Ep 292 – The New Atheist’s Guide to Not Being a Total Asshole: Episode 1 (Fear)

Posted July 31st, 2016

Let’s face it: atheists have a bad rap, and some of that is richly deserved–the smug self-righteousness with which many wield their God-free worldview is about as charming as a menthol enema. However, losing your faith doesn’t have to lead to the dark path of douchebaggery, which the honorable Sage Turk aims to illustrate in an exciting new series: The New Atheist’s Guide to Not Being a Total Asshole. Take a listen to the first installment–a conversation between Sage and Tom on the subject of fear.


  • sageturk

    Huge thanks to all the Infants for their support in this new mini series! Fellow listeners I hope you enjoy this exploration of accepting your role as a newly minted Atheist (even if you’d prefer not to use that term). We’ve got 10 episodes planned to launch weekly(ish) alongside prime time Infants content – and as always we love to hear your feedback as we try something a bit new inside the Infants universe!

    • Thomas Moore

      Sage, The movie/book “Fire in the Sky” is about Travis Walton who lived in Snowflake, AZ and was a lumber jack in the White Mountains. (Jake may know him

    • Seth L.

      Love the addition Sage. As a new fledgling agnostic (Scared of calling myself atheist) it’s cool to cover these ideas. If you ever need an other voice I’m a nobody but happy to discuss these topics.

  • Randy Quentin Meyers

    Sage: (and all the Infants) I love this New Atheist Guide.
    I hope this can be a spin-off, weekly podcast.

    The segments were great, and the music outro and intro were great choices; very mood-setting.
    The production of the program was great. I like how the conversation was structured. Instead of an hour-long free form interview (questions -And-answers), it was awesomely planned and produced. I was doubtful when I began listening, when I heard it was not an ‘IOT’ per se, but by the end I knew that I love this so much I hope it becomes it’s own; not once-in-a-while minisode.

  • I think anyone who’s ever thought about it can relate deeply to your discussion.

    Starting when I was about seven and lasting till about nine I had this two year-long existential crisis during which I was alternately terrified of oblivion on the one hand and of being stuck in a “heaven,” eternally unable to die or check out on the other. Playing harps and praising God 24/7 for all eternity is its own kind of oblivion, but worse, because you’re supposedly conscious for all eternity. For some reason I thought it had to be one or the other. My parents didn’t pretend to know and didn’t lie to me. My grandparents and extended family had faith that the Celestial Kingdom would be wonderful beyond our wildest dreams so there was absolutely nothing to worry about. I never found any answers or any real comfort but eventually, in the process of growing up, life got complicated and I had enough on my plate right here on planet earth to keep me otherwise occupied.

    Many years later my friend’s five year-old took me by the hand and led me around the side of the house to where his parents had buried their 20-odd year-old cat that had died that week. He told me, “Mom and Dad say that Mrs. Peabody is in heaven but I know she’s right there under those rocks.” So I stumbled through some platitudes and some, “well, you know people believe different things, . . .” trying to be comforting without saying anything, but he wasn’t buying any of it. He’d seen them wrap Mrs. Peabody in a blanket and bury her under that tree—that one, right there. I was no more help to him than my family had been to me.

    The most comforting thing that I ever heard anyone say was: “When you die, nothing’s any different than it ever was, but it never was the way you thought it was.” It was said by some teacher dude on the traveling guru circuit in Santa Fe back when there was such a thing. I don’t know what it means, but I like it.

    Atheists are adamant proponents of oblivion and that’s probably a good stance to take. In the immortal words of Leonard Turrieta, “Manage your expectations and everything else will manage itself.” Oblivion might be it, and if it is, fine; you won’t hear me complaining about it. But I stubbornly hold to my conviction that, until you can explain existence, you can’t authoritatively say anything about the lack thereof.

    As for fearing irrelevance, I say throw your arm around a Bernie supporter and embrace your mutual irrelevance—together! I had a Bernie sticker on my truck for almost a year. I just recently replaced it with a “JEB 2016 / Please Clap” bumper sticker to celebrate my irrelevance.

    P.S. Modern anesthesia is wonderful. They squirt a tiny syringe of something into your IV in pre-op and you wake up in post-op. Slick. They gave me ether when I had my tonsils out when I was ten. I was puking for a week—Jesus! Some things do get better. Oblivion has a lot milder side effects these days.

  • HM

    Cognitive ease, the more something repeated the more good and true it feels


  • Jesse Lewis

    Definitely relate. Taking my garments off was one of those huge fear inducing things for me. The first few nights I would lay in bed worrying (and sortof hoping) something bad would happen. Something that would remind me that God knew me intimately (like I’d so zealously preached as a missionary), and that he was displeased with the path I was taking away from the Church. But you know the punchline: nothing happened.

    Seeing that life was going on as usual, I actually just felt liberated. I didn’t feel heartbroken about losing my belief in Mormonism and God like I thought I would. And then a few weeks later the crushing existential angst hit – hooray! I guess it’s been about two years since that all went down for me. The struggle to make life meaningful without objective purpose to existence is in my mind daily, but it only really bogs me down about every six months or so.

    Anyways, really enjoyed the episode. As advertised, I did feel some good warm fuzzies hearing others talk about their similar fears. Looking forward to future episodes!

  • SachmoJoe

    Really enjoyed this one and like your perspective Sage. Keep ’em coming!

    • Ron Hill

      My Temple name in Oliver. All liver…I stole fire from the gods, so that all might live more abundantly 😛

    • William Law

      Temple name: Malachi. I don’t give a f*ck any more.

    • Mohammed Wong

      Temple name: Shirley

  • Ron Hill

    Sage Turk, will you please be one of my new best friends? Awesome podcast guys! Great topic!

  • Ron Hill

    Re the 80’s Satan scare, might I recommend a book – Lord’s of the Left Hand Path.

  • Ron Hill

    Science soundly shows that with every transformation or transition something always carries through…why not you? Remember to carry the one. 😉

  • Ron Hill

    When I left the LDS church I was extremely angry at my own gullibility. I saw faith in god and an afterlife – claiming to know what cannot be known – as extreme hubris. As I encountered people of faith still caught in defending scientifically stupid ideas that was just hate for their hubris was even more solidified. I vacillated between agnosticism and atheism. The thing that kept me from atheism completely was acknowledging that by such I was committing the same hypocrisy of extreme hubris – claiming to know the unknowable. It’s interesting just how much drive we have to quell cognitive dissonance by closing doors, especially on the unknown.

    Now I call myself an atheist who believes in god…at least in this crowd 😛

  • Voltaire

    This is a great idea for a series of discussions. I had never thought of a connection between fears and smug ass-holery. Fears can run the gamut from totally unfounded to actually having a basis in reality.
    I heard of a survey that polled men and women asking their biggest fear in dealing with the opposite sex. Men most feared being laughed at by a woman. Women most feared being killed by a man. I wonder if the fears our female atheists are so starkly different from the men.
    To recognize that our fears and worries are based upon emotions, and to be able to dismiss those fears with reasoning and logic, is not too different from recognizing that our faith was based upon emotions and being able to dismiss it with reasoning and logic. I suppose talking about fears and laughing at them is as therapeutic as talking about and laughing at the church during a faith transition.
    For atheists, knowing that our time here is very limited and therefore very valuable, I think it is practical and wise to resist giving worries and fears too much of our time. Worrying about what might happen tomorrow, about things we cannot control, steals away time from doing the most we can to make good use of today.
    One of my worries as a Mormon was the impossible burden of trying to be, or trying to appear to be, practically perfect in every way. So now, being a smug asshole, not even feeling an obligation to be anything else, is very liberating. Don’t ask me to give it up quite yet. Given time, I think the pendulum will eventually come to rest in the middle.

  • William Law

    Interesting. A good part of the discussion centered on fear of death and what comes after. It’s funny, but when I lost faith in mormonism, then gradually moved to atheism, this never really bothered me. In fact, it’s quite the contrary for me. I just came to the conclusion that everybody dies, no exception, there’s not a thing any of us can do about it, so what’s the big deal? We’re all in this together, after all!

    However, I have found the opposite to be true among believers. They say all the right things, but when it comes down to it, they can be just as afraid, even moreso. Take for instance my late mother-in-law. She was a true believing mormon, but she confided in my shortly before her death that she was terrified of dying. She knew she was on her way out and she wept, worried that she hadn’t done enough to get to the Celestial Kingdom. She mourned that she hadn’t taught her children well enough and could have done this or that differently in her life and she was absolutely terrified of her fate.

    Another friend, after several strokes, heart disease, total paralysis and several surgeries also told me he was afraid to die. His reasons were quite similar to those of my mother-in-law. He was worried he hadn’t done enough good to qualify for the celestial kingdom. He had married, but had not reproduced, nor had he adopted (not by choice, but circumstance). He was afraid that remaining childless would be held against him, even though it wasn’t his fault. He would not hear it, however. His failing health was, in his opinion, a result of a poor lifestyle not conducive to good health, and he believed he would be ultimately held accountable for this.

    What a hideous burden for believers to carry! Their faith is supposed to bring them comfort, yet they live the last years of their lives in fear. I realize this will probably not apply to all believers, but I find it more than ironic that I held similar fears as a believer and now as a non-believer I have no fear of what comes after. If there is a hereafter, it will be a bonus as far as I’m concerned.

    Sometime after I lost all belief, I had a stroke. I was hospitalized for a while, missed several months of work, and I didn’t get my driver’s license back for a long time after. I’ve made a remarkable recovery (not looking for pity here), but I have actually “faced death”, as it were. My lack of fear in the face of death actually surprised me. It was one of my first big “tests” as an atheist, and I think I passed. Without the shroud of belief, I could see things for what they were. The believers in my family attributed my stroke to God punishing me or giving me a warning. I attributed it to being in my 50s, overweight, and drinking so much Red Bull that it was driving my blood pressure through the roof. Medically, I was a walking time bomb. But oh no, it was GOD. Bullshit!

    And then the believers attributed my recovery (which I would judge to be about 95%) to their fasting and prayers and my name being on the prayer roll in the temple. I actually refused a priesthood blessing but was told it didn’t matter, because God would bless the faith of my loved ones and answer the prayers made on my behalf. So if that is the case, what the hell is the point of the priesthood blessing anyway?

    On the other end of the belief spectrum, I attributed my recovery to the doctors, nurses, therapists, specialists and other medical professionals who helped me, to all the years of training and experience they possessed, and to the scientists and researchers who for years and generations have built upon success after success, breakthrough after breakthrough, and even learning from heartbreaking failures, to come up with the drugs, therapies and protocols to keep me alive and advance my recovery. Funny how the believers never acknowledge these people, only God. Again, I say bullshit.

    (This pisses me off to no end, by the way – that believers always say it was the priesthood blessings that made them better, not the doctors and nurses. What a slap in their faces!)

    But I digress! I find that my lack of faith or belief has parted the clouds of fear for me. I no longer see through a glass darkly. Knowledge, understanding and reasoning are a great remedy for our fears.

    Do I know what lies ahead? Absolutely not. And I’ve got news for all the believers: NOBODY knows! One can hope and believe, but that is still not KNOWLEDGE. The believers will say they know, but really they don’t. They can’t know. So they just bear testimony.

    But I don’t fear death, not at all.

  • Aaron

    I’m really freaked out when I imagine what it’s like to not exist. And I love how you touched on the fact that once you die, time won’t exist. So we imagine it passing by infinitely fast. So if there is any chance of a future “God” having the technology to recreate your consciousness, it will either happen immediately in your perspective, or time will roll on infinitely forever with no end, like fast forwarding a blank VHS tape forever… Time itself could end and it would make no difference. Terrifying.

  • Seth L.

    Love it. Great addition. I love the idea of covering these topics. I would love to discuss the ideas of Truth and faith and spiritualism from a new atheists point of view.

  • Emily

    Just listened – great episode and I’m looking forward to the rest of the New Atheist series.

    After the initial thrill of my faith crisis – the underwear shopping, 10% raise, and R-rated movies – it was very scary to also realize, Oh shit, I’m going to die. The existential crisis that you described was very familiar. I don’t know about you, but I was pissed that I had to start going through that as a 35 year old woman instead of a teenager or younger. I could’ve been grappling with and coming to terms with this for my whole life, and instead I’m having to face it just as I’m really getting into raising four kids and figuring out what I want from life. I also feel embarrassed that I didn’t think about it sooner, that I blindly believed for so long. It helps to hear other intelligent people describe the similar experiences.

    Kids – I love the perspective Tom gave about how to deal with your kids’ questions. It was nice when they were younger and I still believed to be able to tell them Jesus loves you, so everything will be OK. I can’t give them that anymore. I will say that some of the most spiritual experiences I’ve had with my daughters have been as we discussed the meaning of life, the universe, the fear of oblivion, stuff like that and I admit I don’t know, what do you think? It has brought a new level of respect and friendship to our relationship that wasn’t there when I was the Mom with all the answers. So that’s been cool, scary, but cool.

    Being in a mixed faith home, I love hearing any and all perspectives about keeping a marriage and family happy in spite of one of the partners being an atheist asshole.