October 19, 2023

Is New Atheism Dead?

Inside This Episode

Justin Brierley spent 17 years moderating debates between the brightest secular and Christian minds as the host of “Unbelievable” on Premier Christian Radio. In recent years, Justin has witnessed conversations about the Christian worldview shift as leading atheists and secular thinkers have begun to realize the value of the religion they fought so hard to dismantle. Justin is convinced that despite the data on declining church attendance, a great wave of faith is coming ashore in the West. 

Read Justin’s Book: “The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God: Why New Atheism Grew Old and Secular Thinkers Are Considering Christianity Again

Maybe God sponsor: https://htxgroup.com 

Peter Boghossian on The Spectator: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Y6DVpTqcqI

The Re-enchanting Podcast: https://www.seenandunseen.com/re-enchanting-podcast-launches

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Julie Mirlicourtois: Today's episode of Maybe God is sponsored by the HTX Group. With over 35 years' experience serving the Greater Houston area, this residential and commercial real estate group has achieved the highest production milestones and top industry awards. A very special thank you to the HTX Group for their support of Maybe God.

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Now let's get started.

[00:01:29] <music>

Eric Huffman: On this episode of Maybe God, author and podcaster, Justin Brierley spent 17 years moderating debates between the brightest secular and Christian minds on his show called Unbelievable?. Today, he's explaining how he's witnessed these conversations about the Christian worldview begin to shift in recent years as leading atheists and secular thinkers have begun to realize the value of the religion that they once fought so hard to dismantle.

Justin Brierley: So what I'm noticing is that as people jettisoned the Christian story, which gave people ultimately a shared narrative, a kind of communal sense of who they were, as that's been replaced by a million different stories about who you are and what your identity is that are all competing with each other, it's creating this very fractured, polarized culture.

And that's interesting because I've noticed other intellectuals, secular intellectuals are noticing the same thing, saying, hey, it turns out we've got a meaning crisis on our hands. Turns out that in the absence of the Christian story, people really don't know why they're here or what they're here for.

Eric Huffman: Justin also shares previews of his latest interviews that point to the surprising rebirth of belief in God among some of the great intellectuals of our time.

Paul Kingsnorth: So in the end, I just thought, "Maybe I'm a Christian. Damn, this is bad. I don't want to be a Christian. I don't like Christians." But then, of course, I started to look into Christianity and getting into the real meat of it. And then, of course, you realize that it's not what you thought it was.

[00:02:55] <music>

Eric Huffman: You're listening to Maybe God. I'm Eric Huffman. If you've been listening to Maybe God recently, you know that we've had a very special guest host recording some really fascinating conversations for us, all the way from the UK. Based on your feedback and those download numbers we're seeing, his episodes have been some of your favorite Maybe God episodes of all time. And I'm trying very hard not to take that personally.

What you may not have noticed is that there is a common theme to the interviews that author and podcaster, Justin Brierley, has been sharing lately. Since he left his very popular, Unbelievable? show earlier this year, Justin has spent less time talking to more militant atheists who generally despise religion and despise Christianity in particular and he spent more time talking to secular-minded intellectuals who seem to be having a change of heart as it relates to the Christian story.

Justin is convinced that despite all the data on declining church attendance these days, a great wave of faith is coming ashore in the West. It's the topic of his latest book, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God. And he recently joined us live in Houston to tell us all about it.

Justin Brierley: I was so pleased to be here, because I've obviously been talking to you for several months now, guest-hosting some podcasts for you guys, but all from the UK. So it's lovely to be here in the heart of it in Houston.

Eric Huffman: It's nice to not have to take the time difference into consideration when we meet.

Justin Brierley: Exactly. Or all the technical issues that occur when you're trying to do things remotely.

Eric Huffman: Right. And you brought your son, Noah here.

Justin Brierley: I did.

Eric Huffman: And y'all are having a great time. Had your first breakfast taco this morning.

Justin Brierley: Exactly. So we are getting all of the Houston experiences.

Eric Huffman: Well, that's great. Tell us a little bit about what life's been like for you, Justin, since most people probably know you still from the Unbelievable? years and life's different now, and wonderful, and you're doing amazing things, like this book. Just tell us what you've been up to.

Justin Brierley: It's been a really interesting moment of transition for me. So obviously, saying goodbye, a very bittersweet goodbye to the Unbelievable? show after 17 and a half years of hosting it. But what a privilege to have all of those conversations in the archive, so many interesting people that I was able to meet and discuss with.

But it's really, I feel, been leading up to me being able to, I guess, broaden my ministry, hopefully, of engaging the non-Christian and Christian world and bringing more of these conversations on faith to people. And that's really what I'm hoping to do with this new book, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God, it's drawing on a lot of those conversations from the last several years, and just showing why I think the atmosphere is changing, actually, when it comes to the God conversation.

Eric Huffman: Well, that whole topic is so interesting, and I hope we can get into it today. But maybe let's talk a little bit more about your experience on Unbelievable? and what you learned over the years. I mean, I've shared with you before that I learned how to interview people by watching you. Because when we started, Maybe God, I had no idea how to interview people. I thought I was supposed to just fight with people, and my producers and team was like, "You can't do that anymore, Eric. We want people to listen." So they told me to watch you, and you taught me a lot. What did you learn over the years about how to have fruitful conversations?

Justin Brierley: I guess I learned that, yes, you need to listen as much as you need to bring a defense or answers to people's questions. But it is important to make sure that people feel like they are genuinely being heard because otherwise it's not a conversation.

Also, being confident in your faith is as much about being able to hear an alternative perspective without having a knee-jerk response of fear or flight. And for me, that's really important, actually, because we live in a very post-Christian culture in many ways now. We have to be able to have good conversations.

And what the show was able to do, I think, was model those for many people. You wouldn't necessarily feel like the Christian one every time, by any means. It was very much whatever happened when the mics were open happened.

But actually, I think over the years, even the non-Christians, the many non-Christians who listened to the show, they gained a respect for Christianity, because they saw people engaging, fruitfully, civilly. And they may not have agreed with everything they heard, but actually it was a good example of how to have good conversations.

Eric Huffman: It really was. I know the show goes on and life goes on, but I don't want to be too sad about it. But I miss it already. Do you miss it?

Justin Brierley: I miss it. And look, I'm sure that in due course, I will be returning to hosting those kinds of dialogues. I feel like it is a gifting that God's given me. I've heard many other people say, especially since I've left the show, oh, I'd love to see you in that format again. I'm sure it will come around again.

For now, I'm really enjoying a kind of almost a sabbatical, really, from that, pursuing some new projects. I've got a new podcast documentary that's coming out soon based on this new book and co-hosting another podcast based in London called Re-enchanting, which is really about talking through some of these conversations with interesting people, looking at re-enchanting the secular world with the Christian worldview. So it's that rich tapestry of what happens in life. But I'm sure the conversations will be back before too long.

Eric Huffman: That's great. I've always thought it's interesting that we don't have something like that show stateside. I know that part of your approach, as you've said, it's just listening. And what that entails is giving every worldview and every person the benefit of the doubt and trying to hear the best version of the argument that they're making, right?

And you were always so gifted at that and so patient to the extent that sometimes on your show, I thought, well, the Christian lost that. If it was a fight and the store card was... it didn't always shake out in the Christian's favor. And you would tend to let that happen without needing to be subjective or biased. I wonder if that's part of the reason why in America on Christian radio stations there's not as much of openness.

I think there might be something to that. I think that inevitably the show was sort of experimental even in the UK and because it had that open-ended format, it wasn't just pat answers and apologetics. It did mean that it was a little bit more out there, a little bit more dangerous in a sense. But I think that's actually why it succeeded in the end because actually people felt like they were really listening to something genuine, not a kind of scripted kind of outcome.

And for that reason, that's why I think it ultimately did have a very diverse audience, both Christians and non-Christians listening. They felt like, oh no, we're really being genuinely heard and understood here. And for me, whether or not on any specific occasion, a Christian or atheist felt like they won the day, the point was that in the longer run, I think it did something good for both sides. As I say, it helped them to understand each other.

I don't think if someone listened as a non-Christian for a year, two years, maybe 10 years or more that some of those folks have been listening, they could walk away saying, well, Christianity is just fairy tales and nonsense. They will have heard something resembling a good intellectual case for Christianity from all kinds of different perspectives and angles.

And for me, that was in a sense part of the importance of the show. I know people for whom over many years, it took however long for them to actually come to the point where actually they were willing to ultimately change their mind.

Eric Huffman: Before I was a Christian, I used to say things and hear things like: arguing with a Christian is like playing chess with a pigeon. Have you seen that meme?

Justin Brierley: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: No matter how good you are at playing chess and no matter how much you win the argument, the pigeon's just gonna knock the pieces over and strut around like you won. I think that's the impression we give a lot of times as Christians, and that's what the world expects of us. And your show, for 17-plus years, was sort of the counter to that narrative. And I think that's why it was so valuable.

This is not intended... this conversation is much more than a retrospective. And looking back, I just wanna talk about that part of your life as the precursor to what is happening now. Because now maybe it's even more important than it was before that we have better conversations. Right?

Justin Brierley: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: And everything that you've learned over the years I think kind of went into this book and goes into everything that you talk about in interviews like this one.

Justin Brierley: Absolutely. For me, when the show began all those years ago, we were living in a pre-social media world. I couldn't have realized just how much more polarized things would become in that world. So we need these kinds of conversations that actually bring people together.

Eric Huffman: That's right. That's right. So let's talk about this book you've written. The book is just fantastic. It's beautifully written. It's what I love about books. The first things I look at are the footnotes or end notes and the bibliography because that tells me a lot about what went into the writing and just the thorough research you did for this book, pulling from your own conversations and experiences, but also from just academia and the research that's out there. Just really well done.

Justin Brierley: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: I just want to say. Tell us what went into the idea and its inception to write this book.

Justin Brierley: I think the book really started to formulate in my mind around the time I was hosting the Unbelievable? Show, but realizing that the conversations were changing. So the show began in the heyday of new atheism. And a lot of the conversations that I was hosting represented that kind of combative form of atheism represented by figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

[00:12:51] <music>

Christopher Hitchens: You have to be able to imagine that all this mass extinction and death and randomness is the will of a being. And all of this should happen so that one very imperfect race of evolved primates should have the opportunity to become Christians or to turn up at this gym tonight, that all of that was done with us in view. I was always brought up to believe that Christians were modest and humble and comported themselves with due humility, and this—there's a certain arrogance to this assumption that all of this, all of this extraordinary development was all about us, and we were the intended and desired result. And everything else was in the discard. The tremendous wastefulness of it, the tremendous cruelty of it—never mind, at least we're here and we can be people of faith. It doesn't work me. I have to simply say that. And I think there may be questions of psychology involved in this as well.

[00:13:45] <music>

Justin Brierley: Then I noticed a sort of change in the atmosphere of the conversations. Increasingly, guests who were coming on as atheists were distancing themselves from this new atheist movement. And I was also experiencing a lot more sort of secular thinkers but with much more nuanced understanding of Christianity. They weren't dismissing it out of hand. They understood the value of the Christian story.

And as some of those conversations started to predominate, I thought, well, maybe something's changing in the atmosphere here. And for me, that was the first sort of clue that actually maybe there was something happening. The new atheism seemed to be fading away, a new conversation coming in its place.

And in the end, I kind of, this and a number of other factors led me to believe that actually I think there's a sea change happening. Somewhere upstream, something's happening in our culture. We may not be feeling it because obviously the statistics still tell us that church attendance is declining, that more and more people say they're non-religious. But nonetheless, I still felt something was changing somewhere.

Eric Huffman: Well, and obviously new atheism forms part of the foundation of the book. I mean, to understand the book and where you're coming from, you really kind of have to be familiar with what is meant by the term "new atheism". The subtitle for the book is Why New Atheism Grew Old and Secular Thinkers Are Considering Christianity Again. But I would say most people probably don't know what to think when they hear the phrase "new atheism".

It's been a few years since that was making headlines in Time Magazine or wherever they were writing about new atheism. And yet we know the thinking behind new atheism shaped a lot of what people assume to be true about the world and religion and science and things. So let's talk about new atheism. When did that phrase arise and who are the sort of forerunners in the movement?

Justin Brierley: I believe the phrase "new atheism" was coined by a journalist in 2006, Gary Wolf, in an article where he was profiling some of these characters who were making headlines at the time, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett. These were the so-called four horsemen of new atheism.

What was it? It was a very dogmatic form of atheism, one that was very much in the culture, in the media. It wasn't just sort of sheltered in ivory towers in academia. And these were people who said not only was it irrational to believe in God, but that religion was dangerous for you. So it was fueled by 9/11 and concerns about fundamentalist religion from that, also by cultural concerns around the teaching of creationism in classrooms and so on.

So there was a bit of a movement, and I think, again, fueled by the internet coming of age and the fact that lots of disparate people, people who were non-religious could now gather together in online communities.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Justin Brierley: It was this movement that just sort of, I guess, a perfect storm of factors came together and we called it the new atheism. Probably the nearest thing to an advertising campaign it had in the UK was the atheist bus campaign. So these were London buses circulating the capital, bearing the slogan "There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life".

So that was really interesting to see effectively atheism advertising itself. That really hadn't happened before in the UK. And perhaps here in the US, a similar high watermark was the Reason Rally in Washington, DC.

Justin Brierley: Tens of thousands of agnostics and skeptics coming out to sort of champion science and reason.

Richard Dawkins: Folks, Professor Richard Dawkins. What a magnificent, inspiring sight. How could anyone rally against reason? How is it necessary to have a rally for reason? Reason means basing your life on evidence and on logic, which is how you deduce the consequences of evidence. In a hundred years' time, it seems to me inconceivable that anybody could want to have a rally for reason. By that time, we'll either have blown ourselves up or we'll have become so civilized that we no longer need it.

Justin Brierley: It was a very interesting cultural moment.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. I think part of it that... I mean, I agree with everything you said, but another factor, at least in the States, was I think it was in part a response to the moral majority, kind of Christian right political movement.

Justin Brierley: I agree.

Eric Huffman: You know, Bushism was kind of the tail end of that, at least W. Bush, and, you know, this sort of America as a Christian nation sort of thing. And, you know, 9/11 and then the wars that many people disagreed with at the time and everyone disagrees with. Now, in retrospect, Iraq and Afghanistan, being sort of phrased or couched as semi-holy wars. Like, you know, this is a return... George W. Bush used the word crusade a lot during that time. And I think this was also part of a reaction against that sort of cultural reality.

Justin Brierley: I think it was. And to that extent, I think the real driver for the new atheism was more located in the US, ultimately, than the UK, where we don't have a kind of Christian moral majority, religious right wing in that sense.So I think it was a lot of secularists and atheists who felt that they sort of had to defend their corner and they had to speak up for secularization and the church and state separation and so on.

So a lot of that was driving it. And you know, you had your own billboard campaigns and probably still do to some extent from secular organizations trying to make sure that Christians don't impinge on schools and so on. So yes, that was a lot of what was driving it. As I say, it felt like it was a very strong and quite well-known movement for a number of years, but it did ultimately tail off in the end.

Eric Huffman: Sure, it did as a predominant sort of force that led a lot of people into its influence. I think it still has ripple effects though to this day. I still pick up on the sort of rhetoric of the new atheists that I recall. It was complicated for me in the 2000s because I wasn't really a Christian yet in terms of being someone all in with Jesus. I was in the church, but I was, as I've told you before, kind of a liberal political activist person.

A lot of what the new atheist leaders were saying is stuff that I had been saying from within the church, other than, you know... except for like just God is a delusion, you know, a lot of the social implications of it I'd already been talking about. So I was a little bit torn as far as my allegiances. When did you start to pick up on the foundation crumbling underneath new atheism?

Justin Brierley: I think there were a few different things. I think there were forces from outside the movement that led to it ultimately running out of steam. So I think the fact in the end that it didn't really deliver a positive ethic for life, people couldn't actually form a kind of a basis for living purely on science and reason.

So once they'd torn down God, if you like, they didn't erect anything in God's place for people to kind of find helpful and meaningful in their life. So I think that was partly why it failed. It simply didn't deliver. But in the end, internally, there was also really a kind of unraveling that took place. And this was fascinating to watch from the sidelines because in some ways, I think the culture wars came early for new atheism.

There was one particular moment in 2011 that's been dubbed elevator gate where a skeptical vlogger called Rebecca Watson, who goes online as Skeptic, was giving a talk at an atheist conference. She was alongside people like Richard Dawkins. And she was talking about the problem of sexism and misogyny in the atheist movement.

That night, going back to her room at about 4 a.m. after drinks with some of the other speakers, she got propositioned in the elevator by one of the delegates at this conference. And she later vlogged about this and said, this is the problem, folks, with the atheist movement.

Now that might've been the end of it, except that Richard Dawkins himself, really the leader of the movement, then blogged in response to her vlog, a highly sarcastic response titled Dear Muslima, where he compared her concerns with, say, women in very religiously oppressive societies and said, forget about having your hands chopped off. Think of your poor sisters being asked to coffee in a room.

And this just poured gasoline on the whole debate. So suddenly the whole thing exploded with people on one side saying, no, atheism has to be more than just a denial of God. It has to be pro-feminism, LGBT rights, equality issues, and so on. That turned into something that came to be dubbed Atheism Plus. So it's atheism plus a commitment to these kind of social justice issues. But then there was a big backlash against that. So people who are more on the Dawkins side who said, no, no, no, we just want science and free thinking.

Eric Huffman: Materialism. Strict materialism.

Justin Brierley: "We don't need any of these politically correct ideologies in our movement." And they, if you like, ended up going in what you might call anti-woke direction. But what happened there was the movement basically split into two camps. And from then on, there were just increasing numbers of controversies within the movement. Leaders falling out with each other over that and other issues, people who simply refused to share a stage any longer at some of these atheist conferences, to the point where some of the chief architects of the movement later wrote that they highly regretted ever being part of it because they didn't like the direction it went. So it was interesting to watch that. And I think that because the movement itself started to splinter and fragment in this way, obviously that meant it couldn't really continue the energy it had before.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, so interesting. And people that missed the boat on this movement and might not know exactly how influential it was, there was a time when for young intellectuals in the West, I mean, the writings of Dawkins and the talks of Christopher Hitchens and Dennett and Sam Harris, I mean, it was taking his gospel truth.

Justin Brierley: And it was cool to be an atheist. You know, it felt like a kind of really intellectually savvy, trendy thing. But one example that I talk about in the book where things... I think I got a clue that something had flipped quite dramatically was in 2018, I was due to come over to the US to host an onstage debate between an atheist and a Christian.

And I reached out to an atheist, I'd had on the show only four or five years before, Peter Boghossian. He was really a poster boy of the new atheist really. He was a philosophy tutor at Portland State University. He'd written a book called A Manual for Creating Atheists, which was exactly what it says on the tin. It was about arguing people out of what he believed were their religious delusions. He even compared being a person of faith to being sort of deluded to a mental illness effectively. So you can kind of see where he stood on the issue in that way.

But when I contacted him, as I say about, four or five years later for this conversation, I was bowled over by the email I received in response. He said, "Justin, I'm really not debating religious issues with religious people anymore. In fact, I regard a lot of Christians and people of faith as being more my allies now than my foes."

Eric Huffman: Amazing.

Justin Brierley: And he said, "You'll find out why, but I believe there's a far more pernicious enemy that we need to be fighting." And what that transpired to be was effectively what he calls grievance studies. These are kind of academic studies centered on issues around race, LGBT, feminism, and other things where he believed that a certain sort of politically correct ideology was capturing academia, an orthodoxy that couldn't be questioned and was actually creating this kind of cancel culture on campus and sort of academic freedom of expression was being squashed.

So he and his co-conspirators developed all of these hoax papers that they managed to get published in peer-reviewed journals, basically just parroting the right kind of language and so on. And when this was exposed, it caused quite the controversy in academic circles.

It was so interesting, regardless of what you think about his views and those politics and stuff, that he flipped from kind of debating and being very anti-religious to actually seeing people of faith and some Christians as his allies and the way in which the whole ground shifted because the culture wars were changing everyone's allegiances at that point.

[00:26:35] <music>

Peter Boghossian: It's absolutely true, and I think there was a Pollyanna attitude that many new atheists had that somehow we’ll bury God, borrow a turn of phrase from Nietzsche, and everybody’s going to be living in some rational paradise. Little did anybody know at that point, although the canaries in the coal mine were in the new atheist movement, in the skeptical movement, we started to see this in the very beginning, that what would replace it would be horrific. Look what the kind of things that we're dealing with now. So the substitution hypothesis is when you get rid of the Abrahamic traditions or whatever is traditional religion in a country, something else will come in, so some other form of irrationality will come in and substitute for what was lost, because the only reason that you have new gods is because people don't believe in the old gods anymore.

Justin Brierley: And yes, he's certainly not a convert to Christianity by any stretch of the imagination, but he certainly realized, I think at that point, it turns out that Christians and fundamentalists of that kind are the least of my worries. It was this new kind of what he would see quasi-religious stuff in his own backyard in academia. That was the thing he suddenly realized he needed to work on.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, the Boghossian, James Lindsay-

Justin Brierley: And Helen Pluckrose.

Eric Huffman: ...and Helen Pluckrose, they were the trio that put those false papers together and submitted them to journals. And a lot of those submissions were accepted into those journals and lauded in some cases. One of them was, I think, if I'm remembering this right, was just a word-for-word translation of Mein Kampf.

Justin Brierley: Yeah, it was dressed-up sections of Mein Kampf and they managed to, which I think does highlight that there are concerns around what is being taken as sort of makes sense in academia these days. I mean, I'm not saying that I, in a sense, endorse everything that Boghossian and others say and do because they've kind of very much gone all in on the culture wars. But what was interesting is that wherever you look now at the new atheists, none of their leaders are critiquing institutional religion any longer. They've all taken sides on the culture wars.

So as I say, some went in a very progressive direction, others like Boghossian and to an extent Richard Dawkins now have gone in a very anti-woke direction. And that's been the thing that has really captured all their time and attention. They're not talking about religion anymore.

Eric Huffman: Okay, maybe God listeners, we're gonna take a little break now to let you know about something brand new that we're doing on this podcast. If you're a longtime listener, you know we've never aired ads or asked our listeners to pay for any content. But ever since we committed to producing weekly content on the podcast and on our YouTube channel, Maybe God has reached the point at which sponsorships are necessary to keep growing.

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I think a lot of people looking sort of from the outside in at the culture war would say, well, it's Christians and religious people that are concerned about woke versus unwoke stuff. You know, I would be just fine if I never heard another Christian podcast or a sermon about woke stuff. And if I felt like I didn't have to talk about it anymore, that'd be great. But you have this whole subsection of society now, academia and intellectual atheists or former atheists that are deeply concerned about this.

Justin Brierley: And I think the reason they're concerned is because they've realized that you can't just get rid of religion. I think what they rather naively assumed that once they had sort of demolished God and got rid of that story, people would sort of be open to science and reason and critical thinking, and it would all just be a sort of logical utopia.

Of course, that wasn't what emerged. They didn't actually have that many converts, I think, to this sort of scientific rationalism. What they cleared the way for, I think, is the coming in of a lot of quasi-religious stories. Because people, in my view, still need a kind of religious story to live by. We're meaning-seeking creatures. None of us can really live believing that we're just bouncing around chaotically in a meaningless universe.

So people tend to, in the absence of the Christian story, import other quasi-religious stories. And I think some of these, on the left, some of those progressive woke ideologies serve that kind of function for people. That's their sacred thing. That's their identity. That's the thing that, you know. But equally on the right, you get political mythologies. There's a certain, you know, savior of America that's being lauded by certain people at the moment. And-

Eric Huffman: I have no idea what you're talking about. Let's move on.

Justin Brierley: But it exists on both sides, basically, that the religious instinct doesn't go away even in the absence of the Christian story.

Eric Huffman: It's almost like people are people, regardless of, you know, where they-

Justin Brierley: Exactly.

Eric Huffman: Because what you're describing, the downfall of New Atheism sounds a lot like what's happening with certain denominations in Christendom right now. And it's just so fascinating to think about. What do you think, specifically, folks that you're describing, the Boghossian of the world, what specifically did they realize is lost when God is lost?

Justin Brierley: I think they realized, potentially, that objective truth is potentially lost. Because if we can basically invent our own truth, then it's very difficult to have a conversation with people in the end. So I think that's one of the things that they're missing, in a sense. I think at least they realized that when they were kind of confronting Christians, there was still a kind of specific truth on the table to be debated. Does God exist or not? Is there a meaning to life or not?

Now, I think in a more kind of postmodern kind of world that they're often having these conversations, truth is all relative, it's person-specific. And so, you know, you're not allowed to question someone else's truth, if you like, because it's seen as insulting or derogatory. So I think that's one of the issues that they're dealing with.

I think they're also just coming to realize that you can't, as I say, get rid of that religious instinct. I think they've kind of realized that it was almost a pointless exercise trying to squash that. And you actually have to work alongside it. So it's interesting hearing even Richard Dawkins in some of his most recent podcasts and things, not, sort of just accepting, actually, that maybe Christianity wasn't so bad. Maybe, you know, if we have to have a story to live by, it's better than some of the stories that exist out there.

So it's fascinating when you hear even someone who was as hardline as him mellowing in that kind of way. What was it that he said to his followers? At one point he said publicly, you know, go after the Christians, like humiliate them.

Justin Brierley: Ridicule them.

Eric Huffman: Ridicule them in public. Like he was very militant in his rhetoric, at least.

Justin Brierley: He was. But I just wonder whether the reason he's toned some of that rhetoric down in recent years is because he's been on the receiving end of some of that. As he has then ceased to be flavor of the month among certain liberal circles because of, say, his views on transgender, he has suddenly received an awful lot of ridicule, pillorying, and a backlash. I just wonder whether he's realized, oh, what was good for the goose is good for the gander. He's seen the other side of it.

Eric Huffman: Well, you know, that brings to mind other stories you hear in the news. J.K. Rowling, for example, who was the hero of, I don't want to say the left, is the cultural hero of entire generations. And when she says, well, you know, a woman is a woman and a man is a man or whatever it was she said, you know, not denigrating or dehumanizing anyone in any capacity, but she didn't follow the narrative. So she was basically the victim of a witch hunt at that point.

Justin Brierley: And became a social pariah in certain circles. This is the interesting thing about the culture we live in, where, as I say, when you have someone who is a sort of cultural icon, like J.K. Rowling, can suddenly be seen by some parts of culture as this person who's essentially a bigot and a transphobe and everything, it does show just how quickly the culture has moved on in that way.

I think the question for me is, is how much longer we can sustain this kind of culture war, basically. Because I think ultimately what we're starting to see is the signs that culture is kind of cracking under it. Because we can't sustain all of these different stories that are so ultimately different to each other, where your truth does not directly confronts my truth. So how are we gonna work this out? We've lost the ability, as we were saying earlier, to have good conversations, unfortunately.

So what I'm noticing is that as people jettison the Christian story, which gave people ultimately a shared narrative, a kind of communal sense of who they were, why they were here in the world, what their identity was, as that's been replaced by a million different stories about who you are and what your identity is, that are all competing with each other, it's creating this very fractured, polarized culture.

So the question is, how much longer can we sort of continue with the benefits that the Christian story gave us when we're telling so many alternative stories to the Christian story now? And that's interesting because I've noticed other intellectuals, secular intellectuals, noticing the same thing, saying, Hey, it turns out we've got a meaning crisis on our hands. It turns out that in the absence of the Christian story people really don't know why they're here or what they're here for.

And that's, again, part of the book is sort of saying, okay, the New Atheism failed, it kind of cleared the way for lots of these quasi-religious stories to come in, but those stories aren't working. And suddenly you've got the rise of interesting people asking significant questions about whether we can live without something that does help us to live together like the Christian story did.

Eric Huffman: It brings to mind what you shared in the book about Tom Holland. Could you just talk to us about Tom Holland and his journey?

Justin Brierley: Yeah, absolutely. Tom Holland's a fascinating individual. I always have to say-

Eric Huffman: Not Spider-Man.

Justin Brierley: Not Spider-Man. Not that Tom Holland. This is another English Tom Holland who has actually got a fascinating story himself, which he tells in his bestselling book, Dominion, of having grown up with something of a sort of nominal Anglican faith as a child, but it's sputtered out by his teenage years. And he was a happy sort of secular intellectual researching as an adult the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans. He published some really bestselling historical works on that.

But as he entered that world and started to understand it more and more, he realized how very alien the values and the culture were to his own. So this was a world where slavery was just an accepted part of the economic fabric, where the treatment of women and children was very different to our culture. You could expose children you didn't want. That meant literally leaving them for the wild animals. That was just an accepted part of the way you treated children.

Likewise, people could be sexual property. The slaughter and enslavement of a million people would be a cause of celebration for Caesar. And he realized as he looked at this world that it was so different to his own values of freedom, equality, dignity. And he asked, where did those values come from? They didn't obviously come from the world of the Greeks and the Romans. And he knew they didn't come from science and the Enlightenment either.

He realized where they came from was Jesus Christ. The Christian revolution was what shaped and gave us our moral instincts in the West. And he tells us over about the course of about three or 4,000 pages. But his own sort of revelation has led him to really start to talk about that in secular circles.

He's been challenging a lot of his humanist peers who say, well, we don't need Christianity to be good people and so on. And just reminding them, well, actually you are a Christian. I mean, you may not believe the stories, but actually, everything you hold dear came from this story. And that's been really interesting when you have a secular intellectual like Tom Holland basically saying the Christian story is actually what gave us the culture that we enjoy here.

Eric Huffman: What specifically of worth is he referring to when he says that everything that makes our Western civilization what it is comes from... everything important comes from the Christian perspective. Is he talking about the inherent implicit worth of every human being, like the Imago Dei? Is that...?

Justin Brierley: Absolutely. He would say, if you like... the Judaism was obviously the first place where you found that idea of the inherent worth of every person because they're made in the image of God. But the Christianity sent that global effectively. It took that idea and not only did it preach it in every corner of the world. It also embodied it in the story of Jesus Christ because there you had this what was obviously in pagan times, a bizarre, strange story of a God who apparently, according to his followers, became human and then died the death of a rebellious slave on a cross.

This was not the way you constructed your God stories in the ancient world. And yet this idea of a God who sacrifices Himself for the poor, for the vulnerable, that power sacrifices itself for the weak, that became the driving force of the Christian story. And that was so counter-cultural to the world it came out of, and yet it transformed the world that it went into.

And for Tom Holland, every time that someone in the Western world does something like an act of charity for someone else, the fact that we create welfare systems for the most vulnerable people, he says, this is not a result of Greek democratic thinking, this is not a result of enlightenment thinking. This is a Christian theological belief that you're putting into practice.

And we've forgotten, effectively, that everything we believe in that respect is a very bizarre, culturally contingent thing that came directly from Christianity. But he's saying he's just trying to remind people that the water they swim in is effectively Christian. It didn't have to be this way, but these are the things we believe, and it's because Jesus Christ molded it for us.

Eric Huffman: And the elements that make up that water we swim in are good, they've been very good for us and very good for humanity, and they have not been the given way or the norm for most of humankind.

Justin Brierley: And in many parts of the world today, they're not the norm. And I think Tom Holland recognizes that these are unusual fruits cultivated in unique soil, the Christian story. There are other worldviews out there. There is Islam, there is China. There are other world powers where they have a different story of reality.

And his worry, and I think others, is that if we lose the Christian story, how do we know that those fruits will remain? And how do we know that we will be able to continue the expansion of this idea, this vision of the West, given the fact that there are many other stories in our world that are now increasingly growing in power?

[00:43:22] <music>

Eric Huffman: This is a clip from Justin's interview with popular historian Tom Holland for his new podcast by the same name as his book, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God.

Justin Brierley: You are worried about what an increasingly post-Christian society will look like.

Tom Holland: One of the reasons I have begun to find Christianity so appealing is actually the aspect of it that traditionally people have been most revolted by, which is the idea of original sin. So my wife, her parents were very devout Catholics, had her baptized, and at the baptism, the talk of original sin was so shocking to them. It came as a sudden revelation that they completely lost their faith and raised her as a kind of doctrinaire atheist.

But I think that the kind of Pelagian idea that we can become virtuous, we live in a Pelagian society now, and I think it's a sort of immense pressure. And it becomes coercive because if you can become perfect, then if you're not perfect, then you have to be condemned. You have to be canceled. And it removes the scope for forgiveness, and actually the idea that we are all sinners. It keeps everybody honest, and it generates a sense of compassion. And I think that that's what's missing.

There's a great deal in what's happening that is obviously deep expressing the Christian ideals, the idea that those who suffer should suffer no more. But because it lacks the theological basis that previous manifestations of this provided, there seems a lack of forgiveness, a lack of charity.

And of course, it's not surprising that this happened because I think that this is something that is you know,... and it's one of the things that always gives me pause. I think there is something inherent about this within Christianity. I think that this is always a risk that you forget that Jesus died because He'd been condemned by people who thought that they were virtuous.

The parable of the grand inquisitor in Brother Karamazov. But I think that the genius of Christianity is precisely that what matters more than that inquisitorial instinct is the remembrance of how Christ died and why He died.

[00:45:53] <music>

Justin Brierley: Tom Holland is one among many interesting thinkers. I mean, someone I only mentioned briefly in the book, but I've since completing the manuscript had a chance to interview her a couple of times. I cheekily kind of almost referred to as the female Tom Holland.

Louise Perry is a fascinating thinker. And her particular concern has been in the area of sex and relationships. She grew up, I would say, with a kind of standard liberal Western view of feminism, but she kind of came to rethink it because she worked in a rape crisis center. And she saw that the way we think about sex in the West, the sexual revolution just was not good for women.

She wrote a whole book on this called The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, written purely really from a kind of socio-evolutionary perspective, showing all the ways in which this kind of culture in which basically men, as far as she sees it, are allowed to sort of almost exist unbridled in terms of their sexual appetites, and women are kind of expected to become more like men in the way that they engage in relationships and so on. She said, this has actually been a terrible thing for women when it just comes to biology, socio-evolutionary circumstances, and so on.

But I think in the course of writing that book, she kind of was surprised herself that she was effectively coming to very historic Orthodox Christian conclusions. Because she said, well, it turns out by the final chapter I'd realized that the best way of expressing relationships turned out to be monogamous, faithful relationships, marriages. And she essentially realized that Christianity for all its faults had actually got that right. It was the best of a lot of worst options, if you like. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed to make sense.

And Louise Perry since has been effectively saying very similar things to Tom Holland. Look, folks, I know Christianity is unfashionable, this idea of keeping sex for marriage between one man and one woman is incredibly unfashionable in our culture right now, but it turns out it might be the best thing for people.

[00:48:04] <music>

Eric Huffman: This clip of Louise Perry, who calls herself a Christian agnostic, is from a podcast that Justin co-hosts called Re-enchanting.

Louise Perry: Similarly, I would say, particularly for women who are trying to enjoy casual sex and view hookup culture as just sort of new leisure activity that's suddenly been desequitized and has been made available to women, it's a very dominant view among feminists and sort of particularly 1990s onwards, which is really sort of the target of my whole book.

There are some women for whom I think they really can enjoy casual sex like that. You can really have sex like a man, so that's the expression used in Sex and the City. But actually the vast majority of women don't really feel like that. And what they will normally end up experiencing is deep, instinctive feelings of discomfort and distress, which are very difficult to articulate.

Because if you believe in sexual disenchantment and if you're trying to pretend that actually sex doesn't mean anything, how can you express this? I mean, the only terminology you really have available to you is the terminology of consent. But consent is a very simple binary. It's just a legalistic idea, really.

And it's quite possible to consent to something in legal terms, but to not enjoy it, or to be made unhappy long-term by it, or to be left with kind of vague feelings of distress, which might be quite hard to articulate. And that is what an enormous number of young women experience in hookup culture, which is the prevailing sexual culture among young people in the 21st century.

[00:49:40] <music>

Eric Huffman: So of these people that you're talking about, their stories are so fascinating, have any of them actually become Christians themselves, or are they just sort of wanting to reclaim the form of, or what Christianity offers to society as a construct?

Justin Brierley: I think at the personal level, you would probably have to ask them. And I suspect among all the people I profile in this book, they're all at different places. Some of them, I think, are holding Christianity at arm's length. Others, I think, are kind of tentatively stepping into and trying to embrace it as best they can. So I don't want to say exactly where either of those two people are on that spectrum.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Justin Brierley: But absolutely, I think there is a sense that they value the Christian story, they see the way in which it has impacted and had a valuable sort of heritage in the West. But I think they're also aware that this story probably can't continue in that way unless people actually believe it. And I think they would like people to believe it, even if they sometimes have trouble believing it themselves. It's kind of a strange place to be in, but they can see the way that actually believing the story is true has transformed culture in the past.

Eric Huffman: Absolutely. I have an interesting sort of relationship intellectually with the work of Jordan Peterson, and I've seen how he has impacted, mostly positively, the lives of so many young men, including men in my congregation, including me. I mean, I've been positively impacted by his work in recent years. But his sort of tenor around Christianity, it sounds eerily similar to what you're describing, which is sort of a real friendliness about Christianity, but maybe wanting to stop short of going all in with Jesus and saying, you know, let's evangelize now.

Justin Brierley: I think there is a sort of, I think, especially for intellectuals, that there can be a sense of they don't want to surrender their brain. And I think that's often what they've been told, culturally, you are doing in becoming a Christian is you kind of have to surrender an intellectual part of yourself. Obviously, I don't believe that's true. I believe, actually, you can have the best of both worlds when you're a Christian.

But I have had, you know, off-mic conversations with some of these folk, and it's so interesting because many of them, they want it to be true, and they want to be able to believe, but there is a bit of an intellectual kind of barrier there. They can see the value of it. They have friends, very often, who have converted to Christianity, but there's something stopping them. I don't know. That'll probably be each individual will have to work that out as to what that means for them.

Eric Huffman: Sure. What's Jordan Peterson's famous line when he's asked about God or about Christianity?

Justin Brierley: When I asked him about this on my show, he said, it depends what you mean by God. And then he said, I live my life as though God exists.

Eric Huffman: Right, that's the one, yeah.

Justin Brierley: As far as he's concerned, he says, what people say they believe is kind of, to some extent, irrelevant because in the end, it's actually how you act that tells you what you actually believe. And I think there's something in that.

Eric Huffman: Pretty biblical, actually.

Justin Brierley: Faith without works is dead. It's that sense that, yes, you can say I believe in God, but does your life look like you actually trust in God? So I think there's something in that. And I understand him not wanting to be pinned down too much because I think for all of these intellectual thinkers who are sort of somewhere on the outskirts of Christianity and kind of pointing people towards it, for me, they're kind of serving a really useful function in a funny way as sort of profits from outside the church because often, people are more willing to listen to them because they're not, they don't feel like they're invested or they're a salesman for this thing. God is using people, unusual people, to kind of... often doing a better job than we are inside the church to kind of point people back to the Christian story.

Eric Huffman: Well, yeah, they're not investing in billboards or signs of buses, which there's another quote from your book. I can't remember who it was you quoted that said, anytime somebody pays for advertisements, they have a product.

Justin Brierley: Or a religion.

Eric Huffman: Or a religion, that's right.

Justin Brierley: Exactly.

Eric Huffman: Who was that?

Justin Brierley: It was Margaret Atwood, I think.

Eric Huffman: Margaret Atwood, that's right. When I think about Jordan Peterson and people like him, I mean, I wish more Christians spoke as passionately about Jesus and the Bible as I see. I mean, Jordan Peterson can't talk about Jesus without crying.

Justin Brierley: Well, absolutely. And he's an interesting character in that respect because I think because he went through this illness he had where he was out of the public eye for a year and a half and obviously had very near-death kind of encounter at that point, I think he came out of that and I did notice a big change in the way he talked about faith from that point onwards. I noticed that his wife, Tammy, became a very committed Catholic. His daughter, Michaela, who I've also had a conversation with, has become a Christian. It feels like the net is closing in on Jordan Peterson.

But he has this very, you know, quite close personal friendship with an Eastern Orthodox thinker, Jonathan Pageau. And when I heard them in conversation talking about Jesus, Jordan Peterson got very emotional, describing almost in C.S. Lewis-like terms, the way that he sees the character of Jesus bringing together the world of mythology and meaning that he's so invested in as a psychologist, and if you like, the world of material stuff and history. And he said, in Jesus, you sort of have those two worlds collide. And he said, "I can't understand my belief and I'm almost scared of it," something like that. He was very sort of personally affected by this idea. So who knows where that story will end?

But it's interesting to see Jordan Peterson working his faith out in public in that way. And I think that in itself is giving other people, especially a lot of these young men who follow him, a kind of permission to take Christianity seriously. At which they weren't given, I mean, quite the opposite under the new atheists, you know, they would have been laughed out of court. But now it feels like, okay, this is an option.

Eric Huffman: Well, we have young men at our church that have come around again because of Jordan Peterson's teachings on Genesis and his lectures on the book of Genesis. And because it just gave them a framework to make sense of Christianity again and to consider walking through that door again. So I'm super grateful and obviously grateful for your work to that end as well. I think some might say that there's a risk involved in making it seem satisfactory from a Christian perspective to sort of revisit Christianity as a social construct.

Justin Brierley: Yeah, as a sort of psychologically useful fiction.

Eric Huffman: Utility.

Justin Brierley: Yeah, yeah. I agree. And that for me will always be too little and not enough if you stop at that point. I mean, I welcome the fact that people are going that far, if you like-

Eric Huffman: Absolutely.

Justin Brierley: ...recognizing the value of Christianity. There's another thinker called Brett Weinstein who I've had conversations with, and he has this line that religion is metaphorically true, he says. So basically it's true because it works, okay. But I think it's the other way around. I think the reason it works is because it's literally true, not just metaphorically true.

I think you don't get the kinds of benefits we've had from the Christian revolution without there being a real event that sparked that. For me, you'll only have the benefits of Christianity in the end if you come to it as a true story, something that is capable of transforming people and transforming the world.

So, for me, I love the fact that these new thinkers are kind of opening the door, but I want people to go through the door and realize this is true. And for me, that's the other half of the book is showing here's why you would want it to be true. People like Peterson and Holland and Louise Perry are kind of showing you why you would want this story to be true. Well, here's good news. It is true. There's a real story here that you can invest your life in.

Eric Huffman: Basically, the second half of the book is just that beautiful invitation. So well-articulated. And it felt to me like Justin Brierley the interviewer, was becoming Justin Brierley the evangelist.

Justin Brierley: Oh, wow.

Eric Huffman: Is that what's happened?

Justin Brierley: I am. I mean, even as an interviewer, being a very kind of neutral moderator person, I'm still an evangelist at heart, because I actually believe that those conversations have an evangelistic potential. I hope the book does, because yes, I'm interested in the end in inviting people into, I think, the story that has changed the world and can still transform every individual.

So I do include a number of people, not just who are kind of on the edges, but also secular thinkers who have gone all the way, become Christians. I mean, I've had the privilege of, again, interviewing a couple of times now, Paul Kingsnorth, who's a celebrated author and poet from the UK. He's got a background in environmental activism.

He's just a fascinating individual, because he has really been on a kind of religious search all his life. He started out as a sort of teenage atheist, I guess. He'd kind of had a nominal sort of experience of Anglicanism growing up in the UK, but it hadn't stuck. You know, a lot of people go through a teenage atheist phase. But he says he could never bring himself to believe the world was disenchanted. He loved being in nature. There was something about nature that spoke to him so deeply.

So he decided to maybe find something to believe in. He tried, first of all, Buddhism. And for many years, you know, was on Buddhist retreats, meditation, Zen Buddhism, kind of trying to look inwards to find that meaning and purpose. But in the end, he said he felt like he wanted to worship something, and Buddhism didn't give him that option.

So believe it or not, he went to Wicca. So it's actually kind of a modern variation on witchcraft and new age. He calls it actually a Christian heresy in retrospect. He says it uses a lot of kind of quasi-Christian rituals and things, but you're doing it in the woods and chanting. And he said it was fun, but again, he ultimately found it didn't satisfy.

He said he was having dinner one night with his wife, and she quite out of the blue said, "You're going to become a Christian." And he said, "What are you talking about? Why would you say that?" It was not something he'd considered as a possibility. He was like, "That was like, you know, I remember what Christianity was. It's that irrelevant Sunday school thing from my past." But she was right.

[01:00:24] <music>

Paul Kingsnorth: All sorts of strange things started happening to me. I had a dream about Jesus, and I thought, "What's that about?" I wrote it down. It was so very particular. Then I started having sort of... weirdly, I kept meeting Christians everywhere. So I felt like something was happening, right? So I felt like all these Christians were coming towards me. At the time I was running this writing class, and suddenly I had all these priests saying, Can you help me with my writing?

Woman: Don't you hate it when that happens?

Paul Kingsnorth: Terrible. I know. They're everywhere. And then I'd do things like discovering that friends of mine who I hadn't known were Christian were actually Christian, and then all sorts of stuff. And then it was just suddenly it was Christians everywhere. I was going, "What's going on?"

And then I really started to have a sense that I was being dragged out of Wicca by something or someone, and being told not to do this anymore. And I felt like I knew who it was, but I didn't want to think about that. But a lot of things happened to me, to cut a long story short.

And it was partly a sort of intellectual dissatisfaction with what I was doing. But more than that, it was actually a lot of experiences. I felt like I was being really forcibly dragged towards Christianity. So in the end, I just thought, "Maybe I'm a Christian. Damn, this is bad. I don't want to be a Christian. I don't like Christians. I don't like this. This is bad."

But then of course I started to look into Christianity and start reading the real... getting into the real meat of it. And then of course, you realize that it's not what you thought it was, and that the depth of it and the cosmology of it is really not what you thought you learned at school. But anyway.

So I just started looking around walking into churches and sitting at the back and things. Eventually, I walked into an Orthodox monastery and I went to the Divine Liturgy. And I'd never experienced anything like that before. And after you've been to two or three, you can't stop. And here I am. Now I turn out to be an Orthodox Christian.

It's interesting, there's a friend of mine, Martin Shaw, who you spoke to before and he's also recently become an Orthodox Christian after 10 years of being a sort of pagan storyteller. I know Martin very well. Somebody asked him recently, they said, "Why did you convert to Christianity then?" And he said, "I don't think I did. I think I just realized I was a Christian all along." And I kind of feel the same, actually. I kind of feel like when you join the Orthodox Church, people say, welcome home.

[01:02:37] <music>

Justin Brierley: He is an absolutely sold-out Christian. And if it can happen to Paul Kingsnorth, I feel like it could happen to anyone. And those are some of the surprising stories I'm coming across of people you wouldn't expect, these, you know, highly intelligent cultural influencers, but who are suddenly finding the Christian story makes sense of their story in ways they hadn't expected. And I just wonder whether that might be the first signs that something's changed.

Eric Huffman: I mean, that is the beauty of it all, is that what you're arguing for is all of the social ramifications of Christianity and the Christian worldview in the West, all the value that it brings, even that is not the end in itself, but it means to a greater end of people, individuals and communities, like waking up to a personal sort of relationship with this God of whom we speak and the God who makes all of this beauty possible, you know, and all this good stuff possible.

Obviously, there's a reawakening in our culture now to spirituality. I mean, the number of atheists is not really going up, you know. There's increasing numbers of agnostics and a way increase in unaffiliated, right?

Justin Brierley: As you say, if you actually look at the surveys, even though we're getting this big, obviously increase in non-religious, the nuns, the number who actually tick the kind of "I am an atheist" really hasn't changed much over the years. So it is this kind of spiritual, but not religious category that I think is actually growing.

Eric Huffman: And yeah, which no one would have expected 20 years ago, by the way. Like everyone thought that half the country would be atheist by 2030 or whatever. And we're just not going that direction for reasons you've articulated and you've written about in the book.

How do we as Christians help people to see the uniqueness of Christianity compared with some of the new age spirituality? Because it's so appealing to people who are individualistic and maybe slightly-

Justin Brierley: It is that thing I said earlier that you can't extinguish the religious impulse in people. And it's interesting to see that even in our highly scientific, secular age, the numbers of calls the Catholic church are getting for exorcism because people are dabbling in witchcraft, the occult, Ouija boards. I noticed on TikTok, there's a new trend, witch talk. And these are people casting hexes and doing incantations and things, but using TikTok as the medium for it.

So it's a strange world we live in where people can't quite leave behind the sort of that supernatural dimension of life. They want it. You know, you see, I think, in the continuing popularity of horror movies and even sort of superhero movies, Harry Potter. We want life to kind of be enchanted. We want this not to just be this material reality that we inhabit.

Now, the problem is that all of those stories for me they're pale imitations of the story, if you like. And I think the way I see it is we're living like Paul did when he was in Athens in a very religious culture. He sees all the idols and he says to the thinkers, I see you are very religious. Well, let me tell you about the God you've been searching for. And He's not that far away from you, okay? You've been groping around in the dark, he says, but I want to tell you about the God that you've been searching for.

And I think that's what we're here to do. We're here to say people, look, I understand where this comes from. I'm not gonna dismiss your search for truth, for meaning. I'm not going to make fun of the fact that you have these religious inclinations because they're there for a reason because you're made to live in a story. But the story you're telling yourself isn't the big story. It's a kind of small version of it that's kind of gone off course. But the God, just as Paul said to the Athenians, you're looking for is not far away.

So it's about reminding people of the true and good story, of the God who actually is answering all those questions they're trying to answer in their life. That's gonna look different for everybody because we've all got our own abilities as to how we do that, how we show and tell that story, sing that beautiful melody in our own lives. But I ultimately believe that's the only story that will ultimately give people that satisfaction. We're trying to fill the God-shaped void with all these other stories, but there's only one story that ultimately does the job.

Eric Huffman: That's so good. And you know what you've taught me and so many others over the years is just the value of patience and refusing to close the door on somebody.

Justin Brierley: Absolutely.

Eric Huffman: We close doors inadvertently all the time. Christians close doors proverbially when we put politics too high up on our totem pole of importance or when we draw lines in the sand about certain behaviors. I think we close doors when we just behave like jerks, you know, and just do what Dawkins used to do to Christians, you know, ridicule them, shame them or whatever.

And you have always for years now left the door open and trusted God enough to see evangelism as a long game and a slow burn. And that, you know, trust God that when He does decide to break through with somebody that the door of your friendship with them, the door of your church, like that door will be open when the time comes.

Justin Brierley: Yeah, absolutely. It's about keeping the conversation going. As soon as you've decided someone's a heretic, done what the culture sadly often does to people, you've canceled them because you disagree with them, then you've kind of decided that redemption isn't possible. And then you've basically said, God can't do what God wants. And I just refuse to believe that.

I see God working in the lives of so many people, whether they call themselves Christian or not. And if we call ourselves Christians, then we're called to trust that God is working in ways.

Eric Huffman: Amen.

Justin Brierley: And we just do what we can do faithfully, we pray, we trust, we open our lives and our hearts to people, help do what we can to show them that this is the true story they're looking for. And kind of trust that God will do the rest.

Julie Mirlicourtois: To find Justin Brierley's latest book and podcast by the same name, search for The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God wherever you buy your books and listen to your podcasts.

Today's episode was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our associate producer and social media manager is Adira Polite, our editors are Shannon Stefan and Justin Mayer, and the director of all of our YouTube videos is Mark Calver. Don't forget to rate us wherever you just listened to this podcast. And thanks for listening, everyone.