Ask Me Anything 2021

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

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

Deconversion How To

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

Paulogia on Babylon Bee’s ExVangelicals

Exvangelical on Evangelical response to Deconstruction

Secular Grace

Anthony Pinn

Amy Rath

Bart campolo

Why I am not an Anti-Theist

My Deconversion Sotry


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Erin: Religious But Not Spiritual

Agnosticism, Authors, Deconstruction, Deconversion Anonymous, Humanism, Podcast, Religious but not Spiritual
Erin by Haida Draws
Photo by Haida Draws
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This week’s show is a Deconversion Anonymous episode.

My guest this week is Erin. Erin is working toward her chaplaincy and her Masters in Practical Theology. She describes herself as “religious, but not spiritual.”

If I had to encapsulate my religious outlook in one sentence, I would invert the oft-cited phrase ‘spiritual, but not religious’ and instead say I am ‘religious, but not spiritual’. I have always had a deep-seated interest in religion, and I love the traditions, community and way of life which Christianity provides. Yet I have always struggled with the supernatural aspects of the faith; I could never grasp the concept of communicating with a God ‘up there’ while humans were ‘down here’.

Erin grew up in Northern Ireland. She was raised to respect all people. But when she was accepted by an Evangelical Presbyterian church she became in her words “the worst kind of fundamentalist.” This included deriding Catholics.

At University she excelled and found herself attracted to more liberal theologies. She says she went from Evangelical to an Open Theist to a functional atheist (agnostic).

Erin also happens to be on the Autism spectrum. This had an impact on her inability to accept things on faith. She needed logical consistency.

But Erin still finds value in the Christian tradition. She plans to do good in the world as chaplain.

Links and recommendations

Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity (Canons Book 104)

Autism Faith Network

Autism Pastor



Humanist Podcast

Secular Grace

Podchaser - Graceful Atheist Podcast

Send in a voice message

Support the podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats

Photo by Haida Draws


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

0:11 Welcome to the show.
2:31 Growing up in the “Bible Belt of Europe”.
5:26 In Ireland, there is a long history of protestants and catholics.
10:40 If God is all powerful, it either means he created evil and allows it because he’s awful, or he’s powerless.
15:34 The best of both worlds at university.
20:28 The transition from open atheism to agnosticism.
25:36 Another reason why autistic people are less likely to be conventionally religious is that they don’t tend to see an overarching meaning.
31:07 How do you interpret the good parts of Christianity without having supernaturalism?
35:32 What is Erin’s idea of what a chaplain does?
41:10 My final thoughts on the episode.
David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I'm not going to make any comments about the news. I've had to record this intro a few days earlier and who knows the world could be upside down by the time you're hearing this. I do want to thank a new writer and reviewer par job P AR jop. Thank you for rating and reviewing the podcast on Apple podcasts. You can also rate and review the podcast on Apple podcasts or on pod Special thanks to Mike T for editing this episode. On today's show, my guest today is Erin. Erin is working towards her chaplaincy. She describes herself as religious but not spiritual. And she is on the autism spectrum. Erin also has a number of accomplishments already at a young age. She wrote a book during her high school years. She is working on a master's degree in practical theology. And she's working towards chaplaincy. Her joy at life, hers. Raviv is obvious as soon as you hear her. And I think her story is really important. I think her perspective coming from the autism spectrum is really significant. And she is ultimately doing good in the world. Here's my conversation with Eric.

Erin, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. Hello, thank you for having me. I'm very excited to have you, you reached out and mentioned that you have a really interesting story to tell. And it's in line with some of the previous guests that we've had where you kind of described yourself as religious but not spiritual, the inversion of the typical spiritual but not religious. You're also amazingly accomplished at very young age, you've written a book, you've got a theology degree, you're working on a master's, if I'm not mistaken. So you've done quite a bit already. But let's start with what was your religious experience growing up?

Erin  2:31  
So as you can possibly tell from my accent, I was born and raised in Northern Ireland, which I like to describe it as the Bible Belt of Europe, because, okay, by demographics, I think it is the most evangelical part, certainly in Western Europe. Although my my parents, they were they were the good sorts of Christians, like, I don't think but good things to say about them in that, you know, we went to church every Sunday. They were decent people. But they didn't shove it down people's throats. So that was fine. Yeah. So in those early days, I have nothing but positive memories attached to the church. It wasn't until I got a bit older, that things started to change. So in Northern Ireland, this gives you an idea of how Evangelica is, whenever you start high school, everybody gets a Bible, you know, even though it's just you know, a government school, everyone gets a Bible Society. I mean, you can refuse it if you want. So we all got our Bibles. And it was also in secondary school, where my life started to go downhill. So I'm autistic, but I, I wasn't diagnosed until I was an adult. So school in general was just awful. Not because it was not because it was a bad school, just because I had no social ability whatsoever. So I was just dreadfully lonely. Oh, no. Okay. And, as I'm sure many people have told you, that is when you are a prime target for religious fundamentalism.

David Ames  4:05  
Yes. Yes, it is. Yeah.

Erin  4:08  
Yeah. Okay. So I have my Bible that would have been handed so I thought, you know, what? May as well read it. It's not like I've got anything else to do.

David Ames  4:15  
Okay. Yeah.

Erin  4:18  
And of course, you autistic. I took it all. Extremely literally. So then I decided, well, I guess I'm gonna have to find a church that takes it as literally as I do. Yes, guess. So. Whereas most teenagers would do. I don't know, sex and drugs or their rebellion. I decided to do fundamentalism. Is that Yes.

David Ames  4:41  
I hear. Yeah. Okay.

Erin  4:42  
So the church I joined. It's called the free Presbyterian Church. Its founder is Ian Paisley. Not sure if you've heard of him. I have not. Don't think he's particularly well known outside of Ireland, but he did have a degree from Bob Jones University. So he's that. Got it out sort of Chris.

David Ames  5:00  
And that tells us listeners exactly what type of Yes, yeah. The church

Erin  5:05  
itself. The people were fine. And they were mostly retirees, and I actually found that easier socially. Okay. So, in that regard, it was actually quite good for me. But unfortunately, as I got more into it, I think the negatives started to outweigh the positives. All right? Yes. I think I just turned into a rather unpleasant person. So, in Ireland, there's a very long, bloody history of Protestants and Catholics hating each other. And, you know, I was raised to not buy into that, until, of course, I started attending this church, where we're told that Catholics are awful, hellbound, false teaching antichrist, etcetera, etcetera. Oh, wow.

David Ames  5:52  
At a distance, you know, I'm aware of some of the history there, but it's really interesting to hear, you describe that just, you know, beginning to go to a Presbyterian Church, which I don't particularly think of usually as super evangelical. So it's really interesting to hear.

Erin  6:09  
I have been to a PCUSA church, and they, other than the fact that they share the same word and their title, they're just totally different. Okay. Yes, my poor parents, you know, they raised me to be a decent person, and then suddenly, what have I become? But at the same time, they were also happy that I finally had something. Okay. Yeah. In my life, that I'm not sure they quite knew what to make of it. There's quite a push in a lot of youth groups that, you know, you should use whatever talents God has given you, and give them back to God. So I was trying to think, well, what am I good art? I like writing. Okay, how can I give this back to God? So, because at school, I didn't have anything to do at break and lunch, because it's not like I was talking to anyone. I just decided to stay in the computer room. And I think, yeah, when I was 13, I wrote my novel.

David Ames  7:07  
Wow. me look bad here, Erin. That's amazing.

Erin  7:15  
Yes. So I voted when I was 13. And then it was published when I was 16. So it takes quite a while to turn a first draft into something that's yeah, readable. So because I loved CS Lewis, on the Chronicles of Narnia, I tried to do something similar. Okay, it's a fantasy story with a Christian message. And interestingly, my first draft was actually quite metaphorical with the religious stuff. It wasn't too heavy handed, but because my publisher was an American Evangelical company, you were very good to me. As part of the editing process, they basically made it much more explicitly Christian. of the American variety.

David Ames  7:59  
This is way too subtle for Americans era. Yes,

Erin  8:05  
yes. Which is why I, you know, obviously, I still advertise the book on my website. I kind of have a love hate relationship with it. Now.

David Ames  8:13  
I can imagine. Yeah.

Erin  8:16  
Same time, I don't want to cancel my former self. So it's still there. And of course, because there's practically no separation of church and state, I was able to go and sell it in primary schools across the country.

David Ames  8:29  
Wow. Okay. You know, you talked about, in your words, becoming a kind of a terrible person. I think that for those of us who take the Bible seriously, just the fact that you read it. And taking it literally, those are the people who take it very seriously. And I find that many times the people who have some kind of deconstruction or deconversion experience later on in life, it's because they took it seriously. It's it wasn't a surface level thing for you. It was it was real. And so I wouldn't say that that makes you a terrible person. I would say that that makes you someone who cares, right. You cared about your religious experience, your and what you were reading?

Erin  9:14  
Yes. And I think like a lot of people I was quite surprised that the Jesus of the New Testament is very different from the fluffy, Lovely Jesus of mainline Protestantism. Yes. Yeah. And I think towards the end of school doubt started creeping in for a few reasons. So Well, firstly, our minister changed. The one that they had when I joined, was relatively moderate for that denomination, okay, but the one who replaced him was very much fire and brimstone. And I just remember thinking every sermon was about what we are not. So we are absolutely not Catholics. We don't like the gays. basically don't like anyone. I just sort of sitting there feeling really frustrated, like, what are you for? We all know what you're against.

David Ames  10:07  
Yeah. That's the exact thing that I'm doing on the other side of the fence, right? Atheism is so much about, wow, we're down with Christianity. But I'm like, well, actually, what's important is what are we? What are we for? We're for loving people actually connecting with one another.

Erin  10:24  
So yes, that definitely frustrated me. Also, the their version of God was extremely Calvinist, I think I began to see some of the logical flaws in that. Okay, because, you know, it's the classic was it, Epicurus? Yes. The Triad. Yes. So if God is all powerful, knowing, as we were taught, It either means he created evil and allows it because he's awful. Or he's powerless to stop it, and therefore, not all powerful. So yeah, I couldn't quite square that circle. Yeah, classical theism.

David Ames  11:01  
It amazed me. I think, as soon as I got my head above the surface, as it were, and began to look at the history of these deep questions. It amazed me that Epicurious had formalized that problem so long ago, and we're still having the same argument today. It just amazes me. Because I mean, you know, it's, it's over, right? I mean, there's logically impossible.

Erin  11:27  
It's such a powerfully simple argument. Yes. And, of course, the standard responses, God's ways are higher than our ways. And we just have to trust the plan. If I actually remember being told that by one of the ministers because he knew I was reading a lot. I think he actually said to me, sometimes it's good, just to trust and stop looking into it.

David Ames  11:50  
You're thinking too much, Erin.

Erin  11:53  
Yeah, I ended up doing the opposite. So I knew my faith was going downhill. So I thought, You know what, I'll go to Theological College, and then I will be super Christian. All my questions will go away, and it will be fine.

David Ames  12:08  
Oh, my God, I feel for you.

Erin  12:11  
Did you go to seminary, or anything like that,

David Ames  12:14  
I went to a very small, very Evangelical, Christian private college, which is to say, not a terribly good education. But I studied church leadership, quote, unquote, which is basically how to be a pastor. However, I really had very lovely professors. I often say that they did too good a job. They taught me critical thinking they taught me, you know, exegesis hermeneutics, you know, actually looking at what the text says, and what the original author and the original hearers understood it to mean. And anyway, a lot of that I still value greatly today, and yet also lead towards really seeking truth wherever it could be found, and ultimately to deconversion.

Erin  13:02  
So it was also at this point, so when I was 18, that I got formally diagnosed as autistic, which was extremely positive for me. Okay, bad things make sense.

David Ames  13:13  
Can you describe a little bit about how that happened? Like, did you go seek out testing? Or did someone suggested,

Erin  13:19  
I mean, I'd been in therapy, basically all of school because we knew something was wrong, but never quite never quite got to the bottom of it. You know, I had various different levels, like anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder, which weren't necessarily incorrect. They just didn't get the full picture. And it wasn't until I saw a different psychiatrist. And really within about one session, she she suggested going for an autism assessment, which isn't something that actually crossed my mind before,

David Ames  13:52  
right? Do you find that having the diagnosis was very helpful, or did you feel burdened by that label? I found it

Erin  14:00  
immensely helpful. But unfortunately, in the UK, the waiting list for an autism diagnosis, particularly for an adult is approximately three years. Oh, wow. And if I hadn't waited three years, I would have been graduated by then. I had I'm extremely privileged in that I had relatives rich enough just to buy me a private assessment, which I don't think there's anywhere near as much as it would be in the US like it was about 1000 pounds. But still, that's a lot of money. Sure. Yeah. Yeah, that came back. Well, back then we called it high functioning autism. I don't think we use that term anymore. But I do find it hard to keep keep up with the language because it changes so much.

David Ames  14:44  
We mentioned off Mike the labels or the language sometimes can be complicated.

Erin  14:48  
Yeah. So I am what they used to call Asperger's Syndrome. But we don't use Asperger's Syndrome anymore, because Asperger was a Nazi.

David Ames  14:56  
Okay. That's See, I was even unaware of that fact. So I'm learning something here.

Erin  15:04  
Yeah, I don't know an awful lot about it. But I know he has extremely questionable eugenics history and experimentation on children.

David Ames  15:12  
Wow. Okay. Is there a terminology that you prefer for yourself?

Erin  15:18  
I think just bog standard autism is the easiest thing. Yeah. And when it comes to, you know, is an autistic person or person with autism? I really don't mind. Like, as long as you say it nicely, I really don't mind. Okay.

David Ames  15:41  
So I completely interrupted you. So you, you had your assessment, which it sounds like was a good thing. And then what happens next?

Erin  15:48  
Yeah. So then I went off to university, the University I went to, it was only three miles from my house, but I moved I anyway, because I wanted to try and get that independence. Yeah, it was like the best of both worlds really? Right. So the theological college I went to, it was a funny setup in that it was a Presbyterian, Ron college and all the professors were Presbyterian ministers, but it was sponsored by, you know, the normal state university. Okay. Proper University. Okay. So I do have a proper degree. Yeah. So socially, it was excellent. Because well, I had the support in place. And I think just people are more mature when you get to university. You can find people who match your interests. And so yeah, so socially, it was a very good three years. Our degrees are only three years.

David Ames  16:40  
Okay? That doesn't surprise me. You guys are smarter over there.

Erin  16:45  
Although, in Northern Ireland anyway, we do 14 years at school, whereas I think in America, it's 12. Grades, we, we do four to 18. I think we just succeed anyway. So socially, it was excellent. And, you know, I came out of my shell, I learned more about myself. But I felt like, the more I became confident in myself as a person, the less competent I was, in my faith, as it were.

David Ames  17:13  
Okay. Yeah. The

Erin  17:14  
opposite reason why I went to college. And it was just the same problem I'd had before and that I couldn't just accept it. I had to think, which is the point of university. But yeah, I, I felt like, it's almost like we started with our conclusion, and then worked backwards to try and find the evidence for it. And surely, you're supposed to do the opposite. Yes.

David Ames  17:41  
I think that is a deeply insightful observation. I think that's what you see from apologetics in particular, but yes, and Christian schools as well.

Erin  17:51  
And I remember one thing in particular, that was said in a lecture, where was it? The professor said, the Bible is the Word of God, because it's self attesting, which means the Bible is the Word of God, because it says so. Right. It's just sitting there like, I am paying money for this. I got on a personal level with every professor Barwon because we fell out over disability adjustments, because he was very much of the opinion that pull yourself up by the bootstraps, you don't need any help. And then he said, If you don't come to my class, you won't do well. So I refused on to his class turned up to the final exam and got the highest score just to spite him.

David Ames  18:36  
I love it. I love it. I think had we been at the same university at the same time, we would have been great friends.

Erin  18:44  
Yeah, so yeah, part of it was, you know, the intellectual side, it wasn't quite holding up, there was also undeniably an emotional element. I remember at one point, I didn't know this person, personally, but they're quite well known within like Irish church circles. Okay. Their child had horrific brain tumor. And I remember, practically every church in the country was praying for them week on week. And whenever they showed improvement, it was praise God, whatever they didn't. We just had to pray harder. And the whole thing just made me profoundly uncomfortable. I can imagine. Yeah. And that it just drove me to the classic questions about prayer. You know, the New Testament is really clear. There's a lot of verses that say, Whatever you ask for my name, I will give it to you. And you can do the mental gymnastics to try and explain that away. But, you know, yeah, when there's a kid deteriorating, despite practically an entire country praying for him. Yeah, I just, it almost seemed the most logical explanation was that we were talking to thin hair.

David Ames  19:56  
So again, you were taking it very seriously, huh? The reasonable expectation after reading the New Testament, and then the reality of the world don't match up.

Erin  20:08  
Yeah. And also on a personal level. So I have arthritis as well as autism. I'm a disaster. There's a few rather embarrassing times where people tried to kill me of my arthritis. Guess what? It didn't work? Yeah. And again, that just, it causes you to question why. Yeah. So as often happens, my view of God got more and more liberal, until it practically wasn't there anymore. So I went from Calvinist, to have anyone to open theist to the point where it's like, I'm basically a functionally atheist. Alright, you know, God, for me had lost so many attributes that I eventually got to the point like, what am I even clinging on?

David Ames  20:56  
Did you go through a more of an agnostic phase of just I don't know, or did you really go from open theism to? I don't think God exists?

Erin  21:05  
Well, I think that's where I've landed agnosticism, I think that's just the most honest position, I think. So I don't know if there's a God. And I think the term functional atheist is probably quite fitting.

David Ames  21:19  
That makes sense to me, than it seems honest. And I think that is a perfectly reasonable position to hold.

Erin  21:27  
So then from my final year dissertation, I decided to do my research on autistic adults in the church, for obvious reasons, and also because everything that had been written was about children. So I thought, let's write something about adults, specifically. And how did that go? Yeah, it went really well. I really enjoyed the project. It sort of gave me a taste for independent research, which I quite liked. But my findings were particularly interesting. There's quite a few studies that prove that autistic people are way more likely on average to be atheist or agnostic. Again, probably because we do think so logically, and straightforward. God, I can't bring myself to do the mental gymnastics required. Sorry, that sounds terribly condescending.

David Ames  22:19  
What is interesting, I think about D conversions like so in my case, I very much did believe I very much was doing those mental gymnastics until you have this moment of clarity where you recognize I'm doing math, mental gymnastics. And if I just stopped making those assumptions, what does it look like? Yes, it's the opposite of born again. But the scales fall from your eyes. And you realize, I have been taking things on given or taking things on somebody else's word, without really investigating and really questioning myself.

Erin  22:56  
And you know, emotionally, it was very, very difficult. Because I did live in a Christian bubble. Yeah. And I, it's, I don't think it's overdramatic to say it did feel like my life was falling apart, because I just managed to build a nice social life for myself. Right? And then suddenly, I was worried that that was all gonna go away. So that yeah, it was a very unpleasant time in general. Okay. But the degree itself, it went, it went very well, I was the highest scoring student in the college, which probably annoyed some professors.

David Ames  23:37  
That's awesome.

Erin  23:37  
Because all our work had to be double marked by the proper University. So that's why yes. It also actually, while I was there, that state university decided to sever funding for the theological college, because for a variety of reasons, but I think, basically, their teaching wasn't good enough for them. So those of us who had started, were able to finish with our proper degrees, but I think from now onwards, I don't know what they'll do, but they're certainly not part of that university anymore.

David Ames  24:13  
Okay. Can I ask you one more question about the research? And correct me if this is a simplistic understanding of autism, my observation of Christianity is you just mentioned the word bubble, is that it is kind of socially enforced. You learn what the group what the community believes is true. And you learn where the unwritten boundaries are. And when you cross them, you are corrected, right? You get a sense of, I can question this far, and then that's too much, or I can look at these resources, but outside this, you know, outside of Christianity, those don't quite work. So my question to you is, my simplistic understanding of autism is that it's sometimes Missing social cues or missing the implicit information within a community? And does that correlate to why maybe autistic people are more likely to be agnostic or atheist?

Erin  25:14  
I think that's definitely part of it. I think that's also part of why I ended up doing so well, because I didn't realize this this doctrinal line you're not supposed to cross. I was drawing at all sorts of sources, you know, John Shelby Spong to all these heretics that would not normally be cited in such a college. Another reason that some research suggests is that we don't tend to think Tellier logically, which means we don't tend to see an overarching meaning. So say, for example, that kid with a brain tumor I mentioned, all those tele illogical explanations, like for the glory of God, Satan's doing it, something like that. None of them were satisfying, because I don't think that way, I just think, in the here and now, I was like, the kids cells are multiplying irregularly. He needs chemotherapy. That's it. I don't see any supernatural component to this. Right. Exactly. So yeah, that's another reason why I think autistic people are less likely to be conventionally religious. Which I suppose brings us to why I am still calling myself religious but not spiritual.

David Ames  26:34  
Yeah, so that definitely begs that question. Yes.

Erin  26:37  
Towards the end of college. And this was like the beginning of time, because I graduated online. I think that's when I started to, quote unquote, come out as agnostic slash, whatever I was, okay. In fact, the first time it was even by accident, because I remember, me and my friends, we were talking about existentialism, because good grief, we were nerds,

David Ames  27:03  
as you do as you do.

Erin  27:07  
And I think I was basically just saying how much I loved the idea of existential that things just are on that we just have to make the most of it. There is no meaning other than the meaning that we create for ourselves, etcetera, etcetera. Yeah. And then I think one of my friends was like, but where does God fit into that? I think at that point, I was just like, he doesn't. Yeah, I'm not sorry, to interesting conversation. But compared to what I hear from a lot of people, I'm extremely lucky. I didn't lose any friends over it. Because I think we were friends for the right reasons, not just because we thought the same way. Likewise with my parents. I mean, I think there was a little bit of abusement with them, because you know, I'd been fundamentalist before. Now I'm coming home saying I'm an agnostic. I think they were just like, right, you're being Muslim in two weeks? Yes.

David Ames  28:01  
They sound like wonderful parents, I got it. That's good to hear. I'm really glad to hear that your friends stuck with you. Because I do feel like this process. You learn who your friends are? And who, maybe some people who are not your friends that you thought were

Erin  28:18  
Yeah, and I think what a lot of people said very well meaning is that, you know, doubt is normal. But I think I beyond doubt, I don't think doubt is sufficient.

David Ames  28:30  
Yeah. So I think we've covered the non spiritual part fairly well, what is it about the Christian tradition, then that you find useful or compelling,

Erin  28:41  
I still think Christianity and church communities can still be a useful part of someone's life, they can be seen as part of our culture, or kind of like an art form, without necessarily having to take it. Absolutely, literally. An example I like to give is secular Judaism. So Jews are way ahead of us in this regard. Because I mean, particularly in Europe, quite a high proportion of Jews are functionally atheist, but they keep the rituals and the sense of community. So basically, they keep all the good bits of the religion and managed to dispense with the bad bits. Yeah. people accuse me of cherry picking, and I say, Yes, that is exactly what I am doing.

David Ames  29:27  
Exactly. I'm going to have Matt from two Christians in a Jew, which is their title, not mine. And he's an Orthodox Jewish person, and we're going to chat and one of the questions I'll ask him is about secular Judaism, right? And the secular humanism that I think is very influenced by Judaism. And the reason I bring this up is, I often hear from Christian apologists that humanism gets all of its ideas from Christianity. And I want to say first Well, I think these ideas long predates Christianity. But beyond that, if anything, modern secular humanism is mostly influenced by secular Judaism. Right? Yes. Yeah, this idea of, hey, we're a community, we still need to have rituals in which we connect with one another and find purpose and meaning. And we don't need anything else beyond that.

Erin  30:20  
Yes, so the Bible has some truly horrendous bits. It also has some bits that are quite decent. And it really is just, you know, trying to apply a utilitarian lens. So anything which we can use to create more happiness for the greatest among people should be kept anything else? We can appreciate it in a literary sense or historical sense, without needing to take it. So literally, right. And I think to a lot of Americans in particular, I don't think this form of Christianity is quite as popular as it is in Europe. To give you an idea in, in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, one in six of their pastors are open atheists. Oh, wow. Okay. Because Europe, in Scotland, where I live now, my theological hero is a bishop called Richard Holloway, and he was an agnostic. Okay. So yeah, I'm certainly not the only one who is attempting to keep the traditions and the community of Christianity without the harmful doctrine,

David Ames  31:31  
right. I do want to just say here that I do think the community aspect, that connection between human beings is the good part of Christianity. And if you can salvage that, then wonderful, that's fantastic. I have one question for you. I've often said that the most dangerous word in English is God. Oh, yes. And what I mean by that is that you could ask 1000 Different people what or who God is, and you would get 1000 different answers. Exactly. So how do you interpret the good parts of Christianity that community parts, the ritual parts, without having supernaturalism kind of sneak in accidentally?

Erin  32:15  
Yeah, that there was an Anglican bishop called John Robinson. Last century, he argued that because of what you said that God has been redefined into oblivion, that we should just dispense with the word altogether. Obviously, that's not going to happen. I quite liked his idea. So looking at it from a purely psychological or anthropological point of view. I quite like what Don Cupid says that God is essentially just an anthropomorphize version of our highest ideals. Yeah. So you can tell a lot about a person based on the God they worship. Yeah. So when I talk about God, if I must, yes, it is basically just an anthropomorphized form of my highest ideals, which is things like love to be cliche, kindness, cooperation, beauty, progress, et cetera, et cetera, all of these things. That is what I am thinking of, whenever I say prayers, God, I am well aware that the person sitting next to me in the Pew has a completely different interpretation. And I think that is fine, as long as we both respect each other. And that's actually something I really like about the Scottish church. It's a very broad church in that, you know, you've got everything from evangelicals, to agnostic atheists, all using the same liturgy, but interpreting it very differently. Right. But we're all sharing cups of tea together. Yeah. For the pandemic.

David Ames  33:51  
Yes. Back when we can be fully human. Yeah, yes.

Erin  33:57  
I don't think I could ever go back to an evangelical church. I mean, well, who knows? But certainly at the minute, I don't think I could, but I'm quite happy in the tradition I'm in at the minute because there was room for a very wide variety of opinions.

David Ames  34:17  
And what do you see your role in the church as you see it?

Erin  34:21  
So right now I'm studying a master's degree in chaplaincy, because I really liked chaplaincy. I did a bit art just in a voluntary basis when I was at college, and I feel like a lot of the people who are to theologically left field to be priests end up as chaplains. Okay. I don't know if they'd appreciate me saying that. I think it's a much more practical form of having fear. So it takes the best bits of what Jesus was doing. So he hung out with people who were ostracized from normal society, and that is quite often what a chaplain does, whether they're in a home hospital or prison or wherever. It's almost like a combination between a priest and a social worker. And in terms of the spirituality of it, it's very much driven by the person. So if they have a very strong faith and a supernatural God, then that's what we go with. Because it's all about helping them not imposing my views. Likewise, quite a lot of our clients end up being atheists, and they don't want to talk about God, they just want to talk about I'd know their children. Yeah, yeah, we're here for that.

David Ames  35:32  
I think you've just described, the thing that I found, as a teenager, so compelling about Jesus is that in his time, he was calling out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. And he was spending time with the people who were rejected, who were isolated. He was actually caring for people, literally, you know, if you take the story, literally feeding people. And it sounds like that is your idea of what a chaplain does, right? Did you do the gospel?

Erin  36:04  
Yeah. So my full degree title is a master of practical theology. It's that practical focus that I really like. Yeah, the way of Christ can still have potential in the modern world. If we can somehow detach it from this idea of Jesus being the second person of the Trinity hypostatic union pre existing eminent the father, blah, blah, blah.

David Ames  36:30  
You got to throw it in hypostatic. Union. Yeah. I love it.

Erin  36:36  
So I would very much love to be a chaplain, but I'm also realistic in that I am well aware of that I might have a chance with, particularly the Scottish church, they may well turn around and say you're a bit too Orthodox, which would be fair enough. Okay. So I think my plan B would probably be just going into secular counseling, because I think you can achieve some of the same aims. But right now, I'm still on the chaplaincy path, and we'll see where it goes.

David Ames  37:06  
I don't want to oversimplify what you do or what you see as kind of mission for you. But have you worked with other people on the autism spectrum?

Erin  37:15  
Not directly, actually. But my most favorite form of chaplaincy ever was maritime chaplaincy? So that is working with, like the crews of cargo ships. Okay. And I found that immensely interesting. Because these people, they live on a confined ship for months of the year, very little company. It's like living in their own world within a world. And that's how I felt like I was prior to my diagnosis, you know, interested trapped in my own world. I know how meaningful it can be if someone breaks into that world, and just makes you feel seen, like an actual person. Yeah. And I feel like that's, that's what we were doing when we visited ships. Okay, it could be something simple, like just bringing phone cards or tacky Irish souvenirs? Yes, you know, it just meant an awful lot to the people that we visited. And I thought this is the gospel, like, yes, I would happily do this for the rest of my life. If I could.

David Ames  38:15  
Yeah, that's awesome. So Erin, let me ask you, what are some resources that you suggest, let's say somebody who is either questioning their faith or someone who has discovered they're on the spectrum? What are some resources that you found useful?

Erin  38:32  
My most favorite theology book is doubts and loves by Richard Holloway. He's an agnostic Bishop I mentioned. Okay, because I just think that it's not a very long book. But I think it does a fantastic job of laying out how some of the tenants of Judaism and Christianity can still be carried forward into a secular world. So I like that a lot. And as for someone who's newly diagnosed, I think one of the great things of the internet years is that there's so many resources out there. And the autism faith network, I will always recommend, I love them. Okay, I interviewed the lady who founded founded it for my dissertation. So yeah, if you're still attending church, and you have got a diagnosis, I definitely recommend getting in touch with them. There's also a guy called Lamar Hardwick. I am probably mispronouncing his name, but he calls himself the autism pastor, because, as the name suggests, he is a pastor with autism. His books are very good.

David Ames  39:38  
Excellent. So we're doing this episode as more of a deconversion anonymous episode, so I'm not going to ask you to give information about how to contact you but if people are interested, is it okay if I forward like emails that come to me to you?

Erin  39:53  
Yes, yes. Okay. I mean, I'm sure if people are able to put the pieces together they could probably find me but yeah,

David Ames  40:00  
Honestly, that's how I am to right. It's like I just yeah, it's 95% Anonymous. Yeah, a dedicated person can figure this out. It's not going yeah.

Erin  40:10  
But no, I love talking to people. And in fact, I've found quite often that people say to me that I'm saying out loud what their voice thought, or too scared to say

David Ames  40:19  
yes. So Erin, I really appreciate what you are about what you are doing in the world, I think, you know, to use my terminology that you are expressing secular Grace within this religious but not spiritual framework. And I wish you all the best, I hope that you become a chaplain and get to do everything that you've described here.

Erin  40:44  
Thank you. And thank you so much for this podcast. I think I've listened to it for a long time. And I think if we had more atheists like you, maybe Christians would realize that they're not the scary monsters that we think.

David Ames  40:58  
Well, thank you for being a listener. I appreciate it. Erin, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thank you.

Final thoughts on the episode. Like I said, she has an infectious joy about her. Erin is so accomplished at such a young age. She's making us all look bad. But I just love her desire to do good in the world to reach people where they're at regardless of their metaphysical beliefs. Erin has gone the gamut of speaking and publicizing her book within the Christian world, to seminary and exploring liberal theologies, and ultimately to religious but not spiritual, still maintaining the traditions of Christianity without the supernatural beliefs. I was particularly affected by her research into adults with autism, and how that affects matters of faith. What we discussed in the episode, I think, was really important that so much of faith is the community expressing what to believe. And for someone who is less prone to receive those implicit signals, it's harder for them to take that leap. I just found that really interesting to hear from Erin's perspective. Beyond just the autism spectrum, is Erin's obvious intelligence and as a young person in school, not being able to accept pat answers. I think that is a challenge that many bright young people face when they're confronted with things they must accept by faith. When they are looking for evidence or looking for logical reasons, and can't find them. That is a hard place to be. I expect to hear great things about the impact that Erin makes on the world. I want to thank Erin for being on the podcast for sharing her story sharing her joy for life. I wish her all the best in her endeavors. And I hope that someday she can be a chaplain. You may have noticed that we have been doing an episode per week lately. As I have reflected on in previous episodes, I had a number of interviews in the can. Mike T has joined the team and is helping out with editing so we are able to go a little faster. I don't know that this is maintainable for the long run. But for as many weeks as we can do. We'll do one episode per week until either Mike or I runs out of energy or we run out of content one or the other. I have upcoming episodes with Logan, who calls himself beyond belief on Twitter and social media. I have Troy with y'all means all. I have mer Simka who is from the two Christians in a Jew podcast as well as several others. So keep coming back to hear these and other stories. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human.

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

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by

Sasha Sagan: For Small Creatures Such As We

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

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

Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan from Contact

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

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

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

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

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







Secular Grace

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Support the podcast


“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


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

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

Sasha Sagan, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Ames  24:19  
do that some

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Ames  29:47  
Yeah, but

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Ames  32:33  
exactly. Sorry. Yeah.

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

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

Sasha Sagan  33:21  
Oh, wow. Yeah.

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

Sasha Sagan  33:34  
Slash sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has been the graceful atheist podcast

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Matt Cook: Deconverson (not so) Anonymous

Deconversion Anonymous, Humanism, Podcast, Religious but not Spiritual, YouTubers
Matt Cook: Deconversion (not so) Anonymous. Click to play episode on
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Today’s show is a Deconversion (not so) Anonymous episode. In these episodes, people who have gone through deconversion or faith transitions tell their stories anonymously or otherwise.

On today’s episode, my guest is Matt Cook from Toronto Canada. Matt was a former evangelical missionary to Pakistan and a preacher who lost his faith about six years ago. Matt is not your typical deconvert. He calls himself religious but not spiritual. Several years after deconversion, Matt chose to live a year “Christianly.” During that year he prayed, he read the bible daily, he went to church and practiced other spiritual disciplines. Although, it did not change his mind he has found continued value in these disciplines and practices some of them to this day. 

You can learn more about Matt and his year of living Christianly at his blog, on his YouTube channel and @matt_the_cook on Twitter.

In the show we discuss the possibility of becoming a humanist chaplain (or celebrant or officiant), if you are interested in exploring that role or if you are looking for a humanist celebrant to officiate a wedding, dedication or funeral find the humanist organization for your country. In the US, it is the American Humanist Society. In Canada, it is Humanist CanadaWikipedia lists more organizations.

“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats