Josh de Keijzer: After God’s End

Agnosticism, Atheism, Bloggers, Deconstruction, Philosophy, Podcast, Post Theism, Scholarship, Secular Grace
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This week’s guest is Josh de Keijzer, PhD. Josh writes at After God’s End: Fragments of a Post-Christian narrative  

Josh grew up in an evangelical home in the Netherlands. He knew his family was “set apart,” different from the mainstream Dutch culture. 

“I realized…I had been brought up as an evangelical…We were always part of a minority. ”

As a teenager, Josh took his faith seriously, so he had a hard time with the adults in the church. Their actions did not line up with what they believed, and the hypocrisy was rampant. 

Josh had always wanted to visit the US and was able to attend university and seminary in the States where the questions really began. 

“[I was at] a solidly evangelical seminary but there were plenty of people who did a lot of questioning. I have to credit them for opening my eyes…”

Josh’s questions led him out of the Christian church, but he hasn’t given up on spirituality. Josh’s life has meaning as he lives with compassion and love for others. Always a beautiful thing to behold. 







“I realized…I had been brought up [in the Netherlands] as an evangelical…I realized that we were always ‘set apart.’ We were always part of a minority. ”

“I really hated worship music. I’ve always hated it.” 

“[I was at] a solidly evangelical seminary but there were plenty of people who did a lot of questioning. I have to credit them for opening my eyes…”

“I was given white privilege even as a foreigner.”

“[Justification by faith, now] simply refers to an immaterial fantasy in order to avoid material responsibilities.” 

“Systemic thinking does not come easy for evangelicals.” 

“I call myself a radical theologian but not a Christian.”

“Even though I’m not a Christian, I’m not against religion.”

“Basically 99.9999% of all god concepts are neurotic constructs to drive us away from ourselves, and so, therefore, I’m not too excited about religions.”

“If religions go, then you get something else. You get ideology, and all ideology is just as bad.” 

“That’s the problem with religions and ideologies. They are not just glasses for how we see the world; they are our eyes, our instrument for understanding…”

“Knowledge is social and perspectives are transmitted socially.”

“There is no meaning in life, and you need to accept that before you can create meaning.” 

“…once you leave the Christian faith you don’t have to become an atheist. Atheism is often another version of a committed point of view about which we cannot say anything for certain…”


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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 United studios Podcast Network. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. If you are doubting deconstructing going through the dark night of the soul, you do not have to do that alone. Join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous and be amongst friends. You can find us at Next week's guest is Holly Laurent from the mega podcast. Holly and the mega podcast crew are amazingly funny. And now they're about to do a special series that you're gonna love. Mega is an improvised satire in a world of a fictional mega church, and they're releasing a comedy investigation mini series inside the world of their own show called The Rise and Fall of twin hills. The Rise and Fall of twin Hills is a hilarious riff on the self important truth seeking that happens around church scandals and the twisted psychology of those who are inside them. This mini series is chock full of ridiculous scandal put it this way. If you think that the real mega church pastors improprieties we've seen over the last few years are bad. Get ready for the outlandish high jinks of Pastor Steven Judson. If you're a fan of great comedy parody or just want a light hearted take on deconstructing the harmful beliefs we know so well then go check out mega and their new mini series that comes out on May 21. My favorite past episodes have awesome guests like Cecily Strong and Louie Anderson. So look up mega now and follow them. You're not gonna want to miss the rise and fall of twin hills. It's on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, our lien interviews. This week's guest Josh de Keijzer. Josh calls himself a radical theologian. He no longer calls himself a Christian. You can find him on Instagram at after God's end. And he brings a really interesting perspective to the table. Josh is Dutch the discussion that Arline and Josh get into reflects on the differences between the Netherlands and the United States. Near the end, Arline and Josh talk a bit about post modernism. And Josh begins to describe something that I would call secular grace. Here is our lien interviewing Josh de Keijzer.

Arline  2:54  
Hi, Josh, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Josh de Keijzer  2:57  
Thank you, Arline.

Arline  2:58  
I'm super excited. A past guest, Tony, George sent me your information and said, Hey, he may want to be on the show. And I reached out and I was already following you on Instagram. So I was excited when you said yes. And yeah. I'm excited to hear your story. So the way we usually begin is just tell us about the religious environment that you grew up in and tell your story.

Josh de Keijzer  3:21  
Okay. Well, thanks for inviting me on the podcast. And I'm excited to tell a bit about myself. I'm, I'm from the Netherlands. And I have studied in the United States from 2009 to 2017. So it was a long time. an MA in, in Christian thought and then a PhD in systematic theology. Oh, wow. And so I left America, actually, I wanted to stay in America and teach at a college but the whole theology thing in academia was collapsing. So an early sign an early sign of, I would say the de Christianization, or the upcoming de Christianization of the US anyway, so I had to leave and and after returning to the Netherlands, I was unable to make the significant meaningful theological connections. So my academic life finished with me leaving America and now I'm a copywriter and enjoying it very much and taking on bigger names, and bigger jobs. And I'm a ghost writer. Now I write books for companies and for people. And I'm always able to throw in quite a bit of my theological heritage, even though I'm no longer a professing Christian. Anyway, so I started by being born in the Netherlands a long time ago in the 60s. He's, and it was only much later, let's say, you know, toward the end of my stay in America, that I finally realized that I had been brought up as an evangelical as an American Evangelical. Oh, wow. And specifically, you have to attach evangelical to, to the nomenclature because I realized that growing up as a Christian, we were always set apart. We were part of a minority. And we had our network of people. We were not alone, as a family and as a church. But we also didn't really fit into the wider scheme of things. We were strangers in a strange land. Yeah, so later, I realized that's because I was an American Evangelical. And so I've always had a deep interest in America. I also had family in states in the Seattle area, my uncle and and emigrated to the United States in the 60s. So it was kind of an infatuation like America was the real deal. That's where that's the origin of my faith, and, and the whole shebang. So I grew up as an American Evangelical, and we met American missionaries who would come over to Europe, and we, my father was very much in love with an organization that originated in America by the name of Operation mobilization, okay. And he always wanted to join that organization. But he didn't. But eventually, I did. And I spent a couple of times with a couple of years with Operation mobilization on their, on one of their ships, initially, until it sank in South America, and then stuck around for a total of eight years with that organization. During that time, I also wrote a course for like, missionary awareness. So, you know, if deeply, deeply invested, and later I did my bachelor in, in theology, and biblical studies, and then eventually I ended up in, in advertising as a graphic designer, and later as an art director, but I wasn't really satisfied intellectually, I guess. And so it feels like I had an intellectual awakening. And then we're talking like, early 40s. But the intellectual awakening was accompanied by a renewed interest into sources of my faith and the foundations of my Christian faith. So I, I got deeply interested in apologetics, and which is the defense of the Christian faith. A lot, lots of that in the US. And I applied to go to seminary in applied for a seminary in the US for my Masters, and then got admitted at a Christian thought program. And by then I'm in my 40s. So that's where I come from.

Arline  8:02  
Yes. Wow. Okay. I'm curious. What is you said, you guys were set apart. You are clearly like this American version of evangelicalism. What is the like religious look of the Netherlands? Or is that it's very broad, or is it very secular? I have no idea.

Josh de Keijzer  8:18  
Oh, the Netherlands is very secular. Okay. So we experienced our de Christianization moment in the 60s and the 70s. And by the 80s. Basically, nobody went to church anymore, but nobody is not entirely fair. There are still, you know, a bunch of Catholics in the south. We have strong roots in Calvin Calvinistic reformation. But it's, it's only present mostly as a cultural cultural memory. And it is not a there. So we have our Bible belt to like you have in the in the US, we have our Bible Belt. It's really like a narrow strip that crosses the entire nation is like this, where the very conservative people live. And as an Evangelical, I did not belong to them. I had a allegiance elsewhere.

Arline  9:22  
So what did your upbringing look like? Like, was it Church on the weekends church on Wednesday night? That's what I think of evangelicalism, like the more modern music, or was it traditional? Was it at your home to that was another thing

Josh de Keijzer  9:35  
that started to house church in? Oh, wow. The late 60s. And I still have fond memories of that, you know, I don't ascribe to that faith anymore. But fond childhood memories of you know, all the interesting stories of the things that happen there. But yeah, it's very much a kind of a brother in church, met at a house and later at a A synagogue that was no longer in use in our town, gathered a group of people, I think the maximum number of members at one point was at 88, or something, usually much smaller. But there were a lot of a lot of hypocrites around. And let me nuance that because we're all hypocrites we cannot get by in life without being hypocritical. But there's, there's just like the basic level of hypocrisy. And then there is next level hypocrisy where people really try to achieve objectives with sneaky by sneaky means. And I've met a lot of dead men a lot of that. And so as a teenager, I struggled with my faith, because I liked all the music of the world. And I like punk music and new wave, you know, if we're talking about the 80s, and I was a member of a band, I was a singer and a keyboard player. And on the, on the other hand, the faith thing. So I struggled with that. And now when I look back, I realize that even back then, the hypocrisy that people had, and not just general hypocrisy, but people who try to con my parents and, and put them down and just did humiliate them. And replace them. I guess it really did something to me at a subconscious level. I know that I always hated worship music, I just hated it. And luckily, being the pianist at church, you know, you hit along and you turn all those songs, either in jazz or, you know, whatever you fancy you improvise around the song. And so that was the fun part. But actually, I really hated worship music. I really hated it. I've always made it. Interesting, right? Was that, like an early rebellious response? I guess. So I guess like did, this didn't work for me.

So and then later, when I, I came to the US to study theology, I was invested at a sort of an intellectual, from an intellectual point of view, looking that, you know, if you can nail down the intellectual foundation of Christianity, then you don't have to worry about the worship styles and stuff that I don't really care for. But then at least you were making a contribution at a very fundamental level, that kind of, I think that was my objective. And so he can make your contribution that way intellectually. But the culture never appealed to me.

Arline  12:42  
Oh, that's fascinating. I liked a little bit of both of it. Like I also have good memories, I did not grow up in the church. But my years in church, for the most part, were good. But I did I liked the Hillsong music, but I also liked the reading all the dead white guy books like So thinking back to when you were young, and you're talking about being rebellious, like young people take their often will take their beliefs very seriously. Like if Jesus really is the only way to God and like all the stuff that you're being taught is true. When you see people's lives not be changed, and the way they treat your family and the hypocrisy. It's much harder to like, make it work. Because it's like, if there really is a Holy Spirit, who's supposed to be changing people, why am I seeing this kind of behavior from these people, especially the adults that you're supposed to look up to? And things?

Josh de Keijzer  13:32  
I was not self differentiated enough. So in my view, it was just like, my dad was being beleaguered by evil men. Yeah, of course, that's not what Christians were like. So there was something wrong and maybe it was the devil. You know, he was he was waging a spiritual warfare here. And oh, good. Those lines. Yeah. So I think I think my rebellious ness is more at a subconscious level. And my hatred for worship music was a sign of that. It was it was a sign of things to come.

Arline  14:04  
Ha, that's funny. That's funny. So yeah, so what happened? Were there small things that happened that you started losing your belief? So we're

Josh de Keijzer  14:12  
no, no, no, not at all. So I struggled with my faith, but I was committed and I remained committed. And by the time I had my intellectual revival, or whatever you want awakening, I was, I was still firmly committed to the Christian faith, and already gone through a couple of phases of, like, recommitment or deepening or whatever you want to call it. I don't care. But so no, the questioning started only at the seminary. That's where I started going haywire from the Midwest, and I'd finally kind of achieved my dream. And so it was at the the Walhalla of Christianity, so to speak, you know, my, my blend of Christianity and And so now I have come to the truth right now. Now I would figure it all out. But then we were. And this is a personal anecdote, so I'm not going to go too deep into it if you don't mind. But in my family situation, stuff went really bad. Between me and my wife. It resulted in me living alone on campus. For the rest of my stay in America. Okay, so that was a first dent. And I'm like, so How was this possible? You know, the Lord guided us it was God's will. God knows everything, he knew that this was going to happen. So how can God make this happen? Why couldn't he have prevented us from going because then this wouldn't have happened bla bla bla. So you know, the questions start coming. And I guess my I also met people at that seminary, it was a thoroughly solidly evangelical seminary. But there were plenty of people who did a lot of questioning, and to credit them for, you know, opening my eyes, like, Hey, you can think differently. You don't have to be a mentalist. And one of the one of the major insights was, and it wasn't my first year that I realized, hey, look, you can describe certain things as sin, you know, or rich people need to repent and and get right with the Lord. But you can also do family marriage therapy, and then help them see where it comes from, and not sin, and they start feeling much, much better in the Lord. So that kind of I realized that. So I struggled along and try to embrace some some like postmodern notions, blah, blah, blah. But the big change for me came. In my second year, I had a black classmate, and she posted something on on Facebook, and one evening, where narrated how she had been stopped by the police in her own her own neighborhood. And police had told her, Hey, you drove through red light? And she had answered, No, I didn't. And then I said, okay, but next time, you know, you better be careful. And so she narrated that. And suddenly, it dawned on me, comparing myself with her situation. There she was in her own country, in her own name, having to experience these things on a regular basis. And here I was, as a foreigner, in America, driving my sports coupe, vehicle, speeding everywhere, all the time, under any circumstance, not just not worried. It's like, it's not in my mind that I should be worried about the police. And if I would have been stopped by the police, I would have thrown my hands in the air and say, I'm sorry, officer, I'm not from here. I'm from Europe, and we drive differently. I was just not thinking what I was doing. I'm sorry, it would have just let me get off. But hey, if you're a black, it's a different story. Ah, even even in the northern parts of the Midwest, and, and so I realized what was going on I was I was given white privilege, even as a foreigner, and I was living it out subconsciously, like all these other white people around me. And she was not having that, any of that. And she had to be careful in her own neighbor. So that set off a chain reaction. I finally started seeing racism from like, from the inside. I was already pretty much aware of it, but I started seeing it from the inside. And next I realized that racism played a large part in how things were being done at my seminary and university, because they have diversity committee. Oh, sure. And guess who was on the Diversity Committee of this all white seminary? X, black person? Why Asian person Z? And who is the president of the committee? Asian background, Professor, okay. Yeah, like African American professor. And so they were allowed to do their little thing in their little corner. As long as the rest of them could just go on doing what they were doing.

Arline  19:24  
It didn't look like anything was actually going to be changed or accommodated.

Josh de Keijzer  19:29  
at a deep level, not at a deep level. I see. And, and then, of course, you start hearing the voices and it started it's with like, a theologian, like what's his name? Nevermind, nevermind, his name doesn't matter. Like a very moderate, pretty conservative theologian who had a Hispanic background. We noted that you know, in history, the history of theology See that many decisions were made out of concerns of power, and over truth. And so you started, I started seeing more and more of that, and it became more and more uncomfortable.

And so I would say that racism was the big, the big chain, the big changer for me. Because how is it possible there you have a seminary, and we all have the word of the Lord. The Bible is God's absolute word contains God's absolute truth. And you know, we are so lucky to have it and to understand how it works. And so let's expound the Bible, the word, let's do a little bit more of Bible study or systematic theology, and you know, can get doctrinally righteous. But at the same time, they these very people were not able, and still, to this day, and 10 year from now will not be able to address the latent, not just even latent, blatant racism in their city. So what then broke?

Arline  21:10  
Again, it goes back to like, for me, at least I understood that the Bible, the Holy Spirit, all these different spiritual things were supposed to change people's lives. And when you watch people who have privilege and power, use those things for more privilege and power, and not to take care of the groups of people that when I would read the gospels, and even the Old Testament prophets, it looked like this is the stuff that God cared about. Now, I have a very, you know, a different perspective on lots of lots of parts of the Bible now, but Jesus seemed to hang out with the disenfranchised people. And yet, we watch, especially white American evangelicalism literally keep power and privilege for themselves and not not want anything to change, because why would they want things to change? Because then other people might have privilege and power and they don't? They don't want to have to share anything. It's, yeah, but it doesn't make any sense. Because you think that they're being changed by this magical supernatural stuff?

Josh de Keijzer  22:16  
Yeah. And so the funny thing is that, that I realized at one point that the entire theological structure structure, the way theology is set up, is a setup, to avoid the moral consequences of, of the gospel, whatever the gospel may be, I don't know. I don't know what the gospel, but it is, it's insane. So it always talks about the personal sins, and and it always addresses the vertical relationship between a believer and God. And so it's a very sterile kind of faith, justification by faith. For instance, when Luther first coined that that term, in the early 1600s, early 16th century, when he first coined that term, it was a revolutionary term. And it meant justification as in just pneus, as injustice for free. What does it mean technical term, as a technical term and evangelical theology, it means to get off the hook with God. So God is opening the invisible realm, blah, blah, blah, and nobody knows what happens. But magically, you're off the hook. So it's a real term, it doesn't it basically doesn't mean anymore. It's anything anymore. It simply refers to a to a non material fantasy, in order to avoid material responsibilities.

Arline  23:50  
That makes a lot of sense of I've heard it said that. I can't remember the name of the book, but it was it talked about the difference between how white American Christians and black American Christians and again, you know, there's nuance of course there's nuance, interpret the Bible, and there's this with white evangelicalism, especially, and maybe other other types of white Christianity, I'm not sure but it's very individualistic. Like anytime Paul's talking, it's not talking to y'all to use my like Southern Georgia. It's not y'all, it's just you individually. So then as long as you have done your vertical thing to deal with God, it doesn't matter the people that you've harmed. And then whereas with black Christianity, there's a much more a deeper understanding of the like, systemic things that are harming entire groups of people and because they've been part of being harmed by the system set in place. I used to wonder like, how do we help Christian when I was still a Christian like how do we help white Christians see this, but it was a chasing after the wind to use like a Bible phrase because I saw very little desire For to understand anything differently than what they did understand.

Josh de Keijzer  25:03  
There is there is no desire on the part of white evangelical Christians in America, by and large, because there are some there are some

Arline  25:12  
hashtag, not all I know.

Josh de Keijzer  25:15  
But it is very disappointing. It is deeply disheartening. And I have close friends at that particular seminary who are still close friends of mine. But when Philando Castile was shot by that police officer that happened in my street, by the way, I used to walk every day. It's a very long street, and I love to love that St. Larpenteur Avenue in Minneapolis, St. Paul, actually, anyway, so my friends for white hot, because the people were assuming things about the police officer, and things were not fully investigated. So they were white hot about the police officer being on what do you call that in English? Like leave, like afraid of leave, I think. But they could not muster enough indignation for you know, the shooting of a, of a of a black person

Arline  26:17  
who had done everything he was supposed to in that situation.

Josh de Keijzer  26:21  
I heard I heard audio. That's It's sickening.

Arline  26:26  
I had family who their perspective went straight to well, why was the woman recording? And it was like, because otherwise we would have never known what actually happened, like this poor lady has to has to like, extra traumatize herself to record this. And it was just, I couldn't understand. Sorry, I have a hard time articulating this, I couldn't understand how someone being just pointed, like murdered by the police officer was not the like, clearly this is a terrible thing that we need to figure out what's going on. I don't understand why it's not understandable.

Josh de Keijzer  27:07  
But for me, it highlighted my evangelical friends inability to, to understand or to even. And it's not like they hated blacks, those people? Well, they love black people. They had a very good friendship with our neighbor in seminary, he was black, you know, in time, they can't see it, and they're not willing to see it. And it's mind boggling, mind boggling.

Arline  27:29  
Have you noticed, I noticed this in the church. And I know that the worship of whiteness goes way outside the church like this is not just a church thing at all. But white church people that I knew, could have black friends, and even use that as an excuse to never deal with any kind of thing that they may have done that was racist, or see racist policies. But they could use that as an excuse. But it was like this bizarre I can separate you guys from the way that I vote or the way that I, you know, believe about police brutality, or I don't know, capitalism, I mean, anything, there's so many different things that, did you see the disconnect that people

Josh de Keijzer  28:11  
totally, I cannot figure it out, except that maybe as you when you're an evangelical you Your world is, in a sense, very simple. Because everything is your personal relationship with Jesus. And everything is seen from that perspective.

Arline  28:30  
And that little individualistic, individualistic approach, so

Josh de Keijzer  28:34  
you're not able to even understand the systemic nature of politics and the socio economic realities that surround you. All you can think of, we need to, you know, one issue here, to make sure that the Christians come back in power so we can do, can make sure that the Lord's will is done in this country that was founded as a Christian nation. But it's like, even there, the thinking is extremely simple minded. And systemic thinking does not come easy for evangelicals. And I know because I struggled to develop it, you know, at a later

Arline  29:11  
I was part of the group for a long time

thinking about Christian nationalism, what do you see happening over here with the Christian nationalism and trying to take back America and and all that stuff?

Josh de Keijzer  29:34  
Yeah. So I was I, I left the US in 2017. So I've had one year or good eight months of Trump. And I didn't know how quickly to leave the place. Yeah, because it was it was becoming a very scary place. And I think America is a scary, very scary place. And there's something deeply ironic and I I tend to revert back to the evangelical movement because I'm, I've been part of it for so long. So, in a weird way, I still identify with them, like I talked about us, you know, which is because I'm an evangelical but so what they're the weird thing is this. They are they are warning against an apocalypse and impending destruction of the world. And, and by their actions and voting in an absolute moral and moral monster, they are actually bringing about the demise of their own nation. Oh, wow. That's, that's how I see that I could completely exaggerate things here. But if I read some of the American media, not all the time, but there are people who say similar things like we're really sliding to chaos, anarchy, if we're not careful, and look at how polarized the American society currently is, there's even like Sean Hannity, and what's his name? Oh, cut of what did he call it? Breaking up the nation, they have a term for it. Civil War is that whatever euphemism of nation of states breaking away from from the off, you know, I

Arline  31:24  
know seceding, but I don't know. I don't know if that's the right

Josh de Keijzer  31:28  
thing. But that's not the term they're using. Yeah. This, my goodness, where you guys go on with this.

Arline  31:34  
It's sad, because there's this strange inability to see the idea of patriotism and love of nation, also bringing about what feels like the destruction of the nation that you say that you love them. But, you know, the nation that they love, I think is this mythical white supremacist world that I don't know that it's ever existed, at least

Josh de Keijzer  32:00  
for those are fantasy, people are always fighting, nostalgic fantasy.

Arline  32:05  
And if you live your individualistic little Christian world, then if your daily life is fine, it doesn't register that you're perfect. When you go and you vote, and you believe they do these different things, you're participating in what can make things way worse. But it depends on also your thoughts of what's worse, because for us, that sounds worse. But the idea of, you know, women having power over their own bodies, black and brown people having access to resources to like upward mobility, and more wealth, and all these different things that sounds bad to them. And it's, I don't understand it, I have a hard time.

Josh de Keijzer  32:42  
What I find very interesting is that evangelicals who always warned against post modernism, who Be careful post modernism, because that's like devaluation of absolute truth. They are the most postmodern idiots I've ever seen. But then postmodern thought is a great, then they are postmodern idiots. latently lie to you, when you confront them. It's something about Trump or they will ignore it. Now we keep talking about Trump, Trump is a little bit out of the picture, perhaps I don't know. But like the public debates that are going on, like there's been, there's often an obvious proof for for something, they will just deny it or they will, they will flock behind Fox News and and espouse those the lies that are going on there. So I find that very, very weird and ironic.

Arline  33:36  
That's fascinating. I hadn't thought about that. But that makes sense the idea of relative truth, because I remember learning that, that that was bad. You just don't believe that. Of course, there's objective truth. And yet here we are with those Saint very, very many of those same Christian people perfectly fine with ignoring objective truth, or believing whatever, what is it confirmation bias, whatever they are, whatever will already agree with what they've heard, which I know we're all guilty of. I know that's true.

So like, where are you now? What are like, metaphorically like, where are you now? What what are you doing as far as? Are you on a spiritual journey? Are you out you're done, or we were?

Josh de Keijzer  34:26  
What happened? Because of my family situation, I could not simply return to the Netherlands in 2012. And so in 2011, I applied for a Ph. D. Program at the same city. And I got in, amazingly, and it was a mainline Lutheran seminary. Oh, wow. And I have to say that was a breath of fresh air. And though I'm no longer I don't see myself as a Christian anymore. but I still like Lutheran theology, and of course Lutheran theology. There's two conservative kinds and that are not so interesting. But liberal Lutheran theology or if you will, radical Lutheran theology or where it intersects with liberation theology or feminist theology. I have to say it's it's fantastic, fantastic theology. And I did my research on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is famous in the in the US a claim by different different factions of Christianity. But in order to understand Bahnhof rebel, I had to study Luther. So I had been back to the 16th century. And I discovered a minority report and Luthers theology, even though he said about, or initiated the Reformation, which became super big, of course, it's probably fair to say that his discovery or his invention, if you will, imagination of justification by faith, and the theology that came to be known as the theology of the cross is actually kind of a minority report in, in Christianity and as pumped up here and there. And it is always the story not of power. So the main story, the main narrative of Christianity is always about power. And how you secure power, either by apostolic succession, because then the first pope got the keys from Peter, who got the keys from G. JC, right? That's right, yeah. So that works. And then the other ways to say, the word of the Lord, we have the word of the Lord, and it gives you knowledge of how things work. So those have been two main strategies in Western Christianity to hold sway over the masses, and power and gain political power. But the Minority Report says something very different than it's as if Jesus is God's self revelation, which we all are suggesting is, then we can be safe, we're safe, it's safe to say that whatever God is, is always going to be contrary to our expectation, because there you have a baby in the manger, making dirty diapers, you know, he could die anytime he's in a manger. So he has poor parents, and he becomes a man of, of with, with a lot of grief and suffering in his life, and he dies on it. That's God. So the god, you thought was sitting on the throne, the true nature of that God reveals itself or himself or herself as brokenness, weakness, as death. And so and so that kind of theology can never come to a consensus about this is the right doctrine or the right dogma, it is ongoing searching, that tries to subvert every constructed makes, because every construct you make is already like trying to domesticate the idea of God. That's very interesting theology. And I still like a lot of it, even though I'm no longer a Christian. And some of the best thinkers in Europe have come from that tradition. Think of Kant and Hegel and Heidegger, not that the role morally clean people, but very interesting people, and they have set the course on Nietzsche. He has a Lutheran background Kierkegaard. So I really liked a traditional LOD I still do. And then toward the end of my studies, I came in touch, I was introduced to radical theology. And unlike the name suggests, radical theology is not theology. It is not, it's not a discourse that helps us connect with God. But it is the discourse that takes every god concept, and it says, Oops, look at that wrong, something is wrong here. It started with the death of God theologians in the 60s if you've heard of them. That was an entire movement at that time of a theologians that said that God had died. And what they meant is God died culturally, or the way we do theology, we cannot do that anymore, or Christianity is over and things have to go radically different. And so that movement has continued. And it is, again, a minority report, because in the holes of official theory, theology dumb, that's it's not recognized. It's not talked about. It doesn't have it doesn't get a place. But that theology is very radical. It's very subversive, antithetical, and it is, and that's the beautiful thing of it. It's a perfect tool to actually analyze society as such, and to analyze ideologies and it has The routings in continental philosophy, like strong links, but the thought of Jacques Derrida, the French philosopher who came up with the notion of deconstruction, which even extra angelical took over and turn to something else. And strong connections with the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Shishak, who started is also fit, very influential in Europe. But it has a lot of connections with practical theology. And so it's exciting stuff. And I traveled down that path. And so I call myself a radical theologian, I guess. But I'm not a Christian.

Arline  40:42  
I am familiar with some of those names. Mostly just the names. I don't know much more than that. But that's fascinating. I love it.

Is there anything I should have asked, but I did not ask that you want to talk about?

Josh de Keijzer  41:04  
Well, let me just say that, even though I'm not a Christian, I'm not against I'm not against religions or anything. But religions are complex. ancient ways are usually ancient ways, complex ways of understanding reality, and bringing in morals and finding answer for questions. But because we as human beings, when we become self aware, and self conscious, and we become aware of the nature of our life, lives as meaningless. And as has eventually ending, we get this anxiety that drives all human beings, we devise strategies to avoid our end and to avoid facing the darkness in the eyes. And so that religions conform to, to the anxious human being, and then becomes a tool that is unhealthy. And so basically 99.999 of all God concepts, are neurotic constructs to, to drive us away from ourselves. And so therefore, I'm not too excited about religions. But okay, if religions go, what do you get, you get something else, which is ideology. And ideology is just as bad. It's just got under a singular name. And it is the same drive to or away from ourselves and away from our fate. And as we anxiously avoid our fate fee, we try to trample on our people and lord it over other people seek wealth and seek diversion, and run away from the truth.

Arline  42:41  
Yeah, it seems like if we're harming others, and we're, I don't know what the word is that I'm looking for, like so attached, maybe that's attached to the ideology, or the religion, anything that gives us meaning or just answers questions that we that we have. And we can't detach ourselves from it long enough to ask any probing questions. All the while harming other people and harming ourselves. Like, that's not good. No, like, no matter what, what version of that, whether it's an ism, you know, a secular ism, or a, or a religious thing? Yeah, it's, it's true, it's

Josh de Keijzer  43:20  
that but the problem is that both with religions and ideologies, we are not able to, to understand reality, apart from it, there's just no way for us to do it. So during, during the years that I wasn't even Jellicle Christian, like actualizing, that God would not exist was not an option. It's not that I could not say, Okay, let me just play the atheist here, and there is no battle. I can conceptually do it. But from deep from within, I was not able to conceive the world as possible. Out of God. That's fascinating. Yeah. And so ideologically, if you look at capitalism, for instance, people who are are not haven't thought about this long enough and haven't done the hard work. They cannot envision a world where the free market does not reign supreme. It just, it's not conceivable, then how should we do it? You mean, it should become ease, you know? It's not conceivable, even though they can conceptually talk about it. And so that is the problem with ideology and religion. They are not some they're not just glasses through which we look at the world. But there are basically our eyes there are our our main instrument for understanding our reality. And, and they're often very unhealthy. They're, they're anxiously driven, and we can see it. So we think we're normal people, or we think we're decent churchgoers, or we think we're, you know, we're pursuing a career in society, but All the while they're just driven by it is deep in this thing deep down in us.

Arline  45:05  
Do you know and this, this is me thinking of the fly? What are your thoughts on like, how do we help people not think in such a? Well, if it's not this absolute thing, then it will only be this other absolute this binary thinking, like helping people have nuanced. Do you have any idea how we do that? Or is it like? Well, it's not really our responsibility to do that to other people.

Josh de Keijzer  45:25  
Yeah, it's possible by forging friendships with people who think different from you. Because knowledge is social. And so perspective, perspectives are transmitted socially. And that is a very good thing. And also, I think we should be brutally honest about reality. And so I tend to say like, there's a lot of people who would say life is meaningful. Life is not meaningful, there is no meaning in life. And you need to accept that before you can create meaning.

Arline  46:02  
Oh, that's fascinating. Yeah. I think humanist I think it's what I would, I guess, put myself under. And so yeah, I believe, you know, humans, we make meaning out of things. Even when I was a Christian, I was, like, theoretically fine with when I died, I died. Like I didn't, I wasn't, you know, didn't feel any kind of way about that. In theory, and you know, I never got so sick that I might possibly die. And it was, it came, you know, face to face with it. But yeah, that's an interesting idea that we have to realize that life does not have meaning before we can begin to make meaning.

Josh de Keijzer  46:37  
Yeah. And so what drives that? Is this, the moment we become self aware, so we become to realize, so Mommy, are you going to die? The child asking that question. And, yeah, one day, I will put this a long way off. And then will I also die? Yeah, but that's a long way off, it's not going to happen anytime soon. Still, that moment is the moment where the conscious human being becomes, you know, her true self. So you need to you need to face that you need to not run away from it. And it makes sense, once we can accept the main Oh, yeah. So this is what I was gonna say. So what makes meaning for us is, we try to turn the world, or COVID into ourselves. So we become the center of the universe, and make everything evolve around us. And that's how we think we create meaning. I'm sure it works to some extent. And I'm not saying we're super selfish beings. I'm not saying that. But it's just it's an orientation, like the self has to be the center, the self has to achieve longevity or eternity. Immortality, if not, for real, that may be in the books I write, you know that that kind of thing. The memories, the things I leave behind are the ones I love.

But once you can let go of self, and kind of can accept that you're finite. So like, throw yourself in that abyss of darkness, and accept that, that even though it's maybe 30, or 40 years old, except it is now. And once you can do that, then you can return to life. And then say I have a surplus on my back, that's my life that I just lost. And I don't need to center it anymore. And so then you can start centering other people. And when you center other people, I guess to the common word for that is love. And when you when you use your life, your surplus for developing of others, and you don't care whether you're remembered, or you don't care, whether you're rich or poor, you just don't care. Because you've already lost your life. And then when you invest in others, then you find the meaning of life. Because the meaning of life is to live difficult word, EXO centrically or outside of yourself. But that's something that because of our evolutionary upbringing, your evolutionary origins, we can do, our self consciousness forces us to center ourselves in anxiety. And once we can overcome that we be find the meaning of life to help others to be there for others to give love.

Arline  49:26  
Part of me, you know, having been a woman in the Christian world for a long time, it's like, but that's what we did for all that. That's what I did. You know, it's like, and that's what you did.

Josh de Keijzer  49:37  
That's totally unhealthy.

Arline  49:39  
Yeah, that yes, the not being able, like Brene Brown, I don't know if you're familiar with her work, she talks about the most compassionate people are people with boundaries, people who can like give and give and give and then say no, I cannot give any more I need to be able to take care of my own self are really

Josh de Keijzer  49:56  
saying this, because that is the absolute necessary addition to what I'm saying? Because yes, you're right. Healthcare comes first. But I'm talking about is not like, you know, just be the least just serve you. I'm not saying that.

Arline  50:15  
Oh, yes, I know. I know. It's, it brings up that same feeling. But I know what you're saying. And you're not the first use of Internet who are like, loving other people taking care of other people like, because there really is a lot of truth behind that. Well, I was gonna say pour yourself out for people, oh, Christian Christianese comes out all the time.

Josh de Keijzer  50:35  
But yeah, that's not what I mean. It's just like, if you live decentered, then it's basically the Buddhist tradition, once you can see yourself. So it's like Jesus tradition and the Buddhist tradition coming together. Because Jesus said, If you want to gain your life, you have to lose it. Because like, what does it mean? What does it mean? What does it mean? And then quickly, Christians turn it into you needs to be born again and saved. You actually, you don't need salvation, you need loss. But the Buddhist tradition is like, once you can understand that you are an illusion, here, you're an illusion, and you can let go of the desires. And then everything is sold. There's no problem anymore. But healthy boundaries, so but this weird error is that there is a component there of self care. And you can only truly love others when you are able to take care of yourself. I agree. I agree to that.

Arline  51:33  
Yeah. Do you have any recommendations, podcasts, books, anything that you read, as you were deconstructing or that you're reading now that you're like, This is so influential in my life?

Josh de Keijzer  51:48  
So I'd like to bring up one book, no three books. One is then sort of the academic version. That's the Palgrave Handbook of radical theology. Okay. And it's not a cheap one. But it brings together so thinkers over a period of what 50 years in the area of radical theology, and what I like about radical theology so much is like, Okay, once you leave the Christian faith, you don't have to become an atheist. Atheism is often another version of a committed point of view, about which we cannot say anything for certain so why? And so it's like, radical theology charts, of course, beyond the division between theology faith on one end, and atheism on the other. Although it can be quite atheistic, in its in its own way. Then two other books. So one is a book that recently came out and I haven't read it yet, but the the author asked me to review her book for her. And the author has had her Hamilton. And she's, and the book is returning to Eden a field guide for the spiritual journey. So I thought it was so nice to mention that.

Arline  53:04  
Okay, yes, it has popped up a few different places in my Instagram. So I have been hearing about this book, and it makes me curious. Yeah.

Josh de Keijzer  53:13  
And so I think it is a way for Christians who can no longer be Evangelical, to still do something meaningful with a biblical text and find a new way of making meaning out of it through a mythological interpretation, I think that's what I'm, that's my take on it. And then the third book is interesting. It's called safer than the known way, a post Christian journey, by Maria, Francesca French. And she is, uh, she actually was in my seminary. So we're friends. And I'm also I just did a review on her book. And so her story or her, her narrative in that book is very much like my own. It's post Christian. It is radical theology. And it charts of course, beyond the division, or the end and antithesis between atheism, and Christianity. And so I think that's a very interesting book for, for people who are done who are really done with religion. And that might be a good book to

Arline  54:17  
pick up. And I have found there lots of people who they're done with religion, but they might still love Jesus, they might still, you know, have an end for so many people being a Christian was such a huge part of their lives for so long. That it is you know, it's not always something you can just throw away like, the language is still there. The some of the feelings are still there. Now, sometimes it needs to be like, and we're done, like completely. But yeah, that's not always the thing. So I've heard of the second author or the Maria author, and then yeah, returning to Eden has popped up a few different places recently. So it makes me curious. Okay, how can people find you online? That's how I found you. How can others find you?

Josh de Keijzer  54:57  
Yeah, so I have an Instagram work out after God's end, where I usually post things that would make any Christian angry. Which are expressions of my anger towards Christianity.

Arline  55:13  
Yeah, I very much get it. I recently just posted to my like personal Facebook, I need a women's like Facebook thread where we can just be angry sometimes together, and I've had three people be like, I'm here for it. And so we have our little group that just, sometimes you just need to be angry with some other people. And then you feel a little bit better. Yep, I understand. You're right, you're

Josh de Keijzer  55:36  
right. And other than that, as a theologian i, okay, I call myself a radical theologian. But on the other hand, I don't call myself a theologian anymore. I've, I've an interesting career now as a freelance copywriter. Maybe I'll call myself a philosopher. I do that sometimes. That I tell people I studied philosophy of religion, which is actually very true, as far as my PhD is concerned. But I'm a copywriter. So I could give you my account, or mentioned my accounts, but they are. I'm on LinkedIn there. But I write a lot of Dutch these days, because I've written 1000s of pages in English. But no matter how much I try, it's never going to be as good as my touch. That makes sense.

Arline  56:24  
Yeah. I'm enjoying honing

Josh de Keijzer  56:27  
my skills as a Dutch copywriter. And who knows, I will, you know, pick up a book idea and work on it at some point.

Arline  56:36  
That's awesome. Well, Josh, thank you so much for doing this. I had a delightful time getting to know you better. I appreciate it.

Josh de Keijzer  56:43  
Thank you, Arline. That was a great conversation.

Arline  56:52  
My final thoughts on the episode, I really enjoyed that discussion. I love that Josh is using his platform today to just be a space to get his anger out. But also to let other people know that they aren't alone, that you can deconstruct the fundamentalist or conservative Christianity that you grew up with, or that you've believed as an adult. And there are places for you to go. There is radical theology, feminist theology, womanist, theology, queer affirming theology, like there's so many other ways to look at the Bible, or Christianity or Jesus and still love those things, and appreciate them in a new way. I personally have thrown it all out in in fine without there being gods or goddesses or any kind of thing like that. But everyone needs somewhere that they can, that they can land if they want to land somewhere. And so this is good that this exists out on Instagram, and the online community that you're able to build on Instagram really is amazing. And so I'm glad Josh is doing that. And I've learned a lot from his page. And I know other people have learned a lot and will continue to learn. And so Josh, thanks again for being on the podcast.

David Ames  58:19  
For the secular Grace Thought of the Week, I really can't help myself but talk about the post modernism and secular Grace aspects of Josh's story. I've found it just amazing, having been a part of the church when the idea of being postmodern to have truth be relative, the will to power to be a negative thing, something that was decried from the pulpit constantly to find ourselves in a moment where the church seems to have embraced this entirely. Unwittingly, they would never obviously call themselves postmodern they use post modernism as an epitaph. The other interesting thing about that is that the way that post modernism is used colloquially by the church is incorrect. Interestingly enough, post modernism is really important for those of us who have gone through deconstruction and deconversion. And it's more than Derrida and the original idea of deconstruction, that had nothing to do with religion. But more so the idea of modernism, modernism was about having answers, answers to life's questions, authorities that could be trusted. And post modernism was a departure from that the recognition that those authorities could be mistaken, were in fact mistaken, that the answers that we were satisfied with weren't good enough. In Dana Freibach-Heifetz's book titled Secular Grace, she draws a direct line from the enlightenment to post modernism to see secular grace, and that in her mind that progression is a healthy and natural one. Obviously, that's something that that I agree with. But I appreciate when I hear someone else articulate secular Grace without using those words. I think Josh was describing that a focus on loving people even serving people to use that churchy word is a part of this proactive love that I call secular grace. Next week is Holly Laurent from the mega podcast. Holly is amazing to talk to. She is a fantastic comedian, and I think you're gonna love that. And also check out the rise and fall of twin hills, a satirical look at powerful pastors within the pretend world of the twin Hills Church on the Mega podcast. Check that out as well. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beads. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show, email me at graceful for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network

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Bart D. Ehrman: Armageddon

Authors, Bloggers, Book Review, Deconstruction, End Times, Hell Anxiety, Podcast, Podcasters, Rapture Anxiety, Scholarship
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This week’s guest is Bart D. Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His new book is Armageddon: What the Bible Really Says about the End.

Is the book of Revelation a prophecy of future catastrophe? Is it a book of hope? Or is it a book of violence and wrath?

In Armageddon, Bart delves into the most misunderstood—and possibly the most dangerous—book of the Bible, exploring the horrifying social and political consequences of expecting an imminent apocalypse and offering a fascinating tour through three millennia of Judeo-Christian thinking about how our world will end.

Bart’s work has been a part of many of our deconstructions. In my interview with Bart, we get to hear his faith transition. We learn from his New Testament expertise. But most surprising of all, we learn what a nice guy he is.


Even if you think the Bible is inspired. Even if you think this is a book written by God in some way…it means God inspired a book; he didn’t inspire a jigsaw puzzle—which means, you read it like a book, and if you read a book, you don’t cherry-pick it.

The argument may seem far-fetched, but it is the kind of reasoning meant to appeal to people who are ready to be persuaded,
not to skeptics.

Apocalypses are first-person narratives of highly symbolic visionary experiences that reveal heavenly secrets to ex-
plain earthly realities.

Far more people revere the Bible than read it

Parts of our Western cultural heritage that are driven by traditional apocalyptic thinking have encouraged
fatalism and inaction in the face of our crises.

The overwhelming emphasis of Revelation is not about hope but about the wrath and vengeance of God against those who
have incurred his displeasure.

I just got to a point … it wasn’t a big thing like John had a different christology from mark
it wasn’t that kind of major thing.
it was more like, “this little detail, if I am just being honest with myself and surely god wants me to be honest with myself
and if it turns out that I am right about this if it is true then god wants me to know the truth, this little detail is wrong.
I don’t want it to be but it is a contradiction.

Once I came to that little chink in my armor then I started realizing that the bible might not be inerrant.
It opened my eyes. It took a long time. It was a very painful process for me to move away from that.
Because I was afraid of going to hell, I was afraid of losing my community, I was having arguments with my mother,
This is not good.

Within Evangelical tradition truth is really important.
There is also a sense within the evangelical tradition that there are ways to find the truth.
It is not just believing something.
When you have students studying it at a serious Evangelical school they are taught you have to look for the evidence
but once you open up the door to evidence you also open up the door to people disagreeing.

This is not a book of hope it is a book of violence

“The thing about fundamentalism is that nobody calls themself a fundamentalist. The fundamentalist is always the guy to the right of you.” 

“I started thinking [in college] that the world’s a bigger place than I had imagined as a fundamentalist Christian.” 

“If you want to understand the Gospels, you have to understand how ‘ancient biographies’ work. They don’t work like our biographies…”

“The deal is: Jesus died and his disciples started convincing people that he was raised from the dead, and the people they convinced, convinced other people who convinced other people who convinced other people and this goes on for forty or fifty years.”

“Most people don’t read the Book of Revelation; it’s just too bizarre and weird. They can’t make heads or tails of it, so they give up. The only people who really delve into it, tend to be fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who are using it to show what’s going to happen in our near future.” 

“When you get to the Book of Revelation, there’s nothing about ‘giving and service.’ It’s about destroying the enemy. Forget ‘Turn the other cheek.’ Forget ‘Love your enemies.’ You hate your enemies and you hate what they do and you punish them.” 

“God tortures people in the Book of Revelation and everyone gets thrown into a lake of burning sulfur, [and then] brought back to life so that they can be destroyed in a lake of fire.”

“[Apocalyptic literature] is its own genre…When you’re reading a science fiction novel, you know you’re not reading a front-page article in the New York Times. It’s a different genre…An apocalypse is an apocalypse, which means you have to know how apocalypses work if you’re going to understand any one of them, including the Book of Revelation.” 




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

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast United studios 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 Patron on Susan, thank you so much for supporting the podcast. I also want to thank our ongoing supporters, Joseph John Ruby, Sharon Joel, Lars Ray, Rob, Peter Tracy, Jimmy and Jason, thank you so much for your support. We're doing interesting things with the support money. We're using the Zoom account for the Tuesday night Hangouts. We had to change to a new recording software as a number of the COVID era are locked down era tools that were free are no longer free. We're putting that support money to good use. If you find yourself in the middle of doubt and deconstruction, you do not need to do it alone. Please join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous. You can find us at On today's show, my guest today is Bart D. Ehrman, the UNC Chapel Hill New Testament scholar who has written a number of popular books. Many of my guests have talked about how books by Bart Ehrman started their deconstruction process. Bart's new book is Armageddon. What the Bible really says about the end. This was a fantastic conversation I really enjoyed having Bart on, he turns out to be just a very nice person, as well as being a challenge to the evangelical perspective of Christianity. Even as a non believer, what Bart pulls out of the New Testament is an interesting perspective on the Jesus of the Gospels versus, in this specific case, the Jesus of Revelation, which is a God of wrath and violence. Either way, it is a challenge to modern evangelicalism. Here is my conversation with Bart D. Ehrman.

Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Bart D. Ehrman  2:31  
Well, thanks for having me.

David Ames  2:33  
Bart. I know I'm not going to do you service here on your CV, but you are the best selling author of a number of books, including Misquoting Jesus, Jesus before the Gospels, the triumph of Christianity. Your new book is Armageddon, what the Bible really says about the end. I'd like you to maybe just mention your work at the University of North Carolina and what your academic credentials are.

Bart D. Ehrman  2:55  
Yeah, sure. So after high school, I went straight to Moody Bible Institute and had a three year degree there. And then I went to Wheaton College, where I majored in English, actually. But I took Greek there and decided to go to Princeton Theological Seminary, where the expert in Greek manuscripts taught Bruce Metzger. He was a world expert in this and I wanted to do that as an evangelical to study Greek manuscripts. Yeah, I did my master's degree there with him. I wrote a master's thesis under him. And then I stayed and did my PhD there and wrote my PhD dissertation with him. And so my credentials are I have a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary, in New Testament studies, with a dissertation in the field of analyzing Greek manuscripts. So while I was finishing my PhD, I got a position teaching position at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and I taught there for four years. Then in 1988, I came to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. So now I teach at UNC Chapel Hill. I've been here since 1988. And I teach both undergraduate students usually introductory stuff dealing with the New Testament or the historical Jesus or the Gospels, and I teach PhD students, usually, some New Testament stuff, but a lot more on Christianity after the New Testament period, with mainly the second and third centuries of Christianity with the PhD students.

David Ames  4:19  
Is that all Bard? Is that all? That's that's quite quite the quite the bone a few days. Very, very well done. I was saying to you off, Mike, that a number of listeners, I think have been impacted by your work. Many of the listeners are evangelicals or former evangelicals, and in particular, the doctrine of inerrancy of Scripture is a rough one to get over and reading your work has helped a lot of people to just seek the truth in a different way, in many ways has led to various degrees of deconstruction. I think what they would be interested in and what I'm interested in hearing is a bit about your own personal story of faith. What was it like for you as a young person in Faith and then what that trajectory that leads you to now?

Bart D. Ehrman  5:03  
Yeah, well, so I was raised in a Christian home, we were not Evan Jellicle, we went to the Episcopal Church, and I was an altar boy and the Episcopal Church. Soon as I could be up till through high school, when I was in high school, when I was 15, I started attending a Youth for Christ group. And after a period I ended up becoming a born again, Christian. I asked Jesus into my heart and committed my life to Christ as his as my Lord and Savior. And I became very serious of angelical. And that's why I went off to Moody Bible Institute, you know, as an Evangelical, I mean, basically, I was a fundamentalist. I mean, the thing about fundamentalism is that nobody calls themself a fundamentalist. Fundamentalist is always the guy to the right of you. When I was a moody, we actually didn't mind calling ourselves fundamentalists, we thought we subscribe to the fundamentals, you know, literal virgin birth, little resurrection for the dead six day creation. I mean, these are the fundamentals of the faith. And so we subscribe to them. We were kind of proud of it. At moody, of course, they taught that the Bible is completely inerrant. There is no one set view of why it's inerrant. It wasn't, most did not think that God had dictated to the authors, because, you know, there were some there are smart people, there were smart people out there, they, they knew that when you read this stuff in Greek, there are different writing styles and different. And, you know, they knew that math was different from John, they certainly knew all that. But the words were from God, ultimately, in some way. And they were inerrant. There were no mistakes of any kind in the Bible, not just in what it taught about theology, or belief, or salvation or Christ. But what it taught about science, you know, or what to talk about history. I mean, it's just historic, this is all really happened, the way it's described. So that was my view. And I maintain that, through Wheaton, although I started, started moving a bit away from that my two years of Wheaton, just because I was taking all sorts of classes in other things. I was majoring in English literature and reading a lot of literature, reading philosophy, studying intellectual history, how thought developed over the years. And, and so I, you know, I started thinking that the world's a bigger place than I had imagined, as a fundamentalist Christian. I went to Princeton seminary, as I said, to study Greek manuscripts. And I had no plan at all of changing my beliefs. I was not going to be a non become a non of angelical. These are all bunch of liberals, what did they take? I would take a Bible class, you know, I'm talking about a contradiction between Luke and Mark. And I say, this case, you see, I don't know why so blind. He seems like he's obviously blind, what does he know? And so went on for that like that for a while. But I ended up, you know, I was reading the gospels in the New Testament in Greek. And I was reading the Old Testament in Hebrew. I learned Hebrew too, and, and I was studying it intensively. And at one point, I just got to a point where it wasn't a big thing. It wasn't like, you know, John has a different Christology. For mark, it wasn't that kind of major thing. It was more like, this little detail, you know, if I'm just being honest with myself, and surely God wants me to be honest with myself, and, and if it turns out that I'm right about this, then you know, if it's true, then God wants me to know the truth. This little details wrong. This is just a contract into that I just, I don't want it to be but you know, I it is a contradiction. Once I came to that little like little chink in my armor, that I started realizing that the Bible might not be inerrant. And it opened my eyes. And it took a long time. And it was a very painful process for me to move away from that. Because I was afraid of going to hell, I was afraid of, you know, losing my community, I was afraid I was having arguments with with my mother. I mean, it's like this is not good. It's painful.

David Ames  8:56  
It's really interesting to hear you say the same words that I hear from many of the people that we interview of just that it's difficult, even when you have admitted to yourself to then begin to take steps to remove yourself because you're losing so much and that there's so much cost at hand.

And for you, you're slightly more public figure. I think you've also had the added burden of the vitriol of Evangelicals over time. What has that been like for you like as you write these popular books that are on some level or another textual criticism?

Bart D. Ehrman  9:50  
So what really gets my of angelical opponents upset, especially among the scholars, evangelical scholars, is that the scholars know that the kinds of things I'm writing about our things that are just widely known in the academy. They just they take a different view of it, but the material I teach you know about how there are so you know, 1000s and 1000s of mistakes among the copies of the New Testament, or that Matthew and Mark really do contradict each other in places where the John really does have a different understanding of Jesus, just act as not historically reliable, Paul did not write some of the letters described to him. These things sound radical to people who are of angelical, who just have never heard of any such thing. And they think this crazy guy, Chapel Hills making stuff up. And I gotta tell you, this is stuff that anybody who goes to a major seminary or divinity school in the country, that's not an Evan Jellicle school, but if they go to Princeton, or Duke, or Harvard, or Yale, or Chicago or Vanderbilt, they'll hear this is what they learn. And they may go off to take a church and their congregation, they don't tell anybody this, but they know it. Yeah. And so when I get the vitriol, I just say, Well, okay, I mean, you know, you're not, you're not really just attacking me, you're attacking the whole establishment of biblical scholarship in the modern world.

David Ames  11:09  
Right, exactly. reading your book reminds me of my time at Bible college, I was actually at a Evangelical, very small, actually, Assemblies of God, a school that no longer exists Bethany college at the time, which was Bethany college. So very, very conservative. But I always say that my professors did too good a job, I actually, I really do feel like I learned good critical thinking I learned about good exegesis, I learned about good hermeneutics. Something that you repeat multiple times is that we have to understand what the original author intended to say to the original readers. And that always informed the way that I handled the Bible. But I think it's something that's important that you've just described. And it's true, in my case, too, is that you talked about God would want you to be honest. And I always say that the seeds of leaving Christianity are within Christianity, the need for truth, trying to be humble, trying to be honest, all of those things tend to lead away as as truth is found outside.

Bart D. Ehrman  12:12  
Yeah, it's an interesting point. Because the of course, within, within the evangelical tradition, truth is really important. And there's also a sense within the evangelical tradition, that there there are ways to find the truth. And that they are, it's not just, it's not just believing something within in Scotland, when you have students, you know, her studying at a serious of angelical school, you know, they're taught, you've got to look for the evidence. But once you open up the door to evidence, you also open up the door to people disagreeing. I always took comfort in the idea that the St. Augustine was, was a strong advocate of the idea that all truth comes from God. You know, all truth is God's truth. And so that if you, if you change your mind, and you realize, you know, just what I believed was not true, then you're not opposed to God, you're on God's side. That for me, that was very comforting when I was moving away from my Evan Jellicle faith.

David Ames  13:29  
I wanted to mention that about two years ago, probably I interviewed a student of yours, or you were on his dissertation board, at least in mills. Yes, that if you remember in

Bart D. Ehrman  13:40  
norm, well, I've been corresponding with him. Oh, very good. Yeah.

David Ames  13:44  
great person to talk to. I loved my conversation with him very, very smart. And one of the conversations we talked about was the Gospels and whether or not it's kind of fair to say that they are hagiographies. He made the argument that as a genre is somewhat equivalent to biographies or biopics that we think of today. And I wonder if you think that that's, is that fair, or unfair to say? And what are kind of the implications of that?

Bart D. Ehrman  14:11  
For a long time, scholars thought that the gospels were a genre unto themselves, scholars wouldn't put it like that, they'd say they were souI generous, and that they were their own thing. And probably about 40 years ago, some scholars started looking around and thinking, you know, it's really rare for a genre just to kind of sprang up out of nowhere. And, and they started looking at broader themes. And there was their debates about what what kind of genre were the Gospels like, and the majority of you now is pretty much what you just said that the Gospels are a kind of ancient biography. But the but the important point is and Ian would completely agree with this is that we're saying ancient biographies. And if you want to understand the Gospels, you have to understand and how ancient biographies work because they don't work like our biographies. And so but they was a it was a common genre. There were biographies of religious people. We had biographies of people who were their biography, their allegedly accounts of their lives, where they have incredible supernatural births. And they're fantastic teachers, and they can do all sorts of amazing deeds, and they're taken up to heaven when they die. And so you know, that that kind of biography is not prevalent, but that kind of biography does exist, as do biographies of, you know, normal people in the ancient world.

David Ames  15:38  
sounds very familiar. Yeah. I guess where I'm driving out, and I didn't mean necessarily to put you on the spot. But when you have a New Testament scholar, it's you got to ask these questions. Is it fair to say that the Gospels are anonymous? And if they are, is it unfair to say that they are effectively hearsay?

Bart D. Ehrman  15:56  
In my mind, there is no, it's not a debate whether they're anonymous, they are anonymous. The authors do not tell us what their names are. We have titles on our gospels, but the authors didn't put the titles on their gospels, the Gospels, the oldest manuscripts we have they have titles on them. Matthew's Gospel is called, according to Matthew. That's the title. That's a title, an author gives a book. According to me, the book, I mean, when I wrote my book, Armageddon, that's that just came out. I didn't call it according to BART. It's called Armageddon, you give it a title. Yeah. So if you say, according to somebody, what you're saying is, this is the version according to this person they went, they would think about this. Yeah. And so the deal with our Gospels is that they are all written in Greek, by Greek speaking Christians. They're almost always dated to after 70, of the Common Era. So 7080 90, and they're by Greek speaking Christians who did not live in Israel. And so the question two questions are well, could they have been Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? And I doubt it? I don't think so. But also, then, if they weren't disciples of Jesus, where'd they get their information? Right. And so I don't think I usually call it hearsay. But it's, it's that the deal is Jesus died and his disciples started convincing people that he was raised from the dead. And the people that convinced convinced other people who convinced other people convinced other people, and this goes on for 40 or 50 years. And that entire time, the only way to convince somebody to believe in Jesus is to tell stories about him. Right. And so by the time somebody in Ephesus has heard a story about Jesus, it's probably gone through, you know, even if it's like in the year 50, probably gone through 10 or 20, or 100. People before he gets it. Right. Historians would would agree, most historians agree, look, the Gospels do have historically reliable information in them. And they have material that's been exaggerated, and some material that is not historical at all. And the trick is finding which is which.

David Ames  17:56  
And by the way, I 100% agree with that. I know that the other side of the spectrum that you deal with is the mythicism side that would want to suggest that there was no historical Jesus and that I think, is equally invalid if you if you want

Bart D. Ehrman  18:11  
to Oh, you think you think you have angelical tax can be vitriolic Christ what?

David Ames  18:40  
Well, let's let's talk about the book, then the new book is Armageddon, what the Bible really says about the end, I've got a quibble with you. I feel like the heart of the book, from my reading is, you're really doing this compare and contrast of the Jesus that John of Patmos is describing in Revelation versus the Jesus of the Gospels in many ways, and you're really asking the reader to come to a conclusion on that, to do these things line up. And it really isn't about the end at all. And in fact, you start with that futuristic interpretations of revelation or not really what it's about.

Bart D. Ehrman  19:18  
Okay, so yeah, it's absolutely true that that's where I end the book I end the book with comparing Jesus and and the author of the apocalypse genre Patmos, the idea of the book is that I want to show how revelation has been interpreted. And what I point out is that most people don't read the book Revelation is just too bizarre and weird. And they, they might start but they just can't make heads or tails of it. And so they give up. The only people who really delve into it tend to be fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, who are using it to show what's going to happen in our near future, that the signs are now being fulfilled. So liberal, historic Local scholars like it, you know, where I went Princeton Theological Seminary scholars there or any of the major divinity, any major Christian, biblical scholar who's not an very conservative Evangelical, doesn't accept that interpretation. Instead, the traditional liberal interpretation that's been around for a long time. It's not a liberal interpretation. It's a historical interpretation. But liberal Christian scholars look at it and say, Look, this is a historical account. It's not a futuristic account. But the theological take of these people is that the book Revelation is a message of hope. And that it's not literally predicting what's going to happen in 10 years from now. It's, it's, it's a metaphorical description of God being in control of this world, and ultimately, God's going to prevail, so that those who suffer now will will be rewarded for their suffering. And so if they just hold on, there'll be fine. And so it's a message of hope. So for years, of course, you know, when I was a fundamentalist, and even when after, you know, when I was an Evan Jellicle, I thought it was predicting the end of the world. And I realized I was wrong. And for many, many years, I held this other view, that it's a book of hope, that it's God's showing that he's going to help those who are suffering. Now, I taught it that way. I started, I came to Chapel Hill in 1988. I taught at that way until about four years ago, I always thought that and and so in my book, the first part of the book takes apart the idea that a futuristic interpretation, and I tried to show why that's not just a bad interpretation, or a wrong interpretation. But it's, it's caused huge damage in our world, right and affected things you wouldn't expect. But I did, it had does. But then the second half of the book is taking on this idea that it's a book of hope. Because that's where the Jesus, John John of Patmos comes in, because I tried to show this is not a book of hope. This is a book of violence. It is revenge, and vengeance and blood and violence. And Jesus is getting Jesus died as an innocent victim, but now he's coming back for blood. And so the reason for doing that is because if it's not a futuristic interpretation, then the other the default is, well, it's a message vote. I tried to that's not right, either. That's why I tried to show

David Ames  22:21  
you also talk about the book, The Late Great Planet Earth. And the reason I want to talk about this is that I actually became a Christian in around roughly around 1988, in that in that neighborhood. And I had no idea how much influence that book had I never read it. I've never happened to read it. But now reading your book, I realized, oh, that's what people were. That's what people referring to, and no one ever mentioned it. Maybe we'll get to it specifically, but like the the idea of helicopters and nuclear weapons being represented in Revelation, I heard those kinds of rumors, and then I would read it and not see that. And I wondered who thought of that? Can you talk about how much influence that book had on fundamentalism?

Bart D. Ehrman  23:08  
It's hard to calculate how much influence it had in the 1970s. As I pointed out, in my book, the entire decade of the 1970s, the best selling work of nonfiction, apart from the Bible, in the English speaking world, was the Late Great Planet Earth for the entire decade. The best sun, we're have not I'm talking about talked, not talking about Christian fiction. I'm not talking a religious book, I mean, the best selling. And so this thing was massively important. And everybody in my time, I was at Moody in the mid 70s. And we all you know, we just bought it, we literally bought it, but we actually we agreed. This is what's going to happen. And the Bible says so. And so. Yeah, so it was hugely influential. And it paved the way for other things, including, for example, in the 1990s, the Left Behind series, which, when the author Timothy Delahaye, died. So a few years ago, there had been 80 million copies of that thing. So and again, people just read and say, Oh, that's what the Bible says.

David Ames  24:11  
Right? Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. What a very common theme of people's deconstruction stories is not only hella anxiety, but also rapture anxiety. You know, they'll talk about being a little kid and coming home to an empty house for a moment and panicking, like Yep, pretty cool thing to do to children. But yeah, it sounds like you'd like those books. That way of interpreting revelation had a really deep impact on people particularly, again, children who were raised.

Bart D. Ehrman  24:42  
Well, it also crept into popular Christian culture outside of that book when I think it was 1972 This movie came out. This is a very low budget movie night to it's called thief in the night. Everybody my generate everybody who was a teenager Evan Jellicle saw it about 20 times. And it was about, you know, the rapture having happened, and the people who were left behind, and it just scared the daylights out of all of us. And all of my friends who saw that just about every one of them tells the story of thinking that it had happened, you know, they come home after school in the mom's not there's Oh my god. And yeah, it's really damaging for some of you.

David Ames  25:24  
The one of the things that leapt out at me, in your book, you point out that the idea of, of the rapture kind of has things backwards, that in the gospels, when Jesus is talking about one will be taken and one will be left, that it's more in reference to something like the last plague, where the ones who are left are the ones who are saved, the ones who are taken or the ones who are destroyed. And that really kind of blew my mind.

Bart D. Ehrman  25:49  
Yeah, ya know, the play the COVID thing is a good example of it. I wish I had thought of that. But But it's, you know, people we have, you know, when I was in heaven, Jellicle we have all of these passages, right, that we refer to as clearly talking about, about the Rapture. And there's a passage in First Thessalonians four that everybody leaps on, but also this one in Matthew that you're mentioning where it says there'll be, you know, two people in the field will be taken, one will be left to women grinding grain, one will be taken one will be left there, yeah, okay. That's the rapture, the Son of Man comes, and they can take some out of the world. You know, after I gave up on a view, I actually started reading these passages carefully. And all you have to do is just read a few verses before this. Because right before this, he says that it's gonna be like, in the days of Noah, everybody in the world was taken, except for Noah died in the flood. So being taken is not good. You want to be left behind?

David Ames  26:51  
Yeah, I love I love that. Because I think you know, particularly any evangelicalism, you know, that has always interpreted the opposite direction. I think that's what I still appreciate about actual scholarship and actual good exegesis of biblical text is, there's actually more there than we even give credit to it at times, just as a piece of literature.

Bart D. Ehrman  27:14  
My book got published last week, and I, I've been getting emails from people saying, but you know, what about, you know, Matthew 24? You know, what about, you know, have you thought about these? Actually, if you've read my book, you will have seen that.

David Ames  27:31  
Yeah, you may have spent a little time thinking about this.

You also talk about the consequences. So we we often say beliefs have consequences. And sometimes we say that eschatological beliefs have long range, deep consequences. And you go into a bit of that of, of the political, and just world health implications of people having this futuristic interpretation of Revelation.

Bart D. Ehrman  28:14  
Yeah, I talk about several things because I want I want people to realize that this isn't just an issue for evangelicalism who get massively disappointed when it doesn't come when they think it will. That is, that is a problem. But there are there are issues that affect everybody in the world, actually. Because because of this view that that revelation is predicting the imminent future that the rapture is coming soon. A couple a couple of things, I will want to mention one thing, in particular, that isn't necessarily a problem, but it's something you wouldn't expect. This belief that the rapture is coming soon, is what has guided us foreign policy toward Israel. Right. And it's, you wouldn't you wouldn't imagine that. But the reality is that the Evan Jellicle support and for for Israel in America has always been very, very strong as it was in England when the Evan Jellicle movement was strong there in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And it's because of angelical. I've always interpreted interpreted biblical passages in Ezekiel and Jeremiah and other places, where the prophet talks about the people of Israel coming back to the land. They've always interpreted since the early 19th century, they've interpreted that as referring to Israel becoming a sovereign state again, Israel was destroyed as a nation in the second century. And it wasn't until 1948 that it became a sovereign state again, and in my book, I show that in fact, Christian Zionism, where Christians were supporting Israel, Jews going back to Israel, predated what we think of as Zionism for a long time. Before Jews were doing it, but the evangelicalism may not know this, but know the the leaders do and the historians do. One of the reasons for really supporting Israel now isn't just because of the issue of of oil or stability in the Middle East or needing a democracy there. It's those things are big, of course. But the real reason evangelicalism are ultimately in support of Israel is for eschatological reasons having to do with when Jesus can come back. This isn't a connected with a book of Revelation, it's connected with the book of Second Thessalonians. In Second Thessalonians, two, we're told that the end isn't coming right away. The author is saying Don't you know, don't don't panic, it's not going to can't happen yet. There's something that has to happen first, the man of lawlessness is being held back. And once once the restraint is lifted, he's going to take over and he's going to enter into the temple of God, and he's going to declare himself God. And so this is this is the antichrist figure. You're not called the Antichrist there, but that's who the Antichrist figure. Well, evangelicalism looked at that verse and said, Wait a second, the Antichrist can't go into the temple of God, there isn't a temple of God. That's the it's on the Temple Mount. And that's where the, the Islamic Dome of the Rock is, to rank for the temple for the temple for the Antichrist going to the temple, the temple has to be rebuilt. But that means that Israel has to control the Temple Mount, and for them to control the Temple Mount. And they've got to take out the Dome of the Rock. Whoa, well, they can't do that on their own. They need any support. We need to help them and so we have to support Israel. So I mean, it's a very, it's a very troubling idea that, that Israel has to destroy the dome on the rock. I mean, you talk about World War Three. Of course, that's what they want. World war three, but I mean, it's not good. And, and so that's, that is behind the idea of supporting Israel in the F angelical. Cap. And it's not an accident that Trump moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I'm not taking a stand on this. I'm not taking a stand on that. Or on the Israeli Palestinian issue. I'm not saying anything political at all. I'm saying the reason evangelicalism wanted Trump to do that, is because Israel has to take over all of Jerusalem, and it has to take off all Israel, including the occupied territories.

David Ames  32:29  
Right, so very deep implications. I was also struck by the beginning of this idea, you tell a little story, about 19th century English person where a woman had bequeath to these oak trees, and she says, These oaks shall remain standing, and the hand of a man shall not be raised against them until Israel returns and is restored to the land of promise. And that kind of escalates out from that small little thing to what you've just described.

Bart D. Ehrman  32:59  
It's a I described this whole scenario in the early 19th century with a man named Louis Wei, W, a y that nobody's heard of, but oh, man, if it hadn't been for him, you wouldn't have had this strong support for the return of Israel. He converted, converted to this idea that the Bible's prophesying that Israel will return, you wouldn't have had Christian support for Zionism. And I show in my book that actually you wouldn't have fundamentalism, which, which arose in the 1890s, what we think of as fundamentalism rose in 1890s, as a direct offshoot of this early Christian Zionism that Lewis way started.

David Ames  33:47  
I mean, I think that's what makes history fascinating is you can kind of trace things back to some seminal seed that has vast implications. Just

Bart D. Ehrman  33:55  
you just have no idea just the smallest thing can lead to something else to something else. And then whammo, oh, my God, I mean, so it ended up affecting the world. It's quite astonishing.

David Ames  34:25  
As you mentioned the second half of the book, you talk about why revelation really isn't the hopeful a book that some people take it as well. I can't tell you the times I've heard you know, I've read to the back of the book and we win, you know, talk a little bit about why that isn't the the the right interpretation as well.

Bart D. Ehrman  34:44  
Well, it's certainly hopeful for a very slim group of Christians, not all Christians. In the book Revelation, a lot of the Christians end up in the lake of fire like everyone else. It's interesting. I hadn't really noticed this, but I started when I started really deeply studying revelation. You know, I've studied it since I was 17. I've studied it for 50 years, but I decided to really go all out about five years ago. And I never realized the word hope does not occur in the book Revelation. The term love of God never occurs in the book of Revelation. God is never said to love anyone. The followers of Jesus are not just the faithful, they're called the slaves. They're slaves. And so you start doing word studies of Revelation. And you don't get you know, mercy and, and forgiveness and hope and love, you don't get words like that. Vengeance and wrath and blood and, and the book itself says it's about the wrath of God and His lamb. When John writes his book, John of Patmos, whoever he is, he doesn't identify himself as John the son of Zebedee, he doesn't say he's One of Jesus disciples, he's, he's somebody named John is a common name. And he's on the island of Patmos off of the west coast of what's now Turkey. And he says that he's writing he tells us, he's writing to Christians in seven churches, in Western Asia Minor. So basically long, near the coast of western Turkey. He names the churches, and he threatens them, that Christ is going to take away their salvation because they're not acting well. And he details what it is that their problems are. And he issues some horrifying threats against Christian teachers. These aren't not not outsiders, who are, you know, teaching apostasy or teaching. But insiders, teachers in the church who God Christ is going to go in to destroy. And so anybody who agrees with John's understanding of Christianity, who has precisely his theology, and precisely his practices, they will be given the future kingdom of God. Everybody else, every pagan who's ever lived, every Jews ever lived, every non Christian has ever lived, everyone, every Christian, who doesn't believe like John, who's ever lived, is going to be sent into the lake of fire. So not very helpful, not helpful. And it's not, I have to say that on the liberal end of the spectrum, I mentioned that, you know, liberal Christian scholars tend to see this as a book of hope. And they, and there are entire scholarly books written claiming that the book of Revelation is not violent. And I think that's crazy. I don't know what version they're reading. At. But they say that Christ is introduced in the book, as they say, they say, which is, they say something wrong to begin with, which is, they say the first image of Christ is the Lamb that was slain. I say that's wrong, because it's not the first image of Christ in the book. But they say, since the guiding image of the book is Christ as the one who is the innocent victim, then, in fact, what the book is teaching is, is non violence, and that it's teaching that, that God isn't violent, and that people shouldn't be violent, because it's the innocent victim of Christ, that is the leading image. And oh, boy, is that wrong? This this lamb that was slain, shed his blood, innocently. And now he's out for revenge. And it explicitly talks about him coming out for revenge. And it says that he's the one who, who unleashes all of the catastrophes that hit the Earth, the lambdas. Right? It's not a pretty picture.

David Ames  38:31  
Now, you also point out that many Christians will say, they're uncomfortable with the Old Testament, because God appears to be a God of wrath and the Old Testament, but he is the God of love in the New Testament, and you challenge that a bit, in particular with Revelation.

Bart D. Ehrman  38:45  
Well, you know, the thing is, the God of love is in the Old Testament, too. So I kind of cut it both ways, because it's true. There are I detail some rather wrathful stories in the Old Testament that most people don't know. Most people would know about the battle of Jericho and how they read it, they'll see how horrible it is because the troops of Israel go in and are told to kill every man, woman and child in the city of Jericho. The children, yep, slaughter them. But that's not even the most violent one. And so the story in that part of the Old Testament, but I do talk about the God of wrath and the Old Testament, but it's also important to recognize that the God of love is in the old testament to the idea that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength. That's Deuteronomy, the idea you should love your neighbors yourself. That's Leviticus. God is both a God of wrath and a God of love and the Old Testament, when people say that the God of the New Testament is very different because he's the God of love. Whenever anybody asked me that, I just tells me that I just asked them whether they've read Revelation lately. Are you kidding me? There's no love of God here at all. It's all about his wrath, and it says it is. So yeah, it's a false dichotomy. And I think it's it's really common anti Jewish thing, it's a way of saying, well as Jews, I live by God, we have a God of love, you know, so we're superior to those Jews. And yeah, okay. Your last book isn't so loving.

David Ames  40:10  
Yeah. When I tell my story I talked about a couple of years before my deconversion, I did another read through the Bible. My wife would comment that I seemed angry. And, and I realized with hindsight that I was reading it for the first time with, without their grace colored glasses on without the rose colored glasses and really reading the text for when it said, again, the whole thing from from from beginning to end. Yeah. And seeing that there is a fair amount of wrath throughout throughout the scriptures, and even, you know, analyze and Sapphira being destroyed, you know, on the spot feels a bit capricious. The line in your book that just I absolutely love, I'm going to steal this and use this all the time is, far more people revere the Bible than read it. Yeah. Why do you think that is? Why is it that that people say they're committed fundamentalist believers don't actually read the texts themselves?

Bart D. Ehrman  41:07  
Well, you know, I used to so I teach, you know, I teach in the south UNC Chapel Hill. And Chapel Hill is not known as a bastion of conservative thought, it's my part of the world is but the faculty at UNC tend to be politically liberal. And, and my students come from a range of places, but mainly around North Carolina, and most of them have been raised in Christian households. And one of the reasons they're taking a New Testament class is because they're thinking, you know, how hard can it be? was a barrel. Right? So, so I begin the class, first day of class, I haven't done this for a while I used to do it. I did about 350 students in the class, I'd say, all right. So you know, this isn't a class on religion, I'm not going to be trying to convince you of theology, I'm not going to try and convert you to something or D convert you but I am interested in your background. How many of you would agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God? VO everybody would everybody would just about everybody would raise their hand and say, Okay, great. So I said, Now, how many of you in here have read the Harry Potter books? Oh, my God, okay. How many of you read all of the Bible? Scattered hands? few hands. Okay, look. So, you know, JK Rowling's great. And, you know, I can see why you'd want to read a book fire. But if God wrote a book, we just want to see what he had to say. You're telling me that you think God wrote the Bible, and you're not interested in reading it, tell you if I thought the creator of the universe wrote a book, I'd want to read it.

David Ames  42:41  

One other thing I want to pull out as well is near the end of your book, you talk about Jesus talking about how he would judge and he would judge based on those who have done to the least of these good things, and that the many people will come and say, Lord, Lord, I did miracles in your name, but they didn't. They weren't kind they didn't feed the poor that didn't visit the prisoner. And you are contrasting that to just the needs to believe a certain set of ideas. Another intellectual hero of mine is Jennifer Michael Hecht. She has written the book doubts, wonder paradox, a bunch of others. She talks a lot about how Christianity became about belief. And therefore the other side of the coin was always about doubt that those two things are inseparable, then I'm just interested in you know, as your interpretation of the New Testament, is it about belief, or is it about practice?

Bart D. Ehrman  43:51  
My sense is that early Christians did not differentiate those two, the way we do, I think that it was understood that believing Jesus and worshipping Jesus went hand in hand. And it was understood that if you didn't believe correctly, then you weren't worshipping correctly. And if you didn't worship correctly, you weren't believing correctly. Okay? Also, it was understood that if you are a true follower of Jesus, you will live according to how God wants you to. And that if you if you if you have bad belief in Jesus, you're going to be behaving inappropriately. And so, but where the connection falls apart is the early Christians didn't think that necessarily that being good, was going to be good enough. Because they didn't think anybody was was good enough. What I argue in my book is that when Jesus talks about something like say, The Good Samaritan, you know, he doesn't praise the Samaritan for his religion or his beliefs. He praises him because he helps somebody in need. And when he separates the sheep In the goats in Matthew 25, the sheep are welcomed into the kingdom of the Father. Because they've fed the hungry and they gave, gave drink to those who are thirsty, and they visited those who are lonely and they, they took care of people in need. And the sheep are surprised they're going to be entering this kingdom, I said, Lord, because Jesus says, if you've done it, to me, you've done to the least of these others, and they said, Lord, we've been around seen you. That's it, people who don't even know who Jesus is, and they get into the kingdom. Whereas, you know, the goats don't help the poor, the needy or, and so they get cast out. And so it's not based on believing in Jesus. These people didn't know Jesus is how you live. But a lot of people think, you know, of course, I mean, Christianity became the thing about became a thing of belief, you had to believe the right things. And you had to acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and you had to agree to X, Y, and Z. And then you get that parable that you mentioned, that story that Jesus says, he says, you know, at the end, Many will say to me, Lord, Lord, and which means, you know, they're gonna say, Look, Lord, we, you know, we've confessed you, we've worshipped you, and Jesus, you haven't done the will of my Father, out of here. Whoa, for Jesus has all being a person who cares for those in need, and does something to help those who are poor and hungry and homeless. That's what that's what matters to to Jesus himself. But in Revelation, it's not that at all. It's not, it's that has nothing to do with it. It has, it means being a member of the church, being a believer in Jesus, a follower of Jesus who worships Him in the way John dictates otherwise.

David Ames  46:46  
You also talk about the theme of dominance in in Revelation, and that that has direct implications to our current times as well.

Bart D. Ehrman  46:55  
Boy, does it. So, you know, it's one of the contrasts, I think, between Jesus and John of Patmos, Jesus, Jesus insisted that his followers not lorded over others, that they, that they serve others, Jesus said that He himself came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for others. He tells his followers that they should sell everything and give to the poor, he praises his disciples for leaving everything for the sake of the kingdom. So this is a this is a message of giving a message of service, you get to the book, Revelation, there's nothing about giving and service. It's about destroying the enemy. I mean, forget turn the other cheek, or forget Love your enemies. You know, I mean, you you hate your enemies, and you you hate what they do, and you punish them and God, God, of course, destroys all of them. After torturing them. I mean, there's torture, God tortures people in the book, Revelation. And everybody gets thrown into a lake of burning sulfur while they're they're brought back to life so that they can be destroyed in the lake of fire. This is so this this vision of what it means to be a true follower of God or even a true follower of Jesus is completely different. In one you're not supposed to dominate and the other is all about domination. I, I don't think it's consistent at all with what Jesus said. I mean, John, John, of course, John of Patmos understood himself to be a very, very committed Christian, a very avidly committed Christian, I'm not sure Jesus would have recognized him as a follower.

David Ames  48:56  
I would be remiss if we didn't at least talk about what is a proper way to tackle revelation, whether you're a believer or you're a non believer, but you're interested in actually finding out what it actually says,

Bart D. Ehrman  49:09  
well, a lot of people are afraid of the book because of the symbolism and how just strange it is. Most people who use revelation use it as a kind of a way to, to, to mine for gold nuggets. You know, you don't, you don't take the whole thing. You kind of find a piece here a piece therapy's there. And actually, it's more like a jigsaw puzzles, how I talk about it in my book, you know, you think that the Bible is filled with pieces of a puzzle that will describe what's going to happen at the end. So you take a verse from Zechariah, then a book from verse from Revelation, Then something from Daniel then so Informatica and some from Revelation, and you're taking this little saying, or this verse, And you stick them all together, and you end up with how Lindsey like great plan. And so what I what I argue in the book is that even if you think the Bible is inspired, you know, even if you think that this is a book written by God Odd in some way, whether God has inspired the authors, it means that God inspired a book. He didn't inspire a jigsaw puzzle he could have, but he didn't. And so it means you read it like a book. And if you read a book, for one thing, you don't cherry pick it, you don't you don't open a book and read, you know, a line on page 222. And then another Line and Page 13, and another line of 58. And you put them together to say, that's what the author meant. You start at the beginning, and you start reading, and you go to the end, and you try to understand what the themes are, what the motifs are, what the topics are with the arc of the narrative is, and you do that, if you do that, actually, Revelation is not complicated to understand in terms of the narrative, the basic narrative is fairly easy. And I laid out in my book so people can see, you know, actually, yeah, okay, this is happening here, then this than this, the difficulty comes with the symbolism. Because it's not a normal narrative, like a gospel where you can pretty much see what Jesus is saying and doing. It's, it's very, very symbolic. The deal with reading a book is, if you're reading a book that was written in the 1600s, you've got to understand what was happening in the 1600s. To understand the book. If you're reading a Jane Austen novel, you need to know need to know what was going on in the early 19th century. If you're reading Charles Dickens novel, you need to know what's going on in Victorian England, you need to understand their context, or you're just going to, you're going to misunderstand it. And what I what I show in the book is that historical scholars have long known that the book of Revelation is a kind of book that was being written at its time, it seems like a weird one off Ross, it's like the only thing like we've ever, oh, my God, this is so weird, this must have been inspired by God, because who could come up with this, you know, that kind of thing. And, in fact, we have lots of books like that, in Jewish and Christian circles from the time that are not in the Bible, that help us understand how this genre worked at the time. And one of the things in this genre is that they're always about some prophet who has a vision, either has a vision of heaven, or has a vision of the future. And the vision is weird and bizarre with these wild beasts, and these catastrophes, and this cosmic disasters, and all this stuff's going on, and your head spinning. And the prophets head is spinning, too. And what almost always happens is, there's a angel standing by to explain it to him. Yeah, gotta pay attention to this angel. So when you're interpreting the Book of Revelation, you read it like a book, you put it into historical context, and you look for the clues the author himself has left. And the clues, once they get explained to you, you'll see Oh, my God, that's what it is. And so it is not difficult to figure out who the beast from the sea is, the Antichrist figure in the book, Revelation is not hard, the angel gives it away. But people who just read a verse here or there, and they don't see the whole package. So in my book, I tried to explain how historians have understood the book, and and how they put it in its own context, to try and understand what John was trying to communicate it to his own readers. One big mistake is to think he was writing for 21st century America. He was not he was writing for Christians and seven churches of Asia Minor. And presumably, he wanted them to understand what he had to say.

David Ames  53:27  
Last question, you mentioned in the book, how people have interpreted the beast since you mentioned it to be whoever their political foe is, at the moment. And it strikes me that the history of biblical interpretation kind of is that we each come to the text with our own context. And it's hard not to read our context into what we think the original author meant, if you were interested in trying to figure out what the original author meant, and what the original hearers heard, what is kind of a method? How would you go about that?

Bart D. Ehrman  53:57  
Yeah. Well, you know, so the beast is an interesting thing, because, you know, it's not the beast number is 666. In chapter 13, it's interesting. We have some manuscripts, by the way that say that the beast number is 616. And we don't have the original copy of Revelation, we have these copies from hundreds of years later, and most say 666, but some of the early ones say 616. That's interesting. But then the B shows up again in chapter 17, that's the great whore of Babylon is sitting on this beast. And in both cases, he has seven heads and 10 horns and you think, what in the world how do I, how am I supposed to understand this? But when you get when you get to chapter 17, John says the same thing. He sees this horror of Babylon, so she's got she got a name written on her head Babylon, the Great Mother of horrors. She's bedecked in fancy clothes, very expensive, rich clothes. She's sitting on this beast with seven heads and 10 horns and, and she's got jewelry and gold and silver and she's filthy rich, and she's here. holding in her hand a golden cup that's filled with the abominations of her fornication. And she's drunk with the blood of martyrs. And, and John saying, What is this, and the and the angel explains it to him. And it's so easy to unpack it in the ancient world. They've done it like that. He says, The angel says that the the beasts that has seven heads, the seven heads represent the seven hills, that the woman is seated on to woman seated on seven hills. The woman's named after a city, it's a city in Babylon the Great when the Old Testament Babylon was the city that destroyed Jerusalem and burn the temple, in John's de Rome was the city that burned that destroyed Jerusalem and burned the temple. This woman is seated on seven hills. Rome was the city built on seven hills, that's what it was called in the ancient world. And people still call it today, the city built on seven hills. And in case you still don't get it at the end of the chapter, the angel says, The woman is the city that is dominating the entire Earth. That's wrong. This is like it's a no brainer, she's dropped for the blood of the martyrs because Rome had started persecuting Christians, especially under the Caesar Nero, who executed Christians and shed their blood. She's filthy rich, because Rome has taken all the money from the provinces. And it's enriched itself. And so you go back to chapter 13, where this beast first occurs, and he's called 666. And it's the number of a man and we're told that one of the heads had suffered a mortal wound, but recovered one of the heads of the beast. So what is his man and mortal wounds 666? Well, from 17, you know, this is Rome, it's the beast is Rome. The head 666, the head of Rome, that first persecuted Christians was Nero, the Emperor Nero in the year 64. When the angel says that the number of the beast is six, six exits the number of man what he's referring to, might seem, it's going people today, don't do it this way. Because people like to say, you know, in early 20th centuries, Kaiser Wilhelm, or later was Hitler or Mussolini. When I was in college. No, there was a book written saying there was the Pope, another book wrote, and then saying it was Henry Kissinger. Lately, it has been Saddam Hussein. Now it's Putin. You know, you pick your person, and you figure out how it's 666. But you read it in John's context, where the enemy is Rome, and the Beast is identified as Rome later. And Kaiser Nero, okay, what's going on the number of the beasts he says the number of man in the Greek and Hebrew languages like other ancient languages, they didn't have separate alphabetic and numerical systems. So we have we use roman letters ABCD, but we use Arabic numerals, they use their letters of their alphabet for the numbers. So in Hebrew, all F is the first letter, so that's one, beta is two gimel, three goes up till you get to 10, then the next one is 20, then 30 than 40, then you get up to 100. And that's 100 200 300. So every letter has a numerical value. And so when it says the number is the number of a man, it means that the letters in this man's name, add up to six, xx, okay? Just what are you saying? Well, if you spell Caesar Nero in Hebrew letters, it adds up to 6x, six. But there's an interesting variant on that. Because in Hebrew, you could say Kaiser named Ron with a noon at the end our n, or you could say Kaiser Nero, without the N, without the noon, the noon is worth 50. So that with it, it's 666. And without it, it's 616, as in some of the manuscripts. This is, so this is talking about Caesar Nero. So you say how do you interpret it, you look at the clues in the text, and you put them in their historical context. And if you have any trouble, then you read a historical scholar.

David Ames  58:55  
Yeah. Yeah, I think the lesson from this is the it's so confusing to us, because we're out of context. But in context, it's not subtle at all.

Bart D. Ehrman  59:05  
It's not subtle at all. And you know, a lot of people thought, well, you know, John's doing this, because he doesn't want to get arrested, the authorities will find out, he's written this book, and then there'll be in big trouble. And that's why it's all so secretive. And I don't think that's the reason at all, actually, because anybody in the Roman world who heard that this horror, Babylon was sitting on a beast with seven heads that has said, the seven hills of the city, so this is not hard to figure out, anybody would write it out. But the reason he's writing such secret of language is because it's an apocalypse. Apocalypse is a divine revelation of the secrets that makes sense of this world. And so it's got to be secretive. So it's got to be mystical and weird. And so all of these apocalypses are like that. They're mystical and weird.

David Ames  59:47  
And that's its own genre.

Bart D. Ehrman  59:49  
It's a genre. It's a genre. It's just like we have short stories and novels and limericks and epic poems, and it's, every genre has a way of doing it. And so when you Reading in a science fiction novel, you know, you're not reading a, you know, front page article in The New York Times. It's a different kind of genre. And a short story isn't a limerick. And so, an apocalypse is an apocalypse, which means you have to know how apocalypses work, if you're going to understand any one of them, including the book Revelation.

David Ames  1:00:20  
Bart Ehrman, you've been incredibly generous with your time, the new book is Armageddon, what the Bible really says about the end. I want to give you a couple of minutes just to promote the other work that you do understand that your blog the proceeds is for that go to a nonprofit. You also have your podcast. tell people how they can find your work.

Bart D. Ehrman  1:00:38  
Yeah, well, let me I'll enter the blog because it's the one that's really important to me. But so I do have a podcast, a weekly podcast that's called Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman, and it's not meant to mean you can misquote Jesus along with Bart Ehrman. The podcast is misquoting it with Viagra. And so every week, we talk about half an hour 45 minute interview. Great, great interviewer, Megan Lewis, and we talk about important things related to the New Testament and early Christianity every week. It's part of a larger business that I've started called the part urban professional services. If people go to Bart, I've done I do courses, I do lectures and courses for purchase. I've got one coming up on April 15, that even if people don't come to it, they can purchase it. This will be a lecture, a 50 minute lecture on will you be left behind a history of the rapture and with q&a and with additional reading if you if you purchase it, but then courses on you know everything from the book of Genesis to the Gospels and and some of these rate lecture courses that people can hear me talk about this stuff. So let me just say about the blog, though, because the blog is near and dear to my heart. I've done it for nearly 11 years now. I post five times a week, or six times five or six times a week, between 12 114 100 words a day. Wow, on everything having to do with the New Testament, Jesus gospels, Paul, early Christianity, persecution martyrdom, women are up to Constantine and beyond. And people can comment on my posts. And I answer every question I get. And I've done this for 11 years. There's a fee to join a small membership fee to join. But as you said, David, I, I don't keep any of this money myself. I give all of it to charities, mainly dealing with hunger and homelessness. And so last year, last year, the blog raised over $500,000 Wow. So for me, it's kind of a service to the community and to the world because we give money to international relief agencies. So people should check it out. Because you know, it's not a large fee, and it contributes to a really good cause. And you get to hear about biblical scholarship or New Testament early Christianity scholarship.

David Ames  1:02:55  
It's a win win and you're heaping burning coals on the heads. Bart Ehrman, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Bart D. Ehrman  1:03:04  
Thanks for having me.

David Ames  1:03:11  
Final thoughts on the episode. The thing that strikes you upon meeting Bart Ehrman is how nice a person he is. He was incredibly gracious with his time, he was incredibly gracious with my naive questions. I'm incredibly jealous of the people who get to have him as a professor, he reminded me so much of the best parts of Bible College and actually digging into the text of the New Testament in a way that is respectful and also critical. And I think Bart handles that really, really well. I think Bart struck something very important when he talked about truth and evidence. I'll quote him here. He says, within the evangelical tradition, truth is really important. And there is also a sense within the evangelical tradition that there are ways to find the truth. It isn't just believing something. When you have students studying it at a serious evangelical school, they are taught you have to look for evidence. But once you open up the door to evidence, you also open up the door to people disagreeing. I think that's incredibly insightful. I think all of apologetics is the attempt to bring evidence to the table. But once you have evidence as your guiding light as your standard, it will inexorably inevitably lead you away from the claims of Christianity. This goes back to what we talked about last week in that the truth will set you free. I know that for many of you Bart's books were the beginning of the deconstruction process, the beginning of letting go of inerrancy of Scripture, the beginning of letting go of the authority of Scripture. And now having the opportunity to interview Bart, I understand why he's so respectful, that even while he is tearing down the dogma or the stringent fundamentalism. He's also doing it with care, compassion and love of the text that is deeply attractive, deeply, deeply attractive. Which brings us to his current book, Armageddon, what the Bible really says about the end. It's a striking difference in that he is pulling out the violence and the wrath of the New Testament, which we don't often think of the dominion theology comes out of Revelation. Bart is tying all of our modern issues with Christian nationalism and evangelicalism to the book of Revelation. And it's skewed view, relative to the Gospels of who Jesus is. I was also just absolutely amazed to discover my ignorance about how Lindsay's book The Late Great Planet Earth. Probably many of you have read that it just so happens that I didn't. But as I said, so much of the interpretation of revelation by evangelicals comes from that book. And it was enlightening and intriguing to read, Bart, show us what the book actually says, about the time of John of Patmos and early Christianity. And ultimately, he compares and contrasts that Jesus of John of Patmos writes about in Revelation versus the Jesus who is in the Gospels and that is a stark contrast. The book is out now it is amazing. Go check it out. Read it. Do check out Bart's podcast Misquoting Jesus with Bart Ehrman Bart's blog, which is at Urban The proceeds for that basically do what Jesus talked about in Matthew 24, to feed the hungry to house the poor. So please support Bart and become a member on his blog today. You can also find the courses that he mentioned at bought at BART If you'd like to dig into the study of the New Testament, I want to thank Bart for being on the podcast for giving us his time for being so gracious with my naive questions. Thank you so much, Bart, for all the work that you do. It is incredibly appreciated by me and the community of these listeners. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is obviously inspired by Bart. Last week we talked about the truth will set you free. This week, I want to talk about doing good in the world. What I'm talking about with secular grace is often very practical, what we do for one another, how we connect with each other. I actually want to read a sliver of the Matthew 24 reference that we made a few times. Then the King will say to those on his right come you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick and in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. Interviewing Bart reading Bart's book, I was struck again about what attracted me to Jesus to begin with. And this is it, that it was ruthlessly practical that what Jesus had to say was about doing Christianity, not believing things, and historical Christianity. And evangelical Christianity specifically has warped that into a set of dogma and beliefs. And the point I want to make is that from a secular Grace point of view, we can do these things. If you want to say that you are a follower of Jesus, this is the way you would do it. By feeding the hungry, housing the house less and generally caring for people and their practical needs. The great irony that many of us who have deconstructed and D converted is that we find we can be better Christians as non believers than we were as believers. And I think this is another one of those opportunities to do good in the world without having the baggage that comes along with the dogma and historical tradition. So many good interviews coming up including A number of community members, Holly Laurent from the mega Podcast coming up. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human being. The beat is called waves by MCI beats. Do you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show? Email me at graceful for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

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