grrrl meets UK Christian radio program programme

The interview is online now at the Unbelievable? website.  Here’s the program’s description:

This week on Unbelievable : “Losing my religion – dialogue with an ex-Christian”

Rebekah Bennetch lives in Saskatoon, Canada. She grew up in a Christian family. Her dad is a pastor, and other family members are involved in Christian ministries. She professed faith from a young age, went to Bible college, atteneded church and went on mission trips. But in 2007 she “came out” as an atheist and now describes herself as the “black sheep” of her family. Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on contemporary spirituality. For many years he presented “Open House”, a nationally-syndicated Australian radio show on life, faith and culture. He now resides in the UK. They discuss what led Rebekah to abandon her faith, how Christians can best treat their “apostate” friends and family, and what lessons can be learnt for fruitful dialogue between believers and atheists.

Here’s the link for the interview — it’s a little over an hour long.  Right now I’m buried in end-of-term marking of student reports and finals, but later this week I’m planning to reflect on the exchange I had with Justin and Sheridan. In the meantime, check out the interview, and make sure to read the latest comments on the blog here (and here, and here), by my old youth group pal Alison — she’s always good for a laugh, and for a reminder of why I rejected the faith system she represents.

What he said:

Penn Jillette on Piers Morgan’s show (watch the first 10 minutes):

Wow, go Penn!

I love this example of atheist/Christian dialogue.  I thought Penn hit the perfect tone — approachable and friendly, yet still able to openly disagree with Morgan.  It’s funny to see how flustered and angry Morgan gets as he tries to bait Penn in the various traps believers like to lay out for nonbelievers (ie., the arrogance of atheists, the beginnings of the universe, death, etc).

I’m going to watch this clip again — and I’ll be buying Penn’s book, too.

good without god.

[more on my recent podcast interview]

Part of our discussion on Wednesday touched upon morality.  At one point, I ended up talking about where I find a basis for morality, since I no longer believe in a divine moral lawgiver.  I’ll readily admit that I’m not a philosopher, so talking about objective vs. subjective morality not an easy discussion for me to have. (part of me thinks believers get off a little too easy when it comes to answering these kinds of complex questions, because they can just say “God.” and be done with their answer.)

I ended up talking about the ethic of reciprocity, and how most ethical systems can be boiled down to this principle of doing good to others, because you would like to have good done for you.  I don’t think my answer was too radical of a concept, but then our conversation drifted into implications of individual selfishness and reciprocity.  (ugh)

Well, I wish I could have steered the talk of morality in a different direction.  I wish I could have brought up Psalm 14:1, and asked them about what they thought of the verse.  Psalm 14:1 reads:

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

Now here’s a verse most atheists will recognize, because it’s one usually hurled in our direction. It’s the last part of the verse I would have wanted to talk about — the notion that the godless are corrupt, full of vile deeds, and up to no good. There aren’t many Christians out there who would admit to agreeing with the last half of the verse — but I know many people who still hold onto the idea that god is a necessary prerequisite to being good. But is it true?

Not according to evidence.

Part of my reading prep for the interview involved me reading the peer-reviewed article “Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions” by Phil Zuckerman. This article compared different societies’ levels of religiosity to their levels of violent crime, happiness and well-being indexes, health care services, standards of economic equality, education, and several other categories.  The result?

… societies with higher percentages of secular people are actually more healthy, humane, and happy than those with higher percentages of religious people.

The author was sure to point out that the amount of secularity doesn’t necessarily cause these positive factors in society, but being irreligious does not seem to be a hinderance to having a good and happy life.

I guess this brings me back to another point I wish I could have pressed the two Christians on — why do I need to be a Christian?  If evidence shows societies to function just fine (if not better) without religion, why do I need to be religious?  If I can find meaning and significance in the natural world around me, why do I need to add a supernatural belief on top of it?  If I can be good without god, why do I need Christian faith?

Still waiting for the answers to these questions.

an Unbelievable? experience

Earlier this morning I taped an interview for the UK Christian radio show, Unbelievable?.  It was a cool experience, really. I’ve been a longtime fan of the show, and listen to its podcast nearly every week (I call it my atheist “guilty pleasure”).  The show is about opening up dialogue/debate between Christians and nonbelievers, and I’ve always appreciated the fair hearing (for the most part) that the show gives to the atheistic side of the arguments.

I contacted the host, Justin Brierley, a few weeks ago and proposed a show where they could discuss Christian apostacy, and in particular, how believers should treat the apostates they may encounter in their lives (be it family or friends who reject their faith).  I wasn’t necessarily looking to be on the show, but when he offered, of course I couldn’t resist! 🙂

I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what I wanted to say on the show, and now that it’s all said and done, I’m now spending time thinking about what I was able to say, and what I wished I could have said.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the interview/conversation went.  I was in dialogue with the show’s host, Justin, and also with the Australian Christian broadcaster, Sheridan Voysey. (and yes, it is intimidating having your first-ever long radio interview be with 2 experienced broadcasters!)

The first part of the show was discussion about some of my personal history — I talked about growing up as a believer, being an active part of the church, and later coming to reject my Christian beliefs. The rest of the show touched on several other topics: such as the notion of cosmic justice and ultimate morality, the basis for morality, Jesus as a moral example (and my issues with the Jesus of the gospels), humanity as divine creation vs. natural collection of matter/atoms/impulses, assumptions believers have about atheists, and ideas for encouraging conversation between people of differing ideologies/belief systems.

I have a feeling I’m going to dedicate a couple posts to my experience on the podcast — if only to help clarify my thoughts of how it went, and to hopefully give some insight for others about who I am.

What he sang:

Christian Life
Ben Folds

Everyone sells stuff they don’t believe in
Movie actors do it all the time
Guys with cases full of useless health drinks
In politics they quote statistics full of lies

Bill can see he’s not the worst of the offenders
It’s not like his job causes actual harm
He shares his cake and kindness to old ladies
Getting by with platitudes and charm

It’s just a job, it’s just a job
Too late to change it
Put in the hours, bring home the pay
Watching sports on Sunday after the service
He no longer worries about judgment day

But he’s sure there’s no one else inside his workplace
If he were here, he left some time ago
Some Sundays Bill just waffles on and on about grace
Avoid the subject of what’s down below

It’s just a job, it’s just a job
Too late to change it
Put in the hours, bring home the pay
Watching sports on Sunday after the service
He no longer worries about judgment day

It’s not like there was this one flash of insight
Now how come if there’s a god we get Darfur?
It was just a gradual dimming of that bright light
The realization Christ works best as a metaphor

It’s just a job, it’s just a job
Too late to change it
Put in the hours, take home the pay
Watching sports on Sunday after the service
He no longer worries about judgment day


After listening to this song, you may want to listen to this week’s Tapestry program on Preachers Who Don’t Believe in God.

(thanks, Ian, for the song. I love it!)

What he said:

Daniel Dennett on the recent Pew study that showed atheists/agnostics scoring higher than most religious folks:
So the Pew results are no doubt actually somewhat stronger than they first appear: The more you know about religions, the less likely you are to believe religious creeds and myths and thus the more likely you are to be an atheist or agnostic, whether or not you are affiliated with, or even clergy in, a church.

Many of those who have thought long and hard about religions – and hence know the answers – don’t actually believe the doctrines that they rightly identify as belonging to the church they are affiliated with.

from The Unbelievable Truth: Why America has become a nation of religious know-nothings

The other line worth mentioning is from the closing of the article, where Dennett mentions his research involving nonbelieving clergy members:

when discussing our first pilot study of closeted non-believing (or other-believing) clergy, we often heard two jokes about the seminary experience that was part of the training of most clergy: “If you emerge from seminary still believing in God, you haven’t been paying attention,” and “Seminary is where God goes to die.”

hmmm. I think Jerry would agree with those two statements.