My guest this week is Barrett Evans, author of The Contemplative Skeptic. Barrett wrote the book for those who are skeptical but drawn to spirituality. A former evangelical seminarian and ex-Roman Catholic, Barrett is an agnostic who has retained a fascination with contemplative spirituality. Building on what he learned in his divinity, counseling, and historical studies, he draws on hundreds of religious and secular sources in an effort to combine honest doubt with the best of contemplative experience.
Perhaps ironically, dogmatic religions claims now seem to me to critically undercut two of the most valuable spiritual ideals for fallible people – humility in the face of complexity and honesty in the light of human limitations.
We discuss how honesty and humility lead to doubt. Barrett’s look at comparative religion reveals the reasons for doubt and the wisdom of a contemplative life. We ask what does it mean to be “spiritual.”
And as history of religions and other psychological phenomenon show, delusions can be passed from one person to another with some rapidity, especially if they are in close relationships and it is a time of stress or excitement.
The tremendous range of religious diversity is one of the greatest reasons for skepticism towards any particular religious belief.
My guest this week is Randal Rauser. Randal is, in his own words, “a systematic and analytic theologian of evangelical persuasion.” He is a professor of systematic theology, aplogetics, and worldview at Taylor Seminary.
Randal has written a number of books on apologetics and atheism. I first became aware of Randal’s work around 2017 when I read “Is The Atheist My Neighbor.” At least in the circles I am a a part of, Randal is considered to be a fair and honest apologist and is widely regarded for “steel-manning” atheist arguments before giving his arguments against them.
My own shifting relationship with certainty and doubt, confidence and questioning, is reflected in my history with apologetics.
This week we discuss his new book, “Conversations With My Inner Atheist.” In this book, Randal personifies his doubts as an interlocutor named Mia, My Inner Atheist, who presents the atheist, humanist and naturalistic arguments against his faith. Randal shows real vulnerability in several of these dialogues and often leaves the matter without a satisfactory conclusion by either party (believing Randal or non-believing, Mia).
Instead, I believe that certainty can journey along with doubt, confidence can welcome questioning, and together they can work to create a healthy and balanced Christian community.
As you might imagine, I have some thoughts on these matters most of which I express in the Final Thoughts section of the podcast. We also discuss a recent back and forth between Randal and Ian Mills of the New Testament Review Podcast fame on the topic of methodological naturalism.
The truth is, I’d rather accept that there are some questions I may never answer rather than return to the simple days where I thought my answers were beyond question.
My guest this week is Jimmy. As early as the beginning of 2020 Jimmy was still in the closet trying to determine how he would come out as an atheist and humanist. By mid February he had told his family and was bracing for his church to find out. Jimmy was a serious and dedicated Christian drawn to Calvinism by family and the intellectual rigor.
It wasn’t that I was running away from it. But I think at that point I had internalized that I wasn’t a believer … I realized I was going to have to come out at some point. I couldn’t maintain a charade.
As the years went by and his attempts at self-betterment were not realized he began to be drawn by the pragmatism of Stoicism. He eventually realized that counseling would be beneficial, though this had so far been off the table. Through these active measures he began to see some success at self-betterment.
[Stoicism has] this very pragmatic approach to making yourself a better human … [Stoicism] hit me at a time when I needed something.
Jimmy’s chief concern was not damaging the relationships with his believing friends and family. He was very careful to show them he loved them and had no contempt for their faith.
It is one of these things where I think, this has got to be a band-aide I am ripping off and not a cancer I am injecting into my family. And I am going to do my darnedest to make sure that this works and that they know I love them.
I love these people How can I not harm them? Or how can I minimize the harm?
Jimmy is eminently quotable so here are more quotes from the episode
I had a long list of potentially scary things that could happen … I wanted to see it in writing to remind myself why I am trying to be careful and it is because of people I love. The best people I know are die hard Christians. The would die for their faith. Like I would have 10 years ago.
So I don’t want to harm these people and I don’t to make them think that I think they are idiots … I don’t want to conjure up of images of Christopher Hitchens sneering at them whenever they look at me.
The whole feeling alone thing. That is just hard. All the people you really care about you can’t tell
Jimmy’s book recommendations
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B Irvine
Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary, by Kenneth W Daniels.
My guest this week is Joel Furches. Joel is a Christian and a psychologist researching topics of religion. He has a BA in psychology an MA in education, and he is working on his PhD in Behavioral Analysis. He he has focused on conversions and deconversions and has written a well researched article entitled: Why Do Christians Become Atheists? A Case Study.
The people I find most likely to adopt the label atheist and deconvert are the people who tied their identity most importantly to the Church.
Joel and I discuss his research and walk through his model of deconversion. We discuss the “Market place of ideas” and “The Christian Bubble.” We define the terms disaffiliation, deconstruction and deconversion.
I would advise intellectual humility and the ability to say “I don’t know” about things.
Joel’s advice for Christians who are seeing more deconversions:
[What] I would say to Christians in general is that it is not their responsibility to re-covert [the deconvert]. They have not failed because this person deconverted and they will probably not succeed in re-converting them. It is to respect the person who has deconverted, respect their experience. Give them the right that any other human being would have which is to defend their views. And interact or engage in those views as important.
My guest this week is Leighann Lord, comedian, author and podcast host. She has traveled the world doing comedy and has been on VH1, Comedy Central and HBO. She has co-hosted on Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Start Talk Radio and on CFI’s podcast, Point of Inquiry. She hosts her own podcast, People With Parents. She has written two books: Dict Jokes and Real Women Do It Standing Up.
Leighann went to Catholic school growing up and is now a humanist activist. Leighann was awarded the 2019 Humanist Arts Award for her work as the New York City face of the African Americans for Humanism outreach campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry.
[First attending humanist gathering]: I had my discovery and my sincerity.
We talk about humanism and what it can add to the conversation about race in America. Leighann handles my naivete with grace and elegance while still pointing out the world is a complicated place and racism is a persistent problem in America.
What [BLM is] doing, I believe is the work and ideal of humanism. Which is human beings realizing that they have a stake. You want to light a candle? That’s great we still going to have to get in here and do this work. And to me that is humanism. Human beings trying to be better humans. Actually doing the work.
Leighann’s podcast, People With Parents, deals with the role reversal of taking care of elderly parents. It is also a raw and real look at grieving the death of parent. We discuss secular grief and the need to be more public about grief as non-believers.
[Regarding grieving a loved one] Everyone is there for you week one. And most of them are saying the absolute wrong thing. So while you are trying to grieve you are also busy being angry.
We geek out about comedy and how it can let truth sneak past our defense mechanisms. Leighann shares her top five comedic influences. She talks about first seeing Marsha Warfield on stage, “I didn’t know we did this. Which tells you the power of role models.”
Leighann’s comedy specials which are available on YouTube, Spotify, Pandora and Amazon Prime have much to say about living in 2020 though they were recorded a few years ago. They cover race, religion, sexism, sex, wealth disparity, and the lack of education in the current administration.
You realize nobody changes their opinion or even starts to hear your side when your finger is in their face. That’s just not how humans work.
My guest this week is Bryce Harrington. Bryce and I have been colleagues off and on at a couple of different companies over the years. But most importantly he and I had a seminal discussion back in 2012 while killing time in an airport. At the time I was a dedicated Evangelical Christian and Bryce has been a life long atheist. Even though I had an ulterior motive at the time Bryce was kind, gracious and genuinely curious as he wanted to understand how and why I believed. As you will hear, ironically, my former believing self changed Bryce’s view of religious people.
And so I went through a lot of my childhood with this kind of weird relationship with religion. It was like, I just didn’t get it, it didn’t make any sense to me. And everyone around me seemed to be just totally bought into it. And I just didn’t understand why.
Fast forward to today, I told Bryce I had deconverted last year. He was shocked and amazed and wanted to understand how I had changed my mind and why I was doing the podcast. This turned out to be a really fun and interesting conversation that I am glad to be able to share with you. We did not pre-plan the questions. What you hear is Bryce’s genuine curiosity. He may have a career in podcast interviews.
I felt very alone. Everyone else in my family that I knew was religious but I couldn’t share with them at all about these questions that I had or these feelings.
We also get to hear Bryce’s story. The isolation and loneliness he felt growing up the only non-believer in his community. That sense of isolation lasted for much of Bryce’s life. I think many of you who are life long atheists or who have just recently deconverted will be able to relate.
You certainly should not be rude to other people but you should also not pretend to be somebody that you are not just for someone else’s sake. And I have found myself in that role from time to time and it is very uncomfortable.
My guest this week is Richard Swan. Richard grew up Catholic, became an Anglican and then moved on to Pentecostalism. He was a worship leader and an active member of the Christian music scene including touring as Graham Kendrick‘s choir director.
He began to notice that regardless of his person life the people responded in worship under his leadership. This began his questioning which eventually led to his deconversion.
It seemed to be working and I didn’t like the fact that it was working because it didn’t make sense to me.
Post-deconversion, Richard is now the director of London City Voices, a non-religious community choir.
London City Voices is so much more than your average London choir… We are a community, a group of friends, an increasingly-large group of drinking buddies… and we are also a dynamic non-religious, non-audition community London choir.
Richard has figured out how to use his passion for music to build a secular community. In our conversation, we talk about the power of music to bring people together, how it can be manipulated and what it takes to be a community builder.
Church can give us a little window on [ the human response to music]. If it’s linked to your belief system it can have an even bigger impact. Or not because maybe your a humanist and you just bloody love music and that is no less of an experience.
My guest this week is David Johnson, the co-host and creator of the Skeptics and Seekers podcast and blog. David is a former Church of Christ member and a pastor’s kid. He was baptized at 7, leading the church in song at 7, preaching at 12, the youth leader at 15 and assistant minister at 21.
Was I the real thing? Pathologically so.
His deconversion process began as he examined the Church of Christ’s doctrine against musical accompaniment in worship. He says “the little things, were the big things.” And if the little things were wrong, what else might be wrong?
You know, I think we might be wrong about that [instrumental accompaniment]. And that was hard for me. It was hard in a way that I am not going to be able to express. For me, if we were wrong about musical instruments, we were wrong about everything.
It was so hard for me to say, not out loud mind you, “I don’t believe there is a god.” And then to say it out loud … alone in the woods where no one can hear.
Today David uses an unabashed polemic approach to counter-apologetics to reveal the problems with Christianity and faith in general. You can find him on his Skeptics and Seekers podcast and on his appearances on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? podcast. You can read the book he co-authored in response to Justin Brierley: Still Unbelievable!
The damage I did on the other side [as a believer] keeps me up at night.
My guest this week is Stephen Barry. Stephen was a Seventh Day Adventist who deconverted while attending college studying theology. When he was exposed to other ideas and other people even within his own faith tradition, this small amount of scrutiny led to deconversion.
I was waiting for that … something; fasting and praying, ask and you shall receive.
After losing the community of the black church, Stephen has found secular community. Though he notes we have a long way to go to be more inclusive of people of color in the secular community.
No voice is going to tell you the meaning of life, you need to go out there and make your own meaning.
Stephen is a musician and a music critic. He blogs about this love of music with great insight on Tublr. We discuss explicitly spiritual music and how we interpret it post-deconversion.
Now I am just more comfortable being who I authentically am.
And what else would you want from life except to connect with other people … and to talk about things that matter and ask the big questions?
My guest this week is Marie D’Elephant the host of the Everyone’s Autonomous podcast. Marie has a powerful and unique voice in the secular community. She is passionate about her own autonomy and the autonomy of others.
What is next? Since none of that is real, what is going on and how do I want to live?
Her new podcast jumps off where Everyone’s Agnostic leaves off. What to do now after a faith transition. The podcast “hosts conversations about reclaiming our autonomy and advocating for the autonomy of others through the lens of recovering from religion.”
OK, I’ve been heard, I understand what happened, how do I resolve this, how do I move forward?
We discuss existential dread, the fear of aging and facing death. Marie talks about her work on Everyone’s Agnostic and taking on managing Dave Warnock‘s Dying Out Loud tour. Mostly we talk about autonomy and how you can discover yours.
I love this autonomy and this is the life that I want to live!