My guest this week is Ray Gilford. Ray grew up more of a cultural Christian. His family believed but did not push him. In college, without community and looking for friendship predatory evangelism took advantage of him. Ray worked hard at being a Christian but wanted something deeper. He learned Hebrew and Greek in an effort to find “True Christianity.” He remained a Christian for 32 years.
I was always looking for more. That’s nice but what is beyond that?
Eventually, he deconverted realizing that Christianity did not live up to its promise. Ray now says he practices Pagan, metaphysics and spiritualism. Though this is a different path than most of my guests what is interesting about Ray’s metaphysics is that id does not preclude miracles and yet Ray still found Christianity wanting.
For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.
Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan from Contact
Sasha and the book she has written embodies Secular Grace and carries on the graceful life philosophies of her parents. Sasha has a galaxy spanning perspective on life that only the child of physicist can have. Sasha has an infectious joy about life. Listening to her or reading her work it is hard not to share in this joy.
In her book, Sasha argues that we as human beings need ritual in our lives to mark the passage of time, to celebrate the momentous moments in our lives and to mourn the loss of loved ones.
[Ritual] is really important to us. Sometimes, when people are not religious or were religious, there’s an urge to throw the baby [ritual] out with the bath water. We still need these [rituals] even if we do them in a secular way.
We discuss secular grief in the face of the loss of her father, Carl Sagan, when she was 14 years old. Sasha shares the wise parting words he had for her and the ongoing impact he has had on her and the world.
Seeing life itself as worthy of celebration, For Small Creatures Such as We is part memoir, part guidebook, and part social history, a luminous exploration of all Earth’s marvels that require no faith in order to be believed.
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 to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Well, as usual, I'm going to ask you to go to the Apple podcast store and rate and review the podcast. This really helps other people discover the podcast. If you found value or entertainment in the podcast, please tell somebody about the graceful atheist podcast. On today's show, I spent a fair amount of time talking about deconversion and interviewing people who have gone through the transition of a loss of faith. But actually, my favorite topic is what I call secular grace, or putting humanity into humanism is the answer to what now post deconversion. After you've left your faith, what do you do? That's actually the impetus that drives me to continue to do the podcast. So it is a treat for me when I get to interview somebody who is also a humanist who is concerned with putting humanity into humanism, and that is my guest today. Sasha Sagan. Saucer is a writer, a television producer, a filmmaker and an editor. She is an essayist, she has now written a book called for small creatures, such as we, which is actually a quote from her very famous parents, Andrew Yan and Carl Sagan, in the book contact. The full quote, that the title comes from is for small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love, which may be the most secular Grace quote I've ever heard. Sasha has book incorporates her parents graceful life philosophies. And she focuses on the rituals that we as human beings come back to over and over again, for those of you who may have D converted or deconstructed, the idea of a ritual might be terrifying, actually. And that's okay. But Sasha points out that cultures throughout history and all over the globe tend to come up with rituals around the same time periods. for the same purposes. The obvious examples are births, weddings, and funerals. And so this is not necessarily something to be frightened of. saucers book is beautiful, and beautifully written. And I recommend it to everyone. There'll be links in the show notes. And now I give you my conversation with Sasha saying
Sasha Sagan, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Sasha Sagan 3:02
Thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be here.
David Ames 3:05
Well, thank you for coming. So Sasha, you are a writer, you've done television production, you're a filmmaker, you're an editor, you've been in major newspapers, you're an essayist. And now you've written a book called for small creatures, such as we rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world. It also turns out that you have very famous parents. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself about your work and about your book?
Sasha Sagan 3:31
Yeah, um, I was very lucky to grow up in a household where wonder and awe for the universe, as revealed by science was part of our daily life and dinner table conversation. And part of the way I was raised to see things. So I'm sort of goes hand in hand with that, but maybe not necessarily, is also a secular household. And so what I became really interested in over the course of my life, I lost my dad when I was 14. And then as I grew up, and got married and got ready to start a family of my own, I started thinking about, well, how do we celebrate and mourn and do the daily or weekly rituals that make up life in a way that is a reflection of our modern understanding of where we are in the universe, and how we got here, when the infrastructure for that kind of thing historically has been religion. And, you know, I think that those of us who don't believe are still entitled to mark time and have weddings, and have funerals and we still need those things. So combination of the way I was raised, and then what I experienced and just being generally kind of an outgoing social person who likes parties and celebrations led me to just talk Fact. And I've found that, you know, it's something really relevant to a lot of people, especially when you get to those points in life where you have to really examine these questions, whether it's when you plan a wedding, or you have a little kid who has a lot of questions about why things are the way they are, or when you lose someone, and you have to sort of really examine what that means. If if you don't believe that there's anything beyond what we have evidence to support.
David Ames 5:29
Exactly. So my podcast, just very briefly, is on the subject of what I call secular grace. And really, that is simply just putting the humanity into humanism. I love that, and focusing on the fact that we still need each other even though we don't have a faith. But yes, it is, in fact, the human interaction our relationships with each other, that is the meaningful thing in life. So. So I have to tell you the just a brief story of the kind of emotional arc that I went through, yes, please, as I discovered you and your work. So I'm on the lookout for authors, writers, bloggers, podcasters, that are on the subject of humanism. And so when you began promoting your book, I just saw that the title, I didn't make the connection. And I thought, Oh, that looks really great. I'm definitely going to get that book and read it. And, you know, a little time passed, and I started following you on Twitter. And then I realized, Oh, you are that Sagan. I did not realize that you were Carl Sagan daughter and and Julian's daughter. And then I read the book. And I've got to tell you, Sasha, I just was really profoundly moved. Oh, thank you. By the time I was, I have the book in hand, I knew that we would eventually have this conversation. And part of what I wanted to do was to say, really focus on you and your work, and not exploit the fact that you're famous parents, but your dad is just in virtually every page. It's in Yeah. And the grief that is present there is just both poignant and beautiful. And so the first thing I just wanted to say to you, I know you speak Spanish is, is Lucia, anto I feel it, I feel it, I like it, just every page, it left it left off the page for me. So your your ability to convey the emotion and depth was just really profound. And I just thank you for writing this book.
Sasha Sagan 7:32
Thank you so much. That's really kind. And you know, it's funny, because it's like, there's, of course, some part of me that's like, oh, I want to do my own thing or whatever. But like, because of the way my parents raised me and their work, and lots of my job like that, those are the major cornerstones of my identity, you know, yeah. And so I've gotten to a place where I'm like, This is me carrying on what I can have their legacy and their work, right. My mother's work continues. And she's an amazing science communicator, also and writer and producer. But I think that's who I am. And I think if I can sort of extend some of those things that they taught me that really were impactful, and maybe in my own way, continue that on, I'm comfortable with that. You know, it's I don't mind that at all. And I'm very proud to be their daughter, and very lucky.
David Ames 8:31
Well, I do want to talk about secular grief a bit as we move forward. But first, let's just start with the title of the book actually comes from the book contact. And it turns out that your your mom wrote that line. So tell us about the meaning behind that. Yes.
Sasha Sagan 8:45
So my parents started out with the idea of the story as a movie. And they worked on screenplays and you know, movies, there's a lot of moving parts, and it takes a lot to get a movie made. And this one took 18 years. And during the time, when they were trying to develop that and trying to get it made, they wrote it as a novel. And I parents collaborated on everything. And the line that the title of my book comes from is for small creatures, such as we the vastness is bearable, only through love. And I think that there's something about that that really sums up what you were just talking about as well. And it's sort of the antidote to the existential crisis. You know, that feeling of like, we're tiny, the Universe is big, we're gonna die. We're here for a second matter, like, you know, all this stuff that you're really concerned you off the deep end quickly. Yeah. And it's like, well, how do you get through to the other side? You know, the existential crisis that's real and sometimes you have to just freak out. But when you get through that part I think that it's like, well, then what do we have? When it's one another, and we're here right now. And this is the moment where we're here. And it's not forever, but at least, we have this moment, and we're in it together. And the farther out we see ourselves in the universe, it's tiny our planet is, the larger the cosmos is, it's makes it all the more precious that we have one another. Otherwise, it would be really, really hard. And so I think I think that there's something to that where you can find some of the comfort that doesn't always get associated with the really scientific worldview. And that perspective?
David Ames 10:42
Well, I like what you just said that the existential crisis is real, I sometimes feel like I, you know, I hit the genetic lottery, and I have a predisposition to see the wonder, in life, even from a purely naturalistic scientific point of view, it's still totally awe inspiring to me. And I don't work at that. It just happens. And I just wonder how can we bottle this up? What your parents represented what you are carrying on, you know, how can we bottle this up and give it out to other people?
Sasha Sagan 11:12
It's such a good question. I mean, I think the first step, if we were really doing it on like a grand scale would be to just like, pay public school teachers a lot of money and get people who are really enthusiastic about not just I mean, science, but math and history and all these things. I have the utmost love and respect for public school teachers, but it's really hard job. And it's a really hard job to do for very little money. And I can't imagine not getting jaded at some point. But if you have a couple of great teachers in your life, who are like, This is amazing. Look at this thing. And, you know, we stop sort of maligning facts as like cold and hard. And we have this a way of teaching children that there's beauty in what is real, and like, my daughter is like, almost two and a half. And like when she sees the moon, she freaks out. All excited. It's like, Mardi Gras. And like, we talked about it, and it's orbiting us, and we were at the sun. And it's so amazing. And we like make a really big deal about it when we see the moon. Yeah. I mean, it's easy to be like really blase. Yeah, Simone, congratulations. It's like, that's sort of really natural in a way. But there's something about once you learn something, and once it becomes really matter of fact, it's like you lose some of the stunning astonishment that you felt when you first discovered it as a child. And I think if we can preserve that, I mean, the example that I always want to give, and the thing that I still cannot get over is like, if we told children like, there is a secret code in your blood that connects you to your ancestors, to your relatives, and to everyone on Earth, and everyone who ever lived, and the earliest humans and the first one celled organisms, and like it's in there, and whether you believe in it or not, it, you can send a little bit of your blood or saliva off somewhere, and it will tell you who you are like, that's like out of a fairy tale. And by the time you're like, in middle school, and you have like a worksheet about alleles, and chromosomes, it's like, none of that. Astonishment is there, right. So I think it's really a matter of presentation. And if we could get some of the skill sets and enthusiasm that you so often find in religious settings, you know, as like a really like, a preacher who is just like, totally giving their all to what they're saying. And we could have some more of that in, in the sciences, among other areas of learning. I think we could make a dent.
David Ames 13:59
Yeah. I'm trying to resist the desire to just quote you back your book. But I loved that quote you just described about, you know, if we taught science and math in the same way that a good preacher does, yeah. The other quote is that somewhere along the line, and I'm probably not recording it well, but that as we get scientific and naturalistic explanations that we've lost the wonder we've lost that. Yeah. And so I think people like yourself, can bring that to the subject, and it's such a vital role.
Sasha Sagan 14:33
Thank you. I think you I think we have it in there. But it's like, I don't know the feeling of like a thunderstorm or something like that. It's like we innately being sometimes it's our experience of nature is fear, especially like a natural disaster. Oh, yeah. But that feeling of, Wow, this is enormous and majestic. And I think even when you understand it deeply, and I think you do this especially with weather like on the news like the meteorologists like when there's a hurricane like they are, they have a reverence and awe, and they understand it from a totally scientific point of view, right? Right think there are moments where we have this, we just sort of have to extend it a little bit, pull it out a little bit, dry it out a little bit in in society.
David Ames 15:26
So one of the things that I think I have struggled with quick history I was a was a person of faith for many, many years. And that faith dissipated on me. And here I am today doing this. But one of the things I thought was interesting about your book is you don't shy away from words like spiritual or magic. And I find myself always using scare quotes, when I use those words. How can we recapture those words or redefine them?
Sasha Sagan 15:57
It's such a good question. I'm like, Adam, logically they do come for me, even magical comes from the Magi. Right? These are like religious words, sacred holy, but I can't help but not use them, because they also illustrate how I feel about Nietzsche. And I think, you know, those words, developed in a language that was majority believers, you know, majority Christians. And so they have that history in that connotation. But words evolve and mutate also. And I think that as our understandings change, I think that those words can change, too. And I, you know, I use quotes too. And like, I've definitely gotten questions in the last few months, as I've been doing press for this book about like, well, how can you describe yourself as spiritual? I wouldn't use that word. But, you know, do you consider yourself spiritual even though you don't believe? And how can that be? And I think it's, you know, there are nuances that are missing in our vocabulary. You know, and that's true. So often, there are words, this thing and our language often, and we have trouble describing things sometimes because of that. But I think that those words are still the closest we can get because it evokes this feeling that I think we all really crave of like the just like the chill in your spine, and like feeling part of something enormous. And whether that is a theological concept, or a scientific concept, that like pit of your stomach, like sparkly feeling is something that I really think that we want, and that we almost can't avoid, because every time we understand something more deeply, or have an experience or you know, something scary happens, or something amazing happens. There is that sense. And I think as time goes on, we'll figure out what to call it. But yeah, just seek it.
David Ames 18:05
Yes, yes. Really, it was a compliment that you went out ahead on didn't hesitate. I find myself hesitating all the time. Can I use this word? Because when I say often woman for me is soul when I say yes. Oh, it has evocative, profound meaning. And, you know, I mean, the core of my being, I don't write, I don't mean something other than my body. I'm sorry. Anyway, I just think that we need to just redeem those words. There's another religious term.
Sasha Sagan 18:34
I know I mean, either. So many theistic expressions that I love, and you mean also, like when I like drop something, like I say, like Jesus Christ. Like, oh, my God, I mean, how many times do I say Oh, my God, and I'm like, I can't like I what am I going to do like make up something to explain that's like about, like, trials. Oh, my double helix. Like, I'm totally nervous. Like, it would be way too weird. Like, or like a one of my favorite expressions. And I wish I had a secular version of it is God willing, and like to say, like, oh, well, when we go do this, or whatever. What I really mean is, I hope it works out, right? No, or like, you know, people talking about like, a job or planning for a baby or like, all these things. And it's like that idea that like, well, we don't know how things are gonna shake out. We're terrible at predicting the future. But this is what we're planning at the moment. Yes, it's like, I wish there was a two word way to say that. But I don't have one yet. So sometimes I say that and they're like, what are you what are your whole thing is and I'm like, I know.
David Ames 19:51
I find it charming. I think that's. So the book is primarily about rituals. So I'd like you to talk about Some of them that you described, but also, why are rituals important to human beings?
Sasha Sagan 20:05
It's a great question. And it's so amazing because we're so all over the world and disparate cultures that had no contact with one another, we all decided we need some rituals, and a lot of them happen around the same time, same times of year solstices and equinoxes. And same times of life, verse coming of age death, you know, we all like these are really important. And we do them in really different ways. But and it's not every culture doesn't have exactly the same landmarks in terms of when when they but there's a lot of overlap. And I think it's really my mom always says, there's no refuge from change in the cosmos. Yeah. And I think that's really what it's about, we are on this planet, and the seasons change, and it gets cold and hot, or wet and dry, depending where you live. People appear, you know, out of other people's stomachs, and, and they grow up and they're kids, and then they're adults. And that's really weird. And then we go away. And we don't know where or what it is. And there's just so much to wrap our minds around that. We have to process all these changes. And I think the rituals, in the most basic sense, like a funeral, like, Well, why do we have that? Because we're like, Oh, my goodness, this person was just here. And now they're not here. What do we do? Yeah. And I think that, you know, no matter what the rituals are, we're like, Okay, this is the framework. This is what we've been doing for generations. This is how we handle this very difficult thing. Yeah. I mean, sometimes it's how we handle a really wonderful thing, like people getting married or something like that, you know. And I just think that it's, it's really important to us. And I think what happens is sometimes when people are not religious, or were religious, and then veer away from it, really, there's an urge to like, throw the baby out with the bathwater, right? But I, which is understandable, and I get it. But I think that we still need these things, even if we do them in a secular way. And that's what I'm really interested in is how, how we can do that. And sometimes how we can still honor our ancestors and what they did, or something you loved growing up. Without necessarily subscribing to the theology that it came from.
David Ames 22:36
Definitely, I think that when a person goes through, particularly a faith transition, where they had faith in and then lose that faith, kind of the first thing that you see online is the much harder kind of debate culture or style of that loses all the wonder that loses all the awe and there's a trepidation for being a part of a group being apart. Being part of a community, in even the word ritual might be terrifying to some people. for that. I think I came through that and realize that, you know, it's a very natural explanation to say that human beings need rituals, and that every culture, as you have mentioned, throughout history and time, has had rituals for these life stages, and that we derive something from that we derive some meaning from that. And so on the other side of faith, or if you're secular from birth, you still need these moments, to mark time, as you say,
Sasha Sagan 23:35
Yeah, and just I think it's like, in many cases, it's to like, increase joy. I mean, you know, when it's cold, and the days are really short. And the weather's really bad. You know, it's like, oh, well, we should make things really nice and like decorate them and make them be more light and have like delicious food and a party. Maybe that's like, seems so natural, and it's such a good call. Yes, that is a really like around the winter solstice is a really good time to try to cheer ourselves up with like, cookies and cookies and presents. Yeah, totally. Oh, yeah, definitely. Let's
David Ames 24:19
do that some
Sasha Sagan 24:20
more. Yeah. And I think that that kind of stuff. Once you peel back the specifics of the lore, or the mythology or the theology, you end up with the same throughlines and so much of them are rooted in nature. There are about astronomical Meteor illogical or biological changes, and that doesn't require belief.
David Ames 24:45
One of my favorite different authors, Jennifer, Michael Hecht, and she talks about a graceful life philosophies, and I definitely feel like that is something that you are conveying here of just a joy in life. But one of the things I was struck By in your book is that you'll be in the description of just a very human event. And then the scientist and you will just jump through there one that just literally made me laugh out loud was you were describing, being in the same the same position around the sun, you know, in a year and then taking the scope out and saying, Yeah, but that sun is actually orbiting the center of the galaxy as well. So we're really not in the same place. And I just, I literally started laughing out loud. This is a scientist as well. So how do you blends that scientific knowledge that scientific exploration with kind of this graceful life philosophy,
Sasha Sagan 25:39
I think it's like, the more we understand, I mean, if you get pleasure from like, learning, you know, the more we understand, and you know, it's always more amazing reality, when we just like really use the scrutiny of the scientific method, it is always more astonishing and more amusing than our than what we came up with, as human beings. And I think that that is really a source of joy. And think, wow, we couldn't possibly have imagined, you know, the scale of the Universe, or, you know, all these things that are so beautiful, or even like how the solar system works before we have the information to measure it, and all these other things that are so breathtaking. And that brings me a lot of joy. And I think that there's just something about the connectedness, the our desire to feel connected, and then realizing the thing we're connected to, you know, we're part of, it's in us we're in it is so much larger than, you know, 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, we imagined it to be and it's like, it kind of just puts a smile on my face this idea that, like, we're so bad at predictions. I mean, it's kind of like the god willing thing. But we have this system, where we can test things and try to figure them out. And we still know very little, but we're on the right track. And we will know a lot more than we used to. And it's like, there's just an endless number of, again, a sort of religious word revelations ahead of us, and we're gonna find out more and more, and, you know, we won't live to find out everything and but there's so much around the corner that will just take our breath away. And we live in a time where there's a lot of new information available, which is just so lucky. I mean, you know, if you're a really curious person who was interested in our place in the universe, and you lived, you know, in the year 1000, it would be like kind of a drag.
David Ames 27:49
Very much. So yeah, I often wonder how useless I would have been at any other moment in history.
Sasha Sagan 27:58
Right, where it's like, each of us is a both a product of our time. And we have these like anything's and but ya know, it's so true. It's like, another 1000 years, they'll say, Oh, my goodness, can you imagine if you lived in 2020? It would have been horrible, you know?
David Ames 28:18
This question kept coming to me as I was reading it, and I want to pose it properly. There are times where I wondered, are there times in your life where you are reluctantly, a skeptic? Are there times where you wish there was something bigger?
Sasha Sagan 28:34
Oh, that's interesting. Well, I don't feel that way. To me. The secular worldview is bigger. In my view, even though there is not a person like creature looking after us. I think it would be actually harder to try to understand why terrible things happen if there is a very good god who is taking care of everyone, then it is to be like, it is random and chaos. And the fact that anything ever works out is amazing. But, you know, like, that's sort of my do the way in which I am sometimes maybe not reluctant, but I feel that internal conflict is we all have these experiences, like really unlikely coincidences, where it's so hard not to be like, Wait Is race Raizy I write about that a little bit in the book happens all the time. I mean, little, like, cliche, is you think about someone and they call and like, of course when that happens, I'm like, holy
David Ames 29:47
Sasha Sagan 29:48
I think and I have that like innate reaction of like, this is like a clue into the inner workings of everything. But when I really think it is So is that we are really good pattern recognizers, we love patterns. That's why you can understand the random sounds I'm making right now to be words and ideas. It's a huge advantage as far as our species, but we're so good at it that we see patterns where there aren't any. And it would be impossible. Like if you think about how many random thoughts you have in the course of a day, and how many people you run into, or call or get a text from, over the course of your life, it would be impossible that they wouldn't line up once in a while, right? But I still think it's amazing and worthy of like celebration on my big freakout when it does happen, because it's like, Well, someone does win the lottery, you know what I mean? Like, like, the chances are slim, but sometimes it lands and you whenever you get the jackpot or whatever, and you're like, Oh, amazing, you know,
David Ames 30:52
statistically unlikely things happen all the time.
Sasha Sagan 30:56
So, so cool, but I don't, even though they have moments where I'm like, you know, the Twilight Zone theme in my head is like, I still I still think that it totally statistical explanation is still like, fantastic.
David Ames 31:15
Yeah, that's a great answer, though, that the scientific answers are the are the bigger perspective than magic?
Sasha Sagan 31:21
I think so i That's the way I see it. And they're intrinsically beautiful to me, too. And I think there's like this idea that it's like, oh, this emptiness of space is like, so scary and negative. Whereas I still find it beautiful and comforting in a way that, that in all that we're here, I'm this little evolved perfectly to, like breathe the air and drink the water and feel the light of the star. I mean, that's, that's amazing.
David Ames 31:51
Yeah, one of the ways that I tried to express this, this is back kind of back to the existential crisis. But that, you know, we learned the Copernican principle that we are not the center of the universe, we're not the center of the solar system that we have no special place in the cosmos. Right. And I would say the flip side of that is as, as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in this cosmos. And that makes us incredibly rare and incredibly precious. And the fact that we can communicate with each other, yeah, builds profound meaning and profound comfort. I just watched the movie Ad Astra. Oh, yeah. I don't know if you watch that. But
Sasha Sagan 32:30
I haven't seen it. I have a toddler. So I don't get Yeah,
David Ames 32:33
exactly. Sorry. Yeah.
Sasha Sagan 32:36
Do you have a movie reference from before?
David Ames 32:41
I feel yeah, I've got teenagers now. So I remember. Very quickly, I won't bore you with this. But the premise is the father has gone out looking for proof of, of extraterrestrial life. And he's obsessed with that to the exclusion of everything else, and that the son grows up and is also an astronaut and goes out to find him. And the son learns the lesson the father didn't, that it's humanity, that we are not alone. We have each other. Right. Anyway, it was just deeply profound. It was very, very slow movie I don't recommend everybody is going to love that movie. But anyway. But I couldn't I couldn't help but walk away. Like what a deeply humanist message.
Sasha Sagan 33:21
Oh, wow. Yeah.
David Ames 33:24
So your book from literally the introduction? I think I tweeted this right after I read it. The first tear was shed, you know, in the introduction.
Sasha Sagan 33:34
David Ames 33:35
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, that is a very high compliment that there's so much pathos, there's so much of yourself vulnerability in the book is deeply profound. Just very quickly, I lost my father when I was three or four, I don't really have a lot of I don't like to have a lot of conscious memories of him. I'm so sorry. Thank you. And then I lost my mother in 2015, shortly after my deconversion, so a lot of Oh, wow, a lot of grief. You know, right, as I was also experiencing the loss of so I, you know, and I think I've spent a lot of time processing that that's not a raw emotion. I'm not trying to elicit anything here.
Sasha Sagan 34:22
I feel for you. And I'm that's really hard. And it's complicated, I'm sure. Yes. Yeah.
David Ames 34:28
It's very complicated. But so again, thank you for the book and for the rawness of the grief that comes out on on the pages. And I think one of the topics that I'm most interested in is this idea of how do we grieve in a secular way? Right. I think you mentioned when people come up to you and they don't realize that your father has passed away. And they'll say, Hey, tell them how much his work meant to me. Yeah, you have to be the bearer of bad news. It's like, like, oh, just crushed my heart. Like I couldn't believe that. What You must have to go through. So one of my first questions is having so much of your father be a part of the culture and including things like on audiobook. And early your mom and dad's voice on Voyager that's just left. I mean, it's inescapable Is that does that make that grieving process harder? Or easier?
Sasha Sagan 35:21
Oh, no, it makes it easier. I mean, I'm so lucky. First of all, because of, and I write about this a little bit, because of the nature of my dad's work. I have like all this footage of him talking in his voice and like audio book on like, his Cosmos, but also, like him on The Tonight Show, and like, all this stuff. And still, I mean, there's like video of him I've never seen that I know is still out there that I can like, look forward to 23 years after his death, so that I feel like so lucky. And that especially because, I mean, now everybody has video of everybody in their family, you know, whatever, opening presents, or whatever. But like, in 1996, it wasn't like that. And just because of the nature of his work, I have this, which is so lucky, and the love that people still feel for him and like, you know, once in a while, like the flip side of the, oh, tell him I love his work. And I have to be like, Oh, actually, he's not here anymore. And it's like, so awkward, partly because people are just generally so uncomfortable with death that like it's like, you know, we don't know how to talk about it. We don't especially and not in a secular way we don't know how to. We don't know what the right thing to say is there's all of that those experiences are really hard. But what I get much more often, which is the flip side is people saying, I just discovered him four years ago, and I've read 10 books, or I was born after he died. And I love him. He's my favorite writer, or you know, that kind of stuff where I'm like, wow, this really is, in a secular way. It's an extension, you know, he lives on a little longer in this non literal way. And I'm so grateful for that. And that makes it so much easier. And like, I feel like, what's really hard about grieving is being alone, um, you know, and isolated. And when I think other people miss him, too. And they still think about him and read his work and talk about him. I'm like, Well, that is extremely comforting. That's what really like, he honestly just like, helps me enormously so. So I feel like the majority of my experiences to do with him and his work and his legacy are extremely positive. But then once in a while, there's ones where I'm like, Oh, this is excruciating. But that's okay, too.
David Ames 37:50
Well, I again, one of the more touching moments in the in the book is you're describing him apologizing to you near the end, and that he understood what you couldn't at the moment that this would be a life defining moment for you that everything would be affected by it.
Sasha Sagan 38:08
Yeah, yeah. And I was 14, and I just didn't understand. At the same time, I'm like, What does anyone on Earth, like if I was, you know, 50? What I understand what I mean, like, we don't get it, and it's really hard, but like, I just didn't understand that this would be, in many ways, the defining event in my life. And that he, he understood that, that this would be a lot harder than I think I understood at that time, or for many years afterwards. And it was so but it was it may it was like the kind of the end he was very ill obviously. And so it was like the kind of thing that like made no sense, right? Of course, as the years went on, it became very clear why it was a really loving, thoughtful, true thing to say. And it's like a, almost like a riddle. You know, it's something that takes a long time to unravel to really understand, but it was really loving. And it was really, I mean, it's I still feel love from the last, you know, days and hours, even though more than two decades has gone by.
David Ames 39:25
Well, that's short, an incredible amount of wisdom on his part. Yeah, there's no one will doubt or two have that kind of foresight to pass that along to you. Yeah. The other thing I think is beautifully told in the book is this idea of that those that we have lost live on in our memories. You refer back to a culture that has a distinction between ancestors and the living dead, that they live on in our memory and you quote your mom is saying she recognized that there's there's almost a second death When the last person who knew you dies, yeah. Can you talk about that? Just
Sasha Sagan 40:05
yeah, I think about that a lot in the book I talked about someone we knew had a toddler. And they came by the house. They had, you know, my dad had met the toddler many times. And then they came by the house at some point in the months after my dad died. And and when they left me, this little boy was the youngest person, I think my dad, you know, knew, right. And my mom said, after they left, my mom said, you know, it's like, you win you, Oh, will you die again, when the last person knew you dies. And there is something about that there's, it makes me think of there's this. There's this record, somebody heard Abraham Lincoln give a speech, and then ran home and phonetically wrote down how he spoke, like, what his syntax and intonation was. And it was like, of course, this is so changed by technology now, like I was saying about, like having, you know, video of your friends now. And it's like, this idea that like, well, you know, now everybody who ever heard Abraham Lincoln speak is gone, too. And it's like, that's another way in which were done. And some people very, very small handful of people, you know, if your profile is on a coin, or there is a statue to you, or, you know, the most smallest, smallest percentage of people who ever lived, or we just know their name, even if we don't know really anything about them, the century when they lived the part of the world. But other than that, we go away. And that is something that, you know, there's two approaches to that, or three, maybe one is to deny it, you know, and if you say, Okay, well, that's not your belief system. If you believe that we don't go away, we just go somewhere else. And we continue on. Okay, that's one approach. Another approach is to sort of try to fight it with like, you know, I don't know, like cryogenically freezing, like, you know, all the things that we come up with to deny that in another way, and that's okay, too, you know, but the third way is to say, Okay, well, that's how this works. And we'll be gone at some point. And even if we figure out the, you know, whatever technology, you know, the sun's gonna burn out and 5 billion years, the Earth is, you know, maybe we can emigrate to some other planet, maybe. But things that we hold dear and the world, literally and figuratively that we exist, and now is not forever. And so, I think there's really something valuable. The third way way I would approach it is to face that and say, Okay, that's real. But we're here right now. And so let's do what we can to make the world better to find joy, to experience, love, give love, all these things that will make it so that when the time does come, it'll not feel as bad. I think.
David Ames 43:19
I've described kind of a parallel concept of giving up the idea of the soul. Where there's this psychological need to believe that we go on, I think, as well to believe that our loved ones
Sasha Sagan 43:36
Yes, I mean, more. So almost. Yeah, almost more so. Yeah, yeah.
David Ames 43:42
Yeah. And you know, and I would love to believe that I would get to see my mom and my, well, yeah, like, I'd love to be able to believe that. But I recognize that, you know, having again, for me personally haven't gone through that transition. That part of the reason that was so difficult was coming to grips with the finiteness of of life that Yeah. On the other side of it now, and I'm not this is not original in any way. But the idea that it is finite gives everything poignance there's Yeah, every moment with my my family, my loved ones, my daughters, my wife, friends is, is valuable, precisely because it is rare and fleeting.
Sasha Sagan 44:24
Absolutely, absolutely. If we lived forever, and there was no urgency to anything, it would be, first of all, it would be a totally different existence, people would operate in a totally different way. And there would be nothing unique or valuable or special about each moment. There's no beginning and no end. And I think that it's really easy to see that as a really painful thing, but I think it's also the source of all the positive things,
David Ames 44:55
right. And then just lastly, a concept that you hint at in That is just being lucky to have lived at all. You just I think you say we were we, you know we existed. That fact that we are alive today is its own profound miracle.
Sasha Sagan 45:13
Yeah. And I think that that's like a lot of what at the beginning of the book is about is like an all the different things that had to happen for you to be alive right now. And all your different ancestors who had to cross paths, and all this unbelievable plagues and invasions and wars that somebody had to survive, to get to the point where right now in the present, your you know, listening to this podcast, you know, is really astonishing. And I think that maybe there would be some other version of each of us, but we would have different ancestors with different combinations of qualities and idiosyncrasies and allergies, all sorts of other things. And I think the idea that, like you being exactly you at this moment happened, like if we can find a way to celebrate that. And I think the way that we find it the most is when we fall in love, because then you're like, wow, you're you and you're so amazing. And you have all these qualities that are so wonderful. And it's like that we sort of can glean it when it's an another person or when you have a new baby, and you're like, Oh, my goodness, you're this. Oh, I see my great uncle's funny expression. And like all these things, yeah. And so we get it like at the best moments of our lives, we get these little glimpses into that. And I think if we can find a way to to extend that into other parts of our lives, I think it would be really worthwhile.
David Ames 46:48
Absolutely. Yeah, that's beautiful. I'm sorry. I said Lastly, and really, I've got one another. One more, one more question. Again, on this on this side of faith, or those of us who were believers, church or synagogue or provides this community this built in Yes, community. I really love the story you tell you tell about your your girlfriend's getting together. Yeah, regular basis to talk about how you have built community in your life.
Sasha Sagan 47:15
Yes, I definitely. I mean, I strongly feel that the hardest part about being secular for me is that you have to like really put an effort to congregate, and I'm very social. And I like being in group situations. And it's just if I was really devout, I would have that in my life and all these different ways built in. And I because I'm not I have to make it. So one of the things that I did, sort of second half of the years, I lived in New York, I lived in New York for a long time, we moved to London for two years, and then came back and all of a sudden, I realized I miss my girlfriends so much. And that like seeing them one or two at a time was not enough. And I that I had all these interesting, amazing women who they would like each other it wasn't you know, and that together, we could really sort of form this like little tribe. And so it wasn't anything. I mean, it's totally doable. You can try this at home, just once a month, we had a dinner, we picked a restaurant, and I would send out an email. And sometimes it would be five or six of us. And sometimes it would be 12 or 13 of us. And the restaurant was extremely accommodating when we were constantly running away and being really loud, and all these things. So that was good. And we would once a month have like dinner and cocktails and talk and what was so for me rewarding was all these other friendships bloomed between women who, you know, someone I grew up with, or someone I went with, to college with, or someone you know, had worked with. And then after a lot of people started to move away from New York, which just happens, you know, and then and then I moved to Boston, and these friendships went on and all these different cities and people started doing ladies don't we call it the ladies dining society in other places. And even though I wasn't doing it anymore, it carried on and I that is something that I feel really grateful for. And I think there's something there is a real like you see it, there is a need in society for this kind of thing. And you see it as like there's, I mean, these things could be co ed or for men or whatever show seemed like these women's workspaces popping up in different cities. And you see like these will, you know, different groups where you're like, people want kind of a home base and like something in their life that's regular and steady and feeds them intellectually, emotionally in some way. Literally, dinner party. And I think that a lot of people crave that and I think if you're secular you know sometimes it's a little bit more of a drag and you got to put it together yourself, but I think it's worth it.
David Ames 49:59
You I think that the lesson from that chapter in particular is just being intentional about building friendships. And yeah, maybe setting a time and setting a place and making that happen. So yeah, in effect to ritualizing.
Sasha Sagan 50:14
And having a group to go through the ups and downs with
David Ames 50:18
absolutely, yeah, somebody there just to hear the good times and the bad. Yeah, exactly. Well, if it's not obvious, I love the book. So much the book is, for small creatures, such as we are rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world. And the author is Sasha Sagan, Sacha, how can people get in touch with you? How can they find your book?
Sasha Sagan 50:40
Oh, it's sold wherever, wherever you get your books, you can find it. And I'm on Instagram and Twitter at Sasha Sagan. My website is Sasha sagan.com. And you can email me there. Tell me what you think I'd love to hear from you.
David Ames 50:56
Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and.
Final thoughts on the episode? Wow. All I can say is again, it was a joy to speak with Sasha. I find it wonderfully fulfilling to talk to another person who has the same sense of gratitude, awe and wonder at the world, while also holding purely naturalistic and scientific ideas about the world. And she so beautifully tells those both in the book and in this episode, about how her parents pass those things along to her. And now she's passing them along to us. I loved her answer when I asked about whether she was a reluctant skeptic. And she pointed out that the scientific answers tend to be bigger and more awe inspiring than any magical or theistic answers ever could be. That was a profound answer. I think in my interview, when we discussed her father, Carl Sagan, I often focused on the grief, I want to highlight here as well, the joy that comes across in Sasha's book, and in the podcast episode. Clearly, he has had a tremendous impact on her and the impact on the world continues to reverberate in her life. I just really appreciate Sasha, his willingness to share both the grief and her joy in her relationship with her father. I still can't get over the quote that the book title comes from, for small creatures such as we, the vastness is only bearable through love. And it turns out that it was Andrew Yang, who wrote that particular line that encapsulates so much of secular grace. And another theme that Sasha and I hit in the episode of she quotes her mom is saying there is no refuge from change in the cosmos. And Sasha talks about having to face the reality that everything will cease, including the sun burning out and the heat death of the universe. But we're here now. And let's do what we can to make the world a better place that to encapsulates secular grace. I want to thank Sasha for coming on the program for giving me her time and for sharing with us, her book and her insights and her graceful life philosophies. I will have links in the show notes for finding her online on Twitter and as well as links for her book, I highly encourage you to go out and get the book and read it. As the chaos and randomness of the cosmos would have it. Sacha also did an interview with Bart Campolo on the humanized me podcast. And I think it's a great discussion. And I highly encourage you to go and listen to that as well, especially if you can't get enough of Sasha Sagan. Are you still here? Oh, good. I've got a couple more announcements for you. One is that I have recently done an episode of the relationship podcast from long distance to marriage with Andrea and rich. You might ask why would I do that episode while they were doing a series on secular relationships or inter faith relationships, I went on with my friend Alice Gretchen from dare to doubt, Alice from the perspective of being very choosy about the partners that she chooses and what their faith positions might be in me from the perspective of being in a relationship with my wife, who is a believer, and D converting and middle of marriage, and trying to focus on the love that we have for one another and our shared set of values. Anyway, I highly recommend that you check out from long distance to marriage in the next week or so. I think that was a fascinating conversation. And then the second thing I wanted to bring up is that I occasionally do a call or a Hangout with people who are not interested in publicizing their story, but they need to tell it to somebody. And I generally will do a 15 or 30 minute call with people just to let them tell me their deconversion stories. And a common theme that I hear from them often is, what can I do? How can I give back? I just wanted to highlight that you can do many things, you can start a blog, you can start your own podcast, you can find groups with meetup.com. You can start your own book club, any secular activity of any kind that build some community is a great way to go. But I'm gonna highlight one more thing. I haven't pushed it very often. But I need to reiterate again, how much better I think this podcast could be if I had a bit more community support. So this is a call out to you if you have a talent in any area, graphic design, audio engineering, marketing, social media expertise, website, design, anything that could help make this podcast better, help more people. I'm gonna just put out the call to the community. If you're interested, please get in touch with me. Send me an email at graceful email@example.com I'm gonna slightly alter my typical sign off and say my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please join me and be graceful in your lives. It's time for some footnotes. The song has a track called waves by mkhaya beats, please check out her music links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to help support the podcast, here are the ways you can go about that. First help promote it. Podcast audience grows it by word of mouth. If you found it useful or just entertaining, please pass it on to your friends and family. post about it on social media so that others can find it. Please rate and review the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. This will help raise the visibility of our show. Join me on the podcast. Tell your story. Have you gone through a faith transition? You want to tell that to the world? Let me know and let's have you on? Do you know someone who needs to tell their story? Let them know. Do you have criticisms about atheism or humanism, but you're willing to have an honesty contest with me? Come on the show. If you have a book or a blog that you want to promote, I'd like to hear from you. Also, you can contribute technical support. If you are good at graphic design, sound engineering or marketing? Please let me know and I'll let you know how you can participate. And finally financial support. There will be a link on the show notes to allow contributions which would help defray the cost of producing the show. If you want to get in touch with me you can google graceful atheist where you can send email to graceful firstname.lastname@example.org You can tweet at me at graceful atheist or you can just check out my website at graceful atheists.wordpress.com Get in touch and let me know if you appreciate the podcast. Well this has been the graceful atheist podcast My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheists. Grab somebody you love and tell them how much they mean to you.
This has been the graceful atheist podcast
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
On today’s episode, my guest is Matt Cook from Toronto Canada. Matt was a former evangelical missionary to Pakistan and a preacher who lost his faith about six years ago. Matt is not your typical deconvert. He calls himself religious but not spiritual. Several years after deconversion, Matt chose to live a year “Christianly.” During that year he prayed, he read the bible daily, he went to church and practiced other spiritual disciplines. Although, it did not change his mind he has found continued value in these disciplines and practices some of them to this day.
In the show we discuss the possibility of becoming a humanist chaplain (or celebrant or officiant), if you are interested in exploring that role or if you are looking for a humanist celebrant to officiate a wedding, dedication or funeral find the humanist organization for your country. In the US, it is the American Humanist Society. In Canada, it is Humanist Canada. Wikipedia lists more organizations.