Ep 282 – John Dehlin: The Reluctant Atheist


Posted June 12th, 2016

Glenn, Randy, Heather, and Matt sit down with John Dehlin to discuss life after excommunication and the challenge of self-identifying labels such as Agnostic, Atheist, Ex-Mormon, Anti-Mormon, and others.





  • Thomas Moore

    Hey guys. A big thank you. You really, really do save lives, save marriages and make life sweeter and less painful; and the humor helps a lot. You all are the Stetson Kennedy of Mormonism and are appreciated for it.

    • Randy_Snyder

      God bless you Thomas Moore. 🙂

      • Thomas Moore

        …and may the Valar of the Silmarillion bless you.

    • Aaron

      Yes, a million thanks. Without podcasts like this, I would be completely miserable. You guys are the shining peanut in this stupid turd of a religion I can’t get out of my life.

  • This is one of the best episodes ever. So many good points made from all of you—wow.

    • And just when it couldn’t be better… Monty Python at the end ❤️

  • When you can “denigrate” an organization by telling the truth about
    it, truth a lot of which the organization itself doesn’t even dispute,
    there should be alarm bells going off. But, alas, “. . . A man hears
    what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” (St. Paul of Simon).

    My mom who, as she puts it. “lost her faith” forty-odd years ago, still
    will not not hear anything negative about the Church. I mean she will
    tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about and to shut up.
    If you don’t shut up, she will leave the room. But personally, she
    doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife or anything supernatural at all.
    Still, to her, the Church is sacred. Not religiously sacred, but more
    like sacred cow sacred. I should add that in her atheism (which she
    doesn’t call “atheism”), she behaves more like you’d think a true
    Christian ought to behave than anyone else I know. Her morality,
    compassion and capacity for empathy seem to have survived her Mormon faith.

    The point is that the roots of the Church’s influence go really, really deep. Even if the roots are dead or dying, they’re still there.

  • Jamie J.

    The label John was looking for is apathiest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism

    • I’m happy to hear there’s a name for it. Apatheists are really the only true atheists. “Atheists” who vehemently and acrimoniously disbelieve quickly become a reflection of that which they deny the existence of. Like a photographic negative, they are “the opposite” of what they deny, but they deny it so intensely and specifically that you can still easily tell what you’re looking at.

  • Frank

    Holy shit you guys went off on some tangents with that whole label thing. You all pretty much agreed but had to spend 20 minutes each saying the same thing in the most roundabout way possible. I had forgotten John Dehlin was on a few times. It felt like a waste of having him on as a guest.

    • Glenn

      What’s your point?

    • Randy_Snyder

      Frank, I understand your distaste for the extended hair-splitting but I disagree with you saying the way we did the podcast was a waste of having Dehlin on. Wasn’t it fun to listen to John as one of the guys instead of John Dehlin the interviewer or in some other formal way? That’s really what this podcast is all about.

      • I enjoyed Just Plain John rather than John the Podcasting Icon. It worked.

  • Holly

    I don’t remember how far back it was, but you called yourself a “hopeful agnostic”, Glenn. I know because I loved that and stole it for myself. I recently referred to myself that way, and my 14 year old son made tons of fun of me for trying to cover all my bases. 😉

  • Grateful

    So after hearing this particular podcast I just wanted to say “thank you” and reinforce the fact that what you guys do is so important to people like me (woman/mid-fifties/transitioning out… eventually…). You make me laugh, and reassure me that I’m not crazy or wrong to have gone down this rabbit hole and checked into a nice hotel down there lol…

  • Ryan Gregson

    Just want to add one more voice of thanks and appreciation. It sounds kind of pathetic, but just hearing familiar voices to laugh with week after week, well it helps in lonely times. And I’ve learned a ton as well. Thanks infants!

  • Phebzs

    Please is the name of _____ do not retire from pod-casting. Your pod-cast is the ONE I always check to see if there is a new show posted. I love your humor, your insights, your irreverence, your honesty, and your new voices.
    While John Dehlin and Mormon Stories may have started my transition in to more questioning, it is you all that gave me permission to continue.
    Great show as always.

  • Seth L.

    Amazing epidose. Thank you Infants and John Dehlin for giving so much of yourselves to help others. I too feel torn about where to go. Do I stay active in Post Mormon communities to help others or do I leave it all behind for my sanity. I just wanted to add my voice to others that your podcast helped me unpack a lot of my issues with the church.

    If you ever need help with anything on the podcast let me know. I love it and would love to help out.

  • CocoaCoveredHeretic

    Really enjoyable episode as always! I just wanted to add my “thanks” to the infants as well. I’m sure that it does get tedious for you guys to keep talking about the same things over and over. I realize that the ride will have to end some day, but just know that my world will be a little bit darker whenever you guys do hang up the microphone. My weekly IoT fix keeps me sane. And there isn’t any other podcast out there that even comes close to the space you guys fill in talking about mormonism. Thank you so much for all of the time and effort!!

    And thanks / you ruined my life John. (Just kidding). You didn’t start me down the rabbit hole but I had no idea how deep it went until I found Mormon Stories. I do appreciate all the work you do. This episode was actually interestingly timed for me. I hadn’t ever listened to some of the early Mormon Expression podcasts and I’ve recently been listening from the beginning. I had just listened to your Podcast that you did with John Larsen back in 2009. It was interesting to look back and see some of your journey that you went through. You had a very different perspective on the church in that episode than you do right now, but you’ve been a consistent voice for honesty and transparency for a long time. I appreciate that you’ve been there for so many people for so long regardless of the personal price that you (and it sounds like your family) have paid. Thank you!

  • Eric

    Great episode. So, when is the “welcome Glenn to AZ” party?

  • Ryan Memmott

    What is this talk of retirement?? I have only been out for a few months. You guys are my only therapy. I need you. Need.

  • readcomicsharder

    Add my voice to the list of people whose lives have literally been changed and/or saved by what you guys do. I’ve listened to every episode multiple times, and it kept me sane and safe at a time when everything was falling apart and suicidal ideation was a real thing going on in my head. But having you there to talk me through my feelings and hearing all of the rapport you’ve built up between you all saved my life.

    • Randy_Snyder

      Wow. Thanks for sharing.

  • steve

    When religious non-scientists learn that I’m a physicist they ask about my beliefs.

    I was raised Mormon, but bailed at 12 after reading the Book of Mormon and coming to the conclusion that it didn’t make sense. By the time I was an undergrad it occurred to me that I didn’t believe in the supernatural – no God or gods or magic. It was sort of a ‘huh’ moment that didn’t mean very much.

    But labels are important. Although I’m sure of my non-belief in the supernatural to several standard deviations, I dislike the term atheist. Humanist doesn’t work for me as some believe in the supernatural. Naturalist beings to do it, but there are several types.

    Sean Carroll put a name to something close…

    Poetic Naturalist…

    naturalism with story telling

    Fundamentally naturalism is three things:

    ° There is only one world, the natural world

    ° the world evolves according to the laws of nature

    ° the only reliable way of learning about the world is observation

    Here’s what gets added in poetic naturalism:

    ° there are many ways of talking about the world

    ° all good ways of talking must be consistent with each other and the world

    ° our purposes at the moment determine the best way of talking

    This allows you to sort out three classes of stories that can be told. At the most fundamental level is the universe at microscopic detail. What physics does with Core Theory (otherwise called the Standard Model with General Relatively thrown in). It isn’t perfect, but for our purposes on Earth it is excellent. The next level consists of emergent properties within a domain and allow you to talk about physical complexities using rich ontologies rather than the sparse ontology of physics. Lots of story telling occurs here. Finally there is room for a level that consists of values – right and wrong, beauty, trust. and so on. There are not tied into the supernatural in any way, but are rich ideas that we derive ourselves.

    The world exists and doesn’t care. We’re the ones responsible for bringing beauty and goodness.

    It is just a philosophy, but works for me as a label.


    PS The Infants are doing great work. I’ve been out for decades, but am from the culture and am watching friends and relatives struggle. That has renewed my interest and your podcast hit the spot. One of my relatives says it made a huge difference to her frame of mind. I owe you.

    so thanks!!!

  • Gabriel von Himmel

    Infants i don’t know about saving lives but altering the arc of existence is to be esteemed.
    yes it was fun to have John the reluctant atheist but he’s yet not an apathiest –– fun to hear him on the other side of the mic.
    Enthroned howling Infants Behold:
    Beyond athiesm to Agnostic Animus and God’s fear of Copyright Liability:
    The Parallax Beacon of Truth
    Agnostic Animus: The Bane of Atheism and the scorn of Theism. Social Criticism is the pain of faith in a world created by an utterly indifferent supreme cognitive entity who wishes anonymity for copyright liability purposes.
    Thanks Infants and John for making a rollicking fun and thoughtful production.

    • Ryan Gregson

      Having not seen the name, as soon as I read ‘Enthroned howling Infants Behold’ I knew I was reading a Gabriel von Himmel post.

  • nophables

    This was a very similar conversation to the one that Sam Harris had with Neil Degrasse Tyson in Sam’s recent podcast.


    • Phil Hampton

      That was a great episode

  • Marlo C.

    Good discussion, thanks. Rather than “atheist,” the term “non-believer” seems to me the most accurate, and useful. It doesn’t have any extra meanings like “humanist” or whatever may fit some (not all) people. “Unbeliever” also correctly characterizing “faith” as belief rather than the a form of special knowledge, which epistemologically speaking, it’s not.

    • “Non-believer” really is a good term for someone who doesn’t care if there is a god or not but thinks that there is probably not. I think that’s what they were trying to say when they came up with the word “apatheist.”

      • Glenn

        I have never liked the label “non-believer” because I don’t think that anyone is without beliefs in one thing or another. It has always felt very belittling and unaware to me — like someone is saying that other people believe stuff, but not me. It requires just as much explanation to explain what the non-believer is really non-believing in to be a very useful label for me.

        • Allison

          I totally agree, Glenn.

          I owned up to the label “atheist” in the past year or so and I must say it has been pretty empowering. However, I am careful to own it and share this fact only AFTER people have a good sense of who I am and what kind of life I lead. It’s been pretty cool to see the “huh…well I’ll be!” moments from people who, after knowing that I’m a good person, have a nice family, spent a year volunteering with refugees (who happen to be very religious themselves), and don’t actually eat babies (!)… discover that I’m atheist. It’s nice to see people change their minds about what they think atheist means. Without me owning that term after proving myself a kind and decent person, I’m pretty sure I would have fit their notion of “religious” based on my deeds and “countenance” (I.e. I’m not an ANGRY ATHEIST!) I highly recommend this method of Thoughtful and Measured Release of Identity for outing oneself as atheist.

        • I can definitely see what you mean. Can one be a generic non-believer? Someone who knows what they know and knows that they don’t know what they don’t know but who “believes” nothing? I guess that doesn’t save you from having to explain just how deep and wide your disbelief is. And it doesn’t keep beliefs from bubbling up out of the void when you’re not looking. Apatheist is definitely the better term.

          I’m an omnitheist, myself. My bosom doesn’t always burn, but when it does, it burns with the certain knowledge that there is nothing but God. I find that believing in everything without distinction is nearly identical to believing in nothing at all. After all, to be devoid of meaning is to mean it all.

      • Gabriel von Himmel

        Well, if one concludes our view of cosmic creation is based on indifferent circumstances but responds to actions not understood, then, a Supreme Cognitive Entity is not to be proved thus unknowable to the wee minds of our sector of infinity. Yet we carry on damning and diking the spillage of entropy to some inexorable end.

        I have created an image and story wrapped around my take on “Our Heavenly Father.”

        Google image search: Papa’s Room

        Pax: http://www.scari.org/papas_room.html

        • As someone who has stayed up till 3:30 am to see the end of an episode of the Patty Duke Show on Nick@Nite and binge-watched entire season’s of cable channel dramas over 24-hour periods, I can identify with the existential imperative to “see how it all comes out.”

          • Gabriel von Himmel

            They do say, “It will all be sorted out in the end.”
            That’s of some comfort, yes?

        • Glenn

          However, if mere residential perpetuations mitigate previously celestialized paternal imaginations, then reason would quite tacitly appear to stemfully emerge rather stillborn along otherwise unrecognizable yet swiftly evacuated effluence. One can only hope.

          • Gabriel von Himmel

            Glenn, I wish in one hand and hope in the other, yet to no avail, but it’s hard to reach for the toilet paper.

  • Gabriel von Himmel

    The moment when haram is halal:
    Why is the beast so mean? Is the Kingdom of God a meritocracy, could the kingdom of god ever be egalitarian?

    Is there no hope for one man one vote in heaven? Can heaven be mediated so as to enjoy the pleasures of peace by consensus?

    Yahweh says: “Yes, heaven is a monarchy, authoritarian, because it’s my deal and that’s the way I like it.” then a booming roar was heard.

    “Only God is God, there is no God but god, and God only knows for sure, god is everywhere, god clings to your soul like sore underwear”

    for God’s sake change your shorts


  • Duke of Earl Grey

    On Facebook, my religious label is Skeptical Solipsist.

    • Last time I was asked, I put Nihilist, Reformed.

  • Grasshopper

    i love sitting with a friend and talking philosophy on my 5th beer. Suddenly I am a disciple of Blood Meridian’s Judge and spouting Nihilistic garbage and expounding on the universe. Then I wake up.

    I agree with John Dehlin. What does it matter in the end? Why do others care? Most people do what they want, then stretch or shrink their belief to enclose it, and pretend its based on something more than validation for why they do things. Then we get to label it so we can all judge and get judged inaccurately. Most belief is fluid anyway. I have sat with people I thought were all wrapped up nicely in a belief, and in the right moment, heard them expound on things that left me really confused about what the hell they believe. I think sometimes we even surprise ourselves about what we believe or don’t believe in the right moment of honest admission.

  • fightinglee

    Im a genius. And i sing in the church choir. Did you know that? Let me repeat it. Over and over. – heather.

    • Dan

      I don’t mind. Go Heather.

    • Why are you fightin’ glee?

  • fightinglee

    I actually find it strange that everyone was so afraid of the atheist label. Is this a Utah-centric thing? I work with multiple people that are atheist. Never have I encountered anyone that cared. I do not consider myself atheist because I still think that God might exist. Not a God that interacts with us, but I find the order of the universe and its existence to come from something. However, I wont mind being wrong either. I feel a little bad for my previous comment, but, Heather, please, I think you might still go to church and you are lecturing people about coming out as atheists? Maybe he is not atheist. That might also be a possibility. Some people just don’t know and are okay with saying, I don’t know.

    I guess its a sore subject, cause I go through the same thing with friends. “Why don’t you just say you are atheist.” Cause I’m not. I think there might be a God. I just think that God will judge me on behavior, not on belief. So I don’t care to express belief in Him/Her. Any God that judges me on whether i said enough hail mary’s is a dick. If i were God. I would rather my people not acknowledge me. I don’t need your worship. I don’t need your belief. And i don’t need credit for your accomplishments.

    • Allison

      Feeling a little bit bad about your comment is a good sign. It means you’re not as a big of an asshole as you made yourself seem. -scotch, on the rocks.

    • Randy_Snyder

      “everyone was so afraid of the atheist label”

      What? I’m a proud atheist and even got teased on this podcast for being overly proud of it. What was said was people know the ignorance surrounding the term and are wary of dealing with it. This is not a Utah thing, it’s an American thing as a Pew study ranked atheists as slightly more trustworthy than rapists and equal with Muslims. This was mentioned in the podcast. Your anecdotal account of your world, wherever you live, does not necessarily reflect what the general experience of the United States is outside of Utah. The participants of this podcast outside of John live in Virginia, Colorado, Arizona and Indiana.

      “Heather…I think you might still go to church…”

      No, she hasn’t for several months. Didn’t expect you to know that but now you do. I’m glad you feel a little bad for essentially calling Heather insufferably pretentious and hypocritical but the tone of your post doesn’t place you on high ground to cast such aspersions.

      “Maybe he is not atheist…some people just don’t know and are okay with saying I don’t know.”

      So you mentioned atheist and then described agnosticism. Those labels are separate propositions as one addresses belief and the other knowledge. John clearly described himself as atheist (he doesn’t believe there’s a personal God) and as agnostic (it’s not a knowable proposition). What he resists is the labels being attached to him but he, himself, acknowledged they accurately describe him.

      “-the entire last paragraph-”

      This is replete with the assumption you make that if there is a God, he would have to be good, and furthermore, must share your moral sensibilities, even to imagining how you would act if you were God. It does not necessarily follow that if a God exists, he must be good. It’s just as likely that if there is a God, he is evil. Then theologians would be grappling with the problem of good rather than the problem of evil. It also doesn’t necessarily follow that if there is a God, he’s all-powerful. It’s just as likely that this God is merely super potent rather than omni potent. I could go on but my point is that you need to acknowledge and address your biased assumptions before making any kind of positive argument for a God possibly existing.

      • Aaron

        One label I wish you guys and Pew would discuss is “not religious.” A ton of my friends grew up outside of any religion, and rather than call themselves atheist they simply tell people they’re “not religious.” They don’t care about religion at all, not even enough to study it. I think Pew would find there’s much less negative response to that term.

        • Thomas Moore

          There already is a term: Deism. It’s because of Joseph Smith’s father’s “Deism” that we got the whole Mormonism started. A belief that there is a gospel and God, but no real, true religion. Thomas Jefferson was probably the most famous which caused him to write/create the “Jefferson Bible” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible

          • Aaron

            I should clarify that my “not religious” term would exclude any religious belief in God including Deism. These are people who haven’t studied religion at all, and have never even cared about the question. They’re usually lumped in with agnostics but as we know that’s not really what that term means.

        • Randy_Snyder

          Pew actually does in a different context and they’re called “Nones”. According to Pew, it’s the fastest growing “religious group” in America. I’m a proud None. 🙂

  • Gabriel von Himmel

    I’m going to be a schmoozer and do what “Ryan Gregson” does and hope I get a bunch of up votes.

    “Just want to add one more voice of thanks and appreciation. It sounds kind of pathetic, but just hearing familiar voices to laugh with week after week, well it helps in lonely times. And I’ve learned a ton as well. Thanks infants!”

    I’m speaking for Ryan and me, hoping to get as many votes as Ryan, seems he’s bullish on votes and so am I.

    I wish I had made a, very personal, limp wrested comment like this a while ago –– my karma would be much improved.

    You don’t have to be good to be god fearing, you don’t have to be god fearing to be good,

    I am hoping the cloying claustrophobia of “our heavenly father” satisfies you . . .

    I can live with that. Hope it all gets sorted out int he end.

    • Ryan Gregson

      Ha ha, all three of my glorious upvotes!

    • Onionskinner

      Gabriel von Himmel, a.k.a. Michael Randles, is an atheistic artist from Eugene. Pay no mind.

  • Ophanim

    In his talk “Stand as witnesses of God”, Oaks says using the term anti-christ, would be appropriate to refer to those who 1 John 2:22 “denieth the Father and the Son”. Does John Dehlin feel that the title anti-christ fits him well? How about pro-Jesus? Would Oaks feel ok calling Jefferson and his edited bible anti-christ? He then goes on to bash secularists as moral relativists who reject divine authority as the basis of ethics – which could destroy our entire country. He quotes Clayton Christensen that religion is the foundation of a prosperous democracy or that religion is a social technology which promotes “equality of people, the importance of respecting others’ property, and of personal honesty and integrity.” In contrast to China? Would we call John Adams as a founder and a unitarian – one subscribed to the order of Nehor?

  • Jeremy

    Just out of curiosity, do any of you interact with “believers” you respect intellectually? This may not be fair, but a few of you seem to still have a very Mormon way of seeing the world: the smug dismissiveness of anyone who sees things differently than you do, the need to label and categorize what’s good, better best (atheism! yay!), the persecution complex, even the way some of you admitted on this episode you silently judge those who believe differently as idiots. Is it possible your experience within Mormonism was so toxic spiritually, and that binary thinking is so deeply ingrained in you because of your Mormon experience, that you can’t see a path other than atheism? I’m sure you all have friends who are Jewish, or maybe Catholic, Buddhist, or just spiritual. Maybe try to not just understand why they believe, but respect it. The only reason I suggest this is because the strident, dismissive and judgmental tone that sometimes comes across is kind of a turn off to people leaving the church, because it’s all too familiar. Insisting Dehlin label himself as an atheist, or the bullying of Heather in her first few episodes because she was still going to church, calling anyone who still goes a de facto bigot, don’t seem all that different than the way certain Mormons respond to family members who leave the faith. I have no idea what the goals of your podcast are, or what your motivations are, but regardless you do have a big impact on people transitioning out of Mormonism. There was a time when this was my favorite podcast and while I wouldn’t go so far to say you saved my life or saved my marriage, as others have said on this thread, I will say there was a time I couldn’t wait till you put out the next episode. If you are doing it just for shits and giggles (seems like a lot of work, but we all have time consuming hobbies) maybe you don’t want negative feedback. If that’s the case, ignore my comment. But if you’re doing this as a service, and you want to reach as many struggling Mormons or post Mormons or whatever Dehlin wants to call it as possible, I would suggest trying to be a bit more open minded and tolerant of those who have different beliefs than yours. Unless your goal is to basically do what the church does: speak to an increasingly small audience, who sees the world just as you do, and reinforce their beliefs and biases. While I’m probably done listening for the same reason some of the hosts seem to be asking themselves how long they want to be involved—it doesn’t seem healthy to continue to be defined by Mormonism, or to stay angry—I know this podcast can help a lot of Mormons leaving the church. As you guys pointed out on this episode, there are so few people in this space, and you guys can be brilliant and hilarious.

  • JT

    An imagined conversation in the ticket line to the Sam Harris/William Lane Craig debate.


    Theo: Hi, I’m Theo. Can you believe these guys are on campus?

    Athena: I heard it was in the works last semester. But I was surprised that Campus Crusade and the Secular Student Alliance pooled their budgets for it. I’m Athena by the way. Nice to meet you Theo.

    Theo: Same here. Hey … may I ask which side you’re on? Are you an atheist or Christian?

    Athena: May I ask you first if you are a theist?

    Theo: Uh, sure. I guess I am a theist. But you know, that’s something I’ve never called myself.

    Athena: Interesting. What type of theist are you? Monotheist or Polytheist?

    Theo: Well, Monotheist, I’m …

    Athena: What kind of Monotheist? Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian …

    Theo: Ha, I’m Christian, obviously …

    Athena: Obviously? What kind of Christian? Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Mormon?

    Theo: Ding! And by the way, Mormons aren’t Christian.

    Athena: Perhaps. Well, what type of Lutheran? Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, Church of the Lutheran Brethren of America, Church of the Lutheran Confession
    Concordia Lutheran Conference, Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, Evangelical Catholic Church, Evangelical Community Church-Lutheran, Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America…

    Theo: I’m not sure. At school I attend the one on the corner of Church Street and Temple Avenue.

    Athena: I’m as atheist … pure and simple.

  • Dan

    Dear Glenn and who I’m about 90% sure is Randy, your discussion at 1:40:00 was just another example of how incredibly fucking helpful this podcast is…I continue to wrestle with exactly how “anti-mormon” evangelical I will or should be with my Dad. On the one hand, he’s dedicated so much of his time, effort, personality and just life into being a good member of the church despite all the bullshit that comes with it. His sunken cost into the church and his personality (prone to depression, suicidal ideation) makes me loathe to do anything that will challenge his grip on belief because I know how painful it can be face a reality where those closely held hopes could be wrong. On the other hand, he carries a lot of completely unnecessary guilt as a result of the need to be “perfect” and I think that contributes to his depression at times. For me, leaving all that guilt behind and pushing past belief was and continues to be a huge relief and something I wish he could experience. I’m still just as conflicted as ever but it made me feel good to hear you say (Glen), something like “I want your Dad out and everyone’s Dad out of the church. I want the church to stop having such a hold on people.” That was a minor “ah ha!” moment and I couldn’t help but hear Pink Floyd in my head *Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!*

  • Cliff

    I just want to extend a virtual welcoming handshake to all the Dan Peterson supporters who come to this page thanks to a link in Dr. Peterson’s recent article. Feel free to browse and let us know if you have any questions. We hope you feel welcome here. <3