Humanism Now

13. Bart Campolo on Choosing Human Experience, Relationships & Belonging

December 24, 2023 Season 1 Episode 13
13. Bart Campolo on Choosing Human Experience, Relationships & Belonging
Humanism Now
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Humanism Now
13. Bart Campolo on Choosing Human Experience, Relationships & Belonging
Dec 24, 2023 Season 1 Episode 13

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"I know so many people whose lives got better when they learned how to use a crock pot and make a decent chili"

Welcome back to Humanism Now. This week we are delighted to share an extended interview with Bart Campolo, host of the inspirational podcast, Humanize Me!

After decades as a Christian evangelist, Bart embraced humanism and now uses his platform to advocate for a more compassionate, curious and connected society. Together, we dissect the intricacies of growing a humanist community in a digital era, the place of AI in our emotional lives, and the transformative power of authentic, in-person connections.

AJ also joins the panel to share his reflections on 2023 and some exciting news for 2024!

About Bart Campolo:
๐Ÿ  bartcampolo.org/about
๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Humanize Me! Podcast
๐Ÿ“ท @humanizemepodcast
๐Ÿฆ @bartcampolo

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

"I know so many people whose lives got better when they learned how to use a crock pot and make a decent chili"

Welcome back to Humanism Now. This week we are delighted to share an extended interview with Bart Campolo, host of the inspirational podcast, Humanize Me!

After decades as a Christian evangelist, Bart embraced humanism and now uses his platform to advocate for a more compassionate, curious and connected society. Together, we dissect the intricacies of growing a humanist community in a digital era, the place of AI in our emotional lives, and the transformative power of authentic, in-person connections.

AJ also joins the panel to share his reflections on 2023 and some exciting news for 2024!

About Bart Campolo:
๐Ÿ  bartcampolo.org/about
๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Humanize Me! Podcast
๐Ÿ“ท @humanizemepodcast
๐Ÿฆ @bartcampolo

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

Follow Humanism Now @HumanismNowPod
X.com
YouTube
Instagram
TikTok

Follow Central London Humanists @LondonHumanists
Centrallondonhumanists.org.uk
Meetup
Facebook
X.com
YouTube

CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

James H:

Hello everyone and welcome back to Humanism Now, a podcast from the central London humanists. I'm your host, james. With the year drawing to a close, we're going to be doing things a little bit differently over the next two episodes. This week, we're pleased to bring you an extended interview with Bart Campolo, as the host of Humanize Me. Bart was one of the inspirations behind us starting the Humanism Now podcast, and so, after reaching our goal of 10 episodes, I reached out to Bart to share our experiences, and he was kind enough to give us an extended interview and many words of wisdom about what he's learned on his journey to Humanism and now being one of the biggest global advocates for a humanist worldview. I'll be back after the interview with my regular co-host, aj, to share some of our thoughts, but for now, please enjoy the words of wisdom from Bart Campolo.

Lucy Potter:

Hi, my name is Lucy Potter and I'm a researcher based at the University of Sheffield. I am currently conducting research on how asylum claims on the grounds of non-religiosity, which can include apostasy and blasphemy, are handled by the UK government. I am looking for refugees or people who are still seeking asylum on these grounds to take part in an interview with me on their experiences of the asylum system. This research is really important because there is no research on how non-religious asylum claims are dealt with currently and not much is known about non-religious persecution more widely. If you take part in this research, you will remain anonymous and unidentifiable, and I hope this research will make the asylum system inclusive of all belief systems, and I encourage anyone with experience to please contact me. My email is lpotter2 at sheffieldacuk. Thank you.

James H:

Bart Campolo is an American humanist speaker, writer, podcaster and a licensed professional therapist. Former Christian evangelist, Bart was the subject, alongside his father, Tony Campolo, of the documentary Leaving my Father's Faith. He's also one of the main inspirations behind us starting humanism now as the host of his own fantastic weekly podcast, Humanize Me, where he brings his own welcoming and heartwarming take on current affairs and humanist issues. But thank you so much for joining us on Humanism Now.

Bart Campolo:

Well, thank you for having me and for calling me heartwarming.

James H:

It is and, as I said, it was listening and catching up with Humanize Me, which was the main inspiration behind our club getting together and thinking we should add to this great platform of humanist content online and try to do our own thing. So thank you for being that inspiration. And I remember you said get your first 10 episodes under your belt and then you can start reaching out to superstars. So we're now on episode 13. So we've got our first superstar here. Yeah, good luck with that.

Bart Campolo:

Yeah, no, I mean, if I count as a superstar, you got to aim higher.

James H:

Well, thank you very much for joining us. So, firstly, how are you and how are things local to you in Cincinnati? Is that right?

Bart Campolo:

Yeah, I do. I live in Cincinnati, ohio, which is kind of in the Midwest of the United States. I grew up in Philadelphia and I've lived a bunch of other places, but here I am in Cincinnati and have been here for a long time and things are good here. I'm good, I'm a you know, you could probably tell like I'm a little bit sick, you know that kind of ongoing, like I keep working, you keep going, but you kind of a sore throat and you cough a bit, you know. So I'm not, I'm not my chipper best, but but I'm glad to be here, glad to be talking to you.

James H:

Thank you and it doesn't tell, and you know you'd fit right in in London at the moment because I think everybody is feeling about the same. So when I mentioned that you were going to be on the show, our community was very excited. You gave a fantastic talk with us about a year ago now about how we can grow the humanist message and grow our network. I asked the group for some suggestions on questions and I think a lot of it came down to really quizzing you on on your ability to to spread the positive message and how we can continue to grow our community. So how do you feel the humanist community can develop and grow, particularly as compared to the evangelical movement in the States, which which you were formerly a part of?

Bart Campolo:

Yeah, you know, essentially I I used to think more in terms of movement, growth and all that kind of thing. I think that it's funny. You know, one of the questions that I think you're going to ask me later is, like, what is something you've changed your mind on? And I think this is something I might be changing my mind on, in that I think that the American evangelical movement or just Protestantism or kind of any world religion that was, you know, based on the regular gathering together of people, a sacred book, like all the stuff that you know, goes into being like a proper religion. I certainly that's all a technology that was designed for a pre-social media age and I really don't know, like I don't know, what the future of even those established religions is, and so I used to think that humanism is like we have a more, we have a better narrative and all of the kind of the ethical moral, you know, motivations that drive those other religions, like they're actually kind of basic human motivations that, like the religions were designed to explain and to communicate and, you know, to sort of brand. But like humanism is, like you know, the raw stuff underneath all of the religions of the world, you know like kind of the driving element of you know, why are we here, what happens when we die? Like you know, those same questions and everybody's wrestling with the same questions what makes a life meaningful, what's the right thing to do, what's the wrong thing to do? And so I used to think that supernaturalists simply had like a 2000 year head start on us in their movement, building technologies, and that we would figure out how to have meaningful gatherings and inspirational music. And you know, pastoral care where we nurtured people and we would just nurture them into, like evidence based, you know, naturalist commitment to making the most of this life.

Bart Campolo:

You know, I just don't know whether or not you know those kind of religions really grew out of a kind of tribalism and a kind of family life and a kind of a model of relationship that feels like it's changing so rapidly that you know I go like you know, what I worry about is that humanism may end up being like late, like you know, sort of like I just figured out how to make, how to program my VCR and you're like, yeah, they're gone now.

Bart Campolo:

Like, or like you know somebody who shows up and like I've got this great horse and buggy and you're like, meet Henry Ford. Like you're, you know, I worry that we're working on a technology or we're working on a product and a technology that is at the end of its life cycle and I'm not sure what spiritual life or what human relationship, what romance, I'm not sure what counseling, I'm not sure what any of this stuff is going to look like on the other side of AI and on the other side of social media and the other side of all the kind of rapid movement changes that we're having, and that's before you get to political changes and all these other things. I used to be like, hey, I was really good at evangelical Christian community building and then I realized, like the narrative doesn't work for me and it doesn't work for a lot of people. I was like, oh well, I'll just build those same kind of communities for people whose narrative is more evidence based you know, and we'll all be.

Bart Campolo:

You know it'll be great. And now I'm just like I don't know what's going on.

James H:

So do you worry that we're heading towards a kind of extreme form of individualism and that the whole concept of community is going to change beyond recognition?

Bart Campolo:

I mean, we're definitely. Sometimes what happens is is that a problem emerges and for a while it's really bad, and then everybody's like this is really problem, we got to figure something out, and then we figure something out. So if you ask me, like, do I think the problem is emerging? Like, oh yeah, the problem is totally emerging. You know everybody's depressed, everybody's lonely, everybody's full of anxiety. Young, young people are. You know they don't play with each other, they accept they stay home and play with each other on video games. You know people having a hard time with romance. Most people are lonely. So, yeah, it's like you. Like is a problem emerging that threatens the traditional model of human society, human community? Like, oh yeah, like I don't think anybody, you know, like I don't think anybody in your audience and probably nobody in any audience for not go like, what's he talking about? Things are great, you know.

Bart Campolo:

The question is, you know, when people start to work on it, I don't know that. I don't know that people have the same value. You know you work on a problem if you value the thing, that's got the problem. But if you, if, if you just change your value and, for instance, let's just say you valued, I don't know, let's see. Let's just say you valued emotional gratification more highly than you valued human relationship. I don't know if you have any relationships, james. Actually I do know you have relationships. You're telling me about your five year old and and you were also telling me that, like you're a single dad. So so you know a little bit about how relationship you know that kind of relationship. You also know about how certain relationships that you thought were going to be permanent aren't permanent.

Bart Campolo:

Relationships are hard. You know, I was just looking at the, the first page of an old book that was very, very popular about 20 years ago, 30 years ago, called the Road Less Traveled, by a psychotherapist named M Scott Peck, and that's kind of an immortal first line. The first line of the book is life is difficult. And then the first paragraph is all about, like you know, people who think life isn't difficult. When their life is difficult, they're all dismayed and like what's wrong? I must be doing something wrong. Like life is difficult, like, if your life is not difficult, you are at any given moment, that is an exceptional moment. You should take a picture, but that won't last. Life is hard.

James H:

And it makes those moments more more valuable, those moments that when, of joy, they can be fleeting, but they are that more precious Well said.

Bart Campolo:

But, as you know, human relationships are notoriously difficult and they are sometimes like parenting. You know most people the evidence would suggest, their positive emotions, their amount of happiness, laughter, joy, go down when they have children. Now, you know, don't despair like their level, their sense of meaning goes up, their sense of connect, of relationship, goes up, but like, just in terms of pure emotional gratification, emotional right it goes down. So if you value emotional gratification, you could probably come up with an AI relationship. It would be much more gratifying than any of your human relationships, especially if they then come with the robots and it's ex machina and they're good looking and they know how to touch you and all that stuff. And so if you value, the reason I like human relationships is because it's the most reliable path to emotional gratification. Well, if I come up with a better path to emotional gratification, you'll abandon human relationship. And so if you value emotional gratification, now you might be an old Luddite like myself who actually values human relationship and it's like but wait, I can get you another relationship that'll be more gratifying. I'm like. I know, I know I'm old fashioned. I like this almost like somebody who insists on riding a horse and buggy instead of driving a car, cause I'm like I just like horse and buggies, like there's a beauty and a poetry to them. You know people like that, that they cling to an old technology. Well, what if human relationship is an old technology? Well, there's gonna be people like me who go like I would rather go out this way. And then there'll be people that'll be like hey, we're transhumanists. Like let's go to the next level, this is the next. Like this is a more gratifying way of life and that's what we're into. And you just go so, like.

Bart Campolo:

So you go like do I think that a problem has emerged for human relationships? Yes, do I think we'll solve it? I don't know, cause I don't know what people value in the end. I used to think like people go like this is terrible, we're losing the most important aspect of our existence. Like we will fight. You know we're gonna shut down the computers or we're gonna put controls on them and we won't be able to use them more than an hour a day. Like we're gonna find a way to restrain ourselves, cause this technology is destroying our humanity. And I go like I don't know. I don't know the technology is really good at convincing you that it's better than your humanity. So you know so, like like you know so. When you say, like how do we catch, you know how do we build a movement like the church moon, I go like I don't know that the church is gonna do much better in this new landscape. I know a lot of churches that are struggling.

James H:

Yeah, I think it's a really good point and actually, yeah, we've definitely seen the increased secularization, particularly here in the UK. You know, in the last sense, and so I think you know over 50% now are, you know, don't claim to belong to a religion, but I think that keyword there is belonging, and I think that's what you're talking about. There is we risk losing, throwing the baby out with the bath water, I think, in you know, losing a lot of these more organized religions.

Bart Campolo:

This is where I've changed my mind. James, is that it was an article of faith for me that human beings were hardwired for connection and that nothing like. And I still believe that. I think there's a lot of evidence to suggest that. And if you take away that connection, you go like do the human beings do well? And I go like well. It depends on how you measure doing well. Do they produce more? You know gross income? You know. Do they live longer? Like? There's a lot of different ways to measure a life and so, like, if you asked me, do I think human being like? Do I think that we as a species are doing well right now? Relationally? I go like no, I don't. You go like.

Bart Campolo:

But if I get old Steven Pinker on the line, he'll tell you that things have never been better. This is great. This is the best time in all of humanity. Like you stand very little chance of being murdered. You stand very little, you know, and I go like. Yeah, you know like. So if I could give you a lifestyle that would cut down your risk of violent death, on the one hand, but that would also cut down your risk of falling in love, on the other. You go like do you want it? I mean, have you seen the matrix? Like I can give you a life where you are completely safe in your little pod, you know, and you're having experiences that are meaningful to you. And you go like yeah, but they're not real.

Bart Campolo:

And you go like well, do you value reality? Some people do, some people probably don't.

James H:

It sounds like you're explaining a kind of emotional numbness that people may be falling into.

Bart Campolo:

Like I think it's. They're not, yes, but what I think is happening is is that human relationships have always been difficult. That's why there are Jane Austen novels. The differences there didn't used to be an alternative Right.

James H:

So, if you want to avoid the difficult relationships you can do, and there's definitely been a seeking of comfort over discomfort.

Bart Campolo:

I mean, it used to be that, like, learning to play tennis or basketball was hard, but if you're a kid and you want to, you know you want to play. You know you have to practice basketball until you got good enough at it that you could enjoy it, or practice tennis until you could actually have a rally. There wasn't a video machine where you could achieve instant mastery and you know, jump over buildings and be the best tennis player in the world or play against the best tennis player in the world on the second day, and so you know you go like, but they're two different things. And I was like yeah, yeah, but like the one that's their alternatives. They're alternatives and you know. My question is you know how many people are going to opt for instant mastery and how many people are going to opt for the discipline of learning a real life skill? I don't know. That's not looking good right now. So all of that to say that when I think about like you know I'm a therapist and I coach people humanize me.

Bart Campolo:

One of the things that happened with humanize me is that I ended up getting like emails from people like hey, can I talk to you? Hey, can I talk to you and I was like I was like I started this whole podcast because I couldn't talk to all the people that wanted to talk to me. So I was like I'll make episodes, I'll interview people, I'll have conversations and I'll be able to say like, hey, here's what I have to say about, you know, polyamory, or here's what I have to say about friendship. And like then everybody that wrote to me, I could just go listen to that episode, you know so, and not just me. But like I would have other people come on and talk. I'd be like, you know, here's material that sort of, if you, you know, reflects my view of relationship or reflects my angle on this stuff. But what happens is, of course, people are like, ah, that's really good, but like I got a problem in my life. I want to talk to you. So I, you know you ended up. So I ended up coaching people all over the world, you know one-on-one. And then I was like I'm an in-person person, as you're figuring out. So I ended up getting a license to be a therapist here so that I could see people in person legally.

Bart Campolo:

You know, in that way, the more I do therapy with people, the more I talk with people about their problems, like the more committed I am to trying to help people figure out how to have real relationships and how to have difficult conversations and how to process the discomfort of intimacy and how to get unstuck and you know, like from from the things that are holding them back from belonging, and the more committed I am to old school community, like to youth group style stuff. Like I'm actually contemplating starting like a big group therapy thing here in Cincinnati that will that's basically like a youth group for people where we don't talk about God, you know, but that's and you don't have to be young but like a place where there is facilitated interaction aimed at helping you make friends and feel and feel like you're part of something that's about something bigger than you. Okay, so like that's how committed, that's how old school I am, james. I mean, I've been, I've been starting youth groups since I was 15 years old and I'm still doing.

Bart Campolo:

You know, I'm 60 years old, I'm still doing the same five tricks. I have no new. I have no new tricks.

James H:

I think you're ahead of the game, though I think these things will come back around. I firmly believe that we're gonna see in-person meetings and connection really take off, possibly from next, as soon as next year, when you know we're finally, you know, a full year clear of COVID and increasingly because people can't trust what they see online or with the recent technological developments. I mean, if you wanna hear what someone has to say, you're gonna have to go and see them in-person soon, and so I do think my personal belief and maybe I'm optimistic in this area is that there'll be a rise in in-person meetings.

Bart Campolo:

But the question isn't whether you're optimistic. You are optimistic. The question is whether you're irrationally optimistic or whether you're onto something. And you know, fingers crossed I hope you're right, you know. But I long ago sort of made a commitment that If human relationships and in-person communities, if that's a dying technology, I'll die out with it. Like that's fine with me, that's what I'm committed to.

Bart Campolo:

When I say I'm a humanist, you go like well, what if there was something better? Like what if another option showed up on the planet? Aliens came and they were like look, we're smarter than you, we're better than you, we're nicer than you. You know I would go like I would fight them. I would say I would still like I'm committed to my tribe. And you go like but your tribe is imperfect and stupid. And I go like I know, but that's my people.

Bart Campolo:

You know, in the same way that I expect the cockroaches would try to fight me off if I was trying to wipe out all the cockroaches in the world, and they would be like we're committed to the cockroaches. You know, like I'm committed to the human experience. I love the human experience, the whole thing, the dying, the birth, the transitions, all of it. You know, messy as it is, like I'm committed to that experience and so if you're right and it's gonna make a comeback, oh man, it's gonna be great, I'm gonna be so thrilled. It'd be like vinyl records coming back where you go, like I'm so glad I kept my collection, which I didn't. But even whether it's coming back or not, we have an old expression here. You know you dance with hubrangia, like you know which sort of means. Like you know, don't switch forces in midstream, those kind of things. We're like stick with, stick with. And I'm like every good and perfect gift that I've received in my life has come from being a finite mortal human and I'm sticking with that.

James H:

You have this incredible, passionate, positive message that comes through in all of your podcasts and today, even though you've claimed to be feeling under the weather, you know it shines through whenever you talk. You know, I'm guessing this is partly nature and also partly nurture, through coming up through the evangelical church. Do you think we should evangelize for humanism?

Bart Campolo:

Yes and no. I think that and this is how I felt when I was towards the latter part of my Christian days too I think we should leave people alone if they're doing well, if somebody's happy, if somebody feels a sense of belonging, if somebody's confident facing the future. And they base it all on an Iron Age myth or a New Age philosophy. Typically I leave them alone. You know, there's a reason they were drawn into that. Maybe that's where their family is, that's where they feel a sense of connection. And I don't ever try to evangelize somebody to secularism in order to build our ranks or in order because I wanna prove that our way of thinking is superior to their way of thinking. I'm only interested in what causes people to thrive. And you go like have you ever seen somebody who was struggling deeply with a secular worldview and got religion and found a family and a home and a cadet? And I go like yeah, many times. And so you wanna show them that the narrative that they're basing their life on is stupid. I go like, no, I wanna leave them alone. But most of my Christian evangelism was not about trying to disabuse thriving secularists or thriving Muslims or thriving anybody, that their narrative was wrong and that they should join Christianity. Most of it was building, looking for people who were struggling and who didn't feel a sense of belonging. I'm saying, hey, hey, drug dealer, hey drug addict. Hey, lonely person, hey, angry person, I've got a better way of life for you and it's available to you. The hard part about Christian evangelism was it wasn't hard to show somebody that I had a better way of life. I was part of a thriving, nice community with lovely people. They were going that's great, I love your community. What do I gotta do? What do I gotta believe to get any? Well, you actually have to believe quite a few really irrational things, and they were so desperate that half the time they would do it anyway. That's why I got so good at whipping up the language to make it seem plausible, and I was like I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I'm whipping up the language to make it seem plausible and to make it seem compelling, because you wanted to make it possible for people to join this community. Nice thing about being a secular humanist is somebody goes like hey, I love your community. What do I have to believe to get any? Like yeah, you don't have to believe anything. If you value these values, here are the things we value, here are the things that we consider to be most important. If you value them, you're in. And so yeah, yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And they don't get contradicted by the next bit of research that's coming out. But so it's like that part of it's beautiful.

Bart Campolo:

But I think, like, who should we be carrying that message to? Are we like well, lonely people and people that are struggling? You know, I don't get, I don't get. I mean I understand the angry atheist impulse that goes like that's a dangerous way of thinking and we need to tear it down. And I think, like, when you get around theocracies, when you get around some of the kind of crazy evangelical stuff that we see here, there is a point sometimes in trying to disabuse people of ideas, you know, because they are harming people with those ideas. I mean it's funny.

Bart Campolo:

I never mind leaving Christians alone, except when I see them teaching children, because there's a dark side to the Christian narrative that's about, you know, original sin and hellfire and damnation and sexual repression, and I hate to see people indoctrinating children into that because I think it can be so harmful. I don't think it's always harmful, but I think it can be so harmful and I've seen it harm people. It didn't harm me, had a nice run, but I've seen it hurt a lot of people. So, you know, I'm kind of what's the word? I'm ambivalent sometimes, you know, but I think that, yes, we should be going out to evangelize people, not to a belief system as much as we're trying to take people that already don't believe in God and we evangelize them to a value system and say listen, if you value these things, you know, if you made these things important to you, if you pursued these things, you would end up experiencing more positive emotions and more sense of meaning and greater relationships and a greater sense of accomplishment. And you know, engagement, like your life, would be so much better if you value these things than valuing these other things.

Bart Campolo:

And that's, you know, whether it's, you know, rapacious capitalism. You know they're all sorts of ways of thinking and value systems that it's not so much that they are, you know, built on stupid narratives, it's that they lead to lousy outcomes. So I mean, I can show you a lot of secular value systems that I don't disagree with the narrative upon which they're based. I just go like that's shitty, that's not gonna make anybody's life better.

Bart Campolo:

And in the end, that's, you know, that's my deepest commitment and I think it's kind of again hardwired into me by 10 million years of evolution is to want what's going to lead to the flourishing of my tribe. And that's why I'm committed to human relationships, because I think that human relationships and a certain set of values, things like gratitude, things like wonder, things like you know, making, wanting to make a positive difference in the world, that will endure after you die, like all those biases I think those grew out of, like that's what makes people thrive. That's the reason they're hardwired is because the other values, the ancestors that held the other values they didn't do as well as our ancestors that value cooperation and care and love. Like love works. I don't know if it wins in the end, but it definitely works. It's what brought us this far.

Bart Campolo:

And you go like you go, but you seem to be like losing your confidence that it will carry us any farther. And they go like I know, like every you know, as far as I can tell, like every planet has a life cycle, every sun has a life cycle, every species has a life cycle. You're like nothing lasts forever, including, I fear the thing I like the most, which is humanity.

James H:

One of the things which you shared with the group when we met last year which I think stuck with a lot of us was really focusing on the importance of some of the micro communities or smaller groups that form within a larger community and that that can really help to foster and the sense of belonging and help these larger groups flourish. Do you have any advice or recommendations for anyone, whether they're already part of a humanist group or they're just looking to form one, in terms of how you can start some of these more micro communities that can provide that sense of belonging and connection that is so dearly missing?

Bart Campolo:

Wow, that's a, I mean, that's a good question. I mean, I think that maybe you kind of need to reverse engineer it a little bit, or at least look at it from the other angle and sort of go what is it that keeps people from forming those kind of micro communities? Cause I mean, those seem, you know, small groups of friends, circles of fridge, emerge in lots of different places, right, I just finished reading this wonderful novel called the Great Believers, which is about the AIDS crisis in Chicago in 1985. It's a beautiful novel and you get a vivid picture of a community in the worst kind of stress. You know, people are dying left and right and kind of what, how that, how this small group circle of friends operates and how their values and how their practices change very quickly. But you go like that's, you know artists, communities, bands, you know, when you see like a rock and roll documentary, you're like yeah, that's a micro community, right, and what is it that enables those things to form? And then ask yourself like, okay, what are the people in our larger community, the people who all think like us? Why don't they have circles of friends? Like what's missing?

Bart Campolo:

And one of the things that I'm convinced of is there's missing for a lot of people is there's a kind of a relationship building skill set, active listening, asking good follow-up questions. You know, nodding your head like you are right now, there's a whole set of active listening skills. But then there's also like cultivated curiosity. It's a skill to look at another person and try to figure out, like, how do I probe and move around until I find the thing that really matters to this person so that we can talk about that Conflict conflict, which is the nature of all human relationships, is gonna be conflict. And so, like, how do I confront you when you've hurt my feelings? Like, are there better and worse ways of dealing with injury, which manifestly there are. But I meet a lot of people who's like, yeah, I'm just not gonna say anything, and you know, because I don't wanna harm the relationship. And you're like, ooh, you're not just gonna harm that relationship, you're gonna kill it, like you're gonna end up building up all these resentments and stuff like that.

Bart Campolo:

So do we? How do we, within a community, how do we teach people the skills? That says, once you've found the people that you wanna connect with, what are the skills that you need to have, most of which are not taught in school. Most of which human beings and chimpanzees and other species learn from play, you know, when they're children. But we don't play the way we used to Like we don't let kids play. You know, all of kids. Play is guarded and programmed. And go to karate lessons and go to soccer practice and go to elementary school and if there's a fight, the teacher will resolve it, and on the playground, like you know. So so what we do is we protect kids from bullying, but then they never learn how to process injury, and so I think there are skills for like how do I confront somebody who's hurting me?

Bart Campolo:

How do I apologize to somebody who I've hurt? How do I forgive somebody? Like, what is what is forgiveness Like, once you take it out of the religious context and it's a command like can you tell me, like when I should forgive somebody, what the benefits of forgiveness are? Can you tell me how I know if I actually have accomplished forgiveness? Does it mean I like that person? Does it mean we're back in friendship again? Because it may not. I forgive a lot of people that I go like yeah, you're not safe. I'm going to forgive you for one set of reasons to eliminate bitterness from my life, but I'm not going to, I'm not going to, I'm not going to, I'm going to build a boundary between us.

Bart Campolo:

And so, like these are basic skills, like what people like I want to feel like I'm part of a group and I go like it's sort of like saying like I want to swim, you know, I want to feel like I can get, I can be in the pool, and you go like do you know how to swim? No, like well, you may not jump into the pool, maybe difficult. And so somebody's like I want to be part of a group and I go like, yeah, do you know how to resolve conflict? And they're like no, I go, oh well, you know, we probably ought to work on that. You know we ought to have some, some swim lessons. And do you know how to show interest in another person? Do you know how to cook a meal for eight people Can? Do you have one meal that you can make that will serve eight, that you're good at?

Bart Campolo:

And you go like wait, you wouldn't at this. At the central London humanists, you wouldn't have like a cooking class and teach all your single people how to make, like how to pick a dish, practice it and like work on it. And you go, yeah, you know what, if all your people were confident in one meal that they knew they could nail, they would invite people over to dinner. They would have dinner parties instead of meeting at restaurants, which is expensive, prohibitive for some people and and doesn't give you enough time and doesn't create the same, the same vibe. And you go like, wait a second, you're not saying that this all hinges on whether somebody knows how to use a crock pot.

Bart Campolo:

And they go like you know, I know so many people whose lives got better when they learned how to use a crock pot, when they, when they learned how to make a decent, a decent chili. You're right, cause there's also this thing of like I made it with love, I made it free. I mean, you know people feel like, oh, you invited me into your home and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, so I go like there's a lot of skills around micro communities that in a macro community, like I'm part of the, you know progressive, you know a political party or I'm, you know I'm I'm an LGBTQ ally, and you're like that's great. Like you never have to have any, you can wear the t-shirt. You never have to have anybody over to dinner in a macro community, but in a micro community.

Bart Campolo:

You're going to have to be able to do that stuff.

James H:

Who's looking out for you day to day?

Bart Campolo:

Yeah, and and and who pissed you off? But you, you like their friend, they're she's friends with Jane and Jane's one of my friends and it'll be uncomfortable if I don't work it out with Mary because she'll be at Jane's next party. So I got to call Mary and go hey, mary, can we, can we have lunch? Can we talk about this? Cause what you said to me really hurt my feelings and we got to talk about, you know, and so there's, there's all these things, and I just feel like a lot of people when they hear me talk like this, they go I would, I would be, that would be terrifying for me to have that kind of conversation. I like, okay, well then we got to, we got to find a way to reduce the terror, and so sometimes I go to these humanist communities and they're, they're having all these conversations about how will we deal with AI and what is you know like, like you know what's our stance on, you know, sexuality, or or or. They're talking about, like you know, evolution and how, how it works, and I'm like, wow, those are really important subjects and interesting, but like, I don't think, I don't think your, the health of your human relationships is going to depend on the depth of your understanding of astrophysics. But, boy, you know how many of your meetings are devoted to like a secular case for forgiveness, or you know practicing apology. And I go like, well damn, I thought you were humanists. You're promoting human relationships. All right, what is the stuff of human relationship? You got a five year old, you know.

Bart Campolo:

I mean, we did one. We had this little community a number of years ago and it was coming up on the Christmas season, like it is now, and we did a whole day on give on on on opening Christmas presents, cause we were like, look, we're all going to go home, somebody's going to give us a shitty present, some, some Christian relative is going to give us, you know, a Christian book, somebody who, somebody who doesn't like it, that we're gay is going to give you know. And so we practiced, we had gifts and we, we, we, we talked it through, but then we, we would practice opening gifts and then we critique each other's opening of gifts. It was hilarious, it was totally fun. And later in the, in January, people were like you know what? I was ready, I knew what to do, and our Christmas went.

Bart Campolo:

Our Christmas went a whole lot better, because we had talked about what's it like to be a secular person during a religious holiday. And you know what do you do when they ask you to go to church, what do you do when they? You know and and and, and. You know it was just, but it was super practical, right, we weren't, you know, and you go like, but shouldn't you have been talking about, you know, kind of the dawn of consciousness or the nature of? You know you can talk about consciousness sometimes, but sometimes you just got to talk about, like, what are you going to do when you're when your father asks you to pray at the dinner table?

James H:

Yeah, very true. I think these practical events is is is a great idea, definitely something we'll take forward.

Bart Campolo:

And then that that that helps bond. That helps bond a micro community. By the way, yes, when you start talking about your real lives, like in church, we used to have these small groups, you know, and and and ostensibly they were Bible studies. But people would end up talking about their lives and the struggles and like, oh yeah, my mother is doing this, and people felt connected because the group was small enough that they really got got involved with each other's lives. They knew what was going on and then they would see the person. They would go like, hey, what happened with your mom? Or you know how's that going?

Bart Campolo:

And you know, in order, in order to cultivate that kind of community, that kind of relationship, you need to create space in the meetings where people connect. On that level we have sharing, you know, where people tell their stories, where people show and tell you know, so, yeah, so I think that that's one of the things that fosters that kind of connection is is is you create some space for it. I don't know if you ever I forget who it was, I think it was. It was Oscar Wilder, somebody really smart who opened a letter saying like I'm sorry for writing such a long letter, I didn't have enough time to write a short one.

James H:

Yes, yes, or I think there's that they. If you want me to speak for an hour, I'll need five minutes. You want me to speak for five minutes, I'll need an hour.

Bart Campolo:

Yeah, and and unfortunately you're getting the, you're getting the lesser version.

James H:

We're getting the full hour. That's great. I know we have you for a few more minutes, so if we I do have a few more rapid fire questions, Go for it From our from our group.

Bart Campolo:

Will you stop me? Will you just stop me if I start Just like okay, thanks, Move on.

James H:

Sure, well, I'll try to. So what advice do you have for anyone who is, you know, perhaps embedded, has grown up in in a religious group or, you know, maybe it's their, their family's faith, as it was for you who is, is having doubts but wants to maintain a positive relationship with, with the people around them? I appreciate that that's probably not a quick fire question.

Bart Campolo:

No, no, no, it's no, it's just that you've, you've the way you've posted is really interesting. Like you're like somebody's in a religious community and they're having doubts. No, like, like, a lot of times people are like what happens if you grew up in a religious community and you have lost your credulity, you don't believe it anymore, and I go like oh, I got a thousand things to tell you. If you're in the doubt phase, I think one of the really important questions to ask is when do you want to land? Because you don't choose what you believe. Okay, you're either convinced like I could put a gun to your head and say you know, I need you to believe the moon is made out of cheese and you wouldn't be able to pass a polygraph test. Just because it would be expedient for you to believe it doesn't mean you can. You don't choose what you believe, but when you're in that period of doubt, you do choose who you hang out with, you do choose what you read, and there are certain belief systems that work that really only work if you surround yourself with other believers, if you have sort of a plausibility circle where it's possible to believe these things, and a lot of times you know it's like a cult, like if you pull somebody out of a cult and you put them in another environment, a lot of times the belief system just erodes because it's not constantly being reinforced. So the question is like do you want to stay in that community? Do you love that community? Like because it may be that if you step back in and you stop exposing yourself to humanism now podcasts like stop listening to this podcast, like you have a better chance of staying. And so some people like they really want to stay or they need to stay. And I go like, pay attention to that and don't believe the hype that says you know the truth can withstand. You know, like the truth can withstand like no truth can withstand anything Like science. You go like I am a non-believer. I go like if I put you in the right prison, surrounded by the right people, and I like I can get you believe in something. And there's a wonderful.

Bart Campolo:

I interviewed this woman, th Lerman, recently about you know it was called and her book was called how God Becomes Real, and the whole conversation was she was with all these hyper communities of different kinds and she was like the real question isn't whether God exists or not. The real question is what are the things that people do to make God come alive? And they're, you know, and if you fast, and if you pray, and if you're surrounded by people that are singing the praises of God, you go like, will it become real? And she's like, yeah, it will. That's I mean. That was that was tell me about my childhood, right, tell me about my adolescence. So.

Bart Campolo:

So what I'm saying is is that the first thing I would say to somebody who's doubting is, where do you want to land? Because you can make some decisions that will make it more likely that you're able to land there. One of the things that I wish somebody would have said to me was when I was, you know, 35 and 40, 25, because my stuff started falling apart early, but I was just really good at sort of holding it together. And I wish somebody has said Bart, do you really think that you're going to make it to the finish line believing this stuff? Because I have a feeling that if somebody would have put it to me that way, I would have said no, I'm not going to make it Like I'm holding on, but like my faith keeps changing, I keep losing parts of it, and I wish they would have said like, look, if you're not going to make it to the finish line, when would be the most opportune time for you to get out?

Bart Campolo:

Like you have so much fuel in the tanks, don't keep flying until you've run out, because then you won't have as many options of where to land.

Bart Campolo:

And I'm really lucky that when my faith fell apart but I'm just like 45, 48 years old, like it was not an opportune time I had built a whole career.

Bart Campolo:

If somebody would have gotten to me early and said, like, look, you're not going to make it to the finish line, don't become a professional Christian, that would have been really helpful to me.

Bart Campolo:

So if you know, depending on where somebody's age is at, where their desire is at, I would simply say, like, don't kid yourself into thinking that you will end up believing what is true. You will end up believing what you are able to believe or what you are surrounded by believing. And so if you want to end up somewhere, you're going to have to make some choices to make that happen. And if you realize that, like you're not going to be able to long term make it with that narrative, then don't just blindly hold on, start thinking about a landing pad, start thinking about what would be a good, what the timing is, because you know there's a way to relate to your community that you're already in that will make it easier and better for you as you come to the end of it. And that's a very general answer, but, like I don't know, but I think that can help a lot of people.

James H:

I agree, you've got to.

Bart Campolo:

Yeah, yeah, don't leave without a place to land, for sure, and some people tell me, like I just want, I just want to, whatever the truth is, and I go, like, don't be naive. Don't be naive Like you, don't just want the truth, like we are. We are, what do we have? We have all these cognitive biases. We have all these, all these, all these idiosyncrasies, like, don't kid yourself. Like it is not just about what is true. Like, if it were the secular narrative, like would have just swept the world right Like it's. It's, it's obviously, on an objective level, a more plausible worldview. Right, then all, then all the smoke and mirrors, if people don't you know that's people don't, they don't weigh the evidence and then decide which is the most plausible worldview. If that were how people picked worldviews, the world would look very different. So don't kid yourself.

Bart Campolo:

And, by the way, for your secular audience, don't pat yourself on the fricking back either. Like, if you like it is a wonder of education and and and and and political freedom that you have the ability to articulate a secular worldview. And like, if you are there, like you should thank all, all the Christians that educated you. You should thank all the believers that built a social structure that created certain freedoms for you, you and, and all the churches that financed the, the telescopes through which their worldview was undermined. Like you got a lot of people to thank and and and you and your parents, and and and or whoever you know, like it, you're not better than people because you have adopted this worldview. You're just better off, you're just luckier.

Bart Campolo:

And so I get really tired of people acting as though taking credit for their enlightenment you know, nobody enlightens themselves and if you did it and you go, yeah, no, I did, I went to the library and figured out. So I was like I really who built the library Right and who relieved you from child labor so you could go to it. Like, don't kid yourself, a secular worldview, especially a secular worldview that still privileges love as a way of life, is kind of the ultimate gift that is given to you by people that went before you, that suffered and died for what you literally suffered and died so that these ideas could be shared with you. And so please be humble, be humble. You are fortunate to have the privilege of being able to take in the wonder of the world the way you are right now. Yeah, that's pretty poetic ending right.

James H:

I think that's a beautiful way to end for sure, and I couldn't agree more.

Bart Campolo:

Forgive me for being so wordy when you had other questions. I'm really sorry about that and like we'll come back another time.

James H:

The beauty is we'll have to do this all again. There you go, you can find follow Bart, humanize me. We'll link in the show notes. But, bart Campolo, thank you so much for joining us on Humanism Now.

Bart Campolo:

You're totally welcome.

James H:

Welcome back everyone and thank you again to Bart Campolo for that extended interview. I'm now joined by our regular co-host here, aj AJ good to see you.

AJ:

Nice to be back. Thanks for having me.

James H:

Our pleasure, and I know you are also a fan of Bart's, both of his podcast and after he came and gave a speech to us a year ago and again, it was a bit of an inspiration for both of us in getting this channel set up. So what are your thoughts on what he had to say there, but also Bart's overall message?

AJ:

Yeah, hugely inspiring and that was, if I can use that word, of revelation. First, in the same game, after you contacted him and found him and invited him to speak to the London Humanist Group basically everything that he was saying there in that talk, and I think we've recorded it and put it online on YouTube. If not, we should. He's given many others as well what he was saying about micro communities. He's really speaking to the experience he had in the US compared to here in London, a fatigue coming out of the coronavirus era then also just the way that democracy is, a Western liberal society is, especially in the UK and the US are going since 2016, post Trump, post Brexit, I think there is a mistrust in sort of politics, even in but even in non institutional sort of civil society groups, that there's a lethargy where the problems seem to be keeping mounting up environmental crises, refugees and so on and especially as humanists or humanist adjacent people, people with humanistic consciousnesses and conscientious people, there's a lot that we're sensitive to. So it's easy to get overwhelmed and I think Bart really speaks to he's. I mean I think as we were discussing a bit offline, he seemed a bit downbeat, which is unusual for him here, and I think we have to be honest about that and that also affects me as well as a humanist activist trying to get a sense of where people are, because we can't be up here sort of talking in ivory tower or very, very motivational, very idealistic, utopian terms, and actually the people that we want to reach are down here. We have to reach out to them and energize them and that's part of being a community organizer and activist.

AJ:

So his experience, I think, is invaluable. What he was saying there about, I think, going back to the basics of breaking bread together, just establishing neighborliness, friendships, both amongst humanists, within humanists or within secularists and free thinkers, but then also interfaith work, which is a great passion at the time, just doing the basics, just to have that reminder of where the humanity is that we've lost, and not letting the political institutions and the political programs and the bureaucracies of elections and the populist uprisings and so on not let that beat the humanity out of us. I think that's very important. He mentioned there about being emotionally some of the people that he's trying to reach, being emotionally numb, which I think is hits the middle on the head and it's a challenge thrown down to us. We have to try and see how to overcome that.

James H:

Absolutely yeah, and I think it's fair to say I mean, bart sets a very upbeat and positive benchmark. He's a useful persona. He is the type of guy yeah, exactly. So I think, yeah, certainly for him this was a slightly more melancholy, but there's still an optimism, I think, in his outlook. And, yeah, I mean we're heading into a big year for democracy and where I think a lot of these differences that people have will be put to the test again. So it's a good message to everyone, I think, to take the time to listen, to engage and let's hope we have some more unifying results and more unifying rhetoric that comes out as we head towards and through 2024.

AJ:

And there are. It's not only us that there are other groups that are doing very well Pindupenteco stills evangelicals in Africa, and we have a lot of African diaspora population here, afro-caribbean here in London in the UK, and we can see that they are growing, and especially amongst youth. So of course, we assume this would say they have certain levers to pull in terms of manipulation, in terms of guilt tripping, in terms of pulling in the family and then having the family culture and the family pressure bringing you into the forward of the belief system, and humanism doesn't want to go down that route at all for principled reasons. So, but apart from that, I still think there are things that we can learn from them and I think everything that BART taught us and what he's done, his experience on the ground in the US about micro communities, about showing how humanism can be at a dinner party in terms of celebrating the seasons or your namings and keeping the funerals and ceremonies and marriages going, and some of your ideas as well that you've proposed about humanizing work and the world of work and the principles there, and humanists and business and humanists, and so these are all still relevant things that solve real problems in people's lives.

AJ:

We have 20 year olds, 24 year olds, volunteering with us at Young Humanist UK and they're facing okay, how do I build a career out of what I have?

AJ:

The education system is failing in many ways debt burdens, but then also I want to try and have a career that roughly corresponds to my humanist principles, rather than just selling out and going to work for a big corporate institution.

AJ:

So I think these are excellent buttons to press and they're the good pots and pans for us to beat and to get people's attention, because they do speak to real decisions that people have me to make in their lives, and I think we shouldn't be afraid of again wearing my interfaith hat again. We shouldn't be afraid of studying honestly and learning and actually, in my case, making friends with and having common cause and sitting down with evangelicals, with Muslims, with Sikhs and the Gujaratiris, hindu temples, the Jewish community and all of these other communities that are facing some of the similar challenges as us, because youth participation is a general challenge, volunteer participation is a general challenge, especially post-COVID and after austerity that we've been seeing in the UK, but they do have some solutions that I think that we are humanists could also learn from. So, and seeing people like Bart really inspires me to do more of that.

James H:

Absolutely. Yeah. He definitely shared lots of lessons that we can all learn from and how we can all continue to. One of the main points I really liked is be grateful for all of the thinkers that have gone before us, who wouldn't have called themselves humanists or have been naturalists, but it is those who've gone before, who've valued inquiry and discussion and reason that have allowed us to be in a position where we can exist in a secular society and openly discuss these topics and issues, and even sometimes controversial issues, and we should embrace that and I completely agree.

James H:

I think reaching across and trying to have those conversations and defend and encourage all of humanity I think that's what humanists are for. Really, it's not about what people believe. We're here for all humans. This is also last time you'll be appearing on the podcast for 2023, so I just wondered, before we go, aj, to get some of your reflections on what was an event for you for you more than most, in terms of your new role, not only here on humanism now, but also as one of the vice presidents of humanist international. So what would be your reflections on 2023?

AJ:

Not quite vice president yet, I'll leave that to my esteemed colleague Roz, only a mere director. But one of the main pleasures and privileges this year has been working with people like Roz a lot closer Roz Mold, who is on our first pilot podcast from Ghana. She's also fellow director of human international. Yeah, I think that's listen. I think if you're, if you're called to and suggested and proposed to serve, I'm happy to do that. It's happy to contribute at any level, as it had been for many years locally, nationally or internationally. There's challenges to the humanist movement at all of those levels. So yeah, I guess that was one highlight going to Copenhagen for the humanist international general assembly and the World Humanist Congress there that took place. The general assembly happens over a year, next year or being Singapore, so look forward to me seeing many more humanist colleagues and friends there.

AJ:

But I think this year my personal kind of highlights, which are related to humanism but have also been some real milestones for refugee support work that I do as a humanist representative in an interfaith refugee service that I founded Refugees Welcome Hounsler here. It's been seven years of us operating. We've managed to make a difference to you know dozens, 20, 30, 40 different households, some of them, which is many as six children, here in West London, hounsler, where I live. It's very local but it's very practical and I think sometimes those are the most rewarding things where, if we're doing grand things like trying to have, you know, humanism be more respected at the UN level, or the freedom of thought report which just got released last last week, by the way, by HI, these are all very, very important things but that you often can't see the immediate result and the immediate effects of what the effort you're putting in, and that charity begins at home. I don't have a partner, relationship or family to take care of and you know many of my humanist colleagues that, like you, do. So the time that I don't spend doing that because I don't have an extended family here in the UK and they say a charity begins at home. I try and apply that to my home, you know, sort of my royal home, my neighbours, my community, the asylum seekers just maybe a mile away from me there's 500 of them in a hotel with, you know, precarious living conditions and temporary accommodation and hot water problems and having problems getting three meals a day. So I think these are things that I've really me and my colleagues in that Refugees Welcome House their charity have been really proud of been doing this for seven years and the local government here has listened to our cause and they're going to take even more, if still not enough, but they're going to take more. After initially saying that they weren't going to take any and today's going to be this year's going to be the last year, they changed their mind on that because they could see how much of citizen support and community support there has been. That's been a real highlight of the year and this podcast as well.

AJ:

I think this is definitely the way to go and, thanks to your prompting and Lola's and Audre's as well, I've started a TikTok and just being more active as a young humanist voice on social media. In the Black History Month event that we had earlier this year, lola was pointed out all of the excellent young and sometimes not so young but still humanists on TikTok and other social media worldwide in Jamaica and Africa. So I thought, okay, well, there's one one, something missing. There is the UK and as the young humanist coordinator, I mean, along with the help from my colleague Nicole and others at Humanist UK I think that's also a good project that I'm hoping to expand on for next year and, as you mentioned, for paid work purposes, I'll be going to Asia more next year, looking to be based there for most of, for at least a few months or a majority of the year every year, going forward and hopefully being based in Malaysia with my interfaith and my interfaith interest and passions in a Muslim country.

AJ:

There the humanist presence on the ground is quite limited. In Singapore we have some stronger links in the neighbouring country, but that also will be an excellent test and challenge. If they need to both really invest, then draw from my Asian roots being born in Asia, being born in India and having family links to Malaysia, now also business links and career links, and then, as also having lived in London for 25 years, bringing them both together and trying to inform my humanist international work based on those kind of Eastern and Western perspectives.

James H:

It's something that I really look forward to doing wonderful, yeah, wishing you all the best of luck with that new adventure and journey. And just to reassure our listeners, despite your global tour that you'll be going on, would you still be?

AJ:

yeah, absolutely wouldn't dream of stopping this, and I say hopefully I'll have one foot in Asia, one foot here in the UK. I don't want to leave this completely behind, both of my paid work purposes and also for the community and humanist projects that I've got going here. So if they're going to be good by this going to be probably hello from a different location and a different time zone but you know my sleeppans are pretty. I put each island again anyway, so it may not make much of a difference absolutely well.

James H:

Thank you for everything you've contributed this year and very much looking to reconnecting with you wherever you are in the world in the next year. And and do you listener? Thank you for joining us again. We'll be back next week with a special episode reflecting on the past 12 months and looking ahead for what to expect in 2024. With that, happy holidays. Have a very happy Christmas. I hope everyone is able to get a nice break and we'll speak to you very soon.