Here at the Winsome Conviction Project we engage differing and diverse perspectives, so we’re grateful to have Tom Jump, an atheist and philosopher who runs a popular YouTube channel, join today’s episode. Tom shares some of his story that influenced a shift away from Christianity and toward atheism. Tim, Rick and Tom also discuss the influence of online chats within today’s argument culture and the very real challenges of communicating across in-groups online. They round out the time on the dangers of hasty generalizations, and Tom provides some examples of hasty generalizations he has encountered with Christians when talking about God, human nature and morality.
Rick Langer: Hi, my name's Rick Langer and I'd like to welcome you to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. I'm a professor at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and I'm also a member of the Biblical Studies and Theology Department, and also co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project with my good friend, Tim Muehlhoff. Tim.
Tim Muehlhoff: Thanks Rick. I'm a communication professor at Biola university. And I teach a class on Persuasion, Rick. And this past summer, a man named Tom Jump out of nowhere, just kind of sent me an email saying, "Hey, I'd love to talk about atheism, theism, the existence of God, the ramifications of that, and would you like to come on my YouTube channel?"
So I said, "Yes, but let's actually do it during my class, my Christian Persuasion class." And Tom was gracious enough to say, "Yeah, let's do that." And then Tom actually stuck around afterwards to address my class, which I greatly appreciated. So Tom Jump is a YouTube, has a YouTube channel where he brings on Christian theologians, Christian philosophers.
And not just Christian philosophers, but people who like to think deeply about topics. Tom's been doing this for roughly five years. We had a very interesting exchange live during my class, and then had a wonderful conversation afterwards. So we thought, let's bring Tom onto our podcast so we can absolutely ambush him. No, Tom, absolutely kidding. But Tom, welcome to the Winston Conviction podcast.
Tom Jump: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate the invitation. It was great talking with you last time. I was kind of looking forward to the ambush thing. I get a lot of views from those, so.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, maybe, maybe not.
Tom Jump: [inaudible 00:01:40].
Tim Muehlhoff: We'll have to just kind of play this by ear. But Tom, you're brand new to our listeners. And Tom, just to set up a little bit, what this podcast is about is we are co-directors of something called the Winsome Conviction Project, where we want to, in a very civil way, engage diverse perspectives.
And I know that's your heartbeat as well, looking at the people that have been on your YouTube channel. So we wanted to first, use the first segment to kind of get your backstory a little bit of your journey. I know you grew up in a Christian home, or at least a religious home, and then you kind of moved away from that. Can you just give our listeners a quick backdrop of why this issue is important to you and a little bit of your journey?
Tom Jump: Well, I think those are two slightly different questions. So my journey away from Christianity was because I had a major depressive disorder for about two decades. And I was praying day and night. Having been brought up Christian, I went to Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, mass twice a week, ridiculous.
And so I was taught that there was this all loving being out there who cared about me more than I could possibly imagine, more than anything in the world. But having prayed morning and nights every day, read the Bible cover to cover, and asked for help to alleviate my depression and getting no help whatsoever, I stopped being able to believe there was such an all-loving being out there. I didn't identify as an atheist at this point.
This was sometime near the end of high school, 17, 18. And it wasn't until about four or five years later when I got into philosophy that I started to learn about the position of atheism and the arguments and the new atheist Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins did it. And started to really identify with the label of atheism. So my transition away from Christianity had more to do with unanswered prayers. And my transition to atheism had to do with the philosophical arguments.
Rick Langer: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And I appreciate that's actually helpful and probably an interesting and important distinction I imagine, at least for you experientially on all of that part. And as you look back at it, what are the things that seemed... I'm curious about the middle ground you just identified. You'd moved away from the Christian faith, and then four or five years later you hit some arguments with atheism that made you drawn towards atheism. What happened in between times? What were some of the things that you were kind of wrestling with in the midst of that? Tell us a bit about that part of your story.
Tom Jump: Well, my questions about God's existence kind of faded away in that point, because I was still battling depression and I was trying different things to overcome it. So exercise was a big one. I lost about 200 pounds. I was up to two, I was up to what, 340 and then got down to 160.
Tim Muehlhoff: Tom, wait a minute.
Tom Jump: I started doing...
Tim Muehlhoff: Hang on. You were what? How much did you weigh?
Tom Jump: 340 pounds.
Tim Muehlhoff: Because I'm looking at a picture of you right now. That is utterly amazing what you did.
Tom Jump: Yeah. Yeah. There's a picture of me on my passport. I looked like a gigantic potato. It's very entertaining.
Tim Muehlhoff: Wow. Hey, that's awesome.
Tom Jump: Unfortunately, it did not work to solve the depression at all.
Tim Muehlhoff: Ah.
Tom Jump: So that was one of the things.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, well.
Tom Jump: That was a downside. And so I got into research. I started of researching neurology, biology, evolution, origin of the universe stuff. That was one of the next, the later stages of my trying to cure depression. And that's where I got introduced to more of the philosophical arguments.
But over the course of that four or five years, I had tried a bunch of different things, going to school, computer science, programming, friends and family travel, all in an effort to try to cure my depression. And none of it had worked. And I eventually ended up trying philosophy and science and stuff as my next go-to experiment. And that's what led me to the atheist side of things.
Rick Langer: And how did that work out relative to the depression? Did you find that helpful or did that still operate on kind of a different track?
Tom Jump: Nope, completely useless. All of the things I listed completely useless.
Rick Langer: I mean, I'm not surprised. It seems like that's part of the thing with depression is that it kind of has its own track in life. So yeah, I was curious, but.
Tom Jump: Well, sort of. For me, I was diagnosed with high functioning autism and people with autism have a special interest and that special interest is the most important thing in the world to them, and it can have a profound emotional impact on their life.
And for me, finding out what my special interest was and achieving it was what cured my depression. So I have not had any depression for a little over a year now. And so it was more about figuring out what it took for me to cure my depression. And none of the things I tried were even in the right ballpark.
Rick Langer: Huh. So what was it? What was your special interest?
Tom Jump: Physical relationships with very attractive women.
Rick Langer: Okay. And that's cured and solved the problem?
Tom Jump: Yep. So far. As long as I have a consistent relationship, I seem to be good emotionally.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Tom, I resonate with this because I'm a migraine sufferer. I've been suffering from migraines for 20 years and I have prayed.
Tom Jump: And hot blondes also cure your thing?
Tim Muehlhoff: No, a hot redhead. By the way, you can actually look her up. Her name's Noreen Muehlhoff. And 32 years has been awesome. But for 20 years I've struggled with pretty bad migraines. And I've prayed the exact same prayer that you did, that God would simply take it away. And again, I believe everything that you said at the beginning that God is powerful, concerned and is certainly able miraculously take away my migraines.
Well, that simply hasn't happened. But it's manageable because of migraine medication. Also, exercise. If you're a migraine sufferer it is incredibly important to keep you balanced. So I guess, we came at different conclusions. I wrote a book, my most recent book is called, Eyes to See: Recognizing God's Common Grace in an Unsettled World.
And so I view common grace as my migraine medication. My talented neurologist, who by the way, isn't a Christian, as a way of God's good gifts, but you kind of... If I get this right is didn't credit him or God with the fact that exercise can help or that the fact that you can use the internet to do research and consult different experts. So you see how you and I kind of went two different directions?
I attributed that to the good gifts of God, though disappointed and in some ways still disappointed, he hasn't taken away my migraines miraculously. But you kind of went the other way of moving away from God because he didn't take away your depression. So what would your answer to prayer look like if God would've answered it? Would it just been a complete eradication of depression in your life?
Tom Jump: No, I prayed for things more simple than that. Anyone who I could feel loved from was kind of more or less what I was going for. Any kind of close human relationship was, pretty low bar I was asking. So any close relationship that made me feel loved was what I was going for. So I didn't actually know the word depression back in my early childhood. So I was just asking for.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right.
Tom Jump: The thing that I felt I needed, which was a loving relationship of some kind. And that's what it would've taken for me to feel like my prayers was answered, was to actually find that.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Rick Langer: Yeah. And those are things that, especially as a child, that sounds like a very reasonable expectation to put it simply. And I can understand the defeat and hurt when that reasonable expectation isn't met.
Tim Muehlhoff: Because you had a great exchange with one of my students who said that she struggles with depression to this day as a follower of Christ. But I thought that was an interesting moment between you two where you both just recognized, "Hey, we've been in the same camp when it comes to this struggle with depression." Hey, so let's move on just a little bit to, it's one thing to study philosophy.
It's another thing to say, "Hey, I'm going public. I'm going to start a YouTube channel and kind of do my math in front of everybody." And so what was the inclination towards taking this thing public and actually doing a YouTube channel where there could be the potential of other Christian thinkers or people who disagree with you, kind of disagreeing with you and making points in front of a live audience. What was the inclination in that direction?
Tom Jump: Laziness.
Tim Muehlhoff: How so?
Rick Langer: Okay, unpack that for us. It sounds like a promising opportunity, but.
Tom Jump: Yeah. So I was asking professors out to coffee and recording the conversations on my phone. And these recordings, an hour-long conversation on philosophy is fairly in depth. I couldn't just remember it on my own. I had to record it. And I didn't want to store all this on a two terabyte hard drive that cost at the time, $200, a waste of money. YouTube is free, I can just download YouTube.
Hey, just upload it here. We're done and I don't have to do anything. And instead of actually going into the settings and turning everything to unlist it. I was like, "I don't care. I'm just going to upload it there and keep it there because it's easy. I don't have to do any effort. Just incredibly simple." And people started to watch and then send me money and then send me a considerable amount of money. So I was like, "All right, I'll just do this now."
Rick Langer: So that's interesting. You backed into it, not with a... it was a side effect in effect of your personal interest about this question, your desire to kind of pursue it.
Tom Jump: Yep.
Tim Muehlhoff: But putting yourself out there. So we kind of relate being podcasters, but we're also, Rick and I have written books. And when you write books, you get reviewed and those reviews are not always, let's just say jump up and down, excited reviews.
But any hesitation of putting yourself out there where, I've listened to a ton of your debates, Tom, and there's been a handful where some of your guests have gone after you. I think in kind of inappropriate ways, but they've really tried to go after you in front of God, country and everybody. There wasn't any hesitation about doing this publicly in front of live audiences?
Tom Jump: No. One of the advantages of autism is that you aren't really as susceptible to what other people think of you. And so I never really cared what people insulted me or made fun of me, didn't bother me all that much. And so whether or not people agreed with me, never really interested me. And an additional benefit of that is hate comments boost the YouTube algorithm.
And so when I see a hate comment or people who are haters, I love them. I don't ban them. I promote their comments because I want them to comment more, especially when they send Super Chests to make fun of me. It's phenomenal. Thank you for the money. I appreciate it. So haters, I've always appreciated because it gives me a boost to my channel.
Rick Langer: Okay, Tom, you realize that's not making us feel better. I mean, about cosmos, about the algorithm and all that kind of stuff, but.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. May I remind you, welcome to the Winsome Conviction Project. But Tom, can I pick up on that a little bit? Because, so during our conversation, I purposely didn't have the chat feature on, I didn't ever see it. But my students were watching the chat feature.
Tom Jump: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: As the entire conversation was happening. Now I know this happened, well, it happened November 14th. We're not sure when this podcast will air. But I walked away, felt like you and I did pretty well relationally. I mean, I didn't walk away ever feeling like Tom was attacking or I'm jumping on Tom. I mean, didn't you kind of feel like your recollection of it walking away from that, I thought we did pretty well relationally.
Tom Jump: Yeah, absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: So then to see the, because then I went back because this is me. Right? It's like we have this horrible website Tom called Ratemyprofessor.com. And it's like, you should never go there. Well, of course I go there. Right? To see. And I like to just say to the audience, I have three hot tamales. I don't know what that means, but I have three hot tamales, which is a good thing apparently.
Tom Jump: Out of how many, a thousand?
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, now Tom, why bring that up? I don't know. I'm going to Google it right now. Hang on. No. So...
Tom Jump: I think it's five, actually. I've been on there. It's five.
Tim Muehlhoff: Okay. Well, that was crushing. So Tom, because we do take very seriously the Winsome Conviction project, and we do feel like America has been brought into what Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist calls the Argument Culture, and that this argument culture is really threatening in some ways the fabric of our country.
98% of Americans in a Pew Research Study said that incivility is a threat to this nation. So I was discouraged about the chats because I felt like they were pretty attacking inflammatory. So that was a weird moment for me to, just to be really honest, is one, I think I had a great, like this conversation I think is awesome.
But then to go to the chat, that was troubling to me and discouraging in thinking, "I don't know." It made for the first time me question coming on your YouTube channel, this is me being just honest because that chat, if this is what it's fostering, I see that as a negative, not a positive. So it's interesting to hear you kind of take a different, more functional perspective of the chat box.
Tom Jump: Well, I think it serves a number of valuable purposes. So one is a way to blow off steam and to be with a group of people who have suffered in the same way you have. So a lot of people in the atheist community left because of trauma that they suffered in churches and at religious communities. And they can identify that trauma with certain statements that are very common among religious apologists.
And so they attribute the same malice of what they suffered to anybody who utters the similar statements, even if the person doesn't have that malice. And so I think a lot of them can relate and connect in a community of people who have similar experiences through this medium and also blow off steam. It's very cathartic to do these kinds of things.
There was actually a study on cursing, where if you stubbed your toe and you started to curse after, it would literally lower your pain threshold both physically and emotionally. And so you'd feel less pain. And the more virulent the curse, the more pain it would reduce.
And so there's a level of emotional release that happens in these kinds of communities in addition to an amount of connecting with similar people who have similar experiences. That I think is actually a very good positive thing that comes about, even though the expression of which may be very perceived in a very negative way.
Tim Muehlhoff: So can I push back on that just a little bit.
Tom Jump: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: Because I would agree with you on the one hand. I don't doubt for the in-group that is a stress releaser and could even be a unifying factor for the in-group. But that's kind of like saying, okay, so Republicans get to rip Democrats because they're angry at what Democrats are doing to this country.
So when Republicans get together, they just kind of blow off steam, and the more they curse, the better they feel. Well, if Democrats do the exact same thing, then the overall communication climate of our country greatly suffers.
So I would say I have no doubt that lowers the temperature of your in-group. And by the way, my in-group could be susceptible to this as well. But the difference between us, Tom, might be, so if Biola students were doing in the chat what your group was doing, we would be reeling in these Biola students.
We'd be saying, "Hey, hey, this is not speaking truth and love," and it's the love part that greatly concerns us at the Winsome Conviction Project. So I don't doubt that it lowers the steam and the cursing helps the toe, but it also is alienating you from the group that may have stepped on the toe and now you've got two groups who are going after each other and they're feeling better, but the communication climate suffers.
Tom Jump: I'm not sure exactly because I see them as... I don't see one as a bad thing. I see them both as good things. And so they're kind of like salt and pepper. If you get rid of one, you're lowering the level of diversity of the kinds of conversations you can have. So for example, there's definitely clearly in-groups and out-groups that are meant to be cathartic, like Fox News and CNBC, that's all they are.
They're just playing to their base to make them feel good and aren't really trying to be an impartial analysis of data. But the ones that are attempting to be impartial analysis of data do very poorly in the polls. They don't get a lot of attention. Very few people watch them because there are these bubbles that people get into. They go into their in-group and they don't usually get exposed to contrary data because they don't enjoy it, they don't want to, they're not interested in hearing that.
And it takes a very specific type of person to be interested in going into the other person's in-group and talking about those topics or trying to find a neutral ground where you can talk about them without insulting people. And I think that our conversation was an example of a space where we could do that, but that space was then surrounded by, of course, the in-groups and out-groups, sort like a Venn diagram.
Where you get the two bubbles and there's a little space in the middle, it's like red and then one that's blue and purple or whatever. I think that YouTube conversations are kind of like doing that. And I don't think isolating one of the groups and saying, "You're not allowed to be in that bubble and make fun of the other group" would necessarily be a benefit to the conversation.
I think that it's good to have all of the spaces available for any group to be a part of. So as I mentioned, I have haters. There are groups of Christian haters who come into the chat and are unified against us and start debating with the atheists in my chat. And so I like to have all three opportunities or all three groups be able to participate at the same time, rather than trying to isolate one and say it's bad or shouldn't be taken, shouldn't be a part of the conversation.
Rick Langer: Let me pick up on one thing you said right at the beginning of this little exchange that I thought was actually really insightful, and I appreciate you pointing this one out. You mentioned the idea that you may have a good number of people in your kind of atheist, I don't want to call it clientele, but whatever, group, that have been really hurt by experience they've had at church or whatever.
And so when they hear someone, how did you put it, quoting one of the phrases or things like that, that they associate with that hurt, you get a whole bunch of puss that comes out, so to speak, in terms of the process. And as you mentioned, kind of a cathartic cleansing sort of a thing. And as you were saying that, I thought, "That is a good insight" because I think that's kind of a human phenomenon where you hear these things and they become triggers for your whole set of experiences.
And a lot of times just in normal exchanges about just anything, somebody will say something and you read it like, "That was exactly what my dad used to say," and you give them the full blown dad reaction. And they're sitting there going, "I have no idea why this person just blew up at me." And it's got a better reason behind it than you might think.
It isn't necessarily an objective rational reason as much as it is an experiential, emotional, personal reason. But the point is, it isn't a person just being an angry lunatic, it's a person being hurt. And you having triggered a prior hurt by exactly saying the thing that had been in the context that hurt them earlier. Have I heard you right on that? Is that?
Tom Jump: Yes.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Tom Jump: Those, they're actually very two very prescient examples of that in today's society. One would be saying trans women are not women is considered instantly transphobic by many people on the left, which it shouldn't be because there are legitimate arguments of that.
Some people culturally use the word woman to be a biological term rather than a psychological gender association, that's perfectly rational. And so it isn't inherently transphobic to say trans women aren't women. Whereas on the left, anybody who says that will be labeled a transphobic instantly. Same thing with 13/50.
It's considered a racist dog whistle to bring up those stats in conjunction because African Americans are 13% of the population but commit 50% of the murders. And so anybody who brings up those statistics is instantly considered racist. But when you Google those statistics, they are correct. It is FBI crime data. It is the true stats.
And so simply labeling anyone who brings up those terms as racist is a hasty generalization fallacy because there are legitimate criticisms that are non-racist, non-sexist, transphobic, whatever derogatory term you want to use. And it would be better to not immediately label anybody who uses those terms and demonize them simply because some people who use those terms are bad.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah. Well said. Hey, one quick advice for us. We're going to wrap up our first segment. We're going to have a whole nother segment with T jump. Tom, I need to get a handle like that. Why don't I have a... I could be T Jump.
Rick Langer: How about.
Tim Muehlhoff: No, I don't know. Hey, Tom, what's your advice to us as you speak to the Christian community, not to fall prey to what you just said, what would be some common things that we do that you think triggers your community pretty quickly? I think that'd be great for us to hear.
Tom Jump: Oh my God, how long do we have?
Rick Langer: Well, that's why we left this.
Tim Muehlhoff: Well, that's...
Rick Langer: To the very end of the podcast.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's discouraging. You have 30 seconds, that's how open we are to your input. No, take a few minutes. I'd love to hear this.
Tom Jump: Well, so the reason I actually started to look into these more social issues like the 13/50 and trans women are not women, is because I saw the same kind of bias there as I do in many of the arguments that Christians use. So one of the things is evolution. For example, many Christians say, "Anybody who advocates for evolution is doing so because of work of the devil."
Or, "You left Christianity because you just want a sin." Or, "Jesus is really the solution to all of your problems." These kinds of very general statements made by Christians are suffering from the same kind of hasty generalization that the people on the left are using when they identify someone who says a statement they disagree with and then associate it with the bad guys. Of course, the bad guys in Christianity is Satan. And from the left perspective, anybody who's a Nazi is essentially the Satan of the left more or less.
Tim Muehlhoff: Right.
Tom Jump: And so I see the same kinds of generalizations, which is a part of human nature being applied for any kind of ideology that you think is holier than thou. It's a little sanctimonious in a way where you think you have the absolute authority on what is right and moral. And then if anybody goes against that, they're evil and you have to stop considering what they're saying.
And I believe I heard in one of your talks on YouTube that you shouldn't do that. You shouldn't just immediately demonize someone. You should consider what they're saying and rationally analyze it to see if there's anything good there. And I totally agree with that and think that is the correct way. To analyze what the person is saying, independent of who they are or what they are, and assess the statement in and of itself to find out if it's true, regardless of who says it.
Rick Langer: Cool. Maybe you could do marketing for us.
Tom Jump: Absolutely. I charge $500 an hour.
Rick Langer: Oh, bummer.
Tim Muehlhoff: Okay. Hey Tom, we're going to do another segment because you have some very interesting ideas that we want to explore about morality particularly, and we thought it'd be really fun to unpack some of those and have a conversation. So thank you for agreeing to come onto our second segment. Hey, what can our listeners, how can they find out more material about you and access your YouTube channel? What's the best way to do that?
Tom Jump: My YouTube is youtube.com/tjump. That's where I do most of my debates and things. Check me out there. It's pretty easy to find. Just Google T Jump, T J-U-M-P. It is not Trump, even though it's spelled very similarly. I got lot of [inaudible 00:26:35] on Google on that one.
Rick Langer: I can only imagine. Yeah.
Tom Jump: Oof. But yeah, youtube.com/tjump. That's the main place. Check me out, please send me money. Thank you.
Rick Langer: All right. Well, thanks for joining us for this episode of the Winsome Conviction Podcast. And you can, we'd love to have you join us regularly. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play or wherever it is that you normally get your podcast. And you can also check us out at thewinsomeconviction.com website for more resources and other articles that help us look at the issue of how we carry forward our public conversations. Thanks so much for joining us.