"What compelled you to write, God: An Autobiography - As Told To A Philosopher?"
Join the meaningful discussion and discover more about the book, history, humankind, spirituality, and God through the first of a continuous series of ambitious interviews with insightful guests.
Part one of host and creative director Scott Langdon interviewing Dr. Jerry L. Martin, author of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher- the true story of an agnostic philosopher who receives an answer to his prayers from God- in words!
Dr. Jerry L. Martin has served as the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Colorado philosophy department, work that has prepared Dr. Martin for his conversations with God and to become a serious reporter documented in his book, God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher. Dr. Martin is the founding chairman of the Theology Without Walls group at the American Academy of Religion and editor of, Theology Without Walls: The Transreligious Imperative (Routledge 2019).
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Scott Langdon [00:00:17] This is GOD: An Autobiography, The Podcast. A dramatic adaptation and continuing discussion of the book God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin. He was a lifelong agnostic, but one day he had an occasion to pray. To his vast surprise, God answered- in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions, and God had a lot to tell him. Episode 46. Hello. I'm Scott Langdon, creative director of GOD: An Autobiography, The Podcast. Welcome to Episode 46 and part one of my interview with the author of the book God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, by Dr. Jerry L. Martin. In this first episode of our fourth season, we bring you part one of the discussion I had with Jerry just a few days ago, right after we completed the dramatic adaptation of the book in Episode 44. I asked Jerry about writing God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, and how falling in love with his wife, Abigail, prepared him somewhat for God's encounter with him. So without any further ado, let's get to part one of my interview with Dr. Jerry Martin.
Scott Langdon [00:02:12] Hello, Jerry Martin.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:14] Scott Langdon.
Scott Langdon [00:02:17] It's great to talk to you, I have been looking forward to this interview for a really long time, mainly because, you know, I play the character of Jerry Martin in this podcast, GOD: An Autobiography, The Podcast, based on your book God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, and that's you, the philosopher. And when I was preparing this, there were a lot of really interesting things about playing a character that's still alive. I've played before, you know, but having them still alive and working on the project with them along alongside and getting the input. And I thought a lot about what kind of questions do I want to ask you during the course of the project and getting involved in the project, and what kind of things do I not want to know so I can fill them in myself? Just not intimate details as much as just sort of, you know, your opinion on certain things and your take on things. So I really wanted to draw a lot of that from the book that I think you really, you know, lay it out really well. But in preparing this interview, I decided I wanted to go with my best Terry Gross from, you know, NPR and ask you my Terry Gross question, which is how did you come to write God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher? How did, you know, I have to write this, how did that happen?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:03:50] Well, I was told to write it, and resisted the project. I did not accept it readily. But as you know, chapter one, episode one talks about when God's first speaks to me, and then God continued to speak to me and then give me assignments, including to read the great scriptures of the ancient scriptures of the world and to pray about them. Just ask what questions came to my mind. And I thought God was preparing me maybe for writing a book, my own book, which would be a sort of standard, you know, philosophy of religion type book. But it became clear that no, these-- I finally started taking notes that these are transcripts of my conversations with God were supposed to be the substance of the book. And it was, I'll tell you, the difficult thing as a writer, you're talking about some of the acting experience as an actor. Here, an experience as a writer, normally, when I've written anything, I've known why I'm writing it in the sense of for what audience and what I'm trying to achieve- am my trying to entertain them or persuade them or something, inform them about background in something. In this case, it was very puzzling to me. What is this for? Who is it for? What is it for? And that slowly emerges. I got some answers early on, slowly emerges, but after resisting for a considerable period of time, I said, okay, I'll do it. I told the prayers together and put it together into a coherent book form. The prayers were scattered all over in scraps of paper. I had to pull it all together, put it, make it sequential, and hence the book unfolded from that.
Scott Langdon [00:05:40] Mm hmm. When you say you had a lot of these conversations and dialogues in different forms, you just mentioned having them a scrap of paper here or there. When you were putting them together in this coherent form that is the book, you know, we've talked before about there was a larger volume even than the one that is the book that's got to be cut down even to the book. So, as you're preparing the book and sort of the order and the structure and how it worked, did you feel a divine guidance through that as well? So, the conversations were this divine guidance, but then putting those scraps of paper in some order, did you feel an order in a divine way?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:21] I did. On the whole, I tried to be chronological and the topics in chronological order and within a topic those. Though I went back and forth and prayers, but I try to hew to that order and I did date my notes, thankfully. But I know I was told to put the Chinese first and that seemed to be very counterintuitive to go early on in the book to the Chinese. And so we go through Confucius and Dau Da Jing, and so on. And I thought and... And the substantial parts on Jesus are toward the end, and that was under guidance, you know. So I pray as I go along that's how I live my life, now. The big revelation, as you might say, stopped at a certain point surprising to me, I was ready to-- I had a lot more questions, you know?
Scott Langdon [00:07:23] Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:24] You know, interviews over. And but anyway, I prayed as I went along and, you know, I've wondered about the making of these great text, the Mahabharata, about the Bible and so forth. They always talk, in the case of the Bible, the great redactor, and in fact at some point I prayed- was the redactor also inspired? You know, there are these bits of script, of proto-scripture that He was dealing with an ancient he, probably a he, was dealing with an ancient time, and then had to put them together and often saved competing versions. And, what I received was, well, that too is done under guidance or inspiration, however it works for that individual and that would presumably apply across the board to the Dao De Jing, or the I Ching, or the Mahabharata, or the Upanishads. You know, this wasn't a one day thing that these revelations were zapped out to people, but it was an unfolding, including editing, putting a volume together. Most of us growing up as a Baptist, we didn't-- nobody thought about how did the Bible exactly come about? How were these books put together? Well, the scholars all have a big story about that. And so, anyway, you need, from my view, divine guidance at each step of the way in both your religious activities and just living your life.
Scott Langdon [00:08:59] You.. And the book jacket just spells this right out, and we use this in the opening of every podcast introduction, we talk about how you were an agnostic.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:12] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:09:13] And what I've been curious about is why an agnostic and why not full on atheist?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:22] Atheism never had appealed to me, it seemed like an overstatement. It's hard to know that there is a God. It would be at least as hard to know that there's not a God. It would be as if you had an inventory of everything in the universe. And you look God, you look down to the G's, God. no, no, God entry, here. How would you know that? So it seems kind of dogmatic and when you look at the atheist writings, which I've not done a lot of, but what you see is they're objecting to one conception of God normally. And it's biblical, it's often a kind of crude interpretation of a biblical God, and thus the scholars in these fields, you know, slap their foreheads because the you know, the understanding of those texts is so meager in the hands of the so-called new atheists- they're often called. But no, I never had... I'm by nature, this would be the kind of fundamental answer why I was an agnostic by nature, I'm someone cautious in my commitments and don't rapidly make judgments. Some people are prone to snap judgments, and I'm not. I always feel, oh, there's more evidence. You know, there are arguments on both sides of almost any interesting question. And often there's simply not enough evidence, really, to make a definitive decision. And so I tend to withhold belief, and that's been both an asset and a deficit in a negative in my God adventure, and in putting this book out there, because I do believe this is God speaking to me.
Scott Langdon [00:11:59] When we first joined forces, as it were.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:02] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:12:03] You know, you had put out an ad on Craigslist that I answered and we got together and we-- I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to be getting into when we met, and you told me your story at your home with Abigail there, it was one that was, and we talked about this other times, that it was, well, here's somebody who has said, God, talked to them.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:34] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:12:37] You can do one of two things of that, Scott, I would say to myself. So you could either, it's okay, he's crazy and that's it, or but what if it's true? And if it is true, let's, I mean, let's go down that rabbit hole.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:50] Yeah, let's see what we find.
Scott Langdon [00:12:52] Right? So, at what point if there was a point, did you kind of have a similar situation with this where, and we talk about this in the podcast, taking it right from the book, where Abigail kind of questions you. Are you going to take this voice seriously or aren't you? And you go through a nice period of time where you say, I'm not sure what to do. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I'm not sure. But then at one point it must have been you said, okay, I'm going to do this and just go full bore. For me, it was this seems interesting. Why not?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:13:24] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:13:25] Did you have a similar sort of thing? Because you seem to be, as you just mentioned, quite cautious about your commitments, and so this was going to be obviously a huge commitment. The cautiousness must have been there. Yes.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:13:37] Yes, yes, yes. And I'm a philosopher, you know. How did Socrates get into trouble such that they convicted him and gave him poison to take? I think it was by questioning everything, and so he was accused of impiety. We won't go more into his story, but philosophers are questioners and they're almost-- doubt is one of their main modes of operation. How do you know that's true? Where did you get that concept? And that's my mentality. I'm a natural epistemologist, which is translated theory of knowledge, but the theory of knowledge is mainly theory, do you have any knowledge and how do you know when you've got some knowledge? So it's very natural for me to doubt. It's so unusual an experience. Within the experience, there's no doubt. And I found that very puzzling because I've never believed in certainty as my philosophy. Some people think in mathematics is certain, certain well, maybe it's certain with the perfect mathematician, but it's not certain with you and me, we can make mistakes. And so can the guy at the Institute for Advanced Study can make mistakes, and some think there's a level of sensory experience. You can't doubt that you're in pain, if you're in pain or your certains are in pain, I've never thought that was for various reasons. We people can miscategorize their own experiences, also. So I didn't believe in certainty, and yet within this experience it was undeniable, as I've always put it. Well, as I put it in the book, put it the beginning and continue to- God was too real, authoritative, and benign to doubt. And to doubt really, but step one inch outside my skin and I look at myself, you know, as an epistemologist or a 21st century person, and I kind of want to say, you crazy?
Scott Langdon [00:15:36] Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:37] And of course, I had that problem and I talked to several people about it and they were very helpful. And then read some of the literature. I found, I called a friend who's a dean at Calvin College, which is very religious, kind of Dutch reformed institution. But I knew this guy was religious but also a very smart philosopher. I called and asked him, is there any way if you think you hear God, is there any literature on whether you really did feel, hear, hear the voice of God? Did you? Was this really God? And oh, yes, he told me. That's the problem with spiritual discernment. There's a whole category and a long literature, and the most famous, perhaps in the Christian tradition is Saint Ignatius. I'm now forgetting the exact title of his book, but Saint Ignatius goes into this in depth, he's the founder of the Jesuits. He goes into this with depth. And I read him and some more recent theological writing, and I could really track my own experience and I can see what the pitfalls are. And I can also kind of check off well, I didn't seem to fall into them. So one of the main pitfalls, for example, is if you suddenly get extremely arrogant and you think- oh, I'm the Lord's anointed, so I get to go, boss, everybody else around and tell them what to believe and establish, you know, who knows, a theocratic regime with me at the top. And that's a no, no, and you'll often see of the spiritual leaders we credit most they're often praised for their humility. And they're the opposite of, oh, I am everything. I'm the big boss. I'm the oracle. They're just-- and I prayed, what is my role? Just to be a serious reporter of what you're told when you pray. It's not to found a religion. It's not to do this, that, not to be an Evangelist of some kind. Just be a serious reporter of what you're told when you pray. And I thought- Oh, well, that's something I can do, you know?
Scott Langdon [00:18:07] Yeah. You know, when we started doing this podcast, it, you know, neither of us really kind of knew where this would go, how it would turn out, you know, if this was the right thing to do. But we pretty quickly kind of got into a groove and kind of figured what our sound was going to be like, what the tone of everything was going to be, and how we would sort of handle it. And when we first started putting this together, and I started reading the book and I thought it was, you know, dramatic and thought it could really use some treatment. And we talked about having you be the voice of God because you had heard the voice and it would be, you know, a closer sort of authentic read perhaps to have you do it. And so I take the role of you talking to God, so Jerry Martin, and also the narrator, which in our scripts back and forth as we were developing this, we named that narrator character JLM.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:08] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:19:09] And JLM throughout the course of the book and then as the podcast, the narrator, so that, you know, telling the story of what's going on with you. You talk about how you were led to read certain things. At one point in the book, you talk about a situation at Borders bookstore where you literally feel like you're being led like a dowser with a stick, like John Calvin.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:33] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:19:34] But, throughout, that was your that was sort of your, we've talked about this, too, that was your wheelhouse. That your wheelhouse was reading and philosophy and so God directing you to read these certain things. And when I was preparing this, I'm more apt to take in things auditorily and watch videos, and I felt as I was preparing and reading your example and talking to you about how you had been led to read certain things, I started thinking, well, maybe I'm being led to listen to certain things and watch certain things. And when I sort of gave in to that, this whole other sort of world of knowledge started opening up to me in a way that was like I wasn't seeking knowledge and found it. It was just sort of like I was sitting on this track and being guided just to the right knowledge. And we talked about this, you know, I would listen to something, we talked about I Ching, and the Chinese, and I would be led to listen to something and study something, and then it turned out our next episode was going to end up being about I Ching.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:43] Yes.
Scott Langdon [00:20:44] It just sort of flipped and I was ready to meet that challenge. And I started to feel that I was on this sort of track, you know, as you were being led. How did that feel for you initially to read things and to be led in your foc, in your genre, if you will?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:59] Yeah, yeah. Well, for me, those were the comfortable parts because that is close to what I do as an academic, you know, as a scholar. And these were-- I was uncomfortable with the unscholarly aspect of it because I was reading everything in translation and for the first time. And I thought from a scholarly point of view, you know, I must have the most simplistic understanding of all, and God is responding to the questions as I frame them. And I'm told some of the earlier answers weren't as good. I'm told by God some of the earlier back and forth was not as good as later, maybe because I was finding my way, but just being told to go read something, I would sometimes be surprised. The Indian epic Mahabharata, which is not literally, not officially in their most sacred text, it's kind of a collateral thing. It's an epic, sort of like The Iliad. And so I was sometimes surprised and then led into careful the line by line way I Ching. Which I had tried once and kind of dismissed, you know, had no need for it, you might say. And then I would sometimes I would, you know, get all interested in something and we'd pray about it some, and then God would say, okay, that's enough. But the other thing, just as I was kind of prep myself, gotten some books, you know? So that was the uncomfortable part for a scholar was skirting along, reading things for the first time and the first time I talked about any of this to a group, a young Asian woman who is Asian studying in America, raised her hand, and with first question, I thought, oh, no, you know, I've asked stupid questions about the Chinese she's going to ask me. What she said in fact was, "I am so glad to hear this."
Scott Langdon [00:23:17] Mhm.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:23:19] It was the-- there's divine truth in multiple traditions and well I won't go on with her story, but she valued the tradition she grew up in as well as the– she was studying at Catholic University of America. She valued, of course, the religion to which she had converted, but she did not like the tendency they had to try to push her away from her family. And she said, I value the wisdom of my elders and that there can be divine truth in their tradition as well. Was, ahh. You know, what a relief. What a relief.
Scott Langdon [00:23:56] Yeah, that is a relief. And I imagine to somebody who was going through a circumstance like that, that would be a big breath of fresh air.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:24:03] Yes. Yes. And there are so many people now who are transplanted from one culture to another, and some people are having a conversion experience of one kind or another. Or these people who participate in there-- a lot of Jews practiced Buddhist meditation, for example. A lot of everybody practices some of these Eastern techniques. Right?
Scott Langdon [00:24:29] Right. Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:24:29] And it's nice, too, okay, if the divine comes through to you through your meditation practice, through yoga, fine. That doesn't have to be in competition with something else you believe.
Scott Langdon [00:24:44] Right. Right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:24:45] They can both be true.
Scott Langdon [00:25:06] Thank you for listening. To GOD: An Autobiography, The Podcast. Subscribe for free today wherever you listen to your podcasts and hear a new episode every week. You can hear the complete dramatic adaptation of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin, by beginning with episode one of our podcast and listening through its conclusion with Episode 46. You can read the original true story in the book from which this podcast is adapted. God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, available now at Amazon.com, and always at godanautobiography.com. Pick up your own copy today.