Frank Schaeffer on Cynicism and Paranoia in the “War on Christmas”

December 16, 2014

Fox News’ “War on Christmas” is already in full swing, as Bill O’Reilly wasted no time jumping into battle this year to defend the holiday from the great secular menace. However, it looks like Bill might be able to leave the trenches a little early this year; according to a new Pew survey, just over 70 percent of Americans believe that Jesus was literally birthed from the womb of a virgin (a staggering percentage considering that only one third of Americans report interpreting the Bible as the literal word of god). The question is why are conservative Christians so afraid of losing a fight that in so many ways they’ve already won?

This week on Point of Inquiry, former Evangelical fundamentalist Frank Schaeffer joins us to bring first-hand insight into the irrational fear within fundamentalism, and what it says about their belief system. Schaeffer grew up in a strict Evangelical household in which he was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, Francis August Schaeffer, a founder of what we know today as the Religious Right. Instead, he came to reject the beliefs of his father, but still maintains a place for “the divine.” He has sense spent his life talking about his journey away from the church and has written extensively about belief and religion as a New York Times bestselling author.

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Today’s show is brought to you by Casper, get fifty dollars towards any mattress purchase by visiting Casper Flashpoint and using promo code point. This is point of inquiry for Tuesday, December 16th, 2014. 

I’m Josh Zepps, host of Huff Post Live, and this is the podcast with the Center for Inquiry. 

We were only two days into December 2014 when Bill O’Reilly launched the first of his inevitably numerous harangues railing against the war on Christmas. Meanwhile, one of the worst reviewed movies currently stinking up the Hollywood box office is Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, a film which today’s guest calls a cynical ploy masquerading as a movie. And the opening shot in Fox’s fake war on Christmas pageant. What is it with the war on Christmas? What does Christmas mean? What should it mean? And how should secular people relate to such cultural traditions? How should we structure our lives? Frank Schaefer is a self-described survivor of an evangelical fundamentalist Christian family and the New York Times best selling author who’s written at length about this stuff. His latest book is Why I’m an Atheist Who Believes in God. Frank, thanks for being on point of inquiry yet again. Thanks, Josh. Always good. So you recently wrote an article entitled Kirk Cameron’s Latest Lie, Saving Christmas. Why? 

Well, let’s start with the latest lie. 

I mean, here’s a guy who has been a gay basher who handed out fake doctored books purporting to be Darwin’s origin of the Species on American campuses as a missionary effort where they had emitted whole chapters, doctored certain references, and then inserted fake chapters, arguing a creationist point of view. So Cameron is an idealogue of the worst kind. And in his evangelistic efforts, he’s stooped to anything. 

I mean, these are guys who print Bible tracts calling people to accept Jesus before the apocalypse on the back of fake looking thousand dollar bills. They leave them on sidewalks. People pick them up thinking that they’ve just hit the jackpot. That’s very real looking money, actually. So real. The Secret Service confiscated a bale of these things under their counterfeiting program. You know, so Kirk is someone who flipped. I mean, this is a guy who was just a regular old actor, maybe bright, maybe not bright, but he became a born again Christian and then gravitated toward the most extreme right wing fundamentalist parts of Christianity, hooked up with an absolute loon of an Australian evangelist who even by evangelical standards, is out there. 

I apologize on behalf of my country. 

And now he’s using the entertainment business and his foothold in it to try to bring out these mass popular things like this movie. 

And then Fox News and he are marketing it as a kind of a blow for Christians against atheists and others who are trying to wreck Christmas in this trumped up war on Christmas. So he’s just a symptom of a bigger problem, which I call right wing Christian victimology or paranoia that someone’s out to get me, take away my children, take away Christmas, you know, force me to marry a gay person, whatever nonsense they’re spewing or in the Obama era will take away all our guns. 

And so, you know, the ammo shelves are cleared from in stores coast to coast. It’s not an isolated thing. It’s part of a phenomena. What I what I call the kind of victimology backlash. And this movie is just another piece of that. 

And of course, Fox News knows it’s all bullshit and they just cash in on it again and again and again to, you know, throw a little more red meat to their far right evangelical audience, which is most of their viewers in terms of the fake sense of persecution. 

There was there’s a good flowchart that you can find on Huff Post by Rachel Held Evans, which is I mean, are you being persecuted? Flowcharts In terms of the war on Christmas and at the top of the flowchart, it says, did someone threaten your life, safety, civil liberties or freedom to worship? And if it goes yes, then it says you are being persecuted. And if it says no, then it relates to a box saying, did someone wish you happy holidays? And then it goes, yes, you are not being persecuted. No, you are not being persecuted. Either way, you’re not being persecuted because someone said happy holidays. 

Yes. Speaking of persecution, I mean, the flip side of this is The New York Times this week had an article just happening to mention that the state of Maryland and six other states still have constitutional laws on their books banning an atheist from holding public office. 

Yes, an actual law. Now, no one dares overturn it, even though everybody knows it’s nonsense. 

And they’re never enforced because they fear the backlash of right wing Christians who threw Tea Party candidates and others in Congress would come out with big speeches saying, you see, here’s another persecution of Christians. And, you know, this persecution would be that atheists are given the same right to run for office that everybody else says. 

So here’s a nonsensical, non-enforceable piece of government that no one dares do anything with. 

Even though it’s never enforced and it can’t be enforced because it’s actually unconstitutional. If I read that New York Times article correctly, I think this has been tested in the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court decided, I think, way back in the 70s that that was a religious test for public office. And you couldn’t bar atheists from holding public office or from serving on a jury and so on. But these laws still exist and nobody bothers to get rid of them. So why? I mean, why do you think that we live in a country where if you had that same test against Jews, against Black Pete. All against women. It would immediately be struck off the books as being obviously unconstitutional. But these things still linger around. 

Yeah. The reason why is very simple, because it would take political courage on the part of state governments to remove it from the books. And it’s the same kind of fight that they have over the Confederate flag. Who needs that fight when you’re gonna get primaried in the next election by a Tea Party candidate who says this guy tried to make it easier for atheists and nonbelievers and homosexuals to run for office? It isn’t the law they’re worried about. No one cares less. It’s the fact that no one wants to be branded as somehow sympathetic to non evangelical, non right wing, non white people. It’s the exact look. It’s the same deal that we see in the in the kind of counter attack on the demonstrators who are out there talking about the fact that if you’re choked to death on a New York street and a grand jury doesn’t hand down a ruling even asking for a trial, something’s wrong. Well, a certain type of right wing politician doesn’t want to be seen to be sympathetic to that, not because of that particular instance, but because of how it then plays out in the next election cycle when the Tea Party brands you as sympathetic to criminals instead of supporting your local cop. And this is the same kind of thing. So it’s always rooted in this paranoia, victimology I talked about a moment ago where you’ve got this group of people who are sure they’re under attack and anybody who even reasonably sympathizes with someone on the other side because they divide the country into two distinct haves, us and them become someone you make war on. It’s the same reason all these family values people keep bashing gays. It isn’t because they actually care about the issue. It’s because it is a shorthand way of telling supporters, hey, next time I run for office, you can trust me. 

Let’s just get specific about who we’re talking about here and about these different communities, because I don’t want to overgeneralize. So in a case like we’ve seen with the protests against Eric Garner or Ferguson or something, you have a group of people who may be latently racist but are basically sort of white law and order types, not necessarily religious, sometimes religious. But you I think you find that in almost every country, people who are get tough on crime types. That strikes me as different from people who like when you say that politicians in these states, which still have these flagrantly anti atheist laws on their books, don’t have the courage to stand up against them. That presupposes the existence of a significantly powerful voting bloc that gives a shit about Christianity specifically. And that’s the real question that bemuses me and I think so many secular people. This is a community that you essentially grew up in. Your parents were very influential evangelicals. Can you shed a little bit of light on what that thinking is, that you would actually change your vote because someone was willing to give equal rights to an atheist? 

Yeah, I mean, OK, this is a sort of a plug, but it really is apropos and I can’t avoid it. And that is that’s what my new book, Why I’m an Atheist Who Believes in God is about. The subtitle is How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace. And I talk about my own journey out of this fundamentalist background. You mentioned where my father, Francis Schaffer, in the 70s and 80s became one of the founders of the religious right. And I found myself flying around in Jerry Falwell’s borrowed jet, doing things like giving the keynote speech at the Southern Baptist Convention. 

And I moved from there to being one of Huff Post first bloggers who’s probably written more in support of Barack Obama than anybody else I know and so forth. 

So my own life is a journey away from that kind of thinking and what my book is about when it comes to how to give love, create beauty and find peace is very, very simple. 

For me, it has been by embracing paradox and the fact that this black and white world of absolute certainty is a kind of a prison. In fact, I even talk in the book about the fact that for me, I’ll call it a certainty addiction and your brain there, neural pathways actually readjust. So what these people are all about is something I’ve experienced. And that is since what you believe to be true or say you believe to be true. For instance, the absolute inerrancy of the Bible cannot be tested except in a circular argument where you quote the Bible about the Bible. As soon as you step out of that, it cannot be tested. It falls apart. And so what these folks do is put up defensive walls, whether it’s a home school mom keeping all our kids on the farm, whether it is a preacher railing against gay marriage because he doesn’t want to deal with the issue that maybe people are actually born gay, which then means God made them that way from his point of view, which means that God’s not on his side anymore. These folks live in a world which is shrinking and they are terrified because it isn’t that atheist challenged them. It is that facts challenge them. And that’s what I talk about in my book. 

I talk about the fact that for me, I still consider myself a spiritual person, but not on the basis of these things are true in the sense they can be tested. But they feed my emotional, emotional need. They feed my psychology. And most folks aren’t willing to realize that. And instead they still try to talk. In black and white terms of truth and falsehood, and so rather than deal with issues as they arise, they simply lash out. 

So they try to preclude voices of, say, gay people or atheists or others from being heard in their circles. And every time those folks try to get a hearing. 

These people, these evangelical fundamentalists, of which I was once one hit back by trying to stop the discussion before it starts. And you do that by demonizing your opponent. In other words, to even talk to these guys is seen as bad. And and that’s the kind of exclusion I face. 

For instance, ironically, my father’s book, Frances Schaefers Books still sell in the tens of thousands of copies in the Christian bookstores. And my book, for instance, would probably sell there just because of name recognition. But I’m banned now. That’s fine with me because Barnes and Noble stocks my books and so does Amazon. So what do I care? 

But these guys are so scared of being challenged, even by an author who has a last name that might by chance attract somebody, a true believer, to buy his book, because they might mistake me for my dad that I actually am banned in writing from selling in the Christian bookstores. That is a kind of terrified victimology that we’re talking about. 

It’s peculiar because of all the books they could ban from their Christian bookstores. Yours is not a rant against religion. It’s a book that is primarily about hot, about love, about kinship and connection and how you find it outside of the structures of either religion or indeed kind of rigid Athie ism. You don’t have a lot of time either for certainty on either side. 

In fact, I talk about my correspondence with people like Christopher Hitchens before he died, who I liked very much, by the way, who liked my writing and who wrote to me just saying he was disappointed that I hadn’t joined the new atheist movement, that that’s where he thought I ought to go. And I would write to him much as I write to my old evangelical friends saying, hey, listen, you know, I’ve embraced paradox. I’m not trying to say I’ve got some cosmological, divinely revised, revealed truth here. I want to convert anybody to this is just my personal story. But what’s so odd about these guys, they’re so paranoid that they take a minor player like me and actually banned my writing in writing. 

Somebody leaked a memo that had been sent to a Christianity Day editor. 

That’s the sort of ship, you know, flagship of of evangelical publishing by another editor after my book. 

I am an atheist who believes in God came out. 

Someone sent me a copy of this e-mail in which they had been asked, well, what do we do about Frank Schaefers new book? Question mark. And the exchange went something like this. Well, we’ll just ignore it, because to give it any press whatsoever would simply give it publicity, which makes sense. And they said, you know, he’s a very dangerous person. That was the actual words they use. 

There are young evangelicals who read his work, triple exclamation mark. Now, you know, when you get to the point where you have a sort of a campaign to ban a book within a movement that might attract somebody, God forbid, a young evangelical who might perhaps read it, then you’re talking about people who obviously do not have confidence in what they believe because they don’t want to talk about it. Then they were scared of people like me. You know, they’re not scared of Christopher Hitchens because they can just say, oh, well, he’s new atheist. He hates us. What do you do with a guy like me who still goes to church on Sunday, but who is a friend of the new atheist movement and most of the time sides with the new atheists when it comes to political fights? 

See, someone like me is a problem for these guys. 

Yeah. And you are dangerous to them. I mean, one thing that I find a little bit peculiar is that if the creator of the universe is on their side, it seems a bit puny that someone of your even of your of your eloquence would be able to demolish or distract the young people from the truth that has been spoken by the same force that created the cosmos and created black holes and everything. Like, why is God so vulnerable that they have to be afraid of someone as little as you? 

Because as soon as you say the Bible is literally true and demonstrably it’s not anybody who opens the door to thinking about the fact that maybe a little bit of allegory is involved, maybe a little bit of myth, maybe a little bit of prejudice and misogyny when it comes to the way women are treated and the sort of issues I raise in my book. 

Worse yet, from their point of view, you know, I talk about the fact that I read the stories about Jesus. I see someone who is in opposition exactly to the kind of culture that evangelical right wing leaders propagate. They have a problem with this. And so they never deal with the argument. I mean, the most crazy thing of all was a review of one of my books called Crazy for God, which was a memoir where Christianity Day magazine gave it a review in which the fault they found with the book is that in their terms, I’d committed the sin of Noah’s sons. Now talk about an arcane and obscure reference. But what they were telling people is, you know, there’s the story of Noah’s sons. And when Noah gets drunk after the flood, he’s lying naked and the good sun covers him up with a cape. The bad son looks upon his nakedness. 

So they’re talking about the fact that in my books, like Why I’m an atheist who believes in God, I tell the truth as best I can about my very weird broken family where. 

Where, you know, like everybody else, you know, my father, far from being a paragon of evangelical rectitude, you know, had his own problems, and because I talk about stuff like that, I’m the bad guy. But interestingly enough, Billy Graham, the evangelist, had a daughter named Ruth Graham named for her mom, Ruth. And I got a letter from Ruth after she read my book saying, hey, you know, you’re one of the few people who’ve told the truth about our subculture. More power to you. And then she signed it with a handwritten P.S. We were all sacrificial lambs. 

And what she meant by that was that the evangelical subculture has all these celebrity heroes like my father or Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham. 

Not only did they have feet of clay, you know, entire families were sacrificed to the ministry to try to keep the image up in a way that was completely false. 

And so that’s another reason why these folks don’t like people digging around, because if you look at big time evangelical Christianity, America, basically, it’s a series of personality cults. And so who wants anybody out there who tells the truth about the fact of what most of these personalities are really about? 

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One of the things that your book tries to express is that is the striving for something bigger than ourselves outside of the structure of formal religion. Anyway, I want to touch on Christmas with regards to that, because I love Christmas. I love going to a bar mitzvah. I love being in a Greek Orthodox Church. There a huge kind of overwhelming senses of history and culture and tradition that are wrapped up in a lot of religious stuff that I, as a secular atheist, can look at and get a lot of pleasure from it. I think one of the challenges of the secular movement is finding ways to structure our lives to mock life events like deaths and births and coming of age and weddings in ways that really have meaning and a sense of reaching back into the past and having a lineage and being part of something bigger than ourselves. And I wonder how you think that we should think about things like Christmas since this is Christmas time. In light of that, yeah. 

Well, my point of view is very different than most religious two peoples. And what I talk about in the book is the fact that belief and correct belief is not the point. You know, the illness of evangelical Christianity in the Roman Catholic Church before that was that you had to pass some sort of an exam or God hates you. In other words, if you believe wrong, you’re doomed. You know, there’s another view of these things, though, and it’s very ancient. This isn’t modern or liberal, and that is that the mystery of divinity is something that cannot be quantified. And therefore, to even try to reduce it to a theological system of belief totally misses the point. And in itself is a kind of a blasphemy because you’re saying you can really know something about the creator. So my approach to this is to say, OK, look, you know, belief when you enjoy a Shakespeare play, for instance, is not the point. You don’t have to believe Prospero really existed or that Romeo really existed. To understand what is being said is profoundly true in a nonspecific sense. That just touches on the whole of humanity. So when we look at the kind of hope and beauty in a Christmas service in an Orthodox church or what happens in the week long leading up to something like Easter with all the celebrations. 

The question there isn’t, do I believe in the resurrection of Jesus or do I believe in literal birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and a magic star and three guys on camels bringing gifts and all the paraphernalia that goes with it? 

The point is, do we all have something in common? And I would say, Josh, that you and I have something in common. Whatever we define ourselves as, our labels do not define us. You’re not an atheist, and I’m certainly not a Christian. We’re not even male or female. We are semi evolved human primates who have a weird thing that’s happened to us as we evolved in consciousness about we’re biological machines, but we look at the world and we see meaning and purpose there, which may or may not really be there. It may just be our brain chemistry, but that’s certainly the way we function. And so I would just say to an atheist, look, if you find meaning and beauty in a church, even if it’s being offered you by people who tell you that you’re lost, if you don’t believe in it, it’s still yours in exactly the same way that I can go to the museum and look at a terrific friend, Jellico painting. I don’t have to be a 15th or 16th century monk kneeling in front of an altar to understand it. I can understand it on my own level, and that is this common sense of human beings through history, striving for meaning and beauty and purpose in their lives. 

To me, that is enough. 

And the result of this kind of thing can be that it leads to us becoming the kind of people who have a sort of richness of the soul which allows us to actually do something much more important than believe correctly. 

And that is to share empathy with other people in a way that actually changes the way we treat others. And so I’d say if religious experience doesn’t lead to that, then it’s horrible. If it does, I don’t care how it comes labeled or whether someone believes or doesn’t believe, you know, join the party. Why not? It belongs to you as much as it belongs to anybody else. 

You used the term the mystery of divinity for a lot of atheists. There is no mystery. It was where’s the mystery? There’s no evidence for a supernatural dictator who created the universe. And Piers in on our thoughts and oversees us and judges whether or not we’re good or bad and we’ll send us to hell or heaven. So what do you mean by the mystery of divinity? 

I mean, this conversation you and I are having right here via Skype before Christmas, an atheist and someone who struggles with spirituality, who writes a book called Why I’m an Atheist who believes in God talking sincerely and honestly. 

To me, the divinity is in you and me. It isn’t anything to do with an outside power. It is that you are a biological machine. And I am, too. And yet we are struggling over ideas here, which cannot be made sense and strictly in biological terms. That’s what I mean by the mystery. 

Look, a neuro of a neuroscientist or a physicist who believes in evolution and a chance beginning to the human race, coming out of inert matter, still goes home and says to their little girl when he or she picks her up. I love you. 

And they mean the same thing I do by it. And it has nothing to do with my theology or a belief in some creator. It has to do with who we are. So let’s instead of trying to pass the mystery. Of our own existence, which combines this divine spark that you and I share in that we look at the world through spiritual eyes. 

Just the fact you talk about going into a church and finding beauty there sometimes as an atheist, if that’s not a divine spark. I don’t mean proof of a divinity. I mean in you. So use some other word. Let’s call it consciousness or empathy or as I do in my book, call it the empathy time bomb that was placed in history by Jesus and other people who said, let’s treat people as we’d like to be treated. I don’t care what it’s called, but this is certainly way past mere biology and neuroscience. Those are hard, cold ways of describing something far deeper. So it is like looking at art and seeing nothing but pigment on a canvas. Yeah, but you step back and something another picture emerges or as I talk about in my book, a sense of an offstage presence. Now, whether you believe in that presence or not is not the point. The point is we all feel it in our own lives, and it’s that longing to make more out of a day than simply the sum of its parts. 

In the past 100 years, the rise in secularism or I guess in agnosticism, an atheist or more correctly, has been astonishing. It was looking at some stats the other day. You know, you’ve gotten rich, educated countries now like Japan and Scandinavian countries, where 60 to 80 percent of the population don’t believe in God. You’ve got countries like Australia and Canada where the turn of the 20th century, the number of self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics was just a rounding error. And now a third of the population claims to be atheist. And if you actually dig into the beliefs of the remaining two thirds, a lot of them don’t really believe any of the bunkum either. Do you think that over the course of coming decades and maybe centuries, we will find a way to evolve out of the rigid religious conceptions that you’re talking about? Or I mean, if you took a snapshot of the world at the moment with ISIS and evangelical fundamentalists in America, you must be a little bit more pessimistic and think that religion is just always going to be with us tearing us apart. 

No, I I’m more optimistic than that. But I would add something and that is that the success of Athie ism, if you want to put it that way, is going to have to be like Denmark. 

And I don’t mean to be devil’s advocate here, but without the empathy bomb that Jesus set off in history when it came to empathy, you would not have Danish secular bureaucrats making sure everybody got health care and there was clean water and children could go to good schools, whether they were poor or rich and women had six months off for pregnancy leave and so forth. The best evidence for some of the best spiritual teaching, I won’t call it religious, is its secular application. 

So the greatest and strongest secularism will be that that doesn’t slam the door on our human past. You know, that’s one reason I hate minimalist art. It it acts as if it’s the first thing that ever happened. And no one ever painted a picture before. Marcel Duchamp hung a urinal on the wall and everybody else started copying them and nothingness became de jure. The fact is, look, we’re all linked. 

And so, you know, the best Acey is I’m unashamedly hooke’s to the empathy of people like Jesus and Gandhi and others who who did have a sense of divinity property more literally than you and I do. And I’d say the same thing when it comes to spirituality. The best AC ism will be one that I unashamedly embraces this mysterious spiritual essence that we all have. And I would go even further and say a lot of the backlash, whether it’s ISIS or crazy gay bashing American evangelicals, comes from the fact of a paranoid sort of sense that their day is passing. 

But if we want to really be truthful in these discussions, we have, let’s admit something. 

And this is where I get off the boat with people like Richard Dawkins. I don’t think every evil on earth comes from from religious belief. I think it comes from the fact that we are semi evolved human primates that still have terrible residual things left over from our evolutionary process of survival that make us violent and horrible. You can say that’s the fault of religion or you can say it’s the fault of Athie ism when it comes to Stalin or Mao Tse tung or something. It isn’t. These are just the labels we give a human primate behavior, which is gradually changing. 

And let’s let’s work on that and not care whether the sources are saying of Jesus or Confucius or Karl Marx or Josh Zepps. Let’s just take it where we can find it. 

In the same way that when we look at art and creativity, what’s the point of saying, you know, using words like modernism or saying painting is dead and now we all have to do conceptual stuff? Look, you know, I’ll take a good friend Jellico over a bad piece of conceptual art any day. And I don’t care that he was a monk who believe things I don’t believe. Let’s look for the humanity and the decency and the kind of future we want, where we can get it and stop worrying about the labels. And people say, well, how can you write a book called Why I’m an Atheist who believes in God? Well, one of the reasons is I’m anti labeling and I’m trying to deliberately be provocative and say, hey, listen, it’s like trying to define the word love. If you’re in a relationship, sometimes love just means you make up after a fight and hate your partner a little less than you did in the morning. Another time, it means sweet sexual activity and other time it brings a cup of coffee in bed. The word has many definitions and I think the same goes for belief in AC ism and all these points. It depends on the day you catch most of us. You know, we wear these labels as if they’re facts. Yet we all go through life as a journey, changing our minds. 

Let’s just embrace the paradox and be. We are. Forget the labels for a while and actually work on the kind of world we’d rather have. 

I love the sentiment of tearing down labels and not going into bat for a team. But I just want to push back on on the idea that moral secular societies like Denmark would be impossible without religious moral philosophy. I mean, I can think of countless secular chaffe moral philosophers from Konsta Hume to John Stuart Mill to generals. You know, the list goes on to Spinoza. I tend to think of our Guillou moral philosophy as coming out of those philosophers and it being religion’s job to play catch up and to try to constantly squint and reinterpret their holy texts through the prism of an advancing moral sensibility that is actually fundamentally secular. 

You know what? I’m afraid I agree with you, but the way I would put it is this. That agenda will not be advanced if we try to pass out who the good guys and bad guys are based on, whether we agree with all their beliefs. 

So, for instance, when it comes to what we read in the New Testament about Jesus. Evangelicals always say, well, Jesus said, well, of course, Jesus didn’t say anything. He people wrote things down. They said he said it’s all derivative, but then so is all of history. 

The thing is, what we’ve got to do is when I when I talk about getting away from the labels or I talk about the Christian background to a place like Denmark, I’m just simply talking about the historical chain of events. And, you know, hey, if the modern Communist Party in China can realize that it has an empty spiritual hole in the middle of its new capitalism and is reaching back to try to reconnect Confucius, that impulse to try to find your roots is there. And many people. And so I think I say what I say about Jesus, not because this is some sort of revealed truth, but simply because I’m a creature of my moment. 

That’s the kind of family I was raised in. Look, belief, whether it’s atheist or Christian or Buddhist or Hindu or whatever, is 99 percent circumstances. 

It isn’t clever conclusions we’ve drawn. If you and I were had been the sons of an imam in Riyadh in the 15th century, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’re having it because we’re in the West. You read some books. I’ve read some books. This is our moment in time. Why do I talk about Jesus? Not because this is some special thing that’s revealed to me, but because I happen to be raised in an evangelical family. It’s the baggage of my past. And if I was somewhere else, you know, a 10th century Chinese person, I’d be having a different discussion. So I think you’re right. Yes, secularizing impulse comes from this kind of humanistic thrust that came out of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and carried on from there. 

And I write about that in the book. 

On the other hand, why should someone like me and millions like me be ashamed of and try to slam the door on the better parts of the traditions from which we come or have to explain ourselves? You know, the other day someone asked me, why do you still go to church? And I was being a little bit of a smart ass, but I looked at him and I said, Well, hey, because that’s how my mom raised me. 

You got a problem with that? And the fact is, if we’re honest about it, all of us, it is those circumstances of our lives which actually dictate so much more of who we are. 

I mean, take Christopher Hitchens, you know, if you read his books or have the chance to talking with him a little, as I did before he died on a couple of phone calls, he’ll be very honest and say a lot of his reaction against Christianity came from his own boarding school experiences in Great Britain. 

Well, what’s wrong with that? What other world was he supposed to be living in? If a Christian came back and said, well, that’s arbitrary and not fact based? Well, find me the life that doesn’t come from somewhere, and then I’ll find you someone who lives outside of our cosmos. I mean, we’re all who we are. 

Frank, I’m glad you weren’t born in the 10th century China or 15th century Rihad today so that I can have conversations like this with you. It’s always a pleasure. You have a happy and safe Christmas. Thanks for being on point of inquiry. Thanks so much. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.