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Seth Andrews was born and raised in Tulsa and grew up in an evangelical Christian home. His parents met at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, and his mother once taught the New Testament, as written in Greek.
Andrews, 55, charted a different course and became an atheist. He has a written books on atheism and has a podcast and a website called The Thinking Atheist.
It has not always been easy for him, at least not in terms of family. After he became an atheist, he was mostly estranged from his father, who has died, is now estranged from his mother. He says his relationships with his five siblings are difficult.
Andrews will bring his irreverent, funny and thoughtful views to Springfield on Wednesday, Nov. 15, where he will speak at the Relics Event Center, 2015 W. Battlefield Road.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the presentation starts at 7:30 p.m.; and tickets are $15 at the door.
It will be Andrews’ third engagement in Springfield, says Janis Haynes, a member of the Springfield Freethinkers, who invited Andrews here. The first two times, he spoke at The Library Center.
The local group was formed in 2008. It has a Facebook page and about 100 members in Springfield.
Andrews chatted by phone on Monday with columnist Steve Pokin, who is married to a retired minister and is a member of Brentwood Christian Church in Springfield.
You’re not coming to SGF to convert Christians into atheists are you?
No, not at all.
“I am someone who will fight for the right for religious people to believe and practice their religion. I’m not an opponent of Christians. The most important people in my life are religious people and they are lovely. But I do fiercely oppose Christian nationalism and the weaponization of religion against non-Christians.
“When I speak to Springfield, it will be more about community, about providing a place for other secular and non-religious people to gather to spend time together. I’m bringing a presentation that has a lot of science in it as I lean on the work of science educators, so people will be able to learn as they laugh.
“My appearances with local freethought groups, local secular groups, local atheist groups, is as much about community as anything else.”
What was your religious upbringing like?
“It was a very Christian culture with Christian church, Christian school, Christian music, Christian friends, and I was very much a product of that culture. I was a student leader. I believed in a literal Bible.
“I became a Christian radio host in 1990. And I was a Christian broadcaster for a dozen years. … I was a true believer.”
“Back in 1997 there was a Christian recording artist named Rich Mullins, who was horribly killed in a car accident. I was charged to tell the audience that God had called him home and it was all part of a divine plan, and we may not understand it but all things work together for good.
“And secretly, I became aware that these explanations made no sense. And Sept. 11, 2001, was a cage-rattling moment for me as everybody was invoking the name of God.
“I became concerned that I had never done my own thinking about my faith. I had been programmed; I had been indoctrinated. I had never really been given any choices. So I gave myself permission to ask the hard questions and expect reasonable answers.
“After an 18-month journey through the Bible, religious history, conversations with apologists and theologians, I finally realized that it simply made no sense historically, scientifically, morally. The entire house of cards fell down. I realized I simply did not believe anymore.”
The strained relationships
“My apostasy has been very hard on my relationship with family. My father passed away two years ago, but we were mostly estranged. My mother and I are completely estranged. My siblings and I speak occasionally.
“How do I say this? There is an overarching and underlying sense of disappointment and shame. They see me as the prodigal son. They see me perhaps as a ‘midlife crisis.’ They see me as someone who might be going to hell. And I sense a distance from them.
“We love each other in the sense that we share family bonds. But we are not close. And I agree with that. I sense that they are not exactly sure what to do with an atheist on the immediate family tree. I think it makes them uncomfortable. It’s not great.
“One of the challenges is that I never enter a family gathering with the desire to have a debate about religion or God or atheism. I just want to share this space and try to be a family. But they are very much married to the biblical view that unsaved people will die and be separated from God, will not go to heaven, perhaps will go to hell.”
Can you actually make a living at being an advocate for atheism?
Yes. (Andrews is married and has two step-children.)
“I became a full time activist in 2015. I am so thankful that I’m able to make a living, doing what I’m passionate about. I host a podcast, I have authored five books, I produce videos for YouTube, and I speak all around the world. And these revenue streams have managed to keep me — you know — solvent and afloat, and they pay the bills.”
This is Pokin Around column No. 143.