Eric Huffman: Hey, guys, this is Eric Huffman, and you're listening to the very first episode of Maybe God. I'm so happy that you're tuning in. Thank you for being here. I'm here with producer Julie M, and we wanted to spend a couple of minutes just setting up this first episode for you.
If you tuned into our teaser episode, you know that the mission of Maybe God is to speak to believers and nonbelievers about the questions that unite us, you know, questions about life and meaning and the purpose of existence. We want to push just as hard against religion as we do against secularism, all for the sake of pursuing the truth.
So, Julie, tell our listeners what we set out to do in our first episode.
Julie M: Yeah. Eric The plan for episode one was to talk about why so many people love to hate religion. We all know people who've been hurt by religious leaders, churches, or doctrines. And we wanted to hear from people of all different faith backgrounds about their experiences with religion and how it influenced their relationship with God.
Today's guest came to mind during one of our planning sessions. He's a high-profile example of someone who chose to leave Christianity after 30 years of living and breathing his family's chosen religion. He seemed like a perfect fit for the subject. So we reached out and he agreed to talk to us but the conversation didn't quite go as we'd intended. Eric, would you agree?
Eric Huffman: Yeah. I mean, I suppose I should have seen it coming, right? I really like Bart. I like his heart. I think he's a good man. And we really just set out to just hear his point of view and not to enter into a debate with him. But in a few instances, our conversation did turn into a debate. I pushed his buttons and he pushed mine right back. I admit, at times I wish I had listened a little bit more and saved my opinions for later at times. But hey, this interview was an ambitious choice for a first episode, and I'm still extremely excited about the result.
But after hearing this interview, I think some listeners are going to have a lot more questions than answers, and I hope this is just the beginning of the conversation. So to our listeners, I just say, see what you find most compelling and what you're left thinking about or wondering about, and then share your feedback and your questions with us by email at [email protected]. I know I would love to address your questions and your comments in a future episode.
Julie M: Okay, so here we go. Episode 1.
Eric Huffman: We can find millions of reasons why we're all different. But there's one question that every human ponders at some point in their lives: how did we get here? No one knows. Maybe we're a cosmic accident. Or Maybe God did it. I'm Eric Hoffman. This is Maybe God.
Man 1: I used to think we evolved from apes, and Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection seemed pretty watertight. But in doing research for this show, I came across a theory that deviates from Darwin's and I just found it in a dusty, old book in a library. It's called The Bible.
Man 2: Well, I didn't get off to a good start with Judaism. I mean, when you're circumcised eight days in.
Man 3: think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever till the end of time but he loves you.
Eric Huffman: Why do people love to hate religion? Everywhere I look from cable news to my favorite comedians, everybody's criticizing religion, Christianity, especially. And hey, I'll be the first to admit there are plenty of Christians saying some pretty crazy things. Rarely does a day go by when I don't hear some Christians saying something awful or unbiblical, either on the news or in a local coffee shop and of course, online.
I'm so desperate for people to know that not all Christians are like those Christians. I know so many people who grew up in church and chose later in life to walk away from it because they were hurt by something or disgusted by something that they heard or experienced. And these are the people that I want to engage in conversation the most.
Our guest today is one of the most high-profile examples of what I'm talking about—people that grew up Christian and left the church later in life. Bart Campolo is the son of one of the most famous evangelists in the world. His dad, Tony, is a bestselling author, a sought-after speaker, and even served as Bill Clinton's personal spiritual adviser.
For most of his life, Bart played the role of dutiful preacher's son. He went to church and was very active in youth group. But even as a child, he struggled to believe the stuff Christians are supposed to believe. So he didn't become a Christian until he was 16. Like a lot of preachers' kids, Bart chose to become a pastor, and he spent most of his adult life doing Christian ministry in mostly poor urban areas.
All along, he struggled with doubts. But it wasn't until a serious bike accident in 2011 that he came to terms with his lack of faith and he came out as an atheist. Bart and Tony talked about Bart's departure from Christianity in their documentary Leaving My Father's Faith.
Bart Campolo: And that as you encounter people, good people in horrible circumstances and you pray, and nothing happens. That I would pray for that person to be healed of cancer and they would die. That I would pray for that person to reconcile with their wife and they would not reconcile with their wife. That God never really did intervene.
And I spent a great deal of my pastoral life making excuses for why it was really good. Like, "God actually did answer your prayer even though the person died. It worked out. You just don't understand." Or "God has a plan that you can't fathom it." Those experiences repeated over and over again ultimately erode your sense of even God's presence.
Tony Campolo: I think he became disillusioned and he lost confidence in Jesus. But there was a dialectical relationship. He was losing confidence in Jesus because he was losing confidence in Scripture.
Eric Huffman: I wanted to know how Bart makes sense of the world. I wanted to know what he believes now that he's not a Christian anymore. So I wrote him an email, and to my surprise, he got right back to me the same afternoon. His first response was somewhat defensive, but after a back-and-forth, he agreed to talk to me.
Really, the reason I wanted to talk to you is because, man, the more I dug into your life, the more I respect you, I respect your courage and I respect the men, husband, father, etc. that you are. Obviously, I have tremendous respect for your dad, I mean, as a preacher myself. But I feel like you and I are so similar. One of my good friends says that we're kind of two sides of the same coin. We're preachers' kids, both kind of raised in hardcore religious cultures. Both struggle with our beliefs early on. Like you, I didn't have a real negative experience with Christianity before I walked away from it. I just had trouble with the belief system.
Bart Campolo: You know what? I grew up the son of a famous evangelist. I didn't believe in God till I was 15 years old. But it wasn't because I was rebellious against my dad. My dad was lovely. My mom's lovely. I had really nice parents. They were never phony or they weren't like he so Christian in public, but in the back room he beats me now. He was a wonderful guy.
And then I became a Christian when I was in high school, and for 30 years I had a wonderful time being a Christian. I loved being a Christian. I loved that community. I loved helping poor people in the name of Jesus. I loved the music. I loved that community. You know, people are like, "I'm sure you got hurt by the church or the hypocrisy of Christians." I only hung out with the nicest Christians and they paid me and they were nice to me. And I had a job and a life. Like, believe me, if I could still be a Christian, I would.
Eric Huffman: So why can't you?
Bart Campolo: The problem for me is that the narrative itself was always hard for me and over time became increasingly difficult. So in the end, I don't believe that there's any supernatural forces at work in the universe. It's not like I don't like the teachings of Jesus, just don't think He actually rose from the dead or was born from a virgin or you know...
I understand there's reasons why people would believe that stuff. People don't choose what they believe. But the point for me is it's not that I won't believe in God or that I hate the idea of God. I can't believe in God. It doesn't make any sense to me anymore.
Eric Huffman: You really think people don't choose what they believe?
Bart Campolo: I mean, I could put a gun to your head right now and say I'm going to kill all your children and all your friends and all your family if you don't accept Islam as the one true faith. And I would put you on a polygraph and you would fail. You can't choose to believe in Islam just because you're motivated. You believe what you believe.
Eric Huffman: You think is that way for everyone?
Bart Campolo: I mean, I think you can be convinced of things. Like if you bring me an amputee and you lay hands on him and you say, "In the name of Jesus, be healed," and his leg grew back, I would totally have to rethink. I would be like, "Wow, man, there might be something in this whole God thing."
It's just like my loss of faith was like, you know, 10,000 unanswered prayers. In the end, I just couldn't believe it anymore. So what I am is I'm a secular humanist. And the reason I call myself a secular humanist is because secular sort of lets you know "I don't believe in any supernaturalist stuff". And humanist simply means that I think that this thing that all there is amazing and wonderful and worthy of my religious devotion. I love being alive. I want to promote life. I want to connect with other people. Humanist is simply a way of suggesting I've got some values. And that's what I structure my life around these values.
Eric Huffman: This is what fascinates me most about Bart's story. We started out planning a show about why people love to hate religion but as it turns out, Bart doesn't hate religion at all. He may be mad at God or mad at Christians or Christianity, but he's actually trying to create religion, to create a religion around secular humanism.
Bart Campolo: I think of religion as the collective pursuit of life's ultimate questions. Whenever a group of people get together and say, "Where do we come from? What happens when we die? How do we make sense of this life? What's right and wrong? How should we treat each other?" That collective pursuit of those questions, that's their religion.
And for me, I used to work in an Office of Religious Life at USC, and a guy there said, "Look, you're a secular humanist, but you gather together people to pursue goodness on the basis of science and reason. You're trying to answer life's ultimate questions. You're just not using any supernatural stories to do it."
Eric Huffman: How's it going? Is that movement growing?
Bart Campolo: Gosh, I don't know. When I was at USC and we created a fellowship of people that said like, "Look, we value loving relationships, we value making the world better for other people, we value cultivating a sense of wonder and gratitude for the privilege of being alive, and we know that we'll do better at all three of those things if we do them together. Let's get together and like care about each other and help each other grow in that way," that thing grew like wildfire.
It was incredibly popular club on campus because there were all these kids envy people in churches that have, you know, missions trips and songs to sing and get together with nice people and values that they can inculcate their kids and think like, Man, I'd love all that stuff. I just can't believe in the story around which it is built. Right. So could we do all that stuff without that crazy story? Could we pursue goodness for its own sake?
Eric Huffman: Yeah, it rings false to me a little bit. I think that's where we differ on the definition of religion. I think you're comfortable with religion in as much as it's a framework for telling our story or for finding some meaning, but it's not really important that the religion you ascribe to is true.
And I think for me, it's more important that the religion you ascribe to is essentially true. But I've heard you say that if X religion makes that person a better person, then they should stick to it. And whether or not it's true, it doesn't matter. It's just a framework for living a better life.
Bart Campolo: But here's the thing. Don't get me wrong. Your religion only works for you because you think it's true. If you stopped believing it was true, it wouldn't work for you anymore. Religion needs to be true for the person who's believing it.
Eric Huffman: Which is a placebo effect, right?
Bart Campolo: I don't know. Do I think that because you pray people on the other side of the world actually get healed? No, I don't. There's no evidence to support that idea. But do I believe that because you pray you have a sense of peace and well-being and that manifests itself in physical? Yes.
So I don't think God does anything but I think prayer actually does change people. But it doesn't change the people we're praying for as much as it changes the prayer. It's not a placebo. Going through the motions, doing the things that you do because of your faith, they actually impact your life. They impact your relationships. They make you and maybe make the world a better place.
Eric Huffman: Do you think it's harder, though, to sell religion to secular people?
Bart Campolo: Well, here's the thing. In the organized secular movement, the people that started these atheist clubs, you know, a lot of them are really angry at religion. They've had bad experiences. They're pushed out. So they have a lot of animus towards organized religion of any kind. So when they hear a guy like me come along and talk about love, talk about relationship building, talk about forgiveness, and those kind of concepts even in the most secular way possible, just the tone of my voice sets them on edge. They go like, "You sound like a youth pastor."
Eric Huffman: I mean, you don't say it, but what you're really talking about is being missional and proselytizing. You want to spread the word. You want people that are on the fence, people that are questioning in their faith or walking away from the church, you want them to know there's someplace for them to go. And that seems to really rub people the wrong way on your side of this.
Bart Campolo: Not even rub some people the wrong way. It rubs people that are kind of the part of the fierce anti-theist movement. It bothers them. Some people are very fiercely individualistic and they don't like the idea of their being a leader. Some people don't like the idea of recognizing that people are often morally motivated primarily in their emotions. And so if you want to get somebody to do something good, you need to touch their heart.
And they go like, "I want to talk to my reason. Don't talk to my heart." And I'm like, Listen, I'm really rational. I've done a lot of studying and I have a lot of data to suggest that I'll get farther talking to your heart." So storytelling, music, all of that stuff, like every tribe comes up with its own folkways and its own ritual and its own way of creating a sense of coherence and purpose.
So I'm just like, Look, the fact that we're secular doesn't mean that we're not human, doesn't mean we're not tribal, doesn't mean that we don't want to grow and want to experience this life in its fullest sense. The cool thing about being secular is I don't need everybody.
I'm not saying this is the one way to thrive as a human being. I've got all these Christian friends, they're thriving as Christians. I don't want to take that away from them. That's one way of being a good person and it works for some people. And then if there's the other way of being a good person, it works for other people.
Tony Campolo: We always have Thanksgiving with this family. So it wasn't as though he said, There's something I got to talk to you about. It literally came out of the clear blue sky. It was like somebody put a knife in my stomach.
Eric Huffman: So everybody I talk to wants to know about how it's gone since your conversion with your dad and your dad, obviously, Tony Campolo, famous Christian preacher and still doing the Red Letter Christian thing. He has not backed away from that even as-
Bart Campolo: I'm slowing down, man. He's an old man. [inaudible 00:17:43]
Eric Huffman: Even as some of that world has frankly been cruel to him at times because of various issues, yourself included with your de-conversion. I saw some of that.
Bart Campolo: They didn't get him over that. They got him over gay marriage.
Eric Huffman: Well, that was part of it. But I've also seen people say, well, "It's no surprise that Bart turned out to be a humanist. Look at his dad." I got to tell you, I feel this conflict inside of me, Bart, because on the one hand, I really empathize with you. As the son of a preacher, Bible belt style preacher, I'm really sympathetic to you. I see in you the same kind of really genuine, almost Freudian rebellion against Dad that I felt in myself at times.
I also respect the fact that you've stepped out and kind of become your own man outside your dad's shadow. His shadow is huge, obviously. And I hate it when interviewers will ask your dad questions like, "Man, what went wrong? What do you wish you had done differently with your son?" Because I think that line of questioning implies that in your dad's eyes you must be a failure or he must be a failure as a dad. And then, even more painstakingly-
Bart Campolo: That's not why it bothers me. Why it bothers me is the guy raises me. I'm 30 years a hardcore Christian evangelist, I'm running inner-city projects. I leave the faith at the age of like 47. Right?
Eric Huffman: Right.
Bart Campolo: And people blame it on my dad.
Eric Huffman: But then he answers the question-
Bart Campolo: I know. It's ridiculous because-
Eric Huffman: ...he feels like a failure at some level.
Bart Campolo: Exactly. And I think like anyone, he sort of goes like, "Did this have anything to do with me?" And I'm sort of like, "Dude, you're a walking advertisement for the goodness of Christianity. Believe me, you're not the problem." I don't buy any of it. It doesn't make any sense to me. But it's a beautiful story and my dad's a beautiful man. And it's just absurd to think that I didn't give Christianity a real go.
I remember him saying to me, "Couldn't you be one of those John Shelby Spong type Christians? They don't believe in God either, but they still use the Christian language and then nobody cares." And my thing is, is I probably would be a progressive Christian, you know, who don't really belie... When they say God, they just mean the universe, and when they say Jesus, they just... general concept of redemption.
Eric Huffman: They don't even say God anymore. They just say the universe.
Bart Campolo: I would do that except there are all these people out there in the world who are alone and sad and struggling with problems and they need to be drawn into fellowship. And if I call myself a progressive Christian, they'll go like, "Oh, I can't join his fellowship, but I can't be with those guys, they all believe in God." And it's confusing to them if they're like, "But you say you're Christian. You're wearing that collar." I'm like, "No, no, no. But I don't really mean anything by it."
Eric Huffman: I want to point out I think some glaring contradictions in the comments you've made about Christianity here and elsewhere. So on the one hand, I've heard you say that if Christianity helps a Christian to flourish and thrive, no matter what the beliefs are, you hope that that person will remain a Christian.
Bart Campolo: I leave them alone.
Eric Huffman: But on the other hand, I've heard you refer to Christianity as some kind of terrorism.
Woman: You're listening to Humanize Me with Mark Campolo.
Bart Campolo: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Humanize Me.
Eric Huffman: During a recent episode of his podcast, Humanize Me, Bart asks listeners, Are we going too easy on Christianity?
Bart Campolo: That was frightening. I'm thinking, like, at some point, Christians are wonderful. I know lots of wonderful Christians, but Christianity is a form of terrorism. This is an experimental podcast. Yeah, because what I'm trying to figure out is, am I supposed to say this stuff? Because a big part of me goes like, No, that's going to hurt people's feelings and that's going to upset people. And a part of me goes, I'm not saying Christians are terrorists, but I'm saying Christianity is terrorism.
Eric Huffman: Where do you really stand on this? Is it a worthwhile worldview or is it terrorism?
Bart Campolo: The Christians that I know that thrive all have incredibly good workarounds for the idea that like their children are born worthy of damnation, riddled with original sin and worthy of everlasting suffering if they don't accept Jesus. Now, they may believe that theologically, but they've come up with a workaround where they go like, "Yeah, but it doesn't really work like that."
And so the Christian doctrine of original sin is a horrible, vicious, terrible doctrine. The idea that you are, no matter what, unless you accept Jesus Christ, you in and of yourself are worthy of eternal suffering." That is a negative, mean-spirited thing to say to somebody.
Eric Huffman: So Christianity is a good worldview as long as you don't really believe it?
Bart Campolo: Yeah. I think that in order to be a good-hearted Christian, you've got to find a way around the genocide in the Old Testament and the eternal suffering waiting for all nonbelievers in the New Testament. Yeah, you have to find a workaround. And the good news is, is that most people do. Most people do. Those doctrines may be pernicious but the Christians who believe them are not.
Eric Huffman: Man, I hear what you're saying. I just think we maybe have been steeped in some different ideologies. I have never believed or been led to believe that every single person who doesn't profess Jesus in this life will be condemned and punished by God for all eternity. I agree with you that that sounds demonic and hateful.
Bart Campolo: Let me ask you a question.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, hit me.
Bart Campolo: Do you really believe that anybody burns in eternal damnation?
Eric Huffman: I have a different take on hell. I think it's real and it exists and it is something that we choose, man, when we decide our will is better than God's will. I think God is committed to the notion of free will. And I think that's because God is love. Because without choice, without free choice, true freedom to choose, I don't think you're going to have love, man. I believe that to be the truest thing we can say about love and the nature of God.
If His requirement of our devotion was made abundantly clear to the point of you have no choice but to accept it. That, to me, sounds more coercive than the God you're describing and more abusive than the God you're describing. Because it's not love, it's obedience. And that's a problem for me.
Bart Campolo: You know, there's no reason for me to disagree with you. That's a fine thing to believe. That's a fine thing to believe.
Eric Huffman: To me, it comes back around to the person of Jesus, man. I think that the crux of the matter I think Jesus either is God incarnate or He was not. Right. And clearly, you believe He was not. And I'm just curious if you believe that Jesus was not God incarnate, then who do you think He was? Do you believe He was just well-intentioned, radical, or was he a liar? Was He a villain?
Bart Campolo: I have no idea who Jesus really was. I have no access to that guy. That's why when people are like, "What would Jesus do?" I go like, "Man, I don't even know what my mother would do and I know my mother." And I said, Well, first of all, I don't think there is a God so I don't think anyone gets to incarnate this God who doesn't exist. But the second thing is I don't have any compelling evidence that he was God incarnate.
Eric Huffman: Well, if He wasn't God incarnate, He said that He was, what does that make Him?
Bart Campolo: I don't know. I wasn't there. But I know a guy in my neighborhood who says He's got incarnate, Like, He's not a liar. He's insane.
Eric Huffman: If He did say He was God, then He was clearly a crazy person?
Bart Campolo: Yes, but it doesn't mean He was mean, doesn't mean He was a villain. He might have really thought He was God. He might really have thought that was true.
Eric Huffman: Well, you know, you could say the same thing for any villain.
Bart Campolo: No. villains by definition know that they're lying to you and they do it to get something out of you.
Eric Huffman: Really?
Bart Campolo: Yeah. Like you're not a villain if you're deluded. You're just deluded.
Eric Huffman: All right. I'm going to let that one go. That's an interesting definition of villain.
Bart Campolo: I mean, my deal is I'm not here to tell you all the reasons you shouldn't believe in it. All I'm here to tell you is, is that there are a lot of people that are unable to believe in it. And the question you have to ask yourself is, what do you want us to do?
Eric Huffman: Mm-hmm. I think that's a great way to put it. I think that when I read and hear you, I can't help but feel like your language betrays you a little bit because I think you really talk like you're still a Christian.
Bart Campolo: Of course, you do. If you're a Christian, you believe that all goodness and love comes from God.
Eric Huffman: No, that's not it, bud. I'm not criticizing you. I'm trying to say, when you say words like "should", for example, "People should live a certain way," when I hear should, I hear objective morality or objective reality or universal truth.
And I'm just curious how in your mind, you know, especially like a middle-class, western, white, straight, married father, you know, how do you get away telling other people how they should be living? How do you get away with telling people from other cultures, especially how they should be living when you talk about, you know, flourishing and thriving and things that that people should be living for love, for example?
Bart Campolo: I think if you look at a psychologists, like Martin Sigman, who sort of says, Listen, I study people throughout my life and the question isn't what people should do. Like it's not a prescription. It's simply a description.
Like look at all the people that lived the longest and that seemed to register the highest levels of well-being. What do they have in common? And you could ask this across all cultures anywhere you go. Like, well, they all tend to have a handful of really close and loving relationships, and they all tend to be doing some kind of work that they think makes things better for other people. And they all tend to express gratitude for the good parts of their lives. They are grateful people and they're reflective people. And you go like, "Okay."
I'm not saying you should do that. I'm just saying that if you want to live long and prosper, these are the things that the data would suggest help. You know, listen, oftentimes, like I'll be at a university and I'll see a kid and I'll say like, "So what are you pursuing?" And they'll tell me, "I'm doing this, I'm doing that. I'm working on this. I'm having sex this way." You know, we're getting into the whole thing about like, What does your life look like?
And I go like, "So how's that working out for you?" And they go like, "You know, the truth is I don't feel that great. I don't feel like anybody really cares about me. I don't feel like I'm doing anything that really matters." It's like, "Oh, all right, listen, I got a bunch of friends, we're live in this other way, we have a different way of life. You might want to try it."
Eric Huffman: In another episode of Bart's podcast, Humanized Me, he was talking about monogamy and why he chooses to remain faithful to his wife, even though he could conceivably develop feelings for other women.
Bart Campolo: I was raised in a monogamous culture and my mind got sort of programmed to think this is the best way to be like. So we got married and we've lived that way. That's what we're used to. But I think monogamy is a social invention. It's a construct. It didn't exist before there was personal property for people to divvy up between their kids. Hunter-gatherer tribes weren't monogamous. There's all sorts of archeological evidence to suggest that.
Eric Huffman: I get it. I get it. But if you have those feelings for other women, why not act on them?
Bart Campolo: Well, I mean, that's a broad question, but the simplest way of describing this, my wife and I have entered into a contract and the contract sort of goes like, Listen, we're going to give up some of that sexual adventure, that could be really fun but in exchange for that, we get some security. I know you'll be with me and you can count on me for this."
But you say, "Well, what if your wife said to you, like, "Listen, you can have a free pass once a year, you know, to have a little sexual adventure. It's not going to bother me." And I really believe it wouldn't bother her. There's no rule against it. There's no law in science that says that you can't... There's no law in nature that says it. I mean, that's a Christian rule that was developed in a particular context.
Eric Huffman: So if hypothetically, polyamory is on its way in to the mainstream, is that something that's just as right as monogamy, I mean, if it makes us more happy and more free?
Bart Campolo: I think if it works for the people that are making those contracts, if it really works for them. My experiences, though, in a culture like ours which has been monogamous for so long, or ostensibly monogamous, polyamory has all sorts of economic consequences.
Like when people tell me it's working for them, I'm always like, "How long you've been doing?" They're like, "Three years, four years." I'm like, "Okay, you should come back to me in like 40 years and having raised a few healthy children, and I'll believe it." Because in my experience, for instance, my wife and I, economically, if something goes wrong with my wife, she knows all my resources go to her. I will take care of her. I don't have to divide my loyalties. You see, people can work out different contracts. I think I know. I know they can.
Eric Huffman: But they shouldn't.
Bart Campolo: No, it's not that they shouldn't. It's just that it's going to take longer and-
Eric Huffman: Would it be true to say that your sense of morality or the source of morality is relative to culture?
Bart Campolo: No, my sense of morality is pretty much founded... It's sensitive to culture. My sense of morality is, is that morality is what causes the people involved in the relationship to thrive, to grow.
Eric Huffman: But thriving is defined by culture, right?
Bart Campolo: Certainly there are some ways in which people from different cultures, different things will cause them to thrive differently. So, for instance, everybody needs loving relationships, but they're going to look different in different cultures.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, I think it's a problem for you, Bart, with the relative norms across cultures. I'm not sure how you get around doing what people in your place, not necessarily you, I haven't heard you do this as much, criticizing other cultures for not living up to our standards or your standards. You know, how do you get around the seemingly objective or the objectifying of women in some cultures or the hijab culture in other parts of the world, and condemning that as-
Bart Campolo: How do you get around it?
Eric Huffman: I call it what it is. I think there is an objective reality and I think it's abusive. I think it needs to be called out as more than just a subjective cultural norm by which they define their own happiness. Because I think people in that culture, you do a survey, they'll say, "We're happy and we're thriving." And the data might bear that out. I mean, fertility rates and things like that might bear that out. But I still look at it on the face of it and I can tell that women and men are held in unequal esteem and I don't think that's God's intent.
Bart Campolo: Yeah. Gosh, we got a lot of Bible verses to work around there, too.
Eric Huffman: Not really. I mean, I understand what you're saying, but when taken on the whole, the arc of the Bible narrative is, you know, it starts with Adam and Eve in the garden as help mates and, you know, there's the whole sin problem and it devolves and women get the short end of the deal for sure. But by the end of it, Jesus is surrounding Himself with women, calling them daughter, calling them sister, empowering them to lead His church. And Paul is saying no longer male or female for all one in Christ Jesus. So for me, as a Christian, I feel like I stand on pretty solid ground in condemning other worldviews that might not say we're all one male and female.
Bart Campolo: And you say you're not an evangelical.
Eric Huffman: Oh, I am evangelical.
Bart Campolo: Yeah. Okay. Because to me, I feel like I stand on solid ground condemning other cultures on the basis of my own revealed truths.
Eric Huffman: Do you not?
Bart Campolo: And I go like, "That I get. I understand that. That's the essence of a supernaturally revealed religion.
Eric Huffman: Bart, do you not criticize other cultures ever?
Bart Campolo: I think I do.
Eric Huffman: Okay. You stand on solid ground in doing that?
Bart Campolo: No, I don't.
Eric Huffman: Come on, man. Then why do you criticize if you have no solid ground to stand on?
Bart Campolo: From my point of view, as it seems to me. Like you're saying, "Bart, do you think all truth is subjective?" And I go like, "Of course it is."
Eric Huffman: Okay. So subjective and relative are the same things in my mind. Are they not for you?
Bart Campolo: Yeah. I mean, I don't believe that there is some grounding of objective truth out there that things are true because God says they are true. You've got a bunch of living creatures trying to figure out how to thrive. And like, for me, my ultimate value is life. Like what works to keep people alive? What works to cause people to live? I value life. I love life. I'm grateful for life and I want to promote life.
All my morality comes out to what causes people to live longer, better, happier, healthier lives. And you're like, "Is that relative?" And go like, yes, it is. In different situations, I'm going to answer those questions different ways.
Eric Huffman: Yeah, it's absolutely relative. And it's also the tribal argument you make a lot is interesting to me because when I hear tribalism, I think savagery, you know, tribe against tribe. And I hear you trying to change the narrative there and say we're all one human tribe. I'm just not sure that works.
Bart Campolo: Well, I don't think we're all one true human tribe. Like, you and me are both human beings. We're both Americans. But like, when push comes to shove, I value my children over your children.
Eric Huffman: So what if it was your children's lives versus my children's lives?
Bart Campolo: My kids win.
Eric Huffman: Okay. I think that's a problem.
Bart Campolo: How about you?
Eric Huffman: I want to say that there is a higher ideal that would say your kids are my kids. I want to admit that, yeah, I would probably save my kids first, but I don't want to say that's right.
Bart Campolo: Do you value all children the same?
Eric Huffman: I think there is a higher good to which we're aspiring.
Bart Campolo: Wow. First of all, I'm sad, if that's the truth. I'm sad if you don't think there's a reason you should value your kids more than you value other people's kids. Because I want you to value your kids more than mine.
Eric Huffman: That seems to be a pleasant thought until there's not enough.
Bart Campolo: Well, and there isn't enough right now. And there are a lot of kids out there in the world, and you clearly value your kids way more than them.
Eric Huffman: Absolutely. I'm not saying that I don't. I'm saying that it's not God's ideal.
Bart Campolo: It's not a sin on your part to value your kids. It's the most natural thing in the world.
Eric Huffman: So that seems to justify all sorts of awful things in the world.
Bart Campolo: All species do it. Your DNA wants to go forward. That's the process of evolution. That's the way nature works. That's how it is.
Eric Huffman: So why don't we just nuke China to high hell?
Bart Campolo: Because it's not in anyone's best interest, including ours. I don't have answers to all of life's questions.
Eric Huffman: Yeah.
Bart Campolo: All I'm telling you is, is that I am pursuing life on the simple basis of I think this life is the only one I have. I think I have about 80 years of life to live, and I want to make the most of it. And I am absolutely convinced that the way to make the most of it is to pursue loving relationships and try to make things better for other people. I am absolutely convinced that I will do that better if I do it with a bunch of other people that share those values. So I try to gather people together who share those values to pursue life on that basis.
Now, you say like but there are a lot of complicated questions and you don't have the answers to them. Like, I know. I don't. I don't know very much. I don't have the answers to those questions. So what you do? So every week I get together with my friends and we try to figure out a few more. We're just like a bunch of little living things, trying to figure out how to survive on a really hostile planet.
And you say, "And you think love is a strategy for survival?" And I go like, "Yes, I do. I totally think that love naturally selects, forgiveness naturally selects. But the way to make my kid able to thrive in the context of an imminent social collapse is not to teach them how to use an AK 47, but is to teach them how to work out and resolve conflict with his friends so that they can grow food together and take care of each other. Yeah, I believe in love as a way of life.
And you say like, "Are you an evangelist to that? And I go like, "Yeah, if somebody's living a way of life that's making them miserable, I want to offer them a better way of life." If any of your listeners get to the place where they go like, "I can't believe it anymore," that's when they should tune in my podcast, is when it starts to not work for them anymore." When a baby dies and they have a hard time believing it's God's will in some weird way, those are the people that should be reaching out to me. But you and the rest of your thriving buddies, you should go with God.
Eric Huffman: Whoever that is, right?
Bart Campolo: Yeah. As you know, He's whoever you want Him to be.
Eric Huffman: That's not what I know at all. You're a utilitarian through and through, and I think that's fine. It works as long as we're all privileged and we have plenty. But I think your utilitarianism leads you down some weird paths with religion because it's not a matter of what works for me.
Christianity does not work for me. That's the issue. And I think we have a lot of people at The Story, my church, for whom Christianity does not work in terms of making me richer, happier, living longer, blah, blah, blah. It's about truth and what is ultimately true in the universe. And it starts with a creator God. Is it more likely than not that something started all this existence business, something outside of space and time? I think it is. Is it more likely than not that Jesus is who He said He was? I know why people struggle with that question.
But I think I've weighed that evidence myself and I'm a believer now where I wasn't before because I think the evidence is too overwhelming, both in terms of context of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, but also in the aftermath of that. But man, we've taken up more of your time than I asked you for. I'm so grateful.
Bart Campolo: Again, I'm just so grateful whenever anyone in this world finds a path that is good for them. And you may say like, that's a utilitarian argument. I'll say, if that's utilitarianism, then sign me up. I want everybody to be well. And I know that in the end we'll know. In the end, if you're right, I'll know it. And if God is as good as you say, I'll be glad to know it.
Eric Huffman: I really enjoyed talking to Bart, even though at times he seemed to think I was looking for a debate. I admit I probably gave him that impression with my line of questioning, but I didn't really want a debate. I reached out to him because I'm genuinely interested in his story and his worldview. I wanted the dialog. I don't listen to his podcast while shaking my head and cursing at my iPhone. I listen with a genuine sense of respect and curiosity about where he's coming from.
Throughout our conversation, I was trying to get a clearer sense of his post-Christianity belief system, and I was getting increasingly frustrated because to me, as much as I like Bart, his worldview is almost schizophrenic. He contradicts himself with regularity, sometimes even in the same sentence.
You know, he'll say something like, "I'm not an atheist and I don't believe any God exists" almost in the same breath. Or "of course, I believe in miracles and I don't believe in anything supernatural." Or "Christianity is great if it works for you and makes you a better person, and Christianity is a form of terrorism."
What I found most confusing was Bart's insistence that people should love each other. It's a strange thing for a secular humanist to say, in my opinion. If you believe matter and motion are all that exist, and if you think people are essentially highly evolved chemistry and brainwaves, who cares if people love each other?
Bart says love is a survival strategy that we learned through many generations of evolution. For him, love is essentially selfish. You should only love people because it makes you feel good or it helps you live long and prosper. But love, as I understand it, is essentially selfless. The purest form of love, self-sacrifice, dying for others is anti-survival, especially when someone lays down his or her life not just for their own kids or for their own family, but for total strangers from some different tribe or people group.
And when that happens, we don't call those people fools or failures. We call them heroes. We build monuments in their names. Why? Because all of us, whether Christian or Buddhist or atheist, all of us have within us some innate knowledge of sacrificial self-giving love as the highest human ideal. It's not just a survival strategy, it's the truth. And it's true across cultures and religions and places and times.
When I asked Bart about religion and truth, he said your beliefs are only true if they work for you. And once they no longer work for you, your beliefs are no longer true. But here's the thing about love as I understand it, it doesn't always work for me. It's hard. It's hard to love people who hate you. It's hard to love people who pose a threat to your kids or to you.
There are even times when it's hard to love your kids and those closest to you, your spouse, your family. Sometimes, frankly, I would rather not love them. Sometimes what would work for me would be to not give a flip about anybody but me. Sometimes what works doesn't feel much like love. But I'm compelled, compelled by something I can't fully explain. Compelled to believe in love, selfless love as the highest form of existence and morality.
And after a season of my own doubt and cynicism, I came to believe that the reason I'm so compelled to cling to love is because God is love. After I settled that, I started looking for the clearest expression or revelation of the God I believed in. And I found it. I found it in the very same place I began my journey.
Christianity, the religion I hated most, carried the truth I loved best. And when I stripped everything else away from Jesus and just read about His life for myself, I found in Him the personification of the God I believed in. Jesus loved people even when it didn't work for Him.
One quote that really stood out to me from my talk with Bart was when he was talking about love being a survival strategy and He said love naturally selects, forgiveness naturally selects. I winced when he said it, not just because it's a rather cynical way to look at love and forgiveness, but because I used to say the very same things.
And then five years ago, I stood near the place where the Romans crucified criminals and first century Jerusalem and I reenacted the scene of Jesus' death in my head. And after the Roman soldiers had stripped Him naked and beaten him and driven nails through his body, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing." That's not natural selection. It's not a survival strategy. Jesus didn't love His enemies because it worked for Him. He loved them because God is love. And that's why I choose to follow Jesus.
When it comes to the rest of us, I believe we're compelled to love not because love is a functional way to improve our quality and length of life, but because we're made in the image of God.
Announcer: For more on Bart Campolo's documentary, Leaving My Father's Faith, go to www.campolofilm.com. Maybe God is produced by Eric Huffman, Brandon Duke, and me, Julie Mirlicourtois. Our sound engineer is Pat Lowry, our editor is Brittany Holland and music is by Nathan Bonus.
If you have questions or doubts you'd like us to address on upcoming episodes of Maybe God, email us at [email protected], or start a discussion with us on our Facebook page, Maybe God Podcast. And don't forget to subscribe today on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.