trail up in up in New York, and went to Elizabeth Cady Stanton's home, and Robert Greene. Ingersoll is home. And you know, just kind of all over the map, literally, to see, well, where did these folks come from? What were they thinking? And why are they why were they free thinkers? How were they free thinkers, and what did they focus on? And it was always a humanistic endeavor. It was something to do with with freeing with literally freeing slaves, freeing women to be fully members of the, of our society, freeing our minds from, you know, any kind of restriction, whether it's political or religious, or whatever. So, you know, to me, it just it's a constant self reflection, again, to say, Well, what do I mean by this word? And so I don't, I don't always feel comfortable saying, Oh, yes, I'm a humanist. In fact, I'm gonna be teaching your class, I teach courses over here at the university, on free thought, and I always pick one of the one of these folks, you know, these voices like Ingersoll, and yeah, and others to Frederick Douglass and, and some of these last names like Francis right, and Lucretia Mott, and I love these people, because you dig back into those, those people and they end those lives and what they were talking about. And it they always have something for us today, to help us define and redefine what we mean by terms like humanism, right? And being humanistic. What does that mean? Does that exclude the natural world? Well, I certainly hope not. Because we're, we're a part of it. We are part of nature.
David Ames 53:33
Yeah, I I recently talked to a fellow podcaster named Sam Davis. And I mentioned that I feel like I came to humanism, late, I think we're already talking about sentient ism, you know, or, you know, the, you know, to broaden this to all levels of consciousness as it were, and, you know, to respect that. And so I definitely am very much open to that. And I think we've been talking about the nature part of naturalism. And that, you know, it's just important to recognize that we are, quite literally in a scientific, hard, naturalistic sense, interconnected with the entire ecology and that what we do to the environment, what we do to animals affects us so in a selfish way, we need to be concerned with that. So I never use humanism in the sense of excluding nature. But I think the thing that is important to me is people over ideology, right like that. I feel like we we focus so much on ideologies and those can be political, economic, religious, what have you. But when an ideology begins to hurt people is when it needs to be criticized and broken down. In my concern is we don't do a very good job of caring for one another. I talk about the homeless, you know, something so simple. My wife works with At the school district in a way that tries to help families that they are struggling with housing and that simple thing, having a place for a kid to go home to has a profound impact on that child's education. And you can make arguments all day long whether or not the parents are abusing the system. But that kid deserves the best opportunities possible. It's just something so simple as providing housing makes a huge impact. Yes.
Chris Highland 55:40
I do appreciate when they're more secular voices coming out, and kind of taking this word secular and turning it around and upside down, and shaking it and trying to say, Well, what what is this, you know, how to be humans, you know, living together on this planet, and not getting to, you know, adding my own thing to it, I would say just, we don't we shouldn't get too hung up in our philosophical, theological, political issues and, and identities and debates, in my opinion, because it just, it just takes away from I mean, that's what I was gonna say earlier, is it you know, it's fine to focus on humans, and the best part of humans in terms of humanism. But then, as you were just saying, it's, it can't be anthropocentric or anthropomorphic. And if we fall back into that, then we haven't made much progress.
David Ames 56:51
Right? When I went through my deconversion process, which was about 2015, and I started to think after the fact, you know, I think I want to speak into this world, I want to feel like I have something to say, I was very cognizant of trying to remember what it was like, as a believer. And I think, in our email discussion I mentioned, you know, I'm positive that it's not about intelligence, because I'm the same person, I was as a believer as I am now. So that, that helps ground you know, remove some vitriol remove some hostility towards believers. And then secondly, and this is where I want to get to with you. Because my wife is a believer, and much of my family and and friend group, are believers, that also helps ground me to remember that I love these people. And I, I respect them. And I think they are bright, intelligent, giving wonderful people. And you can stop me if this is too personal. But I wonder if you would talk just a little bit about what that was, like, where you went through a change of mind? How have you and your wife navigated that?
Chris Highland 58:01
Yeah. Well, as part of what I've been writing about recently, that kind of got some people agitated. You know, because I was really talking about education matters, education matters. And if somebody is bringing up a topic about something, and I just didn't study that, or that it wasn't covered in my education, I would just say, you know, I, I don't really know what you're talking about, or I'm ignorant in that area. Yeah. And I think we just need to be honest about that. So, you know, that is to preface the fact that my wife and I both went to very liberal seminaries that had a lot of interfaith connection, she went to Union Seminary in New York City, and I went to San Francisco seminary, so on opposite coasts, okay. But we both got steeped in liberation thought liberation theology, okay. And which made a huge amount of difference because it gets you kind of away from a Bible focus, to to an action focus to a social justice, focus. And both of us came out of that. So that was a parallel, right to begin with. So Carol is my wife and I like to tell the story, we both get very amused telling the story that my wife and I met carrying the cross and it was a good Friday service at a Presbyterian Church. She had heard of me, I'd heard of her. She was doing advocacy work with immigrants, and I was working on the streets as a chaplain. So we'd heard of each other. We're both Presbyterian ministers. We show up for this, this Good Friday service, and someone had created this Big I guess it was. I don't think it was Styrofoam, but I think it was some kind of pressboard cross or something. And about four or five of us carry that up the aisle into this Good Friday service. So we kind of, you know, that's how we we met. But it was, you know, that event, in a sense, meant something different to us than maybe even some of the other people who were carrying that cross. And people who came to that service focused on Well, this is Good Friday, it's all about Jesus. It's all about Christians. It's all about being in church, without looking around to see, well, who's not here, who's not attracted to this kind of thing. And how divisive is that cross? For so many people? Well, she and I understood that from the very beginning. So I think, you know, that gives you have kind of a long background, but it's really, it started with us doing liberation kinds of work, which meant being out with a people presents ministry, inclusive, working and a diverse environment with diverse agencies and nonprofits. And so she she started this interfaith group, I was already doing interfaith chaplaincy. So it was, it was a natural, in some ways for us. So I, you know, all along the way. It really was. It made us love each other, for what we were doing and, you know, what we will be might see in the future for us doing together, which was kind of starts with marriage. So we just decided that we get along pretty well together and think a lot of like, when it comes to these matters, and she has a lot of criticisms of the church, her own church, the denomination, religion in general. She is a member of Americans United as I am, she's she's gets really upset about Christian nationalism, and a lot of that real. Yeah, boy, I mean, there's so many ways to say, you know, what I mean, all the crap out there that comes from various religious groups. But once again, we both have a background, we both have, actually, friendships, with colleagues, and others from a, from a lot of different faiths. And so, and now she's gotten to know some of my connections in the, in the secular community as well. And so we, we've decided to make a life of it. And it works pretty well. We certainly have disagreements, but yeah, like everything else. We've been saying, you know, it's really a matter of, you know, do I want this relationship does she want this relationship? How do we make that work? I don't go to church with her. But I actually know the pastors of the church where she goes, and her mother goes there to the family church for years. And I liked those folks and a lot and get get this a lot of the people that go to that particular church read my columns every week, and they really liked them. So that tells you something right there. Yeah,
David Ames 1:03:38
yeah, definitely. One last thought here. I think that people like ourselves who have had a, a relatively long lifetime of faith and then subsequently find we no longer can believe I think we have a lot to offer to church groups, right like that, that they can learn something especially if we aren't being trying to be critical or trying to just tear them down.
Chris Highland 1:04:04
Yes, and that's that's the purpose of my my writing almost all of my writing, you know, my columns as well as the books in my in my blog posts and other things. I'm always writing about these things and I I often come back to what one reason I really enjoy John Muir so much living in California for years and I've been to his boyhood home in Scotland and you know, he's just a I would highly recommend him to people of faith to people without faith doesn't matter. And I one of his his most succinct statements is in his journals where he says, the best synonym for God is beauty. The best synonym for God is beauty. So if we just would all take that and live with it. What does that mean? Does that mean to deny that there isn't beauty, that there's a lot of ugliness, a lot of death and disease and terrible things going on in the world. It's not denying any of that. It's just saying, if you're going to talk about a creative force in the universe, or within ourselves, bring it back, bring it back to nature, natural beauty, and work with that somehow. So now, maybe that's better, better than free, thought free thinker, and humanist and all that stuff. You know, I'm a follower of beauty.
David Ames 1:05:37
That's amazing. I could not have thought of a better way to end up here. Chris, this has been an amazing conversation, can you let people know how they can get in touch with you. And then a topic we didn't touch on, but just maybe a plug for the clergy project? If we happen to have listeners that are working in the church in one way or another? I'm having doubts.
Chris Highland 1:05:55
Yeah. So yeah, both of those. Yeah, I can be, you can read my writing and connect with me through C highland.com, which I also call friendly, free thinker. So friendly, free thinkers, sea island.com. All my books are listed on there, all my writings, and the clergy project. That's the, you know, clergy project.org. And if anybody is an in any kind of pastoral work, or clergy person, who's kind of making the transition out, and you either out with that, or still have to kind of stay in the closet, clergy project is a great place to get support and connect and network with other people. So and that's, you know, you can you can be as, as hidden as you want to be on the clergy project now, a little over 1000 people, I think now members of it. Yeah, I've been there maybe, I think 10 years I've been a member.
David Ames 1:06:57
Okay. Wow, that's fantastic. Yeah,
Chris Highland 1:06:59
that's a good organization.
David Ames 1:07:01
Chris, thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Chris Highland 1:07:03
Thank you appreciate it very much.
David Ames 1:07:18
As you can hear, nature is very important to Chris his book, nature is enough. He is talking about searching for the ordinary wonders in our extraordinary natural world. This is a 15 second clip of the bird calls that I heard on a recent kayaking trip. The audio is terrible. But I was out there, I was listening. I was seeing nature and I was thinking about Chris, this is my gift to Chris.
Final thoughts on the episode. One of the very, very exciting things about doing this podcast is all of the frustration that I described about people who are going through a deconversion deconstruction process, finding the angry or louder, more argumentative, more debate oriented voices is becoming less true. Because I'm finding people like Chris Highland. I'm finding people like Troy more heart. I'm finding people like Bart Campolo and Leah Helbling. I'm finding people like Sasha Sagan, I am finding people like Reverend bones is harder to find us maybe. But we are out there. That is incredibly meaningful and exciting to me to find another voice out there who is doing secular grace. And even though that is not a term that Chris would have used prior to this conversation, that is what he's been doing. He was doing secular grace as an interfaith chaplain. And he is doing secular grace as a humanist celebrant. In his writing, what attracted me to his work is that he is expressing secular grace and several of those ideas are really important. One is obviously just about relationships, as he describes it is about our connection with other people. And that's what matters and winning points or arguments is not the point. We also I think, agree that if the end goal of the secular movement is more pluralism, and more acceptance and freedom of religion and freedom from religion. attacking people of faith is the wrong way to accomplish that goal. At one point, Chris says he is looking for a real Bible of goodness and graciousness, that is secular grace. I also appreciate Chris's relationship with his wife who is a minister. And the more voices we can have on that are people who are making an unequally yoked relationship work in a loving and kind, generous and humble way, the better we all are. So I think Chris and his wife are a great example of that. I want to thank Chris for being on the podcast for sharing all of his lived wisdom for sharing his secular grace. And I want to make sure that you are where you can find his website at sea highlands.com. Of course, I'll have links in the show notes. He has written a number of books, those are all available on his website. Many of his essays have been published in a few different media, including the rational doubt blog that Linda Scola runs Lindell Escola and Dan Dennett are a part of the clergy project that we discussed as well, I want to give a huge shout out to the clergy project. If you happen to be paid by the church in some way or another, and you are going through doubt clergy project is the place to reach out, they know what you're going through, they've been there. And as Chris mentioned, you can have the level of anonymity that you want. For the secular Grace Thought of the Week, I want to just emphasize Chris's focus on nature itself. He talked a lot about John mirror and beautiful places in California, like Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon in Arizona, places where you can go where you experience or at just the grandeur of nature itself. And one of the things that we mentioned is to be cognizant of our connection to nature, that evolution works in such a way that there is a web of interconnectedness amongst us and I mean, this in the most naturalistic, non woo way possible. We literally are connected to the ecology and we are connected to one another by interdependence, by relationships. And all of that is critically important, selfishly, for the human race to succeed, we need to take care of the environment, we need to take care of nature. I really appreciate Chris's focus on bringing out the wonder and beauty of nature itself. As always, we have some amazing episodes coming up next week is going to be Vanessa. And she describes her story as opposed to dramatic church syndrome. She's incredibly funny and humorous, and has beautiful laugh and a wonderful life story to tell. We're going to then take a break over the Fourth of July weekend. There'll be two weeks there one week without a podcast. And then when we come back, I'm going to have Thomas, who is actually a relative of a previous guest, Jimmy that we had on a number of months ago. So we get to hear a different side of that family story. And then after that, we'll also hear from Daniel, who is the co host of that when belief dies podcast, he was a part of the interview team that interviewed me for my recent episode, and he has been actively participating in that podcast, so look forward to that as well. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the shownotes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on Bristol atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch. 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 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 email@example.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist Podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
This week I am being interviewed by Sam and Daniel from the When Belief Dies podcast. The focus is on what I have changed my mind about since beginning work in the secular community. We discuss the following topics:
Letting go of an afterlife for oneself and one’s loved ones
The human desire for an afterlife represented in secular movies
This episode is a sister episode to Daniel and me interviewing Sam on When Belief Dies. Both episodes are dropping at the same time. You can see me in the YouTube version interviewing Sam.
If you are interested in producing music for the Graceful Atheist Podcast, the sound I am looking for has a strong baseline and beat with gospel church organ, potentially with R&B or Gospel vocal samples. Here is a playlist to inspire you to Gospel R&B Beats. Get in touch.
There were several places in the episode where I forgot names. I’ll mention them here.
It is Tim Sledge who talks about “exceptions to the rule of faith” in his book, Goodbye Jesus.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
0:11 Welcome to the show.
5:19 What’s changed in David’s understanding of grace?
10:36 The importance of finding people who are in a similar situation to you.
16:37 Discovering that you’re not alone is the first step.
22:22 The experience of awe is a deeply human experience.
26:31 The best things about religion are the people.
33:50 What has changed about the deconversion process?
39:10 How to deal with cognitive dissonance and cognitive biases.
44:04 What is the process of deconstruction?
50:32 What are some of the crucial things that can help people move from that step of starting to live in a place of unbelief?
58:03 David’s thoughts on the idea that humanism pre-dates Christianity and Christianity borrows from humanism.
1:06:36 Recognizing humans are mammals.
1:11:06 David’s problem with most conversations.
1:18:16 The slow increase of your standard for evidence and why that’s necessary.
1:23:25 Life after death is not just a religious thing. Humans are obsessed with the idea secular or otherwise.
1:30:00 Finite human lifetimes make them precious.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheists podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. As usual, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on pod chaser.com or the Apple podcast store, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. Every so often, I beg for some community involvement in the podcast and the work of secular grace. And I'm gonna do that again here. As you know, Mike T has been editing the podcast in 2021. He's been doing an amazing job. It gets a break this week, but he'll be back in the editor seat next week. And Logan from beyond belief is helping me out with some graphic design work. And one more area that I'm really interested in expanding on for the podcast is the music. I have loved the waves track from Mackay beats, that's been amazing. But there is some licensing restrictions with that music. So I am putting out the call to see if anyone is out there who's interested in producing a piece of music for me. For the podcast, of course, you would get credit, maybe a tiny little amount of money to help defray that. However, I am going to be very, very, very picky. I have a particular style, I have a particular sense of what I want, which can be encapsulated in saying gospel r&b with a beat. I am going to add a Spotify playlist that has a bunch of songs that would inspire this kind of idea. And if you are interested in doing some music production for the intro for segways please get in touch with me. Graceful firstname.lastname@example.org This is a long episode, but I will ask that you hang on to the final thoughts a section where I will talk about my first attempt at a Twitter spaces conversation about deconversion. On today's show, today's show is a little different. And I'm actually the subject I have as guest posts today, Sam and Daniel from the when belief dies podcast. And they are interviewing me. So you're going to get probably more than you want me answering questions. I first want to thank Sam and Daniel for participating in this venture. This turned out better than I expected. As the host, I don't always get to spend 15 minutes explaining my thoughts on a particular subject and I get to hear. So this turned out to be more successful even than I expected. Dropping at the same time on when belief dies is Daniel and I are interviewing Sam. So these two podcasts, this one you're hearing right now and the one that is dropping on when belief dies are kind of sister episodes. And why that is interesting is you can see the diversity of thought. Sam and I are good friends. We think a lot of like on a lot of subjects. But there's also little bits of daylight between us. And we explore that in both of these episodes. If you actually want to see my face, the version of Daniel and I interviewing Sam is also on YouTube, you will immediately understand why I do audio. But you can check that out. If you are interested. Please hang on to the final thoughts section and I will talk more about the episode that you can hear on when belief dies. Obviously links will be in the show notes for Sam's podcast and YouTube. Lastly, I do want to acknowledge that I talk a lot in this episode. In fact, I think I overwhelmed Sam and Daniel I apologize to them. They asked a question that I almost ignore that question and go on for 20 minutes. I am definitely a bit self indulgent in this episode, I get to speak my mind. And that was a lot of fun. I was so excited. I think you're going to hear that in this conversation. So without further ado, here is Sam and Daniel interviewing me.
Sam and Daniel, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Sam Devis 4:31
Thanks, man. It's great to be here.
Yeah, it's great to be on the show.
David Ames 4:36
So just to be clear, this is Sam from when belief die. So this is your second time on the podcast. You're coming back and Daniel is the new co host of when belief dies. And we're going to do something a little bit different today. Today, Sam and Daniel are going to interview me and later subsequently we will do an interview where I interview them which will release on when belief dies. This interview here is on my podcast. And so I'm literally going to hand the keys over to Sam and Daniel and I will be the one answering the questions. So Sam and Daniel, take it away.
Sam Devis 5:10
Thanks, man, I feel like I've stolen your car. I'm gonna drive it into a wall now. First of all, it's an absolute pleasure to do this. It's been something that's been on my mind for quite a while to kind of year to have this conversation and to push into a basically what's changed since since these podcasts began? Like, what's, what shifted our mindset? And how have we began processing stuff. So I think just to kind of kick it off, I mean, I would be really interested to hear I know kind of you talk about secular grace, lots on your new podcast. And it's a fantastic thing that I've obviously been heavily influenced by. But I want to kind of get your take on that. David, what's changed in your understanding of secular grace? How's that grown? or diminish? What's what's different these days?
David Ames 5:50
Yeah, let me let me describe what it is very quickly. And then I can tell you how my mind has changed on that a bit. It's hard to tell my story without talking about my mom's story. For listeners, they may know, my mother was drug and alcohol addict, grew up with that, you know, most of my life, and in my teen years, is when she got clean and sober. And it was it was Jesus, she had a dramatic epiphany been a life changing kind of event. So my early spirituality was really heavily influenced by the 12 steps. It really was the humanistic elements of the 12 steps that spoke to me the most, it was this idea of confessing to one another really, you know, opening yourself up being vulnerable about some deep, dark secrets, and the catharsis that one feels in that experience. And I would occasionally ride along and go to an AAA meeting or something, and you would have this person speaking. And they're describing terrible things, terrible, terrible things that they had done, and the remorse that they they feel for having done those things. And then the group shows love back to them. And so I was literally watching this in real time, what it is like for human beings to give grace to one another. So that's really the bottom level of what I mean by secular grace. I think people experience this when they go to therapy, they get kind of radical acceptance isn't another way to describe it. But this feeling of catharsis of I can get off my chest, these things that have caused me shame, these things that are that I doubt about myself that make me feel lesser than. And so what I'm proposing the secular grace is, is just being proactive about this, that we engage with the people, we care about our friends and our loved ones, that we are intentionally vulnerable with one another, and that we are radically accepting of one another. And, of course, I don't mean, you know, airing your dirty laundry, do not do this on Twitter and Facebook, that is not what I mean. I mean, your best friend, right. And when we talk about also the deconversion process, we feel like I am the only one who's gone through this, I'm the only one who is not pulling Christianity off. I'm the only one who is failing to do what is right. And then you discover when you tell someone else, I'm not the only one. And it's that, that experience. So that was a long way to describe a secular grace. What has changed in my mind is the recognition of the dark side of grace. I have often said that when I mentioned the term secular grace, people either get it, or no amount of description will help. But what I've learned is the traumatic experiences that some people have inside Christianity, that grace entails this idea of you're a sinner, you're worthless, your your righteousness is dirty rags. And for particularly for people who grew up with that, as children, and who are now in their 30s, and 40s are feeling the fallout from that internalization of I'm a dirty, bad person. And because I came to Christianity a little bit later, I had just enough buffer to feel a little protected from that. I had that sense of, I'm a sinner. Don't get me wrong, I definitely that was definitely a major part. But I was overwhelmed by the sense of grace, overwhelmed by the sense of acceptance of by God. And so now what I'm trying to convey is, it turned out to be the people in my life all along who were giving me that grace, and now we can give that to each other. But I'm acknowledging that the part of the change is that people can have kind of traumatic association with the very word grace. And I want to make clear not to burden people further with it. Oh, you should also be so kind, not angry and this kind of thing, particularly, Brian Peck has said, how valuable anger is to escape that trauma or escape an abusive relationship or an abusive situation. And again, all of these things, you know, is where I've grown to recognize. Maybe secular grace is the long term goal. But the immediate needs are safety, protection, being whole being accepted yourself, right? Before you get to the point where maybe you're able to give that secular Grace out.
Sam Devis 10:36
That's really interesting, kind of like, I've got a got a good friend. He's from Poland, actually. And he kind of talks about Christianity within they're sort of like a communist mindset, he does my Christianity very much kind of like being being the thing that breaks your leg, and then gives you the crutch to kind of help you get on, it's almost like here's, here's the grace, you can you can just keep going now you've not broken your leg.
It's this idea that I guess kind of finding people who are in a similar situation to you and able to kind of empathize and have a a meaningful conversation where you realize that you aren't alone, like you aren't some sort of isolated being out on the peripherals, you're actually very much included in the whole, but you just weren't aware of that for a while. So would you kind of say that, that that's, that's quite a big part of that was actually that sometimes people can feel like they're at the fringe or having to, like try and reconcile things in their minds. But actually, as they kind of focusing on begin to open up more about their anger, or about their pain about their abuse, or trauma or whatever language you want to use, they're actually begin to realize that there is a, there is a massive group of people that are actually very much already around them and willing to accept them in would you kind of say, that's much more what you're looking at now, David?
David Ames 11:47
Yes. And of course, this ties into the deconversion and deconstruction aspect of the podcast in that within the church, you're allowed to doubt just so far. And then you're given some answers that you are expected to accept wholeheartedly. And when you don't, when those answers begin to sound Pat to you, and you are asking deeper questions. And you go through this merry go round of doubling down, you know, reading the Bible, more praying more, being in accountability groups, you know, talking to the pastor or talking to people who you respect their spirituality, and you're getting the same pat answers over and over again, and you aren't satisfied with those anymore. You can internalize that and begin to feel like, it must be me, I'm the bad person in this scenario. And so this is a great example. And so the minute you start to give yourself permission to doubt a bit, and go look like maybe a query on the internet, follow somebody on Twitter, or watch a YouTube video or listen to a podcast like when belief dies, or the grateful atheist podcast, that can be just a dramatic revelation that you are not the only one out there. And so this is a very specific context of the application of secular grace. But you've hit the nail on the head, Sam, that it can be applied anywhere, I imagine that people that return from military service or a warzone or have PTSD from a car crash, you know, it's finding your people, the people that have had some similar experience, who you don't have to defend yourself. I know, the word has been abused and ridiculed. But this idea of safe spaces, right, if you're a member of the LGBTQ community, just being in a place where you can communicate about that without having to defend it. If you're a person of color, or a historically disparaged group, and just being around other people who understand that they get it intuitively, you don't need to explain why that is necessary. All of that are profound examples of secular grace.
Sam Devis 14:02
Yeah, that's beautifully said, I've, I've often kind of wonder whether this is quite a new phenomenon. I mean, like only really, in the last 100 years or so we've we've began to kind of understand what sort of like post traumatic stress disorder as we began to understand sort of the the sort of ongoing negative consequences of abuse, or, as you mentioned, someone coming back from war and having to deal with this or trauma, they've experienced these sorts of long, underlying psychological and emotional difficulties that we can come across. And actually, I think, as my opinion and feel free to push back on this, but I kind of feel like as we begin to reconcile within our own minds, that we are almost kind of not broken, but but very, very able to be caught up within a certain sort of mindset, we begin to be able to actually think through who we are and what that means for us. And we actually begin to learn more about our own kind of hearts and our own minds and how we can begin to journey out of those situations. So would you say, David conscious pushing into secular Grace probably for the final time now? Like how How do you think people have been able to understand that space within the sort of atheist community and the deconstruction community? And how are they able to move through it to actually be able to accept it, bring it in and then become sort of who they could be due to their ability to process effectively? Does that make any sense?
David Ames 15:20
Yeah. Can I respond to one thing, not in your question? And then come back to the question? Yes. I don't mean to point fingers at you, but you were struggling for a word, and you use the word broken. I specifically talk about that you are human, not broken. And I think this is the Chinese finger trap of Christianity is highly reflective people who are aware of their own limitations, find Christianity, Christianity tells them Yes, you are, in fact broken. They're honest with themselves about their limitations, or their foibles, or what have you. And they internalize that idea of I'm broken. I just like to have really hammer that the human experience is imperfect the human experience is to error. Right? I mean, the the things that we are frustrated about ourselves, were anxious or fearful, or, or ashamed. That is the human experience. And it goes back to that secular grace of finding other people who have experienced the same thing. Coming back to your question, and let me make sure that if I've got it correctly, you're asking how people move from kind of the trauma to being more proactive? Is that the heart of your question?
Sam Devis 16:35
Yes. I don't want to use the term less broken. But yeah.
David Ames 16:40
Time, I really, I wish that I had a magic wand to say, what does this but I think that first step, the discovery is the hardest one. Because again, before you have found that there is a world out there of people who have had the same experience, you feel isolated alone. As soon as that happens, you begin to hear other people's stories. One of the things I love about doing the podcast is just getting this huge range of diverse stories from different perspectives. And someone's going to react to a hardcore Calvinist who is, you know, a woman who's dealing with complementarianism in a way that they are not going to react to my Pentecostal upbringing, and what have you, right? Like, there's just, those are two different experiences. So telling those different stories you can you have that someone I imagine, here's someone's story and goes, Ah, that was me, I thought that way. So that first, that first hurdle is the big one, right? Just recognizing that, that you're not alone. And then I think, is a process of, of learning. So many things have been off the table, you have been discouraged, for finding information outside of the bubble. Anything that was disconfirming, or even therapy is looked down upon in many Christian traditions, a science depending on again, your faith tradition may have been disparaged, or the full conclusions of science are diminished in some way or another. So learning that there is this broad body of human wisdom collected over the centuries of people attempting to answer the very same questions that you have. I think that, again, it's that feeling of I'm not alone. I often recommend this book. This is doubt the history by Jennifer Michael Hecht. My listeners probably heard that 1000 times I'm gonna say it again. And what that did for me personally was, you have that feeling of I'm alone, I'm the only one then you. Maybe if you d convert on your own, some people like in my case, it's pretty isolated. For myself as well. Then you think, Oh, I'm the only one who's ever D converted. I'm the only one who's experienced this. And a book like that goes through the history of doubters and they're you come from a long line of doubters. These questions have been asked for millennia, and ironically, many of the same pat answers the attempts to defeat those questions also are millennia old. And so once you recognize this answer I'm getting that doesn't sound satisfying, wasn't satisfying to Lucretius wasn't satisfying to Epicurus wasn't satisfying to job. We just we forget that we've been asking these questions forever. So again, recognizing you're not alone, finding out that other people have asked these questions, the learning more questions to ask maybe the questions you haven't even thought of yet. I say you know, explore science explore ethics. What are you interested in? You don't have to do this from a rationality bro perspective. But if you're into meditation, go do that. If you are into sports or exercise, go do that. You know? Find a book club, find something where you're just expanding beyond the bubble that you used to be in. And then last, I think, is when you feel, and this is just time, but when you wake up one day and you go, Huh, I don't feel terrible about this anymore. That is the moment when you can start asking yourself, what happens next? What can I do? What can I give back to the world? I sometimes refer to the first interview that I ever did, I did with Steve hilliker on voices of deconversion. If you go back and listen to that, I was thrashing about, what am I going to do with all of this profound insight, you know, or, or, you know, derivative insight that I had, I had to do something with it. And obviously, this podcast is the end result. The other thing I like to tell people is that one of the first things we did was this thing called secular Hangouts. And I used to explicitly say, we will have six seated when we have people who are a part of this, who are not content creators. And my point there was, you do not have to be a podcaster, or a YouTuber, a blogger, or what have you, to give back to the world, there are 1000s of things that you can do. And it is discovering what your particular talents are. I sound like a youth pastor here, but like, you know, find out what you are good at what you can give back with. And I guarantee you that that experience will give you a sense of purpose and meaning and will be as beneficial to you as it is the people that that you are giving to.
Sam Devis 21:39
It's beautifully said, I think I just want to kind of push into one more area of this, which I think could be quite interesting to explore. And if it's too much, let's just park it and move on. But right at the beginning, you obviously talk about your mum and your mom's experience within the sort of 12 STEP program and kind of you know, that sort of grace elements to it. Obviously, she believed that that's was Jesus, that was God and stuff. And also you've kind of how you're talking about grace doesn't involve that anymore. And I'm not really got an issue with that. But what I'm more interested in is, is what do you think your mum experienced? In those moments that? Yeah, what do you think she experienced? And is it actually just the word grace rather than secular or Christian? Or is it just Grace rather than secular? And, you know, what is it that you that you think now that your mum experienced?
David Ames 22:22
Yeah, so there's a couple of layers to that. I'm gonna set the grace bit aside, because I think we might get back to that. But I want to talk about the experience, one of the most important things that I've learned over the last years was a podcast on life after God that Brian Peck again, hosted. And he had a couple of his colleagues in psychology and forgive me, but I don't have her name right off the top of my head, I will put this in the show notes. But she talked about this idea of attribution. And this idea of we have these schemas. So we have this experience of awe. And we've been in the schema, the context of Christianity, and we've been told that I have this experience of awe, and that's God. And the mistake there is the attribution. So the experience of awe is a deeply human experience. And I mean, that in the naturalistic sense, a natural experience for human beings, you can elicit this, by going out into the mountains, being on the ocean, whatever it is, that induces all and you may be looking at the Milky Way in a dark sky is just absolutely awe inspiring. That is the human experience. And it is the attribution of a deity and external deity. That is the the mistake. So when I talk about what happened to my mom, and really to me, too, because I, as I mentioned, was in a Pentecostal tradition, when I eventually got to church, had many experiences that I at the time, interpreted as the Holy Spirit. So from my mom's experience, she had a, again, epiphany is the right word of experiencing God and in hearing God, hearing, sensing, I don't know to how literal she would have described herself but there's a verse in Deuteronomy, choose this day, whether you will live or die, and she understood that she was dying. This was a moment and an opportunity for her to change. I also with 2020 hindsight, recognize that the idea of an ever present God who is literally watching you is very, very helpful for a person in those early stages of recovery from an addiction. Because the very hardest part of coming out of addiction is that first short period of time the first days the first hours the first weeks, the first months are ridiculously challenging, they are incredibly challenging your body is literally fighting you at every stage. If you've ever been on a diet, if you've ever tried to fast, you know exactly what I'm talking about here, your body is literally fighting you telling you do this thing, do it right now drop everything. There's been psychological studies where people will they cheat last they lie last, you know, when they know they're being observed than when they know they are not being observed. So, so having a sense of literally a god observing you. So I think that had a huge part of this as well. But to tie this, tie this up kind of the heart of your question, one of my very, very early doubts long before deconversion. But one of the things that really made me stop and go, Huh, was several years later, my mom went to a dentist appointment. And they gave her a very strong concoction of I believed Valium, but something enough to knock her out. And when she came home, even after the medication had worn off, she was describing having an epiphany, as she was describing having another experience with Jesus. And it was, again, a very early doubt, I didn't hadn't given myself very much permission to really think about this deeply. But I, I was skeptical, I was like, Come on, Mom, you're under heavy amount of value. You have to know that that was affecting your experience at that moment in time. And what I'm trying to get across now, with all of this 2020 hindsight, is that's what it always is. If you're in the middle of a Pentecostal service, and the music's going, and people are raising their hands, and everybody's yelling and screaming, you're high on your own supply, you are having a dopamine experience. And I've come to understand that I can explain all of my spiritual experiences, I can explain my mom's experiences in very natural, perfectly human explanations. And if there is a natural explanation that tightly fits the data. That's the best explanation. Does that answer your question? I've been talking for a long time.
Sam Devis 27:17
Yeah, no, that's good. I think the the only kind of thing I wanted you to pick up on then was the sort of kind of grace, whether it's Christian secular humanism, or just grace on his own life, how would you how would you fit that?
David Ames 27:29
Thank you for reminding me, I keep quoting and I'm going to just keep doing this. James Croft, who is the Ethical Society of Missouri leader. And he recently went to the open DivX conference that was about basically a ecumenical look at spirituality. But after that conference, he in a tweet, just literally 280 characters was able to capture something that I've been attempting to describe for years. And he said, The secular entails the religious, and what I believe he means and what I definitely mean is, if I'm correct, if the natural is what we experience, religion is a human experience. Religion is absolutely a human cultural phenomena. It is something that we want, we want to collectively as Anthony Penn says, collectively search for meaning and truth together. That's religion. And we add on spiritual elements, we add on a metaphysic. That may or may not be true. But what I'm trying to argue is that religion is a very natural thing for humans to do. So having set that up? Absolutely. It is just grace. What I'm trying to differentiate when I say secular, is that I do not mean in a spiritual direction in a metaphysical direction towards a deity, an external mind of some kind. It is between human beings. My argument is that the best things about Christianity the best things about religion in general, are the people in 2020. If you're a believer, what do you miss by watching streaming church service? Is it God missing? Or is it the people? Do you miss being at the potluck? Do you miss being shoulder to shoulder with one another and coffee afterwards chatting about your week? It is the human element. That is what gives us that grace. Even when we talk about the elements of confession, confessing one sin and accountability. It's still really you experienced that more with other human beings than you do alone in your prayer closet. And so what I'm saying is, it's been the human beings they are the magic. They are the spirituality. They are the the thing we've been seeking. We are the thing we've been seeking all along.
Awesome. So it's a people shaped tool rather than God shaped tool.
David Ames 30:04
I've said those exact words we do not have, we have a people shaped hole that absolutely is spot on
for you, as you've know, left behind faith as you've adopted this natural worldview, how do you engage with something like spirituality? Because it seems to be that people either go one of two ways. It's either though that's, that's behind me that's all fictitious, and I can't even touch this stuff. And others sort of find a, a different kind of spirituality, a more personal a more psychological one, where have you sort of found yourself in that?
David Ames 30:57
That's a great question. I've multiple times on the podcast, have struggled with just the verbiage. The word spirituality is going to scare half the odd or not half. But you know, a portion of the audience is going to be like, I don't want anything to do with that. Whether that is because they are hardcore atheists, or whether they have been burned so badly, by either the church or a new age experience, or what have you, they're just don't want anything to do with the word spirituality at all. On the other side of the equation, I've got listeners who are actively, you know, still seeking in some way or another, they are not, they are not closed off to a metaphysical spirituality, something beyond the natural, something transcendent from the natural. For me, I like to just be very clear that when I use the term spiritual soul, I am talking about very human things, very naturalistic things. So when I talk about spirituality, I talk about all which we've briefly touched on already this, that all is absolutely 100%, a human experience, and also a physical one, in that there's been neuroscience where you know, they can wave a magnet over your head, and you experience God, right? If that's possible, then that indicates very, very strongly a physical experience of what we often term as spiritual. So all as something that I think we should seek after, and that will be different for each person, that might be meditation. For me, it is, again, being out in nature, looking at the cosmos, having the literal experience of being small, and witnessing something larger than myself. And I think these are really important, I think humility, falls out of the experience of awe, that humility is the correct response to recognizing the true relative state of you as one individual, and humanity as a whole, or the cosmos as a whole, right? It's a natural response. The B and the ABCs is belonging. I think we're witnessing this in real time in the UK and the United States of our tribal nature as human beings, that we need to belong to a group. This is the real challenge for secular people on the other side of deconversion is, you know, we found each other online, there's there's lots of online connectivity, but finding one another in real life, breathing the same air after COVID is really important. And I'm hopeful that we can facilitate that a bit more as we move on. We've had this discussion about recognizing you're not the only one, going through a deconversion process, even that gives you a sense of belonging. I think, in the mid 2000s, with the four horsemen, there was a huge movement of atheists. Now, I have some criticisms about that, I think that they made some mistakes, they made some errors, but there was suddenly a, Hey, I'm an atheist, and like that meant something you belonged to something and, and prior that, that you may have been very unwilling to say that or it was a much smaller group of people who were open and out about that. whatever label you care to use for yourself, whether you're an agnostic, whether your spiritual and not religious or religious but not spiritual, wherever you're at, you can find a group of people who you can have a sense of belonging with. And then that last one is the secular Grace concept is that connection. And this is that human to human connectivity of being vulnerable with another person and then accepting the vulnerability of someone else with grace, kindness, active listening. One of The things that is kind of the heart of this podcast is, I'm just listening. And sometimes I'm the first person that someone is telling their deconstruction deconversion story too. And you guys don't the listener, you don't get to see the video, but I can see in their eyes, like one of the reasons I have video on is that there's this human connection taking place. And even if, you know, they don't break down in tears, that's not my goal. But I can see that like, the catharsis as they're telling that story, I hope that you can hear it. But it is just that another human being recognizing their story recognizing the experience that they have had. So these ABCs, this idea of secular spirituality, I think does provide a sense of wholeness, a sense of, I'm okay, I'm gonna make it a sense of, I'm not broken. My humanity is normal. I'm well within the bounds of normality. I'm not alone in this, to answer a question you haven't asked. But back to Sam's question about what has changed. I had Bart Campolo, on who really challenged me on this to basically say, you know, I was trying to say, you know, this, I think this is universal, these ABCs of spirituality. And he was like, no, not everybody. Growth element for me is to recognize that some people, the idea of spirituality, whether secular or not, is just a no go, it's a, they're not going to be interested ever. And I think that's okay. If you're satisfied with your life, and you have a sense of purpose, and meaning on your own, whatever you call that, that's absolutely fine. One of my criticisms of some spiritualities that can be secular or not, is the almost proselytizing nature of them. So ironically, what I'm saying is, I think this is a valid secular spirituality, but take it or leave it is absolutely does not affect me, if you don't think it works. You don't find it interesting or compelling. Wonderful, that's fine.
Well, I mean, just to move on from there, because, you know, you're absolutely right, in terms of that connection. And I think what has been so fantastic in your podcast is sort of having all these different stories, which, you know, for me, as I was listening to them, I could recognize elements in people's stories. Like, yes, that's exactly it. That was, that was my experience. And we we sort of see these, these patterns, these the similarities across some of these deconversion stories. I mean, what for you Have you really learned about the deconversion process? As you've had all these different conversations with people?
David Ames 38:15
Yeah, I'll start with what I've learned over the whole time, and that is that the experiences are radically diverse, because the people are radically diverse. People come from completely different faith traditions, that had a different focus or a different barrier to entry or barrier to exit. Some people experience trauma in this process, in the church itself, that some people don't, that some people it's a very rational process of truth seeking. And for some people, it's emotional. For some people it's it's a moral disagreement or argument. Early on, I wrote a blog post called How to de convert in tennis, easy steps, and the title was supposed to be tongue in cheek. Unfortunately, it's one of those things where it's kind of an important posts, so I've kept it. I haven't renamed it yet. But that was my early attempt to describe some of the process that happens. And to describe how your sense of cognitive dissonance or your cognitive biases are playing in each step of this game, again, I'll just reiterate that I've learned over the years that any attempt to classify to delineate steps is kind of a fool's errand and in that sense, it is admittedly wildly incomplete and inaccurate. And at the same time, I think that it does convey something that like you just said, down You know, that tries to get at common experiences that people have. And it talks about these moments of what I call precipitating events, right like this, this can be, for me that one of the precipitating events was what I just described with my mom going to the dentist, wait a minute, that can't be right. I've heard a number of analogies for these AMI, Logan says putting that on the shelf, right? I'm just going to, I can't deal with this right now I'm just going to put that on the shelf. Another analogy that that I've heard is the exceptions to the rule of faith. However you describe these, it's just these moments throughout your believing life where something does not quite add up, it is a blip in the matrix. And you probably aren't prepared to deal or cope with that yet. But you acknowledge that that's not quite right, and you move on with your life. And eventually, you have a lot of these. Eventually, there are so many of them that you can't keep track of them. And I call that the critical mass stage, at this point, you are really feeling the exhaustion of cognitive dissonance. It is wearing you down, you may not be conscious of that fact. But you are experiencing it. And this is what often Christians will call the dark night of the soul. Right? This is the real doubt. And you're going to come out the other side and have a deeper faith once you've learned these apologetics strategies. But what if, what if those answers aren't sufficient to you? And this next step I call permission to doubt and I love X christian.net has a post about this and they called it curiosity kills the cat. I love that that absolutely captures it. The moment you say to yourself, you're not saying I'm an atheist, yet, you're not saying I'm not a Christian yet, you're just saying, Alright, these doubts are real, I'm gonna go look, I'm gonna go check out a YouTube video, I'm gonna go read a blog post, I'm going to read a book that is maybe slightly critical of Christianity, or Islam or Hinduism, or whatever your faith tradition is. It's just that first step. And I can see in my life, long before deconversion started to follow an atheist or to just to hear what they had to say. I read Sam Harris's book, a letter to a Christian nation very early, thought he was an angry atheist and had no I didn't want anything to do with them, right. But I was willing to do those things. And prior to that, I wasn't. That is a slippery slope, I got bad news for you. Once you start that process, it is very hard to stop. And eventually, you have to come to grips with this. This is what I call that deconstruction phase. And I do use the words deconstruction and deconversion. as separate technical terms, a lot of people, I think, overlap those. In other words, I don't think they're synonyms. I think deconstruction is on the way to deconversion. And it is also possible to live in a deconstructed faith and still be a believer, indefinitely for as long as you care to do so. deconstruction is the process of becoming less fundamentalist, it is the process of determining within your own faith tradition, what is true, what is metaphorically true, and what is flat out just not true at all. But I think that deconstruction is a step towards deconversion that for those of us who do finally come to a point to say, I no longer believe, at all, deconstruction was just a point in time. along that process. I used to say that I hadn't deconstructed and that was just full blown lies. My theology liberalized my interpretation of the Bible. I don't think I was ever a hardcore an artist, because I just didn't think that was sustainable. But I gave was authoritative. It had a strong authority and that weekend for me over time, as as I learned more and more things that were in the Bible that just weren't historically accurate in any way. And one of the last steps for me was acknowledging this idea of a soul of having something metaphysically different than my body. Went as I was recognizing that, you know, if I take medication, if I have a lack of oxygen, if I get hit in the head too hard, that I affects my personality, it affects who I am as a person, and ultimately could lead to death. And that seems not to be separate from my physical body. For me, that was the moment and boom, I was done. Back to the 10 steps. So deconstruction was one of those steps, I talked about a liminal phase that you can be, you literally can be in between one day, I'm a believer the next day, I don't, that can go on for an indeterminate amount of time. But eventually, for those of us who do D convert, you may have a moment of what I call self honesty, of recognizing, I have to admit to myself, that I no longer believe. And just a quick note, that's my preferred way to describe this, I hate saying I lost my faith, I know where it was. I admitted to myself that I no longer believed, I admitted to myself, that the intensity of the claims of Christianity that I believed, weren't upheld by the evidence, weren't supported by even a modicum of Skeptical Inquiry into what the Bible has to say into comparative religion. For me, it was about recognizing that I thought of Mormons, I thought of Scientologists, I thought of the Heaven's Gate people as crazy. Right, that's insane what they believe. And it was a moment of recognition that they think that what I believe is insane. And it is, it is just that breakage of one's myopia of only looking at your faith tradition of only looking at what you believe, and taking even a tiny step back to look at the slightly bigger picture. That has a devastating effect. My recommendation for everyone, if you are in the middle of a deconstruction process, is listened to apologists of other faiths of other traditions. Listen to a Mormon apologist, listen to a Scientologist apologist, listen to a Hari Krishna apologist, listen to an Islamic apologist, what you will be shocked by is both the similarities and differences, there will be very, very similar arguments coming to radically different conclusions. And if they are using the same argument, coming to a different conclusion, there may be a problem with the argument. And so again, I just recommend, take a step back, do a comparative religion class audit one, right? It will do wonders for your ability to look at it outside of the bubble right outside of that reinforcing bubble. There are some more more steps, but you can go check out the blog post, ultimately concluding with what we talked about earlier of coming to a point of what can I do now? Not just purpose and meaning for me, but what can I give back to the world? What can I do to positively impact the people around me? That was a very long answer to your question, Daniel.
No, it was, it's fantastic to to hear just an articulation of that process. Because, yeah, I think as I've listened to the various episodes, you sort of see that there's a buildup, there's a discomfort. And I think there's often a misconception amongst many people of faith that always something bad happens, and that cause people to question. And usually what I see is, there is a change. But usually it's because that change means that some of the answers which worked in the past, just don't work anymore.
David Ames 48:55
Thank you for bringing that up. I had neglected to mention that, particularly when you tell your story to a believer in your life, or a pastor, even worse, they are going to focus on whatever the last straw was the thing you mentioned of, and then I decided I no longer want to, and they are going to blast whatever that last thing was right. But what is really important to recognize is that anytime we change our mind, in particular about something so profound as one's religious beliefs are one's identity. That is a very long process. It was not one thing. It was 1000 things. And my favorite analogy of this is the idea of a phase transition. If you raise the temperature in a pot of water, it looks the same for a very, very long time until it starts to bubble and eventually turns in to a steam. What we tend to focus on is that bubbling and steam part of the story, when in fact that temperature has been raising for a very, very long time, small, incremental imperceivable changes in your opinion have been occurring. And so even I, in telling the story earlier was talking about pinpoint moments are pinpoint ideas that changed for me, but it was truly 1000s of changes of mind that led to that moment of, I no longer believe.
And I guess, you know, obviously, there's a lot more in your blog about the different steps. But I think obviously, for most people, the actual step of, I no longer believe, and I'm going to start living a life that reflects that lack of belief, because, you know, for myself, and I've heard that for many others, there's sort of that, that phase where you're going to church, and you feel that like a little bit of an outsider. And then that next step of actually telling people, I no longer believe, and it's often sort of the most difficult part of the journey, although, as you say, it will be so varied in terms of the different experiences for different people, some might feel instant relief and release from that. others it may be a more difficult process, you know, in terms of from what you've seen from other people, what are some of the crucial things that you, you think can help people move from that step of starting to live in that place of unbelief and coping with some of the social changes that brings through to the point where we talked about earlier where it's sort of okay, now, how can I help others?
David Ames 51:47
Daniel, I'm glad that you brought that up, we are back to the blogpost a bit, I talked about being in and out of the closet, you might have that moment of recognition, the moment of clarity moment of honesty, I no longer believe, and it can take a very long time before you tell another human being. And I actually recommend that you do take as much time as you need, I really like to point out, safety is number one. So if you are a young person, and you live in a very religious household, where potentially you could be kicked out or you know, have negative consequences, you are under no obligation to tell someone, if you live in a country where admitting that you don't believe is physically insecure for you. You only have to be honest with yourself, you owe no one, anyone else anything. I recommend that you are internally honest with yourself that you don't lie to yourself anymore, that you recognize how you had been fooling yourself. Having said all of that, telling another human being is deeply catharsis, back to our discussion of secular grace and that connection, it might be easier to tell a perfect stranger, I don't recommend that you on day to do the Facebook posts to the world, that's a bad idea. And you should take a long time to consider the impact. And it may be that eventually you want to tell friends and family who are believers, that is a fraught process, they have done none of the process that you have they've done none of the deconstruction they've done. None of the doubting none of the research, none of the work yet, and you're going to hit them out of the blue, with what to them is the most devastating news they can imagine. So you should be ready. Again, back to what Brian Peck talked about. If this is an abusive relationship, you don't owe them anything. And you don't need to tell them anything. If it's a relationship that you want to keep, that you feel is valuable, eventually, you probably should be honest with that person. And you will probably have to be the bigger person. I hate to tell you that. But that is the truth. Because it's going to come at them from out of nowhere, and they are not prepared, how to handle that. It's a very rare person who can hear that news and immediately be just accepting, right? I recommend telling a good friend if you happen to have a secular friend that's personalized start with if you are really lucky, and you know someone who's gone through a deconversion process, man run to that person, you know, buy them a beer or coffee or the beverage of their choice, and spend three hours with them. It will do wonders for you. And then this idea of being public about this. I kind of I call back to what I said earlier about content creators. You don't have to be public. You don't have to be a non believer or an atheist or an agnostic on the internet. That isn't your job, right. Many many, many people the vast, vast mature already who have either D converted? Or were non believers from the get go. Don't talk about it almost ever. So you don't need to wear I am an atheist t shirt every day right? is good if you are able to be honest, in a scenario if somebody asks you, you know, if you're at a cocktail party and someone says, you know, do you believe, it'd be great if you eventually come to the point where you feel comfortable enough to say, No, I don't. And maybe that will prompt a conversation. But again, you don't owe anyone. So I do think that that telling another human being is a significant step in the process to wholeness for you as a human being. And then, one more step towards what you were talking about getting to a point where you're giving back is doing some research, doing all the things that have been off the table, reading some ethics, reading some philosophy, reading, some science, and even reading the ancient texts of other faiths. Again, this idea of, we were so myopic, that we could not recognize the human wisdom in other faiths. And now I'm not saying that other faith traditions, texts are authoritative in any way or divine in any way. I'm just saying, the collective wisdom of humanity over the millennia is worth taking a look. At we have all been winging it, we've all been trying to answer these questions forever. And learning about how other people or other cultures have attempted to answer these questions in the past can be very useful. Lastly, I think is that looking for a group to belong with, if all you can do is online, great. And my recommendation is to try to find more than just a text base, like, you know, there's 1001 Facebook groups, and they're wonderful. But if you can say, Hey, can you you know, join a zoom call with me for a half hour or an hour, just I just need to vent that will go a long way to feeling her to feeling connection, to feeling like a whole human being. And my hope is post COVID-19 Post lockdowns and things that more secular communities thrive. There are a number of examples of these like Sunday Assembly, various ethical societies. meetup.com is a great way you can just query deconversion, you can query atheists you can query deconstruction. And you might find groups that are virtual right now that eventually will become in person groups. And I highly recommend that as well. And again, back to this idea of you grow as a human being. What I'm suggesting is not new, it's not special. We grow as a human being. And at some point, we recognize I have something valuable to give to other people. When that recognition occurs, you find ways to give back you find out what it is that you can do, and go do it.
Sam Devis 58:03
So powerful, I find the whole idea of you giving something back is potentially you being involved in these groups when you're ready to. And as you say, it's been really hard being remote and stuff. I know I've recently joined a recent joined a foraging group, and it's impossible to do forging virtually so at some point, it'd be nice to actually be able to do that in person.
I kind of wanted to move the conversation on to humanism, which is something that you've spoken about before. David, I know you've got views on the selfish, obviously, this is why I want to push into it. Something that I've been wrestling with recently, I kind of want to push into that, and then we can kind of you can take over and let me know. Your thoughts essentially, is the idea that humanism could be I'm not saying it is I'm saying it could be so we can have the conversation but it could be rooted in some regards within a sort of Christian framework. So obviously, I don't mean kind of just a classic. You know, everything is right within Christianity, therefore humanism is right, correct. What I mean is the idea of loving other people to the extent of self sacrifice, the idea of kind of, of grace, as we view it as today in the 21st century. And lots of different things than humanism could be viewed to be kind of like linked to the sort of early church and the way they expressed love and unity and caring for the poor and all these sorts of things which were looked on with kind of like a bit of confusion and bewilderment like why are these people so obsessed with orphans or whatever like this doesn't make sense these people have no meaning within our culture. So why are we given the meaning and the humanism obviously I can I can look back before Christianity a humanist has its roots in these things as well but I kind of felt humanism really blew up and especially today, sort of 21st century humanism we see. Feels very Christian. It feels very sort of Christian without any kind of Christ in it at all. And I want to get your take on on what you think humanism is, where its bedrock is placed, and How, how it's linked to this idea of Christianity.
David Ames 1:00:03
I thank you for asking that question. I think that's really interesting. And I'm going to answer from two different perspectives. So one is John Gray's criticism of humanism, that says just what you said that we are borrowing too much from Christianity, that humanism can tend toward a teleological progressivism meaning that things are just constantly getting better that they improve over time. And then secondly, I'm going to answer the apologetic criticism that humanism borrows from Christianity and Christianity invented these things. So first John Grace idea, I always feel like I'm late to the party to things, I feel like I was late to the party for humanism, and that I am kind of trying to define humanism on my own terms, which is really just what I was doing in Christianity. So I'm just doing the same bad habits over and over again. First of all, let me just say one of the goals of my work is to bring humanity into humanism. You've heard me in a derogatory sense, talk about rationality bros. And there is an element of humanism that, and I jokingly, I love professors, but jokingly say, conjures the professor with a tweed jacket at Oxford, right? You know, pontificating from his high tower. And that's wonderful. I love philosophy, I love I love Oxford. I love all those things. But I also want to express the fullness of the human experience. This involves our intuition, our emotions, our daily experiences, I want a humanism that lives breathes, sweats and bleeds, right. And so that's what I'm trying to get at when I talk about secular grace. Back to the criticism about the teleology, in that I don't recognize that humanism. I am progressive in my my politics, but I am, in particular, in the last few years, the first to tell you that every movement forward, quote, unquote, that we see as a forward movement is not guaranteed to stay that way, that we could lose what we have any minute for any reason that there is nothing guiding this. And with all due respect, and apologies to Martin Luther King, Jr. If the arc of the moral universe is bending towards justice, it does so only to the extent that we bend it, and it is susceptible to springing back at any second. So when John Gray criticizes the teleology that is, in some versions of humanism, I don't recognize that at all. What I think is important is that after that deconversion process, and recognizing that human beings are of the greatest worth. And I'll mention here just briefly, I just assert that I'm not trying to justify that in a philosophical sense. I'm just taking that as given. That's my axiom. And then I live my life based on that axiom. But given I take that as an axiom, then what do I do with that? How do I love people? How do I respond to people, but nothing about that suggests that I will be successful, nothing about that suggests that that justice will prevail. Nothing about that suggests that racism and hatred and tribalism and war will stop tomorrow, nothing about that. But what has changed is I now have a deep, profound personal sense of responsibility for my tiny part in that process. Whereas before, there was a sovereign God, it was God's responsibility for justice, not mine, I was incapable of bringing about justice. I'm still incapable of bringing about justice, but I still feel the weight of my responsibility in doing so. So that's the atheistic critique. What I hear often from the apologist is humanism is derivative. It gets everything from Christianity. And the short answer to that is, so what shouldn't Christians be happy about that? I find that I find this a really bizarre argument to start with, right. I freely admit that when I use the term grace, I am borrowing people's understanding from Christianity. As I said earlier, when I say the term secular grace, people either get it immediately, and that is something they want or don't want, or I couldn't explain if I had five hours to explain it to you. And I am borrowing on their intuitions from having learned what grace means within the Christian context. I'm tacking on that secular part. I could call it humanistic grace, human grace in some other way, right. But I unashamedly borrow that I could make the argument I do make the argument that This isn't derivative. I think it's a huge claim that Christian apologists make when they say that. No other cultures valued human life until Christianity, that is a claim that can be tested. I am not a historian. So I'm not going to weigh in too deeply. I am deeply skeptical of that claim. I think we could find pockets of cultures that deeply valued human life. Maybe they didn't write it down. We don't we, you know, we don't know that. So in that sense, I think that is an unfair reaction. But my first response is really the one that's the most important. So what what I've been saying is, back to James Croft, that the secular entails the religious that religion is a human phenomena. If religion is a human phenomenon, and Christianity is a human phenomenon, whatever wisdom is entailed there, I'm going to take without guilt whatsoever and use it without feeling like I have to take all of it, I can acknowledge all the bad parts of Christianity, and take the good parts. Because I'm not obligated to live within that framework. Number one, I find that argument really weird from the Christian perspective, and then two, I don't care much. And three, I fully acknowledge that I steal from people's understanding of what grace means. And I don't feel bad about it.
Sam Devis 1:06:36
was watching a video recently on Twitter as you do? And it was this video of these three gorillas, right? There was this, this is mom gorilla that was holding this like this little baby down and there's dad grills coming up the baby. And it was just basically blowing raspberries onto the baby gorillas tummy. And they're all giggling, all of them will often heads off. And I was like, Oh, sugar, I'm a gorilla, because that's precisely what I do. And there was something in this this sweetly, she said, like there's something human about this. And Daniel, a little while ago was sharing this story about basically this, this group of whales that were swimming along, and they're all going this sort of like swimming in this way that isn't normally expected. And basically, after kind of looking at them, they realized that one of the mothers had a dead baby under under her arm, I don't know what they're called fin. And they're all going along, basically together. And there's a really unusual pattern of behaviors, almost like they were mourning or grieving the loss of this young one. And I just find this like this, like so for me. I'm like, of course, my children have value and worth and humans have value and worth and I want to go, where does that come from? And obviously, that used to be going obviously, God gave it to us. That's the obvious answer. But the more I explore the world, the more I kind of go, Okay, this there seems to be this innate desire in all of us to, and I still think it's subjective, but there's this innate subjective desire within all of us to find that joy, and that comfort and that almost humaneness within that which we call family or friend, it's, it's incredible, really, when you when you look at this world,
David Ames 1:08:05
two really important things one, my family loves to watch nature shows. And I'm constantly amazed at the mammalian human nature, right? At the beginning of PBS has nature, they show a clip of a mama monkey, with a baby monkey, and the baby monkey starts to dive off off a tree limb and she reaches out and snatches its leg back. And like the exasperation in the expression of the mama, and it's just such a parental aspect, it just brings So and then, you know, every time they show with a lioness and her cubs, and the cubs are irritating the snot out her and it's just, it's such you, every parent can recognize these things. It's so we, we can deeply recognize our human experience within the mammalian kingdom. It's just it's amazing. So, so that, and then I wanted to just jump off a little bit about wanting to have value for our own humanity for our children's humanity. I kind of threw this line away earlier about that. I just assert that. Again, an argument that I find really bizarre, that we often have with believers, particularly apologists, is they are effectively saying, you can't justify being good to other people, you can't justify human value. And to which I think, What a bizarre thing to say, shouldn't you rejoice that I see value in other human beings? Shouldn't that be the goal? What Why aren't you like excited to come alongside with me? And regardless of our metaphysics and justification, love people, let's go do good in the world. I just I find it utterly bizarre. I have no problem working with a believer, a pastor an Imam, anyone who Who wants to do good, and love people and actually affect suffering in the world? I am 100% behind those people, I do not care what your metaphysic is, right? So it is bizarre to me that the argument is that we can't justify this, but this is constant. So having said all that, one of the things that I've really come to learn is when people do convert as particularly the rationally minded, very, maybe slightly more educated tend to lean towards the philosophical bent. And what I see when you go deeply down that road, is everyone is trying to find the metaphysic that is self justifying. Christians make the argument that God is a brute fact, naturalist make the argument that the physical universe is a brute fact, I leaned towards that naturalistic argument, but I am almost as unconvinced by the philosophical arguments for naturalism, as I am for the philosophical arguments for theism. And my point is, everything has axioms, everything has a presupposition. And my problem that I have with most conversations is that those presuppositions and axioms are on both sides of the conversation. But they are unstated, they are not explicit, they are implicit. And so we are talking past one another. So what I like to do is just say, here are my presuppositions. I think the physical universe exists, I think humans have value. Now, what do we do, right, and jump from there. And you could spend a lifetime trying to argue to justify those positions, and only convince people who already agree with you. And I want to be very clear, this is nuanced, what I'm trying to say, if you're a philosopher, that's wonderful, that's important work. Don't get me wrong. But for the vast majority of us who are not philosophers, that isn't our job, you don't need to spend the time wasting trying to justify why you think people are valuable. Just accept that and move on. So again, I just want to be super clear here for the very, very smart philosophers who are listening to the podcast, you're doing great work. I'm not saying don't do that. I'm saying that isn't my job. My job is trying to express the humanity of humanism and how we can apply it in the real world. That's what I do.
Sam Devis 1:12:34
Cool. It's really interesting. I think this is this sort of about isn't it's about hearing, hearing your views and how things have either been really reinforced or shifted and changed. I think that's really powerful.
You've mentioned a few times actually, that sort of the way that we view the sort of landscape of faith or the landscape of even deconversion to some levels, which is almost like a cathedral where, where we're looking at this pillar, we're looking at this sort of stained glass window or trying to lay the rug down a different way. But actually, more often than not, is the thing that this cathedral was built upon. That is the sort of area you want to dig into and, and explore. And I wonder, could you kind of just pop that open for us and explain that a little bit more, David?
David Ames 1:13:22
Yeah, I've tried to express this analogy a few times. And thank you for the opportunity. What I'm trying to convey in this is that Christianity is a deeply compelling idea. It's a deeply compelling story. And I've talked about before, the idea of laying your life down for someone you love, whether that comes from Christianity or predates, it really doesn't matter. But we inherit that in in Western culture that is so deep in our psyche. And I often refer to, you know, if you watch any movie about a dog, I mean, it's just absolutely conveying sacrifice. And, you know, any movie about war, you know, pulling your body out, you know, just recently lovely Netflix show, built on a very controversial short, short story called stowaway, that's called stowaway. And in the Netflix version, the female astronaut sacrifices herself. And it's just what I'm trying to get out of this is so deep in our psyche, that when you then tell the story of Jesus dying on the cross, it speaks to us at this deep level that we're just unconscious of where it intuitively reaches out to us in a way that is deeply compelling. And so I use this analogy of the cathedral to say that Christianity is like this beautiful cathedral. It has flying buttresses and turrets and stained glass windows. And it's just, it's just beautiful. It's deeply compelling. And some of the conversations that we have on this side of the conversion with believers This is arguments over, where, you know, should this turret be here on the west side or should be on the east side, we're arguing about this miracle or that miracle, we're arguing about speaking in tongues, or Calvinism or in this maybe goes back to John Grace criticism, we are ceding the grounds to the Christian by having the argument in their space, we are debating the cathedral. And the point that I want to make is that the cathedral is beautiful, we can acknowledge the cathedral is beautiful, and also acknowledged that the foundation has problems, the foundation is built on things that are not true. And the claims that Christianity makes, and the evidence that they provide to back up those claims don't match. But what I'm trying to say here is nuanced. I'm not saying that there is no evidence, I'm saying the evidence, such as it is, is completely incapable of matching the intensity, the uniqueness of the claim. Often, apologists will want to have it both ways. While Jesus was an itinerant preacher, in the rural parts of Israel, of course, we don't have much documentation about him. Oh, but the documentation that we have clearly clearly indicates that the resurrection took place. And the dearth of contemporary historical evidence is negative evidence, right? It's not proof, but it is negative evidence. And so we have to take that into account. The fact that, since the enlightenment, we have been trying to prove miracles, we've been trying to prove anything supernatural, ESP, there are huge incentives to do. So. The Templeton Foundation is set up purely to give grants to people who can try to prove spiritual things in any way or another. I can tell you that from a scientific perspective, they have not been successful. And again, huge sums of money are at stake here. That is not that the incentives are not there. And imagine if they had imagine if a double blind study about intercessory prayer showed a significant a statistically significant change. Imagine what you would hear from believers, that would be the first thing they told you every time you talk to them. The fact that they cannot do that is because there is no statistical significance. If they know about it, it's the placebo effect or no better than the placebo effect. And if it's double blind, there's no effect whatsoever. And so that is negative evidence. It is disconfirming evidence, and we need to take that. So my point is that we can acknowledge the beauty of the internal story of Christianity, and also acknowledged that the claims that it makes are not backed up by evidence. And if you come to the point where evidence is important to you, you might be justified in rejecting the claims of Christianity. I came to that point. And I think one of the descriptions of deconversion is the slow increase of your standard for evidence. I can't help but quote it. I've been reading I'm almost done with Carl Sagan ins demon haunted world. And before I had read this, I you know, I talked to Randall browser. And you could just hear the vitriol from Randall Randall. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but he does not like curl. So I didn't get it. I was like, I don't get why, right. And now that I've read this book, I get it. He just dismantles the apologetic arguments. And he's not even addressing Christianity directly. He's addressing specifically the analogy of the potential existence of aliens, which is possible, but we have no evidence for he addresses things like New Age claims, homeopathic claims. And he talks about the excruciating ly high standards that science has, for what things are true, and why that's so necessary. And so one of the things I want to say to the apologetic classes, the question is not why is my standard of evidence so high? I'm not being unfair to you. I'm trying to be consistent. The things that I accept as true have high degrees of evidence for them. And the question is, why isn't your standard that high? Imagine if theism was true. And a god was intervening in our lives on a daily basis, what that world would look like if we had evidence of an interventionist theistic God You wouldn't be a question you wouldn't have to doubt. That is not the world that we live in. That's one of the things that I that I say is my God, the God that I've used to believe in. And the reason I don't believe in that God anymore is that he was bigger than the apologist. God, the apologists have neutered God, they have God in a box they have God is they understand him, and they can explain away every disparity, every question that you have has an explanation, that God that I thought of as real, was infinite, all powerful, all loving, intervened in our lives, conducted miracles. But as I became willing to acknowledge the reality of the world that I lived in, I had to acknowledge that that is not the world that I actually see.
One, and this might be quite a difficult question. But obviously, for a lot of people have one really key thing that comes from their faith is how they deal with the topic of death, had to deal with grief, how they how they deal with collective trauma, I mean, even even now, we're sort of recording this near the end of COVID lockdown, or at least what we hope is the end of COVID lockdown. But I saw that, as it started, the Google search term for prayer spiked. And, you know, it seems a lot of anthropologists have looked at sort of how times of trauma, both on an individual and the collective scale seems to drive this drive people towards faith. So now coming out on the other end, and looking from that sort of secular that human, our human natural position, how do you engage with questions like death and grief,
David Ames 1:22:10
I want to just respond very quickly to the 2020 COVID-19. I will be very fascinated over the next 10 years to find out, the D conversions go up. But I don't doubt at all that also, many more people will become religious, that it is kind of an either or you either do one or the other. We are looking for comfort. And again, to talk about the cathedral. It is comforting. I'm not I'm not trying to pretend like it isn't. It is comforting to believe that God has your back that he's going to protect you. Someone I love very dearly, often will say, Oh, this good thing happened because I prayed about it. And I don't challenge them. But in my mind, the first question I asked myself is what would you have said, if that hadn't happened? What would you have said if something deeply negative happened instead. So we tend to count the hits and not count the misses when it comes to that. I believe that many, many more people will become religious as well. It'll be very curious to see the studies over the next 10 years. The topic of death, I think is so deeply important. I wrote a blog post called the beginning of religion is death. And this was a few months after I lost my mom. So I D converted in 2015 and 2016 I lost my mom. So it was very real. This is not a philosophical debate. It was the utter lack of being able to fool myself into any comforting thoughts whatsoever. She was gone, I no longer will ever get to speak to her again. I no longer will ever hear her voice, hear her laughter be frustrated and mad at her I will never again have any of those experiences because she is gone. And the full weight of that hit me with a few years hindsight, I recognize that that also meant I was able to grieve I was able to let go of her. I love in Sasha seconds book. The book is for small creatures such as we she talks about, we kind of experience two deaths, the physical death that we experience. And then the last person who knew us who dies. You know, this idea of, of life after death is kind of true like we live on my mom lives on in my memory. I tell stories about my mom to my children. They have some sense of her. They knew her as young children as well. They have some sense of her. But someday, they will grow up and they will die. And their children will only have stories about my mom and someday those stories will Just stop, and no one will remember her, I someday will go down in obscurity and no one will have any idea who I was or what, what I had to say. And this is psychologically very, very, very difficult to accept. Number one, that that I will cease to be that I will no longer be living, that my personhood will stop, that there is no life after death. And to that, the massive odds are that no one will know my name in 100 years, that I will die in obscurity. A second death as it were. The thing I want to acknowledge, again, going back to the cathedral is, this idea of life after death is so profoundly human. When believers sometimes say that, that religion is in every culture, and every time and in every people group, and that kind of rationalist atheists have argued against that I often just agree with them. I think you're right, because it's a deeply comforting thing. And I think the beginning of the ideas of religion is coping with those two things, I will cease to be, and my loved ones have ceased to be and I will no longer ever get to see them again. These are hard, hard truths. And we are looking for anything to make that more comfortable. What I want to bring up here is that this is not just a religious thing, I've been really struck and actually took notes about this. Lately, I'm a huge, huge sci fi fan. So I'm constantly like, looking for the latest, dreaming sci fi movie. And over the last few years, I've been struck by how many sci fi very secular non religious, sci fi movies are about getting to see your loved ones after death. Just to name a few. Jason seagulls, the discovery was this idea of a machine that could attach to a dead person and you could, it was trying to revive them. And that turned out to be just the, in the in the movie physics, it just turned out to be just their memories. But it was this deep needs to be able to talk again with your loved ones. Movie just recently on Amazon Prime called archive where the idea that conceit is that you have archived the consciousness of someone after they die, and you get to say your goodbyes for some extended period of time, before they are turned off. Time travel movies recently, there's one called diverged, where it was all about the guy in this post apocalyptic environment going back to the world where he was able to see his wife and children. Kind of teeny bopper movie that I loved with called the map of tiny, perfect things, which I'm gonna spoil, which ultimately turns out to be the driving impetus is a young woman who is reliving the same day that she loses her mother, her mother dies that day, and she's reliving the same day her mother dies every day, I'm all breaking down in tears thinking about this. And my point is that we have this deep need and the such profound love for the people in our lives, that we cannot accept that they are gone. And I get it, I'm empathetic. But what I'm trying to say is that the truth will set you free, that dealing with that grief, accepting the reality of the true loss, accepting the reality of of your own mortality, accepting the reality of the likelihood that you are going to die in obscurity someday, is deeply freeing. I'm not obligated to feel one way or the other about it. I can be sad, I can be angry, I can rail I can. I can feel anything I want. And I don't need to protect God in this process and say that my mom's in a better place. I don't need to protect things that I know are not true. I can just grieve. I can experience sorrow. And I can grow through that. We talked about earlier, growing as a human being. I am different. Now. I have grown as a human being after losing my mother, and it has prepared me for future losses. I don't want those I desperately want not to lose anyone. But the reality is that I will and I will be gone someday and being able to just be prepared for that is a human experience. It's a deeply important one.
Sam Devis 1:30:00
Yeah, this is such a powerful and potent thing to be processing. I've been quite flipping with it recently and been talking about on the podcast with Daniel actually. So it won't be out for quite a while. But um, this idea that it all ends in a box. It sounds brutal when you say it, right, it sounds absolutely brutal. But actually, I think it helps you get get things into perspective a little bit more and to begin to actually work out what's important. And you know, where you want to spend your time because your time is really the only resource that you can't get more of in this world. Like, it's actually it is what is one of the things that you won't be able to, yes, store away and spend at some future date, right, you got to go to use your time today. And as soon as you get your head around that concept, you can begin to actually start living more in the now which is actually a really powerful thing, I'm sure convinced that when you guys talk to me, David, I'm going to hand back the keys to the car. I hope it's not too battered and smashes. We've wrapped it around the park a bit. But um, yeah, there you go. It's been so good talking. And I've, I've really enjoyed. Yeah, hearing your reflections and stuff. So yeah, there are the keys. Thank you.
David Ames 1:31:05
I am gonna respond to just two things really quickly, two things that you said that really interesting that the acceptance of your mortality does bring things into stark relief. I think, again, believers make the argument that, well, if it doesn't continue on forever, then it's not worth anything. And the opposite is true. I have a much more immediate, imminent sense of my love for my family and my friends, because I know it won't last forever. And then too, there's this sense that by scientific or naturalistic view of the world will destroy your sense of wonder, and I find the opposite to be true. I am constantly amazed at the wonder of nature. We talked about recognizing the parental aspects of mammals, like just that's just amazing, you know, would you when you try to ponder the distance to the nearest star to us other than the sun, Alpha Centauri is four light years away, that there is no concept of now, both on Alpha Centauri and here at the same time, is mind boggling. I mean, I live in a constant state of wonder, the experience of hearing people's stories, having the gift of sometimes people telling me their story for the first time is Wonder inducing in me. And I just think my listeners think thank you, guys. But thank you for the opportunity to share all these stories with you today.
Thanks very much, David. Thank you.
David Ames 1:32:43
Final thoughts on the episode, I'm actually not going to talk about this episode, I'm going to talk about the SR episode that is dropping on when belief dies. As I mentioned, there is a diversity of thought out in the world. I think it's important to highlight that. So Sam from wind to lift eyes, and I have a lot in common, we talk a lot about secular grace, both of us find it really important to be kind to the people that we are interviewing, even if they are believers or theists, then we have similar approaches. But there is daylight there. So longtime listeners, you will know about my skepticism towards meditation, you might also hear some of my skepticism about psychedelics and that kind of thing. These are things that are really important to Sam. And so the interview that Daniel and I do interviewing Sam, we delve into these, and Sam gets to explain in detail why those things are important to him. Obviously, I highly recommend when the leaf dies podcast in general, and this episode, in particular, you need to go check that out, it really does complement the episode you just listened to. I want to thank Sam and Daniel for participating in both conversations. This has been amazing. As I said at the outset, this turned out even better than I anticipated. I really appreciated the opportunity to really express myself and feel like I got it all out there. This last week, I tried out Twitter spaces for the first time and I titled it deconversion talk. I sat there by myself for about 10 or 15 minutes and I was just about to give up when a couple of people popped in and out. And there was definitely a bit of awkwardness as I was trying to figure out how to get people to participate because they didn't know they were signing on for that they thought they were just signing on to listen. One brave soul. I just want to thank her very much for responding and being willing to talk to me. And we got rolling in a conversation. She told me a bit about her deconversion experience. And it was one of those amazing connections that just out of the blue. And by having two of us talking then other people joined. Other people started participate. We had a few people who just listened but it was great And that was spontaneous. I gave a couple of hours notice, but I doubt that anyone showed up because they had seen that message, I think people just show up because they see it in the app. So the things that I learned are, I need to have at least one other person to begin the conversation with so that we jumpstart the conversation and people can join and just listen if they want. And then they can be invited to speak if, if that's interesting. And then the other is maybe to find a specific time. That is always the challenge as a lot of my free time is spent producing the podcasts. But I'm going to look for more opportunities to do this kind of thing. But the last thing I want to say here is that I just encourage you to do the same. There's nothing special about me. You can host these kinds of things as well. And whether it's on Twitter or YouTube or whatever platform you prefer. What I really recognize is the hunger and the need for people to connect. If that can happen between strangers who don't know each other and in an hour's conversation, then it is amazing if that were an ongoing, planned process. So I would encourage you to do the same. Maybe I'll join your Twitter spaces hang up. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application. And you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on restful atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch. 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 race. You can send me an email graceful email@example.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
My guest this week is Arline. Arline became a Christian in early adulthood. She went to a Christian college where she met her now-husband. Her faith tradition was a severe version of Calvinism. She was taught complementarianism. The roles allowed for women and complementarianism were not a good fit for Arline’s inquisitive personality.
Years later I realized that [complementarianism] was a very new thing and I was so angry because I had been taught it was this Bibilcal idea. So in my mind biblical means it has been around for thousands of years. No, it was like 1987. What is this?
Her husband went through an emotional deconversion first. Arline did not take this as well as she would now like. Alongside this was the long slow deterioration of her mother’s health. She slowly began to deconstruct. First by exploring other versions of Christianity. Eventually exploring other faith traditions including meditation from a Buddhist perspective. In short. she was letting her curiosity and intelligence explore all the areas of interest that were previously prohibited.
Here’s the succinct version: Christian fifteen years, since college. Super loved Jesus, the Bible, church, all the things. Tried my darndest to be changed by the Holy Spirit. Happily married to super Christian guy from campus ministry. He slowly (felt suddenly to me!) realized he had to be agnostic because god of the Bible is a monster. Sent me on a two-year spiritual meandering. Finally caved and am now figuring out what atheism looks like for me.
In the end, for her own personal intellectual integrity she admitted to herself she no longer believed. She has since discovered natural human habits that have helped her far more than her faith ever had.
Reality Knows the Truth: The Art and Artifice of Being Human About Rational Spirituality–a way of looking at the world with a balance between ancient wisdom and modern reason. https://michael.ck.page/d36a3d2338
My guest this week is G.A.P. editor, Mike T. Mike grew up in the South and went to a Catholic church. Everyone in the South went to one church or another and this was just in the background for Mike. After a charismatic Evangelical friend encouraged him he began to explore charismatic churches. The big draw was the opportunity to play music, his life-long passion.
Later in life, married with kids, he had normal financial stresses in his life. When he compared the reality of both his life and the life of those around him to the promises of his more material success oriented faith tradition he could not help but question. When a financial advisor suggested he hold off on his charitable giving, the mandated tithe, he expected consequences. Those consequences never occurred. Things were not adding up.
[after stopping tithing] And that was another thing, everything I had been told didn’t happen. So I just started wondering, well, what else am I missing out on?
His first mistake was doing research on evangelists that would come to town. These fantastical claims must have generated news stories somewhere, right? His second mistake was re-reading the bible (and Bart Ehrman). Eventually, he discovered science and new way of determining what is true. His faith fell apart.
I prayed and I prayed and I never heard anything. I wasn’t trying to get out of it all together. I was trying to hold this thing together. I didn’t want it to go this way. I didn’t wake up one day and say I am not going to do this Christian stuff no more.
Mike is the editor of the Graceful Atheist Podcast. Beyond editing, Mike wants to start a local community for those who are going through doubt, deconstruction and deconversion. Music continues to be the great passion of his life.
My guest this week is Barrett Evans, author of The Contemplative Skeptic. Barrett wrote the book for those who are skeptical but drawn to spirituality. A former evangelical seminarian and ex-Roman Catholic, Barrett is an agnostic who has retained a fascination with contemplative spirituality. Building on what he learned in his divinity, counseling, and historical studies, he draws on hundreds of religious and secular sources in an effort to combine honest doubt with the best of contemplative experience.
Perhaps ironically, dogmatic religions claims now seem to me to critically undercut two of the most valuable spiritual ideals for fallible people – humility in the face of complexity and honesty in the light of human limitations.
We discuss how honesty and humility lead to doubt. Barrett’s look at comparative religion reveals the reasons for doubt and the wisdom of a contemplative life. We ask what does it mean to be “spiritual.”
And as history of religions and other psychological phenomenon show, delusions can be passed from one person to another with some rapidity, especially if they are in close relationships and it is a time of stress or excitement.
The tremendous range of religious diversity is one of the greatest reasons for skepticism towards any particular religious belief.
My guest this week is Randal Rauser. Randal is, in his own words, “a systematic and analytic theologian of evangelical persuasion.” He is a professor of systematic theology, aplogetics, and worldview at Taylor Seminary.
Randal has written a number of books on apologetics and atheism. I first became aware of Randal’s work around 2017 when I read “Is The Atheist My Neighbor.” At least in the circles I am a a part of, Randal is considered to be a fair and honest apologist and is widely regarded for “steel-manning” atheist arguments before giving his arguments against them.
My own shifting relationship with certainty and doubt, confidence and questioning, is reflected in my history with apologetics.
This week we discuss his new book, “Conversations With My Inner Atheist.” In this book, Randal personifies his doubts as an interlocutor named Mia, My Inner Atheist, who presents the atheist, humanist and naturalistic arguments against his faith. Randal shows real vulnerability in several of these dialogues and often leaves the matter without a satisfactory conclusion by either party (believing Randal or non-believing, Mia).
Instead, I believe that certainty can journey along with doubt, confidence can welcome questioning, and together they can work to create a healthy and balanced Christian community.
As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on these matters most of which I express in the Final Thoughts section of the podcast. We also discuss a recent back and forth between Randal and Ian Mills of the New Testament Review Podcast fame on the topic of methodological naturalism.
The truth is, I’d rather accept that there are some questions I may never answer rather than return to the simple days where I thought my answers were beyond question.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
0:11 Welcome to the show.
3:09 David’s background in apologetics.
10:26 Why should we listen to apologists?
19:04 Good Exegesis vs. Good Hermeneutics.
24:52 If theology is true, why is it always changing in light of science?
31:31 Paul’s analogy of the Oak Chair.
35:56 Is the resurrection a significant theological idea or something that is important for your faith?
42:54 Why those who invoke miracles only do so after the natural explanations have plausibly been exhausted.
49:50 Why we use history as validating miracle claims or theological claims.
54:50 What leads to deconversion in the church?
59:58 The problem of evil is a problem and one should wrestle with it.
1:06:30 What’s the ultimate argument that can hurt believers?
1:11:37 David shares how he came to understand that he was mistaken.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheists podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to start off by thanking a few of my listeners for reviewing and rating, the podcast and the apple podcast store. Che and film watcher, thank you so much for the lovely things that you had to say about the podcast. I also want to mention, I've received a number of really lovely emails from people talking about discovering the podcast, going through the back catalogue and really feeling seen by the stories that you and I tell thank you to the listeners continue to tell your friends and family about the podcast. Or if you know somebody who's going through a period of doubt, hopefully, this podcast can give them some sense of not being alone. Very briefly, for my US listeners, just a note to recognize that we've been experiencing quite a bit of grief the whole world has as well but the US in particular over the last few months, has had a rough time of it. And if you are just feeling the weight of that grief, I just want you to know that I see you I feel you on there too. And we need to stick together and love one another to get through this time. onto today's show. My guest today is not from the US he is a Canadian he is Dr. Randall rouser. Rendell is a professor at Taylor Seminary where he teaches systematic theology, church history, apologetics and worldview. Randall has written a number of books, two of which I have read, one I read way back in the day called, is the atheist, my neighbor. And in the book that we were talking about today is conversations with my inner atheist, where Randall personifies an inner atheist in his mind, whom he calls Mia to challenge his beliefs and it is a back and forth of some very difficult questions about Christianity and belief. If you're a longtime listener of the show, you know that I really don't like debate. To whatever extent this was a debate, Randall wins he is much more educated he is much smarter than I am. I'm not trying to debate Randall. As usual, what I am actually trying to do is have an honesty contest and to challenge some of the ways in which I recognize I was mistaken before my deconversion I will have a bit of editorializing to do in the final thoughts portion of the podcast so please hang on. for that. I give you my conversation with Randall rouser.
Bowser, ultimate graceful atheist podcast.
Randal Rauser 3:09
Thanks for having me, David. Good to be here.
David Ames 3:12
So Randall, you are a professor at the Taylor University. That's a seminary, correct? Yes. And there? What's your area of expertise?
Randal Rauser 3:23
I've been there for 18 years and I it's a smaller school. So I wear a few hats. I teach systematic theology and church history, apologetics and worldview.
David Ames 3:35
I know, most of my audience will know but could you expand on the concept of worldview for just a second?
Randal Rauser 3:40
worldview refers to kind of the use a metaphor the glasses through which we see reality or interpret reality pertains to our fundamental convictions about the nature of what exists, the nature of what human beings are, what our problem is, I think every worldview has to address the fact that in some sense, the world is not as it ought to be. And then it provides some account of how human beings can be reconciled or find a way to live to their fullness. And so those would be the basic elements of a worldview.
David Ames 4:11
Okay, so we have you on today because you've written a book called conversations with my inner atheist, a Christian apologist explores questions that keep people up at night. I also read a few years ago, is the atheists, my neighbor, that was my introduction to you. So you've written a number of other books with the is the atheist, my neighbor, what you are doing, I think, is really interesting in that, although you're not defending atheists, you are at least speaking to the church to say, for example, I think the premise of is the atheists my neighbor is that atheists are not fools that the proverb doesn't really apply to the atheist. And so you're really interested in steel Manning conversations, and ultimately, that is the premise of this book, conversations with my inner atheists that you are steel Manning these arguments of potentially these are arguments that you've even wrestled with yourself. And so you are posing the question to yourself and then responding to it. Why don't you introduce the character of MIA for us?
Randal Rauser 5:12
Yeah, that's a good introduction. So it does reflect something of the book, the premises and interior monologue, I guess, soliloquy, perhaps a debate, though, with oneself over certain fundamental beliefs one has, and yeah, it's steel Manning. So it's really there are a couple of different elements. One of them is to try to get into the mind or the perspective of a critic, which is really that steel Manning part. What might they say if they were going to offer a strong criticism of my beliefs? And the other part is actually more immediate and existential for me. And that's the part where some things that I myself do wrestle with, that I don't necessarily have wholly satisfactory answers for myself. So those are things I explore like, it's it's a matter of taking on a certain degree of vulnerability that I'm, I'll put it this way I talk in the introduction about how lawyers know that when you're asking a question, under cross examination, you never ask a question of a witness, if you don't already know the answer, because you don't want to let be left embarrassed by the court. Right? Well, and so many Christians and other people, right, we pursue things like apologetics, in the same way that we won't address an issue, unless we're confident that we've already got the right answer. And the problem is that that's going to prevent you from exploring some difficult aspects of your beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be. So I'm kind of throwing that caution to the wind, and through the character of MIA. And that's an acronym for my inner atheists. So because it's also a female name, it becomes a female interlocutor with me throughout the book, a conversation partner, a foil through whom I can develop my own ideas, she challenges me throughout the book. And I don't always know where the conversation is going to go. And that actually is true. Like I wrote this book over a span of a few weeks. And I didn't know where each chapter was going to go when I began it. When I would commit to asking a question, I wouldn't know how I would necessarily how I would answer it. So I think it does bring a sort of rawness and immediacy to the book.
David Ames 7:20
Yeah, I think one of my greatest appreciations of the book is that there's a couple of chapters where you end where neither you the character, Randall nor the character of MIA are terribly satisfied at the end of the trying to answer a particular question, and you leave it open. I think that's really good.
Randal Rauser 7:37
Yeah, there's actually one where I kind of put in there, I give an answer, a final answer. And then Mia gets the final word. And she says, Yeah, but you didn't answer the question I asked. Right. And I think that, you know, we were all going to have those moments in conversation with other people. So
David Ames 7:53
yeah, yeah. So I did something very similar in that, while I was reading it, I mentioned to you Off mic a minute ago that, you know, what the podcast is mostly about is the process of deconversion of supporting people that are going through doubts, and processing, in many ways, my own loss of faith. And so as I was reading it, I kept in mind, what I affectionately referred to as bd 15, believing David and 2015 or earlier of, you know, how would, how would that have felt the your, your answers and that conversation to me then. So we'll get into that a little bit as we go along. I think the main question I had for you was, Who is this book for? There's times where it feels like this is for believers who are doubting there's times when it feels like it is answering internet atheists that you've spoken to. And there's times when it feels like this is truly raw. Randall rouser himself is wrestling with this. Who is it? Who's this book for?
Randal Rauser 8:56
And I just, this just popped into my mind, I have to say it. So I would say BC you could say as being Christian, and then ad would be after deconversion?
David Ames 9:04
Hey, go. All right. Yes.
Randal Rauser 9:07
I think it was written, you know, for all of the above. I mean, it was, first of all, it begins truly as me wrestling with my own questions. I wanted to and there are again, there are cases where I ended up formulating my answers in a way that I found to be more satisfactory than when I began. So I did learn through the process of writing the book. So it was for me. It's also definitely for other Christians. The introduction is sort of written ostensibly to fellow Christians, who I think also need to explore their own inner atheists. explore their own reasons for questioning and doubting, and, and hopefully, thereby growing in faith. And it's also written for folks like yourself, people who find themselves on the outside looking in. I hope that doesn't sound I mean, it's not like like, you're not missing out necessarily, right. I mean, from your perspective, yeah. But from the perspective To someone who they're an insider to the community, they want to say, hey, you know, this is another way to think about it. And so hopefully, in that way, like, as you know, we are in very polarized times right now. And that's across the spectrum of politics and religion and all sorts of matters. Hopefully, a book like this can have a modest a use as being a bridge builder and providing a basis for exchange between polarized parties.
David Ames 10:26
Right, right. I want to just state explicitly that anytime we have a conversation between a believer and an atheist, we have to just take as given that there's some disagreement there, and I don't want you to worry about offending me. I hope the same goes I'll try to be nice. So yes, you need to be able to express what you're feeling and why you wrote the book. And I get it that you're definitely trying to reach out as well. So I understand that. I'd like to go over maybe just a handful of the chapters. I'm going to bring up one just to start us off. And then maybe you can mention one or two that were your favorites. And the first one is, and I think this because this kind of sets the stage quite well is. The question is, why should we listen to apologists? My reaction to that was interesting in that you are kind of defending the idea of apologetics and you compare it to maybe activism or being a proponent. First of all, you tell me like what is apologetics mean to you? And then I'll tell you a little bit about my response to that.
Randal Rauser 11:27
Sure. So I think it's a little bit of an unfortunate accident of modern history, that the word apologetics has been co opted to be just this thing that Christians do when they defend their beliefs. In in its Greek origins, a poly Gaea is not a word that has any special resonance with any particular religious group. A polygon is simply the practice of providing an explanation or a reason for the convictions that you have about a particular subject matter. And from that perspective, everyone is an apologist for something. In fact, we're apologists for all sorts of things. We are apologists for the kind of car that we maybe think you should be purchasing, or who's going to win the championships in our favorite sports league, or how that team should be doing their plays in order to achieve the championship. When it comes to politics, of course, we're in an election season in the US right now. Oh, there's a lot of apologists on all sides arguing for why to vote for their candidate. So it's not just about what Christians do. It's about what everybody does. And once we appreciate that, we can also appreciate that people have come from a particular religious or skeptical or post Christian perspective, also have a perspective that they want to defend. And so we're all apologists in that sense.
David Ames 12:50
Okay, so where I agree is I'll say that I'm going to be coming from the perspective of the doubt apologist or the D convert apologist. So I completely understand that you are saying each person comes to the conversation with a perspective they are trying to promote. I guess my initial question to you in my head as I was reading it is, you are aware that the general connotation and modern usage of the word has a negative connotation? Yes. When we talk about a political apologist, or a war apologist, or, or what have you, generally, there's a negative connotation that
Randal Rauser 13:27
would depend on the context, right? It would depend on the audience in which you're using the word. There certainly are contexts in which the word could have certain negative implicature or implied meaning. But to my mind, that's really a secondary issue. The primary issue, whether or not you use the word apologist is really somewhat irrelevant. The main point to appreciate is that everybody has a perspective and we're all seeking to defend our perspective over against other alternatives. And whether you want to call yourself an apologist, in light of that fact, is secondary.
David Ames 13:59
Okay. Is there a chapter that for you that you think is just one of the more important ones, you know, something that you wrestled with? Personally?
Randal Rauser 14:10
Oh, I, yes, for sure. I mean, there are there are chapters that deal with certain things like biblical violence. There's a specific chapter on can the Bible be God's word if, if it has immoral laws and commands in it? And then so I give me the floor at that point to present some of the objections she has, and she highlights some difficult ones like in the Torah, in God's law in the Old Testament, it outlines among other things, the practice of stoning a young person to death and insubordinate youth. And one way that Mia has of making me really feel the pressure on that is by putting it into a contemporary context. And she says, imagine if you read in the Associated Press, that there was a child was stoned to death in in the Swat Valley of Afghanistan by tribal elders of a Muslim village, because that child had been insubordinate to his or her parents, you would automatically as a Christian call that a crime against humanity. And you would believe that what they had done was intrinsically wrong. It's only later on when you realize that that's in the Bible, just a similar command to do that, under certain conditions, that you begin to qualify your opinion. And at that point, I think you're moving into a deep cognitive dissonance. So you're trying to reconcile the fact that the Bible appears to command. I mean, there's several things here, first of all, depending on your intuitions whether capital punishment is ever morally justified, second, whether it can be ever morally justified, to undertake capital punishment by way of pelting people to death with rocks. And third, whether it can be ever morally justified to apply capital punishment to illegal minor, somebody who at that point had not yet achieved the cognitive maturity in order to anticipate consequences, and to have impulse control that is possessed by adults. And those are two good reasons why nations today do not apply capital punishment to legal minors, they don't consider them to have the same degree of culpability as adults. So on those three points, or at least two points, the text within Deuteronomy, and in the contemporary scenario in Afghanistan runs smack into our deeply held moral intuitions and we got to figure that out. So that's one of the topics I wrestled with in that chapter.
David Ames 16:38
Yeah, I think that was one of them that that really stuck out at me is it felt real. I think the other one that really felt like you you personally were wrestling with was talking about Mary's age at divine conception. That felt like you were legitimately wrestling with that one. Do you want to describe that?
Randal Rauser 16:56
Yeah, that's a fair, fair observation. So now, I mean, New Testament scholars can be wrong on this. But the generally the, the view seems to be from what I've read, because I'm not a New Testament scholar. I'm an a contemporary systematic theologian, so I'm depending on on their, on their work. But from what I've seen, it was common in the ancient Near East, that the average marriageable age was approximately 1213 years old. And so marry then is the truth at the age of 12, or 13. Now, one of the questions here is when does puberty happen? What was maturation like? So there's that factor? Another factor to consider is is, were children at that point, psychologically, a more, more mature at that age than they would be today. But the bottom line is that, nonetheless, it's, you're going to be hard pressed to find somebody, let's say in Western society today, who thinks it is advisable to have 12 or 13 year old children entering into matrimonial relationships and becoming pregnant? Yeah. And so you have to really wrestle with the fact that, I mean, assuming I mean, you could always say, Well, Mary must have been older. But that's, there's no evidence that she was outside of the norm in terms of her age. So I mean, it's a reasonable assumption that she would have been the standard marriageable age, and if so, then you have to wrestle with that, and what do you do with that? So, I mean, we go back and forth on that, in that chapter. I don't think there is a clear and simple solution to it. But I certainly wanted to raise the issue. I also noted in the chapter that there was a film produced around 10 years ago called the nativity story. So it was meant to be kind of like the Passion of the Christ, the Mel Gibson movie, but applied to the Nativity of Jesus. So a more earthy human. Yeah, a presentation of the reality of the birth of Jesus and Mary, the actor, the playing Mary is 16. So I mean, even that is, seems to me as the father of an 18 year old girl, that's a man that's young. Yeah. So yeah, if you think 12 or 13, that's very young, so that's awkward.
David Ames 19:04
Yeah. To be fair, my tiny Christian bible college education talked a lot about good exegesis, understanding what the original author's intended what the original readers heard. And then good hermeneutics, which is taking what is super cultural out of the Bible to apply it to modern day. And I do think these are some of the you know, cultural norms of a particular moment in time. And so I can hear where, again, the typical internet atheists probably challenges you on these, and they are offensive to our modern ears out at the same time, I think we can let that one go. A question that I have for you. Another chapter is about basically the classical theistic God or the philosopher's God, the way you describe it, and the God of the Old Testament, is to go back to your point earlier about never asking your question you don't know the answer to I legitimate We don't know the answer to this. When did we start to combine those two? Because it seems to me, as I was reading that chapter that it struck me. That is where a lot of the trouble comes in as trying to marry this idea of the Omni, powerful, Omni benevolent, omni present omniscient God with the God of the Old Testament, which seems much more earthy, much more emotional and much more human, to be totally honest with
Randal Rauser 20:28
you. Well, I mean, frankly, that conversation has been had as long as Christianity has been around. So a Philo was not a Christian. He was a Jewish philosopher in the region of Alexandria, Egypt, but contemporaneous with the Church of the first century. And he was famous for attempting to meld the philosophy of Plato with Jewish categories. So for example, seeking to reconcile the two creation accounts of Genesis one and Genesis two, with an image, a story of the formation of the Platonic forms and Genesis one and then filling in the archetypes with concrete particulars that exemplify those forms in time in Genesis two. And then many Christians took a similar tack to, to Philo. So in the second century, Justin Martyr, mid second century, he takes up this idea that he's very enamored of Plato as well, he sees that believes that God was already revealing himself to some degree in Plato. And there has been a tradition ever since then, the Alexandrian School of early Christian theology, so people like Clement of Alexandria and early third century and then later on Origin, they were very much on this idea of having a positive rapprochement with with philosophy of Plato, later on, people like Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages, focused instead upon Aristotle, right. And so he sought to reconcile Aristotle with Christianity. Perhaps even if you go to the New Testament itself, you can see in some of the language of texts like John chapter one, or Paul speaking and Mars Hill and x 17, you can find them engaging positively with stoic philosophical categories as well. And some people believe in the book of Hebrews that you can find some hints of a platonic way of thinking. So these ideas have been cross fertilizing since the origin of the church.
David Ames 22:20
Do you see though that from an outside perspective, that there is some difficulty and combining those two? In other words, let me put it in plain English, the goddess of lust philosopher seems different from the God of the Bible, and specifically the Old Testament.
Randal Rauser 22:39
Yep, yeah, no, I mean, I would say that, one thing you have to be careful about is when we come to the Bible itself. Speaking, and this is not a reflection on you. This is reflection on the way the language is used to talk about the God of the Bible, or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as you said, versus the God of Anselm or the philosophers. But in fact, there are a variety of theological perspectives within the Bible itself. And it does seem, for example, that if we go through the Hebrew Scriptures that we call the Old Testament, that we find something of a developmental theology. So early on, we find a picture of God that appears to be much more incarnate much more, with an emphasis upon imminence presence in the world. And so for example, God walks in the garden and the cool the day, with Adam, and they commune together with intimacy. But as you go on through the narrative, God becomes more and more grand and Exalted are transcendent. And so when the temple is built, and Solomon says, not even the highest heavens can continue, let alone this temple. And then by the time you get to deutero, Isaiah, so from Isaiah 40, to 48, you have this very transcendent picture of God and knowing the end from the beginning alpha and the omega. And he sort of unveils the illegitimacy of all the idols because they know nothing, and God knows everything. It's a very exalted view. And so when we talk about God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we're in danger of missing the developmental theology that's already present within the Bible. And it's the same thing when it comes to, let's say, Greek philosophy, or just pagan wisdom, or whatever term we might want to use, is there are a variety of different views. And so what a systematic theologian does like myself, as we tried to interpret the presentation of God as revealed in Scripture, and then bring it in dialogue with all the best wisdom we find in the world, including things like science and philosophy, and we try to develop a coherent, overarching understanding of reality and of who God is based upon the interaction of those ideas. So it's, it's a complicated issue, but yeah, I wouldn't say that there's any it's just not it's not like there are these a square peg in a round hole. It's a lot more going on than that.
David Ames 24:52
Okay. One other question you pose is if theology is true, why is it always changing in light of science? And I thought It was interesting that you open the book quoting Fineman about, I would rather have questions without answers than answers that can't be questioned. How do you see the roles of theology and science? How do they do they overlap? How do they work against or alongside each other?
Randal Rauser 25:18
Yeah, a good question. So there are different models for sure of how theology and science relate. On the one hand, you have somebody like Stephen Jay Gould, the famous paleontologist who defended what he called an independence model or non overlapping magisteria model. So he said that theology is a legitimate discourse, but it deals with a region we call values where science deals with facts. And so they're just two independent spheres of discourse that don't overlap. On the other hand, you have somebody like Richard Dawkins, who argues for a warfare or conflict model. And on Dawkins views, science and theology, deal with exactly the same subject matter. The only difference is that science is good at explaining that subject matter and theology fails. And I think that both of those views are wrong, but I think that talking to you is much wrong or okay to borrow a line from Isaac Asimov, but in a different context, then then Gould. So the view that I would advocate for is a correspondence or interaction view that theology and science have overlapping fields of discourse. And so the challenge for the theologian then is to explore how theology properly relates to science. Now, in terms of it is a good question why, why does science not change in light of theology, but theology changes in light of science? And I think the reason that that happens that there is an asymmetry there is because these are different fields of discourse. what science does is it tries to understand nature through certain ordered processes of study, such as experimental methods, historical sciences, what theology does is it attempts to systematize a body of knowledge with respect to a multiple different independent sources of knowledge. So it seeks to interact with the Bible with areas like philosophy, and with areas like natural science, and to draw all of them into an overarching understanding of how Christians should understand Christian doctrine. So it's to be expected that theology changes in light of its interaction with these various subject matters, including science, but we shouldn't expect science to be changing in parallel with respect to theology.
David Ames 27:32
Okay, and so where the rubber meets the road on this, I think, is the the topic of miracles. I think you clearly believe that miracles occur. I did want to clarify with you do you believe that miracles occur today? Because that isn't always a Baptist Theological perspective. I'm curious what your response is to that.
Randal Rauser 27:53
Yeah, I believe miracles can occur today. There are, I don't want to, there's probably more theology than some of your listeners are interested in. But I'll just say that. So there are two different issues here. One issue is the issue of cessationism. And that's the idea of do supernatural sign gifts continue in the church to today? And there are some Baptists who are cessationists, they believe no, there are no longer supernatural sign gifts. The other issue is whether God still performs one off miracles. And I think it's much more unusual to find Baptists or Christians generally denying that there are any miracles or can be any miracles today. But it's more common to find them denying that there could be supernatural sign gifts operating within the church, like for example, a person having the ability or the power to heal, or to provide prophetic insight, etc.
David Ames 28:42
That's interesting. I don't think I've ever heard anybody explain it like that. So okay, so I've heard you be critical of, I think we're going to move into the next topic here of Oregon talk about the resurrection of secular or atheist or naturalistic arguments that basically presuppose that miracles are impossible or in the scientific terminology, methodological naturalism. So in your book, you pose the question, isn't a natural explanation more plausible than the resurrection? First, let me hear your response to that. And then we'll jump into some further questions on that.
Randal Rauser 29:19
The one area that I don't really get into in the book, so much is definition of miracle. But I think it's at this point that I would want to say that we need to begin with a proper definition of the concept. So I understand a miracle to be a special sign of God's action in the world. And one important thing to understand is that one can identify an event as a miracle, even if one has a closed natural account of how that event occurred. Okay, so let me give you an example. Let's say that you have a rock slide and then the let's say, that this guy is like God give me a sign that you exist. And then there's suddenly a rock slide and then the rocks spell out. I am here. That's actually interesting kind of similar to a famous cartoon by NBC, the cartoon member of the cartoon BC, or BCE. Praise God, give me a sign if you're up there and then assign false when heaven saying I'm up here. Now, the interesting thing is, you can explain the collapse of the hill. And even the fact that the rocks appear to spell out a name through purely natural geological processes of a faultline maybe an earthquake, etc, you wouldn't need to appeal to divine action. But if the event that occurs has a particular significance, such as if the rocks appear to spell it or name, you would be warranted, I think, in attributing that to being a divine sign of God's action in the world, even if you had a closed natural account of how the event had occurred. So you could have a miracle. That is, it's not a gap in natural explanation, but it's consistent with natural explanation at one level, just like and I'll end with this, just like you can explain an event like the boiling of water, both with respect to the fact that the pot is sitting on a stove, and the molecules are getting jumbled around by the heat of the element. And you can also explain it by the fact that I want to have tea, and you can have an intentional explanation of an event that also has a closed natural causal explanation.
David Ames 31:31
Okay, so on the surface of that, I agree. And you you pose another analogy of the oak chair, and you talk about it from the quantum level, there's a description of it from an atomic level, there's a description, there's from a, you know, human size, scale level, the way we describe it, chairs, just radically different. at the atomic level, you can say there's, this is just all space, really. And obviously, we would have a different experience of that. So I agree entirely, that there are levels of abstraction, the way we describe things. My immediate reaction, when you give that example of rock falling and spelling something out is have you ever experienced a miracle? On that order? I think I would be, I would be quite challenged. If I, you know, saw rock spelling out, I am here like that would be pretty powerful.
Randal Rauser 32:24
Yeah, I haven't experienced anything specifically like that. But the thing, the point is that it's a thought experiment. And for a thought experiment to be legitimate, it doesn't have to have been actualized. In the world, it only has to be conceptually possible. So if it is conceptually possible that that kind of event would occur, and you would simultaneously have a closed account of natural causes, as well as be warranted in inferring that it was a sign of God's miraculous action, then that just accomplishes the point I wanted to make. So my point doesn't depend on whether I've experienced it, it only depends on the fact that you could have a miracle that is consistent with closed natural causation.
David Ames 33:01
Sure. Okay. So onto the topic of the resurrection, because I really feel like this is this is the topic this is the conversation that when atheists are at conference, talk to Christians that sometimes we dance around it, so I like to just hit it straight on. So Paul says in first Corinthians 15, if resurrection isn't possible, Christ isn't raised, then you are dead in your sins, your faith is futile. Do you agree with Paul?
Randal Rauser 33:30
I think it's a little bit like I'd be uncomfortable with proof texting him on that, to be honest, I have a chapter in another book, where I talk about not all liberal Christians are heretics and some kind of thing I'm trying to do here. Okay. And so I actually in that book, I talk about the contrast between NT right, and Marcus Borg, NT right, is one of the leading defenders of the resurrection of Jesus in the world today, right, he wrote an 800 page book, the resurrection of the Son of God, for example, Marcus Borg was close friends with with aunty right during his life, he was also a respected New Testament scholar. But he could not get over his skepticism about the resurrection as a historical event in history. Nonetheless, he had had spiritual experiences that he interpreted within a Christian context. And so he adopted from a Lutheran Theological perspective, something like a view of the resurrection, like what Rudolf Bultmann, or some others from that background have interpreted some, I don't know, something like the resurrection could be viewed as the body of Christ Church coming back to life. Now, I find that to be very inadequate understanding the resurrection, but what I have to appreciate is that Marcus Borg had certain a range of experiences that he was trying to interpret, and he had difficulties with faith confession that I don't have a difficulty with. And what anti rights assessment is, is that while he thinks Marcus Borg really miss something important in his doctrine, he was nonetheless See Christian. And I'm willing to say that there's room for Marcus Borg. Now, if I had somebody in my church, like Marcus Borg, who they believe they're a Christian, they wanted to be a Christian, but they couldn't get over the hurdle of this stumbling block. And Paul talks about it in First Corinthians, one of the resurrection. But they've had these experiences, they wanted to follow Jesus. They're welcome in my church. They whether they could take communion, you know that I'd leave that out to the pastor to sort out, I don't think they could become a full member. But they'd be welcome as a healer as a participant within the wider community. And so for me, it's just a little more complicated than taking First Corinthians 1514. So I understand why in the rhetorical context, that Paul is laying a foundation for the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus, I understand why he says what he says where he says it. I also think that within the life of the lift community, it's a little bit more complicated than that.
David Ames 35:56
Let me see if I can reframe the question for you. Is a literal resurrection, a significant theological idea or something that is important for your faith?
Randal Rauser 36:08
Absolutely. I mean, if you if I stopped believing in the resurrection, I might become a liberal Christian, like Marcus Borg, I might end up leaving Christianity to get altogether I don't know. Okay. So but it's clearly central to my faith confession, it's a foundation for my Christian beliefs, for sure.
David Ames 36:25
Perfect, thank you. So this was a significant part of my deconversion, in that I was a Christian for 27 years into long into my adulthood, went to Bible college was more on the pastoral side of things, and not necessarily studying New Testament history or things of that nature. But I always had, in the back of my mind, someone has got to have better evidence than I've seen. So far. There's lots of analogies for this, you know, put that on the shelf. You know, Tim sledge says, The exceptions to the rule of faith, you know, there's all these ways of describing these things where you just kind of, you know, there's this problem, and you put it away, and you kind of somewhat ignore it. And so that was one for me. And as I began the process of really deconstructing really coming to what do I believe anymore, it was really the resurrection, that was the final nail in the coffin. And for me, with all due respect to our liberal Christian friends, for me, it was a binary thing, the resurrection has to have occurred, as stated on the tin, literally, Jesus literally died, literally was in the, in the grave, and literally raised from the dead and literally ascended into heaven, or the power of Christianity, all of the claims of Christianity just don't have the the value there. So for me, when I went in and looked at the evidence, such as it is, I wasn't satisfied. It wasn't enough, it wasn't sufficient. For me. One of the points I want to make, or one of the topics I want to bring up is you recently had this discussion with Ian Mills, who along with Laura Robinson, they do the New Testament review podcast, they are both I believe, PhD candidates in New Testament history. And both of them make the argument that when doing history, you need to use methodological naturalism, which, in a sense, rules out the miracle claim of the resurrection. So to put it in plain English, even though they are believers, they are Christians, they do not use the historicity of the Gospels as proof. For the resurrection, you're out, you had a problem with that, and there was some back and forth, I'd like you to maybe describe that conversation. Because I find it fascinating. Obviously, I'm going to have a criticism, but here are believers who are putting this forth and that's their area of expertise. So let's just chat about that for a minute.
Randal Rauser 38:52
So I'll just say that the here's the summary point, as I recall Ian's argument. And summary point was a sort of reductio ad absurdum or reduction to skepticism. The idea being this, that in principle, if you allow that there is an omnipotent deity that can intervene in the course of nature, that will undercut your justification for concluding any historical event happened through natural causes. Because you will not know that that event did not actually occur through the divine intervention of that being. So for example, if I'm driving along in my car, because it doesn't have to be ancient history, this could be contemporary history that happened a moment ago, I'm driving along in my car and the snowball hits my car. And I see a group of kids standing there. If I'm not committed to methodological naturalism, which would be committed to always looking for only natural explanations and events. That's how I understand it. So if I'm not committed to that, then I would have no reason to believe that one of those kids had thrown the snowball rather than that God had created it x me hello and throwing it into my car, thereby framing these children. And I just think that's a bad argument. So the one objection that I presented to that argument is if you prove anything by that argument, he proves too much. Because what he's doing in that argument is just saying, because allowing God's ability to intervene would create skepticism, we're just going to shut out God from our historical explanations. But in fact, he hasn't done that, because he hasn't argued that God does not exist. So on his view, is perfectly consistent with God's actually existing, and actually doing the very things that he says would lead to skepticism, which means that his decision to be committed to methodological naturalism is merely a pragmatists way of saying, I'm not going to consider the fact that the existence of God currently undercuts all my historical beliefs about anything at all. And so again, as I said, if you prove anything, he proved too much. He's undermined all of his historical work. And his commitment to methodological naturalism is merely a refusal to acknowledge in his work, the skeptical consequences of his own view.
David Ames 41:08
Okay, so I don't want to continue too much with Ian's criticisms, because I don't know that I follow them all, to be totally honest with you. So let me get let me jump to, to my criticisms. First of all, I think methodological naturalism is just is not saying that miracles are impossible. They're saying that they're saying that we're not going to jump to that as a description of what has occurred without a tremendous amount of evidence, right. And so what I find fascinating about Laura and Ian, saying that, as believers and New Testament historians, they don't think that the Gospels are proof of the resurrection, they feel the resurrection occurred, but they don't think that you can use even if they even if you take them, even if we grant that they are historically accurate, up to say, you know, the miracles, that that can't be used as proof. Here's, here's my criticism, my criticism is, I feel like we often confuse. And I'll use some tech term here, but requirements versus sufficient, it feels like the evidence that we have, would be required to believe the resurrection. But it doesn't rise to the level of sufficient, right? And if we lowered the standard to the amount of evidence that we have for the resurrection, in the gospels, or the New Testament, that would allow in many, many other faith claims by other religions. Do you feel like that's a fair assessment or No?
Randal Rauser 42:43
First of all, I don't accept your definition of methodological naturalism, because what you said it is, is simply looking for more evidence for a supernatural claim. But of course, those who invoke miracles only do so after the natural explanations have plausibly been exhausted, they don't start with them. Like a person that says, Let's look for a resurrection only look for a resurrection, after they've considered the possibility that Jesus swoon didn't that didn't die, or, or that the tomb was with or the body was moved from the tomb, perhaps in by way of a conspiracy, or that they went to the wrong tomb, or that Jesus actually had a twin. These are among the hypotheses that have been proposed. Another one is that they experience grief hallucinations, which explain the post resurrection appearances. Or perhaps that Paul to just add to that was so conflicted by his interior guilt at persecuting the Christians that he had a vision of the resurrected Jesus, which could explain his conversion. It's only after you've looked at the implausibility of all of those natural explanations in light of all the data that we have, that you will then come to the resurrection as a hypothesis to be seriously considered. Now, if you're a methodological naturalist, you're in principle closed off from that, you're saying no, we're always going to look to a natural explanation. If you just want to say, I'm happy looking at the natural explanations first, and then considering the supernatural one, then I'm fine with that. That's my view, too.
David Ames 44:18
Okay. So again, I don't want to get hung up on semantic whatever definition of methodological naturalism that you have, let's use that. Let me try to reframe the question see if I can get get you to respond to it. So my conjecture is that there are a near infinite number of potential naturalistic explanations for why a group of people would believe their leader resurrected from the dead and ascended into heaven. I feel like you have to ignore all of religious history, both recorded and potentially unrecorded, of how people come to faith make faith claims. Believe in miracles. ones that you would disagree with, right? But the one that immediately comes to mind is is Mormonism and Joseph Smith and talking to an angel and discovering the special glasses, all these things you would reject. And yet the level of evidence is fairly comparable. Now I know you're gonna respond. Well, we know Justice Smith was a liar, and I get that. But my point is that, and this is where I would lean on in and Laura to say, This is why we can't use history as as proof for a miracle claim.
Randal Rauser 45:36
You said I get that, but actually, that's exactly the salient point. Okay. There's, first of all, like, like Joseph Smith, if I would just say read a fun Brody's no one knows my name. That was a history of Joseph Smith, written in the 1940s by a very even handed historian. She provides all the evidence, I think they're laid out in that book, to show that he was a charlatan, that that he was ready. He was a treasure hunter working in upstate New York at the time when people do that he had a history of fabricating things, he was not a credible witness. I'll tell you one of my the other things I do in my professional life is I'm also a professional investigator. So I do interviews with people, I do credibility assessments. Joseph Smith does not pass the smell test in terms of being a credible witness. He has like the 12 witnesses of the golden plates, I think it's like nine of them later retracted their statements, for example. You don't have that when it comes to people saying that they saw Jesus raised from the dead.
David Ames 46:38
Let me stop you there. This is my question. Obviously, I agree with you on Mormonism, because Mormonism took place, just you know, what, 150 some odd years ago, it's it's so recent, that we have accurate assessments after the fact, with the Gospels and the New Testament, we're talking about 2000 years. And as you know, as well as I do, the winners tend to write history. So is it not possible that there were negative pieces of evidence that have been lost to history?
Randal Rauser 47:11
I guess I'm gonna say a few things here. First of all, I just want to come back to a point that you you raised earlier, because I don't want to miss it, you talked about how there are always so many different possible explanations for any event. That's true, irrespective of whether one is open to drawing a supernatural explanation for an event. It's just called the under determination of theory to evidence for any particular historical event, there is, in principle, an infinite number of possible explanations for that event. And we are always going to preclude exclude the vast majority of explanations. And that's going to happen due to our own plausibility interpretive framework as we come to the event that just doesn't consider certain options to be live options for our study. So that's not something that's unique to someone who invokes supernatural explanation is just the nature of evidence being under determined relative to theory. Okay, so then the next thing I would want to say, is, I really think that that so you said, well, the history is written by the winners. And this is where we get into what I think is just a kind of sweeping skepticism about the nature of history that I don't think is justified. You talked about, well, we're 2000 years after the events. Yeah, but there are good reasons why New Testament scholars, ranging from conservative scholars to atheists, like your Lindemann, or a liberal mainline person, I would say like Jimmy Dunn, that they date the creed that Paul cites in First Corinthians 15, into the 30s. There are good reasons which I could certainly talk about why they do that. And what they're doing is they're then tracing core confessions about the death and resurrection of Jesus and the fact that he was witnessed by early followers, including someone like James, the brother of Jesus, who then appears to have converted to the Christian movement and was later martyred Josephus independently witnesses to that, or Paul himself, who we have to explain the fact that Paul began as the most vigorous persecutor of the Christians and something changed him. She says quite explicitly, he was my experience of the risen Jesus. So what we have to do is we have to look for non psychological mechanisms for explanations as to why they would believe the body disappeared, why they believe they had seen him resurrected, why they believe that his death was atoning, why their understanding of the nature of Messiah ship was revolutionized why their understanding of God was revolutionized. And this is all happening in the period of the 30s to the 50s. That's when all of this is happening. So as a historian, there's the old Sherlock Holmes thing once you've excluded all of the possible explanations, what is the same note that the
David Ames 49:49
whatever is left has to be it has to be true? Yeah, yeah. Okay, so I don't want to belabor this too much. But I want to I want to try to just one more time. So for example, As you know, throughout the Roman Caesars, many of them claimed divinity, we literally have the coins with their image stamped on them that they play apart in the gospels, as Jesus and Peter are arguing about taxes. So there is much greater attestation to the divinity of Caesars, then there is for the divinity of Jesus. So my point is, if we use history as validating miracle claims or theological claims, it seems to me that lowers the bar.
Randal Rauser 50:35
Okay. I think again, what we have to do is move from general observations to specific data. And I think here we just have a false analogy. We can explain where the language of the deification of the Caesars or the Emperor came from, because it came back to the second century BC, they began talking about something called the spirit of Rome, which was the idea it's kind of like the spirit of the US like, patriotism, pride, the spirit of Rome was the idea of taking pride in the Roman nation state. And then they'd have temples in places like Pergamum that were devoted to the worship of the spirit of Rome alongside the other gods, because it is in the value of the empire, to have the worship of Rome at this benevolent reality, the spirit of Rome that has granted us the Pax Romana, and that unites us as a people and that we can fight together against the Germanic tribes, and against the Persians. And then eventually, it was a natural step by the time of Caesar Augustus, to begin to move from worship of the spirit of Rome, to find the spirit of Rome being concretize within a historical individual, the Caesar or the Augustus, the ruler of the entire empire, you can explain where that language comes from, and the rhetorical force of it through simple, straightforward, historical, natural development. You cannot do the same thing when it comes to what changed Jews living in the 30s in Jerusalem, who just saw their, their leader crucified within Jerusalem, just like every other leader of Messianic movement that had come along, the Romans always killed them off. But in this one unique case, instead of dying out this movement explodes across the Roman Empire, the cannibal if he was raised again, they revolutionized their understanding of the nature of God, and of the nature of Messiah. It's just a different kind of thing. And we have to look for the best explanations of it. And I think resurrection is the best explanation.
David Ames 52:29
Okay, something I wanted to state out loud here is that I'm not one of those people who say that believers are irrational. I think that's a completely irrational perspective to take that the evidence is convincing to you. I'm going to take one more stab at this. And then this will segue into my last set of questions. And I don't want to disparage I don't know how old you are. But I'm old enough to in my lifetime, we have a guy named L. Ron Hubbard, who was literally a science fiction writer, literally said, I think I want to start a religion. Start Scientology. And if you spoke to a Scientologist apologists today, you would have very similar ish arguments about why Scientology is correcting Christianity is wrong. My framing of this is to say, it's not, why say Jesus's followers would change. The question is, why as the changes of many, many, many other religious peoples throughout time, and their changes in theology, changes in behavior change, you know, lifestyle changes, etc. Why were those all invalid? And only the followers of Christ? were correct?
Randal Rauser 53:46
Oh, so the first thing about Scientology again, I think it's just a false analogy. I mean, I think we like you said, we can clearly trace Scientology through the work of L. Ron Hubbard writing Dianetics wanting to found this religion, there have been no shortage of critiques of Scientology, in terms of its exploitation of people, that it's this whole idea of getting people to go clear and having to pay large sums of money to the church as a way to do it. You get that kind of corruption in Christian churches, but it's not in the DNA of Christian churches, right? There are churches committed to poverty and so on. It's not the church itself that is corrupt, but the entire institution of Scientology is, in my view, corrupt and documentaries, like going clear, certainly make that point. So I think that that's just false analogy. Now in terms of, well, why this religion and not all other religions, I mean, we start at the beginning by briefly talking about worldview. And so rather than just talking about religion, let's take a step back because religions are just a particular subset of worldviews. And so again, just as we're all on the spectrum with respect to being apologists for something, we're all on the spectrum with respect to having a worldview. We all have An understanding of the ultimate nature of reality, and the human condition, and how to address the bad parts of the human condition in order to achieve some degree of human flourishing. And so for each one of us, you can say, why your view and not another view. And again, that's where apologetics comes in that each one of us whether you're going to be a Christian, or a Buddhist, or an atheist, or a Mormon or something else, we all have to provide apologetic arguments and reasons why our view rather than another.
David Ames 55:26
Okay, so how I want to segue is just to say, to steal man, the the argument and then explain why, for me, it doesn't work. If I grant you the very, very early dating that you're asking for, for the creed, and First Corinthians 15. And all of the non miraculous bits of the New Testament, let's just grant that as historical, which is granting something right? Like that isn't a given. Even given all that information lead all the way up to a crucifixion and an empty tomb, that still was insufficient for me to continue to believe in the resurrection. At some point, I began to value evidence, more than protecting my faith. And it started to crumble for me at that point in time. The segue is this, we've had a lot of very high profile D conversions. So obviously, you don't you don't know me, who cares about me. But we've had all these people that are relatively famous within the Christian community. I'm very curious to know, what is your perspective on deconversion? I've seen you argue that they don't have a privileged perspective. Fine. But I'm just curious what your perspective is on deconversion? How is that different than the average internet atheists?
Randal Rauser 56:49
Yeah, so I would just say the idea of not having a privileged perspective, I said that in like a couple tweets or something, and the point I was simply making there is, in the same way that like the person who lived in Europe for a summer and had a bad experience, and then said, Europe sucks, don't ever go to Europe doesn't necessarily have the informed perspective on what it is like to live throughout Europe all the time. In the same way that a person has a limited experience of a particular Christian Church, let's say that disappointed them, and they found it abusive, even. And then they just toss Christianity altogether, all 2.4 billion Christians and different institutions and theologies and cultures, etc. Again, we got to be careful about reasoning from the particular to the general. So that's the simple point there. Now, in terms of what leads to deconversion, I mean, I think that there are a complex number of factors. And I mean, I mentioned, if I can't believe Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, would I become a liberal Christian? Or would I just leave it altogether? I don't know. I often talk about the problem of evil with respect to the role that plays in deconversion. Of course, there's a chapter on the problem of evil and the current book we've been discussing. One of the themes that came back, I should say, one of the characters that came back in one of my books or in several of my books, his name was Bob Giono. And so he was a I first met him so to speak by watching a 2006 documentary called deliver us from evil. And it's about the sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. And it focuses upon one particular priest named Oliver O'Grady and O'Grady had been shuttled around the different Diocese of California for more than two decades, and raping children the whole time. And when issues would arise in one diocese, he'd be shuttled off to another one. And, you know, they always had a sweet deal with the police. So there were never any charges, he would agree to go away to get some retraining by the church, and then they'd send them back out again, and he raped more children. And so then we meet Bob Giano, and his wife and his daughter, and he was a pious Catholic. And then in the mid 90s, they began hearing stories about how their beloved priest had allegedly been raping all these children. So he calls up his daughter, and he says, Isn't this crazy what they're saying about about our beloved priest? And then she just kind of says, oh, yeah, okay, interesting. And then she just hangs up. And then in a second, he looks at his wife and says, Do you think you did something to her, and their world begins to crash, they call her back, and she burst into tears. And they discover that this priest had been raping their own daughter in their house for several years in back in the 70s, early 80s. Because they would have him stay over right. They wanted to be welcoming to the priests. So they even had a guest room where he would stay and he would get up in the middle of the night and go down the hallway and rape their daughter. The father is an atheist now, as as of the time of the making of the documentary in 2006. And so I've often asked myself, would I still be a Christian? If I discovered some kind of horror Like that had befallen my family? I don't know. But I'll say this that what I do. When I think about it from the perspective of someone like Bob Giono is, it doesn't give me any sense of superiority, when I look at a person who's deconversion, because I simply don't know what their story is.
David Ames 1:00:18
Wow, that's hard to follow. Yes. I mean, and again, I commend you for truly wrestling with the problem of evil in the book. I do. I've said this very often that I think Christians basically pick their favorite theodicy for the problem of evil and call it a day and never think about it again. And I think the problem of evil is a problem. And one should wrestle with that, I think it's a significant question. I am going to stick with a dig on purpose for just a second and just say, Let's steal man deconversion for a second, and let's talk about, say, the clergy project. So people who have dedicated their lives to Christianity to preaching to speaking, writing, what have you, and they subsequently can no longer believe back to kind of Paul in First Corinthians, If I tell you, Randall, you know, I had a nuanced, powerful faith. I honestly evaluated the evidence, and I concluded I was unable to believe, Am I justified in not believing in God if I don't believe the resurrection occurred?
Randal Rauser 1:01:21
Possible? Yep. So I think always wait, we have to be aware of our own cognitive biases, and that kind of thing. And we could have, for example, aversions to evidence that we might not be aware of. But that of course, cuts both ways. Right. It applies to Christians too. And then the same token, it goes the opposite direction again, like, I'm not in a position to say that Bob Giono is irrational for certainly, I mean, that's the earlier book you mentioned, is the atheist, my neighbor. It's a big theme in that book that we can't just go around and dismissing people who end up disagreeing with us about the fundamental nature of reality. It's all let God sort all that out to let God sort out how he's relating to other people with respect to where they are on their journeys. It's not for me to say,
David Ames 1:02:03
Okay, so last question. You mentioned in the introduction, that your mom loves to read your books, but did not care for the title of this book. I'm just curious if you could share what that conversation was like.
Randal Rauser 1:02:16
It's funny, because she got a copy of the book in August when it came out. And then she read the dedication, where it references that and then she emailed me and says, I liked your title. But actually, that she, she back in May, when I mentioned it to her. She said, Oh, Rand, why do you have to be so controversial all the time? or something of that effect? Yeah, I think you know, there's a little bit of the concern of the mom. And the other reality is that truly writing a book like this is not without some degree of risk, because you do put yourself out there. One of my editors, for another book I'd written once called me a troublesome priest. It's like, I'm going out there, and I'm making trouble for people. Yeah. And you might upset some people, but what you have to focus on is the people that you connect with. And so that's what makes it worth it. The conversation we've had that's what makes it worth it. Right? You you can build bridges with other people. So some Christians aren't going to like what I said, but as Martin Luther said, at the Council of Vermes, here I stand, I can do no other read a goddess speak truth as I see it, and just let the chips fall where there may.
David Ames 1:03:25
Excellent. We've been discussing Randall rousers book conversations with my inner atheist rental, let people know how they can get in touch with you and find your work.
Randal Rauser 1:03:34
Yeah, you can find me online at my website, Randall rouser.com. And I am on Twitter, my name again. So just search at rabble rouser. And yeah, I also do some YouTube but I usually just post that on to my blog anyway, so you can find me there, find my books at Amazon.
David Ames 1:03:52
Great. We'll have some links in the show notes and links to the Amazon Kindle versions on my blog. Randall, thank you so much for giving us your time and talking about your book.
Randal Rauser 1:04:02
Great being with you, David, thanks for the conversation.
David Ames 1:04:11
Final thoughts. I have a lot of thoughts. Probably none of them are final on this particular episode in this conversation with Randall. I want to begin with the ways in which I do agree with Randall he is doing something that is really important with his book, I highly recommend that you buy his book conversations with my inner atheist in that he is challenging his own beliefs and taking seriously criticisms of his beliefs. When you are the host of a podcast some of your best guests are those who have taken the time to write down their thoughts in book format that takes a tremendous amount of work and it is something that I respect deeply, sincerely Ando has written a number of books, we have a lot of his thinking that we can go through and examine. One consequence of being the host is the challenge of being gracious to your guests. And my primary goal when I have a guest on with whom I disagree, but who also, I am giving the opportunity to present their work is to promote them, in order to give them a platform to get some exposure, even when I happen to disagree with them. That makes it challenging to truly challenge the points made during the conversation. Another limitation is the amount of time that you have for the recording. Again, I wanted to give Randall as much time as possible to present his piece of work here without constantly challenging him and him not having the opportunity to do so. I say all that to say this, I have a few things I literally need to get off my chest here, or it will feel as though I have done myself a disservice. And in some ways that is unfair, because Randall is not here to respond to these criticisms. I'm certain that Randall who has a YouTube channel will take the opportunity to respond. And I will do my best to promote that as much as this podcast episode as well. So here are a few of my thoughts. I of course, disagree with Randles usage of the term apologists and indicating that is more like a proponent or an activist. But rather than arguing against that, I'm just going to lean into it. So I am going to do deconversion and doubt apologetics and provide cover for those of you who might be experiencing doubt. For Whom the pat answers now sound, Pat, for whom evidence has started to be more important than protecting your faith. You are not alone. There are many of us out here where we have experienced the same thing. Just generically, as I mentioned in the intro, what I'm interested in doing is having an honesty contest. And in our conversation, I think you hear some of that tension. I specifically want to highlight the conversation about Ian mills and Laura Robinson's New Testament review podcast and their argument for methodological naturalism as it pertains to the way we use history. And the point I want to drive home in there is that they are believers, then they believe in the resurrection. And they also say you can't use history as proof for the resurrection. And so that highlights some of the tension that I'm talking about. That is the kind of thing that I think is significant. And what ultimately can hurt believers and ultimately lead to believers de converting my deepest criticism, and I can say this as kindly as possible, of Randles book is this, as I was reading Randles book, I kept in mind, my previous self bt 15 that I made reference in the conversation. And my deepest criticism is that the BT 15 was unconvinced, and would not have been convinced by these arguments, even though that version of me that previous version of me, believed in God and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As I have mentioned before, apologetics was a major portion of my deconversion. And the reason for that was, I recognized that I was convinced of the conclusions of apologetics by faith, but that I began to recognize more and more the flaws in the arguments. And if your faith is built on arguments, those arguments are susceptible to refutation. I have more to say about apologetics. Before I do that, and in order to make it clear that I'm no longer talking about Randall specifically, I'm going to say thank you here to Randall, thank you for being on the show. Thank you for sharing your work for putting such an effort to put all of your thoughts and to challenge yourself. And to put that into book form that is very much appreciated. I can tell you Randall that many of the people who I follow online, adore you and adore your work. You're doing something right, even if I disagree with you on the conclusions. So thank you again for being on the podcast. To be fair here, I want to make things clear these criticisms now following are much more about apologetics in general, rather than Randall himself. To be even more fair, I think this is also true of the counter apologetics side of the house. We have pushed both sides so deep into their corners, that it becomes an elite club of those who are analytic philosophers and everyone else is left out as if they have nothing to say. I have used this example a few times in other places, but it reminds me a lot of John Stuart back in the early 2000s went on a show called Crossfire, which was between in the US Republicans and Democrats basically having a debate show. And he came on the show to say you are hurting people. And the point was that the debate had lost any usefulness at that point. And I sometimes feel the apologetics counter apologetics discussions and debates have lost meaning and they are hurting people. I think they are hurting doubters. I think apologetics hurts believers. I think counter apologetics is ineffective and doesn't actually change people's minds. It is trite to say that most people did not reason their way into faith and therefore reason will not bring them out. But there's some truth. There's a kernel of truth there. And my ultimate argument here is that we are human beings, and not Vulcans. And so if we are in our enclave of intellectual high towers, high fiving, one another about the most recent, analytic argument, we are missing out on real human beings, people for whom this is actually a deadly serious question. My remedy for this has always been brutal honesty. If you are a believer, and you're listening, I'm an atheist, of course, I disagree with Randall. But more than me saying that you are wrong or Randall is wrong. What I am saying is I came to understand that I was mistaken. I believed that the experiences that I had the miracles that I thought I saw were from God. What I came to understand was my moral sense was my own conscience, that those miracles were typically good people doing good things. For other people. I came to understand that I personally was using special pleading for the way I saw the Gospels. And that it was clear to me that other religions and their sacred texts were wrong and could not be trusted. And yet, I put all my trust in the New Testament specifically, I came to recognize that with special pleading on my part, and again, I'll refer to E and Lauren, they have a wonderful podcast, I highly recommend you go listen to that. That is the reason you cannot use history, for proof of miracles. Because if you lower the bar to that point, all religious texts, all religious claims of miracles, come on to the table. If you can easily discount Scientology and Mormonism and Hinduism and Islam. And yet, you think that your text the Bible, the New Testament is without error and flawless. Or even if you don't believe in the inerrancy, but you think it is authoritative and trustworthy. The only thing I'm saying to you is, that might be special pleading. And here's a really easy way to see that get Randles book and read it. Read the New Testament, read the Bible. But every time you see the word God or the Lord, replace it with Allah. Every time you see the word Jesus, replace it with Mohammed, just feel how the experience of reading that changes. And if that changes, what does that tell you? The last thing I want to bring up is, why does the field of apologetics exist at all? My faith was in an infinitely powerful, all knowing, all loving God.
Why does that God need apologist to defend him? Why is it that we have sophisticated answers for divine hiddenness and the problem of evil instead of God just showing up and telling us? I know there are 1000 responses to those two questions I just asked. But I'm not asking the apologists, I'm asking you the listener. Why is it necessary at all? On that cheery note, the secular Grace Thought of the Week is this, the truth will set you free. It was the same drive for truth that led me into Christianity that ultimately led me out. Be willing to find the truth wherever it exists. Be willing to admit when you might have been mistaken. Be willing to admit when the strength of your evidence is not as strong as you wish it were. A bit of humility goes quite a long way. Until next time, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. Time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful firstname.lastname@example.org You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.
This has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai