Joe Manno Featured

An Atheist and a Christian Walk Into a Bar | Overcoming Differences

February 19, 2021

Jim Underdown is the head of Center for Inquiry West, an organization whose core beliefs includes atheism and non-belief. Joe Manno is a pastor and they’ve been friends for decades. How?

America is as polarized as it’s been in decades as our citizenry draws lines in the sand over a variety of issues. Friends and family who hold different political or religious persuasions may find it hard to impossible to hold civil conversation together.

Jim speaks to Pastor, Joe Manno of the Revelation Church in Florida. Joe and Jim have been friends since they met on the set of Cagney and Lacey in the mid-80s. Their conversations touches on how they’ve stayed friends and how they believe others can look past differences; by making the problem simple and only taking people for people. Manno recounts to Underdown his many experiences that have solidified his faith in a higher power, how miraculously not a single person in Manno’s congregation would have anything negative to say to an atheist, and the importance of looking past a person’s beliefs and instead using their experiences to understand them even when their beliefs counter your own humanity.


This Week’s Music

“Bon Journée” by Chad Crouch / CC BY-NC 3.0
“Idle Ways” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0

[00:00:07] Hello again, everybody, welcome to another episode of Point of Inquiry. I’m your host for Today, Jim Underdown. We find ourselves in a very polarized America at this moment. [00:00:20][12.6]

[00:00:21] So I thought I’d call up an old friend of mine, Joe Manno, who I originally met on the set of Cagney and Lacey in late nineteen eighty three, nineteen eighty four. Joe, as the pastor at a Christian church in Florida, I am the head of the Center for Inquiry West in Los Angeles, also sort of a congregation, if you will, where atheists get together, atheists, secular, humanist, agnostics. So I thought I’d have a conversation with someone on the polar opposite end of the religious spectrum to sort of show how two people can be friends despite the fact that they are so different in this one particular area. Most people, I think, have much more in common with their fellow human beings than differences. [00:01:14][53.1]

[00:01:16] Maybe we’ve forgotten that. [00:01:17][1.0]

[00:01:18] And so here’s an unusual conversation for point of inquiry, a discussion with a true believer who is pastor of a church. I give you my old friend, Joe Manno. [00:01:30][11.9]

[00:01:48] Joe Manno, welcome to Point of Inquiry. James, my dear friend, I’m glad to be welcomed. America is a polarized country right now. A lot of people are inclined to draw lines in the sand and be enemies with each other. And you and I are going to correct all that by showing them that people of two radically different religious perspectives can still be friends. Are you up for it? Absolutely. Well, will get in some huge fight and we’ll never speak to each other. [00:02:23][34.2]

[00:02:23] I don’t think so. I don’t think so either. [00:02:26][2.8]

[00:02:27] So do you agree that the country is at this point where people are in such difficulty with their relationships, with their friends and relatives? I think it’s mostly over politics these days. [00:02:39][12.5]

[00:02:40] Just people forgot how to be people. We we formed opinions on people based on differences rather than the uniting with each other. [00:02:51][10.8]

[00:02:51] Just because we’re people, it only takes like one difference these days. I mean I mean, there’s always going to be people out there that you don’t care to be around or you don’t like. But I mean, that’s is like one knee jerk litmus test. And I don’t talk to the person. [00:03:11][19.3]

[00:03:11] They’re out of my I have an issue with me personally, and that’s I, I keep I keep my friends for life. They’re their interpretation of life does not. Constitute the fact, whether they’re my friends or not, I just when you love people, you love people, that’s that you take them for who they are. [00:03:32][20.8]

[00:03:33] But we have been friends since the nineteen eighty three, by my calculation. Did we meet on the set of Cagney and Lacey? [00:03:41][7.9]

[00:03:42] We did. [00:03:42][0.2]

[00:03:43] We met at the at the craft service table where both of us I’m sure spent most of our time when they sure weren’t paying very much. [00:03:52][9.0]

[00:03:52] So we were getting it in food that’s for sure. [00:03:54][2.2]

[00:03:55] Yeah. So Joe and I were regular cops on the in the in the station set on Cagney and Lacey. And you can still go watch those old reruns and watch us just walk by. Escorting up would be criminal or carrying some papers or something. [00:04:14][19.2]

[00:04:15] Yes, yes. I remember that vividly. [00:04:17][1.6]

[00:04:19] Remember those days and I think we hit it off pretty soon. I don’t know if you were there the day someone what they were resetting the lights and sharing glass was sitting at the table and they pulled this one of the lighting guys was dragging a cord. And there was a big like one cane light or something on a desk. And it fell over and it was just about the crowd sharing glass on the head. And I caught it. And all I can remember is they yelled at me for catching it because it might have been hot and I might have been hurt. Then I was like, what about the sugar and classes? It had been caved in. Oh my gosh. If you look at all the stuff we do have in common, because I want to talk about this before I start talking about any differences we might have, but we both drove crappy cars. Yeah, we both grew up Italian, Catholic and big Midwest cities. I mean, all these things. And we also found out later in life that we both had pretty big gangsters in our family. Mob gangsters. [00:05:28][69.7]

[00:05:30] Yeah. My grandfather was the mob boss in St. Louis, did a lot of stuff with the people in Chicago where your family was from. [00:05:35][5.8]

[00:05:37] Yeah, so we had a. [00:05:38][1.2]

[00:05:41] Family member by marriage married into my mother’s family, who was a hit man for Sam Gymkhana and ran with Al Capone in the early days. Yeah. So, yeah, they probably did cross paths. Your grandfather and your butchery. Yep. [00:06:00][18.4]

[00:06:00] I would imagine. Absolutely. Absolutely. [00:06:02][1.5]

[00:06:03] So, I mean, so we have all these things in common. We were both trying to be actors and we both loved comedy. You ended up on my show. I had a cable access. I don’t even know if they have cable access anymore. I know. Right. But we were both trying to be actors. And you ended up on my show. I had a cable access. We did this show called The Peep Show. And it’s not what you think, people. It was about a bunch of idiots eating lunch at a warehouse. And we ended up talking about rating movies in a usually ridiculous conversation. And Joe played the role of Julius Braverman. The company accountant was a regular on the show. [00:06:55][51.2]

[00:06:55] Yeah. And the show never, never actually finished talking about what it started talking about. [00:06:59][3.9]

[00:07:00] No, talking about going off the rails a little bit. [00:07:04][4.6]

[00:07:05] It was way ahead of its time. [00:07:06][1.0]

[00:07:07] Yeah. They just another miss from Hollywood that they did not recognize true talent when they saw it. [00:07:15][8.3]

[00:07:16] It had the same concept as Seinfeld before Seinfeld at some point in the nineties. [00:07:21][5.6]

[00:07:23] You start doing a fighting chance. Talk a little bit about a fighting chance, a fighting chance. [00:07:28][5.6]

[00:07:29] It started actually at nineteen eighty nine and I went to I went to a prison to talk to youth, which I was not fond of in those days, and came back and realized I’m never going to do this again. [00:07:43][14.5]

[00:07:44] Well, a year later it birth the show with the red ribbon campaign in Los Angeles that I think Nancy Reagan had kicked off. And we had you said, can you they were looking for any sort of an actor of any title to come to the school and talk to the kids, because the assemblyman got called away to the earthquake in nineteen eighty nine, if you remember that, in San Francisco. And so I had I had said, OK, I’ll do it. And I went in my car and I put together this fifteen minute and in 15 minutes I put together a one hour comedy for kids just playing the the slapstick characters that I’ve always done. And in doing so it became very successful, just that one day it went from there and another one and another one. And then we finally got called up to Ronald Reagan’s office back when he had just gotten out of office. And they had given us a card and said, if you need this anywhere in the country, let us know. We’ll get you in schools. And we never used it. It just is pretty. It was pretty. Is it pretty much in demand? Just helping kids. And so it became my whole life at that point. We ended up doing schools. I moved to Florida, wrote a book series, just a comic book series about just eight kids just days in their life and how you operate in middle school and them. And it just kept growing and growing and growing and growing. And it went to we ended up going to different countries that spoke English. And I was nervous from day one, because you know how it is with kids. If you do comedy and they don’t like you, they’re going to let you know it. [00:09:14][90.7]

[00:09:15] But it was also like life lessons and stay off drugs and that sort of thing. [00:09:20][5.7]

[00:09:21] Yeah, yeah, you’re exactly right. It was that’s what got us in, which was the drugs. And then we started talking about stuff like, there’s nobody like you. You’re one of a kind just giving, just giving kids hope in a world that seemed like it started to crumble and respect your parents, your teachers. [00:09:39][17.7]

[00:09:39] Just just what I but I think we kind of need a little love right now, to be honest with you. So then it just took off from there and we had an interview in two thousand in four with CBS here in the southern region. And I had just written a TV comedy for kids called All in One, where I play all these characters. And so the general manager had asked me, do you I ask him actually, why do you guys have so much violence on TV? Why don’t you have anything for kids? And he said, well, violent Selznick’s. Do you have any ideas? I said, I do. And I got him the script and we shook hands and we produced that that episode for four QBs and they aired it and it did well. And it was actually an after school special like we used to have back when we were kids. And it went really well. And we won an Emmy for it. And that was that was it. And then went back to the kids. [00:10:29][50.1]

[00:10:30] And then everything changed when when I started pastoring a church. [00:10:35][4.4]

[00:10:35] The first person I remember you working with was Benny Hinn. [00:10:39][3.2]

[00:10:39] Benny Hinn was. I saw. To working for him, I was just the security guy, Chris Mooney, that was a perfect transition from L.A. to Florida. One thing’s just secure. I was the worst security guard I think he ever had because I just would talk to everybody and he pulled me aside and he Gojo, you can’t be talking to everybody like I know. But I ended up I ended up doing all my characters in and he just got the biggest kick out of it. So I think he kept me around just because I made him laugh. [00:11:09][30.3]

[00:11:10] You know, a lot of our people know who Benny Hinn is, believe it or not, because we pay attention to faith healers. And as you may recall, I attended a couple of the Benny Hinn services. [00:11:24][14.5]

[00:11:26] Oh, yeah, I was there the day that you remember that. I know. [00:11:29][3.6]

[00:11:29] I got I we were up in Sacramento and thanks to you, I got like front and center, almost front and center. Dyan Cannon always got front and center, the actress and up. My friend Bob Torkelson and I got good seats on the floor right in front of the action. And I was talking to Bob and pointing out what a tremendous production capability this was. I mean, they were it was big time, like concert lights and sound and and and I was explaining to them how this all fed into the emotion of the moment. And because he did healing’s on stage, which was my particular interest, what was going on there. So as I was talking to Bob, some well, some woman came up and yelled at me like I was in sixth grade, which I was sitting right next to. [00:12:33][63.9]

[00:12:33] You boys need to just listen. [00:12:35][1.2]

[00:12:36] And I said something about getting Jesus in my heart or something. Yeah. Yeah. [00:12:42][5.8]

[00:12:44] That is the quintessential, I guess, dividing point with so many people that they I guess those are bad eggs for everybody. You know, that’s not how it operates. That’s I don’t know, James. I apologize for that lady. [00:13:00][16.4]

[00:13:01] She was probably right. That was probably a little bit too loud. And I listened. I was there as a for a different reason from everybody else. I think the third and final time I was at a Benny Hinn concert, I almost got on stage to be healed. I don’t know if I ever told you that. No, I got it because the first few times I kind of found out what was going on, how I was wondering why all the sick people in the gurneys in the back never got to come to the stage. And so I went up to I got in line to be healed from my knee that I blew out in a high school football game. And I never made it to the stage. But it was an interesting process to find out what story got you up to the stage with Benny. [00:13:56][54.7]

[00:13:57] And I’ve known him for I’ve known him for years. I don’t I don’t see him much anymore. But I went I go back to that that original comment that we had said opening this broadcast, which was, you know, I just I look at him as a person did I like him as a person? And he’s going to he’s got to live his life the way he feels he’s got to do it. I just I just made him laugh and and joked around and I learned things to do, things not to do. I started I learned a lot of stuff there, you know, and at the same time, like I said, you just got to look at people for people and not say, you know, I don’t look at people’s differences and say, well, I’m not going to be friends with you because that’s that’s you, man. There’s a reason. And we we’re we’re all unfolding. Is that make sense? We’re just unfolding. [00:14:45][47.9]

[00:14:46] Hopefully, yeah. Hopefully you try to keep improving as you get older, not just stay static. [00:14:52][6.0]

[00:14:53] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. [00:14:55][1.8]

[00:14:56] So Benny. And sort of gives you a little taste of the pasturing world and where do you go from there. [00:15:03][6.6]

[00:15:03] Like I said, he was a friend. I knew him, but I don’t always put myself in the same categories. As him, because there were things that people like yourself could pick out that’s not me, I don’t even know if that’s him, to be honest with you. I think sometimes you just get caught up in what’s going on. [00:15:24][20.7]

[00:15:24] And and there is a there’s a in the God world, as we call it, there’s differences between emotions and reality. I used to work in what’s called follow up, and I would call the doctors afterwards and find out if the person was really healed and then that’s what would allow them to be who gets put on the broadcast because of the sometimes, you know, if you if you got adrenaline going through your body, I don’t care what your sickness is, that pain is going to go away. And then in an hour, it’s going to come back. And I and I would make these calls and the doctors would be telling me, you know, they’re they still have their condition. They’re they’re not healed. And then I would come across to a handful of people that it’d be like the doctors will say, we have absolutely no understanding how this happened, you know, stage four cancer or heart disease or whatever it was at the time, and we can’t find it in their body anymore. So that was that. [00:16:18][53.3]

[00:16:18] And so I got I got to I got to understand the reality. When you work behind the scenes, you get to understand the reality. And for me, a man’s mishaps never wavered. My relationship in my faith, because I grew up in a mob family and there was no there was no church really in my family. [00:16:40][22.0]

[00:16:41] I mean, it was just like what you see on the movies. And somehow I was a little 10 year old boy. And and that’s so I didn’t I didn’t believe in my faith because the Bible told me to. And I didn’t believe because a priest told me to or anybody else. It just happened. And my life began to unfold. Well, a little bit. I know when you and I were hanging out in L.A. that it was going to end up being my whole life. There were three things I never wanted to do in life, and all three of them were pastor at church. [00:17:08][27.5]

[00:17:09] So in two thousand and twelve in my prayer time, I just that’s what happened. And then it unfolded. And it’s been it’s been awesome. I get to I get to do things, I guess, James, the best way I know how and and not play any games. [00:17:26][17.3]

[00:17:27] I’m not about money. I’m not about tricking people. [00:17:30][3.2]

[00:17:31] It’s just hears the word. [00:17:32][1.7]

[00:17:33] And this is all I have coming out and that’s it. And if you if I tell the people all the time, if you don’t like what I’m saying, there’s four doors. Pick one, you can leave his father, you know. So that’s that. And that’s like I said, there’s there’s a lot of emotions and there’s a lot of denominations that have made it bad apples for a lot of people. [00:17:55][22.1]

[00:17:56] Somehow I was able to just kind of go back in my little closet like I did when I was a kid and just come to my reality of truth and understanding rather than what everybody else has pointed it out to be. So but it doesn’t ever change my I can sit and have a conversation or hang out with you every day if we had to. It’s not going to change you. I’m me and you’re my friend. I love you as my friend. And that’s it. And I’m never going to change regardless of what you think of me. [00:18:24][27.6]

[00:18:25] Yeah. And I mean, you’ve always had that quality. You could you’ve always been a person who could walk up to whether it was a homeless person who hasn’t bathed in weeks to a movie star. You would always be able to go have an easy conversation with someone. I want to ask you a question that I probably will never ask on this podcast again. Tell me about your church. [00:18:56][31.3]

[00:18:58] It was quite unusual. [00:18:58][0.8]

[00:18:59] We had we had been doing these conference, these these kids shows, these stand up comedy for kids. Right. And so at the end of our at the end of this journey, this standup journey with kids, whether it starts up again or not someday, I don’t know. But at the end of that journey we were doing, we never we didn’t go into the schools anymore. We went into like the Amway Center here in Florida where magic plays basketball. There’s sixteen thousand kids in there. And then we did that again. And then and then I thought that was too big. So we used to go to the hard rock, which is a twenty five hundred seater, and we’d stay there for five days and put twenty two hundred kids a day in that thing. And so it was just nonstop, massive crowds you go to, we go to Africa and they’d just be by the thousands, you know, or wherever they spoke English. [00:19:45][46.0]

[00:19:46] And so then I, I, I planted this church and not not knowing anything really what I was doing. [00:19:53][7.2]

[00:19:53] I mean I, I knew the word and I knew my faith and I knew who I was, but I didn’t understand how to. [00:19:59][6.0]

[00:20:00] I just you know, I just thought I’m going to show up and people are going to come. And that first day, James, there were forty people sitting in the pews. And I’m like, this the for me, this guy, I’m doing something wrong. [00:20:11][11.5]

[00:20:13] But it was more it was more not being the star, it was more like, you know, you become a servant and just have to hang out with people. [00:20:23][9.2]

[00:20:23] And and if it’s an individual growth process rather than a large stadium entertainment process, you know, and I think that’s what might look even really strange to your group. And even yourself knowing you very well is that it looks like a show. It really it sometimes it’s gotten out of hand and it just looks like, you know, I’m not going to criticize anybody for what they do, but I just know what I need to do. [00:20:50][27.2]

[00:20:50] And what you’re talking about, like some of these megachurches. Right. [00:20:54][3.7]

[00:20:56] Yeah, I’m not I’m not coming from the mega stadiums we did, I’m really not a megachurch guy. [00:21:02][6.4]

[00:21:04] Churches are never supposed to be mega because how do you relate to people if the churches are so big? [00:21:11][6.5]

[00:21:11] You don’t know anybody you know and some people don’t agree with me. That’s OK. I, I know what I like. I said what I needed to do. I, I’m not a mega guy and I don’t I like little local. Three hundred people. Five hundred people and I know their names. They can come up to me and ask me questions, I can talk to them. I know their, their life, they know mine. I don’t hide anything from anybody. You know, I lived a clean life. I never drank or smoke. My wife was my first. And so, you know, I really don’t have anything to hide except my goofiness and probably some stories, you know, that I forgot. But I used to tell my wife if some lightning bolt ever came out of the sky, appeared in James Undergrounds Room, and he just said, like Paul on the road to Damascus, I am I am Jesus who you crucify. And James like, oh, snap. I said he would probably end up being one of the best pastors ever because it’s just he knows what he wants and he knows what you’re going to do. And I’m not going to change for anybody. And that’s who you’ve been the whole all the years I’ve known you as. You’ve never been anybody but James. [00:22:20][69.0]

[00:22:21] I was actually going to ask you that toward the end, but I’ll ask it right now. Do you ever have any hopes of converting me? [00:22:27][6.3]

[00:22:29] No, it’s not, my dad is not. [00:22:34][4.9]

[00:22:34] Listen, listen, if if you if you can’t well, I don’t know. There’s I never debate with anybody because you never know what perspective or which angle someone’s coming from. [00:22:45][11.1]

[00:22:45] So you can’t just assume that your words are going to be changing people’s lives. [00:22:50][4.4]

[00:22:50] But is I’ve had experiences in my life. Like I said, I was never I never found I never found my religion or my faith because a man told me and I never I never went that route. You couldn’t you can never convince me of something. I I found it on my own. I found it with. [00:23:08][18.0]

[00:23:10] Certain situations that happened in my life, if I set it on this show, you get a bunch of people right, Nemko and he’s out of his mind. But, you know, I sat down with a with a Buddhist once, and he he said to me, he goes, hey, I want you to I want you to prove to me God is real. [00:23:27][17.0]

[00:23:28] And I said, I have no intentions to prove to you God’s real. I said, I, I can’t prove to you he’s real and you can’t prove to me he’s not real. I said, so let’s find one hundred and one percent rule. Let’s find the one thing we agree on. It’s been one hundred percent of the time on it. And so I just he said, well why do you believe? And I told him, I just told him experiences that are just unknown to man. And I’m a I’m a pretty rational guy and I know when emotions are involved and I know when certain circumstances can can change and they can they can almost appear to be angelic when it’s nothing more than a thought. So I understand all that. But the things that happened in my life were totally. Unexplainable, and every one of them panned out, but the key, James, is they never stopped. So they started when I was 10 years old and here I’m fifty eight. And it’s still things still happen all the time like that. So know, that’s that’s where where I come from. God has continued to prove himself for me. And as far as you know, I’ve never sat you down and said you’re going to hell, James, if you don’t find my Jesus, do you think that’s a possibility, man? And up until I’m not God, I can’t debate that. I’ll tell you. Can I tell you something really quick here? Your listeners are going to love this. My mom was she was just the most beautiful lady. And she and ended up getting something called a multiple myeloma, which is she got from her hands in chemicals and hair dyes and all that stuff. It’s a blood cancer. And I was I was doing a show in in in Lawrence, Massachusetts. And they called and said, your mom’s got like hours to live. So I finished the show. I’m here. This is my faith. And I just said I turn the phone off. I said, well, Lord, if you want to take her home, go ahead. If not, when I open, I get done with the show. I’ll turn my phone on. And if she’s gone, she’s gone. If not, I’m going to fly home right away. So she was alive and I flew home. She was in bed and she had the mask on and all that stuff. And being a typical Italian mom, she she pulled all of my brother and sister and I to the bedside and she said she takes her mask off, James. [00:25:23][114.4]

[00:25:23] And I’m thinking, oh, dear God, she’s going to say something. And I start weeping. You know what’s going to happen here? What is she going to say to me? And she goes, don’t forget to make the cookies for Christmas. Those are the extent of my mom’s dying words. [00:25:33][10.4]

[00:25:34] And so she had pulled me to her and she took her mask off. And she says, I don’t understand what’s going on. I said, What is it, Mom? [00:25:40][6.5]

[00:25:40] She said, there’s a there’s a little boy standing in front of me. I said, Mom, are you hallucinating? And she says, No, I, I, I’m not hallucinating. I know what I’m seeing. And I said, OK. And she said, well, she was, I was she goes, I had had. Understandings of hallucinations use, but I am not OK, and I said I didn’t know what it was, I had no idea what it was, James and I said, Well, Mom, what’s the boy doing? She says he’s holding someone’s hand, but I can’t see why he’s holding. All I see is his face and he’s smiling at me. And I said, OK. And so she passed the nine thirty that night and I went home and my prayer time with God. I said, what was that I saw? What was that I saw? And I felt the Lord speak to my heart. Now, that’s another thing that probably sets people in your campus off, which is the Lord talks to me. He doesn’t go, Hey, Joe, he’s not Charlton Heston. [00:26:33][52.3]

[00:26:33] It’s it’s almost like if I was due if I was to touch your arm and you could feel my warm hand and then you found words to explain it. So that’s how it is with me. [00:26:42][8.8]

[00:26:42] Anyway, so the Lord put on my heart that that was my that my sister Nina, who you don’t remember, I don’t think is is going to she’s going to have a son and I’m showing her that son before he gets here. [00:26:56][13.4]

[00:26:56] And I said, OK. And I wrote it in a letter and I stamp and I mailed it to myself and I sealed it. And that was twenty eight. In 2011, my sister got pregnant and she said, I’m going to go find out what the child is. And I said, yeah, you’re going to have a boy. But she goes, How do you know? I says, I don’t know. I just, just saying that I wasn’t going to come up with anything weird. And so she did. She had the boy. And on the day she was she delivered I gave her the letter. And so the boy looked exactly like my my nephew as he grew up. And so I said all that because you said, are you going to hell, James? [00:27:33][36.8]

[00:27:33] I don’t know what happens at that moment. If if God becomes real to you and comes and says, hey, James, I am he you know, I don’t know. [00:27:44][11.0]

[00:27:45] I don’t know. Now the Bible says and there’s some Thumper’s it’ll tell you you got to you’re going to hell if you don’t do this and don’t do that. And he’s a real merciful God in my eyes. [00:27:53][8.0]

[00:27:53] So I don’t I don’t know. I would hope not. And that’s why I probably Christians will get aggravated with you because they love you, because you’re just a lovable guy and their faith tells them that you’re not going to end up on the right side of the coin. [00:28:05][12.8]

[00:28:06] If that happens, if first of all, it’ll be the biggest shock of my afterlife, judged and decided upon. By the way, I do put a good word in for me if you get there first or even after. Yes, I have to commend you on the sending a letter to yourself, because that’s a very scientific thing to do, a sealed, dated envelope with your prediction on it. [00:28:38][31.7]

[00:28:40] Well, I wasn’t I wasn’t predicting what I was actually doing was I was saying either I’m full of crap or that was God. I don’t know. You know. [00:28:50][10.3]

[00:28:51] Well, you had a 50 50 chance of being, right? Yeah. [00:28:54][3.5]

[00:28:55] Yeah. Well, with the yes, it was it was the description of him that really blew my sister away that what is hair color would look like and the way he would he would hold his mouth and stuff like that. But, you know, again, I just wrote down what I wrote down and like I said, I found out, was I full of crap or wasn’t I? I don’t know. [00:29:11][16.0]

[00:29:12] I will say this about deathbed experiences and and that sort of thing. [00:29:19][6.9]

[00:29:19] I would never try to question or. Talk someone out of their experiences in that situation, because at that moment, the comfort of your mother being on her deathbed and my mother was just on her like a year ago, almost exactly. And so, you know what? People right there is comfort and family and, you know, to to be as easy a situation as they can in the most difficult, possible situation. So, you know, if if that’s what she’s saying and that, you know, you guys are saying, yes, we’re going to make the Christmas cookies, whatever she needs to hear, that’s what you give a person in that situation. We both, in a way, and our groups have the CFI groups having met in some time. But in a strange sort of way, we both have congregations. I’m sort of the head of this group of atheists and agnostics and humanists in Los Angeles. And you’re that of a group of Christians in Florida. [00:30:35][75.7]

[00:30:36] One of the things the advantages of having a friend like you is I don’t I try not to let people get too out of control and how they characterize your congregation, you just can’t do it. I mean, there’s good people and are bad people. And, you know, there may be some generalizations you can make about belief and stuff, but not to the point where you we should be demonizing each other. [00:31:10][34.1]

[00:31:11] Probably the single most issue that’s going on in our our country, in our world today is there’s not a lot of them. There’s not a lot of people that are that are seeing people for who they are. They’re seeing them for the differences in which the way they believe that’s dangerous. Mhm. [00:31:25][14.9]

[00:31:26] Yeah. So what do you say to members of your congregation who say, I don’t know what they say, the atheists are evil, they’re bad people, they’re going to hell, they’re whatever. [00:31:38][11.7]

[00:31:39] Nobody in our congregation says that, nor would they ever otherwise. They get one of the four doors. That’s if you stepped in our church. [00:31:46][7.3]

[00:31:47] They would love you. They’re never going to tell you you’re bad. They’re never going to tell you you’re wrong. [00:31:51][4.4]

[00:31:52] They’re never they’re going to end their beliefs like mine are. Sometimes you’re concerned. But at the same time here, James, let me let me give you some here. The Bible, as it’s written to most atheists and even Christians, the context of the Bible has been so out of whack that people will find anything they want to believe to make their story work. [00:32:14][22.3]

[00:32:14] That’s not how it works. Context is context. Culture is culture. Proof is proof. [00:32:19][4.0]

[00:32:19] But at the same time, I can’t sit there and say what I want this Bible to believe. And I can also not say that I you know, other people can say the same thing that that. [00:32:30][11.3]

[00:32:31] Well, it means this. Well, no, you just haven’t studied it. You’re just a fly by night who jumped on the platform and you didn’t spend time in that word and therefore you’re uneducated. So you sound stupid to everybody. And I don’t mean that figuratively. I don’t mean that at all. We have people that come to our church. They’re atheists. They don’t believe it takes them. They’ll they’ll listen to me. You go out and say something stupid to make them laugh and they’re interested. But at the same time, when it’s all over, they’ll meet me and they’ll say, how come you didn’t judge us? And I said, OK. Last time I looked according to my faith, I don’t have any holes in my hands, so I can’t do that. [00:33:04][32.9]

[00:33:05] My job is just to love you. Let God do what he’s going to do with you. But I think you went to a church once. I think I saw something you sent me. You went to a church, a big church, if not mistaken. And a guy put you up on the platform, wasn’t it? You guys just chat it. [00:33:18][12.8]

[00:33:19] Yeah, I was a guest at a church in Orange County a couple of times, actually, they were pretty nice to me. I mean, I was of course, I was ready to be ambushed. Yeah, no, they were very nice. And I mean, the whole purpose of the visit was kind of the same purpose of this. The talk we’re having, what we have in common with people was really tons more than our differences. [00:33:46][26.6]

[00:33:47] How do you handle someone who’s way too far outside your core values? Is it just someone you won’t spend time with or will allow in your church? Or how do you handle that? [00:34:01][13.5]

[00:34:02] You can always change the conversation to go your way. So if I if I’m in the middle of a conversation, that’s it’s not working. [00:34:08][6.5]

[00:34:09] And I’ll just start laughing and change the whole conversation, but it doesn’t make me change that the perception of the person now opinionated people fascinate me just because it’s like I I want to find out where they’re coming from. [00:34:24][14.5]

[00:34:24] What made you say what you just said and why did you say it? Here’s here I’m jumping around here because you’re making me think what I’m talking about, which is what you always do. But when you talk about churchgoing people. People or people react based off of an emotional moment, they don’t they don’t they don’t react off of an encounter and encounter changes your life and emotion changes your moment. And so many encounters are good until something better or worse comes along. And then it changes. You hear stories and a human mind just just believes the stories. It’s like, no, if anybody ever came to me and said, James, under down, I was talking about you and man, we were in private. And he said he said some pretty nasty things about you and and your faith and all of the stuff you do wouldn’t faze me at all, man, because that’s not who you are. So you don’t get to know people. So if you don’t get to know people, then all you can do is base it off of what everybody else says. James, I will say this to you and all of the listeners out there. I’m not a or you don’t. Man doesn’t convert, man. God does. [00:35:26][62.1]

[00:35:27] But. You have just gotten you’ve just gotten the bad the bad gist of another another person’s faith in you, you’re turned off at that person. [00:35:38][11.6]

[00:35:40] In other words, I don’t know how to explain that, I guess I find it I’m choosing my words wisely and they’re not coming out. So for some reason, I got to stomp in my throat. [00:35:48][8.0]

[00:35:49] People make people go the way they go. Something something happens. And there’s a stinking Christians again. They’re there. They go judging again. And there they go. They’ll sit and there they go. You know what, James? Half of them are are are judging and condemning you, trying to find the truth themselves. And because they haven’t had an encounter, they’ve just had an emotion. Once you have an encounter, as I did at 10 years old, there’s just like I told the Buddhist, I’m like, I’m not here to convert you. I’m going to tell you my story. And if you choose to believe, you believe, if you don’t, you don’t. And that that’s your life. But this is who I am. I’m not going to change. I’m sure. Like I said, you probably have the same thing in in your congregation of people, which is I don’t want to talk to them stinking Christians. And then you label them and you got you got hate on your mind. That’s no way to live. [00:36:34][45.3]

[00:36:35] And that’s the essence of having this conversation, because it’s it’s people like you. It’s believers like you that allow me to defend a whole category of you are a reminder that believers can be smart and insightful and fundamentally good people. And, you know, that’s pretty important in this world. You can still have these other disagreements and maybe we just don’t spend a lot of time talking about it normally. But you you you remind me that there’s good people of all perspectives don’t matter. [00:37:17][42.4]

[00:37:18] My brother, my goombah per speaking with me today. And again, I probably never said this on the podcast, but good luck with your church and your congregation. Thank you. Thank you for being a friend all these years. You’re an amazing man. [00:37:30][12.3]

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Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown is executive director of Center for Inquiry–Los Angeles, and the founder of the Independent Investigations Group.