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Everyone's Agnostic Podcast

Cass & Marie 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.

Jan 13, 2018

Cass Midgley and Bob Pondillo interview Derreck Bennett. Derreck is the author a book entitled, Addictus, which is a word for someone who is a debt slave; a person who has been bound as a slave to his creditor. Derrick agrees with step 1 of the 12 steps that he is powerless over alcohol but most AA groups take that powerlessness to a degree in which Derreck found counterintuitive. As an atheist fascinated by religion and philosophy, Derreck has studied extensively to glean a comprehensive understanding of the history and origins of religion. His story is both tragic and inspiring as he models how to overcome nihilism and create a life for himself after hopelessness. He was raised believing John 3:16 literally, that believers were immortal in every sense of the word--even their bodies would not die. Imagine the cog diss when his father and mother both died. It's no wonder he  tried to anesthetize his pain through alcohol.

Raw nihilism is the belief that everything is meaningless. It's extreme form argues that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. That level of nihilism could produce a depressing hopelessness and despair. But a lite version of it could actually produce hope and happiness. Like the old bumper sticker, Life's a Bitch and then you die. I think these are truths that can set us free.

As argued in his book, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker says that most humans work very hard to suppress the awareness of their own impending death. But I have found that when I do the opposite--I keep it at the fore of my awareness--then I actually value more the people and circumstances of my otherwise banal life. After all, if I'm alive to experience them, it means I didn't die today and that's a tremendous realization. If it's simply good to be alive, then even the worst day is at least a day--something I'm experiencing and any judgment I place on it feels like entitlement.
I don't do this, but what if we started each day saying to ourselves, "I could die today," instead of hiding that fact from ourselves. The "life's a bitch" part is similar. I think it's worth saying out loud and to ourselves every day, "life is hard." Not in a self-pitiful way, but just as a check-in to make sure we've not slow and sneaky buried our heads in the sand. There's not one human on this planet that doesn't take a beating from this existence on a regular basis. It's going to get you and HAS been getting you your entire life. Nothing can stop it from hurting us and fucking with us. As a species we work hard to mitigate our pain and suffering, but no amount of our money, medicine, religions, science, self-help, exercise, entertainment, culture, travel, drugs, alcohol, sex, technology nor fancy foods can prevent it from kicking our asses on a regular basis. All races, religions, nationalities, ethnicities, genders, rich or poor all feel the pain of being human. Life is hard. No one comes through unscathed. I'm not saying "get over it." I'm not saying "buck it up." I'm not even saying, "stop whining." I'm just saying two universal truths: life is hard and it could end today. Yeah, the hardness of life and our unavoidable impending deaths are unambiguous and self-evident. Usually such things should go without saying. But given how hard we try to drown out the constant dull hum of those truths, we would do well to instead pump up the volume and let honesty breed its best offspring: a jovial carefree acceptance of this amazing consciousness we're all experiencing.

I posted a meme this week that said, "Actions prove who someone is. Words just prove who they want to be." I like devices like this, that cut through ambiguity; that shine like a flashlight on that which is otherwise murky. I like how this particular axiom looks to the evidence to know something. It's an example of living by sight, not by faith. But I wonder if people aren't a little too complicated for bumper sticker size slogans to fully capture the nuances of being human. For example, if my mother saw me flipping off my best friend or heard me cuss she might use that line of thinking--that actions identify a person--to judge me as having poor character. And she would be wrong. In this case, I would she fulfill 2 Corinthians 5:7 and actually use her faith in my character to overrule what only sight might determine.

When I posted that meme, on old friend of mine from back in Oklahoma commented. He's a Christian. In fact, I once looked to him as a spiritual director in my life. I've had many good mentors in my life. His name is Mike Shaw if any of you have ever seen him chime in with his Christian rhetoric. He's really a great guy--just totally and irreversibly brainwashed in the Jesus-stuff. But when he read the meme, "Actions prove who someone is. Words just prove who they want to be," he wrote, "Not necessarily! If their words are truth then actions will eventually follow. The heart must have a truth infusion before their tree can bare apples!" Which actual affirms the axiom. I'm reminded of the saying, "what you think about expands," or another version of that comes from The Secret, "what you think about you bring about." And although I don't believe there's anything supernatural or magical about that or that we have the ability to think something into existence, I'm convinced that how we frame things is very powerful and can tremendously influence our attitudes, moods, emotions, and ultimately our lives. A few other mystical scriptures come to mind: "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." (people used to use that to point out my wicked heart because of my foul mouth. Which by the way, we cuss on this show quite a bit, I guess, and I just have to say that the vowels and consonants one chooses to form sounds that symbolize meaning is, in and of itself, amoral. What makes a sentence immoral is the content and the intent, not the form or packaging by which it is delivered). Anyway, "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" has always meant to me that when a person talks, they reveal what's in there heart. Which is another way that the meme I posted is inadequate in capturing human complexity. The meme says "actions prove who someone is. Words just prove who they want to be." Whereas if this scripture is true, "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks," then we can also know who someone is by some of the words they speak; especially if they grumble and complain a lot, or talk about their own achievements a lot. In that case, we might assess that they lacked praise and affirmation as a child and are now compensating for that deficit as an adult. Another scripture that may contribute to this topic is Romans 4:17, which refers to God as "one who calls forth that which is not as though it were." Or calls things into being from nothing. Now, as I mentioned, I don't believe in magical powers or even that things happen for a reason. As a matter of fact, if something happens that you've been thinking about, I believe its pure coincidence. 100%. However, if you've actually been doing something that would increase the potential for something to happen, then if and when it does, you can know that your actions and your words, that sprang from heart, brought about something that would not have happened had you not got off your ass, trusted your own heart and desire, spoke to yourself and others about how you could help bring that thing about, these are that which changed the world, altered history, and opened up opportunities in your life.

Also, the framing of your reality plays a big role in influencing your emotional health. When it comes to that which you cannot change, placing yourself in a posture of acceptance allows one to adjust and accommodate even one's mistakes as something one learned from rather something to be ashamed of. One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes is, "Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it."

Because today's guest, Derreck Bennett talks openly about his alcoholism and his experience with the 12 step program, he references the Serenity Prayer. Which he reinterprets from a secular perspective and is some pretty good shit, such as follows:

"May I grant myself the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking this flawed world as it is, not as I would have it; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with myself."

We taped the following conversation with Derreck Bennett on January 6th, 2017. 
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.

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Thanks for listening and be a Yes-sayer to what is. :) 

"Towering Mountain of Ignorance" intro by Hank Green
Intro bumper "Never Know" by Jack Johnson
The segue music on this episode was created Hans Zimmer from the movie Interstellar

Derreck's links:

Atheologica and Atheomedy:

Bart Ehrman's blanket denial of dying and rising gods in antiquity:

And the following two specifically address mythicism: