How Jason Kirk is redefining fellowship amid Southerners’ exodus from the church

Religion has long been one of the most dominant cultural forces in the South. But is that changing?

A new Gallup poll shows that, for the first time ever, church membership in America has fallen below 50% Even in the South, the number is down to 58%. A 16 point drop over the last 20 years.

Just 36% of millennials are members of a church. But that doesn’t mean they’re leaving religion altogether. Some are just redefining what a spiritual community looks like. Sometimes it may look like a podcast.

This week on the Reckon Interview, we chat with Jason Kirk, a sharp, funny sports journalist who launched a pandemic project last year with his wife, Emily. Modeling themselves off of a pop culture binge podcast, they set out to break down every book of the Bible. Chapter by chapter. Exploring the weirdest, most complicated questions the Good Book has to offer. And expanding their scope to look at how it shapes other Abrahamic religions, not just Christianity. Their show, Vacation Bible School, has built a big community of people who had either let their faith lapse, never had faith to begin with, or were just looking for a religious community during the pandemic.

I’m still figuring out where I stand when it comes to faith these days, but I know that when it comes to stories that shape the South. There aren’t many that have had a great impact that the Bible, even if most people never actually spend actually understanding those stories themselves.

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Below is a full transcript of the episode.

John Hammontree: You are the co-host, with your wife Emily, of the Vacation Bible School podcast. And I guess to sum up what this is, I mean, it feels kind of like a pop culture binge podcast. But instead of going through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or Star Wars, you are going through every book of the Bible. And you kind of approach it with reverence for the believers and for the work itself but also with, you know, a willingness to blend in scrutiny and study like it’s a literary work and of course, pop culture and football jokes. In a recent blog post you wrote that this all started because Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker sucked. I didn’t like that movie either. It led me, and the pandemic led me, and my wife to I guess rewatching all the Star Wars and trying to make sense of it and rewatching a lot of Disney films and doing a podcast about that. But it led you to the Bible. Can you walk us through how you came to start this podcast and what was going through your mind?

Jason Kirk: Well in times of suffering and agony and woe, such as after you have seen Star Wars IX, of course you turn to the ancients. What are the answers? Why did God let this happen? Why did God let Star Wars IX happen? If God is just and merciful, then? So, it was this weird thing where I got back from the movie and thought like, man, they gave that thing hundreds of millions of dollars. Like that was the level of quality that you had to have in order to get a massive company to invest in your product. And I just thought like, anybody can just make something. And I sort of thought and realized like, “hey, I’ve had stories in my head for a long time that I’ve kind of wanted to tell.” You know, and I started noodling around in my own time on like, “let me do a sci-fi thing,” you know. And then talking to my wife Emily, you know, starting to realize like, “hey, there’s a nearer and dearer subject.” And I started writing about like, kids growing up in church culture as like kind of a coming-of-age kind of story. And then realizing like, well, there’s something even more immediate here, you know, and that sort of brought us around to like you said, a sort of pop culture Rewatchables binge-type podcast on the Bible. Where the original idea was one episode per book. Just book by book. 66 episodes through the Bible. Making some lighthearted jokes, bringing on some guests. We’ll just read it through once, say some silly stuff fall, back on the memories we had growing up in church as kids, easy peasy. In and out, done. And then sort of, you know, in the first episode, it’s like, “Wow, man, there’s really a lot to talk about. We shouldn’t do the whole book of Genesis in one episode. We should make an exception and just do creation for this episode.” And it’s like, alright, this is pretty easy. I’m falling back on like the comparative religions class I had in college and like, oh, “The Epic of Gilgamesh” that influenced the story of Noah’s Ark. And, you know, there’s all these ideas besides original sin that you can read into the fall from Eden. Like it’s not necessarily right there that it says you have to believe this was the moment all of humanity was doomed forever. You can believe this is a coming-of-age story. You can believe it’s a metaphor for this or that. You can look at the fall from Eden and compare it to its Canaanite Babylonian influences. And you can say this is actually a more positive and light-filled, you know, version of a creation story than like, the heavy, heavy stuff it was drawn from. Where Babylonian gods are creating people to serve as, like, robot slaves, right? We were raised on original sin, but there’s also a much more positive version. So, after that, the idea was, “all right, rest of Genesis, that’s Episode 2.” And then it’s like, “oh, man, how do you just breeze over the flood? The flood’s got to be its own episode.” So, then there’s four episodes on Genesis by the time we got done. Like I was planning to cram Joseph in with Moses. But then there’s like 13 chapters of Joseph. And there’s a whole musical about it. You got to do an episode about Joseph. And then Exodus, we’ll do one episode on Exodus. Anyway, we’ve done six episodes on Exodus, or something like that. And we took a break to do a Christmas episode. And we took a break and do a Q&A. So, we’ve done 12 episodes and we’re not even doing two books yet. The problem is, there’s so much to talk about, and it’s so much fun, and it’s so much fun to learn.

Hammontree: Well, and that’s what I was gonna say is like, not only are you going through the books of the Bible. But you are going through so many texts of analysis about the Bible. But then also, you know, what could almost be called biblical fanfiction like the Prince of Egypt animated movie, or that Noah movie starring Russell Crowe, or the aforementioned Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat musical. And so, all of this kind of Christian culture stuff that has popped up around it. I think you do a good job of explaining, has really kind of warped our understanding of the stories themselves. I mean even the children’s book versions that we get of these stories are very different from the text as you kind of walk us through it.

Kirk: Yeah, and we find like, that’s not a new thing, you know? Like, it’s not a new thing that our understanding and our perspectives changes how these stories land. We start every episode, Emily and I, with saying, like, “Alright, what do we remember learning about this story as kids?” Like for the most recent episode, the golden calf. It was like, not really a whole lot, like that there was a golden calf. They did it because they wanted an idol and Moses and God, were very mad about it. Like I remembered the story beats but like, not a lot of discussion, and “what does this mean?” and all that kind of stuff. Other than, “don’t do idols” and I’m like, “Okay, no problem.” But like, it’s not just like the modern pop culture stuff, you can go back to John Milton, to Dante, extremely influential on the way we perceive the Bible. Our entire idea of Hell is, like, take some Greek stuff, filter it through some stuff Jesus kind of said, add in a verse in Revelation, and let Dante go wild with his version of the apocalypse of…Peter, I want to say. And like that’s our whole idea of hell. Like hell in the Bible is arguably not even there. It’s like five different ideas if you want to be technical about it. But we have a vision of hell that is, you know, massive eternal, infinite torment, fire demon stabbing you and all that stuff. And, like, so much of that is from Dante not the Bible. You know, and you can take it back even further, like the ancient Jewish tradition of fanfic. Like, you know, we can put we can put big fancy names on it, but like, ancient Rabbi tradition, so much of it is literally saying, “Okay, here’s what Abraham would do in this situation. I’m going to write a story about Abraham doing that.” And like, you would like a more elevated word for fanfic, and there are terms, but most the most honest word, like it’s exalted fanfic. That’s wonderful. That’s great. So, like, when we read a Bible story today, we’re not just reading the story. We’re reading somewhere between 2000 to 3000 — we’re talking Noah or Job, maybe more like 4000 — years of stuff piled on top of that story. And in some ways, that’s beautiful and wonderful and good. Because you can look at the, let me think of a good example, you can look at Exodus. And you can look at how the story of the Israelites being liberated from Egypt, you can say, well, that inspired liberation theology. That inspired oppressed people to look at that as an example and say, “Hey, we can believe in our liberation as well.” And you can see like real world effects of actual American abolitionists citing Exodus. And you can also see this stuff playing out in bad ways. You can see people using the Bible to justify oppression and bigotry and so on and so forth. So, like, looking at a Bible story is not just a Bible story. And doing it in a way where it’s, like, we’re here to learn. But we’re also here to have fun. We’re here to make jokes. The Bible is weird. Bible is silly. Every few verses is something that’s like, wait, what in the world, you know?

Hammontree: A lot of circumcision.

Kirk: That’s the best example. When Moses has got the mission from God at the burning bush, he’s gonna go down, he’s going to take on Pharaoh. He’s got his family. And then halfway through the journey to Egypt, there’s this bizarre, insane scene where they stop at a hotel. You can call it an inn, but let’s call it a hotel. And that just God attacks Moses because someone’s not circumcised. And it’s like is He attacking Moses, because Moses isn’t circumcised? Moses was born in Egypt so it’s possible. But like, it doesn’t say. God’s mad. A lack of circumcision has taken place. And Moses’s wife Zipporah steps in. And you can read between the euphemisms and see that she is throwing a foreskin like at Moses’s feet, or dangling it in front of him or something like that. Like God is going to be thrown off the scent. It’s the weirdest thing in the world. And like whatever happens, God’s just like, “Okay, fine.”

Hammontree: We just did a whole series on Purity Culture, and like, somehow that story never makes it into the Purity Culture curriculum in southern high schools yet. It seems like it’s ripe before it. You know, we spend a lot of time thinking about Southern stories and the stories that shaped the South, and arguably, Christianity, and specifically Evangelical Christianity has shaped modern Southern culture. Clearly, throughout history, people have used Bible stories for various political and worldly means. You know, that happened with the Spanish Inquisition, it happened with the Holy Roman Empire, it happened with colonization itself. It definitely has happened in the South and in the United States. And I mean, to some extent, Southern Christianity is one of the fastest growing forms of Christianity in the world now. So how has the South shaped what we think of as Christianity today.

Kirk: I’m actually reading a really interesting book, “Christian Citizens” by Elizabeth Jemison. It’s a pretty new book. And she went back to like the time right around the Civil War, to look at abolitionist and pro-slavery rhetoric. And she found that like, such a huge percentage of it in the South was being published by Protestant ministers on one side or the other. And the sides were largely determined by their race. So many white supremacist Protestant ministers are using this like bizarre, warped paternalism that like, “order is the way it should be,” you know, taking a few verses in Paul and the Epistles that say, like, “servants, obey your masters,” and taking that and running with it. And overlooking that like, okay, Paul was writing to a specific person in a specific place for a specific first time. And it is quite possible Paul is kind of, you know, winking at the idea of like, “Let’s be cool, let’s be good to each other. Don’t treat each other like slaves. But, you know, let’s get our house in order before we try to overthrow society.” You know, there’s a whole lot you can say about what Paul meant when he said that stuff. But if you’re a white supremacist Protestant minister hoping to argue for slavery, you take it a specific way. And meanwhile, you had the emerging Black church, which has been emerging for a long, long time, and has been here for a long, long time. It is saying like, “hey, the more consistent ethic in the Bible is one of liberation and of overthrowing the establishment. And the last becoming first. Like that is consistent from Moses through Jesus, and you can extend those boundaries even further. So even if these white supremacists didn’t view Black people as citizens, they still had to acknowledge they were Christians. They still had to acknowledge you have a soul, Jesus died for you. And therefore, we are speaking of the same religion, even if they viewed themselves as deserving to be the head of the table in society. So like, you had, you know, the Baptist Church splitting so that the Southern Baptist Convention could literally be a secessionist pro-slavery movement. And like, I mean, come on, like how much starker of a metaphor do you want than that? Like, you know, for the last year, Southern Baptists have been arguing critical race theory, “is racism real” you know, “is systemic racism real? Is white supremacy real? Well, I think I have a piece of evidence for it. It’s the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention to defend slavery. It’s kind of obvious and on the nose, you know? So like, there’s this racist, white nationalist church it’s had many, many, many different names and forms. And like, the reason it’s so influential in the South is because of slavery. And to me, the reason it became sort of influential throughout America is because it’s a way for a lot of people who don’t want to commit to buy in all the way to… you know, people who want to say, the quiet parts, not out loud, they can subscribe to this brand of Christianity, because that’s dressing the whole thing up, you know. And it’s so influential because it’s loud, you know, it’s noisy, it commands attention. Like I look at this most recent round of elections, we went from an extremely conservative Catholic Vice President to a quite progressive Catholic President. A 73-year-old Catholic man who is pro-choice, like, you know that’s a big flip. And we look at the most recently elected senators from Georgia, one of them is literally an heir to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Baptist Church. That forces people to acknowledge, I think, I hope, at least at some point in the future that all of American Christianity is not defined by the loudest, whitest, most extreme members of the Protestant church. Like there are progressive Catholics, there are reactionary Catholics, the Black church has been overlooked for a long time. I think the stat is something like 1/6, or 1/7 of Southern Christians are members of historically Black denominations. And I don’t think most people would guess that, based on news coverage, based on attention, it just doesn’t get the same attention as the very loud, worst members of the white church.

Hammontree: You know, some of my listeners may be wondering, Well, why are we talking about the Bible on this podcast? And I think you do a great job of saying like, even if you are agnostic or atheist or anything like that, you know, the goal is not to evangelize to you necessarily. But so much of this religion has shaped our society that it’s important to go through these stories, in a way that a lot of Christians don’t even go through. And it’s interesting, I’m kind of putting this together, listening to you talk, but in some ways, like, the text is explicit, you know, the red-letter text of Jesus, but also the lessons of the Old Testament, about, like, you said, “the last shall become the first” and, you know, kind of resetting the order of things. Where the efforts for control, whether it’s, you know, turning Sodom into a story about homosexuality, or using Ham as an explanation for slavery and a justification for slavery. Those are people kind of projecting something on onto the text. That’s not really there. You know, it’s been used in ways that don’t entirely make sense.

Kirk: Yeah. And I want to be clear when I say there are bad parts in the Bible, like there are bad ideas and there are things that we should disagree with. Like I don’t want to be a homer who says everything in there is great in and of itself. You know, in every Bible lesson is a do and not a do not there are do not lessons in the Bible. You know, to me, it’s you can take one piece of the Bible and you can make it justify the literally anything. In the Old Testament, it says like, don’t communicate with the dead. But what’s the story of Jesus? What happens at the end? Okay, people are communicating with the dead. That’s the whole point of the story. So which is it? Right? Oh, it’s not those dead people, just this one. But like, you know, you can make the Bible say literally anything you want. To me, it’s you have to square it with what are the consistent ethics? And we know the ethics of Jesus. Well, some of us pretend we don’t. Some of us pretend Jesus has an AK-47 and an American flag and a stock portfolio. But like, no, sorry, that’s wrong. Couldn’t have been any clearer about where he stood. But I think it gets overlooked how consistent that ethic is in the Hebrew Bible as well. One of our guests Richard Elliot Friedman, he tallied up 52 times in just the Torah, we are hammered over and over and over and over with what the lesson of Egypt is. And it is that you should treat people — and not just how you want to be treated, because that means you know, like, maybe you just leave them alone or you know, hope they hope they figure it out — you should treat people how you would want to be treated if you were in a horrible predicament. If you were fleeing Empire, if you were oppressed, if you were an immigrant on the run, if you were a refugee, that’s how you should treat everyone around you. And the argument for it in the Torah is that because that was you at some point. And that goes for everyone. Like, you know, there, there are very privileged people who’ve never actually been through anything rough, but their ancestors did at some point, their descendants will at some point, everybody’s going to be down at some point. So, we need to all treat each other as we would want to be treated when we are at our lowest, when we are not the first but when we are the last. That is the consistent ethic of the Bible. Jesus sums it up when he says love your neighbor as yourself. That is also summed up in the prophets 500-600 years before Jesus. It’s summed up by the rabbis all throughout. Everyone knows it. And anything at odds with that ethic, we have to challenge it. You know when Paul says, “servants, obey your masters,” we have to say, Okay, what does he really mean here? And if it comes down to it, I’m siding with Jesus over Paul.

Hammontree: I like the way you lay out kind of the Genesis and Exodus stories. You know, I mean, to kind of get back into that, almost like a rewatchables-style podcast. You know, this is kind of not just the origin story for monotheistic religion, I mean, specifically Judaism and Christianity kind of coming out of Egypt and Israel. But, also, an origin story for God, becoming a monotheistic deity and learning how a monotheistic omnipotent power interacts with the people that worship them. Taking on other gods that are mentioned explicitly in the text, you know, it’s not heresy to say that there were other gods mentioned in the Bible, and in some ways, defeating them. You describe it being like Mega Man, and then taking on their power. And that’s an interesting way of approaching it. Is that something that was new to you after having gone through it this time? Or is that something that have been in your mind for a long time? Clearly, you think about sci-fi stuff?

Kirk: I think, what I’m finding is that there’s a lot of stuff that was very, very far in the back of my mind when I was, you know, a kid immersed in the stuff. And there was stuff like the social gospel, and like Jesus saying, “uplift the poor,” like, that was the stuff we argued with our youth pastor about, like, “why don’t we make a bigger deal of that?” But then there’s the stuff way, way, way back in your mind, and I think the polytheism in mostly Genesis, the beginning of Exodus. As a kid, you ask, like, “why does it say gods plural?” And you’d get like, “oh, it doesn’t literally mean gods. It’s referring to the Trinity.” “Those are just angels.” You get all these explanations and you’re like, “Oh, okay.” But then you go back. And, yeah, there’s polytheism in the Hebrew Bible. There just is. Just period. There just is. And you look at archaeological records. You know, the Israelites at the time, there were polytheists all around them. And we can see that the Israelites, exactly the spot where they were, that they really did consistently follow a religion that was anti idols, that didn’t eat pigs, they did circumcise themselves, like all that stuff is real. But they were among polytheists, completely surrounded by polytheists. They are using older stories, usually by polytheists. They’re adapting Babylonian stories, Noah. They’re adapting Egyptian stories: the tabernacle that they’re carrying from Egypt to Canaan is basically a copy of Rameses’ actual traveling war tent. There’s Canaanite stuff, like the references to God, the older you get the more Canaanite it sounds. And like scholars have pieced together that like the vision of God in the Bible, at least in the Hebrew Bible, is like it’s a composition of like…I’ve used the term on their Canaanite Odin was the all father of the old, very old ancient Canaanite Pantheon. Canaanite’s Thor, who was referred to in the Bible, usually with the title, Baal, which means the Lord. Usually, it’s talking about a specific Canaanite war bull, thunder god. There’s elements of that, Yahweh, Jehovah. And then also this other God that, you know, came up with Moses from Egypt and sort of merged into all these things. And that’s our idea of God. And then you have references to all the other gods. And they’re not talked about as if they’re fake, you know, like, nowhere in there does it say the Hittite God is not real. It says, don’t worship that god. It says, “You shall have no other gods before our God.” Well, how can you have a god before God if that God’s not real? The song of the sea, which is possibly the oldest part of the Bible, which it’s right after the Red Sea. It’s this ancient, ancient poem. And it’s all about how our God has defeated all the other gods. There’s a Psalm, Psalm 82, about God sitting down a council of other gods and saying, “your time is up my time is now” to quote John Cena. But like, there are other gods. And like, angels, I was always like, I am pretty sure I asked a kid, “like an angel, how is that not a god?” And you’re told, like, “Oh, no, it’s a supernatural being, who goes wherever it wants and has crazy power and has been around forever, since before the creation of the universe. But it’s not a god.” What? That is more powerful than most gods in most literature. There are most religions that do not believe gods have been around that long. An angel is a god and whether it is a like, a memory of an ancient Canaanite minor god or it’s an aspect of the one big God, like, come on. And I think I’ve sort of come around to this like, there’s a lot of this in like Hinduism. And I would not at all profess to be like knowledgeable about Hinduism. I just know the idea is there that like, monotheist, polytheist, atheist, pantheist, whatever, you can fit all that in Hinduism. Because the idea of God is so huge that if someone wants to say, I can only understand this god as like a neighborhood god, a family god, a national god, a collection of gods, or one big god, all that’s fine, you know. And like, to me, if you look at the Bible, and you see, “I think, you know, in this part, God seems more feminine.” “In this part, God seems more masculine or in this part He’s cosmic” “In this part, He’s standing right in front of us.” “In this part animalist.” God’s compared to animals all the time in the Hebrew Bible. In this part is arguing with other gods. In this part, Satan is a prosecuting attorney in the book of Job. There’s all these aspects of personalities of God, and like, is it all the same being? I mean, I think that’s the overall consistent story. But I think the story is that there are so many different visions of it that if someone was to say, I mean, the idea of the Trinity is what Christians arrived at. And I mean, so many people say, how is that not polytheism? And like, you kind of have to contort your brain until you get to like, Okay, fine. That’s monotheist, I guess. But it’s really close.

Hammontree: Yeah, is it Whitman, “I contain multitudes,” so it’s just Whitman on steroids. Coming up after the break, Jason Kirk offers his recommendations for better understanding religion in the South.

Hammontree: I’m curious about your background. Obviously, you are an accomplished sportswriter. But before that, you know, was this a culture you were raised in? I mean, what was your upbringing like?

Kirk: So I was raised Southern Baptist. And at the time, basically, up until the last like five or 10 years, I would have said I was raised super conservative Southern Baptist. And politically that was true. But like, as far as how the church behaved, it was like we did whatever music we want. Like the joke about Baptist not dancing, like we were never once scolded for any of that. Like, you know, we had skate parks and mosh pits and, you know, freestyle rap battles. And whatever we wanted to do at church. Like it was this very weird willy nilly Southern Baptism where we did whatever we wanted, as long as we like, went down to the altar to atone for it the next Sunday, or whatever. And then sort of around the exit of high school, beginning of college, it was like, yeah, stuff’s falling apart in my head, just not lining up, you know. And it’s fascinating that it took so long for me to come back around to, like, there’s not one idea here that you have to buy all in on or you’re just completely out on all of it forever. Which a lot of people end up feeling that way. And I think it’s a shame. Because I think there are versions of it that we can reassemble for ourselves. And like, you know, it took that comparative religion class in college, that probably planted a seed, to use an evangelical term. There are other older mysterious versions of stories that are a lot like ours. And if they’re all kind of similar, well, hey, let’s deconstruct these things and see what we can rebuild. The weird lore and theology and all that stuff. Like, it’s very fun to talk about and think about. It’s sort of like, what I talk about and think about when I’m not covering college football, but like, it’s not what matters most, you know. But finding that like the stuff that meant most to me as a kid, that the social gospel is at the heart of theology, that has been fun. And also like, speaking of culture, and like Christian culture, yes, was raised very much on Veggietales and Christian music and just the whole Christian side-universe of pop culture, but, fortunately, and I think this is key, I didn’t adopt the political side of that. People talk about, like, there are cultural Catholics, people who are just raised Catholic and they don’t really do Catholic Stuff after that but they’re still Catholic. You know, and you can be Jewish but not an observant Jew. And I’ve seen it said that there’s not such a thing as, like, cultural Protestant and I would say there is absolutely such a thing as cultural Evangelical, whatever you want to call it.

Hammontree: I mean, definitely in the south for sure.

Kirk: Yeah. And I mean, like, cuz, for one reason, like politics is culture. And, like, if your voting in a way that lines up with the furthest right church on every issue. If all your political beliefs are exactly like theirs. If you’re scared of the people they’re scared of and all that. Well, you’re a cultural Southern Baptist, so to speak, right?

Hammontree: You know, I’ve kind of gone back and forth. It’s always sorts of like a “just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in,” situation. But like, there are aspects of this that it’s very hard to avoid. Most of my high school experience was colored by it. And I think, interestingly, I also went to a school with a large Jewish population. And so, it was influenced by kind of Christian culture, like people would wear the WWJD bracelets, and things like that. But it wasn’t dominated by it in the way that some other southern schools seem to be. You know, I’m still not entirely sure where I fall in terms of believing things. But I think because it’s so omnipresent in life, there’s always the sense that like, “oh, if I don’t believe there’s something wrong, and I should believe.” Because like, that’s the pressure, you know, whether that’s internally or externally.

Kirk: Yeah, that’s real. Like, I don’t know if I’ve thought much about that. But like, during that, like, 15 year period, where it was like, “I don’t really have a religion, I don’t have anything,” like, I still wanted to. I still felt like I was supposed to. Like you were saying like, that does not go away. It was kind of like that’s the thing you’re resisting. It sort of drives you further and further away. And like, I guess for me, I’ve just sort of found a way to say like, “I don’t really care about the pressure I’m gonna do my own thing.”

Hammontree: Has this project changed what you believe?

Kirk: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And part of that was just giving myself permission to find a version of the story that makes the most sense to me. So realizing I do not have to believe in the vision of God that was handed to me. That I can believe, a little bit like the Gnostics believe, that there is this ancient eternal, omnipotent, mysterious, completely beyond our understanding God. And then there’s also this God that’s closer to our world that, within the Bible, we see it agonizing, and sweating over choices and hoping and making mistakes and atoning for its mistakes. That we see this more personal vision of God. And I think for me, the idea that the Gnostics are close, but let’s go a step further and say those are the same thing. And giving myself permission to say, like, God can be both omnipotent and omniscient and perfect and still learning how people work. You know, for me, that has finally removed a lot of my hesitations and disagreements. I don’t know if that works for anybody else, but it works for me. And that’s fine. And like incorporating the story of Jesus as like, well, is this necessarily about sacrifice for sin? The Bible says so at times. The Bible says other stuff as well. And it’s certainly the most common view in Christianity. But what if, you know, what if sacrifice and sin, what if those are metaphors? What if we’re really talking about this is the omnipotent Eternal God and the impersonal God who is still kind of trying to understand humanity? What if this is simply the story of that God saying, like, “I need to understand death and suffering,” you know, and then that God goes back to being God with renewed understanding of us. And for me, that’s the story that makes the most sense. And like, again, that’s a huge heresy. It was shot down like 1600 years ago, and they said, you’re not supposed to say that. No, that’s bad. But like, that’s the story that makes the most sense to me. So like the whoever the guys were in the year 300 a.d .who said, “You can’t say that,” they’re not around, and I am so…

Hammontree: Has this last year and maybe Mandalorian Season Two, has it changed your impressions about Star Wars Episode IX.

Kirk: No, because like looking at Mondo and like, ah, this is really good and consistent and like it fits the vibe, like this world looks lived in and broken and people do dumb things, but they pay consequences for the dumb things they do. And like, you know, looking at that and the end of Clone Wars, the last four episodes of Clone Wars are the best Star Wars movie ever made, you know. And very little dialogue, just lots and lots of heartfelt storylines paying off and simple choices that make sense in the heat of the moment. But I think seeing the good stuff that’s still coming out make, Star Wars IX just look worse and worse in hindsight.

Hammontree: For listeners who are interested in not only understanding more about the Bible, as a text itself, but also the Bible’s influence on American culture, are there let’s say five books, movies, podcasts, other than Vacation Bible School, which everybody should subscribe to and rate and review wherever you get your podcasts, or albums that you would recommend to help people better understand this.

Kirk: Oh, man. So, one good starting point and it was very influential for a lot of modern theology, James Cone’s, “Black Theology & Black Power.” He wrote a lot of other stuff. He wrote “The Cross and The Lynching Tree.” This was hugely influential in terms of liberation theology, the Black church, saying, like “the Bible’s just as much ours as it is y’alls,” and a lot has sprung out of that. The “Global Bible Commentary,” it sort of gives you a view of America by showing you everything else. Each book of the Bible, they have a theologian from somewhere around the world. I’m just flipping through it Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Spain, Botswana, Indonesia. It shows you how the whole world reads the Bible. And sometimes we forget that America is not most of the world. Literally most of Christendom is outside of America. So like reading, this is an awesome way to sort of see America by seeing not-America, you know. And there’s a lot of books about the political side of it. A book, The Evangelicals,” and I think “American Prophets” is the name of another one. You take those two, and you get sort of the complete picture of the modern church in American political movements. American Prophets shows there has always been a religious left, it’s just good to remember sometimes that there are multiple ways of processing the Bible and incorporating the Bible into politics. I think in terms of just general Bible stuff, a few really good starting points, the basic academic one is the New Revised Standard Version with the Oxford annotations. It’s gonna give you just down the middle, scholarly notes on all this stuff without preaching you one way or the other. It was literally written by, you know, nerds at Oxford, not like pastors and stuff. That’s a really good starting point. Like every college Bible class uses it. So it’s pretty cheap. They’re all over the place. One, that I’ve really enjoyed “How to Read the Bible” by James Kugel. Whenever you go on like a Bible-subreddit, or you talk to someone who’s like done a little seminary or whatever, it’ll be on their list. It’s sort of a study of the studies. He doesn’t just give you just his interpretation, he sorts of sums up other scholars as well. So it’s like, it’s a really good like toe to dip into the larger world, without buying eight stacks of books like I have.

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