The Camels With Hammers Show: Bisexuality, Dialogue Between Atheists and Believers, Deconverting, and Right Wing Atheism

Over the summer I had a blast spending a day with the St. Cloud State University Secular Student Alliance. I wrote all about that day previously. I decided to relive the magic and share it with you by inviting some of the people I met onto The Camels With Hammers Show. We wound up not having a freewheeling discussion but instead I essentially did four interviews, each fifteen minutes.

The first quarter of the video I asked bisexual activist and exciting new blogger Patrick RichardsFink about various misconceptions and theories of bisexuality. Then I had an illuminating discussion with atheist seminarian Paul Larson about how to dialogue constructively and effectively with religious believers. Then Katie C. discussed the lengths she went to try to believe in God (including going all the way to Africa as a missionary) and how she finally came to terms with being an atheist and where she has gone from there. Finally, Kjell Fostervold and I talked about his frustrations with implications that to be an atheist requires being a leftist politically. So, enjoy either the entire video or the quarters that most interest you:

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • ctcss

    I listened to the segments by Paul and Katie and I am not sure what, if anything, I am supposed to take away from it. Katie, in her honest effort to solidify her faith, made a mistake IMO, by deciding to become a missionary without having a solid belief in God before doing so, figuring that the experience would somehow make God more real to her. I’m not sure how that might occur if one’s focus, right from the get go, is an intrinsic doubt rather than an intrinsic trust. Basically, she decided to go into sales for a product she really didn’t have experience in relying on (the trust part), and she really didn’t actually believe in the product she was selling either. How is such an approach going to help form the bedrock of a living faith (i.e. intrinsic trust in God), rather than simply being about selling something just because it is something that other people were comfortable selling? I’m glad she found a new home in a supportive environment (sort of like what church is supposed to be for believers), but I keep wondering where her mentors were (if she had any) in all this? If they couldn’t help her ground her faith in a more practical way, then I would lay a large part of her decision to leave on their side. The fault, in such a case, would seem to be an instructor’s inability (or neglect) to help her explore her questions and help her find answers for them. A teacher can’t give someone else faith, but they can certainly help clarify issues and questions for the student and help them form a clearer view of the subject. As a Sunday School teacher, I keep wondering where the instructors were in stories like this, as well as wondering what kind of practical grounding the instructors had in their own faith. (It should never be a case of the blind leading the blind. Someone’s feet have to be on bedrock, or at least much nearer to it.) I don’t think she mentioned it, but all too often I have heard people like her say that they were given answers like “You just need to have more faith”, which IMO is a legitimate answer that lies further down the path for any individual developing a deeper trust in God. However, it is not a helpful or a practical answer for someone who still has a lot of unanswered questions.

    I am glad that Paul is not into confrontation and is far more about finding common ground with believers. (Why is there an assumption that believers, different believers, and non-believers have to be at war with each other anyway? Is this the middle ages?) But I don’t think his approach of keywords and subject areas is likely to be successful for anyone who has thought in depth about such matters. And if all someone can do is subvert someone else’s shallow foundations, that isn’t exactly a victory for non-belief. Rather, it would seem to be a condemnation of the person’s religious instruction. (Once again, where were the instructors?) Most likely, many people he talked to had more literal views of the Bible, which are not very strong positions to defend. Anyone who has a reasonable and thoughtful familiarity with the gospels should realize that Jesus was trying to help his students understand the nature of God and God’s kingdom, rather than simply having them adopt a blind faith approach, or a literalist approach to the theology he was trying to convey. And I would hope that any Christian’s approach to scripture has Jesus’ understanding of God as well as Jesus’ understanding of scripture as it’s basis. Trying to follow Jesus without understanding what Jesus seemed to understand is not likely to produce helpful results IMO.

    The more I read about these things, the more it becomes obvious that all of us (believing, different believing, and non-believing) are all on journeys of discovery. Everyone could use help and support on such journeys, thus, gentleness, compassion, good will, and forbearance are qualities that are very much in need.

    • Katie

      Hi, this is Katie. It was interesting to read your comments.

      First, I fully agree with you that I didn’t go for the right reasons. As I mentioned in the video, it was ultimately one of the most selfish things I’ve done in a last-ditch, desperate effort to believe. And in reply to you wondering who or where my mentors were, they were mainly the youth group pastors and other youth leaders (during that time) who I remember dealt with teens’ troubles, doubts, and questioning with the “you just have to have faith” line that you mentioned, as well as encouragements to surround ourselves with “the Word” and other Christians which would help us through the process. You can see how I ran with this to the extreme.

      Those weren’t the only answers they gave though, and so in regards to your questioning of their ability to answer my questions and help me in a more practical way, I really do think they tried to do this (one-on-one as well as during youth groups/bible study) but I ultimately was not satisfied or convinced by the answers.

      I could not agree more with your last sentences about us all being on journeys of discovery and the qualities that are needed to help individuals along them. My hope is that more and more people will think along these lines. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    • Daniel Fincke

      ctcss, I am really curious–do you think Mother Teresa should have quit her missionary work during her long years where she essentially couldn’t believe in God?

    • ctcss

      “ctcss, I am really curious–do you think Mother Teresa should have quit her missionary work during her long years where she essentially couldn’t believe in God?”


      Personally, I would draw a fairly clear distinction between Katie’s case (basically having doubts about God from the beginning) and Mother Teresa’s case (losing her close feeling of God’s presence after having experienced it for quite some time.) Katie decided to try to see if becoming a missionary would help her find faith in God. Mother Teresa, on the other hand, was already quite comfortable with her belief in, and experience of God, when she began her work as a nun in India.

      I thought that Katie’s attempt was unwise because she was hoping against hope to find faith while stationed at her mission. And since she would most certainly want to rely on that (so far, un-obtained) faith to help sustain her efforts, as well as using it to help set an example for those she was trying to aid, her effort struck me as being somewhat ingenuous. As my post stated, it was as though she was selling a product she had not personally developed experience with, or trust in, nor did she have a solid belief that the product she was selling was a good one. Teresa, on the other hand, at least had a solid background of faith in God. And even though she felt the lack of God’s presence in later years, she still very much believed in God, as well as being able to draw on her prior experiences with God. She most definitely believed in what she was doing as having a useful benefit to herself and others and was willing to help those in need based on that.

      Now, should Teresa have gone ahead establishing her mission right after seeming to lose that contact with God she so cherished? It’s hard to speak for her since I am neither a Catholic nor a nun (being a male) and I really don’t know how a serious, committed Catholic views such things. From my own experience, I would want to feel confident in my ability to trust in God to help any such effort I was engaged in. And if I felt a persistent emptiness in my own religious practice in such a situation, I would probably take some time off to help reground myself. (Not 50 years, however!) I would also probably ask for support and encouragement from fellow church members who I knew had solid grounding themselves. (My goal would be to make sure that God remained the solid focus and center of my thoughts, rather than the various difficult situations being the daunting and discouraging focus and center. But that’s me. I have no idea of how Teresa worked towards regaining what she felt she had lost.)

      The thing is, faith (which I would define as having trust in God based on reason and experience) is something that helps a person go forward despite current daunting circumstances, even long term ones. You go on because you remember all of the times you had doubts before but had found your way forward with God’s help despite those difficulties. And as a person grows in their trust through such experiences, they will likely be less dismayed by future difficult situations. Thus, a person can develop their trust in God through the experience of learning to rely on Him over time. (That, at least, has been my experience.)

      However, I think only Teresa could answer the question as to where her trust was when she did her missionary work. If she felt her previous work as a nun was a solid foundation upon which she could base her missionary endeavor, then I guess that was her call to make. Katie, on the other hand, didn’t really appear to have such a foundation, thus my comment on her choice.

  • Baal

    Paul’s manly men response to Patrick was a bit odd. He was a little too pro-monogamy or asserting it as a default. I was surprised but pleased to see an openly bi man. Usually, most folks act bis don’t exist and that bothers me (it’s right up there with the guy on the Catholic channel on patheos who thinks atheists are either subhumans or don’t really exist).

    Katie’s segment was moving. I didn’t have a hard time leaving Catholicism – I was me and it was irrelevant for a long while before I could stop going (parents and all). I knew folks who did. One friend that I met in an on-line game was having a hard time personally and I asked about it. He asked which protestant branch I belonged to. I replied that I was an atheist. He pretty much lost it at that point. Apparently, he was having RL problems and went to his pastor who told him to ‘find the people who he thought were the best and ask them about God’. Turned out the first 4 he asked were atheists and that created huge mental pressure.

    • Katie

      Wow! Poor guy… and yet, I would have probably greatly benefitted from an experience like that, even if it would have created chaos for me at the time.

      And I guess I didn’t have a hard time leaving Catholicism so much as leaving the world of belief and the comforts that come along with it: having a guide book that answers the tough questions, the guide himself, the idea of eternal life, etc.