Susan Jacoby on Conversions, Both Profound and Practical

May 31, 2016

In the literature about religious conversion, embracing a new faith is usually explained as being a profound and magical experience. A flash of light, a near death experience, an emotional new beginning; these are all common themes in religious conversion stories. But what about the less flashy stories of people who change their religious affiliation simply for reasons of practicality?

Point of Inquiry welcomes back bestselling, award-winning author Susan Jacoby to discus her new book, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, an exploration of the cultural, political and secular forces driving religious conversion in the western world. Jacoby argues that while spiritual revelation may be a motivator for some, the majority of religious conversions are far more often due to the secular components of an individual’s life.

Susan Jacoby was honored with a Center for Inquiry Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, and formerly served as the program director of CFI’s New York City branch.

This is point of inquiry for Tuesday, May thirty, first 2016. 

On Josh Zepps. And this is the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. You can find out more about all the great work that sort of inquiry does by visiting Center for Inquiry Dot Net. And you can hear more of my work on the podcast. 

We do. People live at WTOP Live dot com. This week, Susan Jacoby. She is one of the titans of American activism, born two days before D-Day. I found out she became a reporter for The Washington Post and she was actually a correspondent inside the USSR at the height of the Cold War. But in recent decades, she’s written a string of bestselling books like Freethinkers A History of American Secularism, The Age of American Unreason and Wild Justice, The Evolution of Revenge, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Jacoby is a recipient of the Atheist Alliance International’s Richard Dawkins Award, and her latest book is Strange Gods A Secular History of Conversion. 

So I think one of the big questions in religion and sort of atheistic thought at the moment is the extent to which religion is a spiritual and psychological and theological thing at a personal level. 

And to what extent it’s sort of culturally shaped. I think this has come to the fore lately because of ISIS and the debate around militant Islam. Like what is causing these things? You have some people saying, well, it’s basically politics and Islam is just a I don’t know, a philosophy that can be shoehorned into responding to terrestrial grievances. And then there are other people who say, no, no, these are actual spiritual experiences that these people are having. And your book comes at such a timely time because it goes back and tries to disentangle what is spiritual and psychological versus what is the product of culture and society. What’s your conclusion? 

Well, here’s what I think. I mean. I mean, first of all, particularly in the United States and England in particular, and to some extent in Australia, in Canada as well, we tend to think of conversion in solely as an individual experience because the people who write about their conversions, which is the only way we know about the inner experience of conversion, they tend to be interesting personalities. They tend to be powerful personalities. Whether you’re talking about a guston in the 4th century A.D. or ACG, if you want to be politically correct or if you’re talking about somebody today, like Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, is unusual people and often unusually interesting people who write about their conversion experiences. So the tendency, because we only know about the inner experience from people who write about it, is to think of it mainly as a spiritual experience. But what I’m saying is, is while in no way denying that there are many people who are religious converts for whom it is a spiritual experience, it is also a social, a cultural, a political experience. And this is particularly true in areas of mass conversion. Significant numbers of conversions, which is what I tend to concentrate on in my book. In other words, the victory of Christianity in the dying Roman Empire was, you know, huge masses of people converted from paganism to Christianity. The Reformation, with what had been one form of Christendom in the West, converted, turned into many forms of Christendom and even the United States today, which has the highest rate of conversion in the developed world. Well, actually, Canada and Australia were pretty close to when. There are lots and lots of conversions in the society. The social reasons become more important simply because and not because. Although there are some periods like the Inquisition, when they’re forced conversions and people have no choice, it’s either convert or be thrown out of where you are or be tortured or killed. But much more common is the fact that what other people are doing around you is what people tend to do. So many conversions in large numbers have had their own impetus. Your neighbor converts, you find out something about this. 

And also the biggest secular factor in conversion in history is intermarriage, no matter how much clergy of every religion try to prevent it. Once you put young men and young women together, some of them fall in love and a lot of them convert just to please their spouse or their spouses family, period. 

You mentioned that there’s a large number of conversions in the United States and Canada and Australia. Is that including figures about people who are converting away from religion into secularism or theism or I guess. 

So, you know, it doesn’t really, although there are some studies that included, but most of them really don’t. And I I honestly in general don’t consider conversion from a religion of a change from being religiously raised to be an agnostic or an atheist. It’s not usually. And you almost never hear when people write about how they became atheists. It’s usually kind of a slow process of slipping away from whatever they’ve been taught in childhood. You don’t you know, when it when many of you read something by an atheist, you know, as you read so many conversion stories saying, you know, they heard a clap of thunder or saw a bright light in the sky and and suddenly they realized there was no God. 

This is very you know, this is very rare, though. Yeah. That’s because we use reason instead of superstition. 

It’s more it’s slipping away. I mean I mean, I’ve talked to so many people who were raised religiously and they just over a period of time, what they were being taught just began not to make sense to them for a whole variety of reasons sometimes. In my case, I was raised a Catholic, although not by very devout parents. I have to say. But what I was taught in Catholic school, all this stuff about the Holy Trinity and that kind of thing. I remember once when I asked a question about it in class, I said, well, you know, why is it a trinity? Why? Why isn’t it a shamrock? And they used to that. Why isn’t it a four leaf clover? Because the nuns always used to use the example to explain the trinity of the Shamrock. There were three leaves, but it was one shamrock. 

Yeah. Yeah. 

This begi and not to make sense to me at an early age. And and just think people think that children don’t think about things like this. And obviously adult when you’re six or seven years old. But I certainly by the time I was like in fifth or sixth grade, I began to think about some of these things and, you know, and they didn’t make sense. You know, how could a woman have a baby and still be a virgin? That kind of that that kind of thing. I began to think about Atah at a fairly early age. Now, I do make an exception to this generalization. I think that when Athie ism, particularly in particular, is combined with an evidence proof political ideology, Stalinist communism is the obvious example. The attraction of so many American and British and European intellectuals to communism, specifically to Stalinist communism in the 1920s and 1930s, was an example of a substitution of one evidence proof ideology for another. And that when you read about people who are former communists, people like Arthur Kessler, who write about their experiences, they do describe their initial discovery of communism as a kind of conversion, as the one big thing that explains everything. So I make an exception for that. In other words, when you combine Athie ism with another evidence, proof, secular ideology, you get something that is much more like a religious conversion. 

What do you qualify? You’re using the term evidence. Proof? What is evidence? Proof. 

Evidence. Proof is when what we would call reality. The material world science shows that what you think is wrong, but you don’t pay any attention to it at all. I’ll give you a good example of it. If you look at, for instance, many people left the Communist Party who had been convinced converted communist Stalinist. They left the Communist Party in 1939 with the Nazi Soviet non-aggression pact because one of the things that communism was selling was the idea of peace on earth. Then the equality know the equality of all peoples and how capitalism was what was responsible for wars and that kind of thing. And once Stalin made a pact with Hitler, a piece of evidence that at least that form of communism was not the way it was Billig itself. A lot of people left the party. Those who didn’t. I would say were people who were particularly evidence, proof. Great example. I mean, I lived in the Soviet Union as a journalist from 1969 to 1972, and I knew, you know, some of the scientists, including Jurez Medvedev, who is famous for having exposed the fallacy of life sinco as biology. I’m sure much of your audience knows who I Senka was. He basically he basically believed that you could literally. Remake the nature of man, you could make a new man almost a new species by communist education, but it was more important than biology itself than DNA. This this idea ruined Soviet agriculture for decades. And a country which, even under the czars, had been a food exporting country feeding its people, was not able to grow enough to feed its own people. There were, first of all, great famines. And then, as I saw in the late 1960s, a food supply which no Third World country would have accepted at the time. And the side the scientists who spoke out against this in Russia in the 1930s were sent to the gulag and murdered. 

Yeah. And these were not these were not just to clarify for people has been offering scientists. These were basically just Darwinists and less. Sinco was an anti Darwinism who didn’t believe, you know, an ism because that’s not what the communists to win. 

But but Levante Darwinist, who believed that communism, the social system of communism, was what could make a new man. And scientists said, no, that doesn’t really work out in the laboratory with animal breeding. He tried to apply it to animal breeding and plant breeding with a kill man. 

He said that if only we trained, if only we trained the brains to be good. Great. 

We have an agricultural system that doesn’t work. But what the true believers says is, oh, there’s something wrong with the way we’re carrying it out. You know, they don’t take that as evidence that maybe what they’re thinking about the greatness of this system is wrong. And Orthodox religion is exactly the same way. There isn’t the slightest bit of proof that anybody has ever come back from the dead. If there were, it certainly would have been offered long ago. But people persist in believing in eternal life, even though there isn’t. There has never been a shred of proof that it exists. 

OK. So a lot of people who come around to a conversion to these systems of thought and let’s just take religious ones, we can show communism for the moment, will say, like you just met. You cited Francis Collins. They had some kind of a spiritual epiphany. Collins says that he was he was walking along in the woods and. Right. He had this, you know, this enlightenment moment. And we’ve had, you know, most of us have had some kind of moment like that. We just choose not to interpret it through a religious prism. We’ve had we felt moments of some kind of transcendence. What is it? 

Let’s let’s let’s talk about this for a minute. Sure. This is one of the biggest one of the biggest mistakes that’s made in talking about religion, Athie ism, as if transcendence has to be supernatural. 

We’ve all experienced moments in which we feel ourselves in the presence of something. I would say that’s larger than ourselves. I certainly feel it when I listen to the classical music I love. But but what I interpret it as is I’m in the presence of human genius, a human genius which has the power hundreds of years later can move people’s emotions. In other words, I don’t regard music as supernatural in the same way sometimes. I mean, this year, for example, when the long controversy over whether Einstein’s theory of relativity is really true seems to have been set to rest by the ability of scientists to see things far away with telescopes and instruments that have it didn’t exist until quite recently. I felt myself in awe of that, that this is an awesome thing, that this theory, which has been so important to modern thought and yet also has been challenged and on scientific grounds that we have found a new way. And how I think of what religious people call transcendence, they assume is some message from the supernatural. And I simply assume that these transcendent achievements, these transcendent moments, whether they involve art or science or love. That they are part of the outer limits of what human beings can do. And we continue to try to push these limits, but they are not something that is above human beings. That’s outside of the natural world. And above all, there are not things that contradict the natural world. How can classical music contradict the natural world when it was composed by human beings? 

Right. But often. 

So what I’m interested in and what your book delves into is what are the sort of social and cultural preconditions that influence someone to interpret such experiences religiously and others to interpret them in a secular way? 

Well, first of all, people have only been interpreting them in a secular way, you know, since roughly the 17th century. If you if you want to talk about the beginnings of the Enlightenment, about, let’s say, Spinoza, who is very different even from early enlightenment, English philosophers like Locke in Spinoza said miracles were nonsense. They were just something that human beings hadn’t yet figured out the natural causes for. But the way of thinking, which begins to look for something other than it’s a mystery from this God up there I’ve never seen that way of thinking about anything is relatively new, although it does appear in some writings from the ancient world. Hints of it, the beginnings of it do do appear then, but it only really begins to appear with the beginnings of science. Look, I mean, I’m in Spinoza lived in it. He lived in a century where the beginnings of both microscopes and telescopes were beginning to open up to scientists, a natural world that they didn’t know had existed. They had only positive that it might. There weren’t the tools. There wasn’t the technology to see that. And so, I mean, we have to realize that a secular way of interpreting things is fairly new. But I think that as to why individuals in different periods, let’s say now, OK, why individuals will interpret something in a secular way while others interpret it as a message from the supernatural that has to lie to some extent in the individual personality. Partly, I think it’s sort of an emotional longing we all have, don’t we? Wouldn’t we all like something explained? I mean, don’t atheists, don’t scientists, doesn’t it still bother us that we can’t figure out how that first speck of matter appeared, which we can’t? It doesn’t mean it’s not possible. But we haven’t figured it out yet any more than the God people can figure out how God was. But instead of answering this the way a secular person answered that, which is this is something that we have not yet figured out the answer to with our human intelligence, it is a mystery. But like many mysteries that have been solved, it is a mystery. We might possibly one day sell what the person who is not satisfied with that very provisional. And I would say a hopeful explanation says is I’m having these feelings because I’ve found something that explains it all. Something that’s more powerful me than I am. Something that’s looking out for me. And most of all, the hardest thing for both secular and non-secular people and nonsecular people, deeply religious people can accept this, that there may be no plan, that there are lots of things. Certainly if you accept evolution, you have to understand that there are all kinds of things that are random, that they’re not purposeful. If they were purposeful, they’d be insane. 

Evolution itself, if there were a God, would be an insane way of designing a human being, be pretty inefficient, pretty, you know. 

So much of it is such a mess. I mean I mean, why does childbirth have to be so high? Well, we have to be human. Oh, yeah. Well, I forgot. Adam, Adam and Eve in sorrow. Shock. 

They’ll bring forth children because now eight of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. 

But it isn’t love. Let me just pick up on a couple of things that you’re just saying. Yes, I think it’s important. I think it’s useful for us not to conflate two different interpretations of what we mean when we talk about religiosity. One, simply meaning all of those mysteries that you were just talking about that we sort of wish even even we atheists and agnostics wish were answerable. How did the universe come to be? What is the nature of being self-aware and all those sorts of things? And then a second tier of sort of epistemological belief, which is a belief in an actual set of doctrines that are handed down by ancient civilizations. 

Belief in the Koran and the Hadith or in the Old Testament or in Christianity. Right. 

And in some respects, I sort of I understand, you know, Christopher Hitchens used to say that he’s not just an atheist, he’s an antitheist. He thinks it would be actively a bad thing if the universe were constructed the way that religions believe it were with a tyrannic. 

Yeah, and I agree with that. And I totally agree with that on that second definition of religion. But on. But I agree with you on the definition of religion. How is it affected? 

Someone is saying that Chris Christopher actually really was on the verge of renouncing is atheist. 

Well, know that’s such that’s such horseshit. Yeah, I don’t know. 

Isn’t it amazing that it’s been said about every prominent, well known freethinker throughout history? The only problem with it is the only witness is the religious person who’s claiming to be true. 

Yeah, he warned against it as well. He was very he took great pains in the months leading up to his death to warn against that. Well, Robert. Emily oh, God. 

His wife and daughter, to notarize a statement of what he’d said during his last days right after he died. Yeah. And if it didn’t get used in a lawsuit three years later. 

So so, Susan, I was talking to Rebecca Goldstein, another one of my favorites. So I’m sure, you know, you have found friends. 

Yeah. About this this moment that I had sort of the most transcendent moment of my life. I was sitting at sunrise on the top of a volcano on Easter Island and the sun was rising. 

And I just had this enormous sudden transcendence to me. Yeah, it was fantastic. 

If I hadn’t been so scared at the synagogue and that that almost gets me to the first tier of potential spiritual belief purely in the sense that it it shook a little bit of my rigid Athie ism and simply made me wonder. Well, I suppose it’s conceivably possible that there is some vast purpose to this that we can’t understand. But I’m still a hundred percent certain that the answers are not found in any book that was written thousands of years ago. So I wonder whether or not that can help sort of flesh out the Francis Collins analogy or a lot of the other analogies that you’ve got in this book. And we don’t have time to go through them all. But any thoughts that you have about why people leap all the way to the most absurd anti evidential interpretations of what could be more parsimonious, Lee explained by a more simple explanation of the transcendent experience. 

Well, I know look, and there’s such variation in religion. Obviously, Unitarians and Episcopalians don’t believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, and they don’t believe in all the anti scientific things that a lot of right wing radical Muslims and ultra Orthodox Jews. And note the adjectives. I’m not saying Muslims and Jews. I’m saying radical Muslims and Orthodox Jews and far right evangelical Christians. Note again, I’m not saying evangelical Christians. There are many people who try to reconcile religion and science. I don’t see how they can possibly do it. But there are people who do that. That is to say, they believe in both. They think both have validity. Of course, the the thing is, which I’m sure Francis Collins agrees with, and it’s what the Catholic Church has said. And Stephen Jay Gould also separate magisterial religions, businesses, religions and sciences and sciences. But that can’t be. In other words, even if you believe and accept both the validity of a religion and the validity of science, there can never be no conflict between the two. Because obviously, if you let’s take a common religious belief that prayer is effective. Well, then the question science raises is, why isn’t it effective for everybody who prays? Because it clearly isn’t. There have been studies done like that. How does the person whose house is passed over by a tornado, which happens all the time because tornadoes have a narrow path? How can you say I’m so blessed by God and look at his neighbor across the street and see the house in ruins and think there’s some kind of a plan? I mean, to me, it’s a kind of it’s a kind of madness. And even even when I read about the most eloquent exponents of the conversion experience, there’s always something in there that it answers, a need that not everybody has. Look at a Gustin who is probably the first person to write about his conversion because Saul Paul didn’t write about his own conversion. It was somebody else who wrote about it in the Acts of the Apostles, probably Luke. But when someone like a guston is writing about his conversion, it is very clear that he had come to believe in the stain of original sin. And it was only by grace that we could be saved. And which is why he was Calvin’s favorite theologian as well as the Roman Catholic churches. We could only be saved from our darker impulses by divine grace. And so this requires for him, not for every convert, a belief in the need in a higher power to control your darker impulses. And I mentioned this in the book when I reread Confessions, I was really I was I was amazed by it because it ends with one of the greatest passages on memory in the Western canon, asking all the same questions about memory and how it works that neuroscientists are asking today. I mean, this man must have lived his life in agony because even before there was any sort of scientific framework to think about it, he was asking scientific questions. Well, the and the answer he comes up with is so circular. He had no memory of God before he became a Christian because he hadn’t had God’s grace. Yeah, it doesn’t make any. It doesn’t make any sense. And then he goes on something that’s always ignored. And again, I mentioned this in the book. He goes on to talk about how he I mean, he’s taken a vow of chastity, which wasn’t required then for becoming Christian or then for becoming a priest. Taken above chastity and given up women by day. But he can’t give up women by night. And he has what he describes as wet dreams, involuntary motions. I mean, he doesn’t describe them as a wet dream, but that is what he is describing. And he ends confessions on a note of hoping that God will eventually grant him the grace to control even the involuntary desires that come in the sleep when we don’t have as much self-control as we do in the day. I’m not saying all converts are nuts. As Gary Wills mistakenly said, not at all. But every convert like that has something in their personality, I think, which requires something extra. You know, something beyond even wishing for for a plan larger than ourselves. Some sense of, as William James described it, that we are not quite good enough as we are. We need something more to complete ourselves. And I think in spiritual conversions, although it’s not always as not not as if not as wild and crazy as Augustine’s explanation, there is always a sense of that kind of unworthiness and the need to complete oneself in a way that goes not just beyond one’s self as an individual, but beyond nature itself. 

I’m glad you mentioned the sort of rewriting of history that you that you write about in the Augustine example in your book, because I think it’s really interesting. In other words, his sense that, you know, you write about how when he was young, he was profoundly influenced by secular philosophers. But then once he was religious, he had to sort of retroactively rejig his passion for those philosophies and say, oh, the only thing that they were missing was there in Latin meant about about Jesus. 

But, of course, you won’t ever go over something nursing about those secular philosophers. Yeah. Yeah. 

So but but they didn’t know anything about Jesus yet. 

So come what can we transpose that to someone like George W. Bush or someone in the contemporary arena. Not not specific individuals, but, you know, in terms of the way in which our psychology recontextualize is our past beliefs through the. 

PRISM of what we now know and if what we now know and believe religious beliefs, then all of a sudden the secular past that we had somehow gets erased. 

Well, it doesn’t. It doesn’t. I mean, for some people, it gets erased. But. But it does. 

It doesn’t for reinterpret it. Put it that way. 

What what what most people who are religious converts will simply tell you is their understanding was was incomplete. And of course, that can be that can be an explanation for a firm for any change of view. The idea. Yeah, the idea. And in one respect, the convert who gives this explanation is absolutely right. I don’t share this notion of Americans in politics today that that every every changing one’s mind is a negative flip flop. In other words, it is quite possible to change your mind about something, whether it’s religion or anything else, on the basis of less complete information. Look, I know all sorts of people who’ve converted from cult like religions that control every aspect of their lives to a more liberal form of religion. They are not people who want to give up the idea of God, but they have converted to a form of religion in which the individual is far more important and is not controlled by notions of sin and rigid expectations that they only associate with people of their own kind, and that other ideas are evil and that sort of thing. Those are as much conversions as anything else. People will convert from one religion to another for that reason. And those are spiritual conversions to go along with. That comes so many things. For example, in America, mixed marriage is the number one reason for religious conversion. Now, not all of those people who are converting are doing so because they’ve had a spiritual revelation. They’re doing so in general because they believe that there is such a general thing as God and they don’t think it’s all that important. Which church they go to. I talk about my own family, my grandmother on my mother’s side of the family who was raised a German Lutheran, married my Irish Catholic grandfather in 1919. And this sounds like nothing in today’s America, but it was a big deal when and she converted to Catholicism. Not for no reason other than she wanted to please my grandfather’s mother. And as she said to me, Relator, I talk to her about this. She lived to be 99. So I talked to her about this and she said that. And she said, well, it’s all the same God, isn’t it? And she knew I was an atheist because by then I was writing about Athie ism and about atheist. 

What she had to say was, well, you’re a good person, aren’t you? 

My grandmother sobered up, you know, in other words, her conversion was impelled by nothing other than the conviction that there was a God and that and that what church she went to to worship him wasn’t really a very little important. So that’s a secular conversion. It’s not a religious conversion. In other words, there are all kinds of things that are called religious conversions that really are are social conversions. 

Yes. And there are, of course, different religions have different attitudes towards conversion. 

There, as I was in India recently and I befriended a guy who was who was born and raised in Delhi who was showing me around Old Delhi, and he had been in love where he’d been engaged to a woman who he was very much in love with. 

And because he refused to convert to her religion, her parents wouldn’t allow her to marry. And she thought that that was unfair and the whole thing fell apart. 

I was later the following week talking to a Muslim friend of mine who was insisting that there is no compulsion in Islam, that that Islam is every bit as tolerant as any other religion. And yours free to leave Islam as you ought to leave any other religion. And I told him that story of what I’d experienced in India, and I asked him to guess which religion the friend of mine in Delhi was in which religion his girlfriend was, and which one was doing the obstinate booting out of the relationship and which one was was trying to be tolerant. And of course, he had to concede that, yes, the guy who befriended was a Hindu and that the woman who would not who insisted that he convert with her family was was Muslim. It does seem that there are religions which has systematically less tolerant of love, conversion or a, well, exclusion. 

There are. 

There are also cases of of Hindu women, Hindu women and Christian men. And there there are plenty of intolerant Hindus in India, too. It’s one of India’s big problems right now. Again, when you combine religion with politics, you dare you come into the line. It’s the Hindu nationalists, not other kinds of Hindus. It’s the Hindu nationalists who are combining their. Idea of Hinduism with politics. And every time that happens, wherever it is, whatever religions involve. Then you get close to the line between voluntary and forced conversions. It is a form of force. I mean, lots of lots of Hindu nationalists have dragged away women who have married Muslim men because they’ve married Muslim men. They’ve dragged them and taken them back forcibly to their families and imprisoned them. This is something that happens all the time in modern India. And so I wouldn’t say it. You can say one thing which is true in so many, you know, radical approach to the Muslim world. Once you once you combine religion with politics, whether it’s in a direct theocracy or in people who advocate theocracy like ISIS and the Hindu nationalist and these these people who are who are cutting or slashing to death freethinkers in Bangladesh for just blogging about women’s rights and things like that so that you always have that the line between forced conversion once politics is involved is very thin. Now, Garry Wills quite incorrectly and Liangui, because he had read my book, said that I consider all conversions forced conversions, which is absolutely not true. It’s certainly not true in democratic countries. But there are periods of history when the line between force and voluntary is much blurred. And there are, of course, places in the world today where where that is still true. There are significant numbers of people who do not believe that people have the right to choose their own religion, period, whether it’s a religion or not, to believe in a red religion. They no longer believe in the right to choose one’s religion than they believe in the right not to choose a religion at all. 

We mentioned Christopher Hitchens and his untimely death. And I wonder what your thoughts about mortality. What do you how do you think about the end of it all? 

Well, since since I’m 70 years old, I think about the end of it all. Quite a bit more than I used to. I first of all, I don’t want to die any more than anybody else. Does not none of us want to die. But I know I am going to die. And I quite imagine that when that time comes, I will be as indignant that it’s going to happen as anybody else. But I don’t think I really I don’t feel that because I don’t believe there is life after death that’s going to be any harder, in fact. And this has nothing to do with my book. I really think that everybody who is religious, I don’t care what they say. A lot of them have a lot of doubts about life after death or they wouldn’t be so eager to stay alive. 

You know, if they’re so certain about life after death, why? Why do they don’t wear a seatbelt? 

Then there’s no evidence that religious people fight any less hard to stay alive. The non-religious people and since they supposedly believe they’re going to meet all their loved ones after death, I don’t see why death is a problem for them. 

But all I can do is think of death. And again, this has nothing to do with with what? Anger. I will greet death. All I think of is death is if there’s no complex or fancy way to phrase it. I don’t know, any time before I was born and I won’t know any time after me. And to me, that just makes humanism and secular humanism and what you do in the one life you have. To me, it makes the one life even more important. You don’t get that. You don’t get the chance to repent and get the keys to the kingdom at the last minute. The kingdom closes before you in that. And I will tell you, people ask me often because I had a partner who died of Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago. They ask me often how I could stand it without any faith in God. And to me, the question was just the wrong question. I don’t know how anybody could stand that if they did have faith in God, because I’ve if I believe there was a God who designed Alzheimer’s disease, the destruction of a brilliant mind as a way of death, I wouldn’t want anything to do with him. This is another way of saying what Christopher Hitchens was saying. If there were such a God who designed Alzheimer’s disease at somebody even asked me, do you think you’re a better person because of this experience? I said, well, if I were, that’s a hell of a way to make somebody a better person. I don’t believe this. I think that suffering is the suffering of others. The suffering that’s your own is easier to bear if you don’t believe that there’s some kind of a power who is causing it. 

The book is Strange Gods A Secular History of Conversion. 

Suzan’s other bestsellers, The Age of American Unreason and Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism, and so many other books that I won’t be able to name them. Susan, thanks so much for being back on point of inquiry. Let’s talk to you. 

Thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed it. 

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.