The edge—the brink, the threshold, the end. The edge is where you may, with one false step, plummet to your death. The edge is where uncertainty lies, and that’s terrifying.
When we get to the edge of nearly anything, our limbic system kicks in and screams, “You’re about to die. Stop! Turn back!” We want to run away. And if staying alive is our highest objective, perhaps we should. But is there not more to life than simply surviving?
If I leave christianity, where will I go?
If I keep asking these questions, who will be there to answer them?
If I no longer have faith, what will I have?
The thing is: you don’t know. Everything about standing at the edge is uncertain. But, if you’re honest with yourself, wasn’t life uncertain back living inside the fences?
Still too much outside your control. Now, at least, you can acknowledge that truth and move forward. Do it.
Do it, scared.
Do it, full of doubt.
Do it, seeking help along the way.
But do it, move forward toward the edge. Let yourself be pushed and then fly. You may be pleasantly surprised at the trip.
This week’s guest is Evan Clark. Evan is the Executive Director of Atheists United. Evan grew up in a partially religious home, but at six years old, the idea of a god didn’t make sense to him.
He attended a Christian liberal arts college and was able to start its first atheist group. Since then, he’s gone on to create many humanist communities.
In this episode, Evan explains why atheist spaces in the US differ from spaces in other more progressive countries, why community is not the only thing people need, and he shares some of Atheists United’s upcoming projects.
“‘Why do you need an atheist community?’ It’s not about atheism; it’s about atheists. Atheists are people, and people need community.”
“In the US, we don’t fix homelessness with our government. We don’t fix hunger with our government. We don’t provide healthcare to all of our citizens, and so what is the most powerful, most well-funded institution, outside of government, that then steps up?…religion.”
“There’s something unique about the humanist perspective that we can offer the world.”
“To be a ‘Philosophy Bro’ is abnormal. To sit and ponder literally everything while things burn around me? That is a privilege upon a privilege.”
“There’s so much more value from what I can do…getting atheists together and doing good work and providing transformational spaces for them; rather than being the one who fixes bad ideas of other people.”
“You stay in an organization, and you become active in an organization…when it transforms you, when it’s something that helps you grow as a human being.”
“Humanism starts from the idea that magic isn’t real. It’s a naturalist world…God and gods aren’t things that matter to our universe. We are these small little homo sapiens on a small planet, in a small galaxy, in an unbelievably massive universe.”
“The story of the universe and the idea that you can solve problems…and understand your place in [your community] and figure out moral and ethical problems. I think that’s more beautiful [than religion] because it’ll always improve based on new evidence and experience.”
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. It's part of the atheists United studios podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Welcome back. As you heard in the new intro, the podcast is now a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. As we begin the new year, I want to remind you that we have the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Please consider joining and become a part of the community. I want to thank all the patrons on patreon.com Thank you so much for supporting the podcast. Thank you to Sharon Joel, Lars Ray, Rob, Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Your support is much appreciated. If you would like an ad free experience of the podcast, become a patron at any level at patreon.com/graceful atheist. You will also get the podcast early ish on most weeks. You'll get it a few hours early on occasion. You'll get it a couple of days early. Hang on until the end for the final thoughts section. I'll talk a bit more about some of the plans for 2023 including what the community will be doing. As always special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. My guest today is Evan Clark. Evans bio says he is a humanist entrepreneur, a political consultant and a public speaker with over 14 years experience tinkering with secular communities. In 2019, Evan was hired as atheists United's first executive director, atheists United's mission statement is our mission is to build thriving atheist communities empower people to express their secular values and promote separation of government and religion. But much more than that, Evan is a secular Grace kind of humanist and you're going to hear that in the interview. Evan reached out to me in the fall of 2022, and asked if the graceful atheist podcast was interested in becoming a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. And I am very excited to say that as of you hearing this, we are now a part of that podcast network and I am excited about my sibling podcasts, and the work that Evan myself and the sibling podcasts will do together over the next and following years. Here is Evan Clark to tell his story.
Evan Clark, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Evan Clark 2:51
Thanks for having me,
David Ames 2:52
Evan, you're currently the Executive Director of atheists united and I'd love your bio on on the site. It says evidence a humanist entrepreneur, political consultant and public speaker with over 14 years experience tinkering with secular communities. So my first question to you is did you start at 12?
Evan Clark 3:10
No, no, no. Oh, man, I'm glad I still look that young. No, I started in college. I attended California Lutheran University and I started their atheist club. Okay, I cold emailed the Secular Student Alliance and immediately got a group started by the end of my freshman year, and it was wild. It's a really unique experience starting a Secular Student Alliance. There's only maybe three or 400 of us in the world that have done that before. And then of those, I'm one of like, 10, that did it at a religious University. So we had kind of a unique experience. And I will say Cal Lutheran is not your Bible thumping. Liberty University or Azusa Pacific or something. It is. It is a open liberal arts college. And we had a really great experience. But yeah, I think it is a unique experience being in a religious space. I mean, most of us are in a religious culture, and we deal with religious politics, but then having your college environment have prayers in weird places, and pastors that are on the payroll in a church that, you know, they they closed down classes for an hour each day so people can go, Oh, wow. But luckily, it wasn't forced. So we there were plenty of secular students on campus. And we we built a really unique community. And that was my first that's what really kind of got me excited about this whole thing. I remember our last our last meeting in college I the last one for me, after three years, four years running this group, I challenged everyone like Do you think there's a need for spaces like this after college? And I had already made up my mind by then, but I was trying to see, you know, where everyone was at and what they thought of it. And yeah, I mean, to really think that 1011 years later that I could get paid to be an atheist organizer is just mind blowing dreams do come Um, true for privileged white guy.
David Ames 5:04
I think we're gonna circle back to some of your like, you know, your growing up years. But I want to talk really quick about Cal Lutheran. So my understanding is that you also became student body president there. Yeah, that's right. How does that work and atheists that at a Christian university? Yeah.
Evan Clark 5:17
So I mean, it's funny to think back. We were celebrating its 50th year as a university when I was student body president. And I imagine there were probably at least one or two other non theists. But yeah, but there's a difference between being a public non theist, right, like we know, we've had many elected officials in Congress that are non theists, but they won't allow themselves to be that publicly, on all surveys, they identify as Jewish or Christian or Muslim. And I think that's what's unique. So I was the first out public atheist in that position. And yeah, honestly, it really wasn't that big a deal. When I ran for student body president, it was more controversial that I was running against a former roommate than it was that I was running, you know, as a leader of the Secular Student Group. Yeah. So while I do know, some people it probably frustrated or gave them a bad taste in their mouth. And I do know, the like, local press decided to run with it here and there. Overall, the campus was very supportive and never really thought twice. And I remember by the time I was getting out of college, the university was bragging about our secular student group as another form of diversity on campus. Look, we have these atheists, then look at religious diversity. And I do think that helps kickstart kind of an interfaith era for Cal Lutheran, and they've been really active with interfaith work ever since. And I like to think that we helped nudge that along.
David Ames 6:48
That's awesome. That's actually I think, a positive impact. We say sometimes that there are better and worse versions of religion, and one that's more ecumenical is definitely better. And so it sounds like you had that kind of impact on the university.
Evan Clark 7:02
Yeah, yeah, I think, I don't know. It's, it's really interesting, building a secular space, and then thinking about how that relates to the rest of the community and culture that you exist in. So, you know, atheists United was founded in 1982, over separation of church and state case in LA. It was a contentious existence, and to be an open atheists in 1982 was kind of a, you know, extremely intense experience. You're talking about maybe losing your job or having to confront family if it's public suddenly. And yeah, Cal Lutheran in 2012. Not as intense is 1982. Atheist organizing. But what I will say is, yeah, it brought the conservative Christians out a little bit more, it brought the other clubs that did interfaith work, a little bit more vocal, and it gave them I think, space for that. What was unique about our group as we explored religion, most secular student groups look like philosophy clubs, actually, it's because they recruit mostly from the philosophy clubs. That's why they looked at why there's a self selection bias there. Were at Cal Lutheran, we decided, because we are identifying publicly as non theists in an explicitly at least a name theistic space, we need to know what we don't believe if we're going to claim that publicly and organize around that. And so what we did is we did anthropological exploration of religion, we went to churches and synagogues and mosques and pagan rituals and Mormon temples. And we, we engaged, we sat through their ceremonies, and we got a crash course in experiential religious studies. I learned so much more through my club than I did through even the religion classes that I took. Because we had first hand experience. And yeah, I'll never forget how much we learned and how much empathy I built and how many patterns I noticed about religion, because we weren't afraid of it, we, you know, openly engaged it,
David Ames 9:08
man. You know, that's incredible. Because one of the things that I think concerns me is, my point of view is very specifically having had belief, and then going through a deconversion process and being on the other side, some of my criticisms of the atheist community of you know, maybe the last 1520 years is kind of that hostility towards religious people. And I think that comes from a lack of understanding. There's no point of recognition of the humanity of what it is like to have believed and I think just taking a comparative religion class alone, but even going as far as you did to actually sit in on other religious ceremonies is like super valuable. And I think it also not just from the empathy point of view, but it also inoculates you event, right? Right. I think people can be susceptible to you know, if they have a particularly difficult moment in their lives, the love bombing effect of some religions and having an exposure to that could actually be an inoculation.
Evan Clark 10:10
Yes, and it's such a complex topic talking about how people came to their non theism. So I there as a community organizer who grew up secular, which we can talk about in a second, and I went, I grew up in Massachusetts, I went to Catholic school in first grade and immediately said, this isn't working for me. Okay, all these. They start with stories of Genesis, and I was picking those apart one by one. Yeah, yeah. Nuns hated me. I was a little brat. I was asking questions about how Adam and Eve had two boys and populated the world. And like, I didn't even know what sex was. But I was like, giving them questions that made them have to, like, think or engage that topic. And so they just wouldn't. And that frustrated me more. And so yeah, I decided this God thing isn't working for me in first grade. I didn't find a word like atheist until sixth grade, super flipping through a dictionary, you know, trying to not read in one of my classes or something. And yeah, I found this word atheist. And I go, there's a word for me. I thought it was such a powerful like an identity moment. And then I started using it and realize not everyone liked the word.
David Ames 11:18
Yeah. Had some connotations. Little baggage. Yeah.
Can I ask real quick? Yeah. Was your family religious then? And did they? How did they respond to that?
Evan Clark 11:36
Yeah, it was more, I'll call it a I'll call it split religious. My dad grew up, like secular San Diego household. My mom grew up in more of Roman Catholic Massachusetts household. So when we I was born in California, but at the age of two, we moved to Massachusetts. And so I think my mom just had this idea that if you can, if you have the money, you raise your kids in a nice Catholic private school. Yeah. Um, and that's why I went to the Catholic school that I did. But yeah, when it immediately wasn't working out, and we happen to be in the one town in America where the public school is better than the private school. I was able to transition to the public school. And though my mom tried to get us to go to church, and again, this is Catholic, Roman Catholic at that style of church. My dad didn't like he would do it for my mom, but it wasn't something he ever cared about. He clearly didn't believe in he chose to watch football on Sundays, rather than go to church half the time. And so very quickly, I wanted to go I want to watch football with Dad, I don't want to go to church I hate I hate this ritual. It's boring. It's, they make me sit and CCD, and it's all bullshit. Like I immediately just fought back so hard. Yeah. And my mom finally made a deal with me. She said, If you finish first communion, I'll let you decide if you ever want to go to church again. So I said, Sign me up. Let's do it. Awesome. I'm gonna win this. Yeah. And yeah, that's exactly what happened. I did it a year late, because I had complained so hard the year before about leaving the church. And yeah, I finished the first communion, I got my dumb little wafer, and I never went to church again, not till college, actually. And so I actually feel bad because I was so religiously uneducated, from when at that like fourth, fifth grade experience up until college, like I didn't know the difference between a Catholic and a Christian until I suddenly was in college and decided there should be a space for atheists. And then everybody wanted to talk about their religious traditions, and like, you know, Lutheran and Methodist and all these things I'd never heard before. I have to now really engage. Yeah, so it's, it's been a fascinating journey. But, you know, I identify more with the people who grew up without religion, I just have a little bit of more cultural baggage than those that grew up with atheist parents.
David Ames 13:55
Right, right. Right. Okay. Yeah. And then Evan, I think something that you and I share is, and I think you're doing it better than I am, but is, is obsession with community. So from my perspective, it's that, you know, religion provides a really built in community and the platform for friendships and relationships and building a sense of belonging, and that on this side of deconversion, that that is much harder to facilitate in a secular environment. And yet, human beings need that. And so like I'm just obsessed with ways that we can bring each other together in a secular environment and you are out there on the front line doing that kind of thing. Why is community important to you? Like how did that be? Oh,
Evan Clark 14:39
yeah. Yeah, well, you're gonna have to get me to stop talking to you. Once you get me wound up. It doesn't it doesn't stop but my my poor girlfriend's heard my rants on these 1000 times. But also to finish the last point. People come at their non theism from so many different perspectives where I come at it from more of I grew up most secular with a little bit of religious baggage you know if if you are traumatized by religion if you have sexual shame or if you spent 10s of 1000s of dollars, on superstitious things, if you have guilt still that is riddling, that is destroying your life then I understand why people have really intense negative responses to religion. And the institutional political side is we we see clear obvious dangers we see, you know, our our queer friends, we see our people with reproductive organs that are not like mine being legislated. We see immigration law, even being connected to religion, like we see oppression that people can draw direct lines to, and if they care about justice and social justice in those means, and they can suddenly see this as either a tool or an inspiration for those. Yeah, to me, it's an obvious, rational way that they got to that conclusion, even if I think some of their arguments might be broken, that lead to bad conclusions, like I don't think, like religion, for me is often more of a tool and a space than it is the actual oppression. You know, the reason people come to belief is that always inspired by the ideas they have, or did they already have those ideas, and then they used religious belief arguments to justify those and I think when you get more nuanced, and the deeper you study, philosophy, rational thought community organizing, I'm much more humbled about people. I just don't think we're the rational brained overmatched people think we are you know, like, I think we're very flawed and we're very biased and yeah, I just don't think the judgment of religious people or religious institutions, which can is one of the like hardest things to define in social science, sure. But yes, what is religion? Right, like, do we count? football stadiums, as you know, next to churches or phrases sorority or religion or is a Buddhist non theist organization or religion? Like these are really complicated questions that social scientists debate to this day.
Moving to the community question, and away from the first one, we desperately need community, but it's going to look different for everyone. So if we start from just the research perspective, if I wasn't to make more personal arguments, research shows that when you participate, I should back up, the way the research was done is more fascinating. They actually found a discrepancy between atheists and theists, when they looked at quality of life, reported levels of happiness, life expectancy, how much you volunteer and how much you donate to charity. But when you dive into the study, and I should say the discrepancy was bad for the non theistic. But yeah, they live longer, they gave more or they reported higher levels of happiness, right? Like, it's just like, Wow, geez, I guess I'm supposed to be religious, if I want to live a good life. Yeah. But when you dive into the research, it has nothing to do with intensity of belief. So it didn't matter that you believe 10 times harder and God than someone lower on the spectrum, with the correlation and causation seem to be more attached to your participation in religious community. So basically, the more you went to a congregational model, the more you participated in pro social behavior, the more pro social benefits you got, you know, which, which matches suddenly, with all of the other social science research that says, When you hang out with people, you have less depression when you you know, when you volunteer more you like, feel happier, and you give more to charity. And so it's really cool when you look at research in that sense, that what I do as an atheist organizer, even if I took the non theism part out if I completely removed atheism and any mention of humanism and all of these recovering from religion thing even if I removed all of that and all we did was get together at a bar and like party once a month, I would be doing a social good that could be improving how much you volunteer how much you donate, how long you live, how happy you are, like, community in and of itself is a proven social good, and that is because we are hardwired social animals and we just this is this is a fact we like can't ignore it. And it exists in different ways for different people, like people are finding online community in ways today that just wasn't possible 25 years ago, we have you know, hybrid communities we have, you know, a lot of structural designs to our society like third places that no longer exist that make it harder for us to actually do this work. But yeah, I will always be an advocate for community because you know, for getting All of the other bigger political and philosophical arguments I could make. And they could make you a good person or society better place. Like I really just think at the end of the day like we improve people's lives by getting them together in community. And in a religious dominated society, where when they leave religion, there are often zero options for you to hang out with other people that share your values on Sunday, people that might visit you in the hospital, if you're sick people that you trust to help you raise your children, people that might be your dating network or your job network, like, we leave that to religion in our society. And beyond that, it turns into political organizing, and it turns into, you know, financial access, and it turns into all of these other forms of power. So yeah, this is why, you know, I get asked sometimes by atheists, like, why do you need an atheist community and like, it's not about atheism, it's about atheists. Atheists are people and people need community and people have needs, and they have goals and aspirations and cares, and that you can build a community around atheism gets really boring really quick.
David Ames 21:09
Absolutely. And I mean, you've basically described the impetus for for this podcast is, you know, like, pick whatever term right humanism, what have you, we talked about secular grace, but like, it's acknowledging the humanity of, of each of us and our need for connection with each other. And that that doesn't go away when you walk away from religion.
Evan Clark 21:31
And this is an evolution that's happening, you know, when I think about the secular movement, or the atheist movement, these are phrases you'll hear thrown around by organizers like me a lot, you need to consider that there's different types of movements that are happening simultaneously. So one is a political movement, where we are hiring lawyers and lobbyists, and we're building these institutions in DC that can represent us. And we're fighting cultural stigma and political stigma. And we are have some goals that we as atheist have all come around together for like separation of church and state, or I don't know, taxing churches or whatever it might be. We have a few aligned things that we in large masses have built political power for. But we also seem to have some cultural things we've organized around as well, we are trying to figure out how to build institutions that frankly, look a lot like classic religions. Yeah, and you see a way CES and Sunday Assembly and ethical culture society that have come up over the past 100 years that are building these spaces where secular people can have congregational models of gathering where we can maybe still sing together or or maybe, you know, checking in on each other if we're sick or builds, you know, food networks, in case anybody gets behind or loses a job. Like when I look at Norway, and I see a very secular country, and I see a Humanist Movement that doesn't talk about politics the way we do in the US and isn't building atheist organizations the way we do in the US. I've thought a lot about where the differences were, they looked at us and they go, why on earth would you need an atheist organization, we're gonna go play with some humanist models, we'll come up with like a, a youth coming of age ceremony, but like, that's all we need. And the deeper thing I've noticed is most of this comes back to politics in the US, we don't fix homelessness with our government, we don't fix hunger with our government, we don't provide health care to all of our citizens. And so what is the most powerful, most well funded institution outside of government that then steps up in those spaces and right now, in the United States today, that's religion. We just don't have giant secular NGOs that are in most hospitals and who provide most homeless care and provide food distributions like this is almost all being organized in religious spaces, which furthers religious privilege and gives religious power. Right, if I was to think like a religious authoritarian, the first thing you would do is try to claim government power, which we're seeing we this is the classic modern Christian nationalist religious right. But if you can't get that the second best you can do is limit government power, and and completely control all social and institutional spaces beyond that. And that's why, you know, creating secular education, creating public schools was probably one of the biggest secular achievement in world history for most countries. Yeah. Like, I don't think we stop and appreciate enough sometimes the secular public school movement and what that meant for separating religion and government. Right, and why religious institutions that are authoritarian all want private schools to take back over and they want to end public funding of education right now apply that to churches now apply that to food now apply that to housing, right? They get to preserve power in that way. And so, you know, yeah, we provide community with atheists united, but we also get to challenge that religious power by also doing our own food distribution by also getting involved in local advocacy by showing up at a bunch of events that we've never shown up for, for the past, you know, however old this country is now. So anyways, it's it's really interesting, there's so many dynamics for how you can come at it. And like you have a political movement with some very clear political goals, you can have a social movement that, you know, maybe has your media figures that are constantly in a cultural debate over theistic ideas. But then we also have, like, local power questions that are both cultural and political, that I think local institutions can solve and support, you know, and it's not just are we providing food for people, which is amazing, but it's how are we educating the youth that are going to take over our society? How are we building rituals that are not shamed base, but aspirational and critical and thought provoking and pluralistic? That's what's to me exciting about the potential of humanist communities and atheists, we're not, we don't have to just be reactionary. There's something unique about a secular perspective that we can offer the world. I think
David Ames 26:11
you just said the magic word there to that pluralism, I think some people can be afraid of the word secularism, and yet, we are not trying to enforce unbelief. You know, on everyone else, it's just to make room for freedom of religion and freedom from religion. And that that actually has, as you've just eloquently enumerated massively positive impacts on society, including things like public education, and some
Evan Clark 26:37
bros on the internet do want that, right. Like, I've actually started to use the phrase atheist supremacy that I think they're actually arguing for, they really believe that other people are broken, and they need to fix them with atheism. They, they they literally look at them as less than during the pandemic, there was some disgusting comments by a lot of atheists online, that I noticed on Twitter and Facebook around like, Well, Lisa killing off lots of Christians. And I just discussed it by comments like that. Because yeah, sure, if there's a Christian pastor who is getting on the errors, and saying, the vaccines are crap, ignore the science, you shouldn't do all of that. I think they are in positions of power, and they have more responsibility, and I care a lot less about if if they as hypocrites get hurt by that. But most religious people are followers, they are part of a community, they don't have the time to go think about vaccine efficacy, they don't have time. You know, they're in a crap economy with kids and a full life and trying to maintain friendships and keep out of depression during a closed society. And then the person you trust, trust most in the world tells you this is an unsafe vaccine, and you shouldn't go get them and then you get sick because of that, like, Are you a victim? Or did you bring that upon yourself? And I think a lot of atheists because we come to atheism through such individual means and because so much of our language comes from often libertarian Western, like culture. We treat everyone with this, like you are the only one that can answer any question and you have to use rationality and by rationality. I mean, like the Jefferson debate in the street with everyone, you know, philosophy, which doesn't recognize that that's not how most humans think that is not how we actually come to conclusions. In most cases, I can see very emotional journey for most people to have religion or to lose religion, as much as it is a rational decision. And rationality is informed by emotions, but that's a longer rant.
David Ames 28:55
Again, Evan, I can't agree with you strongly enough. This is literally a conversation that's been going around our community because of I think genetically modified skeptic recently did a post about apologetics and counter apologetics are, are useful, which I tend to agree with. And there was a bunch of pushback from lots of people. And the point is that it's you know, it's the very, it's the philosophy people that you were just talking about, right? I love philosophy. It's like you know, it definitely affects me, but I don't represent everyone Yeah, I
Evan Clark 29:25
can hang with philosophers as much as anyone and I love it and I love deep questions and I'm one of the few people that will spend hours and hours and hours in those discussions compared to my girlfriend for instance, because zero patients for them she's just like, does it impact my life? If it does, how does it hurt or not? And I want the side that improves doesn't hurt right? Like she there's no debating abortion access with her right there. The philosophy around that as a waste of her time she has finished with the debate and it is emotionally painful to continue to have and I think that's a wreck. cognition of how humans function right? Like, right to be a philosophy bro is abnormal it to sit and say I can ponder literally everything while things burn around me like that is a privilege on a privilege. And so anyways, what I do think, though is we need to recognize that there is some supremacist thought that comes from other places, right? White supremacy exists regardless of religion, we have other forms of supremacy, gender supremacy we have, we also have religious supremacy and some people I think, learn the wrong lessons, they still hold on to some cultural ideas that religion, mostly conservative religion has propagated, which is that, you know, you have to be right, and that you need to fix other people with the truth. And no, that's, that's not actually true. What we need is a society that functions well and prompts people up and helps them get through their lives. Right. And what I find when I look around right now is I see a lot of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples that are doing way more work than we are, when it comes to justice work when it comes to fighting climate change when it comes to science education, like literally the thing we speak most about. Yeah, I've met progressive churches talk more about science than I wouldn't say talk more about we talk a lot. Maybe organized more about, like, science based policy in some cases. And if I look at that, and I also look over here, and I see Richard Spencer, who's an open atheist organizing the Charlottesville rally with frickin Nazis. And I go, Well, should I stand with an atheist? Because they're an atheist? Or should I stand with these people who agree with 99.9%? On like, values, questions, and it's, it's obvious, it's so I've never met an atheist who were like, Yeah, let's go hang out with the Nazis. Right? which defeats the argument that belief is the most important thing. It just destroys that idea. It is actions, it has values it is what we organize around it is our humanity, not our beliefs. And when we recognize that, yeah, belief impacts that belief isn't completely meaningless, right? Like, philosophy is good, so that we keep growing as a species. But that's, that's a feature of a secular ideology. When you let go of Magical Thinking, then appeals to tradition is a logical fallacy. Well, what's the opposite of that? That means progress, we have to challenge our ideas, right? They have to use methods like scientific method for them to be more true. And we will, over time come to better conclusions, and and philosophies, one of the tools in that toolkit. But yeah, when that's all it is, and suddenly it allows you to hold what I would consider a supremacist belief over someone else. Like, I actually think you're more harmful than helpful. And we don't do that in my community.
David Ames 32:56
I actually love that that verbiage. You know, recognizing the shared values, you may know my story that my wife is still a believer. And I talk a lot about with her, you know, that the shared values that we have that that that's what our marriage can can stand on.
Evan Clark 33:11
People don't know this, there's actually a staffer for American atheists who is a Christian. Wow, okay. It's completely possible. You know, I have a one of my best friends from college, he joined my Secular Student Group, he was an agnostic at the time, he went to Europe for study abroad, he came back and he's like, I need to, I need to take you out to lunch. I got something to tell you. And I'm like, Oh, cool. He's gonna come out as gay or something. Yeah, I got pregnant. I have no idea what's gonna happen here. Yeah. And he's like, so the only book I took with me was the Koran and I'm a Muslim now. Oh, that's a cool. Coming to my Secular Student Group. He became the vice president of my student group in college and like, I still hang out with him to this day, I couldn't imagine, like losing that friendship over. You happen to go to a mosque, not an atheist group with your time. You know, he does more good work than most atheists. I know. Like, that's what Bond's us. Yeah, we disagree on a few things. Oh, boy. Sure. You know, like, it gets awkward when I talk about like, how he's going to teach his kids about religion, but that's part of society. I don't know, I'm okay with that. I'd rather have that conversation, then find out he's a Nazi. What happens to be an atheist or is like thinking it's okay, that Trump wants to end the Constitution. Like that's way more problematic to me
David Ames 34:29
to kind of wrap this up. I often say that, again, this concept of secular Grace if you want to be good to people, and you justify that in a theistic way, and I want to be good to people, and I justify that in a humanistic way. Let's just go good. Be good to people, right? Like, we should be allies in that work, even though we disagree with each other's justifications.
Evan Clark 34:50
And this can be hard like the I came into the atheist movement during the new Atheism era, like I ate up a lot of the talking points. around like beliefs leads to action. It's taken me a lot to try to deconstruct that and look at people more as a bunch of monkeys and shoes trying to figure out how to live lives. But, yeah, I think I think there are some interesting questions here that could be explored more, I'm probably going to leave them to more philosophers and thought leaders than community organizers like me, but, you know, to some extent, belief obviously matters a little like, we know, it does impact actions a bit. We do know, it's attached to identity, it's attached to politics, it's attached to how you organize. So I don't want to be completely flippant about that, like, I do think, you know, the way I'm attacking Nazi ideas, like I think right need to be challenged beliefs have consequences. Yeah. But, you know, I just don't think they're as strong as people often talk about in atheists spaces, I really just don't think it's like I, you know, believe in insert, Evan Jellicle, like, interpretation of the Bible. And that means, like, I beat up gay people, like, we don't actually find those correlations. We do find the community organizations and institutions that organize around, like, oppressing gay people, like happen to be using religion as a tool, and there's some correlations there. But, um, but I don't know where the limits are on that. Because yeah, I think if you're talking to your toaster and your toasters telling you I need to go shoot up a school, like, we clearly care about that belief and want to intervene in our society. But yeah, like the local pastor that helps out with our atheist programs in LA here, like, he calls himself a Christian atheist, and I still don't know what that means. Yes, you know, do I need to try to challenge that and fix that, or, you know, when I was dating a lot, after college, and I would go on a date with somebody who believed in astrology, and I like 99 out of 100 times, that's like, it just means they believe in ghosts, like, it's very similar to like an impact or life zero, they like find movies a little bit more interesting if they believe in ghosts, but it always scares me a little bit. Because if you're willing to believe that some bullshit about the stars can impact like who your identity is, then couldn't it impact you thinking vaccines are bad, or something like, I worry about that. But I don't have good solutions around it. And I find, given our short time in the earth, given our limited resources giving, given the community I'm working on, and what we're prioritizing, there's so much more value I can do from a efficacy stance of getting atheists together and doing good work, and providing transformational spaces for them, rather than being the one that fixes bad ideas of other people. But, but I won't, I won't completely shut down the people that do that, like I do think education is important. It's just education rarely changes the world as much as mobilizing does.
David Ames 38:17
So I want to key off of something that you just said there too. And this can sound religious, but providing the platform for good works, as it were, or however you define do define that, you know, giving people the opportunity to, you know, use what they are good at in their hobbies or what have you in some kind of way that impacts the community in a positive way. And I know that like you guys recently have done a project, atheist street pirates where you were cleaning out, like proselytizing signs and things of that nature. And you had a religious people along with you also doing that if you want to talk about that for a minute.
Evan Clark 38:53
Yeah, so that programs called atheists, street pirates, we founded it. During the pandemic, we noticed a lot of illegal religious propaganda. Most cities probably have this and you just kind of forget that it's there. After a while, but maybe a highway overpass somebody put up a sign that said Ask Jesus for mercy or some random telephone pole by Library says, you know, Jesus is coming. Yeah, there's there's a bunch of random propaganda like that that essentially furthers Christian privilege. And normalizes this idea that everything is a Christian space, but they're often on public land, they're on, you know, highways, they're on bridges, they're on telephone poles. Well, that's illegal. That's, that's the shared land that has to be a secular space. They definitely didn't get permission from the city to put those up. But what we find is cities don't have the time and resources to always take those down. And so we started just by mapping them, we created this Google map and we started, you know, seeing how big the phenomenon was. And then one of them that was there for a while we decided, Okay, we're gonna go at like two in the morning and see if we can take this down. hopefully doesn't fall on the highway. Of course, it's la the highway doesn't slow down at two in the bazillion cars out there. And yeah, this kind of kicked off this really odd program that we get a ton of press for where we yeah, we directly map and take down these illegal religious propaganda and it's inspired, even religious people who believe in separation of church and state who believe that for this to be a pluralistic space, you have to also have freedom from religion. You know, freedom, freedom of religion is completely meaning I'm sure a million guests have said this. But it's completely meaningless without your ability to say no to any one religion that approaches you. So yeah, well, I have a I have a local pastor, I met at a local Pride event, and he came out with us. He loved it. He took one of the signs to his congregation and preached that that week about our program. Yeah, at the atheist street pirates were doing. So yeah, we've we've done some really cool things in that sense. And I think what you're getting at, though, as a question is, like, should we institutionalize? Should we build these things that should be there for 50 or 100 or 500 years? And this is the question I always think about, what are we building? And why and what is the like, long term goal of this? Because yeah, in some sense, most atheist organizations are reactionary, that God exists, they exist. They came into existence in the past 50 years. And it's because of the rise of the Religious Right. You know, if the country just turned into Norway, we'd be looking around, like, why on earth? Do you need an atheist community where you talk about atheism, and Christianity and blah, blah, blah, right? You will notice that if you go to Portugal, you go to Denmark, you go to Norway, like they just don't exist. Like, it's actually hard to find atheist communities, the way we have in the US, US we have one or two or three made, you know, atheist communities, for every major city, or hundreds and hundreds of groups you can join. And a lot of that politics, right, it's just obvious we have a religious political movement. And the first and most important group that they will oppress is the non religious, we are the canary in the coal mine for secular government, and for a pluralistic society. In some ways, this is my frustration with our religious allies, including the Satanic Temple and, you know, even Unitarian Universalist is because they think of religious pluralism in only a religious contexts. And they can't recognize that most atheists want to also be non religious, even if we join communities, the language is really important to us, the identity is really important to us. And the government interaction is really important to us. So yeah, it's really cool that the satanists can also give a prayer. But like, what about a group that doesn't pray? Right, that that is that is important. And like, we need to look at a future where most of us don't pray, it doesn't matter. Like now you're forcing us to come up with a prayer to be equal. That is not welcoming. That is not our idea of a secular government. And yeah, it's better than just one religion having access at least we have a seat at the table, the let us do something. But yeah, I like to call it one is the classic secular argument of like a pure secular state, where religion has zero power in religion. And then the other is like a secular light where all religions get equal power. Right. But what happens then is the religions with the most resources and the most organizing, they're the ones that get more time. You know, if I have to compete with the Evangelicals over who gets prayers at city council, like, I see the next 50 years, they're gonna add organizers. Yeah, yeah, not for lack of trying, but like, they just have so much more money. And so many more people that hang out in congregational models that Yeah, could take me 4050 years to like, match that. So that's my concern and why I really think like the secular government argument matters. This is why we don't put up our own signs with the atheists street pirates all the time. Why don't you just go put up atheist signs. I'm like, Well, I don't want to get into a religious arms race. Yeah.
David Ames 44:10
You're gonna lose. But that's so telling of it. I mean, that's, that is so important. That exact statement that you are not putting up. You shouldn't believe science. You should become an atheist. You're just you're just saying, Hey, this is a secular space and so there should not be proselytizing here.
Evan Clark 44:27
Yeah. And I think that's a really, you know, I posted recently on Instagram I did this video I observed some guys proselytizing they walked up to guys, old guys walked up to a young guy with his Kid in a Park. I have a minivan and I sometimes like work in the back of it random places around LA. So I observed this whole thing right up close. And they just immediately started talking to him about Jesus and you need to oh man, and you know, everyone's broken and Jesus is the only way to get saved. Can we pray for you? And like I just watched this like 25 minute interaction in the pork It was like trying to run around and like that was trapped. And I put up a video about how like atheist groups don't proselytize. Right. And I got a lot of pushback on that, both from atheists who some think we should, some from people who have experienced atheists who have pushed themselves into the lives to talk about belief. And yeah, I'm just I think it's really important that if we care about a pluralistic society, which is a place where all have equal access and all or treat each other equally, it doesn't mean I believe that they're right. I, you know, when I do interfaith work, the one thing we agree on is that we all disagree. I love interface work, because yeah, it's literally like, I can walk up to a Muslim and I go, like, I think you're nuts. And they look at me and they go, I think you're nuts. And I go, cool. Should we plant that tree now? And yeah. Like, that's okay. That's cool. That's a society. That's a functioning society. Yeah, we could debate that in our spare time. But proselytizing, to me my personal definition of it is going out of your way, and pushing yourself into other people's lives. You know, I've never ever ever met an atheist organizer who wants to go door to door to talk about atheism. Yeah, I will buy ads on Facebook to promote an event we're doing I will, you know, follow the laws and rules around like promoting ourselves, but I don't think we should have special privilege and access to your life, unconventionally, right, I respect your freedom to say no, and we will present our ideas in some places, but somebody responsibility to convince you. And, you know, again, if, if everyone was Nazis, you know, maybe that's what I would be doing, I'd be like, I want you to not be a Nazi. And we have that in different forms today. But I don't know, I think there's so much more work that needs to be done for the millions, literally millions of atheists, agnostics, humanists and other non religious identities in the US, who don't even have community right now. Right, don't even know that there's spaces they can gather, and you can meet other people like you. And you can raise kids in those spaces free of any dogma at any time, that cares about critical thinking the way you do, people that might be able to visit you in the hospital, if you get sick, or help you out. If you lose your job like, that is so much more valuable in most people's day to day life than your, you know, obvious argument, they could have Googled about the problem of evil. So I don't know. That's where my time and energy is these days. And I'm encouraged that there's a lot more people doing it, and there's a lot more resources for it. But we're so underfunded. I mean, like I ever drive by like a Methodist Church, and you're like, Oh, God, 200 year old building, I wonder what it would be like to do our work in something like that. And then you think about the budget, they probably have, you know, they probably spend more on upkeep of that building than like every atheist group in California put together, right. You know, let alone the pastor salary, the youth pastor, the Secretary, the contractors, the marketing budget, you know, they probably spend more on print materials than I have for 16 programs.
David Ames 48:26
Atheists United is about and I'll just do your mission statement here. Our mission is to build thriving atheist communities, empower people to express their secular values, and promote separation of government and religion. The reason you and I are talking is that you have also started a podcast network and the aggressive atheist is going to become a part of that. So I want to talk about a little bit what that idea is what you're trying to accomplish there. And we've talked about the existing podcast there humanist experience, nomadic humanists, and the beyond atheism, guys that interviewed recently.
Evan Clark 48:58
Awesome, ya know, I'm so excited that you're joining the network and that there's growth in this type of content. When I look around atheist media these days, I see a lot of I'll call it Christian talk radio for atheists. Yeah. You know, like, and it's not inherently bad. Like, again, I think there's a lot of people craving that content. If if I was just coming out of an evangelical tradition, and I need the language for some of these ideas I have if I need to, like, I'm thinking through a problem about God's existence, or whatever my pastor or priest told me about this topic, like, yeah, listening to some of these, these people who talk about those ideas is actually radically valuable. But there's a lot of questions that come after a secular identity as established that I really want to help promote the content creators that are working in that space. You know, I launched a podcast in 2015. And we traveled the country and we created the whole thing from scratch. Should we didn't have podcast backgrounds. And it was a beautiful experience. But what I quickly learned is, you know, creating contents one thing, getting anyone to listen to it is another. It's really hard to have a successful podcast. No matter how brilliant you are, or how beautiful your content is, you need access to an audience. And so the idea that I've been sitting on for years and finally was able to do this past year was let's take a bunch of awesome underfunded ragtag content creators, you know, atheist content creators who just need a little help. Let's throw them in a network together. And they can promote each other and share each other's audience because their shared values and identity here and the questions some of these shows, are asking overlap with other shows that are coming at them from different angles. And that's been the beauty so far. And we started with the beyond atheism, guys, which you had on your show a few weeks ago, who, who really asked my favorite question, which is Now what's cool, you're an atheist, like, Kay, you can go many different directions. Now, you know, how? What does that tell you about how to handle artificial intelligence taking our jobs? Or how does it handle raising a kid? Like, those are real questions like atheists? Yes. For me, who's been an atheist for 2030 years now? Like, I'm, frankly, bored by the atheism question, like, I haven't heard anything new in 25 years in that in that space. Exactly. Yeah. The interesting, juicy questions are like, how do you raise a kid ethically, like, oh, there's so much unknown in that space, and so much we need to learn and practice and figure out how do you? How do you ethically engage our economy? How do you build communities ethically, right, as a community organizer? Do I go fully egalitarian, like a lot of our socialist roots? Or do we use some of the hierarchies that exist in other organizations like churches? You know, do I, as the leader of the community get on stage and talk about our beliefs and values? Or do I avoid being the face in the center of it? And we kind of use a more equitable model like these are their ethical questions or organizing questions that are super juicy and fun? And I don't have you know, we're not going to find a perfect answer to anytime soon. Yeah. Yeah. So we have podcasts that explore that, or in some cases, we're finding, like in the Spanish speaking world, there aren't even shows that address the questions around theism and atheism, you know, like, the alternative. So we, you know, I wasn't expecting to do this, but we might be bringing on a show that goes at the arguments of God, but for our Spanish speaking audience, interesting. Okay. Yeah, underserved spaces. We have a Jewish humanist podcast launching next week called amusing Jews, like so a secular Jewish perspective, like so secular, they barely ever talk about religion. They're mostly just, you know, talking to Hollywood writers about the shows they work on and their hobbies and Festivus is nice. So anyway, it's like this has been the idea. But what's been really, really, really fascinating is trying to just figure out what programs we should do as a community organization. So most atheist groups, if you were to, you know, go pick a city, Houston, or New York or Miami or something and go to their local atheist group and local humanist group. Usually they have a speaker event, right, we do some type of educational program, they have a service program, usually some type of giving back to their local community. And if you're lucky, maybe like a recovering from religion subgroup that supports people with religious trauma. But one of the struggles you find when you talk to most organizers is people will check them out. Like atheism is still a controversial idea. There's lots of new people identifying as atheists, so people will explore it, but they don't always stay. Right. We don't have a 2000 year tradition of like space you want to hang out in or have rituals that you know, like, make you feel good, like, like, Thanksgiving turkey or something. So how do we build spaces like that? And what is actually the goal of spaces like that? And one of the things I've learned recently, weirdly by reading church planning books, which I never thought, you know, I took this job and there's there's nobody that's had a job like this before me, so I have no one to like, I have no mentors to go ask for advice. You know, atheist community organizers, like a new job title in this world. There's like four of me in the world.
David Ames 54:26
I know. Yeah. Not that many people do.
Evan Clark 54:29
And one of the things I found in this, this book recently was about you know, it's about how to turn around failing churches and he talked a lot about how people think they come for belonging, right like you want to find other people like you who share your identity and you just want to like be among them. And that's nice and that's true a lot of people do want belonging that's language we all all use. Every religious and non religious community I know uses this language. But I find that's not why they stay, you know, like I find belonging in a political Oregon. zation, but I won't go to every event. You, you stay in an organization and you become active in an organization, you start donating to that community when it transforms you, when it's something that helps you grow as a human being. And this has been the most transformational idea for me, as an organizer, which is like we need to not just represent people, we need to help people. You know, I'm suddenly looking at things like recovering from religion, not as just a space people can belong together. But as like, truly trauma care. I'm looking at, you know, we added a Smart Recovery Program, which is a secular addiction recovery program, for any type of addiction. It's usually people who like really hated the higher power language in AAA, they want something that's more based on science, smart recovery is the place you should go or at least start. And yeah, like, we are literally helping people's lives. You know, if I can help you with addiction, yeah, of course, this is the community, you're gonna give your time and your money and raise your kids and the rest of your life. And that helped us launch a new program called atheist adventures. And we last year, we went to Death Valley and looked at the stars with an astronomer. And we were asking the question of like, how do we recreate religious experience in a secular sense, right? Like we know, we experience all we know, we feel meaning in certain moments. Well, you know, a lot of us it's been in nature and feeling small or large, based on the context of the experience, right? That's what most religious experiences are, right? Like the reason you walk into a giant chapel in Europe, and you just feel amazing is because you feel so small, suddenly, it's designed for you to feel small, right? And you have a weird moment in your brain where everything kind of fires Well, yeah, you can feel that in Death Valley on a moonless night with an astronomer doing a star talk
David Ames 56:51
real quick, I have to tell this story, because as an atheist, I happen to be in London. And I went to St. Paul's Cathedral. Yeah. And I had that exact experience of just, you know, recognizing that. Oh, you know, it was it was the architecture, and the, the, you know, the brilliance of the stories, and yeah, and the the beauty of it, and the light filtering through the stained glass. And like, you know, the there was an experience, there were some legitimate experience as a, you know, straight up atheist, and let you know, we can definitely have, especially in nature, I think is a great way to experience that the experience of awe, and it'd be an entirely secular experience.
Evan Clark 57:29
Yeah, Alain de bitone wrote a whole book on this about how we should be using architecture from a secular perspective to create memory and awe and like, celebrate secularism. And I completely agree. But yeah, what does that mean in different contexts? And how do we communally do that is, I think a really interesting question. Like we haven't figured out there are very few secular rituals that you'll find in most groups around the world. We have, you know, there's been different attempts there are, Norway has a coming of age ceremony that they do for like all 16 year olds, and they spend a year working on like, community service projects and kind of blueprints, and then they talk about it, and then the community recognize them as adults. And that's common, most religions have some form of coming of age ritual. But if you ask most atheist communities in the US, like, we'll get there like I can, I totally imagine that if we are committed to community, the way we're building, we're going to have some types of rituals that represent those. But yeah, what they look like might be different. And because we have no holy books, and we don't need to stick to a tradition, just because it's been tradition, it will look different in different places. But yeah, most most, organizers and scholars in the space talk a lot about birth, death, marriage, coming of age as like four of the biggest rituals we just have in our society. And we have secular versions of them. In most places, you know, I know not in Iran always but like, you can go to Vegas and get married. That's pretty secular experience nine times out of 10. Um, but yeah, like actually thinking about if we want to create our own unique cultural ritual or, or culture, right, like, Can atheist communities do culture making? I'm of the opinion yes. Like we didn't I've been looking through the history of atheists United since I took this job and I found that we did an arts festival 25 years ago in LA right like what is secular and atheist arts and you know, it is whatever we gather around it is not because some old dudes in Europe decided this is the only book that is true it's it's because we through basically a democratic process like decided this is our ritual and we can find value in it or we can let go of it and to me, that's beautiful. Like that's what informs humanism for me like humanism which I No, We're departing a little bit from atheism. But I think there's so tied and 90% of atheists wind up humanists in the US at least.
David Ames 1:00:06
And that's this podcast it is about, humanism
Evan Clark 1:00:10
Yeah. Humanism, starts from the idea that like magic isn't real, right? That it is a naturalist world that God and Gods aren't, aren't things that matter to our universe. And so we are these small little homosapiens on a small planet in a small galaxy in an unbelievably massive universe, right? Yeah. Okay, well, now we want to understand the world around us. How would we do that? Oh, well, we'd probably come up with some method to test our ideas and things like science suddenly become tools that we use for understanding the natural world, which is why science is so popular in human spaces. If we could find a better way to come to answers in science, we would use that, but it's the best method we've come up with yet. Well, you know, how do we think about morals and ethics? And answer these questions while using tools like science and recognizing that with no gods, and no magic, right? Like, we're the only ones that can solve the problems that matter to us. And we have to create or feel the meaning in those things, right? We can start thinking about moral responsibility, we can think about our interaction with everyone around us and somebody might go, Hey, but like, I'm a libertarian, I think I can go off into the woods and not impact anyone else. And it doesn't matter. Well, science, and the natural world tells us that we're all interconnected, right? Like the air I breathe is the air you breathe, right? The history of the universe all moved through time to where like, I'm made of the same Stardust that you're made of. And because there are interactions between those things, like why isn't there more responsibility between those right? Like, I live in an ecosystem, I don't live in a video game where I can exist separate from you. And with that knowledge that I live in an ecosystem, this is my one and only life. And we're using tools like compassion and reason to understand our place and how to be good in it. That's how we figure these things out. Right? Like, I think it's, it's so obvious and beautiful and exciting when we think about it that way. But, you know, we don't always get the narrative, you know, you you lose theism. And maybe you're biased by the idea that I must have come from something or that I must have a church that gives me the answers, but the story of the universe and the idea that you can solve problems, or you and your community can solve problems and understand your place in it and figure out how to solve moral and ethical problems. Like, I think that's as beautiful, if not more beautiful, and I would argue more beautiful. I personally would argue more beautiful, because it will always improve based on new evidence and new experience, we will we won't just accept an answer, because it's been the answer before, if we can find a new way to improve upon it, we have to
David Ames 1:03:00
man, I think that's got to be where we wrap because that was very well said. Like, it's amazing to meet you in that there are are very few of us, right? There aren't that many people who care about these things in the way that you've just expressed, right? And that's what we're trying to communicate here on this podcast. I want to thank you for being on the podcast. I want to also give you an opportunity to tell people how they can participate with atheists united, how can they find you? How can they interact?
Evan Clark 1:03:28
Yeah, so atheist, united, we're based in Los Angeles, but we consider ourselves a California nonprofit. We have chapters in San Luis Obispo and Santa Clarita. And I would encourage people to become members, especially if you're in California. That's an ongoing monthly supporter of our organization. donation is always helpful. I'm a nonprofit, I have to ask. But you can follow us on social media. We are on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and probably going to move to Tik Tok soon you can find us on YouTube. Yeah, it's It's wild. We didn't even have time to get into this but like the growing spectrum of atheist experiences, right, like a third generation atheist family has a kid in LA and that kid goes to USC and only has atheist friends and then works at Netflix with other atheists like them trying to find community is so night and day different than third generation Evan Jellicle comes out as gay and atheist and Kentucky, rural Kentucky and like finding a community that's atheist is life or death for them, right? Yeah. And yet, Intel we have more atheist spaces they have to share community where one is desperate to talk about religion and its harm and how they interact with it where one is like, I don't understand why anyone talks about religion. Yeah, and right now they share spaces in LA. We have we're one of those unique cities where we have like people who came here from all over. We have religions like Scientology and Jehovah's witness that are a lot stronger here than other cities. And we also have like one of the most secular, you know, generations and multi generations here, and they're all trying to find community at the same time, and we're all trying to figure out, you know, yeah, we can politically organized together. But what is gathering look like? What does a party look like? What does care look like? So yeah, that's why supporting atheists United is so cool and critical is that we are incubating a lot of the programs that we hope other groups around the country will eventually take off with. We happen to be big, we happen to be really active. We're throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall right now. And if something works, we're going to share it around the country around the world and hope more people do it.
David Ames 1:05:40
Excellent. Fantastic. Well, we will have links in the show notes, of course, but I want to thank you, Evan, for being on the podcast.
Evan Clark 1:05:46
Thank you for having me.
David Ames 1:05:53
Final thoughts on the episode? Well, it's hard to overstate how good it is to find other people in the secular world who also have a secular Grace focus. Obviously, Evan wouldn't use that term per se, but the things that he does is secular Grace boots on the ground humanism, touching people's lives. I highly recommend that you listen to Evans original podcast that is the first podcast within the atheist United studios, podcast network called humanist experience. He did that with Serato, Blaine, Surat, like lived on the streets of LA with the homeless, trying to find practical ways of helping people. I couldn't think of a better description of what secular grace is, boots on the ground, blood, sweat and tears, humanism. That is the kind of humanism that Evan Clark and atheists United represents. As you can imagine, this is why I said yes. When Evan asked for this podcast to become a part of the Podcast Network. Evans work is really important. It is humane, it is loving. It is on the right side of history. And I'm just excited to be a tiny part of this. I'd like to mention the other sibling podcasts that are a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. You've already heard from Nathan Alexander and Troy tub heiress of the Beyond atheism podcast. I interviewed them back in November. I just mentioned the humanist experience that is with Evan Clark and Sarah Blaine. Very well worth your time to listen to it is kind of an NPR style, very highly produced beautiful podcast. And then the most recent podcast to join the network. Besides mine is the amusing Jews who Evan talked about in this interview. I know that Evan is working hard to bring other podcasts online. I anticipate having guest exchanges with those podcasts. And I'm looking forward to all the exciting things that we will do together in the next year. I want to thank Evan for being on the podcast for living secular Grace without knowing what that word is, for exemplifying it for us giving us a practical example to try to follow. Thank you, Evan, for being on the podcast and for inviting us to be a part of the podcast network. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is what obviously follows out of the conversation with Evan and that is about secular community, and how desperately we as human beings need that. It was incredibly insightful what Evan talked about that. The secular community has to hit this entire spectrum of people from people who have been abused and suffered at the hands of the church to people who are third generation atheists who have no experience with what faith feels like. And so the more communities that we have, the more opportunity there is to fill the niches or the specific needs of the people. I cannot say enough how important Arline's work as a community manager has been and will continue to be. I'm in continual gratitude for our LNS work. For those of you who have been a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, you know how important Arline's work is. I want you to be asking yourself how you can participate in the community how you can lead in the community. Do you want to lead a group on a particular topic? Do you want to lead a book club? Anything that brings people together is vitally important. In 2023, as we watch COVID in the rearview mirror, I'm really interested in in person connectivity. If you'd be willing to host something in your local area and there are two or three or four other people in the area. That is the next step for us. And I'm very interested in seeing that happen. Another thing happening in 2023. We're going to have more blog posts from multiple people including Jimmy who's a part of the the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, Arline herself. If you are interested in writing on the topic of secular grace or deconversion, or related secular topics, I'd be willing to have you on the blog as well. If you are interested in doing social media outreach, or the YouTube channel or any other myriad of ways that you could participate, please get in touch with me graceful email@example.com or reach out to Arline on Facebook. Coming up we have next week I was a teenage fundamentalists. Troy and Brian interviewed me and I interviewed them back in November. My episode on their podcast aired in late November. And I will be releasing my interview of Brian and Troy next show look forward to that. That is a great conversation. I love those guys. They are also a sibling podcast, whether or not they're a part of this podcast network. After that, I have Rachel Hunt of the recovering from Religion Foundation. And man, that's an amazing conversation. Absolutely loved Rachel. I've got a bunch of community members coming up who I will be doing interviews for but the thing I'm super excited about. I will be interviewing Jennifer Michael Hecht, who I have quoted 1000 times from her book doubt. Her new book is called The Wonder paradox. And it is about how poetry can impact our lives. And if you're thinking to yourself, Man, I'm not into poetry. trust me this is it's bigger than that. It is about the all that we experience as human beings from a very secular perspective agenda for Michael Hecht is amazing. Can't wait for that interview and can't wait to share that with you. That'll be in early March. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beats that you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful firstname.lastname@example.org for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
AMA? Try AAA. Ask Arline Anything. This week’s guest is your community manager, Arline. Arline tells us what she has learned from managing the community and interviewing guests. She explains how her views have changed on Christianity and fundamentalism after deconversion. She let’s us know what makes her mad and what gives her hope. She reveals her love language(s).
Join me in thanking Arline for all the work she does for the community and the podcast. Let her know she is appreciated.
There is a lot of empathy, with the emotions, the anger frustration, the sadness, the grief and the happiness. That “I am such a better person now, and wow, I never expected to feel like a better person having left Christianity.”
Watching my kids grow up and not having to micro-manage my kids. I can just let them grow into who they are going to. But I don’t have to have these strange bizarre expectations on my children.
Young people are not going to be able to be told the Bible is inherently true. They can literally google everything
The younger people give me hope. Their ability to push back on adults. Their ability to think for themselves and learn how to think critically.
The farther away religious people get from fundamentalism. The better their religion will be and the world in general. Fundamentalism just harms.
Anyone with whom I share values, I can try to hear them.
Everyone in the group that I have met! I am so thankful for this group. So many kind people, so many lovely people from whom I can learn things. The deconversion [anonymous] group is great. I love it.
I did not know that I needed it until I had [the group]. It is fabulous.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (deciphr.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
0:00:11 David Ames: This is the Graceful Atheist podcast. Welcome. Welcome to the Graceful Atheist Podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the Graceful Atheist. I want to thank the brave people who have started the ball rolling on Patreon. Thank you. To Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Much appreciated. We are about to become a part of the Atheist United Podcast Network. That will include having ads on the podcast and in order to give you an opportunity to have an ad free environment, I have started the Patreon account.
0:00:47 David Ames: For those of you who have already become patrons, I'll be sending out an email shortly with the RSS feed, which is the way you can tell your podcaster to point to the podcast without ads. But I do want to make it clear that everyone else will still get the podcast. There will just be ads on it. Please consider joining the deconversion anonymous Facebook group. The holidays can be a really tough time if you are new to Deconstruction.
0:01:12 David Ames: New to Deconversion and it's a great place to connect with other people who are feeling and experiencing exactly the same thing. You can find email@example.com groupsdonversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On to today's show. My guest today is your community manager, Arline. Arline has been an integral part of the podcast and especially the community. We would not have the thriving Deconversion Anonymous community if it were not for Arline and her tireless work.
0:01:52 David Ames: Arline also helps out with copy editing and she just handles a lot of things on the back end. So as always, I'm incredibly grateful to all the people who participate to help make the podcast and the community as special as it is. This is an AMA or ask me anything style episode and so I ask Arline about what makes her angry, what makes her hopeful, and what she's learned from being a community manager, interviewing guests and watching the Christian nationalism that is playing out in our politics today.
0:02:29 David Ames: Here is Arline to answer lots of questions. Arline. Welcome back to the Graceful Atheist podcast.
0:02:42 Arline: Hello David. I am really excited to be here.
0:02:44 David Ames: It's a little ridiculous to welcome you to something that you are a major part of. First thing, right off the bat, I wanted to celebrate with you a couple of victories. You started the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group approximately a year ago. I think it was October of 2021. We're at somewhere in the neighborhood of 535 members as of today, which is astonishing. And as well as the podcast has been done really well. We just crossed our 200,000 mark for downloads.
0:03:15 David Ames: Downloads is a terrible metric to look at, but it does give you a sense of the growth. So it took probably three years to get to the first hundred thousand and so we did this in less than a year. Oh, wow, people are paying attention. You may recall when we were talking about doing the community group. That one of my goals was that we didn't just devolve into angry antichristian memes and just all venting. We wanted to allow space for venting, but we also wanted to allow for people to feel comfortable there if they were questioning that kind of thing.
0:03:51 David Ames: I think from my perspective, it has been, again, astonishing success, much more than I could have hoped for. And you are absolutely the reason why that is. So my first question to you is how do you do it? How is it that we have a successful community and it hasn't devolved into just angry antichristian memes?
0:04:16 Arline: Yes, well, I've thought a lot about this. Like you said, there's over 500 members. That still blows my mind. That still blows my mind totally. But how have we not devolved into chaos? I I think there most of the people in the group are acquainted with the graceful atheist podcast. So the vibe of the graceful atheist podcast, the way that you have interviewed people, the space you've given people to tell their stories, has drawn an audience of people who are also looking for that.
0:04:54 Arline: I've heard numerous people say, I was looking up atheist podcasts or I had deconverted and I wanted to find some podcasts to listen to that weren't just angry about everything and unkind who had podcasts that were just didn't make them feel some kind of way made them angry. You've drawn that audience, which then joins the Facebook group. And then I think the people who there are people in the group who are not don't even listen to the podcast go, oh, wait, this is associated with the podcast. Like, they have no idea, but they come into the space and they may post something or they read what other people have posted and they know the group is not going to be super inviting of the really angry, unkind stuff.
0:05:47 Arline: Now we totally have space. People post. Like they'll put, this is an angry post. And they just need to vent. They just need to tell how they're feeling. And people are like, yup, I get it. I empathize, I've been there. Here's a little bit of what I've gone through. And so there's the empathy and the space for all the emotions, the sadness, the grief, the fear, the uncertainty. People who are still Christians wanting a space to just like, how did you guys get here?
0:06:17 Arline: What happened? And so when people come into the group, curious or hopeful or just lonely, it's already the people in the group. I haven't done anything magical. The people in the group have created an atmosphere of just being, welcome to wherever you are. Here's a space that you can land. And it has been so I don't know what the word is, like, beautiful to watch and just see how people interact with each other.
0:06:49 Arline: And it's also been fun because there are the funny memes that people post and it's been a neat experience to watch and to be able to be a part of and get to know people.
0:07:03 David Ames: Yeah, and I do want to be clear that anger is a completely valid part of the process and we do need safe spaces to be able to communicate that. But again, I just think it needs to be commended that that's not the only thing that we're doing there, that there is a level of compassion and empathy, like you say. And what I think is just really beautiful is that someone will say, I'm having a hard time with X this thing and ten people come along and go, oh man, me too.
0:07:33 David Ames: That feeling of I'm not alone is so powerful. And as we've discussed before, the deconstruction deconstruction process is a lonely process and to just find your people is really amazing.
0:07:47 Arline: Yes, myself included. Lots of people don't have in real life friends who have gone through this. They're either still in church world, which is difficult with its own things, or they may have friends who are not believers, but they've never been believers. So all the weird stuff that we believed and did, all the grief of losing things that we used to believe, that we held so dear, all those different kinds of things, it's just harder. They can empathize with the emotion, but they don't understand necessarily those actual experiences.
0:08:24 Arline: And so, yeah, just finding a spot online where you can see that, yeah, I'm not alone, I'm not crazy, I'm not in this without anybody at all because yes, it feels like that in real life because you just may not have that. A lot of people don't have that.
0:08:51 David Ames: So you've done a number of things within the community. You lead a weekly discussion about the podcast episode, you've done sex and sexuality focused groups, you've done just social hangouts. What do you find the most useful, what do people respond to the most and what do we want to do new over the next year?
0:09:12 Arline: Yes, the Tuesday night podcast discussion. It's a lot of fun in that. Well, I'll say this, it's kind of like church world where you have like 20% who come to all the events and do all the things and then you have the rest who participate but don't necessarily come to all the little things. So you have the same people ish that come every week. It gives our guests who come who are on the podcast a chance to elaborate on things or just know other people empathize with.
0:09:49 Arline: Yes, I went through that same thing and it's we've had some very serious, like deep conversations and we've also had like just fabulous fun conversations on Tuesday night. And that, I think, has been it's added people to the group who've been people who've been on the podcast and then they join the group to be able to come to the Tuesday night thing and they get to connect with people on more than just now I'm in the group kind of level, like actually get to know some people.
0:10:20 Arline: So that's been a lot of fun. The sex and sexuality, like purity culture, people up. And so we have another podcast or a few different just random sex and sexuality type podcasts where they have nothing to do with graceful atheists that are just experts discussing different things, whether it's what's therapy like for the LGBTQ community what's it like to start having sex in your 30s, rather when you have no sexual experience, which that resonates a lot with people who've come out of purity culture.
0:11:02 Arline: What's it like to be in a sexless marriage? I mean, so many different just random topics that we listen to the episode, there's a few people in the group who are part of kind of figuring out what might be a good fit for us to listen to and then have more expertise in the area than I do. And then, yeah, we just talk. And again, we may learn stuff from the podcast, but just getting to hear each other's stories, getting to know that you're not alone, you're not the only 30 something who's like, oh, no, I've only had sex with my husband or my wife.
0:11:42 Arline: I've never realizing that I've always been attracted to people of the same gender, but I had no idea what to do with that. I mean, just so many different things and knowing you're not by yourself. And then as far as let's see the hangouts, those are literally that someone joked, this is our fellowship time.
0:12:02 David Ames: Pretty much it is.
0:12:04 Arline: Bring your own coffee. Yes, bring your own coffee, grab a drink. And we do. We've done. Just random icebreakers. People come with deep questions sometimes. I've been thinking about this, and it really is just to get to know people in the group. And that specific one has been during the day for those of us in the United States, so that we have not figured out how to get Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the UK and the United States all in one social event.
0:12:35 David Ames: Yes, exactly.
0:12:37 Arline: That's fine. But it at least opens it up for people over in Europe and the UK. All of these things have been successful attempts of just getting people to know each other getting people to know each other a little bit more deeply than just posting on the wall. Because I've talked to lots of people who posted on the wall, but the people that I've personally been able to chat with more like this, like face to face, you start to build a closer friendship.
0:13:15 Arline: And there's an event coming up soon for people in North Carolina, people who are all there, they formed their own hail it's all get together thing because there's like seven or eight people that are all in North Carolina. And it's like, this is such a neat these little events have been to help people connect a little more deeply with people and they've been a lot of fun. As far as in the future, we've talked about possibly having maybe some discussions specifically on for want of a better term, some people are like, oh, I don't love the term unequally yoked marriages or relationships.
0:13:58 Arline: Parenting, what's it like when one is a Christian, one's not, or when you've only been Christian so far and now all of a sudden neither of you are believers. And what does parenting look like? What does it look like being single? You've come out of purity culture and you're single and you're like you want to make wise choices, but what does it look like? You don't have someone telling you what wise choices look like for single people.
0:14:23 Arline: So just lots of different it sounds strange, but like the same stuff that the church tries to give you space to discuss, but we're not going to tell you what to do. It's just like here's a space where we can see what does some research say or what are my personal anecdotal experiences say, and then everybody is able to just figure out what will work for them without people having to tell them what they need to do or don't need to do.
0:14:55 Arline: Shooting on each other. There's a person in the group who uses that phrase, don't shoot on people, don't shoot on people, don't shoot on yourself. Yeah, I like it.
0:15:06 David Ames: So, quick plug. For those of you listening, if any of those topics sound interesting and you'd be willing to run a group, you get in touch with Arline and we can make that happen.
0:15:16 Arline: Yes, absolutely.
0:15:17 David Ames: I think that is one of the fun things that goal for me, again, is that the church provides a place for people to use their hobbies talents. We can call them gifts if we want to call back, but whatever, right? Like the things you're good at, the things you're interested in. And I think the secular world that's what's missing is that there just are very few places to exercise things that you're probably not going to be able to make a living doing those things, but you're good at them and you want an opportunity to do it. So this is one of those things and that's going to be really exciting.
0:15:49 Arline: Yes. And if there are topics that we haven't thought about that it seems like a few people have posted about this in the group, maybe this is something we get to like, please send me. I am always open to Facebook messages, DMs and Instagram. I can hear those and we can talk about it and see.
0:16:16 David Ames: I'm curious, Arline, for yourself being more personal, do you feel like this fulfilled the community need for yourself as a community manager? You're kind of on stage a bit. I know a little bit about that, yes. Do you still get something out of this and then how have you changed by doing this work?
0:16:39 Arline: What do I get out of it? Yes. How do I explain this? I was still friends with a few Christians at the beginning of this year, but they were relationships where it's like they were not bad people. But it was not good for me. It was just not the best relationships to continue to be in. Because of the group and the friendships that I've made in the group, I was able to see those in real life friendships for what they were and be able to let go of them without thinking, oh my gosh, I am going to be literally alone other than my husband.
0:17:26 Arline: Now, I do have some friends who are still Christians, but they live in different places and they have never been evangelical.
0:17:38 David Ames: Sure.
0:17:39 Arline: They're not the Christianity that we really need to like that needs more deconstructing and pulling apart. Our values are still the same. We have things in common that have not changed. But having the friends that I've made in this group, just people that I know I can send a message to, I can send a Facebook message and just be frustrated or irritated and they can just hear me and empathize and then we can talk a little bit or not.
0:18:16 Arline: Yes, it has filled that. I feel like I'm just rambling, but yes, it has filled that need for community, for friendships, the different little hangouts getting to have my love language is I guess that's a little Christianse, but love language is like having deep discussions with a few people. So, like, I've always loved small groups, book clubs, things like that. So having those times during the week where I can have that and then I can go back to my husband and my family, my kids, who my husband is like, I don't want to have deep discussions about books that you've read that I don't want to read.
0:18:56 Arline: He's like, I love you so much and I'm so glad that these other people exist in your life because I don't have to feel like, oh, no, he's not meeting some kind of need or my friends aren't because I have friends now who are into similar things now being part of the community. Yes, I've built some good friendships. I have fantastic discussions with people. I'm learning from people that used to in church world, I had to be in like, White Lady Mom Bible study world and the men were in whatever man Bible study world they were in.
0:19:34 David Ames: Yeah.
0:19:35 Arline: And there was such little overlap that now I know I can send a message to one, to someone who is an expert in whatever the thing is that I talked to and I can just ask them a question and it's just a different experience and it's wonderful. What was your other question?
0:19:55 David Ames: How have you changed?
0:19:58 Arline: I am much more confident than I used to be. Now I say that I can lead little children like on paper, I'm an early childhood teacher, so I can hurt all the small kids, all the kids, all the cats. Yeah, adults were terribly intimidating to me. I had never been in positions of hurting adults, mixed groups because I was a teacher. So it's mostly women then in Church, Florida, it was always women and so I've had to reach out to different people in the group who are really good at that.
0:20:34 Arline: I've had to watch YouTube and learn all the things, so I've grown more confident in doing those things. But it's been definitely a huge learning experience. I've never done anything like this before, but it's so, I guess a little humbling, but in a good way. Like, I've learned a lot and getting to interview people, that was not something I'd ever thought. I've never crossed my mind, ever. And now I'm like, I want to be like David when I grow up.
0:21:08 Arline: But the neatest experience is getting being able to just hear people's stories and let them talk. Love it so much.
0:21:15 David Ames: That is my next question. For listeners who don't know, our leans played a number of roles, but one of which was just finding people to be interviewed. And then I think there was one person who said, well, why don't you arlene interview me? And you asked me if that was okay. And I was like, yeah, that's great. And this has turned into such a great thing that I've got atheist in my title and that might be scary for some people and there are going to be people that are going to be willing to open up to you in a way that they might not to me.
0:21:48 David Ames: So if you want to just expand, you basically answered it, but a little bit more on what has it been like conducting the interviews, being the one behind the mic?
0:21:58 Arline: It's much more intimidating because I enjoy hearing their stories. Well, I guess for me, really the intimidating part is trying to figure out how to make it flow and I want them to just talk. But also sometimes people tell their whole story and it's been like ten minutes and I'm like, oh, okay, now I have to figure out how to pull some more. Let's go back to this. But I have learned a lot and gotten to know people online very closely.
0:22:36 Arline: People that I've gotten to be much closer friends with after hearing their stories and just the things that we have in common, the things that I've had a few people that they would say come back to me in a few more months. Like, I'm not ready, I want to tell my story, but I'm not ready. And so for me, telling my story was therapy. It was so good for me, I wanted to get it all out there whenever I did it.
0:22:59 Arline: But other people, it's very intimidating, it's very scary. It's like now it's like someone in my family may listen to it, someone may hear. There's so much nuance with when people want to tell their story and they do want to get it out, but all the consequences they could possibly face. It's definitely helped me have a lot more compassion for people whose family or friends or spouse are part of the reasons why they want to tell their story but can't tell their story yet because my family have mostly not all, but mostly just kind of nominal Christians. So they were just like, okay, whatever you believe is they didn't care.
0:23:48 Arline: And so I didn't have a lot of push back, and so I just didn't realize how many people yes, it's hard for them to get out there and tell their story when they want to.
0:23:57 David Ames: I'm curious if you feel this I'm trying not to lead the question, but there's a deep intimacy in doing one on one interviews in a way that definitely not in a group, but even somehow you're hearing the heart of their life story. What has that experience been like as far as really getting to be from my perspective, it's a gift to be told someone's life story.
0:24:26 Arline: Yeah, I didn't know how to explain that, but yes, I feel like I know the people so much more deeply now. Most of the people that I've interviewed, not all of them, but well, it's only been a few people, but only one or two of them did I not know beforehand were recommended to me, and I just sent them a message. But others, we had talked and talked, and so I knew a little bit of their story. But, yeah, they sit there and they're looking at you, and they're telling some of the hardest things that have happened to them.
0:24:56 Arline: And, yeah, it's a gift. Like, they're so vulnerable, vulnerable with their story, with their whole selves. And they have to trust me a lot. They have to trust us to be able to open up and tell their story in ways that people often want to tell as much of the story as they can. They also want to try to honor certain people in their family. They also think, like, in the mother, where it's like, people should have behaved better if they wanted you to write or speak nicely about them.
0:25:35 Arline: But yeah, it's a very deeply intimate experience. Yeah, that's a good word. I couldn't think of a word for it a gift.
0:25:51 David Ames: All right. Another really kind of broad question that I just want you to run with is grace was a major part of my Christianity. It stuck with me through the deconversion process and obviously the grace lathe. I know what I mean when I talk about it, but I also know that it turns lots of people off. But I'm curious, what does it mean to you? What does it mean to be a graceful person from your perspective?
0:26:17 David Ames: Forget what I've said. I'm curious what you think it means and how you do or do not try to live that out.
0:26:23 Arline: Yeah, I love you say that at the end of the episode. Join me and be a graceful human being. I love that.
0:26:28 David Ames: Yes.
0:26:31 Arline: I think it means for me, giving people our family calls it giving people the generous story, which does not come naturally to me. Assuming the best in a situation or giving people a generous story, assuming the best. Remembering that, I guess the common humanity how do I say this kindly to myself, I can be very judgmental, like inside my mind about other people's choices that they make and just reminding myself of like, if I had their DNA and their life experiences, I would think and do exactly the same way that they're doing.
0:27:18 Arline: And so I feel like that's what grace is to me. Extending the love and compassion and empathy to others that I would like them to extend to me. And also extending that grace to myself. Because thinking back to when I was a Christian, it was a lot of like, kill your sin, kill your sin, kill your sin. So treating myself in a way that I would treat other people is also part of being a graceful human. And even which Joe Simonetta, who was just on the podcast, the way he talked about just respecting the environment, the idea of we're all interconnected, literally all interconnected and the choices we make on this planet, affect the planet and affect our children and all that, I feel like that's what grace is. I don't even know if I remember the correct definition of grace. But yeah, just all those kinds of things empathy, kindness, generous stories for people, remembering the common humanity of all of us and things like that.
0:28:30 Arline: I think that's what grace means to me.
0:28:32 David Ames: I don't know if you have the same experience, but on this side of deconversion, deconstruction, whatever you want to say, the manipulation from and we'll focus on Christianity here, but traditional religious figures in general is so blatant now to me. I'm curious if that's your experience. And what I want to ask is what have you learned about Christianity on this side of deconversion?
0:29:00 Arline: Oh, heavens. Well, here's one thing I have learned. The values that I had as a Christian are a lot of the same values that I have now. So I can still hear black Christians speak. Like I followed Jamartispie and some other the Holy Smoke movement. I'm not sure if they're Christian or not, but they're fantastic on all the stuff that they do and these different black believers that our values are still so similar.
0:29:32 Arline: But white American Christianity again, hashtag, not all. We all know that I cannot hear. But even as a Christian, looking back at my little Facebook memories that come up, I have been trying to call out and call in the racism, the misogyny, though. Well, the misogyny I didn't learn till later. Let me take that back because I thought it was biblical to be patriarchal and all that stuff, but definitely the homophobia and the racism for years.
0:30:03 Arline: Like, what is wrong with you people? Why can you not how can you vote this certain way that harms entire groups of people and see the way Jesus interacted with the poor, the immigrant, the lonely, all these people? So what have I learned about Christianity? The music is manipulative. I did not realize that. I learned a little bit of the brain stuff of how yeah, it's basically trying to get you high so that then you can listen, your brain is ready to receive the message.
0:30:40 Arline: That just makes me feel gross thinking and then that the white supremacy was, like, baked in from the beginning of American Christianity. White Christianity, even before whiteness was invented, like, the idea of whiteness existing, it was the idea that European people were just inherently superior to all other peoples. Baked in from the beginning. The misogyny I didn't realize. I started kind of realizing it while I was still a Christian.
0:31:20 Arline: I had a friend at the time who she came out of a part of Christianity where women could be pastors. And I thought that was just not heresy. But you all just are interpreting the Bible wrong. Since then, reading books like Cassandra Speaks and the Making of Biblical Womanhood, which is written by a Christian. She's a Christian. Author. Historian, I think. And just seeing, yeah, it's baked into the pie.
0:31:48 Arline: Just so many things that at the time I saw or just didn't like, how things just don't feel quite right to you, something's not quite right. But I was taught parts of those things were biblical, and so I had to believe them even if I didn't like them. What other things have I learned? I had already years ago, when Derek Webb was still a Christian, but making his own music, he was calling out the Republicanism and white Christianity being mixed together so much.
0:32:23 Arline: And I I feel like he was like a prophet. Like he called it way before anyone else was paying attention to it. He had a couple of albums that were just explicit about what was happening. And now we're seeing it. It's been happening this whole time. There's all these books being written about how the politics and the Moral Majority and all this kind of stuff is all mixed together. So it was happening.
0:32:50 Arline: We just didn't know about it because we didn't have social media. Now it's a lot more difficult for people to keep secrets, right? Other people can just find out. I say that I have also learned that there are different realities existing in the United States. So I said the phrase January 6, and someone in my family was like, what? What does that mean? And I was like, I don't understand why you don't he had no idea because that.
0:33:23 Arline: In his news world is not a phrase right and it's framed differently. It's a longer story.
0:33:38 David Ames: We got a couple of related questions to this new view on Christianity. So you live in the south? Yes. What is the experience of being a you know, on this side of deconversion? I think it's safe to say that you're a bit more liberal in your politics and living in the south, both from a you're no longer a Christian and from the political aspect.
0:34:02 Arline: When I was still a Christian, I had a little bit of because my politics went more liberal way before. That was way back when I was in college, I think I took a sociology class and was like, wait.
0:34:22 David Ames: I.
0:34:22 Arline: Don'T really believe or agree with a lot of what I had been taught was I was supposed to vote. And so I was like, oh, I can throw it out. But I also did not grow up in a church. I have learned since learned that people grew up learning that Democrats were literally demonic. Like there was this whole movement I had no idea that existed. I did not grow up in that. So I could throw out become more liberal in my politics and didn't have any kind of spiritual problem with it.
0:34:49 David Ames: Because you live in the south where not being a Christian is kind of a big deal and politically maybe a little bit different. Like, what is that experience?
0:34:57 Arline: When I was still a Christian, my friends could hear me. They could hear my thoughts on things. Yeah, but obviously maybe they were right and Democrats and we are demonic because apparently left Christianity true.
0:35:12 David Ames: They have a point.
0:35:14 Arline: Maybe it really is a slippery slope then. I did have some influence in conversations with the moms that I was friends with, I now do not have any kind of influence. I say that also thinking though, multiple times I think back to when I tried to I didn't call people out. I was like, hey, can we have a conversation about this? I feel like there's some information maybe you're missing. Whether it's on racism, that's usually my thing is the antiracist world. That's where I've had the most conversations with other white people, white women, but no one was interested.
0:35:55 Arline: And so maybe I didn't have as much influence as I thought of it. I'm not sure. But as far as just people around me, everyone just assumes you go to church. So unless I explicitly say anything, they just assume I'm a Christian and then I try when someone says something. I have noticed since 2016 in multiple encounters with people that there's a feeling of entitlement amongst more conservative white people to be able to say whatever they want and not expect there to be consequences just in interpersonal situations.
0:36:38 Arline: And they assume I'm going to agree with them, like, oh, here's a whitelist they just assume that my beliefs are going to be similar to theirs, and I try to go, wow, that's interesting. From my understanding, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, so that maybe they'll go, I haven't thought of that. I have no idea if they go, I've never thought about that. I don't like debate or anything like that. But I've had different conversations with people where I've just tried to ask some questions and see maybe to get them to think a little bit more about whatever the political thing is.
0:37:19 Arline: But for the most part, people just unless you have a conversation, people assume that we go to church, that we vote Republican, that we look like them, so of course we do the same things. And it is really nice when you meet someone that looks like me, and the conversation is completely different than I've expected. And there are plenty of people who maybe have different ways of thinking about politics, because a lot of it I don't necessarily understand, that I've been able to learn from, but I have to be honest, most of those have not been in real life. People those have been online friends that I who are in parts of the United States and so have just very different experiences.
0:38:10 Arline: But, yeah, people just assume things about you and don't usually engage in conversations a lot, not deeper conversations.
0:38:25 David Ames: You've brought up the topic a number of times, and I just want to explore it a little bit about becoming more aware of white privilege, your own personal experience, and kind of you've just described what systemic racism is, right? Like, that you get the assumed pass, so to speak, and don't have to justify anything. You've just really eloquently described that. I'm curious about timing. Was that something that you discovered prior to deconversion, or is that grown even greater after the fact for you? Where did that growth come from?
0:39:03 Arline: Oh, that's a that's a good question. For me, in my I guess beginning to pay attention was in 2014 when the Ferguson protests were happening, when Darren Wilson police officer killed Mike Brown. In my Facebook feed, where lots of the CVS is burning and people are riding, that just kept coming up. And then a friend of mine who is a black woman, she happened to post something from Twitter that was from what's called Black Twitter.
0:39:39 Arline: And I clicked on it to go see, and it was like kind of an on the ground conversation about what was going on. And it was like, here's where we're meeting for these protests, here's where we're meeting at this place. And it was just like 90% of what was happening were peaceful protests. And that was the first time I went, Wait, maybe something's not quite I don't know that I've ever would have paid attention.
0:40:06 Arline: I want to say, yes, of course I would have eventually paid attention, but that I know was because I've told her. Since then, you changed the trajectory of my understanding of the world. Yeah. So from that moment was the first, like, okay, something's a little different in the United States that I'm not understanding, that I haven't been taught. And at the time, I thought it was God telling me, but however it was, I realized I just needed to sit back and learn some stuff because I wanted to go save the world, which imagine a white person wanting to go save the world.
0:40:44 Arline: But I was like, okay, I just need to learn stuff I don't even know. I was listening to Jamartispie's podcast past the mic, and he Christian, so I was already learning from black Christians. And they were and so I was like, okay. I looked up every person I had never read, from IDA B. Wells to Angela Davis. I looked up different theologians. I was like, I just need to understand. I looked up just Googled things like police brutality. I started following all these different people online.
0:41:18 Arline: And I think for me, sitting back and being willing to listen to what had happened for 500 years in the United States, and what was just literally happening to people in real time forced me to have to pay attention. It was like, I can't unknow these things now. And so that was a long time ago now. And according to my Facebook memories, I can't remember the years, but there was like I remember when oh, I can't remember his name.
0:42:04 Arline: Trayvon Martin, when George Zimmerman murdered him. I just remember thinking, this is terrible. You don't do this. But that was it. My mom and I just argued about it. There was nothing more. But then it was like Tamir Rice, and it was just person after person, women, men, and just kept hearing all these names. And I was following all these people, and I was like, where? It broke my heart. I got a private message from a black woman that I've been friends with for years. She was like, Arline. Nobody else, none of the people we were in college ministry with are saying anything about this.
0:42:37 Arline: Everybody's silent. And we go to church on Sunday, and we're all together, and they don't say anything about what's happening to black human bodies, their brothers and sisters. They don't say anything at church. They don't care. They care about people's salvation and all that stuff, but not their real selves. And it made me sad to know where were all the other Christians, white Christians? So that's how mine got started.
0:43:07 Arline: And it's been just a lot of learning, a lot of really seeing that. Like I said earlier, it was just baked in from the beginning into white American Christianity. It was necessary in order to enslave entire populations of people. It was necessary to destroy human life and take land from indigenous peoples. I mean, it was just these things had to be mandated by God. If they were not mandated by God, we can't justify these horrible things. That we are doing.
0:43:45 Arline: And yes, I know I always assume there's going to be the like, but some Christians were abolitionists. Yes, thank you.
0:43:51 David Ames: I realize that the percentages were tiny. Whenever they make those arguments, the percentages relative to everyone else were very small.
0:43:59 Arline: When you can name John Newton, william Wilmore Force, that other Garrison guy, then okay, fair. When you can name, then there weren't that many people who were platforming because it was unsafe to them. They had to decide. We look at the civil rights movement, the strategic ending of lives, of human life, of leaders, so that they would stop asking that they have the inherent rights that are written down in all those fancy papers that dead white guys put together.
0:44:39 David Ames: Yeah, I don't want to take over here, but like my wife and I read a book by a black Harvard professor whose name is going to escape me, we'll have to do it in the show notes about the Declaration of Independence. Now, that's very problematic, right? But the prologue, the opening bits of that are so inspiring. They are so incredible about the equality that we state as Americans. We say this is what we believe in, and we have failed to live up to that even a little bit, including in the rest of that document.
0:45:15 David Ames: It's amazing that in the same document there's these beautiful, soaring ideals and also the embodiment of the opposite of that against the Native Americans at the time and things of that nature. I want to share one more thing to wrap up this conversation. You and I both were interviewed by Robert Peoples. He has been one of my favorite people that we've been able to interview. And I forget how he phrased the question to me, but it was similar.
0:45:51 David Ames: To what I just asked you in that. And my honest answer was, I felt I feel so naive. My former self, I feel so naive. And one breaking point for me was when Henry Lewis Gates, who was also a Harvard professor, was arrested in 2009 on his doorstep. He had forgotten his keys or something, was trying to get into his house. He was arrested, harassed. I don't know if he was fully arrested, but very much harassed and had ID on him, had his address, the place they were at.
0:46:24 David Ames: And that was the first time where I saw on Facebook, it's kind of the opposite of what you described earlier, people assuming that you agree with them. I assumed that everyone else understood that that's racist. And when I saw that some of my hometown people thought that because he raised his voice that he was out of line in some way, I was utterly shocked. I was just utterly shocked. For me, it has been and again, this is bad, right? This is a character flaw.
0:46:56 David Ames: But the breaking down of my naivete, of what I believed in all those ideals, I thought that's what america was about and just having the proof day in and day out, particularly during the 2010 of just having it proven to us that we are not over the racism that is inherent within the United States. It's just it's just painful and and.
0:47:19 Arline: Grieving, and it's like Ibrahim X Kendi, whose books I can highly recommend, he talks about racism like rain. He's like, It's just always raining. It's just always raining. And we don't even know it's raining because we have lived in the rain the whole time. And he says, when you realize or when someone else points out, hey, you just said or did something that was racist or this is a racist belief, if something like that happens, they're just handing you an umbrella so that you can go, oh, whoa, I didn't even notice.
0:47:53 Arline: Now I can notice this thing. And it isn't that people are all one thing or another. It's that we've just been swimming in it for our entire lives. And if it doesn't affect us, we don't even know we're supposed to pay attention to these other things that are happening. Because I can literally run into Walmart with my sunglasses on and a hoodie and a run back out, and no one's going to think, no one's going to say anything.
0:48:24 Arline: And it's also my responsibility, with the privilege that I have, to leverage as many other voices, as many other black men and women, especially women, especially women and other people of color women, women, their voices so that people can learn from people that we just haven't learned from because other groups have taken up a lot of the space.
0:48:51 David Ames: So semi related to this or the whole subject of what we've learned about Christianity. I'll ask the question and then I'll set it up. What makes you angry? The reason I asked the question is one of the things I've learned through this process is that my experience was pretty easy both inside Christianity and coming out of Christianity and that it was not easy for many, many people. You've already mentioned purity culture, but now that you've been a part of this community, you've listened to other people's stories, you've interviewed some people.
0:49:23 David Ames: Do you ever get angry for them? In proxy? For them, yes.
0:49:34 Arline: For me, anger is more accessible than grief and sadness. And I'm sure there's stuff I need to deal with in therapy. But yes, when I talk to black women who have not been heard, when I talked to were harmed, I experienced sexist remarks and things and a lack of access to leadership or whatever. If I had wanted things like that, I've never experienced the sexual harassment or the physical emotional harm done to a lot of women.
0:50:18 Arline: And another thing, I don't know if it makes me angry. It just makes me sad. The number of people that their sexuality was just more nuanced and they've spent their entire life not being able to do anything with that part of their body. They're part of themselves, if that makes sense. Yeah, I don't know if that makes me sad or angry or both. Probably the things that make me angry are when I think about all the when I hear people talk about the time they feel like they wasted all the years, that they could have just done things differently, done things in a more free way, in a more way that really honored their whole selves rather than having to squash that's how our family says, having to squash part of themselves instead of being able to live out of that.
0:51:26 Arline: The anger, it's still a lot of just the terrible okay, politics. There you go. That makes me furious. I was trying to think of the stories that I've heard from people, but most of when I hear the people hear people's stories, it makes me sad for them. The anger comes when I watch videos of the foolishness that comes out of white Christians mouths who also hold power in our country, in our states and stuff.
0:52:01 Arline: That just infuriates me. And it infuriates me knowing how many people can't hear my or other people's voices, to say, hey, this is Christian nationalism. This is bad. We need to stop this. They can't hear that because I'm not a Christian anymore. So I can't know what I'm talking about for sure, even though I really feel like a lot from the people I've talked to in the deacon version group. These were the Bible readers, these were the studyers.
0:52:31 Arline: These were the ones who were praying for all the things to make it happen. These are the ones who were trying to call people out, call people in, make things better. And not all of them finally gave up because I didn't leave Christianity because of that. Mine was completely different. But who wanted to glorify God, glorify Jesus, however they want to say it as Christians, and we're just like, screw this.
0:52:58 Arline: People didn't want to change. People didn't want anything, don't want things to be different if they're holding power, why would you want things to change? Why would you want other people to have more power if that means that you may not have all the power?
0:53:13 David Ames: You kind of answered one of my last questions. What are the commonalities and maybe the differences that you've seen in people's stories from your perspective? So from doing the community management and a few interviews as well. So one of them I think you've highlighted there is that it tends to be the most dedicated of Christians that are on the side of deconstruction. Deconversion. But anything else that pops to mind that.
0:53:41 Arline: 2016 always seems to pop up very often, and then 2020 for the people who have deconverted more recently, of course, Trump. And then the response to the pandemic, the way churches dealt with that, the conspiracy theories, you know, all that kind of stuff. Yes, lots of people have talked about that again, purity culture. Just realizing that I don't know, not even just purity culture, but just I don't know how to say this. People learning from people like Renee Brown and others about psychology and just learning that they're not sinful, they're not crazy, they're not filling the blank with whatever.
0:54:27 Arline: The thing is it's your limbic system taking over or it's just learning physiological things about their own bodies that explain what they used to think was whatever the sin. Fill in the blank with the sin. Because that's another thing that recently I've talked to someone about, is there used to be so many rules that you had to follow that you were always struggling. And now when there are just fewer rules, there are fewer rules to break without being micromanaged by a magical deity in the sky.
0:55:08 David Ames: Even that word struggle, I'll find myself trying to start to use that word, and I think that is a bad word. That's not a good word.
0:55:18 Arline: Because you couldn't just outwardly want to do the flagrant, terrible, sinful thing. You had to struggle with that's, right. I've given a lot of people, just even if they can't empathize with the experience of other people in the group, there's a lot of empathy with the emotions, the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the grief, the happiness. Like, oh, my gosh, I am such a better person now. And feeling like, wow, I never expected to feel like I was a better person.
0:55:56 Arline: Now on the other side of having left Christianity.
0:56:10 David Ames: So the flip side of what makes you angry, what gives you hope about this group, about secularization, about America, about your own life? What gives you hope?
0:56:21 Arline: What gives me hope? Oh, gosh. In my own just little personal life, we have a pond in the backyard, and we have Canada geese that come and the seasons. Just knowing that right now everything's starting to die, and it is beautiful, but it's going to be bare and miserable for a while. But spring will come. That natural, literal hope. There will be life again in the spring. That for me personally, that's a thing.
0:56:52 Arline: Watching my kids grow up and not having to micromanage my kids, I can just let them grow into whoever they're going to guide them, all that good stuff. But I don't have to have these strange, bizarre expectations on my children. And then the world secularization, oh, I read people like, oh, gosh, I'm going to say his name wrong. Noah Harare. You've all. Noah Harari. Who wrote sapiens? Yes. I've ordered the graphic we have the graphic novels for the kids.
0:57:28 Arline: He has a children's book, like his willingness to say a lot of the hard things about what we're doing right now to the planet and to ourselves and how we have to be able to cooperate. That's the most important thing in order for us to be able to continue into the world. He gives me a lot of hope that maybe we can do these things. Things that give me hope. Knowing how many young people are not just going to young people are not just going to be able to be told the Bible is inherently true and then be like, okay, right, they can literally Google everything.
0:58:12 Arline: They do not need information from us. They just need to know how to interpret all the information that they're getting. And so seeing the young people see that things like compassion and kindness and cooperation and love, all these things are so important to them and they're willing to push back on the adults in their lives and say, like, know what you're saying is bullshit. I'm going to treat my friend with respect.
0:58:36 Arline: They're not inherently bad because of their queerness or their color or whatever. The younger people give me hope. Their ability to push back on adults, their ability to think for themselves and hopefully learn how to think critically. I think we could go in a good direction in the future. I also think we might kill ourselves in 100 years. I have no idea. But I can try to be hopeful. I love the higher the increase of the nuns and the duns and the people who may still be some version of Christian or another religion, but just want it to be like loving and not trying to harm people.
0:59:20 Arline: All of that gives me hope that the farther away religious people get from fundamentalism, the better their religion, I think, will be. And just the world in general, fundamentalism just harms it harms so many people. So yeah, getting away from that, lots of stuff. Those things give me hope. That was a good question because I am not always like I literally have to have an app say, what are you grateful for today?
0:59:51 Arline: So that I can pay attention and think hopefully about the world. And gratefully.
1:00:06 David Ames: Arline, is there a topic that we didn't hit or that I didn't ask that you had prepared for and want to get out of this episode?
1:00:15 Arline: I don't think so. I do want to give tons of recommendations, not right now, but we can put them in the notes only because that's again, my love language. That's my second love language. Great discussions and then sharing resources. When someone says I thought of you and this was the book or the podcast I thought of, I'm like, I feel loved.
1:00:41 David Ames: Well, I tell you what, I've got a recommendation for you, sweet. Since you are open to listening to some black Christian voices. Tyler Merritt went to my Bible college. We probably had some overlap. I don't think we ever met one another. He had an Instagram go viral during 2020 and he has just a really interesting perspective and he is kind of providing that transition layer. He's definitely in evangelicalism, but he is saying to wide evangelicalism this is racism in a really good way.
1:01:16 David Ames: And he has written a book that is his memoir. And I might have to get the actual title in the show notes, but definitely recommend him.
1:01:24 Arline: Okay, yeah. Anyone with whom I share values, I can try to hear them. I can try to hear them.
1:01:33 David Ames: Yeah. Are there any of your recommendations you want to do on Mike?
1:01:39 Arline: Well, I'll do this. The Sex and Psychology podcast with Justin Lee Miller. That's the one that we get a lot of our stuff, our little Wednesday night or Wednesday night conversation that we get a lot from. And he has all the therapist like letters behind his name. I don't know what all he is, but he's fantastic. He has a book, Tell Me What You Want, and it's about sexual desire. And that podcast is just even if you didn't necessarily grow up in purity culture, but you've simply just wonder what life is like for people who have had a, quote, normal, whatever you would consider normal, even though he would say, no, don't use that word, sex life, it's just a fantastic resource. It's a really good podcast and I've learned a lot of stuff and I did not grow up in purity culture.
1:02:33 Arline: I was already thrown away, as my daddy would have said, when I got started going to church. So I wasn't part of all that. But it has a lot of excellent content.
1:02:48 David Ames: Fantastic.
1:02:48 Arline: And someone in the Deconversion group that I met told me about that, and he's someone that I want him to be on the podcast one day. He's fantastic. Everyone in the group that I've met, I'm so thankful for this group. So many kind people, so many lovely people from whom I can learn things. It's just deconversion group is great. I love it.
1:03:09 David Ames: We'll just say here again, if you are interested in being interviewed and you would prefer for Arline to interview you, that is definitely on the table and you should reach out to Arline. You can also email me and we'll make that happen. Arline, mainly I want to say to you thank you. The work that you have done is just invaluable. We'll get into some of it when we're going to reverse this. You're going to interview me in the next week's episode, but I just don't have the time for these things. We would not have the Deconversion Anonymous group if it weren't for you. So thank you so much for all the work that you do.
1:03:42 Arline: Yes, you're too kind. I love it. I did not know that I needed it until I had it.
1:03:54 David Ames: Final thoughts on the episode. That was a lot of fun. It was fun having the conversation. It was fun relistening to the conversation. And it has been a blast to work with Arline. I know that many of you who are part of the Deconversion Anonymous community group know what a vital and important part of our community Arline is. And as I said there at the end, we wouldn't have it without her. I do not have the time.
1:04:24 David Ames: So we are all incredibly lucky to have Arline in our corner, working to build our community. In fact, I was talking to Evan Clark about the future move to the Atheist United Podcast Network, and I was saying that I have these fabulous volunteers and he was definitely envious. So I want to begin by just saying, thank you, Arline, for all the work that you do. I know it's more than just community management, the copy editing, outreach to people online, and the thousand things that I don't even know about.
1:04:58 David Ames: We'd love you and thank you for all the work that you have done. There are lots of things that jump out from the conversation. My favorite part of the conversation was about anger and hope. The anger coming from the systemic racism and misogyny and anti LGBTQ elements of Christianity. But I want to point out here what character it shows in Arline that she was seeing that early, she was seeing that as a believer, and that that is what slowly led her out of Christianity.
1:05:33 David Ames: She still has empathy for people who are in the middle of things, and she is modeling secular grace in the community. I love that she talks about the hope about spring, that things do return, things do get better, watching her children grow up and not having to micromanage them, letting them be who they are, and the empathy that she sees expressed within the group. And again, I see that as a direct result of Arline's leadership and example.
1:06:07 David Ames: I want to thank Arline for all the work that she's done, the community management, the interviews, the outreach, for being on the podcast and continuing to show us what honesty and empathy looks like. Thank you, Arline, for being such an integral part of the podcast. The secular Grace thought of the week. Is a return to one of my. Favorite subjects, and that is participation in the community. Again, I could not do the podcast without people like Mike, who does the editing, without people like Arline, who we've just spent an hour or so talking about how much impact that she has, people like Ray, who's doing the memes for us with the quotes from each episode.
1:06:57 David Ames: One of the things that I want to provide, or at least facilitate, is a place for people to use their hobbies, their talents, dare I say gifts in some way that makes them feel good and benefits the community. In church, this could be abusive and exhausting and burnout prone. No one is asking for that level of commitment. But if there is something that you do well, and it would benefit the Deconversion Anonymous community or the Graceful Atheist podcast, we want for you to participate and we want for you to have the opportunity to do something.
1:07:39 David Ames: In the secular world, there are a number of roles. That we could fill. As Arline mentioned, we've got a number of different topics, including unequally yoked relationships, secular parenting, and a myriad of others that still need people to lead groups within the Deconversion Anonymous community. If you're interested in doing that, that'd be great. I could definitely use someone who is more social media focused to take some of that burden off. We already have a couple of the components. Like I say, Ray doing memes and things, but if you want to just manage the social media presence of the Graceful Atheist podcast, I'd be very interested in having you do that.
1:08:20 David Ames: If you are into audio production and want to do more of the music intros outros, more highly produced segments, things of that nature, I'd be really interested in that. I've been talking with Nathan about automating some work to make the podcast into simple video on the YouTube channel. But there's a lot of potential there. If somebody wanted to do more video, more robust video work there. The intro outro music that I currently have is Creative Commons licensed.
1:08:55 David Ames: I would love to have a license free bit of music. As I have said in the past, I'll be honest, I'm super picky about the music. I want it to be gospel, hip hop with a beach. So that one. I'd want to work with you directly, but if you're interested and you have those talents, that would be fantastic. The point I want to make is there are lots of different ways that you can participate with the podcast and the community and don't hold back.
1:09:23 David Ames: When I first spoke to Arline in. Her humility, she didn't know if there. Was anything that she could do to help, and she has turned out to be integral to what we do here. I know there are more of you in the community that maybe feel like you haven't been asked yet or you're not as confident or you're an introvert. This is that moment. I am asking you for help. We can all do something amazing and spectacular together.
1:09:54 David Ames: Reach out to me, email me at Graceful Atheist@gmail.com and we will make something happen. Next week is my ask me anything. Arline interviews me and asks the questions that the community came up with and then we're going to take a two week break. What you'll notice is that basically Christmas and New Year hit the weekend days that I would normally release podcasts. So we're just going to take the holidays off.
1:10:21 David Ames: We're going to kick off 2023 with Evan Clark of Atheist United. I just did that interview. That's an amazing interview. I think you're going to see why I'm interested in becoming a part of that organization. He's already provided a couple of different introductions and there will be more coming, so more opportunities for interviews, more opportunities for me to be interviewed. I'm very excited about that partnership.
1:10:43 David Ames: So 2023 is the year of Atheist United. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the Graceful Atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves from makai beats. Links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application and you can rate and review it on podcaster.com.
1:11:20 David Ames: You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on Gracellatheus.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate with the podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition and do you need to tell your story? Reach out if you are a creator or work in the deconstruction, deconstruction or secular humanism spaces and would like to.
1:11:47 David Ames: Be on the podcast, just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast, there's links in the show notes to find me. You can Google Graceful atheist, you can Google deconversion, you can Google secular Grace, you can send me an email Graceful firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out the website Graceful Atheist.com. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.
1:12:28 David Ames: This has been the graceful atheist podcast.
This week’s guests are podcasters, Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares of Beyond Atheism.
Nathan grew up Anglican and in his early twenties, he realized there were no good reasons to continue believing. Todd grew up Catholic—technically still confirmed—but even at ten years old, he was a skeptic, wanting to explore reality rather than make-believe.
In this interview, Nathan and Todd discuss racism, humanism, community-building and what it means to live thoughtfully in a godless world. It’s a sharp conversion you don’t want to miss!
“The thing the nuns will teach you in Sunday school: God answers every prayer, but the answer is usually, ‘no.’…If there’s always not an answer, then there’s no one answering.” —Todd
“I kinda wanted there to be a god. I wanted it to be true because it’s a comfort that there’s some ultimate plan for you. You don’t have to worry because things are going to work out for you.” —Nathan
“Once I took that leap into atheism? You realize it’s not really a leap at all.” —Nathan
“Instead of sitting around, talking about technology and trans-humanism and how silly religions are, let’s address what we need as the people that we are.” —Todd
“If you look at the base numbers alone, the largest religious group who vote Democrat are Nones—atheists, people with no religion. It’s huge, solidly so.” —Todd
“The road to becoming an atheist is so lonely. Everybody does it alone. It’s an individual experience.” —Todd
“In the long term, maybe, having these groups where people are forced to create them, build them and dissolve them is the way it should be. That sort of creative process might be the healthiest thing for atheists…compared to those institutions that just stick around forever and outlive their usefulness.” —Todd
“Right now atheists are disproportionately white, but…when you look at the younger generations, it’s the case that atheists as a group are becoming more diverse…” —Nathan
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. It's been a dry spell for rating and reviewing. So I'm going to ask again, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on the Apple podcast store, rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast, wherever you are listening. Are Lane continues to do an amazing job as Community Manager for our deconversion anonymous Facebook group, please consider joining at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. A quick note about social media. I'm actually slightly more active on Twitter than anywhere else. And as you may have heard in the news, there is some craziness happening at Twitter these days, a number of people have moved to a new platform called mastodon. It is I'll be honest, slightly more difficult to get the hang of but if you're interested in that kind of thing. I am at graceful atheist at ma s dot T O. I'll have the link in the show notes. I don't know what's going to happen to Twitter over the next year. But if it does come crashing down, which is at least a small possibility. I will be on mastodon. I also wanted to acknowledge that on Instagram and Facebook Ray, former guest of the show has been doing beautiful means of quotes from guests on the show. So you can find them there as well. I tend to lurk on Facebook because of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group on there. And then finally, I do in fact have a YouTube channel that is way way out of date community member has talked about possibly participating in progressing that forward so hopefully that will soon be up to date. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. onto today's show. My guests today are Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares. And they are the CO hosts of beyond atheism. I love what they're doing over there at the podcast. It is a sister or cousin podcast to this one. They are asking the question. We're atheists. Now what what do we do beyond atheism? So this was a really fun conversation. We have so much in common. I really appreciate the work that Nathan and Todd are doing. Here are Nathan and Todd to tell their story.
I have with me, Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares. Gentlemen, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Todd Tavares 2:56
Great to be here, David.
Nathan Alexander 2:57
Thanks for having us.
David Ames 2:59
So Evan Clark, who is of the atheist united group got us in touch with each other. I'm very, very excited about this. You guys have a podcast called Beyond atheism, that I would say is, if not a sister podcast, a cousin podcast to this one. I think you guys are covering a lot of very similar territory. So we'll we'll jump into that momentarily. But the question we asked everyone on the podcast is what their religious tradition was like growing up, so we'll, we'll have both of you answer that question. And let's begin with Todd.
Todd Tavares 3:28
No, all right. I was raised Catholic. And I mean, technically, since I was confirmed, I still am. So if anyone presses, I can say I am kind of like, they haven't excommunicated me yet, so Okay. All right. Um, and I, you know, it's I don't know where to begin with this. Because it's not that it was like a super intense part of my upbringing, although, but I think I'm different from you guys. At least in the sense of like, it wasn't that strong for me. I never had I was never like fervently Catholic. I was never deeply religious. I remember being young and skeptical. Like, I remember that going along with that thing. And I remember like developing this skepticism quite early. And comparing it to things like Santa Claus, because as a kid, I don't know what kind of bratty in some ways I remember every year trying to catch the Easter Bunny, I set up a net one year it's left under the Christmas tree so I could catch Santa Claus. So there was always that part of like, you know, experimenting with the world and testing and trying things. And like that, you know, at a certain point with God, you just I just got to the point where like, you know, there are pictures of UFOs people see you. People have seen Bigfoot. This seems to be without that.
David Ames 4:56
Well, Todd, it sounds like you were an empiricist from a very young age. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 5:00
I do like I remember being told, like toys move around at night. And then like setting them up very strategically and measuring it in the morning after. But yeah, so like, I mean, it was a very weak faith. And it was there was it was imbued with lot of skepticism. And what really mattered for like the religious upbringing to me was that it was a source of conflict, right? In my family. It's like, this is not something I believe. It's not something I want in my life. And there were very early signs that it that I strongly disagreed with it. I was being coerced into it. And so I'll give you there are two things that I kind of like to highlight about it. One was, I remember being quite young, maybe like 12 or so. And being brought to an ash wednesday mass in the basement of the cathedral, where there was a shrine, and they had like, crutches everywhere, where people who had been cured, left their crutches right, because now they can walk. It's amazing. It's American. And I went with my mother and my mother was deeply Catholic. She's very strongly Catholic. She taught catechism, she would sometimes invite the priest over to have dinner, we would bring the sacraments up occasionally at Mass, things like that. And we saw she was sitting in the front made me sit right in the front. And I remember the priest comes out. And the opening thing was like, you're all sinners, everything. You know, it's like we're here to atone, because you're sinners. You've been offending God for the whole year. It's this litany list of how terrible we are. And this voices started coming out from the back of the room. People saying like, you can't call me that, um, no center. interest. And like, yeah, and I mean, that really, I remember that really stands out as an important memory, where I remember my mother was sitting there nodding along with the priests going along with this guilt trip, which I mean, it's Catholic guilt, it sticks around forever, and he never ever shake it off right about anything. And meanwhile, like hearing other voices that said, like, No, you're not we're not sinners. We're not bad people. We're not terrible. Right? That I think that was the kind of thing that shook me out of just going along, being like, I don't I don't need to other people feel this way. It's a normal thing. It's okay to say no, when you disagree, right. And that's, it's, it's such a rare thing. The only other times things I would see things like that is my father wouldn't take communion. And I mean, it's for people listening, if you, you know, you're on the verge, or you're still going, attending or whatever, like going up, and joining this line and taking the communion and turning around and seeing an empty church, with one person sitting there. It's a very powerful signal. It's pretty impressive. So and of course, it's like, well, now I know, I've kind of got an ally. Um, and then in, in the, I think, Gosh, I guess it would have been the late 90s. By then, yeah, it was sometime in the late 90s. There was a Catholic sex scandal, if you can imagine such a thing.
David Ames 8:25
Todd Tavares 8:28
it's the really crazy thing about this is that the conspiracy of silence around it, like people just didn't address it was really ridiculous. I mean, by then I had already made up my mind, I had to go through confirmation as part of, you know, family negotiation stuff that you just have to do.
David Ames 8:47
And it's, you're still very young at this age. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 8:50
Yes, I would have been I mean, like, it definitely helped by the time I was confirmed. So I'm from a town, Fall River, Massachusetts. So this is right before the Boston one, maybe like, you know, about 10 years before five or 10 years. But what was really shocking about it is people who were really Catholic really supported the church. Just never mentioned it. There were never any apologies there were never like, and that's and that really, that really turned me off to the whole mindset. I think it's like, you can't At what point do you like its children? And you're going to defend this institution?
David Ames 9:34
That would be a powerful motivator, I would think, yeah, it
Todd Tavares 9:37
was, it was a thing that's like it's okay. There's, there's a time to run, not walk. And this is a signal. So yeah, I was raised with this sort of the title No. Well, I'll just say you can you guys can tell me if I'm way off base on this and sort of like the naive faith of a child, right. Well, everybody says there's a God everybody says there's a center there must be a And went along with it until I was like, I just don't I don't see it, right? Like how many times the thing that the nuns will teach you, they teach a Sunday School is God answers every prayer. But the answer is usually no. And well, then the answer is always buying. But yeah, if there's always not an answer, there's no one answering. And that's so I was pushed down that road very early. And in my, I want to say was about 10. By the time I started actively not believing and moving past that.
David Ames 10:39
See, that's amazing to me at the ripe old age of 10. Like, yeah, that's a that's a that's really impressive, actually. Well,
Todd Tavares 10:48
I It's, I think we all kind of end up in these to me, there seem to be about like three doors. And I guess you would, David, you would know this better than me. But it seems the people I interact with, we we either end up kind of either, like very religious, and then we have to make this dramatic move away from it. Or kind of like me, where it's a little bit softer, you're raised in it, it's a tradition and you just move away from it, it dies way, you've never really that committed to where people are raised without religion. Right? These seem to be the three avenues that people go down. I guess it's just an you know, it's a continuum. And we kind of slotted this way. Yeah, for
David Ames 11:25
sure. I see just an entire spectrum of people's experiences both coming into and leaving religion and but one of the things that is a relatively common theme is very young people having like a moral stance against what they're being taught so that a child's sense of morality says this isn't right. And then they begin that process of, of leaving are very, very early.
Todd Tavares 11:52
Totally, totally. And I mean, a big part of it is like, I didn't like being lied to. I don't think anybody likes that. And once you get to the point where it's like, okay, like, the thing that makes sense is people made this up. They're just telling these stories. And I don't want to be told that these stories need to dictate my life anymore. I want to go out and explore and find out what's real and see what that what that means. So yeah, it really I think, like in terms of personality, which is really rubbed me the wrong way. The downside is like, it leads to a lot of conflict. I lived right down the street from the church. I remember waking up to church bells, we could hear it from where we lived. And one morning, my mother heard it, and then started this started this like slow motion fight is pretty amazing. Where like she was trying to get me to go to church without saying you're going to church. It's like, oh, let's go for a walk. Oh, dress.
David Ames 12:50
Todd Tavares 12:51
before the house, like at nine o'clock, and by 11 o'clock, it was getting a car. And it was I mean, it's only like, a quarter mile up the road. And I think I threatened to jump out of the car. That's really what
David Ames 13:06
I'm willing to get out of a moving car, rather than go. Okay, yeah, it
Todd Tavares 13:13
did not. It did not agree with me at all. But technically, I'm still confirmed conflict. So there they go. I think it's different for Nathan
Nathan Alexander 13:30
Well, I think I think my experience is a bit different than than Todd just because I was raised Anglican. And I never really had a seriously negative view of religion growing up. I mean, I think I didn't like going to church. I mean, but more because you know, it's just boring when you're a kid, you know, you it's just, you just don't want to you don't want to get dressed up. You don't want to you don't want to go, you don't want to just sit there. It's like it's you know, and you know, there's a whole bunch of old people there and stuff and you really don't like it, but I never had, you know, I didn't, I didn't so I didn't just like it on like metaphysical grounds or anything like that. Yeah. Yeah. And so I you know, I, I went to church growing up and stuff, but I sort of stopped when I was a teenager but I still believe I still would have you know, called myself a Christian and still believed in God and stuff like that. And I think it was early in my early 20s that I kind of was becoming more and more sort of skeptical and eventually became an atheist. I mean, it's it's also different to because I really kind of wanted wanted there to be a god like I wanted it to be true. Yeah. Because it's such a it's like, it's a comfort that just you with the idea that you know, there's some ultimate plan for you and like, you don't have to worry because things are or, you know, things are gonna work out for you. And so on. There's a purpose to life and a meeting and all this sort of stuff. Yeah. And so I didn't have, like, a sort of a negative break where I was leaving a commute a church community or something, because I didn't go to church. And, you know, there wasn't very much conflict, except for sort of internally. Yeah. And even, you know, that wasn't too dramatic, really, in the end. I mean, I think, once I, maybe this is sort of common, it's like, once I sort of took that leap, or whatever, you know, to atheism, then you realize, like, it's not actually a leap at all. And, yeah, there's nothing, there's nothing to, you know, to be worried, like, life still has meaning after all, and so on, at least, I think so. Yeah, so I think it's sort of interesting, you know, because my own religious experience was not, you know, strongly negative or anything like that. And yet, I've sort of wound up doing this atheist podcast and being involved in atheist stuff and other other respects.
David Ames 16:09
Did you have a moment, Nathan? So it sounds like Todd, you know, 10 years old was like, this is just Santa Claus. A level of of true. Did you have a moment where you were like, I don't think this is true anymore.
Nathan Alexander 16:19
Yeah, I think yeah. Like in my early 20s. And I think, I mean, I think it's sort of, like a gradual process where, sure, I think early, at some point, maybe in my teens or something, I found it. You know, like, the idea that the Bible wasn't literally true. That was kind of, if it's not, if you know, if everything in the Bible isn't true, then how can that help? Maybe How is it possible that just some of it is true? Right. I think you sort of reconcile yourself to that. But yeah, I think yeah, my early 20s, I would say, there was a point when you when you sort of like, you kind of strip away more and more than it's just sort of becomes a sort of generic kind of like theism or whatever that and then even then that finally goes as well. Yeah. Yeah, I think I mean, the funny thing is, like, I remember watching a debate with, like, a Christian and Richard Dawkins. And as by this point, I was sort of, you know, still, like, hoping that the Christian was gonna sort of try and give a good argument for God. And I really found the argument like, you know, pretty poor, obviously. So. Yeah,
David Ames 17:31
I think that's still my experience. every once awhile, I'll listen to an apologist, and now they have like some point to me. No, they don't. Yeah, that's quite disappointing. Yes.
Nathan Alexander 17:44
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think, yeah, it's also because you sort of assumed, like, you know, there's this idea like, Okay, I'm not I don't have, I don't have good reasons for believing but other people probably do. And like, and I can sort of, you know, like, they they sort of prop up my faith, because other people really strongly believe this. And therefore, if, you know, if, if they do, there must be something to it. And yeah, and that sort of helps you as well.
David Ames 18:13
I think you just described a lot of my faith lasting longer than it needed to was, you know, I thought somebody smarter than me understands this somewhere else. And I can just pass that off to them. And yeah, and then when I started to actually look at it myself things that House of Cards starts to fall down. Exactly, yeah.
So Nathan, you provided us with a really good segue of you know, now you do this podcast. That's all about atheism. So, first, I want to I want to hear the story about how the two of you met because you met in South Korea, correct? Yeah. And so I'd love to hear how'd you both end up there? How'd you meet each other? And how did you wind up deciding to do a podcast with one another?
Todd Tavares 19:00
I'm not even sure where to begin with that. How far back to go, David, how we ended. Um, I think we were both teaching there. And we ended up on the through mutual friends on the same trivia team. Day, and then a hell of a team. That was one of the problems was you could win free beer, and we won free beer quite often. It was a weekday, so we'd stay up late drinking way too much. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. We were also we think we, I Nathan, were you you were in an atheist group there, right. Yeah.
Nathan Alexander 19:42
It was. It was basically when I when I went to Korea, it was after my master's. I did my masters and I wasn't sure what to do next, really. So I wound up in Korea. And so this was at the same time as I was kind of, you know, becoming an atheist and I was kind of seeking out community of atheists and there was Um, there was an atheist group I found in in Korea, South Korea. It was mostly expats as I remember. But anyway, like, eventually in a roundabout way, I met Todd through that. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 20:12
We may have been members of the same group. And we just, we just missed each other, but we never met there. Oddly Mo. Okay. Okay. Interesting. Yeah. And it's, it was a strange group, because if it was the same one, I was a member of rational thinkers first. And that was a little strange, because it included religious people, it was open for religious people, anyone who's rational, like, like, there are people who identify as irrational. That was a little strange. Yeah. It was also one of the other things that was weird about it is like, you know, that that continuum of atheists, it was a lot of people who never had any religion. Okay, so and that, that's a very, very different dynamic. And one of the things that I saw, not a lot, but you'd run into it is people who ended up I mean, they ended up in a foreign country, because they were so cut off from their family. Like, they literally had nowhere to go. They they lost their family, they lost their friends, they, they can't get work. This is this is where they end up. I mean, people who were the often from the south, I knew someone who was a foreigner, who was training to become a pastor, and had to, you know, I think he's still I think he's in Japan now. Really tough stuff. And unforced. One of the unfortunate things is that with a group like this that's not attuned to that need. We would the you know, it wasn't a very welcoming environment. And that, I mean, it's heartbreaking. It's not it's, it wasn't at all what I wanted to be part of, like, why are we more welcoming to church people than we are to people who have serious needs. I know, a guy from Pakistan who got run out of the country with death threats, it's like this is we need to take this seriously. So we ended up I mean, some other people kind of Reformed, uh, you know, made a different group that was just atheists and was more centered on this idea of like, you know, kind of like the beyond atheism thing. Instead of sitting around and talking about technology and transhumanism, and how silly religions are, let's kind of address our what we need as the people that we are. And it's a weird and one of the things that the podcast is discovered, too, is like, yeah, this happens all the time. And like people always making these groups, and they have, sometimes they have a short shelf life, sometimes they last a long time. They're always reconstituting themselves. So that was that's part of the background of, of, of what led to or like, what led to the aim of beyond atheism? Right? Like we've done enough of this. Yes, religion is silly. We don't need to have these two arguments about the proof of God, what we need to do is, is think more about like, what it is that we need, what it is that that we want, what what is the world that we're trying to make? And how do we make it and fortunately, that's where we ended up with the with the podcast now. Nathan, very wisely. As when we started pointed out, like, Let's never talk about what religion is up to never think about. And that I think has been like the the best thing to happen for us for the podcast is never never needing to worry about that, because it's irrelevant to what we're doing.
David Ames 23:36
Yeah, I'll just comment here. Like, when I started my podcast, I saw the same thing. I saw so many people doing response, podcasts and YouTube videos, and, you know, they're always responding to the religious arguments, and they're playing on their, their turf. And I think all of us had the same impetus of like, Yeah, but now of lies, right, like, now, what do I do with my life? Like, that's what I care about. And in trying to move beyond that. So I think that's really interesting.
Todd Tavares 24:06
Yeah, it feels like it's kind of like, we're, like the next generation of things, right? Like, it's been about 20 years since we had the New Atheists. Right. And that that moment did what it did, right, it broke atheism, it made it mainstream, became okay to talk about and the numbers. Anytime there's a peer report, or any sort of religious you know, survey that comes out, you see the results. Atheism, nuns keep growing and growing and growing. You don't need to replay these battles. Again, it's okay to take the next step. And I think that David, that's definitely where you are. It's where we're trying to be. Yeah, yeah.
Nathan Alexander 24:49
Yeah. I do feel like there is still a place I think for the sort of people who are kind of you know, still debating And Christians and so on. You know, because we, we need to keep keep our supply of new of atheists fresh.
David Ames 25:11
I seem to have an infinite supply almost. But yeah.
Nathan Alexander 25:17
You know, I guess, you know, I think everyone, you know, when I became an atheist, like I was, you know, watching, I really liked watching all these videos of, you know, like, Christian destroyed by atheists or whatever. But, you know, obviously you get past that, but I think everyone maybe like, you know, there's still a place for that, depending on where people are in there sort of their journey, so to speak. So I don't Yeah, so I think you know, I guess I'm glad people are still doing that, although I think, you know, it's not what me and Todd are really interested in doing.
David Ames 25:58
I wanted to talk a little bit about the language or the nomenclature, I saw you guys kind of in the podcast and your writing, struggled through some of the same things that I have that in that atheist has such a negative connotation in society. It's seen as an aggressive stance, when I think most of us would say we're agnostic, atheists are weak atheists, or whatever terminology you want to use. I know for a while, like, just prior to my deconversion. In 2015, there was some discussion of things like Atheism Plus, I really landed on humanism kind of encompassed what I was interested in, right, like a secular outlook, a scientific outlook, and caring for people. And that last bit was was really critical that this is what I actually do believe in is people. So I'm curious how you've worked through some of those language issues for yourself, what do you call yourselves? And what is it like that the podcast represents for you?
Todd Tavares 27:01
Well, David, I'm shocked that you're, you're still on the weak side of
David Ames 27:07
I mean, in the sense of you can't prove a negative and yeah, and then what might not be knowable, but yeah, and I get
Todd Tavares 27:14
it, I mean, like even now, vastly between, you know, some form of agnosticism, right? Like it's unknowable. There's just, we know that what what the claims that are religious claims that are made, we know that they're, they're false. But the there's stuff that we just can't know. But you're right, in this, there's, it's really, really difficult, it's loaded. One of the things that we like to use are sort of like big atheists, and small atheists. Were like, yeah, if you identify as an atheist, and that's your position, that is, it's a strong position, it's, it's pretty definitive and clear, but plenty of people go out and live their life as if there is no God. Right? If all religion is not true, as if there are no gods and gods and goddesses. And if you live that way, you are atheist? Right. So that's like the small atheist? I think that's a fair distinction. I think it's a great way to think about it. And when we think about, you know, moving beyond atheism, in that sense, that's what we're talking about. Right? Just figuring out that were, you know, that we're living in a material world without deities. The other thing we've been using a lot is, is the nuns, which David, I don't know how familiar you are with that. I don't, I don't know. Do you talk to many people who identify as a nun?
David Ames 28:40
I would say that, because of the podcast is so specific to deconversion there are a few of them, but there's, I definitely see that as a category and I would say that many of the members in our community group are what I would call nuns, right? They're spiritual but not religious. They have their there somewhere in that category where they're done with organized religion for sure. Like that. That's over there. Not quite. naturalists, you know, empiricist, that kind of thing.
Todd Tavares 29:11
And I'm trying to think Nathan, I don't know if we've have we talked to anyone who identifies as something other than a humanist. That
Nathan Alexander 29:20
Well, well, I mean, I want one thing. We talked to Lucien Greaves who's a Satanist? That's, yeah.
Todd Tavares 29:29
They Yeah, but I think they are. They're definitely secular
Nathan Alexander 29:34
there. I think they would say they're atheist as well, probably. Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think so many of these labels, like there's a lot of overlap, obviously. I mean, they're not. They're definitely not sort of mutually exclusive. And I think yeah, I think for me, I always, I always say I guess if I was pressed to say atheist is the main identifier just Because maybe people know what that means most, most of all versus other things. I guess I understand the point of like humanism, where it's, it is it is focusing on the more positive aspects or like, you know, positive in the sense of like, the actual content of your beliefs rather than what you you don't believe. But yeah, I I guess I mean, I always maybe maybe there's some some sort of thing among atheists about just recoiling at any kind of joining something too closely.
David Ames 30:38
Yeah. That's for sure. Yeah. That's the thing. Yeah. Yeah. So
Nathan Alexander 30:42
it's like, yeah, I mean, I think I would agree with with, you know, everything really, that the humanists would, would would stand for? There's always just that reluctance to identify yourself as it was something to do closely or whatever. Yeah,
Todd Tavares 30:57
yeah. And I mean, part of the project for us, it's identifying what atheists are, which is not it doesn't come out. I mean, it's not fully formed, right? We don't really know what people who are nuns who are spiritual, who are, you know, or who may even still believe in God, but have just left a religion. We don't really know the whole thing. Originally, I think this the, before the podcast, we had been shopping an article saying that the it wasn't basically that atheist, people who were without a religion, were the block the block that sort of pushed the Democrats and Biden over the top. In late 2020, all of these think pieces came out about this very specific groups that were that were the difference. And our point was like, no, look, if you look at the numbers based numbers alone, the biggest part now is or I think it's the pluralist, the largest religious group in the Democrats are vote Democrat, are nuns are atheists, people with no religion? It's huge. And they vote solidly. So more so than evangelicals vote for Republicans. That's okay. There's something going on here. There's something very, very important. But anytime we tried to tell this story, this the every rejection was the same. It was always like, no, they're not a block. What you're seeing this is something different. You're talking about young people who are college educated and live in cities and have white collar jobs. That's it, but that that doesn't show up in the in the numbers, right? If it's just that then you would expect college educated people that would vote tremendously this way urban people would vote tremendously. This nuns vote stronger Democrat than urban people do. There's something special that's going on here. Yeah, and I mean, exactly what you said David, like it, it must be that you know, there's humanism, it's, there has to be something like that going on. It's just not accepted or not evidently clear enough right now, yeah.
David Ames 33:29
That was one of your first episodes, you were looking at the tendency towards liberalism within the atheist community. And one of the things I was struck by that I'd like to explore here is the atheist community here. And I'll just say like, online atheists, right, tend to say about themselves, that there is no atheist community that there is no atheist culture. And I think your first number of episodes was kind of debunking that in one way or another. So you talked about liberalism. I think I've heard you mentioned vegetarianism, which is very over represented amongst atheists, meditation, hallucinogenics, what have you, right, all these things are very, very, like, you know, over over represented by atheists. So I'd like you to talk about what you've explored that are you would say, our kind of atheist culture.
Todd Tavares 34:18
Well, that first thing I didn't, I didn't believe in that. And then I was on only sky, trying to figure just trying to talk to people and be like, What would convince you that we are a block and that we are? Right, and it was the same thing? It's like, oh, it's just correlations. There's no, cause we're just that's just how we are. Well, yeah, well, what causes us to be that way is yeah, it's it's very, it's a really, really weird thing. Yeah, so Nathan, what have we found? Have we answered this question yet?
Nathan Alexander 34:53
I mean, I think it seems pretty clear that yeah, that politically, atheists To diagnostics and another non religious people are leaving kind of left politically. I mean, I don't think that's really been controversial to say. I mean, I think it's, you know, if you look at the nuns as a whole, sort of like everyone who's who checks the sort of no religion box, it's strong, but then if you look specifically just at atheists, it's even stronger. And I think like, the reason why that is, I think there's probably
Todd Tavares 35:29
no pet theories. Yeah,
Nathan Alexander 35:31
I mean, I think I think one of them is? Well, I'm not. I mean, I think I think that one, one sort of aspect of atheist politics is sort of like, there is kind of like a rejection kind of, of certain forms of authority. I suppose that, you know, and I think, particularly in issues where, you know, rights, say, like, abortion, or same sex marriage, things like this, where it's sort of a religious authority who's trying to curtail these rights or whatever. I mean, there's naturally going to be kind of a recoil at this. But I'm not sure. I mean, in terms of things like, Well, I don't know the numbers, but I imagine it's, there's a similar kind of political view about, you know, increasing social spending, you know, greater spending on health care, something like this. I mean, why atheists should support that, like, how does that fall from atheism? I don't know. Exactly. It could be. I mean, it could be something, you know, a kind of a view of, you know, this is the life we have, and so we should, you know, try to help other people, too. And then maybe there's, it's also, I mean, I'm just sort of thinking on the fly. Your circumstances are really just random. It's not, there's nothing. There's no kind of divine plan that says, you know, you're, you're rich, and therefore you must, you must be looked upon fondly by God, or, or vice versa, or something like that. I mean, maybe there's some, like, greater ability to realize that you could, you know, your lot in life is pretty much randomly determined, and you could just as easily if your advantage you could have just as easily been disadvantaged, and therefore, to try to make things more equitably, equitable. I don't know. I mean, I'm, yeah, I mean, it's also, you know, like, to just, there's a danger, I guess, I've just, like, sort of taking my own views, and then kind of extrapolating them to other atheists.
Todd Tavares 37:49
And like, that's the weird thing about this, as I'm sure like you've seen is that, like, the road to becoming an atheist is so lonely, right? Everybody's, everybody does alone. It's always an individual experience. So it's, it seems like it seems natural that when you come out of it, you would just be won't have caught it. Look, it's it's something you do alone. It's something you do as an individual individuals come out there. And we don't understand the reasons why we are certain ways very well, we can't, and if we do, we can't articulate it. So that's why I'm on board with the authority authority. thing is that, like, there's just, if you look at a lot of religion, it's, you know, it's authoritarian. It's, there's a big, you know, Kim Jong moon in the sky. They're always watching you, God knows everything. He's, he's in your heart. He's in your mind. He knows when you do things that are wrong. And if he's, and he's going to punish the wicked. Now, if you're on board for that, that sounds great. If you're someone who wants to take orders, and do as you're told, that's, that's probably a good train to ride. If you don't like that, if that turns you off, then you're not going to be interested in it. And that's what I suspect. And I'm glad to like, I'm very happy to promote this theory, without any evidence that someone will gather evidence.
David Ames 39:11
Yes, that's right. Exactly. Yeah. So that we don't continue to just speculate, I do want to come back to a point that I think is quite profound that you just said, Todd, we don't want to lose it. And I believe in one of your medium articles, you talk about this, that the deconversion process tends to be a lonely have you do that alone, it's a lot in your head. But in the writing, you mentioned that it's kind of the opposite of the of a religion or a cult experience, where it's much more about community or you know, who you were born with family you were born with. And I think that's really a deep insight there that the rejection of religion is much more of an individualistic part, and maybe that hints at why you know, liberalism is attractive then,
Todd Tavares 39:57
yeah, it also helps explain why i The like, why atheist groups, broadly speaking kind of wax and wane like that sort of having to conform to a group, no matter how mildly like it's people know, people who have been down that road don't want to go down it anymore. And this is something we've read about and heard from other people. It's tough to keep those groups together. It's tough because a lot of atheists will say they don't believe in anything. So clearly you believe in things. You have a worldview, you have a perspective, you have things that you take as fundamental truths that other truths have to hang on. You accept gravity. Um, but yeah, I think that having to do everything alone, that becomes the place you're most comfortable. And when you have to be in part of the big group, and go along with certain perspectives, that's when you become uncomfortable. Yeah, David, I hadn't really thought about that that deeply until just now. That's yeah.
David Ames 41:00
Yeah, I think we should explore it more so
Todd Tavares 41:03
tempted to credit you with that insight? You gave me credit for thank you yeah.
David Ames 41:19
I'm going to just keep quoting you back to yourselves here. Another thing that you guys were grappling with was I think, this idea of community. So now you have a secular group and atheistic group. And as we've just mentioned, we are not joiners. Yeah. I believe it was Nathan, who talked about the three B's the belief, belonging and behavior. Yeah, I say it slightly different. I do ABCs, the all belonging and connection. But interesting that, again, Todd, you mentioned that everybody's kind of rediscovering this and redoing this over and over and over again in isolation. So I'm wondering what your thoughts are on atheist community and how that is built? Yeah, this is an easy one. This is. Isn't that easy?
Todd Tavares 42:08
Wow, gosh, this is one I'm struggling to find a good place to begin with, with this. Um, well, do you mean, David, you mean like, well, I Okay. Here's the thing. One of the things that's really loaded by this is that most organizations, actually almost every organization people are part of is an atheist organization. Right? Like, right, right. They're not religious. Yeah, it's just but it's, it's secular. It's not religious, it's atheistic, it ignores it's that, that soft atheism we were talking about, it's not this strident, let's go out and destroy all gods. It's this, like, it doesn't matter. It's not what we're talking about. It's not we're worried about. So those organizations already exists. And they I mean, you know, it would take all day to just to start to categorize them. With atheist organizing. There's always two tracks. And this is something like from my personal experience, it was exactly what I ran into talking to other people on our podcast, similar thing. And Evan, who, from APS, united, I think, like his experience was the same thing, right? Like, where it starts off is the very social thing. You need it, you want to be people meet people like you, you want to be with people like you, share those stories, share your experiences, and just support one another and be able to do things like make fun of religion every once in a while, and not have to like not have to smile and nod when people talk about praying for your soul and all that other nonsense. So it that that social part is usually pretty attractive. But it also it's limiting, right? People who are serious about atheism and want to promote it and want to push it further. And that's when people start getting alienated when it becomes more community oriented, or political or something like that. That's when you see this sort of, that's when they start to fracture based on what we know about how these organizations work. It doesn't mean they all do. I think the there were numbers on it. I can't remember. Oh, Nathan, I'm really unprepared for this.
Nathan Alexander 44:24
Or are you thinking of the numbers from the Joe Joseph paradise book? Yeah, there was something Yeah.
Todd Tavares 44:32
Is it two thirds?
Nathan Alexander 44:34
It was yeah, it was something like it might have been. Yeah, this guy named Joe Joseph blank when we interviewed him a few episodes ago. He's social scientists. That's sufficiently broad. I know, he looks at, you know, atheist communities. And I think that I'm not sure in late 2000s. And then again, 10 years later say and there was a About the same, like 1500 atheist groups each time we counted, but I think, basically, you know, I'm not sure if it was a third or two thirds. Were just, you know, had completely some of them had disappeared another and then sort of new ones spring up in their place. Right. Yeah. Which, yeah, I'm not I don't remember the exact numbers, but there was a substantial, you know, sort of turnover, I suppose. I guess in these these groups.
Todd Tavares 45:29
You're saying? Yeah, yeah. And that's for specifically, he's looking at sort of the grassroots atheists getting together. There are, of course, these more established nonprofits that have either like legal goals, like American Atheists is very legalistic, where they're much sturdier. But, yeah, David, did that answer the question?
David Ames 45:53
I mean, yeah, we're asking an impossible question. It's a question that just constantly gnaws at me.
So right now, my podcasts, we have a little Facebook group called deconversion. Anonymous, that is, it's doing quite well, as far as like people supporting one another as they go through from the questioning phase to how do I parent as a secular person? Or how do I deal with my believing spouse, those kinds of things are the kinds of things that come up. But I'm also acutely aware of that people, you know, for lack of a better term age out of it, right? Like, they're there for a year, year and a half or so. Okay, I got what I needed out of this, and I'm gonna move on. The thing that I'm interested in, is that just being that hyper rationalist and coldly saying, Well, you know, religion is wrong, there is no God, now you're on your own good luck, is not a compelling argument is not a compelling thing for normal human beings. And if we actually want, you know, more secularization, more pluralism, we're going to have to do better than that, and provide some kind of soft landing for people. And so I'm just constantly asking my guests like trying to find, you know, kernels of knowledge of how we can accomplish that.
Nathan Alexander 47:10
Yeah, I think I think it's like you said, it's, yeah, people may age out of it. And it's like, you know, people may want different things at different times. I mean, sometimes it's just wanting to have a social, you know, like, when I've moved to different cities, like, you know, you sort of seek out, because because I think, you know, for a Christian or someone, a natural place to meet new people is at a church or wherever, and I think it was the same for me in a couple places, where like, a natural kind of community, what might or 1.1 sort of starting point might be a atheist or secular community. But then, you know, once you're sort of established, maybe you don't, you don't need that sort of anymore, but then you might, you might want to be involved in something more political or something like that. You might want to, or is like volunteering in your community or something. I think it's, it is a question you're like, is not believing in God? Is that enough to bind a community group? I really don't think so. I mean, but I do think I watched I happen to see this video the other day, a few weeks ago, or something. And I think, Todd, I told you about it like this, this guy is talking about the need for third places, meeting places where people hang out. You know, it's not at home, but it's not at work. And there's sort of like someplace, you just, you just sort of go and hang out. And there's sort of in this this videos, he's just saying, you know, there's been sort of a decline of third places. Because, you know, community centers are like, just that things are its sense of kind of community centers are kind of hollowed out now. And there's the places are now there's some kind of profit motivation, you know, like, at a coffee shop or a bar or something, you can't Yeah, you know, you got to spend money you guys
David Ames 49:02
spend money to be there. Yeah, that's actually quite insightful. And I think you I think you're onto something that it's that's beyond just secular people. That's just culture in general Yes, isolated from one another. We desperately want community and connection and it's lacking in our college
Todd Tavares 49:17
culture. Whereas in this was a big thing. Like that third place was huge in Korea, where like, the homes are really small, nobody really hangs out at their home, they do have like you go from work to another place that is theirs. And then there's also like, you know, different terms for like the first place you go and then the second place you go and sometimes it gets crazy. The third place you go about these, like those outside places. And then coming back like if you I mean, cities are, are rough now in the US, certainly during the pandemic, but then you go out to the suburbs where there's just nothing, right like you are in your home and that's really all there is. That makes it tough. So And, you know, it's like you're saying with Facebook, that's a different experience. It's a different way to meet people. But you know, David, another way we can think about this is like maybe that these that these groups come and go is a good thing. Maybe it is the right thing. What we've seen talking to people, one of the big things that really jumps out at me is that to, to get plugged into the atheist community to get to become part of it to take over leadership role, you just have to go and do it. And that's the amazing thing, right? Like, they're always looking for volunteers, they're looking for leaders, they're looking for coordinators, whatever it is, you just, you can just go and do it. If there isn't a group, you make a group, and people show up. And it's amazing. And maybe, I mean, the way you put it, I think it's kind of sums it up pretty perfectly right? If people age out, it means like, they're moving on to something else. And that's really good.
David Ames 50:57
And that's actually can be very healthy. Yeah,
Todd Tavares 51:01
yeah, it might be it might be for the best it might be what we need to do. We were atheism is not at a place where we can answer that definitively now. But we recently talked to the head of recovery from religion, which walks people through the deconversion process offers a lot of peer support, meaning people who've been through it. And fortunately, like that one is pretty sturdy, it seems really, really set. It's not fly by night operation. It's professionalized, um, but like, that's, like, that's what they do right there. There's no one who should be be going to that forever, right? You should do it. you rebuild your social capital, you meet people, you, you readjust to the world, and you go on to something else. So in the long term, David, maybe maybe having these groups where people are forced to create them, build them and dissolve them, is the way it's it should be, right. That's that sort of creative process might be the healthiest thing for atheists, it might be what atheism really, really needs, compared to those institutions that just stick around forever. And outlived their usefulness. And just like, and I mean, we, there are a lot of instances of this sort of institutional legacy where an institution is built to meet a specific need, that need may or may not go away, but then it needs to sustain itself. And it says the institution needs to start taking in money, regardless of what it actually offers. So I'm that's the alternative view to it.
David Ames 52:50
Yeah. Well, I think that's interesting inside as well.
Todd Tavares 52:53
Yeah. And really where we are right now, we don't have an idea of what it's, it's, it's going, it's going to look like it's not predetermined. The future is unwritten. This is the good thing. We get to do it now. And that's and that's beyond atheism. Right. How are we doing it?
Nathan Alexander 53:11
Yeah, I guess, just just to sort of add on, I think there's also the problem, though, is that there's a problem of like, people having to kind of reinvent the wheel constantly. If there's not, you know, if groups are constantly dissolving. And again, I mean, maybe that's not a bad thing, necessarily. I mean, it's in the same way that everyone kind of goes through the deconversion process in some it's gonna look different for everyone. But you know, it's Yeah, but But nonetheless, it's sort of a journey, everyone. Well, not everyone has to go. But you know, some people do. Yeah, but yeah. Yeah, I guess that's that's the point of how to kind of keep up that institutional legacy. So that people who are going through it, that that it's, it is there for for them or something.
Todd Tavares 54:06
Yeah. And there are people who are great at it, and do it again and again. So
David Ames 54:11
yeah, yeah, I think the the takeaway from this conversation is to say that there's nothing special about starting a group, you could just, you know, go on meetup.com Say, Hey, I'm going to be at this location. This time, we're gonna talk about deconversion we're gonna talk about atheism, what have you and people just show up? Just do?
Todd Tavares 54:27
Yeah, I mean, a follow up to it, the thing that we were starting to find is that they are the same names keep coming up, right there are these the sort of network effects that are happening and because it's, you know, you you opt into this stuff. People who do it the most do it the best, or they're, they're moving their way to the top, and they're connecting with other people who've done it. So we're Starting to see sort of big national groups having connections with smaller local groups. And that seems much more stable. The sort of network effects they're growing. And again, we don't know where it's going to go. But like, we did it with, I think it was, was it Chris camera? We Who did we get the survey for? As you can tell, I'm David, I'm not very detail oriented, not have good memory. But basically, there was one group who they were like, oh, yeah, we started vetting all the local politicians. Yeah, just send out a survey. And, you know, when they, when they send it back, we give it a score. And we tell everybody in the group what the score was, right? And then we started getting requests for the survey. Right from other groups who want to do the same thing. That part is building. Right? That and that seems so we have these these two things, right? We have these transitory groups, people come and go, they're looking for connections rebuilding social capital, then you have these long term institutional organizations that are more stable and sticking around. And they're learning. And they're building on it. So like, that survey is gonna go round and round round, it's gonna become a set thing, everybody's gonna know about it, and you can just you just change the name of the state or whatever. Right? Yeah. Right. So we were seeing some of these effects, but on the most immediate personal level, it's still just Yeah, yeah, drop ah, you know, good to meet up.
David Ames 56:46
One last topic. And I may rearrange this thematically. So I understand Nathan, that you've written about, and some of your expertise is about racism. And I'm interested to know, like, the intersection between racism and atheism, I know, I've had lots of our black friends on who said this is the they're a minority of a minority, and have not necessarily been accepted with wide open arms. But how we address that within the secular atheist community, how we can make sure that we are welcoming to everybody. Yeah, no pressure, no pressure.
Nathan Alexander 57:25
Guess I researched the topic, sort of historically. And so I wrote a book. Everyone should check it out. Yes. Go ahead and plug race in a godless world. Atheism, race and civilization 1852 1914? Kind of a long title. Basically, why? Yeah, well, maybe I'll just I'll just say something about the book and then see if this has some relevance to the present. Basically, the the the argument was, Well, I think that this sort of starting point is in the 19th century, which is what I was looking at, you know, it was the vast majority of atheists were were white. And so I was really looking at, you know, what is the attitudes of the white people about race and racism? And what I found is that there were, as you might expect, in the 19th century, you know, they did, they did accept these ideas of racism and white supremacy, and so on. But I also found that in other ways, there were these way the atheists who were far ahead of their time, I would say, with regard to race and, you know, questioning things like slavery and, and imperialism and even sort of the, the underlying logic of racism, you know, that there was sort of a biological hierarchy of races or something like that, and which is not, you know, it's quite a radical position in the 18th century. So I think, I guess, I guess the theme of the book was sort of just getting at this complexity. I think as as it stands now, I mean, yeah, I really I don't know if I have too much to add other than what you said that I I think, you know, atheists of color and I should shouldn't have you know, for for listening, you know, since it's just audio I'm, I'm awake. i So. I mean, yeah. You know, it's a little a little bit weird. But
David Ames 59:30
on the spot, I'm sorry.
Nathan Alexander 59:34
No, I mean, I understand you know, that atheists of color have sort of unique needs, we'll say within within the community. And I think, you know, we've talked with Mandisa Thomas, for example, you know, who started black non believers. Yeah. And I think big because, you know, there's sort of a unique you know, atheists they You know, atheist share sort of this, you know, coming out, or you know, D converting and so on. But, but I think, you know, black atheists, for example, maybe have particular things in common that perhaps white white people or other other people just really can't maybe relate to as much. Right. So I think, yeah, I think having space spaces for that, I think is a good thing.
David Ames 1:00:27
All right, I'll let you off the hot seat. It.
Todd Tavares 1:00:32
The other thing is we're like we're old atheist. Now is another thing. We kind of why certainly. I'm on
David Ames 1:00:39
the Great Barrier. So yeah.
Todd Tavares 1:00:42
Like I, generationally, things are things are changing. It's tough to keep track of the youth. But they have very different perspectives. And they're, I think the numbers are changing, too, which is a good thing, right? Yes. Yeah. Right. We did also recently learned that among the sort of black atheists lineage of thought, right, when we take this intellectual family tree, it goes back to Thomas Paine, which is, it's was a wake up because it's like, wait a minute, that's like every time we start tracing it back among you, in the UK, even in the US, where this line of fire back to Robert Ingersoll goes back to Thomas Paine. So it's amazing that like, intellectually, there's this incredible overlap. There's, it's completely related. There's not there's not really a difference. The cultural overlap isn't there yet. But it's, you know, generally, generationally, and as like, eight more atheists get together. Like, it's something we're gonna have to do. And, of course, being since we seem to be so related to humanism, the interest is there. It's, it's, it's not just that, you know, in the past, we might be able to say, atheists are right about exactly one thing. There's no God. Now, it seems if we are expanding this to like, well, you know, we all we're all materialists, right? We're all humanists. We don't think we should have a secular government. It's time to, you know, put it into action.
David Ames 1:02:25
Nathan Alexander 1:02:25
yeah. Oh, can I can I add one more thing on the race thing, just sort of sort of what Todd was saying a little earlier, just about? You know, it's true that I think, white and right now, white atheists, like atheists are kind of disproportionately white. But I think when you look at sort of the younger generations, it's the case that more like, you know, it's atheists as a sort of group are becoming more more diverse, I suppose. When you look at kind of the Gen. Gen. Zed, as
David Ames 1:02:59
Canadian would say, yes.
Nathan Alexander 1:03:02
Yeah. So I think you know, as it's, you know, growing more, I mean, I guess, like, you know, atheists are gonna just look more like the population as a whole, I suppose. Yeah.
Todd Tavares 1:03:11
The Canadian thing and the vegan thing is we keep surprised. Yeah. Especially since I stopped eating meat and dairy. That's, like, I don't think but you still do eat meat?
David Ames 1:03:25
I unfortunately, do. Yes. Fortunately, yeah. I felt like I'm way I'm way out of out of the atheist culture by still eating meat. But yeah, but this it's
Todd Tavares 1:03:38
a weird one. Like, I don't think there is like a, is there an atheist culture that says, You can't eat meat?
David Ames 1:03:45
No, I think, Ron for sure. No, but I think that the, you know, the, we take a rationalist approach to morality, we think about consciousness and, and sentience. And you know, that we see how that expands to the animal kingdom. And, I mean, there are some moral obligations there. I will admit that, you know, the factory farming is horrendous. And I know that and I just basically go blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So that is not a terribly ethical stance. So
Todd Tavares 1:04:17
what you just explored, like is something that's not It's not coincidental, right, but it comes out. It's it's part of the Atheist Experience where you you're critically thinking about all these things, you're using these tools, and you've taken in these values as part of it. It's a really remarkable thing that we're all you know, we're kind of discovering ourselves that we're all we all have these commonalities. Yeah, for sure.
David Ames 1:04:48
You know, I think just to wrap this up here, one of the things I find interesting about the commonalities amongst religious traditions, obviously, there's lots of diversity but there's also So lots of commonalities. And I think one argument is to say that you take the supernatural elements out and the very specific cultural elements out and you wind up with humanism. You know that that is the commonality, but also that it is the commonalities there, because human beings, we are the operating system as it were aware that, you know, we're the same no matter where we are. And we're going to come to some very similar conclusions. And so well, I think you've tapped into that, Todd, that, you know, as we explore a rational approach to morality, and we're trying to be consistent within our morality, we're going to come to some very common conclusions. And it's because we're human beings, and that's the common denominator.
Todd Tavares 1:05:41
Yeah, that makes sense. And that mean, I think we are I think there's more variety than that, David. And I think rationality is. Rather, rationality is a lot more flexible and fluid than we think. But yeah, like, you know, when you take the time to think these things out, it's remarkable that we all come to similar conclusions, right, just by giving it a good thing. Yeah.
David Ames 1:06:11
Yeah, yeah. And just to be clear, I don't mean that we will come to happy harmony and agreement. I think that's why I'm a pluralist. That's why I'm a secularist, is that I want the marketplace of ideas, to be in competition with one another, to find the truth closer to the joy. I
Todd Tavares 1:06:27
mean, that's one of the things that like I appreciate about your being graceful, right? Like, it's not either of us to we're not out to abolish religion. And I think it's, it's important not to lose sight of that, particularly for what we're doing. The thing that kind of, especially where the battle lines have been drawn, these days, where we're seeing real political struggle, it's not that we need to go out and destroy religion and make sure it never impacts humanity this way again, right? We're saying just leave us alone. Right. Don't impose it upon us. Because we have no interest in imposing upon other people. We've never met, we've never talked to any atheist who said, you know, we need to force these people to renounce their beliefs. It never ever comes up.
David Ames 1:07:23
Yeah, I would hope that most of us are not totalitarians. And that, yeah, you know, I truly do believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion. And it's that last bit that we've been lacking, yeah. And that we do in some senses need to fight for on the political stage. Absolutely. Yeah. Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure. The podcast is beyond atheism. This has been Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares. Can you tell people how to get in touch with you how to find the podcast? Any other work? You want to plug? Oh, well, we're on the
Todd Tavares 1:07:57
atheist United Network now, so you can find it through their website? Um, any problem? Do you have any complaints? Go on Twitter? It's Nathe. G. Alexander. We'll look them over. Yeah. I think that's it. I don't. David, I've been I've been such a hermit lately. It's ridiculous. Really, I spent all this time talking about and reading about and talking to other people about atheist organizing. And man, I yeah, I'm not even online. I don't even know.
David Ames 1:08:34
It's crazy. That's awesome. That's probably better for your mental health. Nathan, last word, anything?
Nathan Alexander 1:08:42
Yeah. Just find me on Twitter, like Ted said. And yeah, check out my book of fight you.
David Ames 1:08:49
If people are interested. Yeah. One more time the title of the book, Race to the godless world. Fantastic. We will have links to those things in the show notes. Gentlemen, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you.
Final thoughts on the episode.
I think you can see that Nathan and Todd have a very similar approach to what we've got going on here at the graceful atheist podcast. Beyond atheism, is asking the question that I was asking shortly after my deconversion. Now what? As I mentioned in the conversation, I had read all the books, all the four horsemen and was immediately aware of the fact that I was just rereading things I already agreed with and I was much more interested in what do we do now? And that is the topic that Nathan and Todd are tackling in the beyond atheism podcast. I very highly recommend that you check them out. There were a number of things that came up in the conversation that I think are deep and insightful. Todd talked about recognizing early on in their set healer communities in South Korea, that there was a difference between the community of those who were raised with religion and those who were not. I think that is the difference that we are trying to describe here on this podcast. It is a radically different experience to be an atheist from the age of reason on and maybe have only a lightweight religious training versus being steeped in a fundamentalist experience as a child, and then coming out of that as an adult. The other thing that I thought was super deep that we got to was the fact that the conversion experience the experience of becoming a believer and a part of a community is a community event. It's driven by your family, if you grew up in it, it's driven by a church, or a general rule, it's person to person, literally all of Christianity is about evangelism, it's about to give it its best spin, it is about loving people out of hell to give it its worst spin, it is manipulating the people that you have connections with. And yet deconversion deconstruction is a completely isolated, solitary and alone experience. Almost every one of us who has gone through this has gone through this alone, very, very few of us have a partner in crime, so to speak, going through the deconstruction process. At the same time, the last people we are able to talk about it with our the believers in our lives, I find that to be a profound insight of what it takes to go through this process, the guts that it takes the courage, the willingness to face truth, even when it hurts deeply. That willingness to risk community and friendships, and even potentially family. It is an amazing, amazing journey that you all have taken. I also thought Nathan's insight, referring to this concept of third places, community locations, and how they are missing within Western culture was also deeply insightful. The first two places are home and work. But these third places where you're out in the community, being a part of the community are very, very difficult to find. And I think that is what we've been talking about a lot here on this podcast as well. We're trying to build online community. But there's a desperate need a desperate desire for people to connect with each other to be in the same room with one another to be able to spend time with each other. And I do hope that over the following years that we're able to make that leap from online to in person. And then finally, the insights that because secular people tend not to be joiners, and we continue to kind of recreate these communities over and over again, without any reference to previous attempts. There is an upside to this in that it remains fresh. As I said, people will age out of listening to this podcast, and people may age out of these communities. But having that refresh process taking place constantly means that they are not stuck in tradition and making the same mistakes that fundamentalist religion has made. It allows it to be contemporary, and in the moment, the zeitgeist of the thinking of that day. Still, I think we do need to connect with each other and that should be a goal for people who are in the middle of deconstruction, or on the other side of deconversion. I'll plug here Nathan Alexander's book race in a godless world atheism, race and civilization 1850 to 1914, that it's going to be a bit more of a scholarly piece of work, but I think it would be very interesting to go and check that out as well. The podcast is beyond atheism, you can find that on all the major platforms. I want to thank my guests Nathan Alexander and Todd Tavares, for joining me here and for the work that they do, bringing us beyond atheism. Thank you both. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is you are not alone. The deep inside of this conversation is that you convert in community and you d convert alone. I have been saying that over the years, but I've never been able to put it in quite that succinct and pithy away. I think this is helpful to understand the feeling of loneliness, the feeling of isolation, the feeling of the uniqueness of your experience, when I think back on my deconversion and the years leading up to it, which really was a deconstruction, but without me knowing that word. And I'll say here that most people who are questioning have no idea what the word deconstruction is, or at least haven't until recently until it's become widely known. It feels like you are the only one that there couldn't possibly be any other people who are doubting the way that you are. I know that I felt that way. And the message of this podcast is that not only is that not the case, there are hundreds of 1000s of people who are questioning, doubting, deconstructing, and de converting. But also, the reference to Jennifer Michael hex book, doubt a history that this has been so for as long as there have been believers. I find that deeply and profoundly comforting that we are not unique, that this is a process that human beings have been going through for time immemorial. The important part for you to know as you question and face your own cognitive biases as you wrestle with the cognitive dissonance, that can feel like a wrestling match with yourself that this isolated feeling isn't actually true that there are so many out there going through the same process. The community that we are trying to build at deconversion Anonymous is a safe place to question to doubt to deconstruct and de convert, please consider joining and you will know instantly that you are not alone. That's at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. All right, we've got a lot of exciting interviews coming up. We've got a couple of for Marlene, in fact, Arlene is going to feature throughout the rest of November and December. Arlene has two interviews one with a couple Ben and ENTJ, and one with Nikki papas. We have Jessica Moore who is focused on recovering from purity culture. Again, we had to redo her interview, but that's been done that'll be coming up. And then for December, late December, we have two conversations between Arlene and myself. I interview Arlene and talk about what she's learned from the community management of deconversion anonymous and doing these interviews, and then we turn the tables and she interviews me. For those of you who are longtime listeners, it might be a bit repetitive. For those of you who have just joined in the last year and a half or so, it might be brand new information. So I'm excited for you to hear my thoughts on secular grace and deconversion and the process of doubting. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on Bristol atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? Do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces, and you'd like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace, you can send me an email graceful email@example.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
This week’s guest is Matthew. Matthew grew up in the Pentacostal tradition and went from being a youth leader in high school to a full-time international missionary as an adult. He had all the right answers to all the important questions.
The missionary life, however, didn’t turn out as he’d expected. He and his team did everything in their power to tell people about Jesus but nothing supernatural was happening. Year after year, “the hiddenness of God” became too much for Matthew.
It hasn’t been easy for Matthew to arrive where he is now—living a freer life, not having to have all the answers, not having to wait for the supernatural to happen. He loves the people closest to him, enjoys his friends and acquaintances without judgment, and those small things are what can slowly change the world.
“For a long time, I was doing mental gymnastics to make things work…”
“I was asking everybody, ‘How do you know?!’ And all of the answers were so unsatisfying.”
“I’m trying really hard [to communicate clearly with my kids] and I’m not able. But God, by definition, is able but doesn’t seem to be trying very hard.”
This week’s guest is Drew. Drew grew up as a Missionary Kid and has traveled to nearly every continent and all across the United States. Drew spent years of his life evangelizing and serving others through construction, farming and carpentry.
Drew has since left mainstream evangelicalism, with its exclusivity and supremacy culture, but he is still using the tools he developed. He and his family serve their local community right in the Bible Belt with a market, concerts, a community center and so much more!
Humans don’t need a supernatural being to come to our rescue. We need one another. We need each other’s abilities and companionship. Drew and his family are changing the future by building intentional community right where they are.
“Everybody who doesn’t know Christ is going to hell? That didn’t sit right with me from a very early age…”
“I was growing more and more uncertain about my certainty.”
“Here was someone I knew…and here they’d had this radical transformation that didn’t involve Jesus at all.”
“I had a lot of hope for this [Christian community], that they were a group of people who had avoided the exclusivist issues within Christianity and were able to do the ‘love your neighbor’ thing.”
“…supremacy thinking is endemic. It’s part of the whole thing.”
“This gigantic ship of Christianity—it’s going down. You can rearrange the deck chairs, but it’s sinking.”
This week’s guest is B. B grew up homeschooled in a large evangelical household and spent nearly thirty years in the church, determined to fit in. He felt like leaving for a while, never having belonged, and then in 2016, he knew it was the end for him. He hit the door running.
One of the most destructive forces within his Christian upbringing was Purity Culture. Since deconverting, he’s learned that he isn’t alone when it comes to loving yourself and exerting your autonomy. B’s story is one of great evolution and freedom.
“…I thought, It’s real to everyone around me. It should be real to me. I need to keep trying. If it’s not real to me, then something’s wrong with me.”
“I had been edging towards the door, and 2016 got me walking full-speed towards the door.”
“…consciously making that choice to say, ‘I’m not going back. I’m done.’…it was the biggest relief.”
“Now I feel free not to care. Is there a god? I don’t know, but more importantly to me, I don’t really care.”
“I sat down and looked at that picture and thought, I really like this picture. That was a whole new feeling. I had never felt that way.”
This week’s guest is Meghan Crozier, the writer behind The Pursuing Life blog and co-host of Thereafter Podcast. Meghan grew up in an Evangelical Free church and she was “all in”.
“I had my bible on my desk in middle school…so people knew that I was a Christian.”
After high school, Meghan attended a Christian university, signing a pledge to become a missionary. Her life turned out differently, and it took years to be content with that. Now, however, she is extremely thankful she never became a missionary.
At the beginning 2020, when so much was changing in everyone’s lives, she clung to her faith. She journaled. She prayed for an hour daily and read her bible every morning.
“I don’t know what to do, so I’m going to pray through this. I’m going to try to figure this out.”
As the year progressed, she began to see other aspects of her church that she could not unsee—homophobia, gaslighting, ableism. Then the January 6th insurrection happened, and her church’s response to this disturbing event, Meghan knew she had to reconsider almost everything her life.
“I’m a Person of Faith…ish.”
Meghan now holds her Christianity very loosely. She’s found community and connection through running half-marathons, social media, and her blog and podcast. Meghan is an important voice in the deconstruction world, influencing people with both the spoken and written word.
“You have such a window into so many different pieces of faith change and deconstruction and discovering yourself.”
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the Bristol atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please consider rating and reviewing the podcast on the Apple podcast store and rate the podcast on Spotify. subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. The Facebook community continues to be a thriving place for people to connect every Tuesday night at 530 Pacific 830. Eastern there is a get together to discuss this week's episode. So if you are listening to the show and you have a very very strong reaction, and you want to talk about it with somebody, come join Facebook group facebook.com/group/deconversion links will be in the show notes. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's podcast. On today's show, my guest today is Meghan Crozier. Meghan is a professor at a community college in the Pacific Northwest. She has a blog called The pursuing life that began as a Christian blog and has developed into a deconstruction blog. She is the co host of the thereafter podcast with Courtland where they discuss deconstruction and their experiences within evangelicalism. Meghan is a really important voice in the deconstruction community. She has a huge Twitter following and she hosts a weekly Twitter spaces on Monday mornings at 6am Pacific 9am. Eastern that is really filling a need and creating community within the deconstruction space. Here is Meghan Crozier to tell her story.
Meghan Crozier Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Meghan Crozier 2:07
Yeah, thanks for having me.
David Ames 2:09
This has been a fun connection. Arlene who does our community management for our our Facebook group reached out to you she'd heard you on a number of podcasts and I think on a discord connection and asked you to if you'd be interested in being on the podcasts. And when she mentioned you. I was very interested. And now that I've listened to a bit of your work and read a bit, I'm fascinated by your position and all this. As I was thinking about this conversation, I was thinking we're kind of very close on the other side of the fence from each other so close. We can reach over and shake hands, right? Yeah, absolutely. So you are definitely still a person of faith. But you have been in the deconstruction world now for a bit. A bit of your bone a few days. You have a blog called pursuing life. And you're the co host of the thereafter podcast. Yes, yep. Fantastic. And then you're a bit of a Twitter phenom. It seems that you seem to have a pretty big following there as well.
Meghan Crozier 3:14
Yeah, I mean, it's it's too bad. You can't get paid to tweet you know. It, it's fun. And it somehow it works for me. I don't know. I love community on Twitter. So for sure.
David Ames 3:27
That's awesome. That's awesome. So let's jump in and I want to hear about your story. We often begin the conversation with what our faith tradition was growing up. So I'd like to hear what that was like for you. Was it meaningful? What was it like?
Meghan Crozier 3:42
Yeah, so my story starts where a lot of stories start, right. I grew up evangelical. I was in a non denominational church. Actually, it was an E Free Church, but we were we were modeled largely after Willow Creek Community Church. I grew up in the Midwest, we were very close proximity wise to Willow. And I was I was all in man. I was the student leader in my youth group and I was at the pole See you at the pole. You know, I was there I had my Bible on my desk in middle school, you know, so people knew that I was a Christian and and I went to a Christian college so I went to North Park University in Chicago, they're affiliated with the evangelical Covenant Church. And I didn't grow up covenant but I just fit right in and yeah, so I was very closely almost became a missionary. I studied Spanish in college and for a lot of reasons that led me to becoming a bilingual teacher instead, which I'm so thankful for I'm so I'm so grateful that I missed that missionary mark, because yeah, it's a whole thing. And
David Ames 4:56
we've we've heard one or two horror stories. Yes. Yeah,
Meghan Crozier 4:59
yeah. I really and it's funny because one thing that I write about sometimes is I signed a pledge at Urbana in Urbana Conference, which is a huge missions conference through university to become a missionary after college for one to three years. And it took a long time to feel like becoming a teacher was okay, and that I hadn't missed this, you know, path that God was supposed to have me on and, and all of these things, and it's kind of a mindfuck how I thought that becoming a teacher was such a, you know, not the path or the right path for me. And looking back, I'm like, oh, man, I'm just so glad that I never was a missionary.
David Ames 5:41
It amazes me how we treat teachers just in general, like, but specifically, you know, you comparing that to being a missionary, you know, it's quite a noble profession. It's really, really important. So, yeah,
Meghan Crozier 5:55
yeah, yeah. And, and so one thing that happened during the pandemic is I wrote through my story, I had time, and I was, I was, I was trying to process you know, I was teaching at the time, and I was trying to process the shift that I was going through, because, you know, for my husband, we were all working at home, but he just, you know, he was at a computer already. And he just did it at home. And for me, I had to totally change everything. And I had to learn, you know, how to teach online, I was teaching first grade in Spanish. And so it was a lot. And so I initially started with writing, and I was trying to process and I really at first clung to my faith that was, you know, I was like, Okay, I don't know what to do. So I'm going to pray through this. I'm going to try to figure this out. And I wrote a memoir, and it was a memoir of prayer. And it was very evangelical. And it was, you know, I kind of called it from college to COVID. And I had prayed for, to like, for two years, I had prayed for an hour a day. And I was trying to trace these arcs of these prayers through, you know, 20 years later, and how I ended up as a teacher instead of a missionary and in the Pacific Northwest, and, oh, I might have written about the Prayer of Jabez. Like it was, there was some cringe stuff in there.
David Ames 7:16
Sure. And it all makes sense time. Yeah.
Meghan Crozier 7:19
Yeah. And people loved it. I, you know, people I went to church with it, my parents in my, you know, family and friends were like, wow, this is so good. And I just didn't sit right with me. And it something was off about it. And, and the more I was reading the Bible, I'm like, there's some really, really messed up stuff in here. And I am, this is not okay. And, and I was, you know, I have a whole healing story with my daughter that people tried to really push, you know, pray for healing. And she has a whole genetic condition, which is a whole thing. But and she's fine. But people tried to say, she was healed for what she wasn't. And so there was just a lot of stuff happening in messages that I was in a lot of political stuff happening that I wasn't comfortable with. And so I just that I mean, slowly, bit by bit, started to really question things. And, you know, you say, you're still a person of faith, and I'm like, I'm a person of faith ish.
David Ames 8:18
Okay, all right. Yeah, you get to label yourself, that's fine. I really want to I want to explore, and if it's too personal, please say no, but this, the social pressure about healing, is, if you're not involved as an objective point of view, you know, you can see that there's a bit of manipulation there. But the as the person who is being prayed for, or the person who's the parent of the person who is being prayed for, there's a lot of social pressure to say, oh, yeah, it's a little bit better. It's incrementally better. And like, you can see how, you know, if we're being kind, well intentioned, care and hope, can lead to ultimately becoming wise, you know, basically something that that just isn't true. I wonder if you just explore that a little bit like, what was it that difficult for you as a parent?
Meghan Crozier 9:09
Yeah, for sure. And so I mean, yeah, this is not a private personal thing. This I'm absolutely willing to share about this. But when, when my daughter was a baby, we found cysts on our kidneys. And we had no idea what it was. And so we went to a small group that it was almost like there was excitement about, oh, there's this mystery medical condition that we don't know what it is. And like, let's pray for this. And, you know, I was in therapy because it was scary. Because, you know, a doctor had said, like, she could be fine her whole life or she could be on dialysis by the time she's two. And that was scary, right? And so we were navigating that and going to doctors and going to clinics and trying to figure that out. And in the midst of that. We have people playing praying healing for her and we are in the Pacific Northwest. We're not far from Bethel. Well, we had people say you should get take her to Bethel. And we're like, oh, we're gonna take her to doctors. And, I mean, they didn't, we didn't have pressure to not go to doctors. But then every doctor's appointment became this framing of okay, well, this is have grown, but her kidneys are still well, God is working on those kids, you know, and it was just the framing of what is happening. And when she was five, we finally we had an MRI, we did a diagnosis, she has a condition called tuberous sclerosis, and she has a very mild form of that condition. And many kids, adults live with this condition. And there's a range of severity. And there's a lot of kids that have that are on the autism spectrum. And, and so there was a lot of messaging of, Wow, thank God, she's not this, or thank God, it's not this. And I was not comfortable with that messaging, because I'm like, there are very whole people that are living with different versions of this, this condition. And, and I cannot chalk my child up to and say, like, Thank God, she's not this person, because I felt like that was just so I guess ablest I have that terminology. Now, for it at the time, I was like, something's wrong about this, you know,
David Ames 11:24
you know, again, on this side of deconstruction, I find it fascinating that it's never considered the opposite side of that coin. So your daughter was incredibly lucky to have a, a low severity version of this. Sorry, if lucky, is probably the wrong word. You know, what I'm trying to say that it wasn't, it wasn't more severe. And yet, you're now aware of people who have significantly more severe versions of this. And, and so that, you know, or given the example of COVID, right, you know, people who haven't had COVID aren't aren't able to recognize, you know, that there are people who will have very severe versions of COVID, or the, you know, they just had a cold, right. Thank God. Yeah. You know, and not, you know, recognizing the statistics, and particularly on the the subject of poverty. For those people who are well ensconced in the middle class, it's, it's very easy to think, Oh, well, you know, God loves me, without recognizing, you know, how many people who are praying every day to have food on the table on they don't have it?
Meghan Crozier 12:27
David Ames 12:38
I feel like I pulled you off off your storyline a little bit. But so the writing of the book looking at prayer over time, your daughter's illness, you started to have some pretty serious questions. And and let's take it from there.
Meghan Crozier 12:52
Yeah, I would say you know, a lot of people ask what pulls what was what pulled the first thread for you. And for me, I was watching an evangelical megachurch, locally, I'm in the Pacific Northwest, I said that. But locally, we did a huge series on race. And that was it was great. Our pastor, you know, he it was almost like a docu series. He had traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, he had traveled to, you know, Montgomery, Alabama, and there was a lot of really good stuff in that. And then, you know, there was a lot of chatter about well, he's not afraid to lean into difficult topics. And I was like, what does that mean? And I discovered that his prior church, he had preached a very well known series called God in homosexuality, and dove into that, and I was, you know, it was the first time that me as you know, assists at White woman really saw what was being asked of the queer community. And so I saw, I watched him go through, you know, you know, you have three options. If you're queer, you can be celibate for life, you can force yourself into heterosexual marriage, and that might be fine. Or you can, if you, you know, do live into your full identity, you're just really not living God's plan for you. And so I started to just started to listen to myself for the first time and say, hold on. And as I started to share with other people, the reaction was so wild. And I was like, Wow, there's so much homophobia and what and, and I, it's hard to say that now. And now because I have so many queer friends now. And I and I just think I was blind to it for so long. And there were so many ways that I just fit right into what was being asked of people in the evangelical church. And so I just really didn't wake up to the exclusion and the hate and now I see the depth of the harm and how far it goes. And I've, of course, you know, looking at colonization and all these other things. It just opened the door for me.
David Ames 14:54
Yeah, I think that a lot of the missional you know, seeker friendly churches don't realize that by by not being positively affirming, they are non affirming. And they feel like they can get away with ignoring the issue. Don't Ask Don't Tell kind of thing. And yet they are causing harm. Active harm.
Meghan Crozier 15:16
Yeah. And I think, you know, well, I mean, I could talk about that forever. But I will just say that what is happening to is, there are parents that are being pressured to disown their children, when they come out as queer now, and I just, I see things like that happening. And it's like, okay, you can either choose God, or you can choose your child, what are you going to do? Because your family is just here for now. So, you know, God is eternity. And the messaging is so awful about that. And, and, you know, you see what the damage that it does to people trying to sort through their identity and, and, you know, growing up with messaging that says, you know, I'm, I'm inherently wrong for being this way. And so yeah, it's, it's infuriating.
David Ames 16:01
Yeah. I am amazed by how many says hit people, one of the major factors of their deconstruction is the treatment of the LGBTQ community. And in that, you know, it's not their personal experience, necessarily, but that they begin to recognize the humanity of this person is being is being minimized, it's being reduced in the same way that racism does. And, and that that is such a catalyst for people to begin to reevaluate. And why I find that fascinating is it's really a moral argument, one that from the evangelical point of view we shouldn't be able to make. And yet it is very strong. I feel like I didn't really understand the term righteous anger until about 2016. And then it was like, Oh, this is what, that's what that feels like. Yeah, kind of having a sense of this is wrong. Justice is not being served here. And something is missing.
Meghan Crozier 17:04
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that in the context of what was happening politically, I mean, I this is going to be tallied on how new I am to deconstruction. But I will just say, I was still going to this mega church, when somebody reached out and said, hey, you know, there's a progressive church in Portland that that has some of your same deal breakers, and I've seen you write about this. And after January 6, I watched both online, and I was in I was, I've never been one of those people. That's like, if your pastor doesn't preach about this on Sunday, walk out, just do it, you know, but it just, I think, the watching what had happened on Wednesday, January 6, and then going to church and having this like, lovely talk on making good habits. And, you know, making sure that you sometimes it might be helpful if you read your Bible before you drink your coffee, so that you know you get that time in and then going to this progressive Church Online and just having space held to say, how were you feeling on Wednesday? How are you feeling right now? Let's talk about that. And I was like, whoa. And that was that was the last time that I had opened that, you know, the Facebook page for that mega church because I was like, I you know, I think I'm just gonna just admit that I'm deconstructing and so yeah, I'm new in this.
David Ames 18:29
Ya know, I can hear that a little bit. Yeah, that it's also the that exciting time where you, you know, at some point, I call this the permission to doubt phase right? Or the information seeking phase where, like, up until this point, you have a lot of things happen to you, that cause you to question, but at some point, you take the kind of proactive step like, Alright, I'm gonna take, I'm gonna take responsibility for this, and I'm gonna go learn some things and decide what I believe or don't believe it's terrifying. But it can also be really, really exciting.
Meghan Crozier 19:01
And I mean, exciting is a word. I mean, it can be like, it's, I wouldn't recommend somebody to just like, hey, this is an exciting journey. But yeah, it's magical, airy, maybe. And, yeah, it's it's work.
David Ames 19:26
On that note, you know, we throw the word deconstruction around. I have a definition in my head. I'm curious how you define it. And is that something that you are recommending is a strong word, but is that something that you're you're active for people online to begin questioning that kind of thing?
Meghan Crozier 19:45
Cool. Yeah, that's the L. That's a two parter. So yeah, deconstruction. I probably have a different definition by the day. But I really believe it's a process of leaning into those doubts that you have have an understanding and, and really, you know, for me starting to understand that the inherited faith that you've had your whole life might have been, you know, you might have been taught an interpretation of something. And that, you know, there are other interpretations out there, you might realize, oh, there's other faith traditions out there that, you know, better match what I'm looking for, and what my value system is, and what my deal breakers are. And, you know, for some people, there's people that say, you know, this is not for me, and, and so I really feel like it's an ongoing, never ending journey. I really push back when people say I've deconstructed but I, you know, I think I'll, I'll say this is kind of when I started deconstruction, and it's, it will probably be going on forever. I still use the term progressive Christian, I hold it very loosely, there are times when I wonder if it's just to stay comfortable, because it's scary to let go of that. And so, but I'm willing to admit that and sometimes I say agnostic, Christian. But yeah. And then I on the second question, I was recently in a conversation on Twitter spaces about this where the question was, should we be evangelistic about deconstruction? And even though that phrasing kind of sucks, and people said that, which is fair,
David Ames 21:27
I hate that sentence. But anyway, yeah.
Meghan Crozier 21:29
But, you know, it's a shortcut to asking the question, right. And so it's a language to speak, some of us speak. And so there was a lot of really good conversation about, you know, not trying to push people out of their faith or what you know, their value system, but yet wanting to really point out the harm, and really help people understand, hey, this is super homophobic, and this is super queer phobic. And this is super colonizing, and, you know, and all of the things and help people understand and the harm towards women. And you know, my dad and I have had conversations where I'm like, your experience in the church has been a lot different than mine, as a woman who grew up in purity culture. So I mean, and that's, you know, we can go there, if you want.
David Ames 22:27
I think that unless you want to head down that road, I think what I'm more interested in is, it sounds like you were active. I don't know if you'd say leadership. But you know, you were a voice in the Christian world, right, writing a book, you had people that were listening to you, I believe your blog was originally more Christian oriented. I'm curious what the response was, as you began to change, and publicly so
Meghan Crozier 22:52
yeah, so once I wrote my book, I started to kind of explore what what will I do with this, and the blog came after the book, and there are posts on my blog that are not public anymore, about prophecy, and it's great. And, but I knew that if I wanted to be an author, I would have to build a platform on social media, I did not have that. And so I started this the pursuing life, which I still hold to that name. And I think there's something to be said about an ongoing pursuit of truth and what matters. And so it you know, it was interesting, because I did have initially connections with, you know, people I went to college with, or people that used to be my mentors, or people I was in small group with, and slowly as I started talking about pro choice things, and, you know, being queer affirming, and things like that, I would get messages. It was like, interesting thing that you said, Are you and, you know, pro and with a lot of language that I don't even want to say, because it's super nasty, and I and just so dehumanizing. And but then on the flip side, I would have like a neighbor that would reach out quietly and be like, Hey, I've been reading these blog posts that you're putting on Facebook, and I went through this, and I feel so seen. And, you know, I or, you know, I really feel like I could talk to you about this, can I let you know, and it was like, that was the beauty of it. Because even though it was hard to have people, you know, be so assuming about things and not want to have a conversation, but just kind of direct me away from what I was talking about. It was beautiful to really connect more deeply with some people in my life and then new people and you know, you can see now there's, I've been part of building community. And so it started as platform building and now I really see it as community building. Wow.
David Ames 24:56
Yeah. Fantastic. I definitely want to talk about community Need, I'm gonna pause there for just a second and say, I think an answer to the question earlier about being evangelistically. Towards deconstruction, I always think that my goal is not to make more atheist or more deconstruction, my goal is to be the place to land for those people who have already began that process, right? Or those people who can no longer live with it at all. And to be that safe place. And yes, just by being public, you know, you're putting it out there. There's there's some element but I feel like like your neighbor, there are many, many people sitting in pews questioning themselves and, and feeling alone and isolated, and not realizing that there's this huge wave of people who have been going through the same thing been asking very similar questions. And and I think the answer to that is community so yeah.
I know that you've been doing like clubs, clubhouse and Twitter spaces and things of that nature. How did that come about? And how's that been working for you?
Meghan Crozier 26:14
So interesting. Really early on some when I was, you know, still kind of trying to figure out well, what was going on, somebody reached out and said, I feel like clubhouse would be a good medium for you just the way that you are and the way you want to connect with people. And immediately after I joined somebody from my profile, my friend teal, short, he lives in Chicago, and he lives in an intentional community. And he's a progressive Christian. And that's how I had identified on my profile. And he was like, I really feel strongly about community. But it's so hard right now with the pandemic. And I just What would you think about having a weekly room to pull people together to talk about stuff, and it was beautiful, and the conversations were amazing. And we had our first our first night was about LGBTQ ally ship or something like that, which now I look back, and I'm like, wow, I really said that, huh? Like I called myself an ally, I would okay. But it turned into this beautiful community, there's something to be said about live audio conversations that aren't being recorded. There's nobody trying to one up or get likes or retweets, and just kind of come there. And through that, I connected with some other people that and I was on some deconstruction panels. And it was so early. I mean, this was January of 2020. This was, you know, I told you, I mean, this was just a couple of weeks after the insurrection where I was still kind of processing. So I always say, you know, I will be moderating the clubhouse room on music. And, you know, I would say something like, God, I can't listen to worship music anymore, because it's so triggering for me, because the organizations that put out what I used to listen to were complicit in this insurrection. And I would mute they would go on, and I would be like, on the floor, sobbing, like, what am I gonna do with me, like, what music is gonna carry me like, I had so much grief over the loss of things that comforted me that I, it was hard, but I was processing it in community. And that kind of led to Twitter spaces. And what I do now, and I have, you know, deconstruction, bookclub discord and things like that. And then, you know, that's how I connect with Courtland. And they started co hosting their after pod and, and I just became this thing where, and I think people saw that authenticity, and they were like, I, I don't know if people resonated or connected or what, but I think just knowing they weren't alone. And that's a powerful thing, I think.
David Ames 28:46
Absolutely. I think my experience so far has been, you know, once people find some community at all, they read, and they begin to say, Hey, I feel this way about this thing. And 10 people come along and go, Oh, that's me, too. That that experience, that recognition of one story being told by someone else, is incredibly cathartic and has some healing elements to it.
Meghan Crozier 29:12
Yeah. And I will say one other thing is, and I share this a lot, and it's just a small piece of it. I was also I taught for 15 years, and I was leaving my teaching career at the time, too. And so I was just unraveling everywhere I was, you know, going through faith change, career change. And so I think, too, I was very vocal about not being a person that had all the answers. And I think that's, that's the thing that draws people in sometimes is like, Okay, who I have totally put all my hope in these pastors that I thought had all the answers for so long, or this church that I thought had all the answers to this faith tradition, and it's I think there's something comforting about being in community with people that don't try to make it seem like they have all the answers and you They're totally together whole people. You know, I'm super vocal about therapy too. So
David Ames 30:05
we're very pro therapy here on the podcast.
Meghan Crozier 30:08
Yeah. I love it
David Ames 30:19
I want to talk briefly about the thereafter podcast I listened to when you were interviewed on the show. And then, you know, a bit later their second season, you became the co host. I'm curious what that process was like, because as a, you know, again, I haven't listed a lot of them. But from my perspective, it was like, here have this podcast, they just handed you the reins, which is great. But I'm curious, like, were Was that something you were looking for? And how has that been for you as as an outlet?
Meghan Crozier 30:49
You know, I had thought it would be fun to have a podcast, I didn't really know why or would or, you know, I'm glad I didn't do it when I was writing my book, you know. And I have become good friends with Courtland. And that's a whole thing too. I think I've made some I write about this, sometimes I've made some really close friends that are men, and that has, its new and I really fiercely advocate for it is possible to be friends with people and close with people that aren't your partner and have good healthy communication about boundaries and, and know, you know, where things are at. And, and I love it. And I think you know, there's this messaging for so long that you should just not be close with anyone that's not your partner. And so anyway, Carolyn and I had become good friends. And his first season was awesome. But his co host wasn't going to continue on for the second season. And so I, you know, just kind of happened, I was kind of like, Hey, I'm thinking about doing this. And we had a conversation that was like, what if, what if this is what it looks like, and started to kind of have talks and there was a, I run, I have this big goal to run a half marathon in every state. And so I was flying through Denver, and he came to the airport and we sat down and had dinner together and talked a little bit about it. And, and I love it, I it's just been so fun to sit down like you're doing I'm sure the you know, and have people share their journeys and have people you know, process and you see so many you have such a window into so many different different pieces of faith change and deconstruction and discovering yourself and all of those things. And so it's been really fun to connect with people. And also like, it's just yeah, it's it's a, it's a fun thing.
David Ames 32:44
You guys, I sound like you've been doing it forever. It's very well produced. Courtland has that radio voice thing going for him? sounds it sounds, it's a great podcast. So I recommend it. So we'll definitely links in the show notes for people to find that
one of the episodes that I listened to you in Portland, we're talking about the evangelical response to deconstruction. And this has been one of those things where I find it so infuriating that I hold back a lot like, you know, I've gone on some friends podcast, to vent and to be less than graceful. To say how bad it is, I've interviewed a couple of people who are in the evangelical world who consider themselves experts on deconstruction. And what I find most often is that you can tell they've never actually spoken to someone who is in the middle of deconstruction or or, or, you know, deep on the other side. So I'm curious from your perspective, what you think of the evangelical response to this moment in time that we are having?
Meghan Crozier 34:04
Well, I'll say this, I think a lot of the people actually might have spoken to people at deconstruction, but they've never listened to people. Yeah, yeah. And I so I think that there's a lot of pastors that look around and they see this hashtag or they see you know, videos, or they see people unpacking and, you know, like me, people are living their journeys out loud. And they it's like, they want to jump in there like I want to, I want to have a pulse on what's happening here and so they bring their hot takes, you know, there's the matt Chandler that says, people just think it's a fad and that it's sexy and they never had to pay to begin with and Joshua Ryan Butler had his for reasons people deconstruct and, and it was, you know, it's, it's to be cool to for street cred, you know, and it's, it is is infuriating, it feels because this journey is so personal. And because the first time I sat down with the the pastor at the faith community I've been part of and said, I'm going through deconstruction, and he was like, take care of yourself. Like, this is like really, you know, be kind to yourself. And it's like, he knew, you know, and these people that are making their hot takes, it's like, you have no idea how how much grief there is on this journey, you have no idea how hard this is. I mean, I, I said, I'd be like sobbing on the floor. Like, you just have no idea because it was because I was reading the Bible and, and seeing, you know, David fight, like winning over wives for you know, as part of a war prize and things like that. And I was like, no, like, I just, I could not, I could not do it anymore. And, and I and a lot of them are, you know, white men that have a lot of benefits from their position, and you know, and keeping their position. And so it is it's infuriating. And what's even more frustrating is those people that I mentioned earlier, that have you know, pushback on the things that I say they'll send me articles, and they'll be like, Hey, I saw this article in Christianity Today, about deconstruction. And it really made me kind of understand a little bit more, and I just want to be like, no, like, please, it does not make you understand a little bit more. And so that's the frustrating part. Because I think Christians that are trying to understand what's happening to their friends that are leaving the church are reading this stuff, and they're like, oh, okay, I feel comfort and like they never had true faith to begin with. And it's like, no, no, that's not it. And so I think there's, it's it's really false messaging, and it is very infuriating.
David Ames 36:51
In my Kinder moments, I try very hard to understand the position that particularly pastors are in. And having both sides of understanding both sides of that equation, I realize you realize that the very thing they are recommending, get closer to God read the Bible more, pray more, are the things that most people in deconstruction are doing, they have doubled, they have tripled, they have quadrupled down. They are working, you know, to maintain their faith, and they are being dragged away, kicking and screaming. And that's the part that they don't seem to understand. And I think you've said it really well that it is really a grief process. It is the process of losing many, many things, the intimacy of a relationship with God, the community, friendships, family, in some cases. And so while you're going through this grieving process, and someone is saying from a pulpit that you were never a real Christian, it's pretty, pretty devastating, pretty hurtful.
Meghan Crozier 37:52
Yeah. And I think, you know, to tell somebody that's healing from religious trauma. And I would say, my journey is like fear, like, you know, when I say that, I just, I have so many folks and community that I'm in community with that have had more severe trauma than I have in all of this space. But to tell somebody that's going through very severe trauma, you need to find healing from trauma in the institution that traumatized you. That I mean, it's just it's so bypassing of what's really going on and and or they say, it's really not trauma or it's really not, you know, what you're saying it is or it isn't that bad. And I think that you know, which is gaslighting? And then or they're just, this is my favorite. Why What about the good that happens from it that like people try to say like, but but this pastor even though he was an abuser, like there were he wrote some really good books, and it's like, no, like, no. So yeah, I they just don't get it. They really don't. And they're not listening to people that are hurting.
David Ames 39:06
You mentioned earlier that you person of faith ish. So I'm curious, what are the things and you also talked about, you know, what music will carry you through things? So what what are the things that you now find as spiritual however, you'd want to define that spiritually fulfilling for you?
Meghan Crozier 39:27
Yeah, so it took me a long time to close my Bible. I you know, and I, there was I had been during the pandemic, I had been had this habit of journaling and reading my Bible, and I, you know, and Enneagram one, it was just like, he liked to follow rules and have that kind of thing. And I was in therapy, and I was constantly saying, This is so triggering for me, this is so hard for me and my therapist was like, what if you didn't read your Bible? And I was like, what would I do in the morning? She was like, What if you read other things, and I started reading Brene Brown and I started, you know, reading other things. And then I started, you know, reading authors of color and queer authors and just really having more routine and structure around that instead of you know, that instead of trying to force myself through something that was not healthy for me. And I also started a vinyl collection. And I just really was like, I'm gonna reclaim what the role that music has in my life, because I am a runner, I run to music, I ran to playlists, and I needed to have a I have things that I resonated with. And so that has been amazing. And it's funny, because I, I read a lot, and I have not dug into all the theological, all of it, you know, like, all of the things and so Christians will try the Theo bros, you call him on Twitter, try to come at me with, you know, do you really think like, what do you think about hell? And what do you think about, you know, all of these things, the resurrection, and I'm like, you know, I don't really know right now. And I'm actually okay, not knowing that's not something that I'm sitting with, you know, trying to understand I'm okay, just kind of setting it aside, and really just saying, I don't know. And that's very infuriating. You know, I talked about having a, like sex positivity, and people get real mad that I, you know, push back on people trying to preach abstinence. And they're like, that is the biblical sexual ethic. And I'm like, Really, it's not. And they get so furious, because they want to tell me that I'm not a Christian. And I'm, like, you know, believe whatever you want to believe, like, you have no way of having, you know, deciding what I am or what I'm not. Right. And so I think, you know, like I said, I have that label ish. And I don't know it, well, I have it forever. I don't know, do I, you know, am I uncomfortable with it? Not really, but it's not something that I will ever hold grip onto, like I have in the past.
David Ames 42:02
And one of the things we've talked about on the podcast is that, you know, you own the privacy of your own mind, and no one has access to that you choose to reveal what you want to to people who are safe and trustworthy, and you don't owe anybody else, anything else. So they have no access to that.
Meghan Crozier 42:22
Well, and I do think that the way that I approached my faith is what I mean, you know, my co host, Courtland for the podcast is an atheist. And I mean, it's what has given me the opportunity to have these beautiful friendships with people of all different faith traditions, or non faith post faith traditions, or non faith traditions, you know, and so I think, you know, the fact that I hold it loosely, I don't feel this urgency to try to convert other people to what I believe in. And I, I love listening to what's meaningful to other people, right. And so if somebody's finding meaning in other traditions, I love it, I'm here for it, I want to read about it, I want to learn about it.
David Ames 43:08
So selfishly, you've mentioned running a few times. I'm a runner, and I, I talk about all the time that you know, I don't meditate I run. And it is so important to me as a as mental health. And I know that that is also a privilege that not everyone will be able to run, but I recommend that people do something, some kind of exercise something, get out of the house, move around, get out in the sunlight, that kind of thing. That's really, really good for you. So I'd be curious if that is that's meaningful for you. And tell tell us about the half marathons in every state.
Meghan Crozier 43:44
Yeah, so it's, you know, it's just kind of a fun hobby, but half marathon, I just feel like it's a good distance. For me, it pushes me to have those, you know, 789 10 mile runs on the weekends, but and you know, kind of stick to a schedule on the weekdays. That are it's a little shorter, and do it more doable. I've done a couple marathons, it kind of tears up my body a little bit too much. But I'm gonna say this because it has been part of my deconstruction is trying to navigate this. And so I think it's an important piece. For a long time running was very tied to my spirituality. I felt like it was, you know, God gave me the strength to get through that run. I was listening to worship music on the run, I was crossing the finish line to I'm no longer a slave to fear, you know, and it's just a coup. So I will say this, sometimes what I do, just to try to I live in the Northwest, and so to try to knock out some of those East Coast states. I will run a back to back half marathon. So I'll do one on Saturday and one on Sunday. I just did that last October. I did West Virginia and Maryland. And it's so what I do is kind of a typical training cycle, but I'll do double long runs on the weekends. And so I'll run on Saturday and Sunday. And I had this experience when I was training for that Um, West Virginia, Maryland, where I spent, you know, a weekend running. I'm not fast, I don't go for time I wouldn't be able to run, you know, for half marathons a year or six or whatever if I did. But I had this weekend where I went out on a Saturday morning, I was running for like, a couple hours. I went out on a Sunday, I was running for a couple hours, and I got in my car, and I was just like, sobbing. And I was like, What is going on here? And it was like, I felt like I got my body back. Like, I felt like I did that. Like, I felt like I worked hard. I got up, I hit the trail. I did it. I was listening to podcasts, and audiobooks. I listen to all kinds of things. And it was all for me. And it wasn't this. Like, I was like, Finally, I've reclaimed the role that this has in my life too, because I felt like I worked hard. And I knocked it out. And I did a great job. And I slayed you know, and I was like, wow, that was amazing. And so I think that's what running has done for me. And you know, whether I'm consistent every day, not really I've you know, and it's also helped me learn to not be perfectionistic about something because I'm like, you know, if I walked or in a race, that's fine. If I you know, if I don't go running on Monday, and I hit it on Tuesday, that's great, too, you know, so it has been it has been life giving for me.
David Ames 46:18
Definitely for me, too. And in my case, age knocks out the need for speed there. I just want to be able to keep doing it, you know, yeah. Great mechanism for listening to podcasts as well. So for sure. Meghan, thank you so much for for being on the podcast, I want to give you a moment here to share all the myriad of things that you're doing. How can people get in touch with you or interact with some of your work?
Meghan Crozier 46:44
Yeah, well, the best place to find me is on Twitter. And I am super responsive. DMS, comments, things like that. And so I'm at the pursuing life on Twitter. Check out the podcast. We love hearing from people that have listened to episodes and connected there after pod on Twitter. They're after podcasts on Instagram, and it's on all the platforms you can listen to. And I do have a blog, the pursuing life.com website. I'm kind of working on revamping it. Like I said, there's some older stuff that I'd love to update, edit, respond to. And keep an eye out because I have some writing things in the works. But yeah, like live conversations. We do Twitter spaces every Tuesday morning at 6am. Pacific Northwest time and so are Pacific time. I just must love to say the Pacific Northwest. Times. Sorry, I just I really do like it here. But don't tell anyone because we're good. But yeah, and I mentioned a deconstruction. Discord that's open, people can jump in. So if people want to see what that's about, they can send me a message and I can get them the link. And I think yeah, I think
David Ames 47:57
that covers it. That's awesome. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Meghan Crozier 48:01
Yeah, thanks for having me.
David Ames 48:10
Final thoughts on the episode. Meghan is truly fascinating in that she is in some ways in the early stages of deconstruction, when I said it's exciting, she pointed out that it's also very difficult that it's work. And at the same time she has become a central voice within the extra angelical deconstruction community. It's always fascinating when someone deconstructs in public the way that Meghan has, she began as a Christian blogger and was writing a memoir about prayer. And then to go through the questioning phases and identifying what you no longer hold to be true. Obviously, in Meghan's case, a lot of embracing the LGBTQ community recognizing the racism within evangelicalism, and the harm that comes from that, as I mentioned in our conversation, that that's truly a moral argument. And it is weird in many ways for us on this side of deconstruction to be making a moral argument. When evangelicals act as though we have no moral standing. I was deeply touched about Meghan's daughter, and I appreciate her being willing to share what could be a very painful part of her life with us. I am struck over and over and over again from people's stories about the dark side, the dangerous side of the concept of prayer for healing and the social pressures that a person is under to say, Yes, something is better. And especially if it was your child. I can't imagine the kind of suffering that that would cause I'm very glad to hear that her daughter is doing well these days. I appreciate Meghan's honesty and saying that she's a person of faith ish that she sometimes calls herself a progressive Christian, she sometimes calls herself an agnostic Christian. That is kind of what I've been trying to capture this early part of the year is those people who are really in the middle of it, although my core audience does tend to be the D converted, deconstruction is a part of that process. And not everyone will land in deconversion. But it is good to hear voices who are processing. Right now, in the middle of those kinds of questions. I have now quoted Meghan several times, in reference to my saying that many of the hot takes on deconstruction show that those thought leaders, quote, unquote, have not ever spoken to someone going through deconversion. And she corrected me and I thought this was really insightful. It's not that they haven't spoken to people who are going through deconstruction, it's that they haven't listened to them. And I imagine that you listener can relate to that, that it's very hard to be heard when what you are trying to tell them is threatening to their identity to, in some cases, their livelihood, and something that is so deep as faith. One of the most important things that Meghan is doing is that deconstruction voice against evangelicalism against the backlash from evangelicalism towards those of us who have deconstructed or deconstructing, I think that is an important role that Meghan is fulfilling. I want to thank Meghan for being on the podcast, I appreciate the vulnerability, talking about grief, talking about her experience with her daughter, talking about the work that deconstruction is, we need to hear that we need to understand that it is a process of grief, it is at times and existentially difficult time in one's life. I appreciate Meghan's honesty, and I think she is a significant and important voice within the deconstruction community. Thank you Meghan, for being on the podcast. I'm all over the board on a secular Grace thought of the week I have several things that are just popping to mind having read listened to Meghan's interview. First is the true downside to prayers for healing. And those of us who were a part of a charismatic or Pentecostal faith tradition, or had a more full gospel perspective within a Baptist or Reformed theology, will have that experience of the expectation as someone has prayed for you that you are prompted to say, Yes, I feel better the headache is gone. So much of the apologetic argument about healing is questionable not because I think people are lying, but because the kinds of studies that have been done on healing are very rarely double blind, scientific studies. And therefore the people who were the subjects have a motivated reason to say that they got better. And therefore those kinds of studies are just not valuable. But really, what I wanted to talk about is the pain of being the person who is ill put the pain of being the person who is disabled, the pain of being the parents of the person who is ill. What begin is well meaning and well intentioned, and trying to show care can turn very quickly into something painful, and something that induces suffering. So much better to be like Meghan, and just to be present with someone as they are going through difficult times. As you've heard me talk about losing my father in law, I've recently learned from a nephew of mine a really powerful way to try to be present for someone who is going through grief or some suffering, and that is to ask them, Do you want to talk about it? Do you want to have space? Or do you want to be distracted? And that's really powerful. Because sometimes if we just say, What can I do for you, the person who is in the middle of grief of some suffering, doesn't have the emotional capacity to tell you what it is that they want, but they can answer those simple questions. It's a practical way of being present. Letting them know that you care without putting social pressure on the person who is in need to have to say the right thing or do the right thing or live up to some expectation. The other thought I had was about the evangelical response to deconstruction and how we respond to that response. As I mentioned in the episode, I get very, very frustrated that that, especially for very public evangelical leaders, and again, they show as Meghan pointed out, that they have not listened. I've said before that if they truly did understand us, they would be condemned. instructing themselves. And in some ways that relieves the burden, that we know that we won't be able to convince them, because we wouldn't have been convinced double. And if they did understand they would be on their own deconstruction path. Having said that, I do think it's very important that we represent deconstruction and deconversion, atheism, secular humanism, agnostic, whatever label you choose for yourself, that we are moral, that we do have a sense of purpose and meaning that all of the shortcut dismissals from the evangelical response are incorrect. And one of the ways that we do that is by doing so in public, I don't expect everyone to have a podcast, I don't expect everyone to have a blog. But for those of you who do, or are interested in doing so, every little bit, makes an impact. The last thought is about the community that Meghan is creating with the Twitter spaces on Monday mornings. You've heard me go on and on about community about the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, but also we are nearing the end of the pandemic. And we need to begin to look toward a in person connection. And I just encourage you to think of ways that you can create community, wherever you are. As I keep saying, we've got a long slate of really amazing interviews coming up we have Marla Tobiano coming up, we have April, a joy from Instagram fame, Ryan will kowski who is a secular humanist hospice chaplain, we have community member Bethany coming up and also Luke Jansen of the recovering evangelicals podcast. So I'm excited to share all of those, we do have a bit of a backlog. If one of those people you're really excited about don't panic, if it doesn't come out in the next week or two, it will be there. And until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings, it's
time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on Bristol atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? Do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace, you can send me an email graceful firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
this has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
This week’s guest is Jeffrey Caldwell. Jeffrey grew up in Lancaster county, PA in a liberal denomination set in a conservative area. As a child, church was “okay,” filled with the usual things—bible crafts in Sunday school and singing in the choir. His family was “quasi-religious,” so no one was ever pressured to believe anything.
Jeffrey doubted whether Christianity was real throughout middle school. Neither his parents nor his siblings took it very seriously, so he left church in high school but was still searching for meaning.
Music, books and movies filled the space that religion often does. Eventually, his interest expanded to include philosophy, politics, social justice, all influenced by the “oldies” his dad played in the car.
“I was fascinated by this idea of just ordinary, everyday people banding together to solve whatever problems they were facing…”
In his twenties, Jeffrey struggled with mental health issues and after a surprise encounter with a church youth group, he knew he was missing community.
“I recognized instantly that that’s what I was looking for in my life, some place where I felt like I belonged, some place where I felt like people valued me for who I was. But at the same time, I realized that I wasn’t a christian.”
He didn’t fit in with the traditional religions, so he tried the UU church. Then he got involved in progressive politics and social justice, and eventually went to seminary and became a chaplain.
“Learning to be a chaplain was learning how to sit with people who are in pain and distress and not be overwhelmed by their pain and distress.”
Now, Jeffrey has a thriving online and in-person community, Connections Humanist Community. Each week, people share stories and conversations. The members belong to a community where they are valued and heard. Jeffrey is living out what it means to be a “graceful atheist.”
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
David Ames 0:11
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest reviewer on the Apple podcast store. Thank you to Jay eight G I ll E. I appreciate the review on the Apple podcast store. You too can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store or pod chaser.com. Thank you. For those of you who don't know yet, we do have the deconversion anonymous Facebook group that is a private Facebook group, there is a thriving community there, I really encourage you to participate. This will be the last episode for the 2021 calendar year, we'll have an episode that will drop on January 2. By doing every other week during the month of December, Mike and I have been able to have a bit of rest. So I hope you don't mind too much. Thanks to Mike t for all the editing in 2021. But he is off on this episode. On today's show. Today's episode is an Ask Me Anything episode. We did this kind of in a rush. I had asked for questions a couple of weeks ago, and people waited to about Wednesday of the week before I'm releasing this episode. So what you'll notice is I have some very long answers and some relatively short ones. And that it was to try to get everybody who asked the question in this is my first asked me anything. I am hoping to do more because I think this is an interesting format. So if you didn't get your question in this time around, please consider sending in a voicemail either recorded on your phone or you can use the anchored on FM app to send me your question. And I will just gather those together for the next round maybe several months from now. So today I'm going to respond to some direct questions, respond to some questions that I've had in interviews, and then a couple of other things that are just on my mind. I am going to have a bunch of links in the show notes. So when I make reference to something, I'll try to have a link for that in the show notes. So here we go.
Hi, David, this is Sheila from Oklahoma. My question for you today concerns apologetics. When we were believers, we were taught to always be prepared to give a defense for the hope we have in Christ. Now that we are not believers, do you feel it is equally important to defend our unbelief in the same manner?
David Ames 3:04
That is an incredibly important question. And it's going to give me the springboard to talk about another topic that I think we need to discuss. But to answer you directly Sheila, the short answer is no. And I of course want you to learn as you go through this deconstruction process, or come out the other side of it. There are just many things you don't yet know and going and educating yourself is a vital part of that process. I'll probably be referring to this multiple times today. But I have an article called How to D convert in 10 steps. It's a joke title, unfortunately. But it does go through what I call the quest for answers stage where you are at a point where you're now free to go find out what things are true. And there are no topics which are off limits. So from that perspective, you should have an answer for yourself. But I really want to bring home that you don't owe anyone an answer or an explanation. And I want to be clear here, I'm not saying you should never take on criticism or have people question you, but that's important, like learning how to have those discussions is good. The point that I want to make, Sheila is that we're having this moment, particularly since 2016 and the advent of the ex banje articles as as just a whole exponential wave of people are leaving the church. We're now beginning to see a serious backlash, particularly from evangelicals and prominent pastors and apologists are constantly attacking deconstruction and they are using straw man tactics to minimize and rationalize why people are deconstructing, rather than looking at themselves looking at the theology Je the systems themselves, it is much easier to say you Sheila must never have believed, you must not have really known Jesus, you didn't have a relationship with God, you didn't have a born again, experience. You will have either believers in your life, pastors, leaders, and apologists who will come at you almost immediately and expect you to have an entire worldview on day one, that they will pick it that to try to undermine your deconstruction deconversion, because you don't yet have a complete meta ethical structure or an idea of where you get purpose and meaning. The Evangelical response to particularly X Vangel articles in the current wave, which I need to point out is only the current wave we've had, I think, multiple waves of people leaving the church, obviously, throughout all of history, but just in the last 20 years, you have the new atheists who, as much as I criticize him all the time, we're kind of a vanguard of saying, critique of religion is no longer taboo. You had late aughts, bloggers and early podcasts. The wave that we're in now is bigger than just intellectual issues. It's moral issues against the church. It is the embracing of the LGBTQ community, it is the denial of sexual abuse within the church, it is 1000 things that now lead a person to begin questioning. And as I say all the time, it is not one thing, it is 1000 things. And part of the difficulty is that from an apologetic point of view, they want to limit it to just a handful of things, a list of five or six items. Almost all of those will be blaming you for your own deconstruction. And it is a way for them to ignore the implication of these waves of people leaving. And to get a visceral feel for why. Imagine if the apologists and the leaders handled the death of a loved one in the same way they are handling deconstruction. When a person is in the middle of deconstruction, they have lost their best friend, they've lost the companion who knows them the best, the one who loves them unconditionally, they have lost in very real practical terms, a community, they may have lost family members and friends. It can be the loneliest and most grief inducing period of time in a person's life. And imagine if the apologists did that to someone who had lost a loved one. Well, you can't grieve because you don't have an accurate theology of the afterlife. You don't have an accurate theology of Heaven and Hell, or you don't have an accurate theology for salvation, whether or not your loved one was saved. Can you imagine? And that is the equivalent of what is actually happening. deconstruction is a grief process. So if by chance, there are any evangelical leaders who are hearing this, your response should be one of love, and not of trying to undermine the person's experience for why they are deconstructing. The analogy continues in the sense that when you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it is incredibly difficult to articulate that pain. When you're in the middle of deconstruction, you're probably the least capable of articulating what is happening and why. And my biggest problem with the apologists is that the few of them who have actually spoken to someone who has deconstructed at all often are talking to someone in the middle of it, and they are hearing grief. Not a complete meta ethical, philosophical grounding of why Christianity isn't true. I can't say it simpler than this early on in my deconstruction and deconversion. I wanted desperately for my Christian loved ones and friends to understand why. In fact, the first blog post that I ever did about my deconversion The first paragraph say, for my loved ones for so that you can understand why and how this happened over the last five to six years, having talked to apologists, I've talked to apologists who focus on deconstruction, I have talked to multiple friends of mine. And including my wife, I've come to the conclusion that it's virtually impossible for the believer to understand the real reasons why we do convert, because if they did, they would be in that process themselves. The real reason is that it's not true. If it were true, it wouldn't be D constructible. True things stand the test of scrutiny. Like I say, it's not one thing. It's 1000 things. They want to focus on. What we're able to articulate, you know, I had a moral problem with the church, not loving LGBTQ people. I was hurt by the church, and the leadership did me wrong and I left, or I could no longer accept the inerrancy of Scripture. They want to blame that right. It's not just one of those things, you question one thing and you begin to ask yourself, What else might not be true, and it is the domino effect of one thing after another, being shown to be untrue. At the end of the day, we deconstruct the Bible. We deconstruct theology, we deconstruct Christian morality, we deconstruct the church. And the last thing to fall for most people is deconstructing God. I no longer believe such an entity exists. And there's no way our believing loved ones, or the apologists can ever understand that, or they would be deconstructing themselves.
To tie this up in a bow, I want to refer to a number of podcasts and blogs of late that have addressed from the D converts point of view, the evangelical backlash. I was on Andrew and Matthew Taylor's podcast, still unbelievable A while back, and we did an episode called deconstructing deconstruction, where we looked at an apologists point of view on this and tore it apart. If you ever want to hear me be less than graceful, it's when I go on someone else's podcast and I can unload a bit. Still unbelievable. Just did a recent episode, actually two of them with Andrew, Matthew and guest David Johnson from the skeptics and seekers podcast, and that was really good as well going through that. Paula GIA from YouTube fame has just recently addressed this and he takes a look at a Babylon B video that was making fun of X angelical. And then finally, Blake Justine's podcast X angelical. He just recently addressed this as well as his is a bit more meaty it has got a lot of links and references to various evangelical leaders and apologists. And it's worth listening to as well. So clearly, we're having this moment where this topic is coming up. Sheila, I know I went way long on that question, but thank you for sending it in. And I hope that answered it for you.
Next up is Judah. Judah has just recently recorded an episode with me so his episode will be coming out in January. And Judah very helpfully was pushing me on the topic of grace and the dark side of grace. I've hinted about this often and generally just lightly touched the topic. But I liked the framing that Judah had. Judas question was particularly aimed at the way that grace is used within the Christian context. It is basically a Get Out of Jail Free card such that somebody can do atrocious, heinous acts against humanity, and just ask for forgiveness, and they are supposed to be entirely forgiven. Another context might be in the case of abuse where in the Christian context, one feels guilt or pressure to forgive the abuser. I'm thankful to Judah for asking those questions and for pushing me on this because I want to make that very clear. especially in the case of an abusive relationship or situation, you are under no obligation to forgive that person. And that is definitely not what I mean by secular grace. To say it succinctly secular grace is much more about being willing to accept the vulnerability of others. And likewise be vulnerable with one another. With people that we trust. I don't mean, the entire world on Facebook, or anyone who asked I mean, your best friend, I mean, your soulmate partner who's been with you forever, someone you trust with your life. Those are the kinds of people that it's important to be vulnerable with and to express your love for them. In the public sphere, it's about giving the benefit of doubt to people and not assuming that they are terrible human beings. I've already done a bit of that today, going after the apologists, but I actually work really hard at trying to see the humanity of people with whom I disagree vehemently. It's super easy to fall into the pattern of those people are bad, they are evil. Does that mean that I don't hold them accountable? Absolutely not. That's the point of Judas question. And the point that I want to make here. It is about love with justice, as I often tried to explain to some of my more conservative family members, if justice were truly blind, if the police officers who have shot and killed black men and women over the centuries, literally, but particularly of late, if they were held accountable, we wouldn't be having protests and the kind of civil unrest that we currently have. In my lifetime, since Rodney King, I've witnessed uncountable numbers of times where a person of color has been abused by the police and the police have gone either uncharged under charged, or acquitted, in cases where it seems fairly obvious that that should not have been the case. Of course, I believe in, you're innocent until proven guilty. That's a bedrock foundation. What I'm saying is, if there wasn't an obvious statistical disparity in justice, we wouldn't be having these kinds of conversations. So secular grace is not about letting people off the hook. In many ways, it is holding people to account. So particularly in the public sphere, secular grace is about Yes, give the benefit of the doubt, recognize the humanity of even those who you find atrocious, but hold them to account. Justice is important. In the private sphere, secular grace is amongst the consenting, you're not vulnerable with people who are a threat to you, you are only vulnerable to people you trust, literally with your life. The proactive part of secular grace is to be open to people who need some secular grace, who you don't already know or have a relationship with. I mean, this is just a restating of Be kind to one another. My guess is, there's nothing complicated there at all. I can tell you from watching the deconversion anonymous Facebook group that you all have figured this out, you are doing secular grace with one another in a way that I am just astounded by and I often have guests on who exemplify secular Grace better than I do, and I am blown away by this and love it. That's fantastic. So at the bottom of it all, it really is about loving people. And that does not mean letting them off the hook. Judah emailed me a second question that I'd like to address. He asks, Do you think there remains a place for the anti theists of the world? Do they serve a constructive purpose in any significant way? Or is it simply a stage of development? This is a really interesting question, because you could basically describe my work with the graceful atheists both the blog and the podcast and As trying to be the antithesis of anti theism. However, I have really good friends within the secular community who who believe very strongly that their work countering or doing counter apologetics is really important. And I think there is some small place for that. So let me explain. On the one hand, I'm diametrically opposed to the debate culture and the hostility. And in particular, I'm against treating believers as if they are stupid, because they believe my straightforward explanation for why I think that is that I am the same person I was when I was a believer as I am now. So to whatever extent I was intelligent, then I'm intelligent now or vice versa. And I was totally in 100%. And now I'm 100% out, I'm much more convinced that the community belonging happens first. And the beliefs come along afterwards. And that any one of any intelligence can fall into an organization or an ideology that from an objective point of view is untrue. And in fact, my understanding is that there's lots of research that would suggest that more intelligent people are better able to do so because they can rationalize and justify with more sophisticated reasoning than someone with slightly less intelligence. So it's actually the most dangerous thing you can do is say, I'm impervious to bad ideas, or cults or bad ideology. So my work is definitely not anti theism. And I have a blog post that says why I'm not an anti theist. And the primary reasons for that are I don't think people come to faith, nor do they leave faith purely for rational, intellectual reasons. That is a major factor that was a major factor in my deconversion. I generally speak about it primarily in intellectual terms. But it was a multifaceted process that included my intellect included, my intuition included, my emotions included my relationships and experiences. And it was a whole person who went through that process, not just a Vulcan rationalist. And so I think the pure focus on what I'll call hyper rationalism, or hyper rationalist, counter apologetics is noise in the vacuum. I ultimately think that apologetics itself is bad for believers. And so therefore, I also think counter apologetics is bad for all everyone involved. So the debate culture is the thing I was trying to be different from, because everybody in our uncle is doing that on YouTube and podcasts. At the end of the day, whether you think there's a role for anti theists or not, that area is definitely covered. And I don't think any more of us need to do that.
So if I were hard pressed, I would have to say that if it is done carefully, kindly and graciously, that some counter apologetics, which could be construed as anti theistic, are a good and okay, and probably necessary, but that for the vast majority of us just actually caring about people actually having a relationship with believers and showing them that we have morality and joy and gratitude and an ethical framework outside of Christianity, that's going to do more to break down their stereotypes and to make them think, then coming at them for why Pascal's wager is no good. In other words, I think love conquers over arguments. And secular grace is about loving people, including the believers in our lives. Judah, thank you for questioning me, and I want to make clear, explicitly stated on Mike, that I want constructive criticism, I want people to push on the ideas that I'm putting out there. There is nothing that cannot be criticized that I have to say, I imagine there will be large swathes of you who disagree with me on a number of points. And that's fantastic. I'm sliding into a slightly different topic here. But I want to point out that I am a pluralist. That's actually what secularism is it is about pluralism that no one ideology or person or group or organization has a law Knock on the truth, including me, and especially me. So that we are all working together to figure out a closer approximation to the truth. So please keep the constructive criticism coming. And to put my money where my mouth is, when I first started the podcast I explicitly had in mind that Christians could come on the program and criticize my humanism, or my atheism, not very many have truly taken that opportunity. But I'm saying it here. If you are a believer, and you have some constructive criticism, or want to actually dialogue, and again, I point out the difference between debate and what I call an honesty contest. But that door is open, you can reach me at graceful email@example.com.
Hi, David, this is Emily. Lately, I've been finding it a little hard to stay positive given that this pandemic is stretching into almost two years now. And the news from around the world can just be a bit depressing. And I was wondering, what gives you hope, when you're feeling down about the general state of the world? Thanks,
David Ames 26:25
Emily, thank you so much for the question. I wish I had a much better answer for this an answer that would make everyone have more hope in the world that we live in. But I want to be somewhat realistic as well. Also, I'm going to talk about gratitude in a another listeners question a little bit later. So gratitude is definitely a part of what keeps me grounded. So we'll talk about that in a different listener question. I think the main point I'd want to bring about is to think locally, we as human beings, we are super easily overwhelmed by things that we can't control. We have very little control over international politics, or even US politics, we have very little control over this pandemic. And when we feel out of control, we can start to lose hope. The truth is, we've never been in control of those things to begin with. And so we really haven't lost anything. But particularly as D converts, we can feel that loss of control, because we no longer have prayer to turn to. And that loss of a sense of something to do, can be really difficult to manage. This idea of thinking locally is about the things that you can change things you do have control over. I think one of the most insidious parts of the pandemic has been that the very thing that we need as human beings in the time of crisis, and the time of the pandemic, is to be with each other. And that's the very thing that causes the spread of the COVID 19 disease. And so we have to be very careful about selecting our pod of people that we are with. But I do encourage you to do that. Make sure that you have other human beings to be around that you know that they are vaccinated, and you're vaccinated, and it's a reasonable risk level for everyone involved to get together. I'd also say be proactive in connecting with people over zoom or any other digital communication mechanism. They are definitely a distant second to being physically in the room with somebody but it is better than nothing. So if you have a friend or loved one who lives far away, or where it would be an unreasonable risk to go visit that person, make sure that you're the one reaching out to say hi, hey, I need to talk I need to vent I need to connect with you because I love you and I miss you. Basically being proactive about our human connections, I think will help us to be hopeful as well. The pandemic in particular has been one of waves every time we think that things are getting better. In this case, we have a new variant. So we had delta and now we have Omicron. And that can be really challenging, but remembering that this too will pass. sounds trite. But you know, we know from the 1918 flu pandemic, we will get through this. It may take longer than all of us hoped for but it will eventually end and we will go back to some form of normalcy where we're able to connect with each other on a normal basis. In regards to the politics of the day, certainly within my lifetime, this feels like the most polarized and angry that we are at one another I for sure for myself feel more anger on political issues today and Since 2016, than I ever have in my life, I think the really important thing to try to remember and this is hard, and I'm speaking to myself more than, than the listeners here is to remember that these are human beings to that people that we are opposed to, even diametrically opposed to, it's super easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they are evil, that they're wrong. And they're terrible human beings. Rather than recognizing that they are human, they have had a set of experiences and a set of cultural influences that have led them to come to conclusions that I disagree with or that you disagree with. But recognizing their humanity, we might be able to build a bridge and have some communication. And you might be the person who changes their mind on something, rather than coming in hot and telling them you're wrong. You're stupid, you're evil, trying to understand why did you come to that conclusion? All of this to say that when we recognize these intractable problems, or really human problems, there's some hope there, right? People can change their minds, it is in fact possible. And you might have an influence on the people around you. I hate to be a broken record. But you know, why do I have hope? Because I believe in secular grace, I believe in people. If there's one thing that theistic religion and Christianity specifically do well, it is giving people a sense of hope. I think that hope is built on an untruth, that there is a divine entity who is in sovereign control of the universe. But there are some fictions that are helpful to human being. So having hope, in believing in people is what I do now. People can do atrocious things, I know that in reality, but to quote Joss Whedon against all evidence, I believe in people, and that gives me hope. We've seen how people can do the wrong thing. But people can also do beautiful loving and kind things. And let's be those people in the world. Let's seek out those people to be connected to. And let's try to influence others to do the same. I hope that was at least moderately hopeful, Emily, but thank you for the question.
Rick, and Mark asked a couple of questions in email. I thank Rick and mark for listening to the podcast and for emailing me this question. I did say ask me anything. So this is one I have had did not anticipate. They ask, Do I have a health care directive? And if I understand their email correctly, that's specifically about if I was unable to decide or speak for myself, would I object to prayers, religious ceremonies, or the reading of sacred texts and religious discussions? And I hate to disappoint you, Rick and mark, but no, I don't. And to be totally honest with you, I don't think I would. And I'll explain why. Constantly in my life, I don't know about yours. I have family and occasionally a friend who will say, I'm praying for you. And I could be mad at that I could bristle and be uncomfortable with that. But generally, what I say to that is Thank you. Because what I hear them saying is I care about you. And I'm thinking about you. Do I think prayer does anything? Absolutely not. But maybe it makes that person more concerned about me, maybe that person will take some action that would be helpful for me in the future. And so I just find that as an expression of their care for me. Likewise, both my previous pastoral experience and my being old and having lived through the loss of a number of loved ones, I found that funerals are for the living, they are not for the debt. So I have specifically said to my girls, that whatever makes them feel better. Whatever helps them to grieve is what they should do. I don't have any particular requests for my let's say, funeral. Just in case you also meant Do Not Resuscitate directive that I would consider that is something that I don't currently have. But it's something that I would consider in that if I truly were in a position where say my vital organs could be donated in a way and there was no hope of brain recovery. I would be willing to do that. But specifically in regards to denying the religious aspect of how Oh, my either hospital stay or funeral would be handled is really again, in my mind for the living or for the bereaved. And I don't care. Because it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't change anything. And it's just not a thing that I am terribly concerned with. So if you are concerned about that absolutely have that directive. And it sounds like maybe having those conversations with your family would be important as well. Rick and Mark, thank you so much for the question.
Hey, David, Jimmy here. I have a question about gratitude. Why is it okay to be grateful without being grateful to someone? I know you've mentioned, we don't need to be grateful to someone or something. And I know that that's essentially how I practice anyway. But the question occasionally bugs me.
David Ames 36:01
Jimmy, thank you so much for this question. Knowing you, I don't know that my answer will be satisfying, because I'm certain that you have already spent hours thinking about this from every possible direction. I'm just going to say that I think gratitude and specifically a practice of gratitude is incredibly important. That was maybe given to us for free in a theistic religion and Christianity. But recognizing that we have people and things to be grateful for, just that alone can give us some hope to refer back to Emily's question. I'm sure I'm repeating myself here. But something from the 12 steps from when I was 16 years old, has always stuck with me. And that is being grateful for the small things. And what that means is, it can be difficult to be grateful for big conceptual ideas like world peace, or the economy or climate or something that it just is bigger than ourselves. And it is a focus on the small and local. And my favorite example of this is I love to have a bunch of pillows, I have multiple pillows on my bed. And every time I go to bed at night, I squeezed into those pillows, and I think I am so grateful for these pillows, and it is such an absurdly small thing. And yet, I derive a tremendous amount of gratitude from that small thing. So find the small things that generate huge amounts of gratitude in you and be conscious of them. To the heart of your question, and even the way you phrased it, is it okay? Not to be grateful to to someone, I will refer back to my conversation with bryce Bryce was my friend who was an atheist when I was deep in my Christianity, and I was having a conversation with him about how grateful I was for my children. But I was trying to explain to him at the time, I was grateful to God for that. And now here I am on the other side of the fence. And I've learned that gratitude is both an experience that happens to us. And, as I mentioned, a practice that we can work out in our lives and discipline that we can have in our lives. And I generally say it this way, that the objects of my gratitude are both, too, and for the people in my life. So my wife, my two daughters, my family, my friends, including you, Jimmy, that I'm both thankful for. And to those people. I think what's so difficult for us as the converts is we were ingrained with this idea that if anything good happens to us, it's to the glory of God, and we should be grateful. And if anything bad happens, it was probably our fault. And that is the vicious cycle that we need to get out of, and having a practice of gratitude for very practical, real things. And being grateful to and for the people in our lives is a way of overcoming that limitation. Again, Jimmy, knowing you I am sure you've already thought of these things. And it's probably wasn't a terribly satisfying answer. But I hope it gives you a sense of gratitude in your life as well. Thanks for the question.
How did you inform your kids if you're changing views out of there, take it. Lars, thank you for the question. I'm not sure this will be very satisfying answer because one of the first conversations I had with my wife after I told her she said she wanted to be the one to tell my girls and I let her do that. But almost immediately afterwards, I was just very matter of fact with them. I'm an atheist. The thing I really made explicitly clear to them was that I loved them no matter what they believed that I would encourage them to explore their spirituality that I would back them up to go to church, I would drive them to church, I would buy Bibles for them, I would do whatever I could to support their spiritual growth. And I made that super, super clear. And then I've said this on the podcast before, but as they got older, I was explicit with them as well that I didn't want to teach them what to think or believe, but how to think. And one of the practices of that was critical thinking in non religious areas. So we would be watching TV and an advertisement would come on. And we kind of jokingly deconstruct the advertisement for what was the real message, what was being sold, what lies were being told that kind of thing, and it kind of became a family game. And so we practice critical thinking in all of these other areas that are less emotionally fraught. And as my girls have gotten older, we've had much more direct conversations. And I think they have had their own faith transitions, not necessarily to atheism, but they're definitely not where they were when they were younger. I'm not going to speak for them. I'm not going to say more than that. So again, that's not a terribly interesting story. But that is how I tell my girls.
Another interview that I did was with Matt Oxley, that episode also will be coming out in January. And Matt has a really interesting place in the spectrum of the work of deconversion. And deconstruction, Matt is really on the side of being there for the Christian, the believer, in the middle of the process, or very, very early on in the process, he does a really good job of speaking that language so that he can be listened to at all in a way that I think even the title graceful atheists would push people away. I'm aware of that. And I find it fascinating the work that Matt is doing. If you just took a surface view of Matt's work, you could be confused into thinking that he's still a believer, and he is not. But again, he speaks that language so well, that that could be unclear. And in some ways, he's almost referring to himself as a Christian, or at least walking out the teachings of Jesus. So the question that we discussed and I'd like to expand upon here is, is Christianity redeemable? And I think this is important topic, because each of us has to ask the question, should we be a progressive Christian? I think most of my audience is done with fundamentalist Christianity. But why aren't we progressive Christians? Why aren't we able to just live in the metaphor and continue to enjoy the community and the ritual aspects of Christianity? In some ways, I'm probably the wrong person to ask this question, because I feel like I really skipped past any concept of spirituality here. I mean, the supernatural kind, almost instantaneously, I had deconstructed Christianity. And the moment I admitted to myself that I no longer believe that a God existed. It's like I came crashing down to earth. And my epistemology is science. What we can test and what we can validate with data and criticism and what stands up to scrutiny is true, and what doesn't, isn't. And of course, there's a ton of philosophical questions that don't fall into that category. And I love philosophy, and I love debating those things. But I understand the difference between a philosophical discussion and a scientific one. And I like to use the terms true for things that actually have stood this test of criticism over a long periods of time. I digress. The question is, is Christianity redeemable? I said to Matt, and I've said other times that the most dangerous word in the English language is God. And the reason for that is that let's say you are a progressive Christian, and you don't believe in a transcendent, a supernatural being. But you use God as a metaphor. You say that as a communicator, and everyone who hears the word God will enter Corporate that the way that they understand God. Ironically, I think the 12 steps has this nailed down that God as you understand him, or everyone has their own conception, and there is no way to refer to the metaphor without bringing in 1000s upon 1000s upon 1000s of interpretations of God, so that the progressive Christian can say, God is the ground of all being and God is love. But the evangelical fundamentalist, here's the theistic God who judges people and sends them to hell. And there's no way as a communicator to disambiguate that if using that term, my opinion is that Christianity is similar, that the word Christianity, I've had Christians on who asked me, Are you sure you're not a Christian? Because I'm trying to walk out secular grace? And obviously, that has roots in Christianity? My answer is definitively No. I am not trying to be a Christian, I'm not trying to redeem or change Christianity. And here's the thing, Christianity has been tried, in more ways than can be counted with just the major parts of the Christian tree, Catholicism, orthodoxy, and Protestantism, and then a myriad of particular sects of Christianity within, particularly Protestantism. Half of those have always wanted to go back and really implement what Jesus had to say, to really be the followers of Jesus in the modern world. The problem is that Jesus had some great things to say he had some wise things to say. But the Bible and the New Testament are just full of cultural specifics. Once you take all the time to separate the cultural specifics from the Supra cultural elements, you wind up with a very, very small, ethical framework, be good to one another. That's about it. My point is that trying to do Christianity is unlikely to succeed without becoming just one more of the 1000s of denominations of Christianity. I'm trying actually to say that grace is a human concept. All religions are human concepts. But But my point is that grace itself is a human concept. And loving people is a human concept. And the great wisdom literature throughout history includes that, because we're all human. And we all need to be loved, we have a need to be loved and accepted. And families, relationships, communities work better, when we explicitly try to love one another. So that is a universal concept that is embedded in virtually every world religion. And I'm not adding anything new here, calling it secular Grace, I'm just delineating that there is no need for a supernatural element to act out grace. So I call it secular grace. And that is to distinguish it from the Christian conception of grace, which, as we talked about earlier, has a very dark side, in that it can forgive atrocities, which is not the point of secular grace. I want to make clear that I love what Matt is doing. And for those of you who are still believers, those of you who maybe have de converted, but you're still able to speak that language and you're close to believers, please continue to do so. I'm a pluralist. I think it takes all of us to do the things that we can do. In some ways, the work that I'm doing is pulling the secular community towards the humanity. I'm trying to put the humanity into humanism. And so in some ways, I'm pulling from that direction. And if other people like Matt Oxley people like Derrick Webb, who are pulling from the other direction, pulling Christians towards a secular grace, that's fantastic. We're all doing the best that we can. And that is really, really important. Thank you to Matt Oxley for bringing up the subject at all for doing the work that he does and for challenging me on this particular area
our community manager Arlene wrote in a few questions. She asks, what do you do for fun? And what are you passionate about? You've already heard me talk about running. Running is an identity. For me, I have run about 1200 miles every year for the last five or six years and lots more before that. It is the most important thing to my mental and physical health I can think of I feel incredibly grateful that the thing I enjoy doing is also physically healthy for me and mentally healthy for me. I used to race marathons, half marathons, things like that, I tend not to these days, I just enjoy running. In fact, I often say that running supports my podcast addiction. So my next thing that I'm passionate about is podcasts. I've listened to a ton of podcasts, I tend to listen to science and philosophy and politics, when I'm not listening to deconversion specific things. I am passionate about doing the graceful atheist podcast obviously, or I wouldn't do it. So I really enjoy that as well. I enjoy indoor rock climbing with my daughters, both daughters at different times in their lives have been interested in that. I'm not great at it. I love doing it. I think it's fantastic. And then what will be abundantly obvious to everyone is I'm a super nerd. So I really love science fiction, particularly movies and books. I consume a lot of science fiction and various media. I think really good science fiction really tells us more about what it's like to be a human being than it does about lasers and spaceships. And so I really like thinkI nerdy sci fi, so I'm super passionate about that. And I enjoy that. And lastly, Arlene asks, is there anything that you used to do that you'd like to do again, and I'm not sure if you meant this for the Christian point of view, but I'm gonna use an example of that. So I used to do a lot of public speaking, and I generally don't do so anymore. Occasionally at work, I do demonstrations, things like that. I've done a few like workshops, training people on a particular technology. But I'd like to do some speaking again, when we had Amy Rath, on from nonlife. She really inspired me to do like the lightning talk kind of concept. And as soon as we're done with COVID, I'd really like to do that again, I think. Whereas on a podcast, I can ramble like I am right now, in a presentation in front of people, you have to be a little bit crisper in your writing. And that would give me the inspiration to do that. Thank you, Arlene, those were great questions. Thank you so much for asking.
The last two questions are questions that I asked myself as I am doing the podcast. The first question is, is this religious? Or another way of asking it is, is humanism a religion. And for many of you, you may be screaming no at the top of your lungs, as you listen to this. And for many of us, leaving our religious traditions meant that we'd never wanted to have anything to do with the term religion ever, ever again. And there certainly within the secular community, a very, very strong, anti religious attitude. My perspective on this is a bit nuanced. So please do listen to the whole context of what I have to say here. I certainly think I would have fallen into that category of running away from religion in the early days of my deconversion. What I think I have learned since then, is the human needs to connect with one another. And to have a shared sense of meaning and purpose. I had Anthony pin on which was a great episode, I encourage you to go check that out. And he makes a very strong distinction between theism, which is a belief in a supernatural deity and religion, which he defines as the collective search for truth. I love that definition of religion. And here's another important point. James Croft recently said this on Twitter, but it's, I think, a common concept. Everything is secular. All religions are secular. All of it comes from humans. yanks, it is mundane it is religion may be the most human cultural artifact of anything. It is our drive to connect with each other and try to figure out how do we live in a chaotic universe? How do we live with each other, without killing each other? And how do we avoid falling into a nihilistic dark, deep pit of despair. All of those are human needs. And the scary word religion is a good way of accomplishing those. We've talked about secular Grace quite a bit in this episode, and I will refer you to my original blog post on the topic. I said there that the ABCs of secular quote, unquote, spirituality are all something that is a deeply human experience that has nothing to do with a supernatural realm. We can experience all in nature, we can experience all at one another, we can experience all at a talented athlete we experience or day in and day out. It is the context of our Christian indoctrination, or training or discipleship or what have you, that we interpret or to be a supernatural, theistic God. And as soon as you let go of that, you can not only enjoy awesome experiences, you can seek them out. I happen to like indoor rock climbing, and part of it is that I'm scared of heights. And I enjoy the experience of overcoming my fear of heights. It is an awesome experience. So the first ABC is is all. The second is belonging. And here, I mean, the collective belonging. This seems so obvious, in that the cultural context of the day, we have identities in our belonging, the most obvious one in the secular world is political identity. We are more polarized now than it feels like in my lifetime, although people like Ezra Klein point out that maybe earlier in my lifetime was the exception to the rule, and the polarization we're experiencing now as probably the norm or the reversion to the mean. But even within the secular community, there are divisions that you may not be aware of. But what I see as the basic humanism, of caring for people and fighting for human rights, and the freedoms and rights of people who have been historically disparaged in one way or another, and held down systemically, that seems like basic humanism, one on one to me, but there's a division within the secular community that is anti social justice warrior or anti woke, or any number of ways of describing that, that I'm on one side of that polarization, and I can't help it that is important to me. We belong to and have identity within groups. We are the D converted, we are the deconstructed, or the deconstructing, and that is an identity. Some of us identify as acts of angelical. If you're in the LGBT community, that is probably a major part of your identity. People even obsessively identify with a sports team, I have a few teams that I follow, and it cracks me up at how intensely I can identify with that group. The point is, we need to belong to one another. The thing that is important is finding healthy groups to belong to, I think what we're doing with deconversion anonymous, as a community is a healthy way of belonging to a group. And we should seek those out. The big thing that we lost as we left, our original faith tradition, is community having a sense of these are my people. And we need to go find who are your people? Who are my people? The obvious answer is that you are my people. The people listening to this now are my people. But it can be more than that. You can go be a part of a book club or a cycling group or a running club or the knitting circle or what have you something anything that you can be among other people who have a shared common goal with you And the final ABCs, of secular spirituality is connection. And this is the one on one human connection, this is your best friend, this is your significant other with whom you have spent significant amounts of time building trust. Again, as, as we talked about earlier, this is not just some random stranger off the street. This is someone that mutual trust and respect has built up over time. That connection of being vulnerable with another human being is profound. When you were going through puberty, probably talking about what was happening to you to your best friend was really cathartic. Admitting to your first crush, to a best friend was probably really, really cathartic. When you first told someone that you were having doubts, and if they handled it, well, that was probably really, really cathartic. The first time you say, I no longer believe to someone is incredibly cathartic. This is connection, that human connection. And we are hard wired to need this, to want it to seek it out. And we should, we should do so with eyes wide, open and critically and carefully. And we should proactively attempt to connect with one another. All of this is what I'm attempting to describe as secular grace, these ABCs of secular spirituality. Back to the question, is this religious? And I'm going to say yes, given the context of defining religion as the collective search for meaning, and what I've learned from people like Sasha Sagan, who wrote for small creatures, such as we, and much of what is in Carl Sagan is writings as well. And Catherine cosmonauts, Grace without God, not only do we need the community, the belonging, the connection, we also need ritual, like we talked about in the holiday episode about establishing new traditions, we are hardwired to need to call out major moments in our lives and physically enact a ritual to commemorate those moments in our lives. Sasha seconds book talks about birth, the Age of Reason, marriage, death, graduations, all of these things are moments in our life, where they are significant events, and we want and need to share those with each other. So given that as a definition of religion, yes, I think humanism is a religion. And yes, I think what we're doing with the community is religious. And that's okay.
If you find yourself screaming and running away as fast as you can right now, I hope to keep you I hope you understand the full context of what I'm saying. I am not saying something transcendent, supernatural, beyond nature, is occurring in any way. I am saying that all religions are human. And this is just another expression of that. I'm also not saying that everyone should be a humanist. Again, I'm a pluralist, I think we as a society, need to allow differing points of views, including points of views that we are diametrically opposed to. They should all be open to criticism, public criticism, and we should work out what is the most effective for us, as a society. I think that secular Grace has a role in the market of ideas and market of ethical frameworks. And I want to express that in the public forum. But I am open to criticism. And I understand that not everyone will find this meaningful or useful. And in fact, when I had Bart Campolo on the podcast, he basically was saying, not everyone cares about what I call the ABCs of spirituality that they don't care about spirituality at all. And some of you might find even me saying that this is religious to be offensive. And again, just ignore me on that topic, and I hope you'll continue to listen the The second question that I asked myself that I think is really important, is related to the first. And this is more personal. I'm going to ask the question, and please don't stop listening. I'll set the context. I asked myself, am I creating a cult? The obvious answer is no. But I think it's important for me to worry about that question. If you have ever been in pastoral work, or leadership in a church, if you've been a worship leader, or if you have your own podcast, or a YouTube channel, the experience of this modicum of fame and I am very realistic about how small how small this fame is, but is intoxicating. There's just no getting around it as a pastor, and when I was younger, in my 20s, and now as a podcaster, and someone who is attempting to express humanism, express secular grace, I am acutely aware of the intoxicating nature of having fans. Here's the thing. I rarely hear criticism, I mostly hear the very good things about the podcast, I get so many emails of people who say, I found your podcasts, I'm in the middle of deconstruction. It's a lifesaver. And of course, that's hyperbolic they, they'd be okay with that without the podcast. But that's why I do what I do is, I want people to know that they are not alone, that all of us have gone through this before them. And we can hold their hand through the process. But again, that has a pretty profound impact on a person and they can start to hear my voice as being authoritative. And that terrifies me. I want to have people challenge me constructive criticism, asking for clarity for me. In other words, I don't want it to be like it was as a pastor in the Christian church where a pastor often can get away with being unaccountable. I don't mean this in the Christian accountability sense, either. But what I mean is that I expect to be wrong, I expect to get it wrong. Often, I expect to say the wrong thing to do the wrong thing to maybe even hurt people, which would, would be the thing that would hurt me the most. And I need to know when I'm doing that, because I wouldn't do it if I were aware, aware of it. So this is just an open invitation for you to reach out to me, you can do so via email, graceful firstname.lastname@example.org You can DM me if you need to. But anything where you think I could learn from something, and I could grow as someone who is attempting to lead in this area of secular grace, feel free to do so. And I will take it with as much humility and self criticism as I can muster. So am I starting a cult? definitively not. I am acutely aware of the ability to fall into a cult of personality. In my discussions with our lane, about the community deconversion anonymous, I was very explicit about this is not about me, this is about people coming together and connecting with one another and practicing secular grace, caring for one another. I would just be a bottleneck. So not only do I not want it to be a cult of personality, I don't want to be the block for people to connect with each other. So all of this to say not only do I not want this to be a cult or a cult of personality, I want you to actively participate in making sure that it is not. Well this wraps it up for the first ask me anything and wraps this up for 2021. I definitely want to do more asked me any things in the future. So in the meantime, If you think of a question you want to have me pontificate upon. Or if you have a criticism that you'd like to hear me respond to, please send a recorded version of your question. You can do so on an app on your phone, or you could use anchor.fm to create a voice message for me. As 2021 wraps up, I definitely want to thank everybody who has participated in the deconversion anonymous community, I'm amazed at how that has exploded. I feel bad that I took so long to try to start it. I should have started it in 2020. But I want to also thank our lien so much for managing the community, as well as doing copy editing and just generally being incredibly helpful. I want to thank Mike T for editing we did 40 some odd episodes and 2021. That was a lot of work that Mike did. All of that was volunteer. Thank you so much, Mike, for all the work that you did. Thank you to Logan Thomas for redoing our graphic design, the logo and various images that we're using. And I'll do this as a plug again, I'm so much more interested in people participating in the podcast and the community in one way or another rather than, say giving money. So if there's a way in which you can participate, you have experience with PR, social media editing, Production Music, if you want to help Arlene with community management, all those things, we are looking for people to jump in. And in reality, as I've already admitted the religiosity, the Church provided a place for people to use their talents. I want a secular version of that to find where people can exercise the things they enjoy doing, the hobbies, their talents, and things of that nature. So we'd love to be the place where you can use your talents and gifts. So please reach out with that, and until January. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application. And you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on Bristol atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces, and you'd like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular race. You can send me an email graceful email@example.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings
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