Hello and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon and you’re listening to the Side B Podcast where we ‘see how skeptics flip the record of their lives.’ Each podcast we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic but who came to believe in God and Jesus to their own surprise.
There are different reasons or catalysts that may stop someone in their tracks and reconsider their own skepticism towards God and faith, towards their own presumptions, their own way of looking at the world. One of these catalysts is an unexpected sudden or significant event in the world. Disruptive events or circumstances often demand our attention. They raise our awareness beyond the mundane normal day-to-day activities to potentially consider the larger, deeper big questions of life.
Those grand moments can sober us to think about our own beliefs, our direction, our purpose and meaning, what we think about death and beyond. Some people take those interruptions seriously as an opportunity to look more closely at their own lives. Others merely move on without deep regard or consideration for what it might mean for themselves, pursuing business as usual.
In today’s story, Brian Causey, a successful financial trader, was one of those experienced an event that rocked the world as an invitation to examine his own beliefs, his own life, to open the door to the possibility of belief beyond skepticism. It jump started his intellectual quest to look for a better explanation for his life, to possibly trade what he knew and experienced of reality. It compelled his search for the existence of God.
I hope you’ll come along to meet Brian and hear him tell his journeying from disbelief to belief. And, I hope you’ll stay to the end to hear Brian’s advice to skeptics who may be considering the possibility of searching beyond their skepticism and his advice to Christians on engaging with those who don’t believe.
Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Brian. It’s so great to have you with me today.
Thanks, Jana. It’s so great to be here. I look forward to it.
Wonderful! Before we tell your story, which I can’t wait to hear, why don’t we learn more about who you are today, and tell me a little bit about yourself.
Yeah, sure. My name is Brian Causey. My day job is in the investment world, where I have kind of a strange and unique opportunity to work with some of the biggest pools of money in the world, mostly teachers’ pension funds and things like that. My side hustle is as an armchair theologian and an author. I get to live in Seattle, Washington, with the most amazing woman I know, my wife Karlie, our 2-year-old son Blaise, and Brodie the Burnedoodle.
Bernedoodle. That’s obviously a combination of Golden Retriever and Bernese Mountain Dog?
He’s Bernese Mountain Dog Poodle mix. Yes. And he’s in dire need of a summer cut. It’s too hot over here now.
So, as we’re getting started, Brian, in order to shape the fullness of the story, let’s go back to your childhood. Tell me about life growing up, your family, your friends, your culture, your community? Tell me what life was like. Was it with God? Was it without God referents? Were you from the Northwest all along? Talk to me about that.
Yeah, sure. Well, I grew up in a very loving home. I mean, my family is all very close still. My parents are headed towards their, I think, 57th wedding anniversary. But growing up, religion just wasn’t much of a consideration for us. We didn’t really talk about God or things like that. I kind of joke around with others that we were kind of like the Scandinavian countries. We had a foundation of Christian faith, but it wasn’t really part of our daily life. In many senses, I was just a classic none, N-O-N-E, which, in the lingo of polling, just means that I would have answered “none of the above” if I was asked what religion I belonged to.
I think I had probably a faint sense of the spiritual. I mean I wasn’t a materialist. I knew that much. I believe there was some kind of greater power out there, but I didn’t know what it was or if it wanted anything from me. At the same time, probably if you would have pressed me back then, I would have believed in almost anything, I suppose. UFOs, telepathy, reincarnation, that all religions were paths to God. I was spiritual but not religious. “You can’t pin me down. You can’t put me in a box.” And I think that’s one of the attractions, probably, of being a none, N-O-N-E again. None of the above. You can’t pin that person into a set of beliefs or doctrines or attach them to a certain organization. I think that’s part of the attraction and why the “none movement” is so rapidly rising in all of the polling data. I think organized religion just held no appeal to me at that point in my life. I mean, in reality, I think I belonged to a religion of one, where whatever I said or did or thought was acceptable, and that concepts like God and faith were just an accessory to my life that I could put on or take off whenever I felt like it. I could change my standards in line with my behavior, such that I could never be guilty of anything. And that was very appealing to me growing up.
So you had this kind of sense of self and independence, picking and choosing whatever fits at the time. Were there any Christians that intersected your world at all during elementary school or maybe middle or in high school?
Gosh. Really not much. It’s a very secular community up here in Seattle. Honestly, the only people that took religion seriously growing up were my Mormon friends. Their lives seemed to revolve around the church schedule and calendar, but yeah, there weren’t really many Christians that spoke into my life at that point in time. None that could really give me any hints of life’s real direction. And so I kind of felt like I was floating like a wave in the ocean without an anchor.
But you enjoyed the freedom of it?
I did. I did. I think that freedom was the best way for me to enjoy the fascinations of life. I, at that point in my life, enjoyed the party scene and enjoyed wanting to live forever as an adolescent.
I think it’s interesting that you had, in terms of an embodied picture of what religion was, it was Mormonism, which I know that there are some really beautiful and wonderful people and very moral people, but that religion as an embodied picture for you probably speak to rules and regulations and “do this” and “don’t do that,” and I would imagine that that kind of pushed against your sense of freedom and your ability to pick and choose whatever you wanted. Again, you said you didn’t like organized religion. There was something very off putting about it. But what did you think religion was at that point? A construct of some sort? A hobby? How would you have described religion?
Yeah. Maybe as like a series of protocols. Things that you do. Might as well call it an exercise routine. Things you do, but the truth, whether it was true or not, I didn’t really think about that much at all. I don’t know why, but it just seemed like these were the steps. If you were a Christian or Mormon or whatever, these were the steps that you took because you belonged there. There was no why. It was all the what. “What do you do?” But not the, “Why are we doing it?” and “Why are we committing to something like that?”
It just didn’t seem attractive to you, right?
I wanted autonomy. I wanted self reliance. If I was going to worship any god and I didn’t call it myself, it would be the god of self reliance. I wanted to be in control. I mean I wanted to have the power over my life. I wanted to be financially secure, such that I could do anything I wanted. Those were the things that I really pursued. I didn’t pursue any other authority but my own.
I think sometimes that seems so very attractive to so many people. This idea of independence and autonomy and that there are only positives that come from that way of thinking or being or living. You mentioned, those, that in some sense you felt like you were floating, like not grounded in something. I wonder if you felt any negative implications or ramifications from this kind of sense of autonomy. Did you make you feel isolated or too isolated? That you didn’t have a place of sense of belonging? Or were you just kind of the common teenager, “Hey, I’m just having fun! Let me eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die,”?
There was definitely a time in my teenage life where I looked at the meaning question. I realized I didn’t know what life’s meaning was. And I fell into a depression, so bad that I really thought about suicide quite a lot, almost every day. And I went out of all sports and kind of went into my mind almost, retracted into my mind, stayed in my room a lot, and pondered the meaning question and what did it matter if I ended my life? There was no meaning to it. I was going to die and maybe be a part of the circle of life. And that was a real waking up for me. That was one of the many moments in my spiritual life that led me to who I’ve become today.
I went through a pretty bad period, and I did realize, at the end of that period, after I got out of it, was that… maybe two realizations. One, many other people have had this bout of doubt and meaning in their life. So I realized that there were other people in the same boat as me that got out of it. And that was very helpful for me, to basically mature in that direction. And maybe the other take-away for me was I realized I couldn’t solve this myself. I couldn’t keep looking inward and find the answers. I needed to start looking elsewhere. I needed advice. I needed good news, really. I needed to find what other people had thought about the big questions of life. Because I was struggling, and I needed some help.
So when you were in that place of openness of needing help, did you consider wondering whether there was a God who would have something to say about the meaning in your life or any other religious person? Where did you look when you started thinking you needed to look outside of yourself?
I think there were a few moments in my life where I started to look toward God or what I thought might have been God. And one class I took in college was really helpful, and it was called The Philosophy of Religion, and that introduced me to all of the faith beliefs. It introduced me to atheism, too. And we started with atheism in that class and read the classic atheistic thinkers and some current-day thinkers, and I was persuaded initially that this made a lot of sense to life. And then we countered that with great thinkers of believers, too. And so you want to hear both sides of the story, just like this podcast, and that’s what that class was doing. But at the end of that, I don’t think I really came to a conclusion. I still was waffling in these great themes that the university system was showing me. Everything from relativism, which is maybe the sneakiest of them all, that truth is subjective and that we each define our own truth. That’s definitely what I believed heading out of college. But also secular humanism and naturalism. Those were both huge themes in the university system that really influenced the way that I thought about things. And I think at the end, by the time I graduated, I was still in this camp of anything goes, that all religions are basically the same, that freedom and autonomy are always good and should never be impaired, that we each determine our own morality, that we can define truth for ourselves and that it’s okay to believe in whatever you want to believe.
I was in that camp, and I didn’t think there were any good reasons to question these things. And I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. I think a lot of my friends, a lot of my teachers probably were in this same cultural current, and again, with no real anchor, I just got swept up in that current, too.
So basically what you decided as a teenager, relativism, autonomy, they were only reinforced as you grew older. And the questions of meaning, I guess that would’ve been self determined, right? By the time you got out of college, it was still the same. The answer was still the same, that even though you had looked externally, I suppose, at other worldviews, or even considered what naturalism, atheism was, what secular humanism was, relativism, —you were learning more about it, but your sense or view of the world and of life became more educated but existentially the same, I would imagine.
And so it took a moment—it took a real game-changing moment in my life to shake up that worldview.
What was that?
It was 9/11. It was 9/11. And so the terrorist attacks just really were shocking to me, as to everybody I’m sure. I was in my early twenties. I was in the investment world. My job was going great. I had lots of friends, kind of was living as if I was invincible. And then 9/11 hit, and it really shook me up. It made me stop and wonder about my own mortality. I don’t know why this had such a big effect on me, being in Seattle, so far away from the terrorist attacks themselves, but this is the thing that forced me to say, “I need to figure out the big questions of life. I need to dive into what happens after I die, because I don’t know. I’m feeling a little naive here.”
And so the Sunday after 9/11 was the first time I really went to church. I was invited by a friend, thankfully, and I’m so thankful that that church was right next to the University of Washington, so it meant that it had very connections to a lot of academia. The library at this church was stock full. It was… I didn’t know churches had libraries, and many don’t still, but this one did, and it allowed me to do a lot of personal self reflection because it had things on audio tape, back then, where I could pop in a tape or a CD on my commute. I could check out books for free, and so I did a lot of that. I took the Alpha class, which they offered. And I really just dove in to trying to answer all of these tough, tough questions. And I had a lot of tough questions. I mean faith and doubt, science and religion, evolution, the age of the universe, miracles, lots of questions. And they had thoughtful responses to all of these, not just from the Christian perspective, but they would have interviews with scientists, world-class scientists, that would come and speak in person at the church. And have debates, have talks, all sorts of things that were just eye opening to me.
And so not only did I approach this whole challenge after 9/11 by diving in, but for whatever strange reason, 9/11 also was this turning point in this new movement called New Atheism. And the New Atheists kind of created a publishing sensation with all of these books that hit after 9/11 basically saying that a religious believer is illogical, unscientific, and probably harmful for the world. And that really blew through academia, it blew through the media, and really made a lot of people quite influenced by their thinking. And I had to kind of battle with all of those thoughts, too. Not only the classic thinkers and my own questions but a really in-your-face style approach of these skeptics.
That’s an interesting moment historically and as it intersects with your life because it was the moment that set you on a search, an intellectual search, but at the same time it was almost like this tsunami of intellectual atheists who were coming against what you were finding. I’m sure you were wrestling with both sides of those very diverse perspectives, one claiming one thing and another really piling on from the other side. How were you processing through those really dichotomous views at the same time?
It was really hard. It was hard. Because you have a lot of the classical Christian thinkers that are probably pulling more at the strings of your brain, I suppose. They’re not going after the emotional questions, but then these new New Atheist authors are going after the emotional side a little bit harder, and both are really challenging. They’re compelling and maybe rhetorically persuasive. So stepping back and trying to figure out how to approach this entire problem, and for me, I had a friend that just asked me the question that narrowed down my search, and it blocked all of this other noise that was coming into my filters. His question was, “Who do you think Jesus was?” and it’s such a basic question, but it’s the question, I think, the most important one that we all have to ask. And that just narrowed my search. Because if I could address that question, then it would frame all other questions. It was the most important thing that I needed to attack, and so that’s how I blocked a lot of the other challenges and noises that were coming my way.
So I started reading the Bible, read the Gospels, really came to know and love this character Jesus, and at the same time, doing all of the other research on the side which said, “There’s a lot of great reasons to think Jesus existed, that he is who he said he is, and here’s all the context of a first-century Jew,” which are really important, “and here’s all the context from the Old Testament that sort of brings everything into light once you consider Jesus, and man did that picture just make sense to me. And it was beautiful. And it softened my heart. I mean I suppose some people might read the Bible, and it could harden their heart. For me, the Bible was like a hammer that was more of a tenderizing hammer. It tenderized my heart. It somehow made this story pierce its walls. And I went through a season of this search. I say it lasted a long time, but in reality, it was only about two years. Because it was just so momentous to me. That two years was incredibly momentous. At the end of that season, I committed my life to Jesus.
So obviously, you went on a very intentional intellectual pathway towards this investigation of Christianity, of the person of Jesus. Reading the Bible, I’m sure you were probably very surprised what you found in the Bible. We have so many stereotypes or caricatures of… if you’ve never read the Bible before, what you think that it might be. But obviously you were open. Like you say, it was a tenderizing hammer toward you. So you allowed it to affect you. It did its work on you.
It did its work.
Yeah. You found the person of Jesus.
Yeah. Man, He is such a fascinating character. As you know. But, I mean, you read the things that He says, and then you try and understand and unpack those and think about what it meant to the first century hearer, to the person that may have grown up with all of the Hebrew scriptures in mind, and then, man, he said some tough stuff! Some really hard things. I remember listening to a class from that church about the hard sayings of Jesus, and wow, that really just hit me about—He wasn’t this meek and mild all the time character. He was dynamic. There were a lot of things that He said which are still so challenging to me. And then to think that He’s not after just my actions. He’s after my heart. He wants to build a new heart from within, such that my actions and personality and things that come out of that heart reflect His Holy Spirit. There are just so many beautiful things that I’m still so enamored with Him, and especially with the cross. I mean, that was the thing that really worked for me is the cross. I did not understand the virgin birth. I didn’t understand the resurrection. It wasn’t even a focus of mine when I became a Christian. It was all about the cross. The cross is the thing that melted me.
This God Who created everything with the Word of His power loved me? He died for me? I’m a jerk. I’m a punk. I do not deserve this at all. I know who I am, and I’m sinful and wicked, and yet He loved me this much. I just couldn’t believe it. But that is what worked for me. And I’m blessed and I’m thankful that he did that for me.
That’s a beautiful explanation of the Gospel there, that none of us are deserving, and its not about dos and don’ts, right? It’s not about rules, like with the religion you had experienced earlier in your life. It was so much more than that in the Person of Christ. I can imagine someone listening and saying, “The stories sound good, and you can believe that, but—the Bible, obviously you were open to it. But there are so many things wrong with the Bible. It’s not reliable, the text, and it was written late, and Jesus is legendary, and all of these things were added.” Did you have to resolve those controversial statements by the New Atheists? How were you trying to tease all of that out? In the one sense you were being drawn by the story and by the scripture and by what Christianity is as you were understanding it, but on the other hand, all of these counter arguments to it… How were you navigating through all of that?
Yeah. I think while I was reading the New Testament I was also listening to classes that talked about the history of the Bible, the collection of the Bible. Can we trust these books? That was the name of the class, was Can We Trust the Books? And so I was reading and listening to these classes at the same time, so I think I wouldn’t have the context. Let me rephrase, I think I needed the context in order to fully read the New Testament for me, for it to really resonate with me. I needed to know that the books were trustworthy. And there are a lot of wonderful reasons to trust this, not only just the number of copies of things that we have but the differences are so meaningless between the different copies that there’s a lot of great reasons and research to put your trust that this was recorded well. And there’s even great scholarly research right now about the hidden things in the New Testament, the hidden meaning. There’s not… Maybe Mark doesn’t explain something that John does. They all have a tight story when you think about all the different ways that they interact with each other. And that gave it more credibility to me.
I also needed to get over the science question in my mind before I could really hear the New Testament. And so that was one of the first obstacles that I had to overcome was I came in thinking science was the sole arbiter of truth. And I needed to kind of understand that there were limits to science. And I had to let go of that belief that science was the king. Instead, in seeing that were limits to science, I came to understand that maybe and science and religion are a little more like sibling rivals. They sort of challenge and enlighten each other, but they’re both in pursuit of truth. And I know that science can’t answer so many things. Even the house of the scientific materialist is built on a foundation of faith. There are tons of faithful commitments from the scientific materialist. I don’t need to go into all of those now, but there are plenty of assumptions, let’s say, going into such a belief. And so both of those things were hurdles for me in order to really hear what the text of the New Testament was saying.
So you had to really believe that it was worthy of belief from an intellectual or credibility perspective before you could embrace it personally, I would imagine. That the question of God, that there were good answers to belief that He exists, and that His name is Jesus, and that Jesus is worthy of belief. And I think probably one of the biggest hurdles that you may have had to jump over was that whole autonomy thing.
Because it’s more—when you come to the cross and you come to the person of Jesus, He’s giving you a beautiful gift of forgiveness and life and meaning and all of those things you were searching for, but in the process of doing that, it’s the process of coming forward and surrendering. In a sense, as He surrendered Himself for you, you surrender yourself to Him. That means your will, your independence, your control… But I’m curious, after years of living with the sense of autonomy and independence that you had, was it hard to lay that down? And what do you think that you got in exchange for that?
Oh, it’s continually hard to lay it down. I still desire control, and that’s not something that easily goes away. It’s a daily battle, but at the same time, when I went to church the Sunday after 9/11, the pastor there was a world-renowned C.S. Lewis scholar, and he would go around the world talking about C.S. Lewis, and so it didn’t take long for me to pick up Mere Christianity. And his chapter about pride was such a pivotal moment in my journey. I mean, that pride is basically the chief of all sins, that all other sins in comparison are like flea bites. Man, did that really just rock my world! I did not think pride was a bad thing. And turning that on its head opened my eyes to how selfish I was. Like I said, I wanted to be god. I wanted to be in charge of all of these things. But in my conversion, I really just had to take this really sober look at reality. The reality that some day I’m going to die. I can’t prevent that. In fact, the whole world will end, according to science, in the heat death of the universe. That I’m sinful. That God’s holy. That I’m super prideful. That I have this great and almost unquenchable desire for control. And that my heart is this selfish idol factory. This was my sober look at reality.
So in order to hear the good news, I had to recognize the bad news. I had to see the darkness to appreciate the light. And Lewis really helped me with that, in describing what pride was and that I needed to relinquish, and it’s, again I say, a daily battle to do this. But I knew Who’s in control. I know that I’m not in control. It doesn’t take long for me to go about my morning before I realize that’s the case, and so that’s why I’m on this very long and bumpy road called sanctification, where I’m trying to be more and more like Jesus and failing left and right but giving it back to Him and trying as hard as I can to let the Holy Spirit be the light that shines out.
It is a process. It is an ongoing process. It’s a struggle for us all.
As you have also moved into Christianity and embracing the reality of God, you’re also embracing, I imagine, as you’ve been speaking of, the relevance of God in your life. Now, from an existential perspective, as a teenager, you were depressed because of the loss of meaning. It was just out of reach. You were grappling for where to find meaning, whether it was yourself or outside of yourself, so what did you find with regard to that big question that has been kind of a driving motivator of your life, not only what happens with death and after death, but also in life?
Yeah. So what is the meaning and purpose of life. I guess the more that I’ve dived into that question, I come to the same answer, probably as a lot of folks in the Christian world, that my purpose is to glorify God, to enjoy Him forever, to have a relationship. I think relationships are the meaning of life. And you can think of that almost in terms of the ten commandments, too. You want a relationship upward, like a cross, the pointing upward part of the cross is to God. You want that relationship first. You want a relationship from side to side with your friends, your neighbors, your family. You want it in the middle with yourself. And you want it down below with the earth, with things that exist in this world, what we’re supposed to be good stewards of. And so all of this is relational in so many ways, just like God is relational, inherently relational. And man does that just make so much sense to me in so many ways.
And I would imagine, because you have gone on in your life, not only to explore the depths and riches of these relationships vertically, horizontally, with the world, with yourself, actually that you have found deep meaning and purpose, but I know of you that you’ve also done a lot of writing and work with apologetics, to the point that you’ve actually written down what you have found to be compelling evidence for the existence of God. I’ll hold up your book here. It’s called Trading Gods: A Rationale for Faith. Tell me what led you to write this book. And it’s contents are superb, for anybody who’s listening. I would encourage you to pick up this book that provides cogent, clear, accessible reasons for the reality of God. What drove you to write that book?
I really didn’t want to write a book, to be honest. It’s so hard to write a book. What I wanted to do was just teach a class at church. Again, I’ve already mentioned this a few times, but I benefited so much from those classes at church, many of which I didn’t attend in person, but I caught the audio archive of it and listened to it on my commute, and it was so influential in my spiritual journey that I wanted to pay it forward to the next generation of spiritual seekers, and so I wrote the book as—not a memoir but basically as a way of how I got from being a “none” to being a Jesus follower and all of the different things this had to combat, to address, along that way. I mean, this is the book that I wish I had when I was 23, 24, and 9/11 just hit. Again, I benefited so much from people going down a path before me and then reporting it back to me that I’m hoping this book will do the same for someone else.
I am sure that it will, and I hope those who are listening or watching will take a look at Brian’s book, Trading Gods. It’s an excellent book if you’re a seeker or skeptic or a Christian who wants to build more confidence in your faith. I’m also curious at this time of your conversion, were you married at that time? Or not? And I’m curious how your family embraced this newfound faith? Actually, probably they watched you over that two-year period, but I wondered how your family and/or friends accepted you, especially in a very secularized culture.
Yeah. It’s an interesting question, because again, for a secular community like Seattle, where no one really wants to talk about religion that much, my conversion meant a lot to a few people and didn’t mean a lot to most people. It was, “Oh, he’s into that now. Interesting. Okay. It’s a hobby or something on the side,” not knowing just how radically it changed my life. Again, this is one of the reasons I wanted to write the book, too, is for my friends and family. Because I wanted them to be able to read something that gave a really good, comprehensive case for the God hypothesis, that why I believe what I believe is not just a whim, but it has a really, really strong foundation. And this is how I’m going about addressing these big questions of life. And I know you’re probably—my friends and family that don’t believe. I know they probably don’t have great answers to these. Or they’re questioning it themselves, but maybe they also don’t want to have a conversation about it, but maybe they’ll read the book. Maybe they’ll approach these at their own pace.
And so after teaching a class at church, I realized that the book was the next thing that I had to do, and I spent the next couple of years putting that all together.
It really is a worthwhile read. Speaking of life change, how would you describe your life and how it has really changed since you embraced God’s existence and Christ as being King of the universe, essentially?
Yeah. I think before I was a Christian I was just easily persuaded that truth was relative, that science held all the answers, and all religions led to God. I mean, I thought that view was maybe the most loving interpretation of reality. But I think it was a perspective full of contradictions, too. So it was like a spineless tolerance instead of actual truth and real love. And I realized that I wanted to pursue actual truths and real love, so when I reflect on that time in my life, I feel like I was emotionally immature. I wanted all religions to be true so I wouldn’t have to do all the hard work to figure out which one I wanted, as well as to have something that might limit my freedoms or that might isolate me from my friends and family. I also think that, before becoming a Christian, I was maybe more of a shadow of a real man. An apparition that was generally apathetic to almost everything in life. Everything in life that mattered. With the exception of one thing, and that was myself. I mean I had no conception of whether there was a cause worth fighting for. Maybe a naive little boy that just wanted to do things my way, and my way almost had nothing to do with truth, love, or beauty or virtue.
Now that I’m a Jesus follower, I want to pursue those things. I want to pursue truth, beauty, and virtue. I acknowledge I’m still a wretched sinner, completely dependent on the love, grace, and mercy of a Savior, but now I’m on this path that I’m hoping will result in fruit being born somewhere, that these investments in my time and energy are exactly what the Holy Spirit wants me to be doing because they will help somebody, just like somebody helped me. People I didn’t even meet helped me so much. That’s what I’m feeling called to do.
What a beautiful story, Brian! So articulate and so forthcoming in the way that you talk about yourself and how you were and the things that you were searching for, the depths of your despair even, as a teenager, but how far you’ve come. But I also appreciate, I think, the diligence and the intentionality of your search. You were really looking for something, and you did due diligence, really, to search for the answers. And I hope that others will be inspired and challenged by your story.
If there are curious skeptics who are listening or watching this podcast, to your story, and are curious about God. Maybe they have had an event. It may not be a 9/11, but there may be other things in their lives that have sobered them to the possibility of even asking questions. Is there something more? Is there someone more? Is there something different than I know? What would you say to someone like that who might be listening in?
Yeah. Well, first of all, I love the name of the podcast. My first musical experience with listening to the other side of the record. Well, I guess for me it was a tape, but listening to the other side of the tape happening back in 1992. I was just a teenage punk in Seattle when my city exploded with what became known as grunge music. And I bought the tape, the single for Pearl Jam’s Jeremy. And I really connected with that song. It’s a dark song about teenage angst and school violence, but on the other side of Jeremy is this beautiful song called Yellow Ledbetter, and it is such a beautiful song. Even though the lyrics are almost entirely inaudible. But when I was at a Pearl Jam concert about eight years ago and they were going out for their encore, no one wanted to hear Jeremy. They all wanted to hear Yellow Ledbetter. And it brought the audience together, brought the audience and the band together in such a beautiful and dare I say transcendent kind of way, and so my point here is, flip the side of something dark, can be something beautiful.
But let me try and address this in a more practical way. I think my initial approach with a nonbeliever is to really try and build some trust. Be a good friend. Be sincere with my questions and really be sincere with my curiosity. And hopefully through that interchange, we can come to some area of commonality. An area that tends not to be all that controversial is just to say that the pursuit of truth is a noble and important endeavor, and hopefully that’s a good starting point. Another method to find common ground is maybe just to express that we all have faith beliefs. I talked about the scientific materialist, that there’s a lot of faith behind their belief, and it may not be so hard to point that out, but that can work with people of other religions, with agnostics, too. We’re all in this place where we do not have absolute knowledge with indisputable evidence. And so I think when it comes to things that really matter in life that is especially the case. Things like first and last things. We do not know. Things like how we should live. There’s a lot of faith built into those kinds of dilemmas.
But is there really a more important and fundamental question than is there a god? I mean, that was the question for me, was who was Jesus. I think the answer to that question just has ramifications for every other question in life, so ideally I want to move the skeptic from a state of complacency to a state of curiosity. I want them to wonder what’s on the other side of that record. So in the book, I try to give my best case for the rationality of that by looking at all of the evidence and kind of coming to my conclusions. And then somehow pointing all of these things to the Jesus story, as this curious resolution to all of these big questions. I mean, certainly the Jesus story should raise their suspicions that maybe there is something more to this, and so maybe a worldview of science only or materialist only or secular only just sort of has some serious gaps that maybe you can get them to be a little more curious, and maybe that this Jesus story is actually more credible. They already know it’s more beautiful and more hopeful, but is it more credible? And I think we can get them in that direction.
I’m actually very impressed that, since you live in a secular part of the United States, the northwest US and Seattle, that you actually were given a gift, like you say, of a church next to the University of Washington that appreciated the mind that weren’t threatened by the big questions, that provided deep resources, whether it be a library or classes or teachers, that they guided you in a way that you needed to find that credibility. I think so many seekers are looking, but they can’t seem to find those kind of rich resources, so again, I’ll point people back to your book, as well as perhaps to the Bible, or just keep looking.
There are so many wonderful thinkers who are dealing philosophically, scientifically, historically, archaeologically with these kinds of issues.
But I also appreciate your humility in our understanding of our own limitations. Not only science is limited, but we in our humanity are limited. That we’re all seeking for the best explanation of reality. So I appreciate that about you.
Brian, if you were to address believers directly in terms of their role and their influence with nonbelievers or those who are, perhaps, skeptical or “nones” who don’t seem to care, even, perhaps, what would you advise Christians to do or to think or to be?
Yeah. I think, to the Christian… Well, let me just say, a few times a year, I try to ask myself this question: What breaks my heart? And then to lean into that heartbreak, thinking about how I can help or how can I be used by the Holy Spirit. I think a person’s answer to that question is going to change during different seasons of their life, but one thing that breaks my heart right now is that there are so many nominal Christians out there. I mean, the polling data seems to suggest that the average Christian in the pews has a rather flimsy understanding of what they believe and why they believe it and that we’ve collectively been sort of drifting away from those core orthodox beliefs, probably swayed by the whims of the culture or the arguments of the New Atheists. So it’s no wonder that many people tend to fall away from their faith when they enter the secular university or enter the secular job force or when they simply just befriend an intelligent skeptic or an atheistic professor.
I think there are just far too many Christians out there whose faith is like a house built on sand. Or maybe to use a better reference would be Jesus’s parable of the sower, in which some people hear the word, and they believe, but because they have shallow roots, as soon as they’re tested, they fall away from their faith, and honestly, that’s what really breaks my heart right now. Because it just seems like those who fall away so quickly upon fairly shallow challenges… It’s like they don’t know how well Christianity addresses the tough questions. They’ve been raised on a diet of milk, but even as adults, they’re still drinking milk, and what they need is meat, and Christianity just has this super long and distinguished tradition of pursuing and defending the truth, and it is meat. It’s beautiful. It’s encouraging. And in my thinking, if they only knew the strength of their foundation and faith, they’d be better equipped to talk to their skeptical friends, to talk to the “nones” out there. If more Christians were encouraged by this intellectual history of our faith and the soundness of the arguments and our claims as Christians, then having these discussions with nonbelievers can just feel so much more natural. It can be less intimidating. We have to do this, of course, with gentleness and respect, but that would be my encouragement to the Christian out there, is get familiar with some of this stuff, because once you’re armed with that, you don’t need to use it as a weapon. You use it as an encouragement, and that way, you can bring up these types of topics with those skeptics out there.
That’s wonderful. I really appreciate that.
Thank you, Brian, for telling your story. Your wisdom, your advice, it’s all been so amazing. Truly. To see the change in your life and just the dedicated purpose and meaningful direction that you’ve taken. It’s obvious that you see your life as something bigger than yourself. So thank you for coming on board today.
Thanks, Jana. I really appreciate it.
Thanks for tuning into the Side B Podcast to hear Brian’s story. You can find out more about his book Trading Gods: A Rationale for Faith and his website in the episode notes.
For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me by email at theSideBPodcast@cslewisinstitute.org
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In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time where we’ll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.