Scott and Jerry engage in an insightful conversation responding to the fascinating questions and comments from Mary and Hayden about God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher from the series What's On Your Mind.
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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 89 Welcome to God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. Episode 59.
Scott Langdon [00:01:02] Hello, and welcome to episode 59. I'm your host, Scott Langdon. With this episode, we begin to open up a space for you, our listeners, to ask questions and if you like, share your thoughts about God or any experiences you might have had. Once a month in a special episode, we're calling What's on your mind? I'll read a question or comment we've received from one of our readers or listeners to this podcast. And Jerry will give a response. Maybe you were wondering about the same thing as a particular questioner, or perhaps you might have a thought similar to someone else. Please feel free and invited to email us with any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for spending this time with us. I hope you enjoy the episode.
Scott Langdon [00:02:09] Jerry, it's good to talk to you. How are you?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:11] Well, thank you for joining me here, Scott.
Scott Langdon [00:02:14] Good, it's great to be here with you. This is a really exciting new episode format we're doing. We're calling it What's On Your Mind, and it's a way that we're taking comments and questions from listeners, and specifically, in this case, we're going to start out with comments from readers of the book, initially. But we'd love for our listeners to feel like if there's something on their mind that they would like to ask a question about and make a comment or maybe tell their experience about God that we want them to email us at any time with those questions and you can email us at email@example.com. So let's start today. We have a great first comment from somebody. But before we get to that, Jerry, did you want to say anything about the plan?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:03:04] I was just going to say inline Scott with what you were just pointing out that we're really interested in hearing from listeners that I think people's spiritual lives, their struggles, their struggles beyond their spiritual lives as well are endlessly interesting and they have a lot of depth that people may not always realize they have, and they're well worth our exploring and discussing and maybe trying to be helpful to some people when they need help.
Scott Langdon [00:03:34] Yeah, it's really interesting because when you have-- it's been my experience that if you have a kind of a thought about that or a question or you're kind of struggling, you're not necessarily sure where you can go to talk about it.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:03:48] Exactly.
Scott Langdon [00:03:49] You hear something online, maybe you hear-- and if you have a faith tradition yourself, maybe it's a way of thinking that's not comfortable in your faith tradition and you're not sure, does anybody else think this way or does anybody else have these questions? And you know, we just want to offer a place where people can come to share in that kind of community of experience.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:09] Yes. Yes, exactly.
Scott Langdon [00:04:11] So let's go right with one of the initial comments from the website that we saw. This comes from a reader named Mary. And what I'd like to do here in this episode, in this format, what we're going to do is, I'd like to read the comment or the question, and then you're going to go ahead and read the answer that you gave online at the time that they asked it. And then I'm going to ask you, maybe do we have anything further that you want to say or maybe did something new come up in the interim between then and now that maybe is a different point you want to make or something like that. So we'll just kind of ease into that and see how that takes us. But let's start with Mary. She says, “Dear Jerry, I too am a philosopher and a pious agnostic, having been raised Catholic and having gone to Catholic schools through high school. And I know that you are a “level-headed guy.” Your account of the changes in your life–first Abigail, my dear, dear friend, and then the impulse to give thanks in a personal way to whomever or whatever for the change she had wrought in you and in your life–is stunning. I don’t know what to make of your experiences, but I do not doubt that they bespeak something real. I don’t know what, and while your account does not make a believer me in a personal supernatural being, it fills me with wonder at the complexity of the human being and his or her ability to access the wondrous.”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:43] This was literally the first comment we ever received the book had not been published, but we were putting excerpts online. And Mary is a former colleague of my wife, Abigail and a fellow philosopher and not at all a believer at this for many years, for many years. And I-- what struck me is that this is a wonderfully open hearted comment on, in part out of friendship, I suppose, but she's answering in the most generous spirit possible, which I think is a very good approach to this kind of thing. You don't know what to make of it. Someone's had an extraordinary experience that doesn't fit your own belief system. This was Mary's situation. At the same time, you want to take it in. I mean, that's what you do reading literature. You know, you take in somebody else's experience and point of view and you know what they're going through and you try to give some kind of credit to that. And I think she's doing a wonderful job of saying, well, she doesn't know quite what to make of it, but it's wondrous and she can see that. And there's something real here and in her own mind, not what she calls a personal supernatural being. I never, you call it, being supernatural. I don't know if we need these categories, you know, to divide everything into the natural and supernatural. But I just take the experience as it comes and on its own terms, you might say. But anyway, I thought there's not only a personal generosity that's very admirable, but a kind of openness that's almost the key lesson of spirituality to have a kind of open soul. And it's not just immediately discount things, but say, well, wow, something amazing is going on here. I don't know what. And I don't know how it would fit with my own beliefs, but let's take it in, and it's wondrous. Well, here's what I said to Mary at the time. I said, “Thank you, Mary, for your generous comments. The purpose of this website is not to make people believers.” Well, I don't know if I believe that's not what we're trying to do here is persuade people into something. “I don’t think God would have given these messages to an unbeliever if belief were the precondition. The only requirement is being human and being open to what is, as you say, real and wondrous. Whatever readers take in that is valuable for their own lives and thinking is fine with me.” And I often-- that's the end of that, bless you, I say. That's the end of that comment, but I often tell readers, because they may come upon something- oh, well, I can't go along with this. Well, don't worry about that, then. Maybe that part isn't for you. Read along and see what parts of the book or podcast as you listen along, do speak to you and make the most of those trying to take those in for the value they bring to you.
Scott Langdon [00:09:02] Yeah, if it speaks to you, take it in. If it doesn't leave it, leave it for someone else, you might pick it up on the way out. Hey, you know? Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:09] Yeah. Maybe, maybe not. So, yeah.
Scott Langdon [00:09:13] If Mary commented again today, would you say anything different, do you think, would you add anything or?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:21] Well, I can probably add a lot.
Scott Langdon [00:09:22] Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:09:24] I would want it, but I would want to have it as a dialogue, not as a preachment, where what has been her spiritual journey since then? You know, she has a kind of openness. On the other hand, 21st century person, an academic, and there's not a whole lot of religiosity among academics, or this kind of trusting of spiritual experience. So I'd want to know, well, where is her journey gone? And then I would respond to the particulars of that, and I don't know, although her general sense is someone we know personally. I know that she has given the book to several friends, including a friend who is dying. An enormously talented guy who got one of these horrible terminal conditions and did meet him at her house one time. And he's a very worldly, modern kind of scientific guy, but he thought, this is really interesting. But she has continued to kind of share it, which is interesting. She might well have responded if she were less open as a kind of embarrassment. Oh God, I've got this friend who thinks he talks to God and He talks back, you know?
Scott Langdon [00:10:43] Right?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:10:43] And you could easily just take it that way, especially if you're a sophisticated academic, you know. But so anyway, I'd be very interested in her spiritual journey since then. And, but I don't probe her about that.
Scott Langdon [00:10:58] Yeah, yeah. Well, it's very central, I think, to talk about the idea of the experience. And then can we allow and rejoice as Mary is in an experience someone else is having that we may not have in that same way? But at the bottom of it all, it seems like one of the questions that folks are asking the most or struggling with or, you know, just comes up from time to time is - is it real? Hayden submitted a comment to the website now he had found the website godanautobiography.com, which is if you're listening, that's where you can submit all of your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Well, Hayden came along and saw the site and was really excited about it, and he left this comment, Jerry. So this is what he said. Hayden said: “Just wanted to say that this is a great site. Admittedly, the only reason I can believe what I read in your writings is that you were an agnostic when you first heard God’s voice. The fact that you are clearly an intelligent man doesn’t hurt either. As for my experience with God, I have never heard His voice, felt his presence, or anything like that. That being said, by speaking with others and hearing about things quite clearly supernatural, I am more or less convinced that He is there. There are always those annoying, nagging doubts, though, telling me that I am wrong and that none of it is true. I am a philosophy student myself, and naturally look to arguments for His existence to confirm my beliefs. While I find some arguments convincing, it’s hard to accept them when, as you say, they get shot down in Philosophy 101. I find this site encouraging, but at the same time wonder if you’re not mistaken. I am not questioning your sincerity, and I’m sure if something like this were to happen to me I would be completely persuaded as well. I guess my comment can be tied up in a simple, sincere question: Is this for real? Thank you very much for the website and good luck with the rest of the book.”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:13:29] Yeah, that's a wonderful comment. Here's what I said to Hayden at the time. “Hayden, this is a really good, solid, right-to-the-heart-of-the-matter comment: Is this for real? Well, yes, it is. Which is not to say that it is obvious that it is the real deal, or comes wrapped in a cloak of infallibility or anything like that. It is more like believing what you see with your own eyes, when there is no compelling reason not to believe it. After all, there could be a God, and God could communicate these things to a guy like me. Why would anybody deny that? Only if they are dead set against believing in God. Then they tilt the scale with a heavy thumb, always putting the burden of proof on the believer — as if eyewitnesses had to demonstrate deductively that they saw what they saw. Why shouldn’t the burden of proof fall the other way? Why should I and thousands or millions like me discount our experiences of divine presence? Or maybe neither side has the burden of proof. As William James puts it, you have two options, both reasonable, one of which is open to faith, the other closed. As I see it, if you are open, you might find something; if you are closed, you never will, even if it is there.”
Scott Langdon [00:15:02] You know, as I'm listening to you, read that answer, I was thinking about the podcast. I was thinking about when I was playing Jerry and you were playing the voice of God. And the reason I thought that I think is that God in the book is often countering your doubt and skepticism with an argument very similar to the one that you just made. And since you were the voice of God, as I was listening to it, I was hearing in a sense, God making a similar case. And you argue with me, your back and forth with God a number of times about things very similar to what Hayden is asking. You know, is this real? What will other people think? I worry what my wife will say. You know, all of these sort of doubts and reasonable doubts that people would have.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:15:52] I was not a believer. I was a logic professor, and so I lived by arguments and most philosophers do. They always want to know what is your argument? And God was often challenging things I took to be logical, infallible truth, you might say, and told me at one point I was always trying to put things in categories. If it's A, it can't be B, you know? And God said, I don't think so much either/or, as both/and, but often both/and it's difficult for the categorical, logical mind.
Scott Langdon [00:16:29] Yes, yes. And God says at a certain point as well, he says, you can't start with some theological thing and then try to put me in that box. You can start with a nostrums first and then put me in. You have to, you know? So it's an interesting question that when the ego gets involved in this way and we start to think about it, thinking that we're thinking about it from the inside out, we say, what is real? That's an interesting philosophical question. What is real, how shall we live? Well, what is it that you're asking that's real?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:04] Yeah, yeah.
Scott Langdon [00:17:04] You know, is it a God that looks like Morgan Freeman from the movies or George Burns? Is it that or is there something about the beyond us that we are compelled, we seem to be compelled to want to seek out?
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:23] Yeah.
Scott Langdon [00:17:25] But how does that look? And then we each have our experience of it. And as Mary points out, you can have that experience and I can be joyful in your experience. It just may not be my experience.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:35] Yeah. Or, you might have, and Mary might be a case in point, she might have it in a non-religious mode, a mode she does not relate to- religiosity. But, you know, the wondrous in art, the wondrous nature, the wondrous in other people, you know, their depths and surprises and wisdom and perversity. You know, that complex entity, extraordinarily complex entity, but as a human being. So she may well find the wondrous but not put these labels on. And you know, at one point, I'm always trying to categorize people, and I'm told your categories, God says to me, your categories are inadequate. And I ask the question, where do you go to get new categories? You know, what am I supposed to do with that? And so, you know, and I'm always struck people. Both of these comments that we read today put God in the supernatural. Well, I understand why you do that. God is not like in the World Almanac of Facts. You don't see him with your telescope, not exactly. You see me all the time, God says. Well, that's puzzling, and what does that mean? But we are and we work with these, and the nature of spiritual reality is that because it's not an item you can study in a chemistry lab, you have to use language that's unfamiliar. You have to stretch categories like the category of person. This is a personal god. But what does a person? Does that mean he's walking around on two legs? While I don't think so, or, you know, the old man on the mountain or in the clouds or up in heaven, wherever that is, you know, Heaven, we point up.
Scott Langdon [00:19:26] Right, right, right.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:19:27] These are all metaphorical efforts to try to say something meaningful about these things that are not part of our familiar life. And so we have to kind of stretch our minds as well as keep our hearts and souls open to take all this in. And Hayden is making this honest effort. I mean, this is what I always tell people, I appreciate any comment. It can be a total blast at my experience if it's sincere. Because as long as you're sincere, then we can talk, then there's something to talk about. Then we're doing the real business of figuring out how to live life, and how to understand the world, and what's beyond the world.
Scott Langdon [00:20:13] Well, it always seems to me when I look at my own experience about things, that the things that I-- the things that are important to me are the things that I respond to. Sometimes positively, and I'm really excited about those things. But other times they get me really agitated or they get me really, umph, you know. But that's also very important. So, the fact that you have a question and you at least ask it, and even if you believe or don't believe not the point, I don't think it's asking that question, means that you're engaged with it, even if you think I don't believe in this. The ability to at least have that conversation. You are in a relationship with it. It's something.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:55] Yes, that's exactly right.
Scott Langdon [00:20:55] So, Hayden says, here's the thing I don't believe in, but by pointing it out, he's at least in relationship to it and can talk about it and be open to your response, and perhaps someone else's.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:06] Yes. And that's really the key, that's why I admire people like Hayden. The spiritual tradition, generally, says doubt is a key part of the spiritual life.
Scott Langdon [00:21:17] Yes.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:18] If you never doubt there's a lacking in vibrancy in your faith. You know, it becomes-- if it becomes smug and dogmatic and highly literal, and it's I can't believe anything outside these little parameters. And if, well, what if God is bigger than these little parameters? You know what, if God exceeds that? And what you're really doing is I sometimes think of the idolatry of belief. You're kind of worshiping your own little belief set because it's comfortable for you and it may work for you. I'm not discounting even narrow religions because those two may put you in connection with the divine. They make you do that, or they may be kind of egoistic self assertions. But as long as somebody is, I guess, with a Hayden, as long as anybody steps beyond just saying- oh, I believe this, and this has got to be true, and this is the only thing that can be true. As soon as they start asking, well, is that really true? Even however skeptically, it might be, then they're, think you put it nicely out Scott, they're in relationship with the thing they're talking about, their relationship with the person who had an experience, and they're also in relationship with what the two are talking about, whether it's there or not there. That's a kind of relationship to be pondering that. And as long as you're doing that, then you have the openness of mind to explore and the openness of heart, to be willing to take in other people's experiences from things unfamiliar, that may seem strange at the beginning, and that's the essence of the spiritual life. That's what we're all supposed to be here about, in my view, in light of my encounter with God.
Scott Langdon [00:23:54] So, Jerry, one of the things that I think is really interesting about the book and the claims that it makes and your experience with it, with God and what God is telling you, and part of this new revelation is that things like you mentioned earlier where God says, you see me all the time. And then you think, well, where? What does that look like? And God talks a couple of times about the pull toward God. A number of times when you read other philosophers, you read other religions, you read other religious teachers, one of the themes is that there is this sort of drawing that God is drawing us back to God. And Tamara leaves a comment on the website where she feels like she is being drawn somehow to something beyond herself. And she believes that it's led, in this case, to your website and to you. And she says this, she said, “I keep having a “feeling” that I need to get intouch with you somehow but don’t really know what to say because ALL my “friends” say that I am crazy and don’t know what I am talking about.”
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:25:09] Yes. Well, good for Tamara, for contacting me. And here's what I wrote to her at the time. “Tamara, thanks for acting on that feeling. Let’s not worry about your friends for now. What has prompted your sense that you need to get in touch with me? Just tell me your story. I will be very interested in hearing it.” And I guess what I think about Tamara, I think you put it very nicely, Scott, that there is a magnetic draw of some kind toward whatever, I'm calling it the Divine, one always needs some kind of label toward the divine. And Tamara obviously had discovered the website had seen some of what my experience was and then had this feeling. Well, something I often kind of poke fun at myself for being a little logic machine. You know, I translate everything into syllogism. Years of teaching logic class, and I've only slowly had life discovered- well, as good as reasoning is, and it's certainly important, your feelings also tell you about reality. They tell you, they often tell you who you can trust and who you can't trust and all kinds of really important things or what you know, even about a philosophy. This just doesn't ring true to me. It doesn't feel right. And then sometimes you can articulate the feeling, then that is the best critique of that point of view you could have. Well, here, Tamara, is paying attention to her feeling. And she's not dismissing it. She's not saying, as I would have been inclined as a little logic machine to say- oh, well, that's just a feeling, what's your reason? No, she takes the feeling and registers it, acts on it because she does send in a comment in spite of her friends.
Scott Langdon [00:27:19] Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:27:21] However, I didn't hear from her anymore, and so her friends won out. I guess, you know, we don't know what happened. Maybe she got sick or something, but that was the way the story seems to develop is the friends were saying no, no, no, don't do it. I respond this way. Don't worry about your friends. Just tell me your story. Everyone has a story about many things, and people's lives are very interesting. You just ask anybody, you know, Scott, what is your story, Mary, what is your story? Hayden, what is your story? You know, they each have a story and especially on spiritual matters. These stories are fascinating, have various depths worth plumbing and meanings they carry that can inform not just that person, but others. That's one reason for inviting people to submit comments here. They can be discussed for the benefit of everybody because whatever experience a given person has had, whatever questions, there are a lot of Haydens out there. There are a lot of Tamaras out there, and so in discussing their comments and you know how she acted on a feeling. And notice that she said, I have a feeling I need to get in touch with you.
Scott Langdon [00:28:45] Right, yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:28:45] So it was an actual need. It wasn't just a feeling like a flippant, oh, maybe today I'll buy a lottery ticket or something went wrong thing, but no, I need to get in touch with you. So, something is going on with Tamara that would be well worth having followed up and our having all discussed it and considered it and thought about it together and possibly could have been helpful with something who knows. Often what one most needs is just a good sounding board. You know, someone will take in what you are saying, what your situation is and how you're reacting to it, and just help you get a kind of perspective. I guess I've certainly many times had the experience where as soon as I tell a friend a problem, the solution is almost obvious. Just telling it to someone gets it out there and out of the swirl of insight, you know?
Scott Langdon [00:29:43] Right, yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:29:44] Complexes and crosscurrents and so forth. You just kind of put it out there. Oh! So there's nothing more valuable in a way than just a good sounding board. Someone to tell your story, to tell who will listen to it, listen to it with sympathetically otherwise, you're not listening at all, and kind of take it in. And then from their experience in this case, you know, from my experience with God or whatever, make a response that then the person writing in can take however they want. They can think, oh, that's right, or no, I don't think that's right. Or, you know, that's up to them how they take it. We're not pushing anybody in any particular direction. So I wish she had contacted us and we'd know more and maybe been able to have had a, you know, ongoing relationship with Tamara, that would have been valuable from both sides.
Scott Langdon [00:30:41] Well, I think we can say with certainty that if you are listening out there Tamara, or Hayden, or Mary, and you have something else you want to follow up with, do contact us just like everyone else, email us, please, at email@example.com. Submit your question or comment if you like, and we'd love to read it and hear where you are. So, Jerry, you know, it made me think about a portion of the book early on, which I think is in episode two of our podcast in the dramatic adaptation of your book. I think it's episode two when you hear this little buzzing in your ear at one point when God has started to talk to you and it seems, I think you describe it as a gnat.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:25] Yeah, I didn't know what it was. Yeah, right.
Scott Langdon [00:31:29] Yeah. And then God says, you know, later when you come back to oh, that was God. God says, listen to me even when I whisper.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:37] Yes, yes.
Scott Langdon [00:31:38] So this, it seems like maybe if I'm feeling like I want to ask a question or make a comment or want to search about that, like maybe that is a whisper that you can lean into.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:31:49] Very good point. Yeah, you can make that the motto of the whole podcast is listen to me, even when I whisper, because the whispering isn't always verbal, you know. It's things that come your way and you have to think, oh, and here could well be just the feeling I should contact these people. And that could be a little divine nudge, you might say. It's important to pay attention to those.
Scott Langdon [00:32:17] Yes, yes. And if you have that nudge, give us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we would love to hear from you. So, Jerry, that's going to wrap up this week's episode. And, you know, next week we're doing something else that's new that I'm very excited about. Kind of a spin on this episode, which is What's On Our Minds. So What's On Your Mind, which you're hearing right now, we're taking your comments and your questions and reading them and talking about them. Next week, we're going to look back at the first two dialogues between you and Richard Oxenberg that we are ongoing in a series with, we're going to talk about those a little bit. We're going to talk about some questions that popped up today with Mary, Hayden, and Tamara in my mind that I wanted to ask you about. So next week on What's On Our Minds, we'll pose some more questions and talk a little bit more deeply into what we've been hearing.
Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:33:11] Yeah, very good.
Scott Langdon [00:33:13] All right. Till next week.
Scott Langdon [00:33:25] 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 44. 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. If you have any questions about this or any other episode, please email us at email@example.com and experience the world from God's perspective as it was told to a philosopher. This is Scott Langdon. I'll see you next time.