This is a manifesto, mostly written for myself, but perhaps it may help you.
The temptation is strong. Fight it!
Coming out of Christian fundamentalism, there is a temptation to jump right to the next fundamentalism. Angry Atheist is the first one that springs to mind, but there are others. Once you are used to having a community that tells you what to think, it is difficult to move away from that and do more of the thinking for yourself.
And that’s the thing. You have to think for yourself, or you may end up committing to yet another ideology that betrays you.
Avoid the temptation to follow a group because it’s easier than figuring things out on your own.
Do learn and process things in a community–where you can–but be mindful about it.
People are more important than ideas
Learn to connect to your fellow humans for their own sake. Everyone has a story, some might even share with you. Everyone can benefit from a listening ear. People aren’t “projects and objects.” They’re people (hat tip to Matt, in his episode). People from your former faith are still people, our fellow humans.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. In short: I don’t want to go back to being a fundamentalist.
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. A part of the Atheist United studios podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest reviewers on the Apple podcast store thank you to EC free and mm oh five. Appreciate you reviewing the podcast you too can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store. You can rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. If you are in the middle of questioning, doubting, deconstructing, or even deconversion you don't have to do that alone. Join us in our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous, you can find us at facebook.com/groups/deconversion Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. Today we are celebrating the four year anniversary of the podcast officially March 14 2019 We started the podcast. And every year I like to do a bit of a state of the podcast address. Every year we try to innovate in one way or another this year. We began by joining the atheist United studios Podcast Network, which has given us really good exposure outside of say my social media reach. We have continued to do the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, which Arline is the community manager of Arline continues to do Tuesday evening Hangouts that review the previous week's episode, and that is thriving and doing really well. As of this morning, there are about 722 members in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, which is amazing. We only started that about a year and a half ago. And it's been incredible to watch as people join and participate. We've started to do more social media outreach. Thank you to Ray for creating all the beautiful memes that are quotes from the guests that you see on both Facebook and Instagram. We're hoping to expand to tic toc at some point. All of these things help the podcast grow and reach a broader audience. In about a week and a half, we're going to cross the 250,000 Download barrier. As I've said before, downloads are not a particularly good metric, but it's one that is at least consistent. And we have definitely been growing. And we have a consistent audience somewhere in the range of 1500 to 2000 people every week. This year, we also started out Patreon. Because of joining the atheist United studios podcast network we have ads for people who want an ad free experience they can become a patron at any level. But I want to thank all those people who have jumped in immediately. I want to thank Joseph John Ruby Sharon Joel, Lars Raymond, Rob, Peter Tracy, Jimmy, Jason, and Nathan. Thank you all for being patrons. It makes a huge difference. With that Patreon money this year, we have started to do transcripts. Now the show notes have a full transcript that is AI generated. And we hope to continue innovating in one way or another if you have any interest in participating in the podcast, whether that is the community, the podcast itself, social media, everything from web design, to graphic artwork, to audio work, anything that you are interested in doing. We would love to have you be a part of this community and participate. Reach out to me at graceful email@example.com My guests today are the people who have participated throughout the years who have been my support who have made the podcast possible are Leanne who is our community manager or copy editor, co host and Outreach Coordinator, Mike T who does the editing again, something that I just would not have the time to do in both cases. Jimmy and Colin have been people I've been able to talk through ideas and what's working and what's not working and really help on the mental health support side of things. And Daniel is a new friend who brings the social sciences and psychology background and some actual hard science to the table. And we've been able to talk through several things look forward to having a future conversation with Daniel to share with you as well. Today we are talking about our favorite movies, books, YouTube podcasts, what have you anything that inspires us? That has to do with either The topic of deconversion or secular grace. Now, of course, most of these things are overtly about these things, but under the hood, they very much are. And you're about to find that out. One word of warning, spoiler alert, we spoil a number of movies, books, stories. Each of us takes a moment as we introduce the new topic. If you are interested in going and seeing that or reading that, then you need to stop there because it will be spoiled. In the show notes, there's a list of everything that we're going to talk about, you might want to go take a look at the show notes first, before listening to the episode. Otherwise, celebrate with us for years of the podcast. Thank you, the audience so much for being with us. Here our lien Mike, Jimmy, Colin and Daniel.
I have with me the brain trust of the graceful atheists podcasts are lean, Jimmy, Mike T. Daniel and Colin are with me. We are celebrating the four year anniversary of the podcast. It started in 2019 in March, and we're here to celebrate and ostensibly, we will be talking about our favorite movies, television programs, podcasts, YouTube's videos that have inspired us. For in the topic of secular grace, or deconversion. I want to start with just a quick hello from everyone. And I'm gonna start with our lead.
Hi, I am Arline, I am the community manager for the Facebook group. And I get to work with David and all these wonderful people. And yeah, if you're interested in being in the Facebook group, please DM me, all my information will be in the show notes.
David Ames 6:50
And co host and interviewer and guests liaison and blog, copyright editor, all the things Arline does all the things. And I'll go with Colin next.
Yes, my name is Colin, I was on the podcast a couple of years ago, thanks to Jimmy connected me to David was an incredible experience to get to share my my story since I porn a lot of people in my life who asked me about it. And so was honored to share and to stay involved and to listen to other people's stories. And something I talk to David a lot about is movies and how they are these parallels and ways of getting at our experience. So I'm, I'm I'm quite excited to be here today and honored to be part of the anniversary.
David Ames 7:43
Thank you. Yeah, and Colin is a master storyteller. So that is a lot of a lot of what he made that
I made that title up of
David Ames 7:54
let's go with Mike T.
Mike T 7:57
Hello, everyone. So I am Mike T. or Mike can I'm always behind the scenes editing all the episodes and I get to hear I guess firsthand. Everybody's story. And it's it's kind of a privilege to really dig into these stories and, and just be able to, and just enjoy what people have been through. And Dan, I just I enjoy myself. So that's what I do.
David Ames 8:29
Yeah, and then obviously the podcast would not happen with without my tea. There's just no way the amount of time that you spend an hour in the editing booth, so to speak. Very, incredibly valuable to the podcast. Thank you. Let's go with Daniel.
Hi, everybody. My name is Daniel. I was on the podcast, just this past year in the episode entitled The Office of the skeptic found the podcast last year, I think I think the exact Google search I did was humanist podcasts that aren't angry.
David Ames 9:06
Found this one, which is the sweet spot.
This has got to thread that thread that needle and yeah spent, I don't know, almost about 10 years deconstructing. And then deconversion the beginning of the pandemic, officially, I guess acknowledged the inner reality that had been there for a while and this podcast was really great throughout that process of leaving the leaving the anger and the hurt behind.
David Ames 9:35
Yes And then Daniel you like do a lot of writing and your your background is is it psychology or social science? I always get it wrong.
It's it's a college I have a bachelor's in social science and a master's in
David Ames 9:48
psychology. So it's all the things there we go.
All of those very specific thing that's very specific. I can't help you like rewire your house. If you want to up.
David Ames 10:01
But Daniel is the the erudite voice amongst the group, the educated ones. And last but definitely not least, Jimmy is Jimmy, just let us know who you are.
Oh, yeah, Jimmy. I was on the podcast in 2020. Pretty shortly after I had left the church. So you may not have heard the episode unless you have gone back through the entire back catalogue. But that's no problem. I have started writing blog posts for the blog. And I'm mostly a lurker on the Facebook group. But yeah, glad to be here.
David Ames 10:43
Yeah. And Jimmy has been kind of a sounding board for me, along with Colin as well over really a couple of years now. So a lot of me working through some of the things that we do on the podcast are we have been helped along because of Jimmy and Colin. And now Jimmy is writing blog posts, and has comes a lot from the perspective of the stoics. So again, very deep reader, I think, Jimmy YOU ARE and you're bringing a lot of, of philosophy to those those blog posts. Alright, guys, so yeah, we made it through the introductions. So what we want to talk about today are media of any kind, but specifically movies and television programs that have some element of the deconversion or secular grace that have inspired us. And we're going to do what I call a snake draft. So we're gonna go through the list, we're gonna go through the same list we just did. And I'll be last and then we will reverse that order if we still have time, and we'll keep going for as much time as we have. So we're going to lead off with Arline.
Oh, all right. Okay. So when you told me about this idea for talking about movies, I was like, that's awesome. This will be so fun. I love all these guys. I don't watch a lot of movies. Oh, God, no idea what I'm doing. But I was able to come up my favorite that I think, movie wise. That is secular grace, not deconversion. But secular grace is possibly a lot of superhero movies, but in game. Now, I'm going to assume people have already seen it if they haven't.
David Ames 12:35
I'm gonna, at the beginning of the show, like intro I'm gonna say spoiler alert for everything that we mentioned. Because for sure, I'm gonna ruin some things.
So yes, Marvel movie. I don't know if y'all just heard that my husband just like through things. I have no idea what just happened. In game, the Marvel movie, it's the the Avengers. And basically, like, half of humanity, half of the universe has been snapped away by the bad guy. And the Avengers realize, especially Tony Stark, they, they have to change this, even if it's going to change and alter their own lives. It's going to take away things from Tony Stark's lives. He's had a little girl, he's gotten married, like all these wonderful things, but they can't in good conscious conscience, not fix everything if they can figure out how to fix it. And so the whole movie is them figuring out how to fix it, and being willing to sacrifice some to the death for the universe for half of the population of the universe to be able to bring them back. And they didn't have to do that. And I was like, this is secular grace. To me this is selflessness without being like sappy because I have a hard time with sappy characters who just saying, I say too unrealistic. These are superheroes so but yeah, that was the that was the first movie that came into my mind was in game.
David Ames 14:01
That's great. I say all the time that you know, it's unclear to me whether the, the story of of sacrificing yourself for the people that you love is but just Western prior to Christianity or, or because of Christianity. But there are a ton of movies where the the person the hero gives themselves up for the sacrifice of others. And this is just deep, especially in Western societies, deep, deep, deep in our culture, and inescapable. Like it's everywhere. And superheroes are a classic example of that. Anyone else want to respond to endgame?
This might be a deep cut. I was gonna give snaps in this context, that's quite that's an evil. Yeah, it doesn't work.
David Ames 14:51
That's bad taste bad. Word choice. Too soon. Daniel.
I think It's a great pick Arline. I've always wanted to be, you know, in the theater for a moment like Darth Vader telling Luke He was his father, you know? And because I remember my father telling me about that moment in the theater and and how people were like jumping out of their seats, like, oh my god, like everyone's having this huge reaction. So I got to go opening weekend with some friends to end game and, and they were just so many moments like, you know, Steve picking up the hammer and the the arrival their way through the portals and like all these, these things, and Tony's final snap, there were all these things that just were just like that moment that you had people like jumping up in their seats in the in the theater and going nuts. And I was just very, very grateful to be a part of that kind of moment. So I'm really glad that somebody brought it up.
Yes, we, we are Marvel people. And I am a crier, when it comes to movies, like I will just weep and sob. And we, we were in the movie theater for Infinity War. And I just, I mean, I just bawled the whole time. It was just it was so sad. And then at the end, this woman just turned it turned to me and she was like, It's okay. Black Panther had one movie, if they're coming back, they're totally coming back. And I was like, Okay. And so yes. And being in there in, in game because yes, we were in the theater for opening weekend, and it was just, oh, it just gives me chills. It's such a and we've seen it multiple times. And I still cry and it's still fabulous. Oh, I just love it so much.
David Ames 16:36
We're pretty bad at watching Marvel movies in my family. I think we started and game before watching whatever movie came before it. Know what order they were. I love movies. Yes, let's pick one. Pretty quickly.
Yeah, we've been watching them since Iron Man, the first one. And it's kind of it's kind of ridiculous. Maybe?
David Ames 17:07
Yeah, if you have Disney Plus, you've got to watch him like in chronological order.
Exactly. Although, to be fair to Jimmy, it's sort of like recommending the wire now because it's like 100 hours of entertainment. There's that element of like, I really should but who? Yeah, and I love that idea. You just jumped in. You're like, Okay, so who is who is everyone?
Almost like in the middle of a scene? Not quite. Yes. Yeah. Almost in the middle of a scene. So yeah, we got to realize that we had no clue. We did it right. Yeah, that was better.
David Ames 17:43
All right. I'm gonna tap Colin for your first choice.
I mean, basically the same example as Avengers, endgame. Lars and the real girl from 2007
David Ames 17:54
are really comparable. Exactly.
Same budget. I don't know if people know this. And I do want to echo David, I have to spoil it to talk about it. So you can like jump ahead. So if you want, but what I'll say is Ryan Gosling before he was hot, weird. Really interesting. Indie movies. I mean, I've been a fan of him way before he got jacked and did Crazy, Stupid Love. And the notebook. Lars and the real girl is a story about a man and his wife and their, the man's brother who's living in the garage who is very disturbed in some way. He's a hermit. He is. He can't make eye contact. He's he can't be touched by people. This is Lars. And he one day he buys a real doll, which is a sex doll. It's like a $2,000 anatomically correct size and weight woman and it is the I mean, everybody is just like, What? What do we say? Like he treats her like a real person. He brings her on dates. He asks his sister in law for clothes for her because she lost her luggage on the trip. I mean, it's a complete, you know, break from reality. So they take him to a psychologist who says he's working something out and he's in a very fragile place. And you need to go along with him until he reaches the end of whatever this is. And they're like, people are gonna make fun of us. And she says, yes, they are. And it's the first instance of people acting on large behalf even to their own cost and what ends up happening is first off he creates a lot of confidence by doing these by simulating life he takes her to a party he, they go on dates, they go bowling. I mean, they go bowling. I mean, it's really strange, but it's very, it's very funny in that I think it's played mostly straight, he starts making eye contact, he starts to talk to a woman at work who he has a crush on a real,
David Ames 20:23
a real human
capital girl, a woman. And what I would say is secular gay grace to a tee is that essentially, this whole town of people go along with him. And they take Bianca out. And Bianca is the name of the doll, she starts volunteering, and they cut her hair and they and they support him as he eventually reaches a complete tragedy of she's, she's died. And it's him emerging from this episode. And along the way, discovering that all the people in this town love him and will do whatever he needs. And I talked about chills, Arline, I get chills thinking about it. And it's, you know, there's no mention of there's a little bit of a mention of religion, but it's, it's a pretty clear example of someone in our community needs us. Yeah. And I highly even though I sort of spoil it, it's really fun. Really fun to watch. And, you know, to watch people kind of at first, especially, like, what are we do, what are we? Not, you know, and, but But playing along, and it's, it's a great one,
David Ames 21:45
I love this movie and call it thank you for being brave enough to bring it up. It really is. You know, the premise sounds so odd and strange. And yet, you absolutely love Lars who absolutely love and you love the community by the end of the movie, and it is about the community loving someone and caring for them, where they are at. Right not asking this large character to to, you know, do you know, be normal, right? They're not asking him to do that. They're letting him go through what he's going through, and ultimately leads to healing in his life.
Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. It's really, it's really something to watch.
Seems like one of I mean, we talked about community a whole lot. And it seems like one of the things that people often fail to recognize about community is that everybody is different, you know, to sort of adapt Tolstoy everybody's dysfunctional in their own special way.
David Ames 22:47
Yeah, just to summarize them. Yeah.
Well, it's, it's the intro to anacreon. Pretty sure
was first line.
Right, exactly. But, you know, it's one of those reality checks that once you kind of come to terms with it, it's fine. It's, it's good. You accept it, you move on. You, everybody sort of starts adapting to the reality of the situation. Like, like the community adapted to to Lars, his sort of oddball situation. That's it is beautiful. Yeah. That's awesome. Sure. Yeah.
Yeah. Haven't seen the movie already down to there. So we can see it. But I'm sure the community like he brought his own uniqueness to the community. And that added value to their lives, that they probably wouldn't have expected. Yeah, that's cool.
He's a wonderful person. I mean, there's a really funny moment at a party, when the women have sort of sat with him. And this, would Bianca. And he's sort of whispering to her. I mean, they're clearly in love. And he, if tiempo he gets up and they go, like, I'd love to find a man like that, you know, so even though we've departed reality there's, you start to see large, good qualities. And I think it's heroic, I think it's heroic in a less flashy way. I have a friend who struggles with mental health stuff and is up and is down and we've been friends for years and I am deeply invested in the outcome of him reaching the person he wants to be and he is in me and so I'm like, that's, that's also the model. If you're not Tony Stark, you can still do heroic things.
David Ames 24:36
Awesome. Mighty you're out man.
Mike T 24:41
Oh, boy. So so far, I haven't seen either these movies that we talked about, but now I know I have to go back and watch him. So I think the first thing that kind of came to my mind it wasn't a movie. It was a series of hidden it was Vikings. and like it's on Netflix, you can see it all. And it's it's it's violent, but it's there's good storylines with the characters. And I guess just the overview is the main character Ragnar Lothbrok. He, he finds a way that he can travel to the east. You know, they're known for their looting and plundering, so they want to go to new lands. So he finds this, I think it's basically a way to mount the, you know, the, by the stars and everything and how to make sure they're traveling east to these new lands they hear about so they get to, you know, England area and, and they come across, I think the first place that come across is where a bunch of monks are staying. And they ended up kidnapping one of the monks. And they're Christians. So you have the Christian gods and then you have all the Norse gods, you know, Odin and everything. So that kid that just one month taking back and he ends up kind of assimilating into their community. And him and Ragnar become almost like best friends, mutual respect for each other. And it's really interesting, how they, how they interact in by the, I guess not to make a spoiler, but I guess it's hard not say stuff.
David Ames 26:35
Mike T 26:37
You know, it's deep into the series, they almost come to the place where, you know, we talk about these gods and things in, there's really no evidence for your gods or my gods, we're just in this thing of like, trying to survive in what's the use of all this fighting over your gods being, you know, submissive to my gods, and Nate, and they kind of take in how their people are reacting to all this. And, in course, there's lots of tragedies and things throughout the story. And eventually, Ragnar, he meets his death, and he has a son that takes over kind of where he's from, and he does terrible things, and, but it all comes back together in the end that what he learned from his dad and stuff is, is is true that, you know, this is just about life and about learning to respect other people for who they are in that we don't have to stick stick to these traditions that we've been told our whole lives. And so that's, that's kind of what came to my mind.
David Ames 27:53
That's awesome. Yeah, yeah. I would say like, you know, having comparative religion in say, school or something like that, it would be a really, really good thing. Because once you start to see the similarities and the differences, it's harder to say, Ah, but my group has the, the absolute truth when you just start to share notes
I think that's a really great show, Mike. And I think the history that comes out of that whole time period with the Vikings and, and Ragnar like his, his family settled a northern part of France, which became known as Normandy later, right. And Normandy became, like, the cultural center of Europe for a time, like being very, very highbrow and fancy. And then eventually, the Norman invasion of England kind of brought all that culture to the, to the United Kingdom. And it's so interesting to think how it all came from, like, essentially one guy who was just like, I'm gonna, I'm gonna read better than we did before. I'm gonna be better at attacking people. And, and now we have, like, all the stuff that came out of normal. It's it's such a fascinating part of history.
Mike T 29:18
It is yes, yeah.
David Ames 29:23
All right, Daniel.
Well, I'm kind of surprised. Nobody said it yet. But Star Trek, the next generation, especially, but for me, has been a really big part of my life and the deconstruction deconversion is no different. Growing up, the next generation was very important to me. I had, you know, I had I had a good childhood. But there were some parts that were really, really hard and painful. One of them was, you know, I, I had ADHD and was not diagnosed and so i i struggled with a lot of the things that came from that like rejection sensitivity, dysphoria, and so on. And also that there was a time where I was bullied quite badly for many years. And I know when you say you were bullied as a kid, people think like, Okay, you got beat up on the bleachers and took your lunch money kind of thing. At its worst, I got put in the hospital with a broken arm. It was quite, quite uncomfortable. And it was always very thankful for my father who, you know, he he took it seriously. And he, you know, threatened legal action, and the school division finally took it seriously, too. It was a different time. Nobody, you know, nobody really paid that close attention. Boys will be boys kind of BS. But there was a lot of Star Trek in my life. My parents loved watching, and I loved watching it. And the incredible thing for me was that I believed the things that they told me about the world over my own experience. Oh, wow. I could have thought like, this is like the the world is awful. You know? Like, yeah, I've got a good family and all this stuff. But the world is the world is awful. Like I'm being treated badly. And I know people who internalize that. And sure, there were some some things I carried with me for a while. But when, when you had moments in the next generation, where Captain Picard says, He quotes Hamlet, and he says, what Hamlet says What irony, or I say with conviction, what a piece of work is man and how noble and reason how infinite and faculty informed moving how express an admirable and action how like an angel in apprehension, how like a God. And he says that I can see us one day becoming like this as a species. And I believe that, wow, over my own experience, set me on a on a path was one of many different things that made me want to be a people helper when I got older. And after my long deconstruction, you know, leaving ministry in 2010, and then arriving at the start of the pandemic, and realizing I don't like I'm not a, I'm not a bully. I haven't believed in God in years, like, what am I doing? And getting sent to work from home? At my, my job, I sat on my couch with my laptop. And, you know, I was mostly doing writing and editing documents and put into their PowerPoint presentations for people. And I put my television on. And what do you know, the next generation is available on Netflix in Canada, and I rewatched the entire series while I was working, because I could do that I was a script for the odd zoom call, I was essentially by myself. And I was amazed how consistently the message of secular humanism, of hope of helping people of what humanity could be was just woven throughout. And so then I started, you know, I started Deep Space Nine, again, I started Voyager again. And I, I watched through all of this stuff that was so integral to me growing up and rediscovering it, you know, at almost 40 and realizing this is containing messages that that really cast a great hope for humanity. And there's a quote from Gene Roddenberry about the first Star Trek series where he said that Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and different life forms. And I just it, it helped bring me back and I, I was, for a large part of the pandemic and my early deconversion, I was very angry, and I was very bitter. And it really sunk into my my soul. And among the many things that helped bring me out of it, like this podcast, and like my wife and her patients and love and my, my family. Star Trek was another piece of that puzzle, and I'm very thankful for it.
David Ames 34:09
That's so awesome. Oh, wow. Yeah.
Yeah, I've been thinking a lot about optimism lately. And how someone said that being a pessimist is like smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. It'll take 10 years off your life. And you look at you look at the world around you. And if you pay too much attention to the way it's presented to us, then you end up in the plane alanda pessimism. So optimistic sci fi is, is definitely special giving a sort of a vision, you know, casting a vision for for this is what we could be. And this is what we are at our best. Because sci fi is never about the future. It's about right now. typically great Daniel. Yeah,
David Ames 35:05
even the framing Daniel of the quotes, the difference between the irony and, and sincerity, we're Gen X. And you know, we've taken, you know, irony to the to the next level and then the generations following us have just exploded that so that it's almost uncool to be sincere and Star Trek is just heartbreaking lessons here. And I love that. First of all I you know, kind of my early 20s was next generation and it was huge for me. And I realized now how much of my humanism is informed by my the next generation actually. And then just last thing is a plug. I'm right now working out to discuss with the podcast hosts of humanist trek, Sara Ray and Ella alley, let me get her name right. Allie Ashmead are the hosts and they are going through the right now through the original series and pulling out all the humanism that Gene Roddenberry had within it. And we're really looking forward to that conversation with them. So
who that'll be a lot of fun. I grew up on T and D. And then I grew up on the movies because my mom grew up on the original series and she would do like trick dramas with her grandma like they would watch all night long. And so I grew up on tng in the movies. And I think it was Lars that's in the group not Lars on the movie, an emerging group. One day mentioned how his humanism his worldview had been very much influenced by next generation. And I was like, I haven't thought about it. So Daniel, this makes me want to go back. And yeah, watch, because I haven't seen these movies or the shows and movies since I was. Well, when we first got married, we went back through next generation and watch them, but since I've D converted, I haven't even gone back and watched any of them. So this makes me want to do it. Yeah.
David Ames 37:06
Me too. One last bit of irony is that I was watching tng while going to Bible college. Yeah, well, but yeah, but also like, you know, my whole thing was about grace and, and that, you know that the Christians around me didn't get it. Anyway, we'll drop that. Jimmy, you are up, sir.
So speaking of sci fi, optimistic sci fi. Arrival is one of my favorite movies. Yes, it's it's based on a short story called The story of your life. And the short story is very different in style. It's sort of a very short story, a short story, if that makes any sense. But the movie, it there's a lot of themes that really stand out to me for the movie, but one of them is that of acceptance. And, of course, obligatory spoiler, spoiler alert, the linchpin of the movie is that she can see past present and future because she's learning this special alien language. I'm going to pull out a couple of quotes. If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things, if you are omniscient about your life, or then and then that's sort of near the middle of the movie. And then at the end, despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it, and I welcome every moment of it. And if you've watched the movie, you know that there's some hard stuff that's going on, it's, you know, second watching, it's pretty clear what's being foreshadowed. It's pretty muddy the first time through, I think, intentionally. But, you know, whether we like it or not the life we have is the life we have. It's the one that we are currently living. And the you know, acceptance is such a major part of living at well. I'm kind of obsessed with not dwelling on the past. And this is it's just such a powerful like, you know, regret I find problematic. Guilt I find problematic. Number all these dynamics to sort of have us looking back at the past and beating ourselves, our present selves up about it. I almost hate it. I'm not willing to dismiss all of it. I'm not willing to throw it all away, but but I just keep finding reasons to try to avoid regret altogether. Just, you know, just let it go and look forward. And on a related note, Alan Watts did a he had a little spiel, you know, you hear recordings of Alan Watts every solid Unlike in video games and stuff, it's the weirdest thing. He's really recordable, I guess. But he he asked us to imagine dreaming a dream where we could live a 75 year life over and over again. And the first time through, you're like, it's the perfect life totally comfortable. You love it. It's just total, all pleasure, no pain. And then at the end, you're like, oh, let's change things up. Let's do it again. This time, we'll throw a little uncertainty in there just to make things interesting. And then you sort of iterate on that over and over again, and eventually you land on your life right now. Which I thought was a pretty powerful framing of just how uncertain life can be and just how rough it can be and how it's the life we have it can be if that makes any sense. So yeah, arrival wonderful movie, and now completely spoiled.
David Ames 40:56
I'm gonna spoil it further that was on my list. The one of the main ideas, you've just, you've just suggested is would you live the life knowing ahead of time, and one of the main storylines is a very rough relationship with the main character and her daughter. It's very difficult. And, and then ultimately tragic. The daughter dies at the age of 25. And so she is still making the choices that lead to that her daughter existing and, and loving her and experiencing all of that pain and tragedy. And I just think that's just utterly beautiful that that you know that the humanism there of you know, love does involve pain, love is difficult. Relationships are hard. And yet they are still worth it. Even if you know it's going to end even if you know, tragedy is looming. It's still worth it. And I think that's just a beautiful part of that that story.
That's one of the rare movies that I could watch. I don't know. Twice a year. Yeah. Very, very, very few movies like that. That even watched twice at all.
Not spoiled Jimmy. Everyone should watch it. Yeah. Incredibly constructed and filmed. And yeah, the vote the language, the way they represent the language is yeah, it's, it's wonderful.
And I'm partial to linguistics myself to begin with. So the whole idea of Zeno, linguistics is different topic.
David Ames 42:40
And I'll say a plug for Ted Chang short story is amazing. And the book, stories plural of your life is an anthology of his short stories. It's just absolutely amazing. I talk I've actually got a blog post about one called Hell is the absence of God, very relevant, really, very, very relevant. So
yeah. And his second volume, exhalation stories is also he deals a lot with religious themes, spiritual themes, to being being two different sets of themes. Very, definitely worth reading.
David Ames 43:14
Fantastic. I'm going to reorder mine because everyone did secular grace. So I've got I've got a deconversion one to talk about next round. But the one I want to talk about is somebody related to and I was actually going to almost pair them with the rival so this was perfect. Jimmy, thank you for planning it this way. Is Interstellar. Interstellar is a Christopher Nolan movie who I'm just like, he's like crack cocaine. For me. I also love Tennant and inception and basically everything he's ever done, but the premise of Interstellar is the relativity and the way that time works. And so, the the main character of the father is an astronaut, he goes out into deep space towards a black hole. Time and relativity, time and relativity take place and so his daughter is aging back at home. But the the heart of the story is that he is like almost communicating with her throughout this and they keep touching base over time. And I the the analogy that I love in this is that that love is fifth dimensional, right? Ultimately he gets to directly communicate with her in real time. And again, spoilers. And then at the very end of the film, he meets her in her old age, he is still young, and he meets her in her old age and it's just this incredibly touching and loving moments. But for me the analogy of love as fifth dimensional also springs to mind why religious thoughts? takes place right? Like If I kept I repeat to myself all the time, love is fifth dimensional. And it has this deep and profound meaning for me. But of course, I don't mean it literally. And I can see how easy it would be for. If I were passing that in for that, that story along with someone else to begin to take it literally, you know, like, let's say three generations later to begin to take that literally. So you can see that impulse to do that. And yet, I still think that this is an amazing analogy and that, and that love transcends space and time, metaphorically, and connects us as human beings.
The love of your past parents to your past self has meaningful impact in the future and being able to rely on just just just a specific example. Being able to rely on the love of someone else. Moving into the future. Yeah, I like it. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
And that theme to that theme, that musical score, right. That was in the airport in Charlotte. Last week. And somebody the piano player was playing it.
David Ames 46:11
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
So my, my son and I were watching the the movie on our previous TV, which was a hand me down of a hand me down or something like that. And all Christopher Nolan movies just basically start clipping on the speakers. So it was very hard to hear. Yeah. But anyway, we were watching this movie. And it's the scene where he's leaving his family, which is as a father of daughters is pretty rough on me. And so I was sitting there watching this, then my, my wife and two daughters come back in the room, or they come back from some event or something. And my daughter sits down next to us and starts watching with us. And then she left and said, I hate this movie.
David Ames 47:06
Yeah. All right. So we're doing a snake draft. So it's back to Jimmy. So your number two choice.
Alright, so authenticity. My movie for authenticity is Mrs. Harris goes to Paris. Which was a surprising, you know, it's, I tend to go very Wait, I weighed Rotten Tomatoes fairly heavily in my day, you know, whether I decide to watch a movie or not. And it was pretty high. And sometimes that just means it is what it is and doesn't pretend to be anything but more. And sometimes it means this is an AMAZING film. Well, this this was a good story. It was just a really good story. And it's hilarious because she's an English woman. She goes to France and she meets some people who are heavily into existentialist philosophy, like, just rattling off to each other all this these technical terms and stuff. And it occurred to me while watching this, she is like the ultimate existentialist when Mrs. Harris, she is a widow. She is middle aged, she's working class. She decides one day she's going to buy ay couture, handmade couture gown from whatever the the fancy brand was. doesn't stick. It was a It's a well known brand. Anyway, you've all heard of it.
David Ames 48:35
High fashion. Yeah.
So but she's just this regular lady. And she just decides she's going to save up the money to go to Paris and order this gown, which makes sense. You go to a store and you buy some stuff. Well, she arrives. Yes, Christian Dior? That's right. So she arrives in Paris and immediately she's just contact with people contact with people, all kinds of different people. She's showing kindness to everybody. She's just bringing people together, just making human connection, sort of overcoming all these boundaries. So the the people the staff at Christian do don't know what to make of her. But they're kinda like, this is kind of cool. They're, they're sort of like, we have no idea what to do with this lady, but we like it. And then she brings, you know, she brings the two existentialists together and blah, blah, blah, and, you know, whatever. Not not to spoil absolutely every detail of the movie, but it was it's hilarious because one of the dynamics of existential philosophy, existentialist philosophy is that of a facticity. So, we're born with different characteristics. You know, you're a man, you're a woman, male, female, whatever, you're white, you're black. You're An American, you're French, you're upper class, middle class, you're a nerd, you're a jock, you're whatever, all these things, and to live an authentic life is to sort of transcend, that that indeed involves transcending that and in, she just was in the process of doing that, just by living her life, she transcended the fact that she was middle class or working class by deciding to buy an upper class gown, even though she really didn't have anywhere to wear it. She transcended, like, all these different expectations of her. One major theme throughout was just her age and how you sort of become invisible when you're, the older you get. And so, but she didn't, she didn't stand for it, she, she took various actions to sort of overcome that. So I was, it was funny to me when it occurred to me, but it was also kind of delightful, just because here's this middle aged English lady. And she's like, way more actually existentialist than these. Talking about start, whatever at each other. That was pretty cool. It was a good movie.
David Ames 51:16
I liked the message, too, of just, you know, being comfortable with yourself being comfortable with who you are, and, and not feeling out of place where maybe other people think you're out of place, like you're just comfortable with yourself, and you accept yourself and you're able to move about the world.
And the point is, yeah, and I kind of went overboard on the existential side of things. But the point is that she was living an authentic life. Yeah, that's Yeah, exactly what you're saying. Yeah. Yeah.
Yeah, I especially admire women who can do that. Because that is it does not come naturally to me. And for years being like, I grew up in a home where boys were more favored than girls, and then become a Christian. And they're like, that's true. And it's like, okay, so you just keep going and believing it. And then coming out of all that, it's like, oh, I can, you know, be my whole self. I can, my husband uses the phrase exert my presence, like, yeah, it's like, for me, it's hard to set the gym. Nobody's ever said anything unkind or been rude. But I see these women who can just go in there, and they just do it. And I'm like, I have to talk myself into it all the time to like, just exist and not be apologized all the time. So yeah, I want to see that, that that movie sounds really good.
And if just to put a book plug in how to be authentic, is as a good introduction, especially to sort of feminist existentialism, because it's, it's very accessible introduction.
David Ames 52:47
my happy place.
Well, I just want to say, Arline, thank you for sharing that. That's absolutely, that's, that's kind of the, the heroic thing I was talking about earlier. Is, is overcoming a story. And in your case, not an internal story a, a cultural programming. You know, just like, that's really, really interesting to hear. And it seems like there was progression over time. And I resonate with the mantra idea to like, I need to notice the thought and then provide a new thought that
is really wallpaper in my mind's time and I was like, Oh, I like that. Take that. Yeah, I like it.
David Ames 53:36
That's great. Daniel, you are up for your second choice.
Well, I think this one might be a little esoteric. Just because it's, it's not a it's not in Western media at all. There's a short Japanese animated film named Jota, Ruby, no, Moray II, which translates to in the forest of Firefly light. And I know one thing that was really hard for me when I was D, converting, when I was looking at what I was losing, I was losing the idea that, hey, what about the afterlife, like we all want to, you know, we all want to go on forever, I think is the kind of natural biological inclination and we, we have a survival drive. It does not like to be thwarted. I think even when I was talking through, like becoming agnostic and becoming a humanist with somebody, they said, Why don't you want to go to heaven when you die? And I was like, Well, I gotta think there is a heaven. Like, it's not like I do you want to go Disneyland someday? And I don't think I don't think it's real. And I was really distressed by it. And I think that one of the messages that we get, especially evangelical Christianity is that Your life is precious, because it's just going to go on forever and ever. And it's going to be this never ending thing. It's going to be amazing forever. You know, and, and that was a really hard thing to let go of. And early into it after I D converted, I watched this short film, which is about a girl who when she's, I think she's six years old, she goes into this, this forest and Japanese mythology, there's these spirits called yokai, that live in deep in the woods in the mountains and things like that. And they're, you know, there's sometimes tricky, there's sometimes mean, and it's sometimes pleasant, you don't really know what you're gonna get. And when she's there, she meets a young man. And the young man is a human, but he, he was abandoned there as a child and was going to die. And the yokai saved his life. But on a condition, he could grow up and grow up very, very slowly, he would live many, many lifetimes of a human being, but he would never be allowed to touch another human being if he touches them, he disappears forever. And so it's a little bit funny and sweet at the beginning, as this six year old is just like, I want to I want to play with you, I want to spend time with you. And he's like, don't touch me, like, this is the stairway kind of thing. And they slowly become friends. And she returns to the woods every summer because she's visiting the woods while she's staying with her grandparents and, and it's about her slowly growing up, and then slowly becoming closer. And as she reaches his, you know, age, and their equal age, they realize that they're falling in love. And, and he can never touch her, and she can never touch him. Because if he, if he doesn't, then he's gone forever. And it's it's about navigating this kind of really bittersweet beauty of this relationship, knowing that you actually can't have something forever. But it doesn't make it any less beautiful, or any less meaningful or any less special. And I actually am not going to, I'm not going to say the ending because I do think this is something that you all should watch, and that everybody listening to this should watch. And go into that little journey. It's it's a 42 minute film. So it's not like a big ask, that's what I'm saying. But it is a it is a theme of, you know, being authentic and being true and being loving. And understanding that something is not beautiful, because it lasts, something not precious, because it lasts, it can be beautiful and precious, just as it is. And nothing can ever take away that time that you had. And I think that watching that was in a weird way, kind of healing for me. As I realized that I didn't need to, you know, I didn't need to experience like the quote unquote loss of heaven as a as a loss anymore. Because the time that we have here that I have my children with my wife or my parents, with my friends with people like yourself, this is this is always going to have happened it's always going to have been a part of the the universe no matter how long it lasts. I think that this this story reminded me again of how of what makes us human. Humans elevate things, that's what makes us special we, we take normal things and we lift them up, we elevate things in ourselves and in the world above where they actually occur in nature. Like we look at chemical reactions in their brains, and we call it love. We look at the colors of a sunset, and we name it beauty. We look at life and decide that so wonderful. We told the story but it lasting forever and even though it won't last forever. No matter how long the universe is here. The time that we had. We had we will always have been here and that's what that movie did for me in a weird way this animated film
David Ames 59:14
that's beautiful. And I think we're constantly fighting the you know the Christian conception that it it isn't worth it unless it's eternal. And and it actually turns out that it kind of is the opposite right like that. Because life in general or love or what have you. He is finite and has an ending. It makes it so much the sweeter while while we have it while we are here.
Thank you if I can make a quick Oh, it's my turn. Yes. Your turn interjection to Daniel's beautiful description of that. The forest of the Fireflies. Two themes you mentioned the not being able to touch the person you love. There's a show called pushing daisies. Men have a similar dynamic. And it's so interesting and it's a really cool, totally different reasons. It's really really cool to watch these two characters in love who can never touch each other. And then there's also a movie from last year a couple years ago called wolf walkers, which is an animated movie. Yeah, that is also about she's told to never go into the forest. And when she does, she discovers the opposite, I guess into what she's been told the people who are dangerous, or the wolves, I guess, are not dangerous. So gosh, amazingly watched
wolf walkers with our kids and just like the whole family just kind of wept like it was such a beautiful family we do that did Song of the Sea and the Book of Kells I think it's an Irish studio and it's it's just fantastically beautiful films. The most unique animation style ever seen. I have yet to see Pushing Daisies but I've heard that it is another weird entry in Lee paces IMD page just he's such a diverse actor. So I've heard lots of
good things. Yeah, it's it's really great canceled before it's canceled too soon. So I, I am writing down the movies that just themes you all are mentioning. And I just I just love one of my great loves in life is movie. So in an effort to stretch your knowledge or your what you are aware of, and maybe some of you've seen it. There's a documentary called Kumari from 2011. And it is a trip. A man named Vikram, who grew up in I think, New Jersey or Brooklyn or something is of Indian descent, but he's American. Goes to India and sort of observes the Swamis and the yogi's and the spiritual teeth, the gurus. And some off about it for him. He he sees hypocrisy, he sees inconsistency. And so he goes back to America, and he presents himself as a guru. And he speaks with a fake Indian accent. He's mimicking his his mom who was Indian born, and he grows his hair long and his beard, and he begins to attract followers. You have a sort of a unknown narration where he's talking about the process. And he is you know, he's wearing the orange robe, and he's got the staff. And he is saying nonsense, essentially, there's just nice things, and people are following him. And you start to watch these people evolve in really positive ways. They get more into yoga, they find levels of peace with broken relationships, a woman loses a significant amount of weight that she'd never been able to lose before. People start meditating. And throughout it, Vikram Kumar Ray is beginning to freak out, because his intentions were good. He was trying to poke fun at this idea of the guru. And these people believe him and he doesn't know how, where to go from here. Yeah. And he, I feel like it's important to share the end. But I'm suddenly debating on whether it's I feel like I've teed it up really nicely.
David Ames 1:03:44
Yes, that's right. Yeah.
So there's a scene at the end of the movie that is, I think, one of the great scenes in documentary, you know, the world documentaries, which is where he unveils himself to these people, and he does his best to soften it. But it is, it is ugly, it is a rupture for these people. And for himself. He's he's, you know, really regretted a worried about what this will do. And he says the message I want to share with you ultimately, is that the only guru you need is the one that is inside of you. And that's why I did this. And in a sense, all of the changes that you made you made you used me as a sort of a catalyst but you did it. And what's really cool is some people walk out and are there's sort of an end a title and credits where they tell you where people are. And one woman a couple have never spoken to him again. One went on to get her yoga certification. One said how can I help you in your next adventure Vikram because You're a special person, one is paying off her bills and still made it meditates every day, the woman who lost the weight has kept it off 10 of the 14 people who followed him have stayed in contact with him. And I guess agreed with the accidental premise thing, which is that you have so much power and magnificence within you, we all do. And you don't need a guru. Here's how I look at it. If there are people listening, who are still, within a specific religion, it's important, I like to try to be respectful and say you're doing a lot of it. That your your beliefs, I'm not challenging your beliefs at all. I'm just saying that there is a credit and a pride that you deserve to feel. And that is something that I learned in my journey through and then out of evangelical Christianity was I was doing so much of that the whole time, I was waking up early to read a book to edify myself, I was forgiving people, I was going deep with people I was, you know, doing all of these things, and you get to go like, that's a that's a good person. You know, a good heart. So, Kumar, Akuma are a it is, it's a trip, man. That's a great.
David Ames 1:06:34
That sounds awesome. I've just got one comment that I want to move forward is that, you know, again, apologetics is always saying, you know, how could How could Christianity have spread so far, and like, these little examples of many religions that pop up, even in a scenario where it was, you know, under false pretenses as it were, like, just this is the human condition, we want to follow people, we want someone to say here, I have the answers. Do what I say? Like, that's so common that it you know, it's happened throughout all of history. So I just I think that that's a really interesting.
And just to add to that, David, some religions have a replicable, scalable quality to them. There's a there's a way that they grow. And there are other ways of thinking that just don't have that fire. And one of those I think of as the the UU the Unite Unitarian Universalist Church, it's just not the imperative. Yeah. To grow into scale and to convert, it's it's meant to be a refuge to people who left that. Exactly. So it's just fascinating, right? Because then you have, you know, Mormonism or Christianity or something, where it's, it's, there's this imperative to go out and, and to grow it. So, yeah, it's, but yeah. Okay.
So my happy place is middle grade fiction, preferably with strong female lead character, not necessarily. But so there's so many great books, middle grade fiction is, like five stars highly recommend adult children there. It's just perfect. It's not vulgar, and has all the gross things that adult stuff can have that isn't for children, and then it, but it's not, not that picture books are dumbed down, because that's not a true statement. But it's not like little kid kind of books, it middle grade fiction tackles really hard stuff. So for authenticity and secular grace, harbor me by Jacqueline Woodson. So it starts with these six kids who are thrown together in this room, where once a week, they will meet in at their school, and there are no teachers, and they just talk and they're able to have conversations that they can't talk to anybody else about. They can't necessarily talk to their family, they can't talk to friends, because people will judge them. But they're sewn together for this. I can't remember if it's an experiment or a class or how they how they did it, but they call it the art room, a room to talk. So they're in the art room, and once a week, they hang out in it at the beginning. These kids there there's one kid whose family is like his dad maybe deported soon. One kid who's dealing with like, racism at school and racism, racial profiling just in his neighborhood. There there's just so much Oh, one little girl that's right. Her father is incarcerated, she doesn't get to see him so there's just all these different kids who normally would not have hung out would not have been friends. And they build this relationship this room becomes like a harbor for them one and they they become a harbor for one another. And oh, it's one of those just it's a tear jerker. Sweet, wonderful story, but also, like I said, it just tackles really hard things that these kids are dealing with that it's fiction, but are very real experience. It says that kids are having. And, and the way they come alongside one another the relationships that are built and one of the, towards the end the the main, the main character who's telling the story, she says Back then we still all believe she's talking about when they were kids when they were young when they were kids, you know, these, they're in middle school, but when when they were young, she's back then we still all believed and happy endings. None of us knew yet how many endings and beginnings one story could have. So like these kids have gone a year together. There has been, you know, family and prison and all these these crazy things happen in I can't remember. But I know, the immigration services come at one time, I can't remember if the dad is deported or not. But like, just they didn't realize they could be for one another, like a savior, a friend of champion, all these different things that they didn't need, they didn't need grownups for and then they didn't need like supernatural help for they were able to be it for one another. And it really is. It's a very short book. It's not very long. But it's, it's incredibly it's one of the most moving middle grade fictions that I've ever read. And it's, yeah, it's a beautiful, it's a beautiful story. And thinking about like me, personally, I did not have that when I was that age, like middle school. Like, I don't know if you've guys who have kids who've watched turning red, but like in turning red. She's like, all freaking out because she turns into the red panda. And our friends are like, Oh, we love you. And they just like, run and hook her. And I just again, because I cry on movies, I just burst into tears when we watch that into like, triggered Alyssa just burst into tears. Because I was like, I did not have that people were so Daniel, you talked about being bullied. That was me. Yes. And cruel. Like kids were so cruel to me. I had horrible middle grade experience. And so just seeing the kids in harbor me and the way they come around each other, it's it's incredibly moving in just wonderful. And, um, and like, the things I didn't have, I didn't have the parents to go to because they didn't take the bullying seriously. Kids are kids, they'll do what it you know, girls or maiming girls, you know, all that stuff. But But yeah, it's it's a fantastic book for any age, and it's on audio, which anytime there's a great narrator that can just make a book even. Even better. So, yeah, it's pretty good.
David Ames 1:12:28
Awesome. Yeah, the secular grace for kids, you know, like, the, like, school is rough, you know, like, you know, for them to experience that, you know, understand their need for community with one another, and to protect one another that that's beautiful. Okay, so we are rapidly running out of time, I have a hard stop in 20 minutes. I want to do a quick speed round. So literally one minute 60 seconds. I'm sorry, we can't do it justice. But we're going to do our last pics in in a speed round. And we're starting with Arline.
Alright. The Wizard of Oz. Nice. Yes. They're literally like, let's go see some supernatural guy. He will give us all the things we need. Just kidding. This guy's a complete try. Turns out it's we've had it the whole time. And we could totally do it. And I was like, wow, this is exactly this is deconversion and secular grace. They're like we will make sure you make it to AWS whether or not you know I get a heart or whether or not I get a brain and I was like, Yes, I love it. There you go. Wizard of Oz. I love it. Fabulous. Middle grade fiction.
Completely agree or lean? That's a great pick. I I've loved the story for a long time. And I think it completely fits with the theme
David Ames 1:13:45
I call in Europe.
Okay, I'm going to do two really fast. Perfect deconversion stories Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, an equilibrium starring Christian Bale. And I will not spoil these I'll say that Oblivion is a story about the sort of post apocalypse world where Tom Cruise is told not to love what's left of the world. But he feels this connection to it. And that takes him somewhere. There's a great quote up front, where he looks at his partner and he says with questions I asked she doesn't the things I wonder about, you won't. I think that's an incredible parallel for relationships where one goes a different direction. Equilibrium really quickly, is about a also a future world where people cannot feel human emotion. They've decided that all danger war, violence comes from emotion. So they take a tablet every day that cuts off all emotion. He's like the lead enforcer of this and then he stops taking his dose. Yeah, and you watch this guy have all of these firsts that I think people who have left an orthodoxy discover listening to music, physical touch, reading literature, looking at a sunrise. And it's like he's a baby. Like he's blown away by these things. It's very moving for a movie that has a lot of gunfights in it. That really spoke to me, right? Just being allowed to expand and experience more.
David Ames 1:15:24
Both of those are awesome. Those are fantastic. Yeah.
The sense of what I'm sorry, the sense of wonder, maybe being allowed to delight in stuff. David, you were talking about? Yeah. Daniel, David, we're talking about how cynics cynicism is sort of a default these days. Being jaded means being realistic and seeing people delight in things is just Yeah.
Or then you had something. Yeah, just wanted to say like any dystopian fiction, like is deconversion like The Truman Show, The Giver quartet. All of those are like, there's this one person who realizes
the matrix Yeah.
That the matrix and equilibrium taught us that you cannot D convert without engaging in a lot of martial arts battle. That's right.
And I missed that. Personally. I never got to kick down a door and
yeah, let us make up for that by just getting into fights on Facebook.
David Ames 1:16:30
Daniel, you're up for speed round.
Speed Round. All right. I am going to start a stopwatch. This is gonna be super dorky. But I can't I can't not go there. Somebody feed Phil. It's it's a it's a travel show. It's a food show. I know calling your apps. There it is. It is a good show. My wife grabbed me and said like, we got to watch this show. And I said I don't love, love, love, love reality television. I don't love food shows because all these snooty, like, except accepting Anthony Bourdain. You know, it's always snooty, people doing snooty things I just couldn't be bothered. And this is the opposite of that. It is a it is the lead writer and the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. So he's a comedy writer, and he loves food, he loves people. And he goes to all these places, and he meets like fascinating people. He does like food trucks in Bangkok. And he does, you know, these little stalls in, in Israel that have been there for like 1000 years. And he does all kinds of things in in cities all around the world, and just loves every person he meets completely authentically. Rosenthal is is Jewish. He's a secular Jew. And he is just here for everybody's everything. Like he's going to Buddhist temples, he's going into churches, he's going into synagogues, he's going into restaurants, most importantly. But also he goes to people's homes like he, he meets chefs at restaurants, and they invite him home for a home cooked meal. And he's just in there with their kids and their families. And just the explosion of delight that he brings with him everywhere is just the that's the kind of humanity that I want to belong to. And I see everything he does as just being this just absolutely no holds barred joy in every kind of human interaction you could possibly have. And and a lot of people love it. It's got I think six seasons now. I think Season Seven is on the way. It's it's really, really delightful. Most people who are like food critics hate the show, because they say things like he doesn't criticize anybody. Yes. Yeah. And it's amazing.
David Ames 1:18:49
And also, the the recognition that people are people then even dramatically different cultural experiences. We're just human beings and like we connect with each other and even just laughter in the human touch is a connection with one another and that binds us together regardless of where we came from. So
Daniel, I think of how, Phil when he takes a bite, he smiles with his entire body. You know, like, yeah, he's like, whoa, and what you find is these like, Thai? Grandmas are like just feeding him food. Yeah,
David Ames 1:19:30
just so it's so fun. Yeah,
he's the ultimate you know? Guest Yeah, just
don't get it so skinny. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It looks like it weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, and he's like six feet tall.
David Ames 1:19:46
Last comment really quick, you know the importance of, you know, breaking bread with one another to use a Christian term like I think there's value in doing communal meals to with one another intentionally And that that is such a meaningful thing as well. Mike, do you have anything?
Mike T 1:20:05
Yeah, I was thinking of something. You know, I'm a music lover. And I don't know how this ties into what we're talking about. But I thought it was a sweet movie A few years ago, a movie called yesterday. Fans. So this this guy is like a singer songwriter. He's kind of washed up, he can't really make it his songs are not very good. Some kind of event happens a blackout he has accident. He wakes up in the and there's no existence of the Beatles at all. Nobody knows them they slightly they've never existed, but he's a big fan. So he knows all their songs and stuff. He starts playing yesterday to his friends and they're just mesmerized by it. You know the words and the poetry and he's like, You got to know the song you know, and for he answered, he realizes it. Nobody knows about the Beatles. So he starts playing their songs board. And it's like, almost overnight, he becomes a the world's biggest music sensation, you know, playing Beatles stuff. And that's awesome. Anyway, kind of towards the end. I think there's a few people that that know about it, though. It's not just him. So they realized that the Beatles, you know who the Beatles were at one time. And anyway, they he, he's feeling awful about it. And they just tell him well, you know what, you know, it's okay. Keep singing the songs, you know, because this really, you know, it's speaking to people and I just, I just thought that was might be a good thing to bring up.
David Ames 1:21:45
Yeah, for sure. And music is so deep. We've talked about that a lot to that, you know, that both manipulative Lee with worship, but also just inspirationally. I've been listening to a lot of more secular gospel music that, like Lawrence comes to mind, they've got a song called don't lose sight that just just inspires me every time I hear this song. So yeah, music is the Jimmy
I'll go with Jaber Crow, by Wendell Berry. I may have mentioned that in my episode, but it's, it's a book about people, really, people in nature, in community, warts and all normal people, messed up people, all kinds of things. And I've been through it twice. It's the kind of book you finish, and then you just sort of stare at the wall for a while.
David Ames 1:22:44
Yeah. Highly recommended.
Yeah, it's, it's on my TBR list. It's, it's been there for a long time, though. I keep having so now, I will definitely read it.
David Ames 1:22:58
For my last one. And because we have, we're running out of time, I'm really just gonna do this as a recommendation. I'm gonna try not to spoil too much. But it is severance on apple plus, it is an amazing story incredibly well written incredibly real, well executed. The premise and I'm not giving away anything here is that the technology to split your consciousness so that the A version of yourself independent version of yourself goes to work every day. And the remaining part of yourself experiences the rest of life without having to go to work? This is deep philosophically about identity and consciousness and ask some incredibly deep questions. But beyond that, within the realm of work, is it and I'll just say, the obvious also, it is also a deep criticism of capitalism and office culture. But beyond that, is there's a religious aspect, very hinting of Mormonism and, and the Puritan work ethic. And that is interwoven throughout the whole thing. And as you can guess, there is the the, the work versions of themselves begin to you know, want to discover more about the real world and then without giving away too much, you know, the experience of being a fish out of water, that kind of thing. So highly recommended. I would love to do an entire episode with some or all of you on on seperates it is absolutely amazing. So with that, I just want to say thank you to this group of people the podcast, wouldn't be what it is, without each and every one of you. You've done incredible work, either behind the scenes or in front of the mic. You've supported me my mental health and my vision for the podcast. I just cannot say enough. How grateful I am for all of you guys. This is for whole years. It's just, it's amazing that we are here.
Yes, it's exciting to be part of it.
Love to see how it's become this bigger thing and just affect so many people and brought people together. And yeah, thank you, David for taking that little seed of an idea and just persisting. Yeah, it's gonna grow.
Awesome. Yes, yes. Thank you, David. Yeah.
Actually, for Did you say four? Yeah, for you happy four years. Yeah. Amazing.
David Ames 1:25:47
Final thoughts on the episode. It is hard for me to overstate how important the people you just listen to our to the podcast. I know I'm repeating myself so much. But Arline has done almost everything, including the community management and CO hosting, copy editing. But she is the engine that drives the podcast, she helps with a lot of coordination in the background, the podcast would not be where it is that today without our lien. Same goes for Mike T, the amount of editing time that Mike spends is amazing. And you guys get a weekly podcast instead of a monthly one. Because I couldn't do that at all. There's no way. As I said, Jimmy and Colin have been really helpful for my mental health, for supporting me for giving me ideas for letting me bounce ideas off of them, and actually providing a slightly critical view to tell me when I was wrong at times. And that is incredibly valuable. And I really appreciate it. And Daniel, for sure is going to be that type of person. Daniel, I have not spent quite as much time with each other. But we already can tell that there's a deep connection there. And I want to see what more Daniel can do within this community with the podcast and as a support for me as well. So thank you so very, very much to all of you for supporting the podcast and what we are trying to do here to spread secular grace to spread humanism, to provide a safe place to land for people in the middle of doubts, questioning deconstruction and deconversion. And lastly, I want to thank you the listener, obviously, none of this happens if you aren't there. I've tried very hard not to focus on numbers. I've said a number of times that we could double quadruple the numbers if I were more antagonistic, more debate oriented, and just bash Christians, that's pretty easy to do. But having a message of secular grace and caring about human beings is not terribly popular. As we talked about in the episode, being sincere is not going to go viral. I wanted to do that. Anyway, the mission of the podcast was to allow people to understand they can accept their own humanity and the humanity of others. And coming out of religion of various kinds, particularly very traditional particular, very high control. That is quite a challenge. That's difficult. And it is really hard to do that alone. Hopefully you haven't felt alone as you've listened along with other people's stories. Hopefully, you've heard your story, as someone else told their story. And that magic, that connection, is what will help us. That's what this podcast is all about. I want to put out one more time that participation in the community and the podcast is not about status, or lien, Mike, Jimmy, Colin, Daniel, there's nothing special about them. They just were willing to do work, they were willing to participate. So if there's any area of expertise that you have, or even just something you're interested in doing, please let us know. Reach out to our lien. Reach out to me and let us know. As I've said, social media, graphic design, even audio work, website design, marketing, there's just 1000 different ways that you could participate in the podcast. Please reach out to us if you're interested in doing that. And thank you so much for being a listener. That means a lot. Next week, our lien is talking to David Hayward, the naked pastor. That's going to be an amazing conversation. In early April, I'll be talking to Holly Laura, that's from the mega podcast, really excited about that. And many many community members in between. 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 Mackay beads. If 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, a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
“…a poetic way of looking at our lives can do a lot of the same jobs that religion can do, and we need to explore that.”
“We have these profoundly complicated feelings, and how do you express that? To some degree, it is inexpressible…but poets are going to try and capture that ambiguity.”
“The main poetic subject really is to look at things that are kinda too hard to look at…the inner experience of mortality, that inner experience of ambition despite mortality, which is the paradox that all of us have to face.”
“You don’t need to collect hundreds of poems. You need to seize on a few, return to them and let your life grow on them and their intricacies grow on you.”
“It’s got to be a poet who says, ‘This virtue still matters,’ because we’re at a moment where we don’t even know what to do with things that are not fairy tales but also not physics.”
“What is between the factual and the nonsense is the whole realm of humanity.”
“When you see the larger scope of how human beings manage the fear of dying, you don’t look around for a replacement for heaven anymore.”
“There are many rituals in any given faith that specifically welcome everybody, that welcome outsiders…You can do the ones you’re invited into.”
“Human beings aren’t robots. Rituals weren’t for God. The rituals were always for human beings, and it’s good for us to keep doing them.”
“The next generation is going to believe bad things if we don’t give them good things [to believe].”
“I call myself a ‘poetic realist,’ and I call myself a ‘poetic atheist.’”
“I feel very strongly that the way to the future is pluralism and rationality. I believe in those things so much that any indoctrination is not going to be what I want.”
“…you gotta go out and be with people…[and] you need some time alone to think.”
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 United studios Podcast Network. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please 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. Shout out to all my patrons. If you too would like an ad free experience of the podcast you can become a patron at any level at patreon.com/graceful atheist. If you are in the midst of doubt or questioning or deconstruction, you do not have to do it alone. Please join us at deconversion anonymous where we are trying to be a safe place to land for those people who are questioning doubting and deconstructing. You can find us at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. My guest today is Jennifer Michael Hecht. Jennifer is one of my intellectual heroes and she has written a new book called The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives. Jennifer was previously on the podcast four years ago and 2019 where we discussed her book doubt history. Jennifer is one of those people who is able to capture the joy and wonder of life from a secular perspective and put it down on paper. I describe her as one of the very few people on the vanguard of ritual and meaning for nonbelievers. She coined the phrase a graceful life philosophy. We discussed multiple phrases that she coins in this book, including interfaith lists, cultural liturgy, dropped by in lie ceremonies, and poetic atheism. Jennifer is a historian and an academic but she is first and foremost a poet. And that comes through in her writing. And in our discussion here today. The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives is out March 7, please go out and get this book. It is absolutely amazing. Here is my conversation with Jennifer Michael Hecht.
Jennifer Michael Hecht. Welcome to the Graceful Atheist Podcast.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 2:45
Thanks so much for having me,
David Ames 2:46
Jennifer. It amazes me. But it was four years ago that you and I chatted about your book doubt. That was all the way back in 2018. You were so kind to come on then the podcast was two months old, I think at the time. So it's like, what a transformation since then. And we were discussing the fact that you are currently at that time writing Wonder Paradox, which is your new book that is out on March 7. So I'm so glad to have you back.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 3:14
Thanks so much. I'm really delighted to be here. And Wow, you've grown and served so many people. And it's just amazing thing you've you've managed to do here.
David Ames 3:22
I appreciate it. Yeah. And I think the I think the listeners are probably sick of hearing me recommend your writing. Almost anytime anyone asks me about books at all, you are at the top of that list. So you remain my intellectual hero. Thank you so much for the work that you do as well. I won't go all in on your your bone a few days. But I think your bio is understated. It says that you're a poet and a historian. And that is there's a lot packed into those two words. I think you've been a professor or you've written a number of books, including academic books, you want to talk just a bit about the work that you've done over the years.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 4:03
Sure. You know, I started out as a poet, and I thought I would do really I was in high school sort of college college and I thought I'm gonna write poetry. But I wanted a day job. My father, until very recently was a history. I was a sorry, a professor of physics, at Delphi on Long Island. And so the idea of teaching the idea of going to graduate school so I think I thought about, about doing history of literature, history of poetry, but in graduate school, I fell in love with the history of science, and have very poetic it was how how very much in order to do science. You have to try as hard as you can to go from one rational idea to the next, but one does history of science. By unraveling that, and that is much more of a sort of, by your guts feeling to realize well, how how would certain ideas, perhaps stay in a certain line of thinking longer than they should have, and then sort of try to figure out, oh, it was stuck to this and that all of this kind of work is much more cultural and literary. But doing the history of science, of course, brought me into the history of atheism. And I was already an atheist, and I was just overjoyed to see such weird and interesting people. You know, I wouldn't say that all atheists through history have been as weird as the group that I happen to find when I was doing some history of science work for my PhD. And found some some early anthropologists, they'd really sort of invented anthropology in a sense, and they were atheists, and they were, they saw what they were doing as, as a way of promoting atheism, their science. So this is not in the history, the way we look at any of these subjects. So that was an immediate Oh, this is fun and weird, and I gotta track this down. And that experience made me realize, oh, every time I try to find a straight history of atheism, there isn't one out there. People were either making everybody atheists or nobody atheist. So that work was a delicious side slant that took me you know, that became my main branch of how I was operating in the world, to bring that kind of history of atheism, history of religious doubt, history of debt, religious doubt, that leads people to new religions, not always to agnosticism or atheism, a whole bunch of varieties of watching the ways that sometimes ritual disappears. But faith stays sometimes faith disappears. So all of that kind of work, for the longest time was somewhat separate from my poetry. And I read poetry as well as write poetry and I and I've taught on the graduate level. So yeah, eventually those things were going to come together and they finally have is our ex, I'm really looking at the ways that, that the, that a poetic way of looking at our lives, can do a lot of the same jobs that religion can do, and that we need to at least explore that at least all of us just up a click of observation about how these things operate in our lives, you gain, you gain some power, you gain some peace, just little adjustments, of naming some of the real things that are happening around us, you don't even have to seek to change them. Just naming does a tremendous amount. And that's where, where the book starts just talking about that phenomenon.
David Ames 8:06
You know, it's interesting that you say naming things, because I think you are amazing at kind of coining a phrase or a word, we're gonna go over some of them in our previous conversation. And he talked about graceful life philosophies, which I felt was such a beautiful term, and you know, evocative, and there's a number in this book, I do want to get the subtitle out. So the book is called The Wonder Paradox,: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives. And it is out in early March, march 7 of this year. I wanted to begin with you, Jennifer, by kind of confessing that, you know, I'm the cretin. I am the the troglodyte here, and that poetry isn't a significant part of my life or not something that I'm cognizant of. So I think reading, reading this book made me more aware of where poetry tends to be more with music for me personally, but it you know, where poetry was, in fact, a major part of my life. So So let's begin by just talking about why poetry What is it about poetry that you think has such meaning for human beings?
Jennifer Michael Hecht 9:16
Well, I do believe that, in a sense, when I say poetry, I'm speaking about art. And I'm even speaking about the poetic aspect in science. And some scientists are good at ethics explicating that but of course, who's going to be best at doing this kind of poetic work is people who have trained themselves to think in terms of very densely packed, rich ideas that because of the way they use language, are a little bit fluid in the places where, if you lock it down, you're only getting half The truth, right? Nobody totally loves their loves other human beings loves everybody in their lives and totally hates them. But we have these profoundly complicated ID feelings, right? And how to express that? Well, the answer is, to some degree, it is inexpressible the way that humans feel about their lives. But it's poets who are going to try to capture that ambiguity. But I think what you said at first is so important that I think that a lot of people experience, let's guess, 10 poems in the course of a year that just crossed their desk because of today, because of the inter webs, there's no question that's where it's happening. But in the past, it happened by many other ways that we used to have the advice columnist Ann Landers, and she was constantly being asked where a certain line of poetry came from, and then she would print the poem, and people would keep that piece of paper on their refrigerator. For decades, I mean, there have been many different ways where, and I walk into people's homes, and nowadays I look around, and I will often see some kind of poem on the world, on the wall, often a good poem. And they, and they, the people, somebody put that on the wall, because they had that kind of connection to it. Now we do it on the internet, and what is it that happens, you read it, and sometimes it doesn't work for you, you don't read it all the way through. But every once in a while, not infrequently, you read one of these poems, and you, you know, it makes you take in a moment of breath, you have a slight moment of a change in perspective about who you are in the world. In fact, that's the main poetic subject, the main poetic subject, really, is to look at things that are kind of too hard to look at most of the time. And that's where we get our gigs, right? What what nobody else is talking about. And what is that, that's that inner experience of mortality, the inner experience of ambition, despite mortality, which is just a paradox that each one of us has to negotiate and, and the idea that the culture rightly tells us that an adventurous life is one at home, building things or out there forging ahead, and you can't kind of do both, at least not at the same time. All these paradoxes that we live with, that poetry sees as its main business, so when these poems, you know, maybe 10 lines of have an idea across your desk, and it means something to you. I'm suggesting that that's a great place for us to grab that poem. Keep keep it safe, return to it. Don't you don't need to collect hundreds of poems you need to seize on a few and return to them and let your life grow on them and and their intricacies grow on you. And most cultures in society have had something like this, but in the non religious world right now, we are lacking in some of this conversation.
David Ames 13:23
Yeah, that's that's kind of a summary of that, of what you've just said, you say that poetry can help us make up for the loss of the supernatural can connect us to one another, and to meaning in our lives. And I think that's what I really connected with with this book. I feel like you and just a handful of other people in the world are on this vanguard of you know, how do we live a full meaningful life secular people with the wonder with the or with the the full range of human experience instead of what can sometimes be a hyper rationalist perspective that denies the emotion and human experience?
Again, how do you feel like poetry brings particular to lead to secular people, this sense of meaning?
Jennifer Michael Hecht 14:24
One of the things that I'm seizing on is the notion that a lot of us are already getting meaning from our lives and from art and literature, and science. But we haven't taken that one little step of saying that this, that the things that we do to nurture those feelings are a kind of I I'm very careful to not say replacement when I'm writing because these are the Religious doesn't come first, right? In the society, it's in the culture, it's in religion, and it goes back to society back to certain culture, all of these ideas are not. But for us, if we're speaking, especially in terms of sort of American, Christian or post Christian audience, we're looking at very specific things that were lost. And that we can look at and say, Well, what, what's missing there, and it really takes not being too furious or to a vengeful at religion, you have to understand I have listened to enough of your show to to get a sense that a lot of the people in your audience were raised in religion in a very toxic way. Now, I met many, many people and have stayed in touch with people from from the middle of America, but but who have that experience, and so I'm very, you know, I was very sort of traumatized myself and coming to understand it. Because, you know, because of what I do, people tell me a lot of stuff. Sure, I can imagine, but, but where I come from in terms of where I live, which I live in Brooklyn, and I write for other literary and educated people around the world, and I hear from them. So I'm writing to people who might be pretty much thinking that religion is neither their friend nor foe, right? They just feel that modern life is modern life. And that in what I call drop by and lie religion, though, I don't mean it in a mean a negative way. I really think sometimes it's the only way you get to get together with maybe your family. But it's worth thinking about, if the only times you do go to a house of worship is just drop by and say things you don't believe. And so, you know, I look in the book at ways of avoiding that, but but the specific notion that there are a lot of people who just feel atomized and alone. And if they were to realize how many people no matter what religion they started from, are really trying to guess try to make a better world try to try to stoke and fan compassion and empathy and just attempting to do the right thing. Even that notion of the right thing. It's got to be a poet, who says virtue still matters, because because we're at a moment where we don't even know what to do with things that are not fairytales, but also not physics. Right? What what is, is in between the factual and the nonsense is a whole is the whole realm of humanity. Right? In the book, I say, you know, with our white coats on we can I understand that love is about facial symmetry or something, you know, making a good partner but, but we live these questions and explaining it doesn't explain it away. We live here, and it's where I want to live. And where I live is full of emotion and meaning. I wouldn't say much justice, but that turns out we have to work on but, you know, love is real. And we know that it is something and we know sometimes we're not even experiencing it. Sometimes we're left out in the rain. But the notion that love is real, there's a bunch of things that we can put in that category. Right? And and we forget that and I think meaning is one of the things that's in that category. We don't it's not easy to take it apart and say where it comes from. But what in the human experience can stand up to such a question really were asking, you know, how much more can we know about it and in different kinds of ways, but certainly the idea of explaining it to the point where it doesn't exist when here we are all living in meaning and living with love and if all of its difficulties. Yeah, it becomes important to champion the poetic again to say we can't we don't always we're not always doing that kind of research experiment. Sometimes we're doing one that's more internal.
David Ames 19:46
Actually, yeah, the chapter on love poetry, you know, I felt myself just gets swept away and some of the stories you're telling like, you know, you kind of compare and contrast rom com versus kind of more a deeper that maybe more painful perspectives on love in poetry and story. That was just it was definitely captivating. And it's one of those things where I think what you said that really struck with me was like, you know, I've been coupled for a couple of decades now and then getting excited about other couples that you know, who are kind of in the middle of that that infatuation phase man that poetry is, is attempting to, to capture the chaos and the joy of all that.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 20:27
That's right, and, and also to sort of celebrate all sorts of versions of love, including the kinds that in our society, we, you know, except for that sort of single image of older people walking down the street holding hands, we tend to celebrate new love rather than the love that we say we believe in which wraps families and puts down roots.
Another thing that sweeps all around, this is something that for me, I made up kind of as a joke, at first, I was just writing and I came up with the term the interfaith lists. And it just made me laugh, the interfaith less, you know, because the interfaith was such a specific moment in in mid 20 century, and though it survives on in some ways, but the interfaith was made me laugh, because, oh, well, it's not clearly an exact term, it's just saying that there are so many of us all around the world, from all sorts of religious backgrounds who have these positive, warm feelings and base our progress and action in terms of both science and, you know, trusting in the other people who are who are really working in the direction that we want to see the world go in, including climate change, and all these kinds of issues to realize that, that the interface lists the people who perhaps are, you know, on a given holiday, or something are feeling a little left out from those public celebrations. But once we realize that there are a couple of us in any gathering around a Christmas tree, for instance, you start to be able to feel the people like you who are out there in the world, I don't want to talk too much about my last book, which was a stay a secular argument against suicide. It really did learn from that experience, kind of I learned to feel the people out there. Because when someone in your world, even pretty far out, does take their life, you realize what they meant to you? And what a soul not doing that meant to you because you suddenly feel a tear in the fabric way over there. Yeah. And that just made me learn to when can you feel the fabric? When do we feel that we're connected? And how can you know, how can we enhance that feeling so that we're not alone. And that definitely came into this book and saying, you know, we're already doing a lot of the things that I'm talking about. I'm just saying, if we can become a tiny bit more aware of them, right? naming a few of their parts, we can start to just build a song, just the tiniest bit better life makes a big difference.
David Ames 23:38
Yeah, absolutely. You actually, you know, you're answering questions I haven't asked yet. But like, I felt like Wonder paradox was an extension of stay. And how that's relevant to my audience is, they come from a very conservative theological background, typically, and and then when they lose that they have the believers in their lives telling them well, you have no justification for your morality, you might as well be a nihilist, that kind of thing. And kind of the entire purpose of this podcast and these discussions is to say no, you this is a human experience, all that wonder are human things and like you get to keep that with you. And I feel like that is the through line between those two books that all of this is is the human experience and it's wonderful in our interconnectedness with one another is a way that that builds that up to remind us that we are not on an island alone and that there is great meaning in us being together with one another.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 24:38
Yeah, and there's tremendous pain in being a human being but that's true pretty much no matter what you believe not what you believe you're gonna have to struggle with it when the pain is hard and you're gonna have to struggle against you know, egotism when when you're feeling super happy because you know, the The, the idea for me is it, you know that you want to lean on something that for you is pretty steady. Right? And so for me, you know, I so to lean on human beings is a great leap of faith, but at least I know they exist. And I know I am one and I, every once in a while have it in me to be able to lean out and help someone else. And, and yeah, the, the, the magic of that is, is what I mean by the poetry of our lives and, and also the, the beautiful repetitions that happen through life. Again, it's something that we can, we can coax ourselves to be able to notice and see. And it is it's just, it's just that little extra bit of joy and control that make life a little bit more more worth living. But I mean, especially outside of a religious framework. And I say that from kind of an American point of view, I will say the book because I've spent the last however many years I'll say decades now I got my PhD in 1995. So I have been studying the history of religions and the present day of religions all over the world since then, and that has made me into a person who finds even the word atheism. So Christian centered in a way. And so are Judeo Christian centered or the world is mostly filled with people who don't have a single god with a single morality and an afterlife where you go on having what tea and cookies with your relatives where you actually have things. So even if there are afterlives in these other religions, they are not like the Christian afterlife, where I do go on actually doing things. And, and that's a big deal for people who are coming out of Christianity to realize that, that it's not just a matter of loot, losing the supernatural, it's losing this particular very specific religion at a specific moment in history. And, and it creates, you know, a shadow version or a chasm in just the shape of where you thought you had this special, special characteristics of life of not dying of these things. And, but when, when you see the larger scope of how human beings manage fear of dying, you don't look around for a replacement for heaven anymore. What what what human beings mostly do is not looking in that direction, they place the the big contest of life, all in terms that are not about that, that idea that death is a chasm that you're gonna fall off and that chasm is the empty space of heaven that it's it's x Christians that are most worried about that. And that tells us that you can focus elsewhere. It's not a matter of, of just being up just having lost something. You walk into a larger world and see oh, people have been a mad seeing this life and a lot of different ways. And yeah, it's amazingly freeing. Absolutely. Right. It for for audiences who are very much in that world, it still feels you know, I can remember after doubt, doing a talk in Salt Lake City, they invited me I went, you know, yeah, it out, like, who invited me and how that happened. And there were a lot of people in that audience who who came because they knew who I was and wanted here they came from far and wide kind of thing. But there were also students at the, at the community college. And and some of the questions were, well, what about the miracles? You know, that's a very long swing between kinds of questions that I'm getting. But and yeah, sometimes I know that, that the message I'm giving right here is going to sound like it's, it's yeah, it's a step away from religious pain. It is because I'm saying to people, when you land all the way on this shore, and you're just going through the motions of these dead old rituals, and you feel a little hypocritical All and you feel a little letdown, you can put some of the meaning back in by thinking about that moment with a poem, bringing that poem back in and thinking about the other people in the world who are celebrating in a similar way, with their families with that ritual. You know, what I'm saying brings up the question of cultural appropriation, people have to think carefully before they do other people's rituals. But there are many rituals in any given faith that specifically welcome everybody, welcome outsiders, for all sorts of reasons. But most often, because everybody knows that feeding outsiders is a blessing, right? So that happens in all sorts of cultures. So you can do the ones you're invited into. These days, we intermarry in such a way someone in your families related to a holiday, you might want to try out in that kind of way.
But mostly what I'm trying to say to people is that human beings aren't robots and rituals weren't for God, the rituals were always for human beings. And it's good for us to keep doing them. You can invent new ones, if you want. And I think on some level, every family does just out of, you know, sure, you're close enough to where they have ducks. So you have to do the ritual with chicken, it's just how it is. But when people start to say, Okay, I'm gonna make up a whole bunch of rituals on my own. Well, then you're asking other people to do your wacky ideas, and sometimes it's just not going to fly. Whereas if you say to people, Look, I know this is bizarre, but what we're going to do is going to cut down this tree, we're going to make a circle of like, you have all these odd things, but everybody's been doing them forever, and look around and Miles is doing. So it's a lot easier to just insert some of your own ritual into that. But I think a lot of people still feel I know that a lot of people feel guilty and confused, let down and hypocritical, saying words, they don't believe in situations that they couldn't help be in. And they alternative for them as nothing. So what I'm saying is, I hadn't joined the party, here's how to make sure you have some meaning. Realize that the rest of us from all sorts of different things are doing the same kind of thing. And then the fun is okay, so then how can we make all of this more fun and delicious? One thing, the next generation is going to believe bad things if we don't give them good things. Yeah. See that?
David Ames 33:02
Everywhere? Right? Yeah. So you've been circling around the holidays and your term have dropped by and lie, for sure. That is a sentiment that, that we hear from people who have gone through this faith transition to say, you know, what do I do at Christmas? What do I what I do at Hanukkah are my My favorite tradition. And I think the message that that comes across in wonder paradox is that you get to own that you get to mix and match, you get to build new traditions that you don't have to be left, high and dry. And then ultimately, you can also just participate, knowing that this is a human ritual, and do it anyway.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 33:43
Right, and, and, you know, I'm basing these kinds of claims on a lot of History and Sociology. So that, and and all these years of just studying the varieties of ways that things have gone in history, and then going out and being invited to give these talks, and I didn't even realize there was an atheist movement until I wrote out, it didn't. They just started inviting me. That started that was just old white guys in the room. Right. And that changed while I was there, you know? Um, that came out in 2003.
David Ames 34:23
Yeah, that was right. Right. Before there's kind of the explosion of it. Yeah.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 34:29
And, yeah, enough, so that I was sort of able to look at at what was going on just in the beginning. So yeah, it's been having all these different experiences of learning about the stuff I'm talking about, but then going out into the world to give talks, where I'm invited, so I'm not going into sort of hostile crowds. I'm going to places thought they've liked the message, but very often religious places because they're interested in these questions. And hearing so much specific trouble around ritual ritual having to do with holidays, as we've discussed a little bit, but also rituals having to do with funerals, weddings, and baby welcoming ceremony. Were were other things that are heard a lot. And I've also heard some people's little solutions that made it into the book as just sort of templates for how people do negotiate these things, sometimes rather beautifully. But yeah, the I think that there's a way in which what I'm arguing for is almost the sort of poetic common sense of a lot of secular people living today, I was just able to spend these decades being able to show why indeed, we are doing things that make sense and have historical strength and muscle to them. Beautiful poetry already exists. And yeah, very much saying, I think we're doing smart things. And here's some of the reason why you should feel good about them instead of conflicted.
David Ames 36:16
I think one of the things that really helped me is, it's an idea that you expressed in wonder paradox that I've also heard from people like James Croft, and Anthony pin. And the concept is just that everything is secular, meaning, religion and ritual are our human inventions. And so everything is secular, and it flips it on its head a bit to say, I haven't lost anything. I, you know, everything is secular, I can you know, I can participate, how I want the specific quote, and in your book, you say, but surely religion is a human creation to organize human needs for celebration, gathering, meditation, inspiration, and comfort. And I also like the way that Anthony Penn put this, he basically said, religion is the human collective search for meaning. And I feel like that that's in the zeitgeist right now. And it has a lot of relevance for this audience as well that, you know, coming out of that, again, you haven't you haven't lost anything, you can just recognize the humanity in it and recognize your own humanity.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 37:19
Yeah, I think that's great. I think that's really good. Of course, once everything is religion, we're back into a kind of swampy language. We can put that aside and say, Okay, this is a beautiful formulation and not need to associate it with everything. Because we can step back and say, relive religion can be a template for hypnotizing and controlling and abusing people, by people who for some reason seem obsessed with sort of power and control and all sorts of things that we know, a religion does that make people want to break out of it. The in the book, I use the interfaith lists, and I associate myself with that, but I also call myself a poetic realist, I call myself a poetic atheist, and I still am a poetic atheist, I just want to make clear at all times, that there's a ton of things I don't believe in, God doesn't really have that special place in that category of being nonsense. For me. There's a whole range of human behaviors that I look at as saying, Well, you know, that kind of story doesn't do a thing for me, because of aspects of its nature that make it in into the wound category, right? But all of this is subjective. Like when, when does a moment you know, and so we define our terms, right. So, in the book, I say, you know, sacred is something that is a word that predates the religious and people use it to mean what people hold sacred. In the social sciences today, this is how I'm using, but I don't use the word spirituality in the book. But people use it to describe me and they're not really wrong, because, again, this is muddy language territory. Exactly. So I invented a term partially because yes, when you invent a new term, in order to try to be more specific, you also realize how inadequate the old terms are, and you find new associations. So you know, when anything you make up that doesn't work doesn't stick so you don't have to worry about that. Unless you're, you know, trying to be a historian. I'm really careful. You know, I only make up terms when I really feel they don't know how else to speak about the thing is matter of fact, I tend to make them up for myself as a shorthand, because I need a way to write about something and that I realize, oh, I should use this term more. But yeah, I like poetic realist because it doesn't really need a definition. realist I believe in, you have to be careful with the term realism. Of course, it's had some artistic moments where people used it more. The reason I've avoided it in the past was because people who believe in religion believe what they're doing is real. So what does it even mean to whereas rational at least has a, you know, they believe they're being rational too. But we do have a definition of rationality that it's a little bit more separate, right. But I felt that once I said, poetic realist, it was like saying poetic atheist, but with a little bit more reach. But you'll notice I almost never say poetic atheists without poetic realists without working poetic atheist in into the conversation because I want people to know, I am still an atheist and one full of fire and brimstone. You don't be right, you you do a grace, relate the ascent doing a poetic atheist? What are we trying to do? We're up against a wall of people who are rightfully very angry, and using anger as the way of communicating where they're at. But there's just too much you lose in that in that kind of fight. Right? Exactly. Yeah,
David Ames 41:21
I tried to make it clear that the anger is super valid. And you might sit in that for a while, but you don't want to remain there forever. Right? You want you want to get out eventually.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 41:31
Right. And it's good for people to know where to go in the culture to find different types. I mean, not that we have to be locked into what we are. And I think anybody listening for anger in anything I do can find it. You know, yeah, I feel very strongly that the way to the future is pluralism. Rationality. Yeah. I believe in those things so much that any indoctrination is not going to be what I want and any kind of retrograde ideas that are not based in rationality. Right, right. But within that spectrum, within that world, we do need people to know where they can come if they want to feel big, interesting. feelings and ideas that live in the world. We believe in you and I need Yeah, not find somebody who's furious at religion because that story is only one part of what we're what we're talking about.
Without doubt, I even was constantly at pains to make the distinction between people who were arguing against fables. And I include the resurrection of Jesus as a fable. It's a story that didn't happen, because it's too much not what happens, right? Yes, exactly. Then there's another kind of person who says they believe in God who really believes in something awfully like poetry, progress and love. And they tell me, I believe in God, and I tell them, they don't and we happily can break bread together. Exactly. There's really no difference in what we believe. Because there are many people who choose to say they believe in God and choose to relate to the world, believing in God, just you know, just like there are atheists who still believe the universe is going to bring them something that's often close. Right? So, so yeah, I think it's, it's super important that people know, yeah, there are atheists who are taking into account a very, very wise kind of belief and still saying, Well, for me, it the big reason not to do that is because it gets you you don't focus on how to make the human world stronger and better. You're still assigning a little something out there. So for me, that's not my direction, right? But, but it's really important to say, yeah, there are all these different distinctions. And sometimes you're you're in one where you say, you know, I I'm not in a place where I need to be arguing against the parables. You know, I know that there's something well, there's some there are different conversations everywhere. It's so important to be meeting people where you're meeting people, as I met them, when at when the doubt talks were, well, the pandemic gave us put a stop to a lot of uh, yeah, hearing that people are so abused by religion or abuse by powerful people who just happened to be hitting them with the Bible. Yeah, that they really need this conversation to take place on all these different levels in a slow burn to really see what's, you know, in some of this stuff with our parents. We never saw it out right. We just get stronger we learn how to deal.
David Ames 45:03
Man, there's so much there I want to respond to I'm gonna let me just do a quick lightning round and just say, I agree with you that I think I've generalized beyond just religion to say, you know, traditions that are rigid, that lock a person into a certain view of the world that may not be true. And so it you know, it is beyond just the religious context, but anything that is that proves itself to be untrue in one way or another. And I think the, what you were describing there about the, the closeness and you, you and I discussed this last time about the ardent believer and the ardent atheist have more in common than the kind of the middle masses. But I often say that the, you know, the most dangerous word in the English language is God in that, you know, you can be in a room of 1000 people, and you say the word God, and there are 1000 different interpretations of what that actually means. And I've liked that you kind of work with the messiness of the language, it's so hard to say anything about like, spirituality. You know, as when we get close to that some of these concepts and what we really mean is about the experience of being human, but all of the verbiage implies something else, not because that can be very difficult.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 46:12
Right? Well, you know, I mean, when you're working from the Abrahamic religions, you got Moses coming down with morality written in stone, are for what isn't, it isn't written in stone, constantly take into account the context and the situation and what's going on. So it's, it is kind of comic Yeah.
David Ames 46:50
Couple more things. One other term that I think you coin that we've been circling around is this idea of cultural liturgy. So some of the, you know, the rituals that we go through that are that are, in fact, secular already. And I thought that was a beautiful term that we need in the world.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 47:05
Thanks. So one of the reasons that cultural literacy liturgy seems so important to me at and again, just to give a sort of example of, for instance, we could talk about just the, you know, colored lights at, at holiday time that are, at this point, their cultural liturgy, rather than a religious artifact for many people. But, but also, you know, we go to weddings and see the same poem there. And we think, Oh, this is trite, or used or cliche. And who would say that about a biblical prayer, right? Oh, you know very well, that whatever was good enough to get in that book, whatever people keep saying that helps. And it helps partially, just because you've seen other people get married to it. So that consistency is not a bad thing, it's a good thing. And that's something that really needed to be said, so that there are poems and music that are already cultural liturgy, and that we should encourage each other to embrace them. If you see a great poem read in a movie, and you want to incorporate that you don't have to think of that as something on original. We don't want original at a funeral, or we, we want something to hold on to something to be able to revisit that stays strong for us, because it was already there. Yeah. So that that became a really important thing to be able to see that there already are some things like that, that while no individual person could plant the flag and say, Now, this is cultural liturgy, we can notice that the whole culture is gently moving towards, in a way certain things and we can situate ourselves in that world. Yeah, as you said, Before, you can know that why isn't your natural and real relationship with the religion you were born into just as valid as the people who encountered that religion a century, two centuries, three centuries ago. And, and I can show you that those people changed their religion because it match how they lived. They it happens every generation. And And there, there are generations that move towards and away from what we would call unbelief that we don't even realize was unbelief for them because we certainly grew over it. So yeah, that's that's part of the reason that this book that's really, you know, it's really my heart. But if he did, it needed constant, it needed the scaffolding up history who would have believed well, not only scaffolding that the historical example about how all This stuff changes makes you feel braver to reinterpret. And also just to not think that everything we're doing today must be bad, right? It is the invention of the future.
David Ames 50:13
A couple things on that one, I like to, like a thought experiment for people is to say, you know, if you had a time machine, and you can go back to any point in time in the history and be amongst the believers of that time, would you do that? And do you think that you would recognize it? And you know, I think my intuitive response to that is that, no, it would be radically different. Even if you drop the Christian into Jesus's time, right? It would be unimaginably different than what they think it is. Because of just the constant change.
Another thing that leapt out at me that you talked about is, in this idea of coming up with your own traditions that you talked about, somebody asked you and you said, Well, we made it up. And they asked you, can we do that? And then you said, well, Who's stopping you? stopping us? I love that, like, you know, we have the ability to make those new traditions for ourselves.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 51:17
That's right. And and what gives us that ability is some kind of authority, which if you can't find it outside yourself, it only takes out, it only takes flicking that switch on in your head to realize oh, okay, that means me. I think it's, it was especially interesting for Jews, because we have this notion of a kind of most orthodox down to a most reform, which is not reality really. It because they come in at different times come into America, I mean, and so these things are all just, it's really quite a mess. But the sense that there's a more orthodox version of your religion can make you feel like, oh, they wouldn't believe in the stuff I'm doing. So I should add a little bit more. And this was a realization Oh, they wouldn't believe in what I'm doing anyway. If I add a ton more, because the person I'm doing it with is the wrong faith three generations back or something. And I can't fix that. And I won't fix it. Nor do I believe in the distinction being made. And so now I'm angry and up against it. Right? If you think it through you, you feel like rejecting it. But yeah, if you if you start from there and say oh, they already don't, nothing I do is going to make the absolute orthodox feel like I'm doing it right? Yes, you can save yourself. Okay, well, then whose team Am I on? And I'm on the team of of other people who are trying to make a more beautiful world for our kids in the next generations. And, and that is a clarifying moment. Yeah.
David Ames 53:00
A very freeing Absolutely. For Hank, I believe you give this thought experiment to your students. You said you wake up tomorrow morning and can't find anyone, anywhere. By all indications you're alone on the planet. What do you do that you say to your students? Sorry to do that to you. But most of you were headed for an existential crisis anyway. So this way, I'm here to get you out. Again, I loved I think this I think in our previous conversation, we talked about how we each kind of have to go through and the culture itself and us individually have to go through these deep questions. Anyway, over and over again, that there is no kind of free ride that we have to ask these these hard questions and get through it. And this seems to me like a very personal one, you know, what is meaning for you if you were the only person on earth?
Jennifer Michael Hecht 53:47
Yeah, absolutely. Isn't it so interesting, and so much depends on how you interact with other people. So I think that I'm kind of a gregarious, but Ultra introvert. Okay, I really, whether nature nurture, I am going to be very engaged for a long, long time on my own before I even look up notice that Oh, right. Eventually it happens but I have so many projects in the house that I can forget to go out and without it being a sad thing on Yeah. I mean. So I think that I am always lecturing people ongoing you got to go out and be with people because that's the message I need. Okay, because naturally my I don't need the message. You need some time alone to think right? I know I forget that other people need need to practice that and to you know, so I have that's more something I have to remind myself and I do of course, but And that question about the world being empty for me I'm was something that, you know, interaction with students eventually kind of threw that back at me to sort of look at myself and see that this idea of the end of the world, I've been showing it to people partially because I want to show them how connected we are. Much everything would stop it for us individually, if everyone else went away. And when you're talking to college students, they it really is an original thought for a lot of them that even three meals a day with a fork is a thing. Why should we three meals a day and even these tiny little questions of, of how we live that I can show them through travel? Right, you can see that when you go to another country. And I think it's always important if somebody has been to England where you know the language, but you still don't know how they behave. It's still another country. Yeah. And, of course, you can get farther and farther away from anything, you know. And it is a classic, classic idea that the past is, is another country, I would ask people that question because it was a way for me to remind myself how much I need people. And I would imagine in the thought process that what would save me was again, some sort of project that I would put my life into, even if I was alone, I would find, and that project would be very human based, right, because I'm a human being. But whatever it would be, would be based on continuing the values that I was sort of started in. But so it's an isolated way to be very public. But I think that what was so important for so many people that they would always come back to it and want to talk about it is this notion that that whether you're alone or with people that were making the meaning together, and you can enhance or decrease that, that connection, and that when it comes down to it. It's really just us, it's just us and, and mortality is the problem that were handed, or each one of us is handed. And if you don't think much about that, you still may think about the idea of the choices that you make in a single lifetime. And you want to let you want to live the life that you want to live. And just that that is a burden that each of us comes into life with, if we're lucky, write the script for us. And there's tremendous processing that we have to do. And so that's why the book is divided up into sort of problems that people would have problems like shame, or, you know, problems, about how to talk about death, outside of heaven to young people, really specific kinds of problems. Then there's one chapter that's on holidays, that's a very broad look, that kind of invites you to think about the specific things in the holidays you like either the song or the drink that goes with that how to really sort of parse through what what you bring into the holidays, and what you might be able to tinker with in order to connect the holiday with a specific emotional experience that religions most religious holidays, they either they're commemorating a historical thing sometimes, but very often, it is about exploiting shame, getting over your shame, sometimes having to recognize it first face it, apologize to people. And those are very often about fasting or bathing going to where certain river is just even thinking about these things can help us realize, oh, human beings throughout history have suffered this weird thing of shame. Yeah, how we've coped with it, and then showing how it's coped within Shakespeare poem and that so they're short chapters that deal with very specific issues. Yeah,
David Ames 59:26
I have to tell you, let's see, I've got I've got this note here somewhere that I laughed out loud, and I'm probably going to murder the German name here. The HC HC minutes twist on Heraclitus seems to be playfully denying the religious idea of washing oneself internally in a river you can't get clean even once. I love that and the reason I do is like my first philosophy, one on one with Heraclitus said, you know, the idea of that changes the only constant in the world and the predecessor to him was saying, you know, you can't step in the same river twice. And he's the one who said you can't step in the same River wants anyway, I just that was a little personal present to me. So thank you. I love that
I want to hit my last two topics that you talked about marriage a fair amount and the the ceremony of it. But I also wanted to just draw out pertinent to my audiences when somebody has gone through this faith transition, and they are still married to a believer. So a couple things I think are really useful there. You talked about strong bonds can go along with fierce contrary forces. And you also say it also shows that love is a mess, a serious mess. And there's a lot of deconstruction, excuse me, destruction and remaking, total destruction, total remaking new substance remade form, married people are separate, yet united. And there's some hope in there. I think it parallels the st. Perell concept of a second marriage to the same person. But like that happens, just a little personal note that happens to be true in my life. I'm married to a believer. And I know lots of people kind of need to hear that message. We talked about change being constant, and also the individuals in a marriage and the marriage itself is constantly changing as well.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 1:01:17
Yeah, absolutely. And specifically, the issue of being married to someone who's still in religion. So interesting. My husband's from a Catholic background, but also, but I think, you know, we've definitely over the last 23 years come to a lot of, of understandings fresh together of the world so that, you know, you build a new world. Yeah, I think it's a really interesting problem. And I think that it's like, I feel like, yeah, I feel like people are operating from similar values in lots of different ways. Right? And so yeah, my husband coming from this Catholic world, and me coming from a secular intellectual, Jewish kind of world. And, you know, he was in Hoboken. I was on Long Island, we met in the middle and, you know, the Lower East Side. And, and we, so we have all this background that was different. But, you know, we grew up watching the same commercials on TV, like, there's so much, you know, not every place in the in the world can you just say, dibs and point to something and everybody knows that, that means dibs. There's all sorts of shorthand. And I think sometimes you you do end up taking on some huge challenge in your marriage. But you don't realize that two people who are both Christian or atheist, but one is from a different country, and there are a lot of these people. They have this endless need to explain really basic terms that you and your wife may have so much that you just know, bedrock, common language. So yeah, you're putting on top of it something, you know, there's no, there's no fully diminishing the challenge of that. Sure. No, having a different, you know, especially if, you know, you have different ideas for what you would want the kids to be and stuff like that. That's challenging stuff. But I do think, yeah, if you had if you also were from different countries, you know, you have something on your
David Ames 1:03:39
hands. Yeah, that'd be challenging. Yes.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 1:03:43
Remembering sometimes there's these tremendous commonalities that can support, you know, two trees going in opposite directions on the top of that.
David Ames 1:04:05
And then the last topic is the chapter on death. And I feel like this is an area that we need to talk about so much more, right, and that religion has tended to own but the thing that really leapt off for me was you were talking about travel for the purpose of spreading ashes can send mourners on a physical adventure to a loved place. And that actually, again, just happened to be my experience. I lost my mom in 2016. And about a year later, I went on a road trip to California took her ashes to the beach. And I found like, that was such that process. I went by myself, I didn't take family with me and like, you know, being alone and literally physically having her ashes lit, you know, grieving on the drive there. That whole process was really deeply meaningful for me and helped me to close out that chapter and feel like I didn't have to say, well, she's in a different place. I I knew she was gone. And I could I could let just absorb that during during that trip. And I think that, in particular for newly secular people, death is difficult. And, you know, how do we process that? How do we how do we build rituals around that that are non religious that still give one comfort?
Jennifer Michael Hecht 1:05:19
Yeah, absolutely. Your story so, so meaningful to me and, and it really is, once again, a case of like, how you did all the right things for your heart. And, and yet we're in we're not even a full century into Americans commonly cremating their loved ones, right. And so here, we have a sort of by accident, by default, because we came up with this idea of, well, you know, I don't have to bury the ashes. So where should they go. And because we do think of wonderful places, they are very often at a distance. And so without having planned it, we've created this new cultural liturgy. But but one that I would say is like, it's in a very early phase, it's not named. And people have, you know, they feel a bunch of different ways about it, especially, for instance, it takes most people quite a while to take those ashes and do something with them. Yeah, and your guilt all over the place about it, I hear it from you know, famous people just chatting, oh, I still have any, and they seem upset. Whereas when, once you notice, oh, this is part of the process for a lot of people, they need to sit with this for a second. And, and whatever that means, when you realize that everybody's trying to figure this out. And there are some beautiful things that are, that are coming into being. It's, again, it it collapses, the cultural and the sort of ex religious, but what it mostly does is it gives us a way to talk to each other and be together and to try to try to think of ways to comfort each other through this strange experience.
David Ames 1:07:10
I think the crux of Wonder paradox is in this sentence, much ritual seen as religious is a fundamentally poetic, artistic amplification of the natural sacred. I love every word in that sentence. That the ritual aspect, the coming together the funeral, however, whatever the thing is, right? It is important that we physically act out these things. And there's some there's something meaningful in that, and necessary as a human being.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 1:07:40
That's the I specifically, say over and over, because it's something that I can miss if I don't pay attention. I can intellectualize and think well, I'm thinking about washing my hands like that is I made that metaphor up to show myself thinking about washing your hands forever, will not get your hands clean, right? There are, you know, things if you want to put your heart through a difficult passage, you do have to sometimes do things. Yeah. And that's something that only by by compare and contrast between when I do and when I don't, that I know for sure for myself, that showing up matters for reasons I do not have to understand. For myself, and for the people around me,
David Ames 1:08:23
Jennifer, I could talk to you for hours someday, I want to be in the same physical place as you and just you know, buy you the beverage of your choice and just sit and listen to you forever. Need to wrap up, unfortunately, can you tell people how they can get the book. So your name Jennifer Michael Hecht, and the book is called wonder paradox and it is out March 7. How can they get the book
Jennifer Michael Hecht 1:08:44
and it will be? You can contact book shop.com or amazon.com. It's with FSG. For us, Drew Macmillan. And yeah, it'll be in all the bookshops. And also, there'll be audible and Kindle. And forward to hearing from people. It's pretty easy to find me from my website, and I'd love to hear from people.
David Ames 1:09:05
Yeah, and the website is Jennifer Miko, hex is it.com. That's right. That's correct. Okay, so we will have of course, links and things in the show notes. Jennifer, it was such a joy to speak to you again, thank you so much for the thinking that you put down on paper is more meaningful than you know. It's just very important. So thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Jennifer Michael Hecht 1:09:25
I really appreciate it.
David Ames 1:09:32
Final thoughts on the episode? This is one of those times where I just want to read quote, everything she said in the book and everything she said in the conversation. Please go back and listen to the episode again. Please go out and get Jennifer Michael hex book, The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Our Lives. It is out March 7. You can get it on Amazon and various other booksellers. So many things In this conversation that leap out at me, number one, as I said at the beginning of the conversation, poetry isn't something that I consciously think of on any kind of regular basis. Reading this book, I realized how much poetry is in my life and what an impact that it has. And so I appreciate Jennifer just revealing that to me in her writing. As I said in the intro, Jennifer is amazing at coining terms. Language is so difficult. The term atheist has so much baggage has so much unintended implications. It has been very difficult to find words to describe ourselves. Secular Humanist has a lot of meaning to me, but means almost nothing to the general population. She talks about inter faithless as a way of describing ourselves, and Jennifer calls herself a poetic realist or a poetic atheist as another way of trying to describe someone who doesn't have a belief in the supernatural but also experiences blunder and joy and love, and the all of the experience of being a human being. I loved her concept of drop by and lie, if you've ever been in a church service as an unbeliever. And in particular, if you've been at a wedding, or some very high ceremony example of that, you really can feel very false for being there really does feel insincere, and yet you are obligated to be there. I think the most important thing that Jennifer is saying that Anthony pin is saying that James Croft is saying that I am saying is that these are all human experiences. My favorite line of hers in this conversation is that human beings are not robots. Rituals weren't for God. The rituals were always for human beings. And it's good for us to keep doing them. I absolutely love that. I could keep re quoting everything but please go read listen to the conversation. Jennifer Michael hex book is The Wonder Paradox: Embracing the Weirdness of Existence and the Poetry of Pur Lives. It is out on March 7, go get the book and you will find out why I still consider Jennifer Michael Hecht, my intellectual hero. Jennifer, I want to thank you for being on the podcast. As we said in the interview, the first time you came on was two months into the podcast. I'm so happy to be able to help promote your book here. And thank you again for putting into words, a graceful life philosophy that we can embrace and experience the fullness of being a human being. Thank you, Jennifer. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is just how worth it the human experience is. The theistic worldview will say that non believers, atheists agnostics, the interfaith plus whichever term you prefer to refer to yourself as that we have no reason for living, we have no reason for morality, we have no reason for being good to one another. And my experience, and I think Jennifer Michael hex experience is the exact opposite. On this side of deconversion, I realize how important our lives with one another are. For those of you who have ever had times of depression, or questioning whether life is worth it, my answer is emphatically Yes. Jennifer Michael Hecht's answer is emphatically Yes. The other book that Jennifer wrote is called stay and is all about the secular reasons for living and experiencing life and why it is worth it. And the Wonder paradox takes that the next step of not just, why live but how to thrive, how to have the fullness of the human experience. One of the main themes that keeps coming up in all of her books, in this podcast and in various other places is our connection to one another. For those of us who are in a healthy place, we have to take on our obligation to love other people to to reach out to people to know that they are loved, so that they know that they are cared for in a way that maybe our previous faith traditions provided and we no longer have those things. And for those of you who might be in a pretty lonely place right now, you need to know that there are people who care about you, there are people who love you, and there are people who are invested in your life, you can always reach out the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, we are trying to be a safe place to land for those people who are doubting, questioning and deconstructing, as well as those people who are just lonely. You are welcome. We want you to be there. If you need more immediate assistance you can reach out to recovering from religion their website has a way to connect with somebody immediately you can begin talking about your experience. If you're in crisis, and you're in the United States, you can call 988, the suicide prevention hotline. And you can also reach out to the secular therapy project to find an ongoing therapist. So there are resources for you if you need them, you are not alone. Next week is the four year anniversary of the podcast. I have our lien, Mike T. Jimmy, Colin, and Daniel on to talk about our favorite movies, television programs, books that talk about the themes of deconversion and secular grace, you would be surprised it shows up a lot. And we just generally have a good time and celebrate the four years. So join us next week for that. In a couple of weeks, our Lean interviews David Hayward and that is an amazing conversation. As I hinted out last week, I will be doing a promotional exchange with mega the podcast and I'll be having Holly the rat on the podcast in April. So be looking forward to that as well. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful. The beat is called waves by MCI beads. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful email@example.com for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Imagine a genie walks (floats? sidles?) up to you and says, “See that guy over there? Yeah, the 80-year-old that looks like he’s having a great time. If you say yes, I’ll make him sad and lonely, riddled with guilt, obsessing over the past. So, shall we?” How would you react?
Assuming you react with disgust or shock, why is that? Seems obvious: It would be awful to do that to someone.
Or try this: someone walks up to you on a playground and says, “See that mom over there? She used to yell at her kids, like super angry stuff. You should go over there and tell her to undo it.”
That’s also inhumane, but why? Again, seems obvious: she can’t do anthing about it. Plus, she’s doing better now. It’ll do a lot of harm, and what good would it do?
Now imagine the 80-year-old guy is your future self, or the mom is your past self. We do those things to ourselves all the time. We beat ourselves up over the past, even though we’re doing better. We shortchange ourselves now, laying the foundation for sadness and loneliness in the future.
For that reason, I like to think of myself as three different people: past Jimmy, Jimmy, and future Jimmy.
With past Jimmy, I try to be kind. An arm-over-the-shoulder, kindly uncle to my past self. Sure, past Jimmy screwed up, but he knows it, and he’s working to do better. Plus, you see how much progress he’s made? Cut him some slack, present Jimmy!
With future Jimmy, I try to be kind. I invest in friendships, knowing that friendship is key to human flourishing. I try to do healthy things, knowing that future Jimmy is the one who’s going to pay for today.
In the end, all we have is right now. The past is unchangeable and the future is unknowable.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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
Arline guest hosts to ask David anything. David tells his deconversion story. He talks about the beginning of the Deconversion Anonymous FB group. David goes deep on what Secular Grace is and what it means to him.
NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (deciphr.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.
0:00:11 David Ames: This is the Graceful Atheist podcast. Welcome. Welcome to the Graceful Atheist Podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the Graceful Atheist. I want to thank all the patrons, many of whom have moved over from the Anchor and stripe support which is now shut down onto Patreon. Thank you to Joel, Lars, Ray, Rob, Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Thank you so much for being patrons. You all will have access to Ad Free for the podcast forever.
0:00:47 David Ames: As we move into 2023 and become a part of the Atheist United Podcast Network. There will be ads if you too would like to have an ad free experience, you can become a patron for any amount. There aren't any tiers, any amount and you'll have access to that RSS feed. As a part of the move to Atheist United, we are moving the podcast from Anchor to Spreaker. The podcast will be on hiatus for the Christmas and New Year holidays anyway.
0:01:14 David Ames: From the 18 December to the 8 January we are off. You may notice that the podcast may show up in a different way in the podcast application that you use to listen to this. So definitely by January 8 be checking to make sure that you have up to date episodes as of January 8, 2023. I'll try to minimize all the technical hiccups, but there might be one or two. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any problems.
0:01:44 David Ames: This hiatus will be right during the holidays, which I know can be a difficult time when you are in the middle of deconstruction and family can be challenging. First of all, my apologies, but I want to give all of our volunteers a break in this episode. I do a number of recommendations for this episode and really all episodes. If in the show notes you'll see a link that will say for quotes, recommendations and more, follow this.
0:02:12 David Ames: It goes to my blog. Truly, there are a number of book recommendations, podcasts, blog posts, all kinds of information that can hopefully get you through this holiday season. Please hang on to the Final Thoughts section as I want to thank a number of people. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, Arline guests, hosts and asks me anything. You all gave us some questions you wanted me asked in the Facebook group and Arline is here to ask the questions and I am here to give you some answers.
0:02:55 David Ames: As I say upfront. For those of you who have been listening to the podcast from the beginning, some of this will be a bit repetitive. For those of you who've just joined in the last year or year and a half, it might be new information, so I hope you enjoy this. Here is Arline asking me anything.
0:03:16 Arline: David. Welcome to the Graceful Atheist podcast.
0:03:19 David Ames: I'm so glad to be here. Thank you.
0:03:21 Arline: Yes, I'm excited to get to interview you we've had a lot of people in the Deconversion anonymous Facebook group ask them questions, and listeners ask them questions. And so today we get to hear all about the host. David, this is great.
0:03:37 David Ames: Very cool. Yeah. You and I were talking earlier that I'm sometimes concerned that I repeat the same stories, but we have such a brand new set of people that for the die hard people sorry, you're going to hear the same thing again.
0:03:51 Arline: That's okay. We love it. It's good for us. One thing that I do want you to start with is, can you tell us a shortened version of your Deconversion story? And then we have tons of questions after that.
0:04:03 David Ames: Yeah, so the quick version is that my family is very much a soap opera, so it's hard to tell my story without talking about my mom. So I'll just lay down on the couch here and tell you lots of drug and alcohol abuse on and off. Again, being, you know, an adult and then not. And when I was about 17 years old and again, this is after years already of back and forth, she came to me and said, Jesus spoke to me, and it was life or death, you choose.
0:04:45 David Ames: And I'm going to try to choose life. And I was like, yeah, sure, whatever.
0:04:50 Arline: I understand.
0:04:51 David Ames: Again, I'd heard I'll be sober tomorrow stories a thousand times. The next day she was sober, and the day after that and the day after that. And she was great, right? Like, she handed me a Bible and said, if you care, if you want, take a look at this. And, you know, I was an inquisitive kid, so I did something that was very weird. I really, you know, our family was really kind of nominally Christian, so I really hadn't I'd been to a friend's churches here and there. I really didn't have any church exposure, so I read through the entire Bible on my own before I really went to church, right, to have the experience of church.
0:05:30 David Ames: So I fell in love with Jesus, man, this guy. I came for the sick and not the well. And you cleaned the outside of the cup, but the inside is filthy. It's like that stuff spoke to me, and I was just all in. And it's hard to overstate as well the apparent miracle of my mom getting clean and sober. She went for yet another round of impatience for a few weeks and came out but clean and sober. She got a job.
0:06:04 David Ames: Things really did change. Really did, in fact, change, but I really took this on for myself. That was definitely the impetus. But my reading of particularly the New Testament, I thought this Jesus person was amazing. Like, I loved everything about it. It it spoke to the modern hypocrisy of of Christianity in a way that I was already critical of. And so I was convinced by this concept of grace before I even really had the theological underpinnings to explain it.
0:06:43 David Ames: I'll try to speed up the story here. We were also in poverty. I had grandparents that saved me from the most dire consequences of poverty. But I had very little hopes. I was dropping out of high school, no particular prospects of what I was going to do with my life.
0:07:00 Arline: Oh, wow.
0:07:01 David Ames: Then we did get to church. Had a youth pastor. At that time, I was probably late 18, almost 19. They really didn't know what to do with me. They threw me in the youth group as a leader. That kind of moving people up to leadership way too fast. I was good at it. Youth pastor basically said, you could do this, you should go to Bible college. And I will definitely credit him for that's. What I needed to hear, I needed to have someone other than my family say, you could go to college, you could do something with your life.
0:07:36 David Ames: And in that, with hindsight, I now see it was just somebody believing in me. That was like the huge power of all this. And of course, I saw it in spiritual terms that God was the father of the Fatherless because my dad had passed away when I was very young, and I saw this as divine intervention and so on and so forth. Still, to speed up the story, it went through Bible college. I absolutely adored it.
0:08:04 David Ames: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. There was an element of infantilizing students who are 18, 1920 years old. But at the same time, I had incredibly good professors who were critical thinkers. They taught critical thinking, they taught real biblical research, and the technical term is exegesis and herbaneutics. And I ate it up, man. And then I learned the theology of grace, and I was off to the races.
0:08:35 David Ames: And it was like, what the church is missing is grace. They just don't understand this. And I literally felt like God called me to do this thing. Speeding up the story again. I did ministry for a while. I burnt out. I left on bad terms. I had a relationship with it was fully consenting. It had a relationship with a woman. That was frowned upon. As you can imagine, that did not end things. I went on to marry my college sweetheart, who I'm still married to and adore.
0:09:10 David Ames: She is also still a believer, which I'm sure we may get into, but 20 years really like 20 some odd years after that, I remained a Christian and taught Bible studies, but didn't jump into ministry ever again. I went off on my tech career, and that has done really well, and so on and so forth. Having children was a big deal. Trying to convey this to children was kind of putting the mirror in front of me of what like, what am I saying?
0:09:51 David Ames: And in particular, what's something that stands out is when they were old enough to be baptized and really they weren't old enough to be baptized, right? The expectation was they were old enough, but really it just hit me like they don't understand the decision this means, what this means. And I started to feel really uncomfortable with it. That's about the time that I really started to be deeply uncomfortable praying, especially out loud, and expectations in a Christian family to pray for your children and that kind of thing.
0:10:24 David Ames: And I just got more and more uncomfortable and did it less and less. And near the end I had like a year or so, a year and a half before the end. I did a read through the Bible for a year, which is probably my 4th, 5th time through something like that. I wasn't like an exceptionally good biblical reader, but I read through it several times and my wife pointed out to me that I was angry, I was expressing anger and I thought, why is that?
0:10:59 David Ames: And I think it was the first time that I was reading it without kind of a grace rose colored glasses filter. I was kind of reading it for what it says and the judgment and the capriciousness of God was leaping off the page for me at that point in time. And that was, I think, a major milestone for me as I started to I was always a kind of pop science nerd and again, grace focus. So I wouldn't necessarily have called myself a liberal Christian, but on the liberal side of evangelicalism of trying to be open minded for people.
0:11:44 David Ames: And in the very last stretch, I didn't know it at the time, but I was deconstructing without knowing what the term was. I was doing it alone without any outside input. I think what Christians often believe is that, oh, we read atheists and then we deconstruct. But I did all of this on my own. But it was a much more liberal interpretation of the Bible, really understanding. And the thing that I was hanging on to, the last pearl of great prides, to use the term, was the resurrection.
0:12:18 David Ames: For me, if the resurrection happened literally, as it states on the Ten, I was a Christian. And if that wasn't the case, it was super binary for me, then I am out in the bitter end. Like I was just hanging on to my sense of God's presence alone and nothing else. And I found myself being exposed to secular and atheist writers just by accident, right, just in the Twitter feed, you know, and just like not being afraid of it and oh, let me see what this says.
0:12:52 David Ames: And in particular a blog by Greta Christina about why are atheists so angry was probably a list of like 20 things. And I realized I agreed with all 20 of the things. There was like no notes, right? It was just like, she's right. And I think in that moment. And I love the way friend of the podcast been on the podcast. Matthew Taylor says this, I suddenly realized I no longer believed, but the suddenly refers to my awareness, not the process.
0:13:26 David Ames: So that process was those years in the making, but it was this sudden moment of, I don't believe this anymore. And immediately part of it was the idea of a soul. Like, I really viscerally got. I am my body and my body is me. My mind is a part of my body and there is no soul. And then immediately afterwards was, there is no resurrection, and I'm out. I tried to make it quick. That's the quick version.
0:13:57 David Ames: And we'll get into what happens next, I'm sure, in more questions.
0:14:02 Arline: I can empathize with the doing it alone. My husband had deconverted, but it just looked very different for both of us. And so when I was going through what at the time called deconstruction, I didn't know any of these terms either. It's so lonely.
0:14:18 David Ames: It is. Yeah, I know. This is going to air later. I do an episode with the guys from beyond Atheism, and we talk about the juxtaposition of deconstruction, deconversion versus conversion. When you convert, you do it as a part of a community. In my case, it was my mom, right? You do it with people. Deconstruction deconstruction tends to be really isolating and alone. And I thought that was a really insightful thing we kind of came together and described.
0:14:51 David Ames: And so I think that's super common.
0:14:53 Arline: Yeah, I look forward to listening to that episode. And yes, that's very true. Like I said, I had my husband, but in real life, I had nobody from real life.
0:15:02 David Ames: Yeah, he doesn't tell. Johnny's amazing, by the way, listeners.
0:15:08 Arline: He's fantastic. One day, we're going to get him on here.
0:15:11 David Ames: One day.
0:15:12 Arline: But I didn't know podcasts existed. I knew the Four Horsemen, I knew some authors, but that was about it. And so that's one reason. And multiple listeners have said this. Like, when they found your podcast, when they found the Graceful Atheist podcast, it became a staple. It was like, I get to hear other people's stories. I'm not alone, and yet getting to hear the similarities and the differences.
0:15:37 Arline: And now with the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group, we're finding community. We're finding community.
0:15:43 David Ames: Yeah, definitely.
0:15:52 Arline: The first thing I do want to ask you is how would you define graceful atheist? You as a graceful atheist, how would you define that?
0:16:00 David Ames: So again, I'll circle back to mom. My my real first kind of spiritual introduction was the Twelve Steps, going to therapy and a couple of different aspects, going to the inpatient thing that I mentioned. And what attracted to me there and what attracted me to Jesus in the New Testament was brutal honesty, brutal self honesty and honesty with each other. And there was something incredibly intimate in the AANA context when somebody would get up and say, Hi, I'm so and so, and I'm alcoholic, or I'm a drug addict, and go on to describe horrific things and have a group of people love them, embrace them, and care for them.
0:17:01 David Ames: So that's really what I think my concept of grace comes from is like kind of the worst possible circumstances, real, quote unquote sin, right? These people really hurt people and finding that acceptance. And then as I became a Christian, I then had this theological foundation to describe this in this vertical way that God loves people, theoretically unconditionally, of course there's more to the story there, but I realized that that's kind of what I had been looking for.
0:17:38 David Ames: I was not a terrible sinner. Like, I had slept with my girlfriend and things like that, but it wasn't sex, drugs, and rock and roll for me. And in fact, in many ways, I was rebelling against my family by being a pretty good kid, right? But I had this visceral sense of the concept of sin, this visceral sense of, yeah, I could do better, you know, I'm not perfect the honesty. That honesty was a part of it. So over the time of being a Christian, that it changed for me between God accepting me or God accepting the people and then actually witnessing it in other people watching person to person.
0:18:21 David Ames: That that acceptance. That love. And one way I try to describe this is the first time you tell, like, your best friend about your first crush, right, and they don't run away screaming. Or to use a more purity culture example, the first time you tell somebody that you masturbate and they don't run away screaming, right. They're exhibiting grace, or what I would call secular grace, right? And what I've come to learn and what I think is just true about humans is that we need acceptance and love wherever we're at, right?
0:19:07 David Ames: We may have made mistakes, we may have actually hurt people, and yet we still need people to love us and accept us. And so there's some extreme examples like that, but then the regular average person hasn't gone around with a trail of tears behind them. They also need to experience love and acceptance. And for our LGBTQ friends who have been isolated from society in one way or another or felt different than they need love and acceptance, right? And so it just drove home for me over time how much we need this as human beings. And so what I'm trying to express is that there need not be a spiritual or.
0:19:52 David Ames: And here, I mean, like nonnatural I struggle for words, non transcendent aspect to grace. It can just be people loving people.
0:20:02 Arline: I love that. Yes, I am thankful for the atmosphere of this podcast because the Deconversion Anonymous group, like, the audience that we have attracted, want to be those kinds of people, people loving people, and compassion and empathy and grace. What are some things that you have learned through doing the podcast, or how have you changed over the years having done this?
0:20:34 David Ames: I want to tackle the first part of that question first. The number one thing that leaps out to me when I think about what did I learn, is that I had it super easy for a couple of reasons. One, I came to this, as I mentioned, in my late teens, and I was mostly an adult already. I had a sense of identity. I did. I grew up in a nominally Christian house. We talked about God, we talked about Jesus, but there was no pressure at all.
0:21:02 David Ames: There was no purity culture. None of that existed. Right. I had sex before I became a Christian. I knew what that was like. I liked it. I enjoyed it. I felt like that was a part of the grace that the church was missing, was, hey, human beings like sex. That's a thing. So the number one thing that I learned, and just one other aspect that I think was true for me, is there were lots of emotional elements, but it was ultimately a relatively intellectual process for me of like, this cannot be true, and this cannot be true, and this cannot be true, and what else might not be true?
0:21:44 David Ames: And it really was kind of an intellectual exercise over time. It took a long time, but, like, at the end of it all, it was it was breaking down my own cognitive dissonance, my own non critical acceptance of what the church had fed me. Right? So the thing that I've learned is that that is not the case for many, many people. I I think our our main target audience is millennials who grew up during the 90s with I've kissed, dating to goodbye.
0:22:19 David Ames: Purity culture has done an anomaly on these people, hurt them deeply. Whether they're LGBTQ, whether they're CIS, het, it doesn't matter. Like, they were deeply, deeply affected by purity culture. And then on top of that, I never had the hell drilled into me again. Coming to Christianity as an adult and being grace focused, I always thought that hell was not the focus of Jesus's teaching, and that was overemphasized. So I was trying to be a corrective.
0:22:56 David Ames: So again, I never had the sense of existential dreads that our target audience has. So thing I've learned, man, Christianity can be much more damaging, and I would want to expand this to traditional religious teaching. On the fundamental side, I want to be expansive here. Not just christianity can be deeply, deeply damaging to human beings. And that is the biggest thing that I've learned. How have I changed?
0:23:34 David Ames: I think you helped me arlene to be more open. I don't know if we have time to get into it, but, like, when I started the podcast, it was because I saw the atheist environment, particularly the kind of YouTube environment, was very reactionary. Literally half of the YouTube channels were response channels to something some apologists said, and I just felt like, that's fine, and I wanted that for like, a week, but then I was done with it, and I thought, what is next?
0:24:08 David Ames: What's the next thing? That's why I started it. But I still was relatively narrow and that I was still focused on very secular. I struggle for a better word than atheist, but non believer, non theist, non supernaturalist. Right. And I think some of the people you've brought in to have the interviewed, some of the people you have interviewed has helped me to kind of expand, hey, we want to be open, an open space for people questioning in the middle of the process.
0:24:42 David Ames: And the only way to do that is to actually do what I'm saying, really be graceful and love people where they're currently at, which is going to include things that I don't necessarily agree with. Right. And and so I think that has changed me of just loving people spiritually is where they are spiritually, where they are in the deconstruction process and not having to try to define hard barriers for that.
0:25:11 Arline: Some of that was taught to us as Christians.
0:25:14 David Ames: Yeah.
0:25:14 Arline: There are certain goals that people should reach, and so we should help them reach that goal rather than just letting them be wherever it is that they are.
0:25:21 David Ames: Yeah.
0:25:30 Arline: Speaking of a past guest who you interviewed, and she and I met through Instagram, who was in a similar place, in a place of still maybe kind of believing, not really sure, was Marla Taviano, and her question jumped out at me. So I'll jump here. How do you say, Stay so damn graceful?
0:25:52 David Ames: That's exactly how she wrote it.
0:25:55 Arline: And yes, how do you do it?
0:25:57 David Ames: How do you do it, David?
0:25:59 Arline: How did she say become the annoyed atheist or the bitter atheist?
0:26:02 David Ames: Yeah. So one of the things I want to just step back for a second and put context here. One of the things I didn't like about Christian thought leaders, let's call them, but authors, speakers, what have you, is that they would often be very judgmental without the honesty that would be required to make that actually powerful or useful. And so I want to make it clear here that I actually think I'm a fairly judgmental person.
0:26:35 David Ames: I have pretty strong opinions, right. And I'm holding those back 95% of the time. And the part of the podcast is you're hearing restraint from me. Right. I'm not doing the response video the way that I saw my peers do. I'm choosing Volitionally not to do that. And it's a close thing. And if you follow me on Twitter, which I know is dying every once in a while, man, I'll get sucked in and I have to respond to an apologist. It just drives me crazy.
0:27:16 David Ames: So the first thing is the honesty to say that I don't think I'm a graceful person, the graceful atheist moniker is Aspirational. That's why I literally start every episode by saying I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I do not think I am good at this at all. It is hard to have your arms wide open and accept lots of people from different diverse backgrounds. That's a difficult thing to do. And I never, ever want to suggest that I am doing that well.
0:27:49 David Ames: So there can always be we can do this better. It's kind of my constant mantra, I can do this better. And then further honesty is to say, I do get angry, right? Like, I get angry at the Christian thought leaders of today. I get angry at the Christian nationalism, at the politics. I am angry. I don't think that putting more anger out into the world will be helpful. So let me give you a dumb example.
0:28:22 David Ames: Like I see constantly, especially on Twitter, but elsewhere as well, a conservative Christian says some stupid thing and then a bunch of people in my timeline retweet that and have some comment about it. And it's like if we have learned nothing from 2016 to 2020, it's that you cannot feed the trolls or the trolls win. And so, again, it's restraint. It's not that I don't have passionate feelings about these things.
0:28:55 David Ames: It's that I think my end goal of a more pluralistic, more secular, and I mean secular here in the freedom of religion and freedom from religion, not more atheists necessarily, is to not put more hate into the cycle, right into the feedback loop. And I hope that answers Marla's question. But I just fall back on I'm trying and I'm trying to do that every day.
0:29:31 Arline: I'm going to tuck that away. Don't feed the trolls or the trolls win. Because yes, tuck that away inside my mind because I do get pulled into the retweeting and the memes because it is so angry. Why do you think the podcast is so successful? Like, what do people love about it?
0:29:58 David Ames: Yeah, it's hard to separate my own cognitive biases here. So, again, if I take you back to ID converts, I'm looking around online, trying to find a place for me and not finding it. On the one hand, there's kind of a hyper rationality. It's all about debate, it's all about aggressive. Even the good guys. I follow a number of philosopher people who do a bit of counter apologetics and they do it well, right? They do it with kindness.
0:30:36 David Ames: But even them, right, it's still pure rationality. It doesn't acknowledge the human being. Right? And I was feeling all this emotional response. And one other thing I'll say is it was all men, too. It was just men, right? And I thought, there has got to be other people out there who this is hitting the whole person and they want to express that in some way. And I also was cognizant of not like the flip side of this, the other side of the equation is there are 1001 three X pastors and a beer podcast.
0:31:21 David Ames: So the flip side of the hard atheist is the really open minded progressive Christian, right? And I knew that wasn't what I wanted to say either. I think, and I may lose people here, that Christianity is not redeemable. I think we should take things from it and learn from that. I think grace is one of those things, but I think history has taught us that every attempt to redo Christianity, to go back to the basics.
0:31:57 David Ames: Again, I hate to lose people here, but reconstruct Christianity in some way is doomed to failure. So those are kind of the polls and I was trying to hit the middle of people who are asking legitimate questions, but also are experiencing this range of emotions as a human being does. And again, one of the things I learned is that there's real trauma, literal trauma that people are experiencing. And I didn't know that at the time when I was starting and providing a place for that.
0:32:29 David Ames: So I went in with my own cognitive bias that there must be at least some people like me out there. And I did so with the podcast knowing that I could double quadruple the audience by being an asshole, being the hard atheist, doing the response stuff, and I chose not to. Again, restraint, as much restraint as I could have, right? And it has been slow but steady growth and I could not be more grateful for that.
0:33:01 David Ames: Right. I did not need the overnight success. I feel like now we're reaping the benefits of doing it the right way. And I hope that, again, maybe my cognitive bias, but I hope that that's what people are responding to, that the core message is if you find that you can no longer believe, there is still hope, there's still awe, there's still wonder, there is still community, there's still grace. And that's the core message of the podcast.
0:33:33 Arline: Yeah, I think you're right. Those are themes that I see when I talk to different people about listening to the podcast. Those are things that I've heard. Speaking of community, how do you find community? Who do you have in your real life or online life?
0:33:50 David Ames: Yeah, this is a tough one. My best friend lives in the area, so we see each other on a pretty regular basis, so I don't feel like I'm hurting. He's a believer, but we are real honest with each other. I would say that he's in a place where I was five years before my vegan. Whether he will or not, who knows? I've also built some friendships. I'm not going to name drop here, but a couple of people we meet almost once a month and they are kind of a, for lack of a better term, spiritual outlet for me where I don't filter myself.
0:34:36 David Ames: I can just say what I'm feeling and I don't have to edit it. And make it sound pretty or graceful and I really appreciate them. I don't want to call it an accountability group, but it's kind of an accountability group. It's not, but you know what I mean, I get that from those people. And then the other thing, and I think this will be an answer to another question I'm anticipating you asking is that I'm an introverts and that might surprise people, but I build very strong, few very strong relationships and I feel pretty satisfied.
0:35:18 David Ames: I know 2020 was brutal on people and the lockdowns and things, but I thrive. My wife's very similar, we are homebodies, we literally enjoy each other's company and at times to be on our own and we provide a tremendous amount of what we need in other human beings for each other. And so it's kind of a boring answer, but I am not hurting for friendships and I have work colleagues online as well and I meet with a handful of people on a relative regular basis as well.
0:36:00 David Ames: I do want at some point in time to have some in person real world in the same room, breathing the same air experiences. Whether or not I've had time for that in reality is a question, and again, that may be a question that comes up here in a second.
0:36:14 Arline: Yeah, that was one of the questions is you are largely absent from the Deconversion Anonymous group and people were curious why you're not able to be part of it more.
0:36:25 David Ames: Yeah, that is a super honest question and I'm really glad that that got asked. So again, Arline, I'm so grateful that you are here that you've taken on the community management. The reality is that when I started the podcast, first of all, we started every other week. I was doing the editing, the interviews, I was doing all of it and I knew that there just wasn't much more that I could do. Mike came on and made a huge impact. So we went to once a week, he's doing all the editing and we could not do once a week without Mike.
0:37:09 David Ames: I had seen online communities explode just like overnight sensations and then implode and self destruct probably three or four times in the time of being kind of online after deconversion for me. And I did not want to repeat that. I knew that I didn't have the time to start a community and shepherd that for lack of a better term, but like be a leader there. And so I didn't, we didn't for a long time. We started the podcast in 2019 and particularly over the pandemic and the lockdown, I could viscerally feel the need for it and I put out the call like, is anybody interested?
0:38:01 David Ames: And you responded. And again, I'm incredibly grateful. And the point I want to make is that for listeners who are part of the Deconversion Anonymous community, it would not exist if not for Arline. Because I have two things that are competing for my time that is a very robust work demand and family with a partner who is a believer and does not understand what I'm trying to do here. So I have a very limited window of time to do the things that I do, and I try to make what I do in that limited time as high impact as I can.
0:38:39 David Ames: And so that is doing the interviews and trying to provide some high level leadership. And that's about all I can do.
0:38:48 Arline: And I am thankful for that because I can do the group stuff.
0:38:54 David Ames: And I've heard fantastic feedback, by the way. You are a National Treasurer.
0:39:01 Arline: Yes. And I've said this I know I said this whenever I was interviewed and said, again, the atmosphere of the podcast has brought in such wonderful people into the group.
0:39:12 David Ames: Yeah. Let's take a quick second to thank the moderators. So there's a team of people that are moderators and they take that very seriously to try to protect the atmosphere and the environment for people. So thank you to everyone who participates in that way. The last thing I just want to say to wrap this up is that I'll refer back to I'm also an introvert. I'm a part of I don't know how many deconstruction deconstruction Facebook groups. And I think I can count on one hand the number of times I posted.
0:39:51 David Ames: It just isn't my personality. Right? Yeah, I can do this. I do one on one really well. I am terrible in a group. If we ever do a big get together party, I will be the guy in the corner by myself. That is just my personality. I know that about myself and I'm fine with it.
0:40:14 Arline: No, that's good. In the church, extroverted personalities and evangelism and get out and do all the things. Those are very much valued. I read the book, I was still a Christian. Read the book Quiet by Susan Cain.
0:40:27 David Ames: Very good.
0:40:28 Arline: And I was like, I am valuable because yes, similarly, Donnie and I would stay home and be happy. The pandemic, we were like, sweet. We just will work out at home now. Our whole family was perfectly content being at home. And I do love the small groups that we have during the week for the deconversion group. But that fills me up and then I'm good. I don't want to socialize in real life.
0:40:52 David Ames: Yes.
0:40:53 Arline: You told us earlier about some of the things that make you angry. You were very honest about that. What are some things that give you hope?
0:41:01 David Ames: So I'm tempted to grab the Joss Whedon quote, and I know he's kind of not super popular these days, but it expresses what I want to say. I'm actually going to look at my concussion. Joss Whedon said, the enemy of humanism is not faith. The enemy of humanism is hate. It is fear. It is ignorance. It is the darker part of ban that is in every humanness, every person in the world. That is what we have to fight.
0:41:25 David Ames: Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity this is the point I'm quoting. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are true believers. I believe in people, and I know that sounds insane. We're recording this on the day of the election. We don't know what the outcome is going to be.
0:41:55 David Ames: It looks grim. I know it looks bad. But I believe in people coming together and connecting with each other and being honest with each other and yes, showing grace with each other. That that is something powerful. And again, I want to be super clear here. I don't mean in some supernatural sense. I mean in a literal physical sense. It is powerful. It changes people's lives. It makes an impact on society.
0:42:26 David Ames: I think that if we can get beyond the just christianity is bad and actually start to collectively come together and see ourselves as even a political voice, as a civic voice, as a good actor in society, as a group, that that will have a positive impact on the world. And I'm sorry if that sounds sappy sweet, but I honestly believe that that honestly gives me hope. And again, we witness it in the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group.
0:43:04 David Ames: I'm amazed on a weekly basis. I may not post there, but I'd read a fair amount of it. Someone comes in and says, man, I'm having trouble. I got to talk to my mom, I got to talk to my partner, I got to talk to my son. And 20 people come along and go, wow, I had to do the same thing. This is what I learned and I it that gives me hope, right? Like that is super, super powerful.
0:43:40 Arline: One thing that has come up often in the group are unequally yoked marriages. People who have deconverted their spouse is still a Christian or religious in some way. We have some who in the group who are Christians and their spouses deconverted and they're trying to figure out what is happening. What advice do you have? You and your wife are making it work. What advice do you have, if any, for people living in that?
0:44:10 David Ames: Yeah, I definitely want to refer back to I think last year my conversation with Michelle that we recorded or two years ago. I can't remember now what it was, but I first have to say this would not have worked if we both were committed to the relationship. And I know there are times when maybe the relationship won't work and if only one partner is committed and the other isn't, it might be terribly sad, but it may also be necessary for that relationship to end. So I want to preface it with here that I don't want to burden anyone here with more guilt.
0:44:56 David Ames: Having said that, another reason for the podcast was I saw lots of deconverts go out in blaze of gory and burn the bridge on the way out and f you to everyone around them that was still a believer. And I thought, that can't be right either. And I love my wife and I want this to continue. The core advice is this find the mutual values. And that can be challenging when one partner is a believer and one partner is not.
0:45:32 David Ames: But in our case, we have a lot of values. What drew us together, our impetus toward ministry, was about caring about people, right? We shared that. And so when I could put it in secular and again here, I mean, just nonreligious terms, right? Not atheistic, but nonreligious terms. We share these values and how that doesn't change. I think that's step one and then step two is making it abundantly clear to the other partner that you love that person for who they are, including if they are believers for the rest of their lives.
0:46:15 David Ames: The truth is that we as the deconvert may need to be the bigger person. That sounds arrogant, but but there's some truth to that in my How To deconvert in Ten Easy Steps, which is a joke title, which I wish I wouldn't have done, but here we are. Is you have to realize that all that process that we talked about, that took years, and then the realization is sudden. Your partner has done none of that.
0:46:43 David Ames: They have none of that context. They've read none of the books, they've listened to none of the podcasts. And when you come to that person, it's going to hit them like a ton of bricks from out of left field with no context. And that is a brutal thing to do. So you have to be the graceful person in that scenario because you have all the information and they don't. Beyond that, again, I'll refer back to my wife.
0:47:13 David Ames: She has a psychology degree. She brilliantly brought up this idea of in a long term monogamous relationship. And I know there are people out there exploring other options, but if that's you, if you want to be in a long term monogamous relationship, people grow and they grow in different ways and they can grow apart. And you have to kind of reevaluate, do we want to remain a monogamous partnership?
0:47:40 David Ames: And if you do, then you have to accept that person where they're at. Michelle had this idea of a second marriage to the same person, right? Like recognizing, yes, you changed and maybe she changed too. But we were agreeing volitionally, we love each other, we want to remain partnered. I'm big on volition. Right. I think marriage in general or partnerships in general are about will and not warm fuzzies necessarily.
0:48:13 David Ames: And it was just a restatement to one another. We're committed to each other and really trying to listen, really trying to hear where the other person was coming from. It may surprise you that I never correct or try to counter apologetics Michelle, ever. I never do that. There are times when I will carefully bring up a subject and it's clear that it's not going to go, it's not going to fly. So I don't I stop because I respect the boundaries she's telling me she has.
0:48:52 David Ames: Right. And that is hard, man. That's hard. Not everybody is going to be able to do that. These are restraints I've put on myself. Again, by volition, by choice, you out there may not be willing to do that. And that's okay. That's fine. Bottom line is it takes two to tango. You need both partners to be committed and you can't fix that for someone else.
0:49:20 Arline: I saw a meme that said the only time you can change somebody is when they're in diapers.
0:49:25 David Ames: Yes. For real. With teenagers. I agree. Yes.
0:49:33 Arline: Someone did ask. Speaking of teenagers, someone did ask, how have you guys, you and Michelle navigated parenting being in different faith or beliefs?
0:49:43 David Ames: Yeah. Again, both about the marriage partnership and about parenting. I don't want to make this sound like this has been smooth sailing. Again, we have tensions flare up and when we have an argument, 25% of the time, I think it's related to we, we are we have different world views, we come from different perspectives and there's this underlying tension that just never goes away equally with our kids.
0:50:12 David Ames: Again, fortunately, unfortunately, depending on your perspective, they were into their early teens when I deconverted. They had that exposure, a graceful exposure, but they had that exposure to Christianity prior to that. Both of them are definitely not traditional Christians. I don't like to speak for them, but more, very much more on the agnostic side of things than anything, that's tension in the family, that hurts Michelle and I know it.
0:50:42 David Ames: And I've tried to spin the plates of making sure my kids feel free and unburdened by purity culture and are free to make their own choices about spirituality and at the same time to try to any of you who have teenagers, you know, it is them against the parents. And so I have to back up Michelle too. There are times there are times where I put a boundary not quite where I would have and vice versa. I push at times to move that boundary and it is a give and take and it's tension and it hurts.
0:51:16 David Ames: And I wish I had a silver bullet and I don't. And again, for me, it's all about making sure that my kids know I love them and accept them. And no matter if they wanted to be hardcore evangelical Christians, I would love them and accept them for that. If they are agnostic, I love them and accept them for that. And I try to communicate the same thing to Michelle.
0:51:45 Arline: Something I meant to ask earlier when you were talking about the podcast, where do you want the podcast to go? What do you see for the future of the podcast and the deconversion group?
0:51:54 David Ames: Do you have places or how you.
0:51:56 Arline: Want that to go?
0:51:57 David Ames: Yeah, let's do the group first. Again, I'm really interested in now that it seems as though the pandemic is winding down. There doesn't seem as much personal health threat out there. I'm sure there are some of you who have family members who might be ill and that's not true for you, and I acknowledge that and I think that's true. But eventually maybe we want to meet together. And again, I don't know that I'm going to be the best person for that, both from a time point of view and a personality point of view.
0:52:27 David Ames: So I'd be interested to hear people who are interested in making this happen. I know that some North Carolina people and you in the south, there like a few other places have met one another in real life, and I think that's super valuable. So I'd love to see us try to build the infrastructure such that people can do that organically and then maybe also do something a little more structured once in a great while.
0:52:55 David Ames: I'd like to see more people step up, and that's happening just today even. I think there's more push towards an unequally Yoked group thing happening, like for people who are willing to lead, you know, a get together to step up. I know how much this sounds like the small group thing in church, and that's because it is. We're human beings. That's just the way we work. And I'm sorry, but we need people who are willing to just be there, be present, say, I'm going to be here at Wednesday at 07:00 every week, right? Like that's, that's all it takes.
0:53:29 David Ames: And then people will follow, you know, so more more niche needs in the group. So secular parenting, we've already talked about unequally yoked. We've talked about you're doing the sex and sexuality. I think that's an amazing thing. Maybe we need an LGBTQ, maybe we need a black corner, a Hispanic corner, whatever the people need, let's do that and provide that space for people. So as for the podcast, I feel like we go through waves and I'll talk about I'm going to go back to the beginning again.
0:54:10 David Ames: The other thing I noticed about my peers is they would go after all the famous people, of which there is really a very small number of secular people out there, and they'd get four or five of them and they would peer out. And I knew from day one. First of all, again, my personality, I'm not going to go ask all those people, like day in and day out to let me interview them. And I also was interested in real life stories.
0:54:36 David Ames: What is this actually like? I don't want to hear, like, even I at this point, what you hear here is pretty packaged. Like, I've told this story a bunch of times. I know the points I need to hit, that kind of thing. I want to hear regular people, what are they going through? And I've been honest with you. I wanted that to be open to women in particular as well, and not just be a male dominated thing, not just be a white dominated thing.
0:55:02 David Ames: We've tried really hard to accomplish that. I'll let listeners and community members be the judge of it. So I knew I wanted to do just people telling their stories. And here's the beautiful thing. And you and I talked about this, how intimate it is to just be the receiver of someone's story. And I could feel the magic of it right while I was interviewing somebody. This is it. This is the thing that people will want to hear.
0:55:34 David Ames: And again, maybe my cognitive bias, but I believe that sincerely, that that was the thing that was not out there or rarely out there. Yeah. And then I have interviewed I've interviewed authors, some people that I adore. Jennifer Michael, hex jumps to mind. Alice gretchen recently. Tom Cristofiak I love that book. I really like author. We just had Heather Wells, just someone who takes the time to really lay out that story in detail and has much better eloquence than I do to put that down on paper. So I really enjoy that.
0:56:12 David Ames: So we have an opportunity to be and I'm not going to name drop yet because I don't know if it's going to happen. Part of a podcast network that is atheist focused but very humanist in its approach. Basically what we're doing here, and I'm fairly certain that's what we're going to do and we're going to cut this part if we don't. And that would open up the door to a few more famous people, right? So a few more authors, a few more speakers.
0:56:49 David Ames: So I want to lace that in. I do not want to lose the heart of what we're doing, which is the people. And so my promise to you is that will always be the core. That's going to be the core. But if you have a few more podcasters, a few more authors, a few more speakers, that's what's happening. And we're also getting noticed. So even apart from the network thing, I'm starting to get people reaching out to us back to the it's starting to pay dividends, doing it the right way from the beginning and not just taking the easy, quick way.
0:57:25 David Ames: I'm getting solicitations from slightly more, wellknown, people and things like that. So I think you're going to see a bit more of that on the podcast. And again, I want to keep our feet on the ground and it's still going to be about people. The core driving thing for me is about honesty and vulnerability. I think you get those two things, and you have an amazing conversation, and that's what people relate to, and so I'm not going to lose sight of that.
0:57:55 Arline: And that's exciting. That sounds exciting. The last couple of questions, some of your favorites. Do you have any favorite interviews that you've done, favorite blog posts that we can link in the show notes?
0:58:16 David Ames: Sure. Some of my original stuff was before the podcast. It was me just figuring this stuff out. If you read it, you hear me trying to work out what this has become. Right. I already mentioned how to deconvert into any steps. Again, I hate that title, but it has a bunch of Google SEO. I can't leave it. Yeah, trust me, this is not just an intellectual exercise. I was trying to get to what does it feel like to deconvert?
0:58:47 David Ames: What does it feel like? And I feel like I hope that I captured some of that. I've gotten some positive feedback from it. So I would say that my early doc on secular grace and humanism. So those two different blog posts are really kind of my pouring out my soul. I did my deconversion, but it was a bit intellectual. I've had feedback on that, that it was more counter apologetic than most people care about.
0:59:22 David Ames: But if you're into that thing, you'll enjoy that if you're into that counter apologetic things. I also have a set of what I call thought experiments for believers where it kind of addresses some underlying apologetic without just to let the reader come to their own conclusion. Right. I'm not trying to tell them what the answer is. Just like, what do you feel the answer is when you get to ask this question? So I love all of those blog posts for interviews. I've already mentioned Jennifer Michael hecht her book.
0:59:56 David Ames: And let's do recommendations, too, if you don't mind, here.
0:59:59 Arline: Yes, go for it.
1:00:00 David Ames: So her book, Doubt a History, one of the early books I read, actually not the earliest. So, again, I read all the people that atheists read. I read The Four Horsemen. I read a few humanists early on, and it was all very cold and philosophical, and I still was looking for if I was going to describe secular grace. It's humanism with boots on the ground, blood, sweat, and tears, loving people. Right.
1:00:28 David Ames: That's what was missing. And what I found in Jennifer's book was, yes, it was intellectual, but it connected me to history. Deconstruction is not new. Atheism is not new. These questions, I mean, the exact questions now, I'm not talking about just generalities here, but the exact questions you are likely to have gone through. There is a trail of historical references of people going through the same thing, feeling just as isolated, feeling just as societally, left out and apart from the mainstream.
1:01:09 David Ames: And her book connected me to that. It also was humbling. I say this every time I talk about the book, not only are my ideas not original for today, they are not original for 2500 years ago. This is not new. And there's something profoundly comforting about that for me. I love her spirit. She also comes from a secular Jewish perspective, which I adore. Christians who say that humanism is stealing from Christianity. I want to just laugh in their faces.
1:01:45 David Ames: It is all secular Judaism. Like, we owe everything to secular Judaism. That's best. So a follow along to that is Sasha Sagan, that interview with her in it. First of all, I think Carl Sagan is one. You know, I often say I'm a Sagan like atheist, not a Dawkins like atheist. And what I mean is there is still wonder and awe and joy and connection and people. I love people. And I feel like Carl captured that and Dawkins doesn't.
1:02:21 David Ames: Well, man his wife Annie and his daughter Sasa Sagan have extended that legacy, and I love everything they do. Her book, Small Creatures Such as we, captures the need for us as human beings to have ritual again. There need not be a spiritual, non physical, non natural element to the need to connect with each other and mark time, mark birthdays, mark weddings, mark mark deaths, and collectively grieve and celebrate.
1:03:01 David Ames: Right? So in that conversation with Sasha, we talked about, man, how can we capture this and put it in a bottle and give it away? If I could give away to you the feeling that I have the satisfaction and I'm not a nihilist at all, right? 95% of what they accuse atheists of, I feel like that just doesn't apply to me. Right. I have more than what I felt as a Christian because I feel freer. Right? And if I could give away this project is trying to give that away.
1:03:41 David Ames: And I feel like people like Sasha have that. Alice Gretchen, I think I already mentioned she wrote the book, wayward I'll mention it's, in the same tone. Heather Wells, who was just on both of them are memoirs. I think there's a deep place for that. You mentioned Marla taliano hers'book of poetry. The three of them speak in a way that I could never right. That's not my experience. They are expressing an experience that's deeply important in a way that I don't have access to.
1:04:17 David Ames: And so I love those three. Amy rath came on. She has a podcast about nuns. N-O-N-E-S. Love her work. I think she's on to something deep and meaningful and important there. Just in the recent past, ryan Mukowski, Robert Peoples gosh, there's so much. I feel like I leave people out by trying to acknowledge these people. But you can hear in my voice when I'm super excited, right. And it tends to be humanist, skepticism, loving people, right? That combination, some combination of that is going to fire me up and I'm going to be excited.
1:04:58 David Ames: Can I give you more recommendations? I don't know you have more questions. Okay. More recommendations really quick, because this question was asked of me. I think it was via you. And I was unprepared. I came prepared today. All right?
1:05:13 Arline: That's right.
1:05:13 David Ames: Yeah. Often people ask me, what podcasts do you listen to? And the truth is, I don't really listen to the conversion deconstruction podcasts. And the reason is, like, I know that people will age out, for lack of a better term, of the graceful atheist, right? People come to us at a time of need, either during the process or they need a booster shot, so to speak, after deconversion, and they need to feel like I'm not alone.
1:05:46 David Ames: And they probably get satisfied right. Within, let's say, a year or so, right? Like, okay, I have enough. I can move on. And they will age out. And that is a good thing, not a bad thing. I feel like that for me, too, just in the same way that I was just 15 minutes of rationalist atheist and I was done in the deconversion space. Like, you know, I've listened to the podcast. Of course. I still do. I do a ton of research, right? Like, just for the podcast, I do a ton of research.
1:06:15 David Ames: So I still am listening to it. But for myself, that's not what I listen to. So a couple of recommendations. One is. Sabina hasenfelder. Dr. Sabina hasenfelder. She is a science communicator, and she is a skeptics skeptic. I love this person. She has both a YouTube channel, she's written the book Lost in Math. Where she is critical of the Tlcr is the concept of the beauty of mathematics and physics.
1:06:51 David Ames: And she says that led us astray. We're too focused on this aesthetic value and not looking at the data. She is critical of the foundations of quantum field theory, which, as you know, can spill out into things like the multiverse concepts and things like that. She is a skeptics skeptic. I love her. Even if I disagree with her, I respect her beyond anything else. For that reason, she's willing to just stand.
1:07:25 David Ames: And I want to be really super clear here. There is a movement, the wrong word, an intellectual trajectory sometimes called the heterodox sphere. And that's actually my next recommendation I'll talk about in a second that I don't agree with. Okay? So this is the people who are heterodox just for the sake of being heterodox. These are the people who were pushing ivoryctum during the antivaccine, during the pandemic, which I think was it makes me angry.
1:08:07 David Ames: Misinformation, disinformation, makes me angry. That was to build a podcast audience, and it pisses me off. So I do not mean heterodox. I mean willing to stand for the truth based on the data we have, right? And stand in the unknown. We don't know. The other message of this podcast is that the Christian apologetics will say, you have to have this answer. You have to have an answer. And it's okay to just not know.
1:08:37 David Ames: And I would much rather not know something than to speculate and get entrenched into my speculative answer. And that is the description of all of apologetics, but also sometimes philosophy and sometimes even science in some science, anyway. Sabina the second one is a podcast similar in that it is of skepticism. It is decoding the gurus. Two guys, Chris Kavanaugh and Matt Brown, they are both academics, but they are looking at all the famous people that I have avoided talking about so far, people like Sam Harris and Brett and Eric Weinstein.
1:09:22 David Ames: And that heterodoxphere. They are looking at it from an academic point of view, and they are looking at how it feels. Whenever you use the term cult, it gets negative immediately. But how they are abusing their personality, their charismatic personalities for monetary gain. And so it is critical of the critics, right? And so I think it's a super valuable perspective. Another YouTube channel that I really like, that I just found literally within the last month is Matt Baker's Useful Charts.
1:10:01 David Ames: Matt is a theistic Jew. He came, from, what he calls his words a cult. The British Judaism. I don't probably not even calling it right. Anyway, long story short, he's a history buff. He is a religious studies. That's his actual degree, his education, and his business is building, drawing out these charts. So he does things like monarchic lines, successions and so forth. But he has applied that to his religious studies knowledge.
1:10:45 David Ames: And so he has a ton of really well documented, really well resourced researched biblical history from a critical point of view. So he'll be like, here's the Bible's timeline and here's the archeological timeline. It's super valuable, right? Like, was Moses a real person? He tackles that with real honesty, right? And he separates mythology, legends, and history. And there's a bright line there. And I've learned things from him, I think.
1:11:20 David Ames: Man where were you 20 years ago? So I love that one from that podcast is of the book by Neil Silberman, the Bible unearthed similar. This is actually I'm way late to the game here. This has been out for a while. I believe he's at least Israeli, if not Jewish. But again, looking at the actual archeological evidence, is there evidence of 700,000 to 202 million people going through this tiny little space in the Middle East? And spoiler alert, no, there is not.
1:11:56 David Ames: And it's just an honest look at what does the data actually say, right? And I'm just beginning that book, but I think it's great so far. Again, I'm late to the party. Christian Demez is Jesus and John Wayne. One thing I learned what did I learn? I learned that I have been super privileged and ignorant and I have had the privilege of nivete. Right. I was a white ish male in an evangelical patriarchal environment.
1:12:36 David Ames: And similar to Jennifer Michael Heck's book about deconstruction is Not New the Christian Nationalist Patriarchal Elements of the Christian Right and Is Not New And something I would talk about from the Watched it Happen from the 80s, but she's taking it all the way back before the 50s even and just tracing the line of we should not have been surprised by Trump. So the fact that I was surprised is a revelation of my own naivete and privilege. Right.
1:13:19 David Ames: I highly recommend that book. I know you have as well. In my interview of you we talked about Tyler Merit. The name of it is I take my coffee black. He references the school I went to. He is definitely a Christian. But the experience of being a Black Man in 2020. And not only that, a Christian Black Man and his Christian friends and family not understanding, not getting it. And the pain that he'll just what he's so good at is the visceral experience of being a Black Man in America during that time period. And prior to that, too. So I highly recommend his book.
1:14:10 David Ames: Just to rattle off more podcasts that I listen to. You don't have to. Ezra Klein on politics I think is amazing. Yes. Sean Carroll on all things science, particularly physics, particularly cosmology, but also the philosophical background. He kind of blends those two. His his is called Mindscape 538 on politics, political Gabfest on politics. You're seeing sensing a theme here, very bad wizards, philosophy and psychology kind of related to the gurus, but without that critical aspect.
1:14:48 David Ames: So those are the kinds of things that I listen to. And then last recommendation is I wouldn't have known these guys but my teenagers. But Lincoln Rhett are the famous guys from what is it? Mythical Morning. Mythical morning. Yeah. Now. Ear biscuits. They were youth for Christ. Minister they did all kinds of stuff. They didn't talk about that through Mythical Morning. They deconverted and they came out publicly.
1:15:19 David Ames: And the series of podcasts in ear biscuits, both on YouTube and on their podcasts are just amazing. Very, very good. They did like a year after retrospective. All of that is fantastic. Go listen to it. It is great.
1:15:37 Arline: Yes. And Good Mythical Morning is just hilarious and funny and it's just think of a family friend, their kid was like, can we watch Good Mythical, Mythical Morning? Like eating the hot cheetos stuff. I mean, just the most bizarre, random stuff and it was so much fun. And then somehow I found out that they had deconverted and listened their story and so similar to so many people's stories that we've heard.
1:15:59 David Ames: Totally. Yeah.
1:16:01 Arline: Any more recommendations?
1:16:03 David Ames: I'm done. I'm finally done. That was wonderful.
1:16:06 Arline: I wrote a lot down podcast, although I do not need to keep adding to my podcast.
1:16:11 David Ames: Yeah, I hear you. And I'll definitely send you these names. I had to write it down. I would not have remembered.
1:16:18 Arline: Is there anything I did not ask that you wanted to talk about?
1:16:22 David Ames: I talked briefly about kind of having this packaged, trying to have the elevator pitch. So I want to wrap with secular grace is I sometimes talk about this ABCs of a secular, quote unquote, spirituality that's all belonging in connection. So again, I appreciate that this is a little too three points in a sermon kind of thing, but to try to simplify it for people. Again, thing I learned is how much cultural context feeds into our interpretation of the experience of awe.
1:17:05 David Ames: We know that you can use high powered magnet over a person's brain and they will experience God. And if you're in the west, you're going to see Jesus, right? And if you're in Asia, you're going to see the Buddha maybe, or Shiva or Vishnu or what have you, right? And if you're in the Mideast, you might see Allah, right? Your cultural context gives you the interpretation of what awe means to you. And what I'm trying to say is awe is a human experience and we should embrace it.
1:17:39 David Ames: It is a wonderful thing. I experienced that for sure, in nature and in friendship and sometimes in these interviews, right. That literal physical feeling of man. This is amazing, right. I feel that and I no longer have to say that's a god, right? No, it's just two people connecting and that's a great thing.
1:18:00 Arline: Yes.
1:18:01 David Ames: The belonging is what we've been talking about with the deconversion anonymous group. It's to know that you are not alone. You are a part of a people. It's part of what I talked about with Jennifer Michael Heck, that we are in a historical line of doubters. We are not alone, not only for this time period, but for all of human history. As long as there has been belief, there have been doubters, and we are a part of that. And so having a sense of I'm a part of something, I'm a part of this group is a hardwired need.
1:18:36 David Ames: We are social creatures. It's okay to embrace that. It's also okay to be very critical about which groups you are willing to make yourself be a part of. We are not particularly joiners secular people and that's okay too, but it is kind of a human need. And then the connection is back to what I was talking about earlier, about that almost confessional level, one on one human talking to your best friend in the world, the human being who holds your secrets, whoever just came to your mind.
1:19:13 David Ames: That's what I mean by connection. It's about trusting that person with implicitly. You know they are going to hold your secrets. You know that you can tell them anything. You can be angry and you can be an asshole. You can be yourself unedited to that person, find that person, love them, hug them, be the same back for them. That connection is so valuable, so necessary, such a deep part of being a human being.
1:19:40 David Ames: And the whole thing I'm trying to say is if you find yourself no longer able to believe in spirituality of any kind, you get to keep all those things. Those things still come with being a human being. You do not lose them. You do not need to be a fatalist nihilist who succumbs to despair. That is not necessary. And that is the message of the podcast.
1:20:06 Arline: All right, mic drop.
1:20:07 David Ames: I don't have a microphone.
1:20:09 Arline: David, this was wonderful. This was so much fun. I learned a lot and I know our audience is going to really enjoy this episode. This is great.
1:20:16 David Ames: I appreciate it. Thank you so much for doing the interview. I think this is valuable.
1:20:20 Arline: Thanks for being on.
1:20:27 David Ames: Final thoughts on the episode.
1:20:31 Arline: My final thoughts on the interview I really enjoyed getting to interview David. I learned a little bit more about his story, where he's come from, and it reminded me again how much he has a heart for people, how much he has a heart for helping people who used to find community. In the church, but now know that's not something they can believe in or are journeying away from the church and can figure out ways to give them space to tell their stories, to find empathy and compassion from friends through whether it's the podcast or the Facebook group.
1:21:14 Arline: He is putting good things out into the world and it's wonderful and I love it. And it reminds me of how thankful I am that I get to be part of this. I get to be part of his vision, I get to be part of whatever comes in the future. And it makes me excited about the future of the podcast, to see where things are headed and to get to see what the future holds for David and the graceful atheist podcast.
1:21:46 Arline: I love it. It's wonderful and I'm so thankful to get to be a part of it.
1:21:51 David Ames: For the secular Grace Thought of the. Week, it's just my gratitude for everyone involved with the podcast. I'm terrified I'm going to leave some names out here. So please, if I forget you specifically, you are included in all of this gratitude. I obviously have to begin with Arline and all of the work that she's been doing as the community manager of the Deacon Version Anonymous Facebook Group, guest hosting, recruiting people to be on the show, copy editing, just a number of things.
1:22:22 David Ames: The podcast could not happen without her. Equally, Mike T doing the editing, we do about 48 50 shows a year. That is a lot of editing to do and I could not do it without Mike. He is an integral part of what you get to hear. Both Arline and Mike are in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group. So if you appreciate the podcast, please thank them. Let them know how much their work means to you. I also want to thank the moderators in the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group.
1:22:53 David Ames: Thank you to Arline again, lars, Mike, T. Again, Stephanie, Ian and Vanessa, thank. You so much for the work that. You do to help make the group graceful and provide a safe place to land for people doubting, deconstructing and deconverting. Thank you guys. I want to thank everyone who has been a financial supporter of the podcast in the past through Anchor and Stripe. Thank you so much for really years worth of giving there.
1:23:22 David Ames: I really appreciate that. And I want to thank the new Patreon patrons, some of whom have moved over from the Anchor stripe scenario. Joel, Lars, Ray, Rob, Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Thank you so very much. I want to thank Ray from the Deconversion Anonymous Facebook group for doing the memes. These beautiful memes that you see of quotes from the guests on the episodes are just absolutely beautiful and it's a great way to promote the podcast and for people to connect and recognize there's something there that they want to see.
1:23:54 David Ames: In this episode, I mentioned there's a couple of people who I hang out with about once a month. You all know who you are and I thank you guys so much for keeping me sane, letting me be myself, and giving me a place to just vent sometimes. That is incredibly appreciated. Again, I'm terrified that I have left someone out. I need you to know that if you have participated in any way with the podcast as a guest, as a member of the community, if you've promoted the podcast on your social media, if you've told a friend, thank you, thank you, thank you.
1:24:26 David Ames: All of that is just so important. For 2023, as I've been talking about, we will be moving to the Atheist United Podcast Network. What that will do will give us. Some more exposure to the wider secular community, hopefully more guests on the show and me as a guest on other podcasts. But also we will be supporting the. Work that Atheist United does and they do a lot of work in the Los Angeles area for the homeless and various other community efforts.
1:24:58 David Ames: And the ad revenue from the podcast will go to Atheist United and will be helping a good cause. A reminder of one more programming. Note that after the 18 December to the 8 January, we are off. We're going to be migrating the podcast from Anchor to Spreaker. Definitely before the 8th, double check to make sure that you still have the podcast in your podcast application. And after the 8th, you definitely have a new episode.
1:25:27 David Ames: And if you don't, I might have made a mistake and you might need to refresh your connection to the podcast. I'm excited about 2023 and everything that we're going to do together. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves from Mackay. Beats links will be in the show. Notes if you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media.
1:26:04 David Ames: You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on podcasters.com. You can also support the podcast by. Clicking on the affiliate links for books on gracefullaytheus.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate with the podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition and do you need to tell your story?
1:26:29 David Ames: Reach out if you are a creator. Or work in the deconstruction, deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast, just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast, there's links in the show notes to find me. You can Google Graceful Atheist, you can Google deconversion, you can Google secular grace. You can send me an email Graceful. Atheist@gmail.com or you can check out the website Graceful Atheist.com.
1:27:01 David Ames: My name is David and I am trying to be the Graceful Atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. This has been the graceful atheist podcast.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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 guest is Daniel. Daniel is a social scientist with a master’s degree in psychology. He grew up in the United Church of Canada, but church wasn’t a huge part of his life until high school. He then went to bible college and worked in ministry. He tried to experience God like others were, but it just wouldn’t happen.
He took on the “Office of Skeptic,” for himself. He hoped it would help both his faith and the church. He could articulate questions and doubts that others couldn’t. Were these miraculous stories true? Was God really even there? If so, what the hell was he doing?
Unfortunately, this only kept him in the church longer than he needed. By 2020, he’d been an agnostic theist for years and was finally seeing the harm done in North America by White Christianity.
Now Daniel writes and speaks, sharing his knowledge with those struggling with addictions and other mental health needs. He no longer looks to the supernatural for miracles but knows how much human connection is the true healer.
“I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God—like spiritual experiences during worship services—was very common, and I could never manage to actually feel those things.”
“[I had a]…brief but memorable career as a Christian Ghostbuster…”
“He took me under his wing and informed me that why I couldn’t feel God’s presence was because it was all blocked by demons. Obviously.”
“Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by more mundane means or is the spiritual explanation the best or only explanation?”
“To have someone convince [another person that they don’t need their] anti-psychotics because of [their] faith is something that hadn’t even occurred to me before…it was deeply alarming and stuck with me for years afterward.”
‘[In seminary,] many professors would make logically sound arguments but they’d be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded…”
“For many of the Christian intellectuals I was trying to learn from…critical thinking was a valued skillset up to a point. When we approach the underlying tenants of the faith, we’re suppose to stop…they’re simply too sacred to be questioned.”
“I was trying to find a reason to stay.”
“It’s the human connection that we make between us that’s really changing our lives.”
“I was encouraged by my new [secular] professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge, truth and understanding.”
“Me staying in this religion…despite the fact that I was basically agnostic. It’s lending validation to all those Christians who are actively working to make the world a worse place…”
“If we don’t have practices in place—like scientific thinking, like the scientific method…we’re always going to be taken in by things that we’d rather believe or that are easier to believe.”
“Apologetics: Philosophy, but done badly.”
“I don’t shy away from uncomfortable questions or even more uncomfortable answers. That has been such a valuable change in my life and has led me to some incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships…even some from bible college.”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the best are going to be ahead.”
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 Manu Andrew, thank you so much for the kind words, you can rate and review the podcast on the Apple podcast store, you can rate the podcast on Spotify, and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening. The deconversion anonymous Facebook group continues to thrive and many of its members have been guests including this week's guest, please consider joining the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Daniel. Daniel has a master's in psychology. He focuses on addiction psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology enjoys the process of reading and interpreting research. And that's actually why he's here. Community member in had posted an article entitled here's how religion imprints us even when we walk away the article and ultimately the study underneath it were funded by the Templeton Foundation, which very much has a theistic bias, but it was still very interesting and prompted this conversation. Daniel has a fascinating personal story being bright and inquisitive. He stayed in the church for longer than he would have by taking on the concept of the Office of the skeptic within the church until he found he could no longer believe. Daniel also discovered that he has the attention deficit side of ADHD. And that plays a fascinating part of his story of deconstruction and deconversion as well. Here is Daniel to tell his story.
Daniel, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Thanks for having me. Daniel, we
David Ames 2:22
had an interaction with each other in the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, we were discussing a Templeton article about people who D convert, and I just thought your responses were incredibly cogent. And it turns out that you have some expertise. So you had real input here. And so I'm really excited to have you on, I'd like you to just introduce yourself really quick and maybe talk about what that expertise is.
Certainly, my name is Daniel. I'm Canadian. And I've also worked in mental health and addictions for just about a decade and a half. And my educational background, which made me most interested in commenting on that article we were mentioning, is that I have a Master's of Science in Psychology. And so throughout that process, I focused a lot on reading and assessing and interpreting research from very various perspectives in psychology, Applied Psychology and Social Psychology and learning how to recognize what's good research, what's bad research, and really been a big part of my life since then.
David Ames 3:33
Excellent. In the second half of the show, we're going to discuss the article that we just reference as well as just your experience in the field. But I want to hear your personal story first. So like we always do, what was your religious tradition growing up?
So I grew up in a Presbyterian home, attending the United Church of Canada, which is an amalgamation of several denominations, including Presbyterian and Episcopalian, it's exclusive to Canada. My family was not especially conservative, nor were they especially liberal. And well, he would have said that we were Christians. Growing up, it wasn't something that was discussed very frequently. I do remember having conversations about it. You know, when our family dog died, I asked him, you know, what happened to him? And can we go visit him and those kinds of things, and that that gave me I think, like a lot of people when your family pet dies, you get a bit of that first touch of the fear of death, which is probably a depressingly common story. What one of the things that's important in contextualizing my growing up and my identity formation is the fact that I had undiagnosed ADHD. Now ADHD comes in a few different varieties and most people are most familiar with the hyperactive subtype because that's the most outwardly visible. I flew under the radar because I had primarily inattentive type, which was less recognized in the 80s and 90s. Mostly just meant that people viewed me as a bit of a space cadet. I was insatiably curious but unfocused, I was frequently accused by my teachers of being lazy. It also able to work in bursts and for lengths of time and accomplish things soon as incredibly quickly. So I was identified as gifted, but unmotivated. Yeah, something I'm sure. Yeah, exactly. Now, a lot of neurodivergent children, including people with primarily inattentive, ADHD, struggle with relationships, and understanding how to act around other people in ways that are considered normal. So like a lot of people who grew up with similar experiences, I would often mimic the people around me or attach myself to stronger personalities and groups, and take on their opinions in order to fit in and to feel safe and accepted. This, I would go undiagnosed until I was about 27. When I was a teenager, I was invited to an evangelical youth group, and that little voice of curiosity inside of me had this whole new world to explore. I identified more and more strongly with this new group, though, I also learned a lot of new things like the evangelical concept of salvation and hell, which really amplified that fear of death that I'd had growing up. After a year in that group, I prayed the center's prayer and was baptized again, even though I'd already been baptized as an adult. I guess I needed a second coat. Yeah. And then my life really revolved around church, I attended youth group a couple times a week, as well as church on Sundays, I gained a valuable group of friends, couple of whom still talk to me today. But despite the fact that I had a new group to identify with, I was still struggling in a lot of areas. One was identity and identity formation, I still difficulty forming opinions of my own, I'd gravitate towards the strongest pains in the group without really putting a lot of time and effort into thinking about them. The other issue is that I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God and having spiritual experiences during worship services, and so on, was very common. And I could never manage to actually feel those things. I think partly because, while I was very curious, I also I didn't, I didn't lie to myself very easily, I, people would say, I'd really felt the presence of God during that song, I would go, I don't know what that means, like, Tell me about it, and how do I get there too, so they would often talk about experiencing the presence of God or feeling God's love or affection. And those weren't feelings I could just manufacture. So this led to years of rededicating my life to Christ and doing altar calls and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and eventually going to Bible college, which gives me a big wake up call. This period of time is one that i semi affectionately refer to as my brief but memorable career as a Christian ghostbuster. Okay.
So, early into my first year of college, I, we were all supposed to find Christian ministries to, to volunteer with. And so in the first few weeks, I started to volunteer for a local Christian drop and Center. This center was run by a man that I can only describe now, with the benefit of hindsight as a, as a spiritually abusive megalomaniac. He ran out of this drop in center, in addition to, you know, play foosball and stuff with kids. He ran a deliverance ministry, which, for those of your listeners who don't know what that is, it's a ministry that revolves around casting out demons from people who don't know they have demons in them. Yeah, these demons could be demons of lust, demons of depression, demons of anxiety, all sorts of things you would normally find in Frank Peretti novels. If you ever read those?
David Ames 9:16
Absolutely, yeah. I distinctly recall the Christians around me in the late 80s, you know, being really influenced by Frank Peretti. And, and I was when I was thinking, this cannot be like, even as a as a believer, I thought, you know, this is this takes this too far, somehow.
Well, I was the I was immersed in those books. I the church pastor gave them to me and said, like, this is really going to, you know, if you like Lord of the Rings, this is going to be great for you. And so I was very intrigued by this deliverance ministry, and the man took me under his wing and informed me that the reason why I couldn't feel God's presence is because it was all blocked by demons, obviously. And he also said that he wanted me to come in and work with him in his defense ministry because he had determined that I had the gift of discernment. So I could, according to him, I could feel when demons were nearby and I could tell what they were doing. And that was for an impressionable kid, especially one like myself, who was gravitating towards the strongest ideas in the room, and grew up reading sci fi and fantasy. This was, this was everything I'd hoped to hear. This was my Jedi moment. Gandalf had just sent me off. You know, Hagrid just told me I was wizard like, This is it? This is what I was waiting for. Yeah. So for a couple of months. That was, that was life, and I was becoming more invested in it. But there was one night where after the drop in, center had closed down, and we were doing the deliverance ministry stuff, one of the volunteers, were going to do something that was referred to as manifesting where it they appeared to be possessed by a demon, they spoken a strange voice, their behavior was very strange, very bizarre. And the deliverance ministry leader tried to have a showdown and exercise them which didn't do anything. And so four hours of this into the wee hours of the morning occurred. And after about four hours, the volunteers spouse, volunteer who was manifesting, their spouse showed up with a bottle of antipsychotics that the deliverance ministry leader had convinced him to stop taking, oh, wow, yeah, they took their antipsychotics and then they calmed down, and they went home. Okay. And I identified this retrospectively as a massive wake up call for myself, not only because I got exposed to a genuine, you know, mental health condition, that was misidentified as something spiritual, but because it made me realize, I was not thinking for myself, I was not thinking critically about what I was being told or what I believed. And if I wasn't careful, I was gonna get taken in by all kinds of foolish beliefs that would be harmful for myself and for others. That was the moment when I think the switch got flipped inside me when that voice of curiosity became the voice of skepticism. From that moment on, when people start telling me things about their experiences with God, about hearing the voice of Spirit with, you know, my my new reactions, they have to gravitate towards them and say, Oh, wow, like, Tell me more, I believe you. It was to put the brakes on the Start asking questions. Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by a more mundane means? Or is the spiritual explanation the best or only likely explanation? That also, this whole experience also really cemented my interest in psychology, and gave me an incredible amount of sympathy for people who were struggling with mental illnesses in the context of the church. To have someone convince you that you didn't need your anti psychotics, because of your faith was something that hadn't even occurred to me before that night, and immediately became deeply alarming. And something that stuck with me for years afterwards. So I stayed in Bible college and for the last half of Bible college, I connected with a few professors who were strong advocates of critical thinking, who helped me to grow those skills. I also benefited from being my wife, who had an incredibly strong bullshit detector. that to this day, is still much better than mine. So I left Bible college still a Christian, but a much more cautious person. And it will be a long journey for that newly planted skepticism to grow into agnosticism.
After college, I started working for Youth for Christ, ironically, also running a drop in center, but in a different community than the one I volunteered for I spent almost seven years there. I genuinely tried to do my best to improve people's lives. But my new skeptical outlook on life really made me question a lot of what we were trying to teach youth. And while I made a lot of friends with others in the ministry field, I often found rifts appearing between myself and those friends, I would question the things they were taking for granted, and things that they didn't want to be questioned. Throughout this whole time, my ongoing lack of any spiritual experience or feeling the presence of God, and all that still weighed on me, and I, it made me question if God was really there, which then brought up those fears of hell and fears of dying. But I'd read at some point during this period, I read CS Lewis is cosmic trilogy, which I'm not sure if you've read or not. I've read it. I've actually read it. Yeah. Which I actually really loved. It was a great series, and there's a character In the the final book, that hideous strength, named McPhee, and he's the only non believer in this group of people who are trying to save the world. And he's kind of presented as a as a bit of a dick. Like he's always questioning people. And he's always saying like, well, but are you sure? And no, could this not just be something in the weather or whatever? And, and he's, the other characters are obviously kind of irritated with him. But the leader of their group says, oh, no, he's our skeptic. And that's a very important office, you know, it's an office in the church, just like the office of priest, the Office of confessor, the Office of evangelist. And I identified with that so strongly, I thought, well, this is why I can't feel God is so that I can, I can hold this office and the church, the Office of the skeptic, that's my job. And that belief, I think, me in the church a lot longer than I might have otherwise.
David Ames 16:00
I relate to so much of this, Daniel, just so you know. I mean, that, you know, being marked out as, like having discernment. And, you know, I think bright analytical people within the church, get that tag and find it difficult to really get into the emotional experience that the people around them are having. And yet, you know, you're wanting to be a part of it so badly that you know, you're still continuing on, even though there's part of the kind of the back of your mind saying, is this quite right, it seems there's something maybe off,
I can remember somebody reading somewhere, somebody had written about a similar experience, how much longer must I put up with such unbearable silence from the throne of heaven? I remember feeling that so deeply, like, yeah, like what, like, what the hell God, and this idea that, hey, you are fulfilling a special place in the church, you're, you're here to be the skeptic. The Catholic church even has somebody employed to go out and check on If miracles are legitimate or not at the office is referred to as the devil's advocate. And I sort of identified with that. And while I was in ministry, I actually went to seminary and threw myself into Bible classes, theology classes, philosophy classes, but also classes in counseling psychology, because that's what I was most interested in. That was the degree I was going for. A lot of the biblical theological philosophy courses were taught by professors who spoke very highly of critical thinking and the importance of a rational face. But more and more, I was convinced there were limitations on how they were applying their critical thinking. Many people, many professors would create logically sound arguments, but they'll be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded or unsupportable, or non falsifiable. And I began to learn that for many of the Christian intellectuals, I was trying to learn from and trying to grow from critical thinking was a valued skill set to a point. When we approach these underlying tenets of the faith, we're supposed to stop and give those things some space, some things are just too sacred to be questioned, or too sacred to be skeptical about. You had a previous guest named Matthew, who said that he, he had to believe that somewhere somebody knew those answers, that would be sufficient. And you said to trust that guy knew what he was doing. He knows what he's doing. I'm okay. And I really related to that. I saw I looked for that person. I read Alister McGrath, Terry Eagleton, like tons of theologians and Christian philosophers, David Bentley, Hart, just trying to find that person. Yeah, I also read Christians who weren't philosophers, but who were scientists, Francis Collins, for instance, Human Genome Project, I sought for those strong rational arguments for God's existence that would help me satisfy that skeptical nature I had I kept finding that theological and historical arguments would either be flawed or erroneous or would run out long before my questions would. Even though I was actually seeking for that evidence. I think a lot of people think that when you when you leave the faith, it's because you were trying to find an excuse to I was trying to find a reason to stay. And outside of even the insulated North American Evangelical tradition, I found great Christian thinkers whose arguments also fell short and when their arguments ran out their reasons for believing boil down to personal experience. Yes, shutting have.
David Ames 19:38
Yeah, right. Okay.
Yeah. So I kept asking, like, is this really all you guys have? Am I supposed to rely on your personal experience as a reason for my faith? And I was I was always disappointed.
So about 12 years ago, I left both ministry and seminary, and I transitioned to secular Employment First as a counselor working with adolescents. And then as a public health educator in the area of mental health addictions. If someone had asked me when I left ministry, at the time, it would have said that I was an agnostic theist. I was trying to believe, despite my doubts, and despite the lack of personal experience, yeah, I was disillusioned, but I was determined to keep on trying, still hoping I would find arguments for the existence of God, they were actually convincing. Like another one of your guests, Lars said, I was just I was holding on to hope that was all I had left was the hope. My faith for the next 10 years was almost completely intellectual. And more than ever, I told myself that this is because I was in the office of the skeptic. And I was just doing my best. I do want to stress though, and this is important to me, too, that there were many Christian thinkers, educators I encountered, who were very good for my growth and development. One man in particular, became my mentor in the counseling program. He had a strong scientific mindset, before he became a counselor and got his doctorate in that he had been a pharmacist. And one of the things he did outside of the seminary was give talks to churches and Christian groups about how it was okay for Christians to take antidepressants. He gave talks on the history of anti psychotics, and I went with him to some of those talks, and saw him change so many lives, and how I saw him open up churches to the possibility that we could actually feel better without having to feel guilty at the same time. And as he got older and, and moved away, he gave me his blessing to, to continue some of those talks. And I started giving those talks and similar talks on faith and mental illness, at churches, at Christian conferences, not only locally, but then actually across the country. And I was so gratified that he opened up that possibility for me, because I did hear from a lot of people who wound up deciding to get help, because of some of those talks. That mentor, stated, dear friend, and we stayed in touch for many years. And earlier this year, he he passed away due to cancer. Yeah, it was, it's a, it's, I count one of the greatest gifts I've received in my life, that I was able to speak to him the day before he died and tell him how much he meant to me, and how he changed the direction of my life. We didn't talk about faith or God, I just told them how much I loved him and loved what he did for me and the path he set me on. And the fact that he was still cognizant of our conversation and is able to respond and express his emotions for me as well. It's something that I really, I really valued. And I I'm still I still have very fond memories of that work that we did. Within the church.
David Ames 23:21
You know, again, just a lot of parallels my Bible college experience, I had a number of professors that were very focused on critical thinking, I had a mentor, theology professor who, you know, I refer to occasionally on the podcast, and I can see all the positive elements of that relationship and what I learned from those people, even though I'm no longer a believer, and I think you said the most important thing there that it was the, you know, the impact on your life from one human being to another wasn't about spirituality, it was about someone caring for you, guiding you and giving you mentorship
and, and teaching me the value of being a good and empathic communicator. Watching him do public speaking, really lit the bug in it for me and I? I spent hundreds of hours over the last decade doing public speaking both through my work and outside of it. And, and every time I do, I can't I can't ever do it without thinking of him in some way. And like you said, it's that human connection that we we make between us that is really what's changing our lives and something I've just never regretted as the work that he and I did, even though I've, I've had cause to regret some of the things I did and said was in ministry should never, never has it been the work that he and I did.
David Ames 24:58
There's a number of direction means, I want to take, I want to wrap up just one element of what you talked about that I think is really important. And that is, in all of the skepticism and the doubt you were looking for a reason to believe you were looking for evidence to believe the fact that you were unable to find that evidence is not your fault in any way. And I think because sometimes the apologists approach is to blame. The doubter, like it's the doubters fault that they won't accept the argument. But as you pointed out, you begin to recognize the unfalsifiable falsifiability have a premise or it like you say, it can be a sound argument, but it's based on premises that don't have any founding.
Exactly. And that all came even more clear to me when I left ministry and started continuing education. We did, we did join a new church, around the time I left ministry, it seemed to be a bit more progressive. And that was kind of fitting with the more liberal direction that I was leaning in. And I started going to a secular university, taking my master's in psychology and the degree because the science degree it focused heavily on social science, research methods, data interpretation, quantitative analysis. And this work only built on that skeptical, critical thinking foundation I've been building and been strengthening since I was encouraged by my new professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge and truth and understanding, especially when it came to things that I wanted to be true. So then I started saying things to myself like, well, you know, even if there's no God belonging to a church is good for community, and the church has a lot of good in the world. So I'm just going to, you know, I became even more agnostic, and then the pandemic hit. And that progressive church we belong to, just took a drastic turn, the pastor that I'd gotten to know and would have considered a friend and had over for beers. He believed COVID was a conspiracy, that there's something satanic going on. He was increasingly going into conspiracy theories from the pulpit, or from the Zoom call. And, and then also encouraging people to break restrictions. And many people in the church started doing that, at a time when, when not only was the pandemic really kicking off, and we were quite uncertain about what the the timeline was going to be like, there were other social issues coming up with the murder of George Floyd. And the pastor and the church really swung in a kind of awful direction on that, too. We tried having some talks in our church as a community about, hey, like, we should talk about systemic racism as a as a church. And the pastor had strong opinions that rationality and human compassion couldn't change. And because he was unwilling to budge church leadership, decided to say, well, you know, we're gonna follow our pastor and align themselves more closely with him, and a lot of people left the church. And it was around that time, I realized, you know, based on a few comments I'd received that, me staying in this religion, we identify myself as a Christian, despite the fact that I was basically agnostic, it's lending validation to, to all those Christians who are actively working towards making the world a worse place, or to oppress or to abuse others. And we often talk a lot, especially in the addictions field about validation how it's why people often will seek to use substances together, not just because it's more fun, but because it lends validation when you're, you know, when you're doing something that you think might not be the best for you. And again, this isn't to cast judgment on any amount of substance use more just to talk about the the psychological work we do to reassure ourselves that we're doing something that maybe not that might not be the best for us, it can be as simple as smoking cigarettes. Validation is also the feeling we seek when we're young and stupid and doing things with our friends that when people ask you, well, why did you do that? Once seemed like a good idea at the time, my friends. And I started realizing that I was I was an academic and social scientist and I was in the church. And there are people who were in the church were looking at me and saying, Well, he's still a belonging. So clearly, what we're doing must be okay. And that that really made me conclude that if I stayed I stayed identifying as a Christian. And I was probably doing more harm than good. And that was a decision I made for me. I don't think that that decision would be right for everybody. I think there's a lot of agnostic theist who choose to remain in the church and who do a lot of good in it. For me, I couldn't anymore. And so in the fall of 2020, I began to outwardly acknowledge the inner experience I've known for some time, right, that I was no longer a Christian, and I was an agnostic. And that was that. And that really kicked off an unfortunate period of time where I was very angry. At the church, I wouldn't say I was angry at God, because all of my angst about God really vanished when I realized I didn't think he existed. At least not in, not in the religious kind of sky god format like, is there? Is there an unmoved first mover? Is there something out there, like think when your previous guests, Doug mentioned, like cosmic brain, and we're all just cells in it? Like, I've got no idea? Yeah, but from a religious perspective, I just couldn't do it anymore. And so I wasn't angry at God. But I was angry at the church at specific Christians, groups that were doing COVID denial or secret mass church services, which we had a lot of those in our area, especially as I worked in health care, doing mental health addictions work, much of which actually revolved around supporting staff in the health care system. And so I was actually involved in several projects, helping to support staff who were overwhelmed by the results of the pandemic. I, you know, I throughout that process, I talked to and interviewed and worked with countless nurses and frontline staff, and frequently they break down in tears during our meetings, just that the death and the, the destruction they were experiencing in the system. And so to go from that, to see people I called friends, you know, sneaking out to do church, or buying fake masks on the internet, or spreading lies about vaccines, it was just an abhorrent to Me and I became very resentful and angry. And I'm sure like a lot of Yeah, like a lot of your listeners, I'm sure, just getting very stuck in that place. And unlike a lot of people with ADHD, when you get stuck in an emotional state, it can be even harder to get yourself out of it. Because your mind is, is racing and going over that rumination of your, of your grief and your anger and your frustration. And I was stuck there way longer than I should have been. And it was, it was some really hard realizations for myself and some conversations with my wife whose bullshit detector is still strong and was blaring when I was in the room to point out, Hey, you're not doing okay, you got to, you got to, you got to stop this. And I realized I was turning into one of those just ain't, you know, angry ex Christians. And that isn't what I want to be. And so I decided that I wanted to take a more gracious and graceful approach to life, I'd been putting the work in over the the latter half of the pandemic to really make some changes and try not to be such a jerk all the time.
David Ames 33:38
Well, I mean, you just stated the premise of the podcast, right? It's like, we want to first acknowledge that to be angry is good, right? There are times when you need that anger to push you out of the comfort zone, and you need to make that change. But that one doesn't want to remain within that anger for so long that it starts to hurt you because it's not really affecting the questions.
Exactly. And what we often say in my field is that anger is a secondary emotion. Okay, you know, it happens because of something else. Anger comes from hurt, anger comes from grief, anger comes from fear. And so I had to kind of get to the roots of my anger, which which was grief. And then and since then, even though I do say, you know, agnosticism describes me perfectly. I identify as a humanist because humanist is a positive term talks about what you're working towards, not what you're working against.
David Ames 34:34
Absolutely. And for sure, when I'm talking to people that I don't know, I'll say I'm a humanist, rather than say I'm an atheist because I want to talk about what I do believe in people. Yeah. As opposed to what I don't believe in right
so a couple of things here. I want to dig into I wasn't in dissipating. But as we're talking, I want to dig into just a bit more, I want to talk about grief. And I want to talk about addiction as it applies to religion as well. But so much of the deconstruction deconversion process is grief, we are losing what can feel like for some people, their best friend, someone who knows them, who loves them. So it feels like loss of a very deep meaningful relationship, we potentially are losing friendships with family or friends, and then ultimately, we're leaving, we're probably losing community as well, for some of the reasons that you might remain for a long time. Because you you need that community and so grieving the loss of all of those things, is quite a lot to have happen all at one time.
Yeah, exactly. And the the, the emotions will kind of compound on each other with interest. And, and especially if you are in communities where apostasy is is taken very seriously and responded to very punitively, then you're, you're going to be experiencing all the same feelings that somebody who's being attacked by anything, you know, attacked by a wild animal, you're going to your experience, your your fight or flight response, right, your your sympathetic nervous system is going to activate and you're going to live in a space where you've got all kinds of stress hormones, and such going through your system and your heart rate is going to be up all the time. And it's it's, it's exhausting. And it's, it's damaging to our, to our systems into our brains, living in a state is not sustainable.
David Ames 36:43
And then I wanted to talk about addiction in the sense of how it might apply to religion, I think the obvious example might be more charismatic Pentecostal expressions of faith that that should be a bit more emotional, there's, there's kind of an obvious dopamine hit in that experience. But even without that, I think you hinted at this idea of affirmation of experiencing the acceptance of the group. And so is this even a topic that is studied at all like that there's an addictive nature within spirituality or religion.
I'm certain if you went down the Google Scholar rabbit hole far enough, you'd find something that somebody has published somewhere about it. I, you know, even working in the addictions field. We don't even use the word addiction that much we use words like substance use disorder, and, and so on. And one of the reasons is because there's a lot of there's a lot of behaviors that are that are harmful, that fall into a category where we would identify it as an addiction, that have nothing to do with drugs, you look at look at gambling behavior, for instance, problematic gambling, also gives dopamine hits, you know, in similar fashions as substances do. You look at sex addiction you look at now, like online gaming, addiction, and, and all those things, there's, you know, the word addiction can get attached to them. And there's lots of you know, there's there's lots of politics around it sometimes. And there's lots of baggage around the word. And what we often talk about is maladaptive behaviors. These are behaviors serving a purpose. Now, all addictions are maladaptive behaviors, but not all maladaptive behaviors or addictions. So some maladaptive behaviors could be, for instance, you, you go through relationships in with certain patterns that always end up in, in tears and self destruction in the end, because that's, you know, that fits your that fits your personality that fits your upbringing, it fits kind of how you were, how you were raised, or the patterns or relationships that you experienced. Now, that might not be an addiction, even though people seem to do it compulsively. But it is a maladaptive behavior. So I would say that there's a lot going on with religious experiences, in particular. So you mentioned dopamine, as well, in neurotransmitters that really gets activated when you're having an ecstatic experience. Another would be endorphins, you know, which are some of the neurotransmitters that get impacted by the brain's opioid system. So things like heroin, that's probably a very similar feeling. So yeah, I think that there's definitely something to be said for looking at looking at people who retreat to those things, as a as a way of unhealthy coping. But I would also say just as much there's there's benefits from religious groups or from community in general that religious groups can provide. I think the important factor to remember there is just like you pointed out earlier, these benefits are occurring because of humanity. They're occurring because of human connection and in connection. I, I worked in ministry for almost seven years, I've worked in the, you know, mental health addictions field for over a decade, I've never seen anybody who just spontaneously got made better from these things, because because God did it. Right, I wouldn't count a lot of people who would say, Well, you know, religion was important part of my recovery, and they would find out how their religious community was there for them. And, and I think that's a, that's a benefit that we should think carefully about losing as we talk about, you know, church, attendance declining, not a bad thing, necessarily, but what are we replacing it with? We need to be diligent and trying to create community. And I think that the community you've created online, as, as part of that, certainly,
David Ames 40:48
definitely, I'm very conscious of, you know, trying to build some form of community, because you can't just say, leave all of these wonderful things about being part of community and give that all away and do it on your own. Now, you know, that is that is not a very attractive message.
Totally. And I think, you know, maybe, maybe adjacent to when we talk about, like mental health addictions and church, could be how the church impacts people's ability to be skeptical and to think critically. You've had people on your podcast before, talk about things like, you know, cognitive dissonance, I think, yes, yeah, it's come up. And, and so when, when, when I talk about cognitive dissonance, what I'm generally talking about is that state of psychological discomfort or distress that we feel when our beliefs are in conflict with, with evidence or with our own actions. So believing in religious ideas, when the evidence contradicts them, like evidence from history, trying to believe in the Bible, or you're still smoking when you know, it's bad for you, those feelings cause cognitive dissonance. And then that triggers something called motivated reasoning, which is a process by which we attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance by accessing, constructing or evaluating arguments in a very biased fashion to arrive at your preferred conclusion. So when I think about churches in psychology, I often think about how we, how we engage in motivated reasoning, as I was doing for many years to try to find the best arguments to support a position. And that's just one example of a cognitive bias, right, like, those things that we do to get to conclusions quickly, and that impair our ability to reasonably solve problems. And there's lots of cognitive biases, and you've had guests talk with them before. And it's it's a fascinating area of study.
David Ames 42:51
Yeah, and this is why I often say that this has nothing to do with intelligence, because actually very intelligent people can rationalize more, right, like they the capacity to an adult, it's all the human condition of that motivated reasoning. And so, again, apologetics being an example.
One other thing I want to jump off of what you just said, too, is sort of the, you know, the, the need for skepticism is important, because, as you saw on the front lines of COVID, that for the people who began to go down the rabbit trail of various conspiracy theories, or even just ignoring the science, right masks, work, vaccines work, that kind of thing, and for whatever reasons, motivated reasons or otherwise, begin to deny that there are real world consequences that the, you know, first responders and the Yes, nursing and Doctor staff were able to see and you are getting to see indirectly, so that beliefs have consequences, and why that skepticism is necessary in the world we live in.
Yes, exactly. I love how you pointed out that intelligence is no substitution for good skeptical practices. I think you mentioned in one podcast, how our scientific thinking is how we guard ourselves against getting taken in by our own cognitive biases. Right? And that's completely that's completely true. And that's the best way I think, to describe it because even very intelligent people have human brains and human brains are designed to do I say designed human brains have evolved to do things to to conserve mental resources in everything they do. It they are just to think, give attention to detail and solve problems in ways that require the least calories possible. Because we're, we're we're evolved to save energy wherever possible, including in the brain. And it's a it's a giant pain in the ass. But it's it's how we're, it's how we're just going to work forever. And if we don't have practices in place, like scientific thinking, like the scientific method to hijack that process, where we're always going to be taken in, by things we would rather believe are things that are easier to believe. And there's, there's countless examples of that. Even very skeptical people, scientific people can get taken in by all kinds of things, if we're not careful.
David Ames 45:37
Absolutely. Because I know the schedule of the podcast coming out prior to your episode will be Tom Christofi X, he has a book called tempted to believe. And he goes into a lot of detail about these various things. And kind of the lesson that I drew out of that is summarized in the Fineman quotes, the first principle is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. I love that quote. And that kind of captures it. So this is less about saying, Oh, look at these other people how they're wrong and more recognizing, how can I go off the rails? How can I start to take in things that don't have evidence that are unfalsifiable that, you know, are, Tom's word is off grid, meaning, you know, something that does not have scientific evidence,
I think that's a very good way to approach it, treating yourself as treating yourself as a gullible person is probably one of the best starting points for engaging in scientific thinking. Because often, we'll see even in even in published peer reviewed research, we'll see people who have clearly started out with their study with a bouquet of axes that they want to grind. And they and they just get there one way or another. And one of the things that we talked a lot in grad school was how to recognize how to recognize bad research. And there's a number of practices people engage in that, that can create the results they're looking for. And that's not meant to say that we shouldn't trust research. But it is meant to say we should really be diligent in utilizing the peer reviewed process. And in looking at where are, you know, where information is coming from following that lineage, from start to finish of information, and it's been a bit of a, you can really, you can really drive yourself bananas during COVID Trying to fact check everything that you see. And I had, I had engaged in a lot of long and useless conversations with friends who just keep moving the goalposts as I kept bringing back all these things you're saying is wrong because of this? And they say, Well, what about you know, Bill Gates and depopulation? No, no, we can we can put that to bed and it's no big deal and, and then say, well, what about masks make people sick? Okay, well, let's go over that. And then, by the time you get through, you're only back to the beginning of the conversation.
David Ames 48:19
Yeah, it's unfortunate that the human condition is such that the easy answer, the simple answer to complex problems is much easier to accept than the real world complexity that actually exists.
Again, this leads into this is a good segue to discuss kind of why we're, we're chatting together. As I mentioned, in the deconversion, anonymous Facebook group, we I think it was even former guest Ian had put up a article by the John Templeton Foundation called here's how religion in Princess even when we walk away, and this is an article that talks about how people remain pro social and pro moral, even when they walk away from Christianity, as we somewhat pointed out, in that the Templeton Foundation does have a bit of a bias. Although they are attempting to do real science. They definitely have a theistic bias. And that does come through in the article. There's some interesting things to talk about it I understand you have some notes about that as well. Just kind of want to get your feel for for the article, and then we'll jump into some of the specifics.
Sure things so we're really talking about two things here. We're talking about the article, the Templeton Foundation, and we're talking about the original research study, which was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. And so the article in Templeton is by one of Templeton's? I don't know if journalists is the right word we'll say journalists, and it's a boat. The research study that That was produced by a number of a number of researchers, some of whom were actually paid through the Templeton Foundation for the study. So that's, that's part of the lineage there. I gave it a quick skim on first glance just through the article itself. And thought, well, there's there's some, I've got some concerns here. And then actually having gone and, and found the study itself in full text and downloaded it and read through it and highlighted it and doing the doing things that I don't get to do as much since leaving grad school. So those kind of fun nerdy things I actually don't think the study is is all that bad in general, and what it's trying to look at, I did have some, some kind of thoughts about both the article and the study. But for me, one of the most useful things to do when when talking about research is to try to say what makes research good. And you know, for the I'm sure you've probably had guests talk with this multiple times at length through the benefits of your listeners who may not have heard those episodes, we generally ask four questions when we're talking about research. The first is, is it valid? Does it have validity? does it measure what it's intending to measure? The second is, is it reliable? Would repeated testing or repeated studies produce similar results? The third, is it generalizable? Can you take those findings and broadly apply them to other settings, individuals or groups? And then the fourth is sort of adjacent to the first three, it's what have a bias, you want to examine bias, you want to know what bias exists without resorting to making ad hominem arguments against the study just because you don't like the people who did it. It's also important to have as unbiased research as possible, which is why research is more valid when it comes from unbiased, unbiased sources. So independent drug studies, for instance, are more valuable than ones paid for by pharmaceutical companies, right? And we can all kind of guess why.
David Ames 52:15
It's great in your own paper, but yeah,
exactly. So so going into the study itself, like the article was clearly written, to kind of showcase how Hey, like, even when you leave religion, stuff sticks with you. And there are a few kind of bits and pieces we can dig into about that. When I look at the study itself, which is always where I try to start, I do agree with the author's assertion that religious nuns, those who those who grew up without any religion, are different than religious dons, those who D converted at a later date. The name of the study itself is religious identity and morality, evidence for religious residue and decay in moral foundations. And right off the bat, my, my thinking here is, I questioned the use of the phrase decay and moral foundations. Yeah, in the title. First of what first reasons because it's not actually in the study anyway, they don't say decay of moral foundations in the study. It's not a social science term, like decaying world foundations. When you see it in articles online, you generally it's describing like the moral decline in society. So also, its decay in moral foundations isn't really what they were studying. They were referencing how a specific moral values associated with religious beliefs may linger for a time after you leave that religion. So for example, you know, you're a conservative Christian, you, you leave the faith, you become an atheist for whatever reason, and you still kind of don't really feel super keen on gay marriage, you know, and then after a while, you realize, okay, no, that's yeah, I am okay with this, actually. And I think it's a good thing. So that is how specific moral values will change over time. They didn't find and they they weren't even looking for if people who leave their religion have their overall morality, decay. That seems to be the implication in the title and that there may be an unintentional implication like, I don't think it was just based on how I'm reading. How I read this and how I read the article and knowing what I know but the Templeton Foundation I, I think that was probably intentional to create a bit of a slant. It's also something that you frequently find in ideologically driven research, you find data and then you present it as something slightly different, or meaning something slightly different than it is actually means, which calls into question the validity of your research. It's where we have to look very carefully at the studies themselves, and not just the journalistic articles about those studies.
David Ames 55:12
Before we keep digging into this, I want to touch on just one thing that you mentioned that does drive me nuts and, and I get it right if you are doing sociological studies, you have to create categories, and you have to pigeonhole people into categories. But one of the things that that is a bummer to me is that the Dunn's the people who are not just nuttin, which can mean you know, you could be spiritual but not religious, but completely done with theistic worldview, or supernatural worldview is very hard to capture. Not everyone says that they are an atheist, like that's a pretty that's a pretty strong bold term that not everyone is comfortable with. And in the studies, you know, do you think that will begin to get more targeted to separate? The nones no NES from DUNS?
I hope so. And I hope that more groups than this will start doing that research. It's been a it's been a minute since I've done a lot of deep digging into the current state of the psychology and sociology of religion, you know, that that world? Yeah, mostly because my, my work generally revolves around more social psychology or psychopharmacology. And that's where I've really been just kind of, were public health psychology, that's where I've been spending all my time. I think a deeper dive into the psychology, religion, sociology, sociology of religion, we'll likely find some research that kind of goes dip his toes a little bit further into this. But it's not something that I've had the time or the inclination to really spend a lot of time on right now. I if there hasn't been that real distinction made in the past, from the sounds of it, but to hear the authors say it, this is an understudied area. And they had some, you know, they had some previous papers they referenced, but if it's under studied, and we're just really getting getting used to the idea that hey, there's, there's more than one kind of non religious person out there, I would expect that this is going to become more and more relevant as church attendance drops, as religious affiliation drops. And as, as our world continues to evolve, as a result of increased scientific knowledge and increased knowledge of increased general knowledge of things like the, the evolutionary origins of human morality, I think that there's a lot of people who are learning a lot of things that's making it difficult for them to stay in their religious tradition, whatever that is, this is only a group that's going to be growing in the future. And, and new and growing groups are social science, research, bread and butter. That's, that's what we're interested in. We want to know what's happening here. We want to know if it's gonna happen elsewhere. And we're all giant nerds. And that's what we're here for.
David Ames 58:17
So your, your reference there to kind of the evolutionary source of morality, I think, is what's critical here. So my response to the journalistic article, I didn't dig as deep as you did, but to the journalistic article is that they have the cause and effect backwards. So they seem to be implying that religion causes morality, and therefore it's surprising when someone leaves religion that they remain moral and pro social. And I tend to think that it is the reverse that the people who are pro social and and have a moral sense of moral conscience, tend to become religious. And if those same people leave, they remain so and so it's not surprising. But I wonder what you think in that on that area?
I think that's a really good way to put it. That very pro moral people will often gravitate towards systems that are going to allow them to practice that morality. There's a lot out there. Right now in the apologetics world. Generally, when I'm talking about apologetics, I refer to it for refer to it as philosophy but done badly. So you see, you see, you see things like the argument for morality. William Lane Craig is especially fond of this one. And it will talk about how like there's there's no possible origin of human morality or universal human morality except for God, because there is clearly universal human morality. Clearly there must be God. And that's in like the most nutshell this kind of version. But looking at the field of evolutionary Psychology, which is something I've really just scratched the surface of as a, you know, as an ongoing student. The origins of altruism morality, are very easily explained and even observed in nature and in, in natural selection, it makes perfect sense how pro social behaviors would contribute to group survival, right? That makes total sense how acting in ways that are altruistic that benefit the group at large, will result in the increased odds of group survival against the forces of nature. We can even observe this kind of morality in animals. And there's many studies out there looking at morality in rats or other other creatures, a rat will go through great lengths to free another rat, if that rat is trapped, and won't even save food for that trap rat, like in advance of it getting out of its trap, we see several examples of how these behaviors will benefit the group growing up, especially in very pro social species like rats and like humans. So we have with ample evidence for the development of moral systems based on the promotion of well being and the reduction of suffering in in animals and multiple species. Why would humanity be any different? That's often been something that I've, you know, over the years become increasingly convinced that that that the argument from morality is one of the most easily dismantled, double, but most tightly held reasons for people to continue in their religious belief, when they're faced with evidence to the contrary, the argument morality is an incredibly powerful poll. Yeah,
David Ames 1:02:06
you mentioned William Lane, Craig. But I also think of CS Lewis. So Mere Christianity, this basically begins with with that he uses the term fairness that we have, in his terms, innate sense of fairness. And yet, the idea of an evolutionary morality explains both the commonalities and the differences between cultures. And if there were, from the theist point of view, an objective moral standard that we, you know, somehow intuitively innately knew we would expect a lot more conformity throughout culture.
Yeah, and we really don't see that. Right, we see, we see drastic differences that you wouldn't expect to find if the law of God was truly written in all of our hearts, but the you would expect to find through the results of in group formation, and how those in groups protect the members and how they punish deviation. You know, that's a that's a system that very succinctly explains variations in human behavior and human morality, and does so without appealing to the existence of a being who is apparently giving us a universal morality, but being kind of bad at it. Exactly. And I'm not surprised to see the Templeton Foundation kind of circle back to that argument for morality as a, as a foundation for some of the ideologically driven research that they're that they're doing. That's that's their, their purpose is to find, to find the intersections of science and faith, which, in general, would be something that I would support, I would like people to be more scientific about everything your faith included. But the foundation is a bit problematic, because it it really builds itself as a scientific foundation, doing research with religion, but it's a religious organization, doing research with some science. A few examples are in, in other studies they've done and other pages on their website, talking about the decline behind the decline in Youth Mental Health, you know, and they, they reference well, it could be due to a push to have children wrestle with questions of their own gender identity early in life, which is, you know, another ideologically driven statement. They, they celebrate problematic figures like Mother Teresa, who, you know, there's a lot of history there that I think many Christians don't realize is deeply concerning about how her funds were spent and how she actually was treating people. And then just, again, as I read through a number of the articles on their website, I found a lot of issues with how they were referencing studies as having established facts or having established data. And then when I would go and find those studies and read them, isn't actually what the research was saying. And they were making pretty big stretches in getting to their conclusions. Like there was one that they said, well, reduced participation in religion might have health consequences. So, you know, if you if you reduce your participation and your religious group, you may have increased, you know, rates of some health issues, which isn't actually what the research showed, it showed that certain groups that had higher standards for things like smoking and alcohol consumption, if you were participating in those services more frequently, you are less likely to be having the associated health issues with those specific behaviors. So that's, again, you know, taking something that we found and research and representing it as something slightly different to try to make your point. Yeah, that's, that's first level college stuff, I tend to get frustrated by that kind of stuff pretty quickly when I found it. And Templeton isn't unique in that there's a number of you know, far right organizations, the the Heritage Center, in the United States, for instance, is notorious for publishing research studies where they engage in piles of questionable activities like confusing correlation with causation, mislabeling their graphs, something called P hacking, which is where you just kind of keep changing or adding variables until you get sufficient numbers that you say, Okay, we found a result, and now we're going to run with it. Something statistically significant. Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then just like drastically, misrepresenting what their results actually show. Yeah. I've, I've put far too much time in on social media, trying to convince people like, No, this is actually not legitimate what you're reading and this is why, and it's unfortunate, but those pesky cognitive biases that we've talked about have really make it challenging to change people's minds.
David Ames 1:07:24
Well, you've just given us another reason why skepticism is important.
Daniel, before we wrap up, is there a topic that I haven't asked about that you definitely wanted to get across anything else that you wanted to say?
So my gravitation towards humanism has led to interesting conversations and connections in my personal life. Now more than ever, I've really leaned into the office of the skeptic, even though it's no longer one that I hold in the church. I don't shy away from uncomfortable questions, or even more uncomfortable answers. And that has been such a valuable change in my life, and has led me to some incredibly, incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships that I've started developing, including with several people who I went to Bible college with all of whom are atheists now. Oh, wow. You've really connected over that. Have I lost friends? Yes, absolutely. And that has been sad. Have I lost opportunities? Yeah, I, I have lost opportunities that I could have had to teach at my alma mater, the Bible college, I went to and asked me to come back and teach a number of courses, and I had to inform them that I was no longer a Christian, and I'd be happy to come and teach if they would have me and, and they said, you know, wasn't gonna work for them, which I understand, you know, no hard feelings whatsoever. But it's also led to other opportunities. I, I now write a mental health column for the local paper. And I've been using that platform to discuss things like critical thinking cognitive biases, why our brains struggle with scientific thinking, and even tackle some theist objections to atheism, like the psychological origins of altruism and morality? Well, there's been some challenges, I would say that the biggest challenges have been caused by my own development and my own need for maturing and growth. And I've definitely come to the conclusion that the best days are going to be ahead.
David Ames 1:09:53
That's amazing. I want to give you just an opportunity. If you have any recommendations for things what should we be reading Is there other podcasts besides this one, YouTube channels, that kind of thing that would be beneficial for people.
So I've been really interested since I went on this part of our part of my life's journey in the works of Carl Sagan. So the demon haunted world was an incredibly important book for me. And it really opened up my eyes to how how scientific thinking could work and the, the benefits of that and written in such a beautiful and poetic way that nobody could write quite like Carl Sagan and I, you know, I just, I just love the way he presents the world, and is able to write and be so hopeful and so kind, and so gracious. In the face of, you know, all the issues he is passionate about, including agnosticism and humanism and science education. And you know, I think I there's a YouTube video out there with his speech, the pale blue dot, where he, he gives this speech and it's got, you know, various scenes from science and from films. And I watched that once a year as a, as a spiritual pilgrimage. I guess you could say,
David Ames 1:11:26
yeah. I often say, by the way, that I am a second night, atheist, you know, in the vein of that in the sense that I still have so much wonder and awe at the world at the cosmos, that there's no loss of that, you know, joy and wonder and mystery, while still having high standards for evidence.
Yeah, I completely agree. And like I said, nobody could, we could say it quite like Carl, exactly. Another. Another book that I would recommend, is one that I'm starting to get into how minds change the surprising science of belief, opinion and persuasion, by David Mcrainey. Really a very good, very good entry point, if you don't have graduate level education and psychology, right into the real depths that cognitive science can bring in the richness of human experience, and how we, you know, how we learn and grow and how we resist learning and growth, right? He's a science communicator, and I think he does a very good job of, you know, bringing some of these things across. I think those would be some of the ones that I would recommend the most I'm working my way through some of the classics, you know, the, The God Delusion and some Christopher Hitchens, but also acknowledging that sometimes the perspective they bring can encourage the feelings I was having when I was feeling stuck in anger. So treating those books like they're hot cups of tea, yeah, taking them in steps. You know, I love it and, and moving on. And if, if anybody is interested in learning more about ADHD, especially as as an adult, I would suggest the book scattered minds by Dr. Gabor Ma Tei. Dr. Mateos work was the reason why I sought a diagnosis at age 27. Reading him describing his experiences as an adult with ADHD. The hair went up on the back of my neck. I you know, I felt like he'd been looking over my shoulder my whole life. He described you know, having to have a novel in his pocket at all moments in case he was in line at the grocery store because even 60 seconds of idleness was enough for his brain to consume him utterly. And I just about threw the book across the room I but it was it was one of the best things I could have done for myself because it contextualize my life and my experiences. So well. So scattered minds, the origins and healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. It's, it's a, it's a great read and can really if people are wondering, is this what's going on? For me, that might be the book that puts them over the edge.
David Ames 1:14:32
Excellent. Those are amazing recommendations. Daniel, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thanks for having me.
Final thoughts on the episode? As I said in the interview, there are a lot of points of comparison with Daniel story and mine. The thing that I really really resonate with is his idea of the Office of the scout Deke, for those of us who are inquisitive, we get tagged with that idea of having discernment. But there are definite limitations on that discernment. You can only question so far. I love the framing that Daniel brings to that of taking on the Office of the skeptic, even though that kept him in the faith longer than he would have otherwise. The other thing that I really related to was that recognition of the difference between psychological explanations or spiritual ones, he told the story of the individual who after having their medication, completely calm down. So was that a demonic attack? Or was it the person just didn't have their meds? In the slow creeping realization that there are naturalistic explanations for every spiritual experience that one has, including one's own. Yet another thing that I really relate to in Daniels story is the recognition of the limitations of apologetics that even the critical thinking believers have limitations and the flaws within apologetic arguments become overwhelmingly obvious. unstated, or even sometimes stated premises are unfounded, don't have any evidence, or as Daniel points out, are unfalsifiable. And so it is assertions all the way down. There is no foundation to the apologetic arguments. That's sad, especially when like Daniel, you're an inquisitive person, and you're actually trying to find a reason to remain in faith trying to find reasons to believe and you're struggling to do so on, you're going to what are considered the best intellectual arguments for Christianity, and you see the flaws immediately. There's some grief involved. Even today, I often will read an apologetic that I have not heard before, and there's some tiny part of me that hopes that it'll be worthwhile that it'll have something real to say. I have yet to find that apologetic that doesn't have obvious premises that are unfounded entirely. Daniel's observation about apologetics and the limitations of intellectual curiosity within a believing structure like Christianity is that some things are too sacred to be questioned, that captures why those limitations are there. Of course, the conversation revolved around the Templeton Foundation article and study about how religion and Princess even when we walk away, as we discussed in the conversation, the obvious theistic bias of the Templeton Foundation comes through. But I really want to hammer on the point that the causation is going the wrong direction. That pro social and pro moral people tend to become religious. And if those same people leave religion, they remain pro social and pro moral, is not the other way around. And yet the theistic organization like the Templeton Foundation wants to make the argument that religion is the cause or faith is the cause of morality. I want to thank Daniel for being on the podcast for sharing with us his insight and his educated perspective on research, his eloquent expression of the need for a scientific mindset and for skepticism, as well as his honesty and talking about ADHD, his personal deconstruction process. Thank you, Daniel, for being on the podcast. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is again the need for skepticism. A couple of weeks ago, we had Tom Christofi AK on talking about his book tempted to believe. And this episode with Daniel just reinforces the need for a skeptical mindset to protect yourself from all of the sources of misinformation, disinformation, and untruths. Again, I want to say that skepticism is not cynicism. This is not about destroying sincere things, or just sacred things for the sake of destroying them. Skepticism is about the desire for truth. What is real, what can be substantiated? What can we hold on to that will be unshakeable? The irony is that is the verbiage and rhetoric of Christianity that Jesus is supposed to be the rock that that is supposed to be unshakeable. As we heard from Daniel, as he delved into the apologetic arguments, finding that there were deep problems with those arguments, and that it turns out to be a subjective experience, from our own faith experience to the person who told us about faith from the person who told that person from the person who told that person all the way back down to Paul and Peter, and maybe Jesus Himself. These assertions of the supernatural and atheistic deity are unsubstantiated all the way down. But this need for skepticism goes beyond faith and religion. Just in the last handful of years, we have had a masterclass in misinformation and disinformation both in US politics and now in world politics. And the need to be able to discern what is true validatable falsifiable versus what is assertions what is rhetoric is critically important in today's day and age. And as Daniel and I pointed out in the conversation, that beliefs have consequences, if you believe that vaccines don't work, that is more than a personal decision for you, that affects everyone around you that affects every human being you come into contact with. If you believe that masks don't work, that affects more than just you. And these are just the obvious examples. There's 1000 others of how taking on misinformation for you personally affects more than just you. If the word skepticism is too harsh a word for you use the idea of the scientific mindset. both Daniel and I are huge fans of Carl Sagan. And his book demon haunted world that Daniel mentions is an amazing book, in that you see how Carl Sagan loved the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence, but that he held his standard, the scientific method and the scientific way of thinking to such a high degree, that standard was so high, that even though he was out to find that evidence, he could not say that extraterrestrial intelligence exists until he finds that evidence. Likewise, I've had conversations with believer after believer after believer who want to lower the bar of evidence. I literally had a conversation with a believing lawyer who wanted to lower the bar to say that the hearsay of the Gospels and the hearsay of the New Testament was valid evidence. And my point is, if Christianity is true, and this is the most important thing in the universe, the most important decision that any human being will ever make, shouldn't the standard of evidence be the highest it can possibly be? For something so important? And the fact that it isn't, and that apologists want to lower it is the indication that it is unfounded and untrue. As we said before, we've got some amazing episodes coming up. We have Jessica Moore, who talks about surviving purity culture and what you do after that, and we have another Arleen interview of boundless and free. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful.
Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links or books on restful atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular grace. You can send me an email graceful firstname.lastname@example.org or you can check out the website graceful atheist.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 Doug. Doug became interested in church when he was in junior high, and when Doug is in, he’s all in.
He was a believer throughout high school, college and into the military. But then books and magazines happened. Doug began reading more “skeptical literature,” and the questions began.
Doug’s faith unraveled while he was “an atheist in a foxhole,” but faith in the supernatural was unnecessary. He needed his own strength, and the strength of the people around him.
He has since been an atheist pastor, finding the human connection he and his wife needed, without changing their beliefs or forsaking their values. As Brene Brown says, “We are hardwired to connect with others,” and Christianity has no longer cornered the marked on community and belonging.
“When I was twelve, I decided to get serious about my eternal destiny”
“So I began asking harder questions at church, and I soon encountered a pattern I would see again and again as we visited different churches. Once my questions became too difficult (or too annoying), I was told I just had to have faith.”
“I left God behind, at least the version taught in the Bible. I would now be unapologetically atheistic.”
“I deployed for a year…and that was my ‘atheist in a foxhole’ moment. … we were convinced at least some of us were going to die, and I was thoroughly convinced in my mind at that point that this was my last full day on earth. … At no point did I pray, acknowledge God, feel slightly drawn to God…I was perfectly good with: There is no god, and I might die tomorrow. We’ll just see what happens.”
“People have often asked me why I left the faith, and I tell them, ‘It’s because I studied the Bible.’”
“It was my reading of skeptical magazines and literature that gave me the freedom to look at the Bible in a new light, but it was the actual Bible itself that condemned itself.”
“All I can say is I’ve been extremely happy not having to believe in God, not having to worry about saving other people.”
“Having left behind a church that demanded faith, I found a most unexpected church that reveres rational thought and welcomes atheists. Amazing. Having sworn to never set foot in a church again, I find that the universe loves to throw curveballs. To quote Douglas Adams, “In an infinite universe, anything is possible.””
“When you’re taking care of someone else, you’re not thinking about yourself.”