A Transcript of My CNN Interview

It seems like the CNN interview I did on Saturday isn’t online anywhere. Boo… since I haven’t seen it yet and I kind of want to :(

(If you get me a video copy, I’ll give you $9834913123 of Internet money.)

But the transcript is online!

Anytime there’s a TV interview, facial reactions and tone carry a lot of weight and you’re not getting any of that below. Feel free to use your imagination:

LEMON: OK. So this topic really got us going, a topic for you to chew on tonight at the dinner table. Many of you probably are having dinner right now.

God, does he exist? More and more young people doubt he does. Or she, as well. A new Pew Survey asks the question, I never doubt the existence of God, agree or disagree? Sixty-eight percent of millenials, people who are 30 years and younger say they never doubt God’s existence.

But look closely at the last line, five years ago, that number was 83 percent.

So, what gives here? Why the growing divide? Why the growing doubt?

Joining us now is Jesse Galef, an atheist, with Secular Student Alliance, and Hemant Mehta, the editor of the friendlyatheist.com.

So what’s an atheist? It’s a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings. That’s what an atheist is.

So, Jessie, I’m going to start with you. Why do you — first of all, I’m going toe ask you about that poll. Why don’t you believe?

JESSE GALEF, SECULAR STUDENT ALLIANCE DIRECTOR: Personally, I don’t believe I was brought up in a secular household. I wasn’t introduced to religion, I was taught morals without belief in a God or gods. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I was exposed to these other world views and realized that people take religion very seriously. And I explored and wanted to understand why and what they believed and ended up becoming an activist on campus, getting involved with the secular club. That’s what more and more secular Americans are finding.

LEMON: Hemant, I’m going to ask you the same question: why don’t you believe?

HEMANT MEHTA, FRIENDLYATHEIST.COM: Sure. I was raised in a religious family, but when I started questioning my faith for the first time in high school, I realized that not only did my faith not have the answers, but no faith had the answers. And like Jesse said, when I went to college, I had the chance to explore that and wanted to become an activist in that area.

LEMON: You guys, both of you realize that you’re the reason for what just happened, many people don’t want to send — or they’re worried about sending their kids off to college because they’ll become nonbelievers. I’m just being honest.

So, Jesse, how do you explain that survey from Pew that shows there are less and less of the millenials, there it is right there, believe or doubt the existence of God?

GALEF: I think that this is something we can all agree on in society that we should examine our beliefs and explore what we actually believe and why. And on campus, in colleges, even high schools and increasingly online, people are exposed to different world views and come in contact with challenging beliefs, challenging ideas. And millenials are brought up in an age with the Internet. They’re finding online communities, friendly atheists or finding other people who they can talk about and talk about their doubts. So the millenials in particular are able to doubt in a safe place, online and on campus for Secular Student Alliance groups.

LEMON: So, Hemant, how is it that you can’t believe in God? What is going on here? To be in this country, you have to believe in something and most people in this country are Christians. What’s wrong with you? It’s the deterioration of this country and young people. And people are being indoctrinated into secularism.

MEHTA: No, they’re not being indoctrinated. When they go off to college or even like Jesse said in high school, we’re asking them to think and to question their faith and to doubt their faith and that Pew Survey said that’s what they’re starting to do more of. That’s what we want them to do, and I what they’re finding is that you can be good without God and you can have ethics and morals and don’t need a religious structure to make that happen.

LEMON: OK. It’s important — did you want to weigh in on this, Jesse?

GALEF: Yes. I think something Hemant said about the idea that you can be good without God. A real problem for these young Americans who are starting to experience doubts is atheism and being nonreligious have been so vilified and there are all these stigmas. And so, erasing the idea that morality requires religion will go a long way. And our students are doing that. They’re acting as role models on campus, doing community service projects, helping rebuild houses in Katrina, organize soup kitchen activities, because compassion is a human thing, not a religious thing.

LEMON: Because you’re not a believer doesn’t mean that you’re not a moral person and you don’t have heart.

GALEF: Absolutely.

LEMON: It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily doing bad things, you’re not a heathen. So it’s important —

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes. So it’s important to note this, I think. You were just going to mention on line, Hemant. This decline seen among young people under the age of 30, is it safe to say technology may be playing a role in this, for instance the onset of the Internet allowing people to question and explore more outside of their homes?

MEHTA: Absolutely.

I mean, you can fact check what your pastor is saying in church. It’s wonderful. If you have questions about your faith, if you have doubts about your faith, there are communities online and increasingly on campuses and high schools and college where you can explore that without the fear of backlash.

That’s what we want to promote. We want people thinking about that and questioning and doubting.

LEMON: OK. You guys, man, stirring up trouble.

Jesse, Hemant, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

MEHTA: Thanks, Don.

GALEF: Thank you.

For what it’s worth, I think the host was just being playful when he said we were “stirring up trouble” and asked “What’s wrong with you?” I didn’t take it as antagonistic as all — more like devil’s advocate.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • dangeroustalk

    From other interviews I saw with him dealing with religion, Lemon seems to not really care about religion. But he does seem to know that talking about religion gets ratings. If I had to bet on it, I would bet that he was an apathetic atheist. But he could just be an holiday Christian. 

    • AxeGrrl

      That’s been my impression too ~ and isn’t Lemon gay?  (not that that necessarily = atheist, of course)

      I missed the show unfortunately, so I have a question.  When Lemon said this to Hemant:

      ” What’s wrong with you?”

      Did he have any kind of smile/half-smile on his face when he asked it?  You know, as though he was just being the proxy and asking a question that he thought people in the viewing audience would want to ask?

      I’d like to hope so.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    And now I wish I still had my DVR because I could have taken a crude video and posted it.

    As I told you in my tweet Hemant you both did a great job but I truly wish you had been given more face time.

    As for the host he did a good job and yes, he was being playful when he stated that you two were stirring up trouble. He had a smile on his face when he made that statement.

    My only complaint is that the segment was not longer.

  • Sam Capener

    I’m glad you cleared up his tone because I don’t really watch TV, so I’m unfamiliar with him. It was quite confusing because I wasn’t sure if he was chewing you out.

  • Joe Zamecki

    Excellent job, Hemant!

  • Greisha

    So, “you’re necessarily doing bad things…” – ha-ha!

  • articulett

    I can’t wait to see it– you troublemakers you!

  • Karen Loethen

    “You guys are stirring up trouble.”
    THANKS!
    Well done, Hemant!

  • CanvasBalls

    I use this type of tongue in cheek banter with my parents when trying to explain atheism to my parents.  Especially when they bring up the idea of indoctrination.  But is it really wise to go on national television in front of an audience and admit to it?
    They’ll either be used to it or totally think you’re serious.

  • MG

    “To be in this country, you have to believe in something”  WTF? Honestly? He said that?
    Exactly what country did you have to travel to for this interview, Hemant?

    • ErinGoPenguin

       That’s the thing that struck me the most. Really? You “HAVE” to believe, to be in this country?

      Um. No. You don’t.

      • DC

        If you listen to the video, the tone of the host when he says that isn’t that he necessarily believes that that statement is true, but rather something that some people might argue about living in the US.

  • Hanasaki Momoko

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