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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.

Aug 18, 2018

Welcome everyone to episode 215 of the Everyone’s Agnostic podcast. I’m Cass Midgley. Today, my guest is James Exline.

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,  or leave a lump-sum donation through PayPal at our website,

James is a coffee zealot and self-proclaimed coffee snob who is a former jesus follower who became a pastor who was not only derailed by his own cognitive dissonance and loss of faith but his abusive childhood and his mother's solution of feeding him into obesity by age 3, James retained, at no easy feat, to keep his integrity, agency and self-respect to go on to serve at a drug and alcohol treatment center. Today he's an atheist and humanist. Overcoming decades of self-hatred and endless bullying, he is in recovery himself from alcohol, opioid and food addictions, he is passionate about helping fellow addicts and alcoholics obtain better lives through sobriety—this time sans god.

James has written memoirs chronicling his journey from faith to atheism; those memoirs and more can be read on his blog He is also a contributing author at and currently works as a barista at Starbucks while he works on certifications to return to work in the addiction treatment industry.

We taped this conversation on July 21st, 2018. The intro music is by Dave Weckl called "Just Groove Me" Thanks for listening, and be a yes-sayer to what is.

Cog Dis : the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. you either give in to it and let it keep your world upside down, or you listen to it and reject the nonsense.

Upside down. I'm not trying to boast here, but all my life I've been a softie. As a young boy I once shot a Robin out of a tree with a BB gun. I went to his broken body on the ground, picked him/her up, petted her, wept and buried her.  I've only ever wanted people to just get along. I hate estrangement of any kind, let alone war and hatred. I hate separation of any kind, especially the kind that gives a person licence to benefit at another's expense. It was the Love I was presented in Jesus in God that I bought into. It was the peace-maker Jesus. We know now that if you have a good heart, that the good-hearted Christianity will appeal to you and make you an even better person, because a good person is always looking, whether they know it or not, for those things that will augment the good in their own hearts and in the world. If you're a person with deep-seeded pain that you've not dealt with, talked through, worked through, then bitterness, resentment, fear, self-pity, victimhood and self-dislike or distrust is going to draw you to the mean-spirited Christianity. We humans don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. If toxicity is running through our hearts and minds, then our insecurity will drive us to find things that confirm the skewed lens through which we interpret the world, not confront it. But Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg said, "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion." Weinberg points to a phenomenon that truly turns things upside down. An otherwise good-hearted person can find themselves thinking, saying, and doing things so inconsistent with their original goodness by giving their freedom and agency to dogmas that flip their morals upside down. Devotion to the wrong things produces devotion to wrong things and it breeds in on itself. We become what we admire. And like all successful scams, they pull your naive, gullible good self in with goodness and then slowly turn things upside down the moment they recognize that you've lost your bearings. And before you know it, you become what you used to hate. Stockholm syndrome. One thing I say when people ask why I left Christianity, its because I somehow mustered enough conscience and agency to spot it. To spot what I was becoming. For me, it was 9-11. For some more recently, it's been the evangelical support of Trump. It's noticing cog dis when you see it. Christians that hate Sharia Law wanting our schools, cop cars, and money to say, "In Allah we trust," and to impose Biblical law on non-bible adhering fellow citizens.  It's Christian racists. Christian anti-education. Christian misogyny. Until some of us began to wonder, "are these betrayals of Christianity or loyalties to Christianity?

Some years ago, the psychologist Albert Bandura listed eight mental tricks people play to disengage their consciences so they can perform the acts of violence they would normally abhor. I present them now with some commentary from Kent Shifferd, a Ph.D. History Professor with over 30 years experience studying Peace:

  1. Moral Justification: one is persuaded, for example, that killing the enemy serves a higher moral purpose such as protecting one’s country or serving God’s plan, etc.
  2. Euphemistic Labeling: people mask the true nature of behavior they know is unethical, such as labeling “enhanced interrogation” for torture, “servicing the target” for shooting the enemy, and “disinformation” for lying.
  3. Advantageous Comparison: as in “What I am doing is not as bad as what they are doing.”
  4. Displacement of Responsibility: Uncritically following orders, as in the Nazi concentration camp workers or SS execution squads.
  5. Diffusion of Responsibility: when a whole group decides on the unethical action or when the action is divided into many subparts, for example, the building of nuclear weapons. (“All I do is assemble this little electronic part.” Or, “I’m just driving a truck bring supplies—I don’t shoot anybody.”)
  6. Disregard or Distortion of Consequences: for example, when harm is inflicted at a distance (as in officers in Montana who guide drones that make “bug splats” in Afghanistan) or dropping bombs from a plane on “targets” even though women and children and old men are being killed below.
  7. Dehumanization: labeling the victims of one’s violence as non- or subhuman, as in calling Vietnamese people “slants” and “gooks” during that war, or Germans “Huns” in WWI, or Arabs “towel heads” and “sand niggers” in the First Gulf War.
  8. Attribution of Blame: or blaming the victim who is seen as deserving the mistreatment or seen as having brought it on themselves. For example, “These German civilians we are killing below should not have voted for Hitler; therefore they are to blame for our bombings.

One of the great dangers of letting one's morality get turned upside down, is our brains can trick us into thinking everything's fine, everything is right side up. Not only ideologically, but literally.

In the middle of the 20th century, an Austrian professor turned a man's eyesight exactly upside-down, but after a short time, the man adjusted and could function as normal. Professor Theodor Erismann, of the University of Innsbruck, devised the experiment, performing it upon his assistant and student, Ivo Kohler. The professor had Kohler wear a pair of hand-engineered goggles. Inside those goggles, specially arranged mirrors flipped the images that would reach Kohler's eyes, top becoming bottom, and bottom top.

At first, Kohler stumbled wildly when trying to grasp an object held out to him, navigate around a chair, or walk down stairs. In a simple fencing game with sticks, Kohler would rise his stick high when attacked low, and low in response to a high stab. Holding a teacup out to be filled, he would turn the cup upside down the instant he saw the water apparently pouring upward. The sight of smoke rising from a match, or a helium balloon bobbing on a string, could trigger an instant change in his sense of which direction was up, and which down.

But over the next week, Kohler found himself adapting, in fits and starts, then more consistently, to such sights.  After 10 days, he had grown so accustomed to the invariably upside-down world that, paradoxically and happily, everything seemed to him normal, rightside-up. Kohler could do everyday activities in public perfectly well: walk along a crowded sidewalk, even ride a bicycle.

Erismann and Kohler did further experiments. So did other scientists. Their impression is that many, perhaps most, maybe just about all, people are able to make these kinds of adjustment. Images reach the eye in some peculiar fashion, and if that peculiar fashion is consistent, a person's visual system eventually, somehow, adjusts to interpret it — to perceive it, to see it — as being normal. Kohler writes that, "after several weeks of wearing goggles that transposed right and left, one person "became so at home in his reversed world that he was able to drive a motorcycle through Innsbruck while wearing the goggles". This automatic, almost-effortless adaptation to visual weirdness is one of many bizarre things that brains do that scientists simply do not understand.

Like many of us ex-Christians, my guest today, James Exline, started listening to and giving credence to, his own head-scratching cognitive dissonances. We took off our metaphorical goggles that had flipped everything and we realized we'd been dooped. However, since we'd been wearing the goggles for so long, our brains had to correct the adaptation they'd adopted. By taking the goggles off, we were seeing reality--things as they really are--but now normal seemed upside down. It was probably due to this alarming revelation that some of us quickly put the goggles back on, saying, "I don't care if my world is not real, I'm not ready to have my world turned upside down." For those of us on whom the goggles where placed at an early age, we'd never really seen the world as it is. And it's scary. Probably the very reason that the goggles were invented at all.  

I want to trust the convictions of the boy in me who regretted killing that Robin. I want to believe myself when I tilted my head at the Noah's ark story, or Jesus saying he came not to bring peace but a sword. I want to be wary of my own propensity to justify violence when I'm coming from a place of fear or victimhood. One thing I love about James' story and so many of these deconversion stories, is that we all know tons of people who will go to their grave believing in the inverted world of Christianity, and some of us feel grateful that if not for the grace of honesty, there go I. There is a resilient human spirit that will not be snuffed out by the Bible. James, like many of us, found that his devotion to Christian doctrine brought out the lower angels of his nature, which ironically only intensified the self-hatred willed to him by his father. His fight out of the dumps to eventually develop an endearing fishing partnership with his aging father is a product of James trusting his own heart--his good heart--that was good all along, despite what the Bible told him so.