David Smalley (@davidcsmalley) is an actor, comedian, and host of the Dogma Debate podcast, in which he — as an atheist — regularly discusses religion and politics with preachers, pastors, comedians, and people who hold different world views.

What We Discuss with David Smalley:

  • How David Smalley went from spiritual believer to secular atheist.
  • Why regularly challenging your own beliefs helps inoculate you against manipulation by others.
  • The tactics car dealers and clergy use to corral people into compliance.
  • What happens when atheists cling to faulty beliefs with the same fervor once reserved for their disavowed religions.
  • How to debate in a way that might actually change someone’s mind rather than angering them to the point of doubling down on their initial position.
  • And much more…

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If you’re honest with yourself, you probably hold beliefs that would wither under the light of reasonable scrutiny. Maybe they were instilled in you as an impressionable child and never since questioned. Perhaps you picked up some casual indoctrination along the way that you haven’t been able to — or willing to — shake. Don’t feel bad — we all hold such beliefs. And while these beliefs are often religious or political in nature, they can present themselves in countless forms — and we should always be ready to challenge these beliefs so we can defend them if they truly serve us or shed them if they don’t.

On this episode we talk to Dogma Debate host David Smalley, an actor and comedian who’s no stranger to challenging his own beliefs as well as the beliefs of others. As someone who’s made the journey from true believer to atheist, David is well-versed in seeing both sides of an argument and engaging in civil discourse with people who hold opposing points of view — something the world may need now more than ever. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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By labeling Dogma Debate host David Smalley as an atheist, you might think you already know how a conversation with him will play out before it’s even begun. The same could be said if he were labeled as a Christian. The truth is: David’s been both.

“I started in podcasting because I was listening to radio; I was listening to Christian podcasts,” says David. “I would call in to Christian shows and ask them questions, because I was still going on my journey. I started as a believer and I was sitting down with theology professors, pastors, preachers, lay Christians who were in congregations of different churches.

“I would go, ‘Hey, is Jesus the son of God, or is he the same as God?’ And the guy would give me an answer and show me scripture and prove it. And then I would switch over and talk to another friend of mine who went to a different church and he’d be like, ‘No, no, no. It’s definitely this, instead.’ And he would show me scriptures to prove it. And I was like, ‘You guys can prove anything you want with this book.’

David didn’t set out to be contrarian. In truth, he really wanted to better understand his own position so he could argue in its defense. But as his arsenal of information grew, the ground beneath it started to give way thanks to an all-too-common experience he’d have when putting Christian podcasters on the spot.

“I would ask them a question and they wouldn’t really be able to answer me,” David says. “And then they would just hang up on me and they would edit it out; I would listen to the final podcast and my question wouldn’t even be in there. And I was like, ‘Wait a minute! They’re trying to shift this narrative like they weren’t challenged with that.’

“After this happened several times, I started recording my conversations with them [so I could] comment on their blog and be like, ‘Here’s the clip of what you cut out of the show’ so nine people could see it and we could get into a debate online.”

Dogma Debate began as a forum David envisioned as a safe place for atheists and believers to discuss their differences like adults — a refreshing alternative to name-calling flame wars so prevalent across the Internet. At the same time, David resisted the urge to censor discussions that did veer into this territory, opting instead to guide it back to civility.

“When someone would [leave] a nasty comment, I wouldn’t delete it. I would leave it there, but I, as the moderator, would comment and go, ‘Do you think this is the best way to get your point across?’ And I was employing the Socratic Method to other atheists going, ‘If you’re just going to be an ass, what do you think is going to open the door for them to want to listen to you?’ And it became a teachable moment.”

As it gained steam, Dogma Debate evolved from its blog and forum format into the podcast we know today. Now running seven years strong, it’s an excellent example of how people on opposite ends of policy and belief can respectfully challenge each other from a place of curiosity — a valuable reminder to all of us that healthy debate is possible when we apply critical thinking to any topic at hand without letting our emotional associations with that topic get the better of us. When we can question our own beliefs and shelve the ones that wither under scrutiny, we also shield ourselves from being taken advantage of by others with agendas that conflict with our well-being.

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about the innocent spiritual question David asked as a child that earned him a mouthful of soap, the journey that turned David from a true believer into a secular atheist, the similar tactics car dealers and clergy use to corral people into compliance, what happens when atheists cling to faulty beliefs with the same fervor once reserved for their disavowed religions, how to debate in a way that might actually change someone’s mind versus angering them to double down on their initial position, and much more.


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