May 23, 2018
Welcome everyone to episode 204 of the Everyone’s Agnostic podcast. I’m Cass Midgley. Today, Dr. Bob Pondillo I interview Raymond Gilford. Raymond Gilford was born in Austin, Texas and lived there until age 11 when he moved with his parents to Fallbrook, California in 1974 at age 11. His grandfather was a Baptist preacher but his parents didn't force it on him as a child. Like some of us who took Christianity more serious than our parents, Raymond converted to Christianity in 1983 as a college sophomore and stayed in the faith for over thirty years, studying Greek and Hebrew and teaching Sunday School. But it was Christianity that oversold itself and Raymond slowly saw through its preposterous claims. Today he works as a proofreader and copy editor in Austin, Texas.
We taped this conversation on May 6th, 2018. We interview people you don’t know, about a subject no one wants to talk about. We hope to encourage people in the process of deconstructing their faith and help curb the loneliness that accompanies it. We think the world is a better place when more people live by sight, not by faith. Please subscribe to our podcast, and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, we offer these podcasts freely. And your support truly makes a difference. You can support us monetarily in two easy ways: you can pledge a monthly donation through Patreon. that’s www.patreon.com/eapodcast, or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website, www.everyonesagnostic.com.
Mountain of Ignorance" intro by Hank Green https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3v3S82TuxU
The music behind it is "Never Know" by Jack Johnson
The segue music on this episode is "Release It" by Afro Celt Sound System, one of Raymond's favorite bands.
Thanks for listening, and be a yes-sayer to what is.
For Raymond, the beginning of wisdom wasn’t faith, or the fear of God. It was concrete thinking. Growing up, and for just about all his life he’s looked for the world to make sense, and he’s been disappointed when it hasn’t, perhaps this is why he looked for a source of justice or purpose in the universe. Like pretty much everyone he just wanted to get paid. He wanted to get laid. And he always found the church to be a frustrating mesh through which he was expected to filter his desires.
In this conversation, we hear that Raymond always had a problem with the concept of Jesus dying for his sins. He couldn't square that with the logic and reason that plagued his intelligent mind. Eventually that square peg just couldn't be forced into the round hole, the alleged god-shaped-hole in his heart and he walked away.
I want to do something here that may be triggering for some of you. I typed into the search of YouTube "the best presentation of the gospel" and the first one to come up was John Piper. Now, when I was a Christian, I loved me some John Piper. I had cassette tapes of John Piper. Piper is a brilliant man. Which is good because I want the gospel to be represented by the best in this little experiement. The second video to come up was Matt Chandler, the third was Ravi Zacharias; both of whom are smart, well-versed preachers. Chandlers was a little too emotional; Ravi's was too cerebral. Piper's is good blend of both. So I"m going to play a 4 minute presentation of the gospel by John Piper, followed by a 4 minute refute of the gospel by Christopher Hitchens. Hitch is so dear to my heart. Hitch is truly one of the top 5 heroes on my lifelong list of heroes. And Piper used to be.
But I wanted to show the juxtaposition that Raymond faced, then tension he experienced for 30 years. Here it is: first John Piper, then Christopher Hitchens.
So that was Pastor John Piper, certainly not a spokesman for all the hundreds of Christianities but he's one of their big shots, especially with a Calvinistic leaning. Up next is a man I hold very dear to my heart and miss him greatly, Christopher Hitchens with a critique of the Christian gospel.
Many of us hung onto the gospel that didn't make sense to a deeply hidden part of us. Why? Because of the community. I think that's foremost over the fear of Hell. Deep down, we didn't believe in Hell because we couldn't fathom it. Nobody believes in Hell. No one can fathom eternal anything, let alone eternal suffering. Our brains just can't go there. What we do believe in...what we do understand is the friends and community that we experience right in front of us, each week. The third reason we clung to an absurd, even immoral gospel, was probably our deep need for the world to make sense, for our fear of death and meaninglessness to be silenced by a master narrative that gave us the peace we so desperately craved.
And so here we find ourselves. Especially those of us who walked right into Christianity before our adult minds could scrutinize it. It latched onto us until, as awakening adults, we scraped it out of our bones with knives and chisels. And began our pilgrimage back to our lost self, rebuilt our personal agency, said yes to our reality and what it means to be ourselves and carved out a path forward to find an honest meaning to our existence and a morality that came from within shaped by our values we forged from our own hearts.
This is what Raymond did...and is doing. It's a life's work, really, and many of us are hard at it. But we've found that there's freedom and joy and strength--true strength--in ourselves. A strength that Piper denied existed and said, out loud mind you, couched in the presentation of good news that we would never, never, never, outgrow the need to preach to ourselves our wretchedness apart from Christ's redemptive work on the cross to vicariously make us loveable to a supposedly loving god. In a moment where one of Christianity's best is presenting Christianity's best news and the point he drove home the hardest and raised his voice the most was when he chose to emphasize the absolute hopeless impotence of being a human being, never out from under the need of a savior, day in and day out for eternity. No thank you. As one who devoted my life to Christianity, the first 40 years, and now on the outside, no promise of eternal bliss or threat of eternal torture would move me to give up my hard earned self-love, my acceptance of reality, and the restoration of my personal agency. Like our guest Raymond, I wanted Christianity to be true but in the end it just didn't hold water or even pass the laugh test. Now we're free, empowered, responsible, back on a path of maturation, and happy as one might be in a meaningless universe.