Hey there! Thanks so much for all your interest in my story of coming out of Christianity and into secular humanism. There are three separate ways you can find out more about this:
(1) Mark Oppenheimer’s great piece in the New York Times Magazine, which you can read right away HERE if you haven’t already.
(2) HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, is publishing a book co-authored by my dad and I in conversation about my step away from Christianity. The release date is February 21st, 2017 for the hardcover edition. The link is HERE if you’d like more info.
(3) Filmmaker John Wright is producing a feature-length documentary with my dad and I which features that same conversation captured on camera. The first opportunities to see it will be coming up in March 2017 and online streaming shortly after that. That link is HERE to watch a trailer and get more information.
Again, thanks for all the interest in this stuff; honestly I’m pretty excited about it.
A few months ago I got a call from my old friend, Tripp Fuller, inviting me to be a guest on his curiously popular theology podcast, Homebrewed Christianity. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance, mainly because I knew that Tripp and his crowd are confident enough in their various versions of faith that I didn’t have to be too careful with them.
The audio quality isn’t fabulous for some reason, and the conversation itself is pretty twisty, but you’ll know if it’s your cup of tea after 10 minutes, and if so, here’s a really nice potful.
I’ve gotten some wonderful emails lately, but I’m sharing this one because the poem at the end of it really does capture the essence of Humanize Me 106. Thanks for paying attention, Polly, and for sending me such a gem.
Just listened to your episode ‘Sitting in a Car Contemplating Finitude’. I mean… dayyum! Made me feel all the feels. The episodes where it’s just you alone are some of my favorites. It feels intimate, and raw and present and alive. You got me with this finitude thing my man. Part of me wanted to hug you because I knew the pain you were feeling and part of me wanted to hug you for expressing such a deep feeling we don’t talk about much. It felt good to hear it spoken out loud. It took some of the sting out of it.
You’re killing it with the podcast, my friend. Very proud of you.
PS- Here’s a poem that really knocks me sideways. I think it describes the way you were feeling in that rental car in Cincinnati, looking at your old neighborhood.
Molly the Brave
by Jim Harrison
Molly was the bravest
In April she would swing out
over the river on a rope
tied to an elm branch. There was still
ice along the bank and one day
her body was found down by the weir
with a bruised head, which meant she hit ice.
One summer evening she hugged me in her wet
black bathing suit after I brought her a milk shake.
My blood became hot and moved in all directions.
When we caught frogs to eat their legs
she said, ”We are animals.” And on the hill
by the river we illegally picked trillium.
All the boys wanted to marry her.
We kept putting the wildflowers she loved
on her grave. More than sixty years
later I see dearly-that no one gets over anything
least of all Molly by the river,
swinging up through the air—
On my bike ride to USC, I often use one ear to listen to podcasts while minding traffic with the other. I love plenty of episodes of WTF with Marc Maron, Science Friday, Freakanomics Radio, On Being with Krista Tippett, Beautiful Anonymous with Christ Gerhard, and Tangentially Speaking with Christopher Ryan, but all of them post the occasional dud. Since the beginning of time, however, This American Life has never let me down. Week in and week out, Ira Glass and company pump out hugely entertaining stories that make you laugh and cry and… think.
If you’re like me, you often finish a book, article or podcast and immediately think of a specific person who would love it, or who you think needs to hear it. A few weeks ago, however, this segment of This American Life, entitled For Your Reconsideration, made me think of virtually every good-hearted humanist in the world, including you.
Simply stated, if you’ve been wondering how we’re going to persuade all those folks who have lost their faith in God or never had any in the first place – but haven’t yet committed to pursuing loving relationships, doing work that helps other people, and cultivating a sense of awe and gratitude for the wonders of life – well… listen up!
Rural Haiti isn’t the usual landing pad for recent USC graduates.
But then again, Adrian Saiz isn’t your usual USC graduate. He started out like so many others here, joining a fraternity, majoring in accounting, and quickly learning to balance hard partying and academic achievement while diligently networking valuable contacts, acing his internships and plotting his path to riches. Not surprisingly, by the end of last summer he’d earned a great job offer with a Big Four accounting firm. Then he woke up.
Honestly, I wish I could say it was hearing my guest lecture in one of his classes or being exposed to the Secular Student Fellowship by a friend, but the truth is that Adrian woke up all by himself. In the midst of his final internship, he somehow managed to pull away and look at himself in the mirror. He’d made lots of friends at USC, but none he truly loved or expected to keep for the rest of his life. He’d passed all his courses, but wasn’t sure he’d learned anything that really mattered. He was on the cusp of vast material wealth, but he hadn’t met anyone in the business world whose character or relationships inspired him. He was hungry for more.
He read Gandhi. He looked for volunteer opportunities. He started to meditate. And then, when he returned to school, he walked into USC’s Office of Religious Life looking for help. Because he doesn’t believe in God, they steered him to me.
“I don’t care about all that other stuff any more,” he told me during our first meeting. “I just want to feel more alive and connected. I’m not sure how yet, but I know I need to find a way to help people”.
Here’s the thing: I’m a humanist pushover. Spiritually speaking, I fall in love with practically every young person I meet, and as a result I often mistake casual curiosity and politeness for genuine interest and desire, especially in students as immediately charming and articulate as Adrian Saiz. I tend to get all excited, flood them with ideas, suggestions and resources, and scare them away. I’ve gotten better over the years, but with Adrian I pulled out all the stops. Fortunately, he was as eager as he seemed.
All last semester, Adrian came to dinners and SSF meetings. He joined our fall retreat and started some very different friendships. He and some of the other students started feeding the homeless on Thursday nights. Simply stated, Adrian took to proactive humanism like a duck to water, so much so that I wasn’t all that surprised when he came to my office shortly before graduation, wanting to talk about reneging on his fancy job offer in order to search for something more meaningful.
I don’t have all the answers for my young friends here, of course, but I do know lots of good people, including my old friends John and Merline Engle, genuine heroes who love and serve the poorest of the poor in a small village outside of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. By the time Adrian had gracefully let down his would-be employers, John and Merline had agreed to host him for a month, to introduce him to the other side of privilege and offer some guidance as he considers a different kind of life. A few weeks ago, John sent this note:
wow, what a gem! we’ve loved having Adrian and the time is going way too quick!
what a class act he is. love him! and so does my family and everyone else. thanks again Bart. thanks so so much.
When I clicked that link and read Adrian’s words, I cried tears of pride and joy. If you click it too, you’ll see why. Of course, Adrian is just one of the many young humanists I have the privilege of knowing, guiding and learning from here at USC. I look forward doing a better job of sharing our stories with you and helping you see how this new way of talking about love and justice and the surpassing value of relationships really works.
Last Sunday morning Marty and I drove over to Pasadena to hear Bryan Stevenson speak at All Saints Church. I’ve known Bryan since I was a little boy growing up on the campus of Eastern Baptist College and he was one of my father’s all-time favorite sociology students. Bryan went on to Harvard Law School and then moved to Montgomery, Alabama to found the Equal Justice Institute, which provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.
Lately he’s become a strong voice in the conversation about race, poverty, police misconduct and mass incarceration, and I’ve watched with joy as his book, Just Mercy, and his TED talk, We Need to Talk About An Injustice have moved huge numbers of people to genuinely rethink our dominant American narrative.
Listening to Bryan, I was reminded of the power of proximity when it comes to living out our highest values. As long as we keep ourselves apart from the most broken places in our world, we can approach every form of injustice as a social issue, and feel good about ourselves so long as we hold the right opinion and vote the right way on that issue. When we get closer, however, and get to know the individual people who are being neglected and abused by our broken systems, and begin trying to make a difference, things quickly get a whole lot messier, as we discover our own brokenness – and often our own healing – in the midst of the struggle.
Bryan also reminded me of the power of stories, especially when it comes to motivating people to make the kind of sacrifices required to change things for the better. We secularists, and especially those of us who had to find our way out of supernatural religions, are often so enamored with our rational arguments and scientific evidence that we forget what reason and science tell us over and over again, loud and clear: We human beings are emotional animals.