Skip to main content

We’re back for our second season of Faith for Normal People! Comedian Pete Holmes joins Pete and Jared to contemplate oneness with God, what it means to identify as a Christian, the parable of the prodigal son, and how awareness can grow our sense of connection with God. Join them as they explore the following questions:

  • Why does Pete talk about God in his comedy? What purpose does that fulfill?
  • How does Pete think about reality as “one thing” and how does that impact his view of spirituality?
  • How can somebody believe in Christ but not identify as a Christian?
  • What do we learn about oneness with God from the story of the prodigal son? 
  • Do we even like God’s love?
  • In what ways does exclusivity push against grace?
  • How does a grace-filled understanding of God’s love interact with a theology of justice?
  • What does awareness have to do with oneness with God?


Pithy, shareable, sometimes-less-than-280-character statements from the episode you can share.

  • When we are with God, I feel like we are spacious. We feel spacious, we feel liberated, we feel converted, we feel unburdened. Burden light, yoke easy. — @peteholmes @theb4np
  • To me, all of Christ and all of Christianity, all of the gospel is in Jesus’s closer [story], which is the [parable of the] prodigal son. — @peteholmes @theb4np
  • God’s love is so big and irrational that it’s actually offensive to us. And we actually have to get honest—we don’t even really like it. We would prefer winners and losers and champions and scoundrels. — @peteholmes @theb4np
  • Water can’t help but get you wet. And God can’t help but love you. And that to me is the gospel. — @peteholmes @theb4np
  • We want a God that hates what we hate, loves what we love. The God that I believe in, the Christ that I believe in, is like the sun. It shines. It shines on the good and the bad. — @peteholmes @theb4np
  • I think that’s part of the work as well is [admitting] I want a scary God. I’m resisting love. I’m actually afraid of love. Love is actually offensive to me. — @peteholmes @theb4np
  • There’s nothing you can do to increase or decrease the infinite love of God, but there are things you can do to increase or decrease your awareness of that love. — @peteholmes @theb4np
  • I spend most of my time trying to just remember that I’m already home. — @peteholmes @theb4np

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Jared Byas: You’re listening to Faith for Normal People, the only other God ordained podcast on the internet. 

Pete Enns: I’m Pete Enns. 

Jared Byas: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Intro music plays]

Today on the first episode of season two of Faith for Normal People, we thought we might you know, let you back in easy, and we’re going to talk about God. 

Pete Enns: Yeah, just an easy topic, right? 

Jared Byas: That’s right, with Pete Holmes. 

Pete Enns: With Pete Holmes. Now, Pete, as you probably know, is creator and the star of HBO’s Crashing, and has several stand up specials, most recently I’m Not For Everyone on Netflix. He’s the host of You Made It Weird podcast and he’s also the author of Comedy Sex God. 

Jared Byas: I mean, I think for most of America, they would probably have heard him by, he was a guest on a podcast a couple of years ago called The Bible for Normal People. 

Pete Enns: Yes, well that’s obvious.

Jared Byas: I think that’s probably what people.

Pete Enns: That was his break. 

Jared Byas: Yeah, that’s exactly, the big break. So we’re really excited to have him back on the podcast and can’t wait to get into the episode. But don’t forget to stay tuned at the end for quiet time, where we’ll reflect on the conversation and our own faith experiences. 

[Music plays]

Pete Enns: All right, folks, hope you enjoy our chat with Pete Holmes.

Pete Holmes: [Teaser clip of Pete speaking plays over music] Jesus recognized his essential nature. Like, uh, Meister Eckhart says, “The eye that I behold God is the same eye that beholds me.” So Jesus recognizes this. That cannot be exclusive to Jesus. If God is this one, and you are a child of God and you can recognize your union, you can remember yourself as that oneness. How could that be exclusive?”

[Ad break]

Pete Enns: Pete Holmes, welcome back to the only God Ordained podcast on the internet. 

Pete Holmes: [Laughing] Is that true?

Pete Enns: Did you know that? Had you forgotten? [Pete Holmes laughs] Yeah. In all sincerity, you know, you’re a very interesting person for us to talk to. We had a great time talking to you last time. You have a decidedly Christian background, which I think most people listening probably know something about that.

And you’re in your own spiritual journey, which I think doesn’t really end, you know, that’s just at least my opinion. It keeps on going. However you define it. 

Pete Holmes: Yeah.

Pete Enns: And I want to mix into something that I mean very sincerely, and I think of people like George Carlin or Richard Pryor or other comics that I really like, I think comics have a prophetic role they can play. In, you know, in your last Netflix special, you do some of that talking about religion and looking at it from a different angle. And we appreciate that. So we want to sort of continue that conversation talking about—just God and all that kind of stuff and Jesus, right? And how that fits in.

Jared Byas: Yeah. So if we can, last time you were on the podcast, you said a couple of interesting things. And one of them is you talked about a little bit of the shift that you went through and how you think about Christianity. And you talked about this one thing that’s undulating that we call reality, calling it this, this one thing. Can you unpack a little bit more of how you think of reality as like this one thing and how that impacts your faith or your spirituality?

Pete Holmes: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, I want to say one thing before that generous question, Jared, is that like, I don’t wince at comedians or artists of any kind being called, having a prophetical role or anything like that, because I’m not surprised by it. And as you pointed out, it’s not exclusive to me if I am part of that, which I, you know, I think I am and, and the reason for that is I just, I have a big heart for clergy and the burden of being clergy. Like it’s hard to be a pastor. And I know a lot of pastors and I’m close to a lot of pastors and you’re charged with, you know, it kind of becomes your spiritual curiosity and your love of God and your love of truth kind of gets turned into sometimes being a mascot for a corporation, for a religion, for a belief system, and for a tribe. 

And when you look at the Bible, and when you look at just anybody’s faith journey, you know that what is so exciting about it is how strange it is, and how complicated it is, and how sometimes the floor drops out on you, and sometimes you go through a huge phase where you’re this, and then you go through a huge phase where you’re that.

And one of the benefits, one of the great joys of being a comedian, is that I’m allowed to do whatever I want! I can do whatever I want, I can think whatever I want, I can say whatever I want, and I am spacious, and I am free, and even more than just free, I have a license, I’m expected to be iconoclastic, and to tease, and to poke, and go beyond, and all that stuff, and I’m like—

Pete Enns: And you get paid for it! And I’m not trying to be funny here, because people lose, they can’t do what they want, because they lose money, and, but you get money.

Pete Holmes: No, the more I do that, the more I’m rewarded in every imaginable way. You know, I have a joke about that on stage. I go, “I’m at work right now. Isn’t that crazy?” And then I’ll just say something outrageous. And then I go, “I just paid my Spotify bill because it took 30 seconds.” And I was like, that’s, that’s insane. And what a privilege and what a joy. But really spiritually, to jump ahead a little bit, God is, when we are with God, I feel like we are spacious. I’ll, I’ll say that. That’s kind of a generalization, but like we feel spacious, we feel liberated, we feel converted, we feel unburdened, burden light yoke easy, that sort of thing.

And what’s strange is when we get into spirituality as our profession, it kind of comes with some handcuffs sometimes. And rightly so. Nobody really wants a pastor that comes up and says, you know, I woke up this morning and I feel like it’s all a great big nothing. But a comedian can say that, and that is one of the great joys of my life. And in that spaciousness, and in that freedom that I’ve been given, there’s a lot of great spiritual exploration to be done. And then I find it very surprising that more artists, and specifically more comedians, don’t take advantage of that. I think it’s strange that I’m in a pretty grotesque minority that want to talk about that stuff.

Jared Byas: You mentioned we wouldn’t necessarily want to have a pastor who gets up and says, I don’t know, maybe this is all a great big nothing. But I think there’s probably a lot of people who are going to ask the question, well, why not? How do we have a little bit more of this spaciousness within these, um, so that the pastors aren’t seen as just mascots for a particular doctrinal statement or denomination?

Pete Holmes: I agree. And I, I think the answer is there. I think that’s the void that comedians sometimes are filling. I certainly think that’s what podcasts are filling, meaning the modern day pastor might very well be a spiritual engaged theologian person who then has a platform that’s a little bit more accommodating to all the complexities of what it means to be human.

But once you’re in a building that is designed to be reverent and you know there’s all this wonderful liturgy to it, it’s a little bit harder for that guy. It’s not impossible, you know, but it’s a little bit harder, but, but nature finds a way. And I feel no shortage of teachers that are able to be free and talk about whatever they might need to talk about, but it’s just not, I don’t want to say church is irrelevant, but for me, it’s become less relevant.

Pete Enns: Well, I was thinking that you use, you know, mascots, you know, people on a spiritual journey, they leave curiosity, become mascots or part of a system. They sort of have to conform. The other side of that, at least from my experience, is the ego of that person that needs the affirmation—that needs to have something other than that curiosity to make a name for themselves.

That sounds awfully harsh and judgmental. I don’t mean it that way, but I think, you know, when you’re talking about God in front of people and they have to listen to you. 

Pete Holmes: Oh my God. 

Pete Enns: And you’re right because your church says that you’re right. I mean, we know this, this drives the ego and there are literally thousands of examples of that all over social media and just the, you know, some of the so-called mega churches and that sort of thing. So I don’t know. 

Pete Holmes: Yeah. Forget it. No, that’s the other benefit that I have is it’s clean, meaning I do want you to laugh. I do want you to clap and I do want to get paid. I don’t have to be like,, “it’s all, it’s all for God. It’s all for, it’s all for God.” You know, I don’t have to do that. And that, that’s nice.

And in a perfect world I would want that pastor to be able to say like, “this is a huge ego trip for me. I love that you guys are hanging on my every word. I love that you look to me to be your guide and your healer. And I also need to check myself.” And that can be, I know for me, I try to do stand up almost as little as possible because it can be a little bit of a—I’ve never done cocaine, but like a cocaine energy. It’s this overwhelming flooding me, me, me, me, me. And then meanwhile, my spirituality is like basically hinged on “I’m nobody special.” There is no such, it’s all just kind of like a play and it’s okay to do it, but like ultimately, it’s not really what’s that important. I mean, you gotta have both. 

Pete Enns: And I think a lot of people would like it if their pastors said that kind of stuff you said before. I mean, I’ve, I’ve come across many people who say, I just want it to be real and authentic and for pastors to show their weakness. But of course, in some systems you can’t do that.

Pete Holmes: Well, I grew up in a church like that. And one of the most heartbreaking moments of my early Christian career was watching a pastor that I believed to be way more modern or I don’t know, progressive I guess you would say. Inclusive you might say—give a sermon that I was like, Oh, he’s, he’s, uh, what is it, cow tailing, cow tail, whatever—

Jared Byas: Kowtowing? 

Pete Enns: Mhmm. 

Pete Holmes: Kowtowing the elders. There’s a bunch of 75 year old white men that sign this guy’s checks and I could feel them in the sermon and I was like, this sucks! Meaning the reason why that seems so evident to me was he was doing his very best to take a theology of inclusion and love, and we’re all God’s children, and then like kind of somehow working in an anti-gay agenda on top of that, but not overtly saying it, it almost would have been like cleaner if he just went full “It’s an abomination and it’s unnatural and it’s unholy and it’s weird and it’s gross and it’s strange.” I would just like, that would have been a little bit more honest than what we got. It was sort of like ambiguous, like, I have to say this and I’m saying that. And I was like, man, this stinks. [Laughing] [Ad break]

Jared Byas: We’re talking about this, you know, when we are with God, we are spacious and you’re talking about this expansive faith and then inclusion and love. And then you mentioned something before about believing in Christ, but not being a Christian. And it seems to me that those are tied together as we talk about these systems of belief and how they can lead us away from the spaciousness and the expansiveness to something cramped and less inclusive. It seems tied to me. Can you talk more about how you believe in Christ, but you’re not a Christian? Because I think that’s a very intriguing concept for a lot of folks.

Pete Holmes: I really appreciate that, Jared. And we spoke a little off mic about how this is one of my favorite things to talk about.

And I do want to get to reality’s oneness. That’s just a little, it’s a little tricky to maybe start there. So this is, this is great. Uh, I’m just saying thank you. I’ll go even further. I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I believe he, I believe in Christ. I love Christ. If I, I can cry thinking about Christ and, and I can’t, uh, and don’t call myself a Christian because when we say Christian, we mean all these different things, but usually—boy, I really want to say this as quickly as I can because I want to hear what you guys, what your response is. I’m curious. But for me, the first problem is, is we get into the idea that it’s exclusive. That Jesus realized his oneness, “I and the Father are one,” and that’s exclusive to him. When I’m like, if there is one reality, if there’s one truth, if there’s one God, going so far—not…I love non duality—even goes so far as to say, it’s just not two.

We can’t even call it one, because if there’s one, that implies an observer that’s seeing it. But if God is this not-twoness, [chuckles]—it’s really hard to talk about—and Jesus recognized his essential nature, that the awareness looking out his eyes, that like Meister Eckhart says, “the eye that I behold God is the same eye that beholds me.”

So Jesus recognizes this. How could that be exclusive? I don’t understand what you’re talking about. If God is this one, and you are a child of God, and you can recognize your union, you can recognize, you can remember, remember yourself, as you can’t even say a part of that one…as that oneness, that in my theological understanding cannot be exclusive to Jesus, as I was raised. And I find that this is very tribal and it’s very pleasing to the ego, it’s to say Jesus did that and he’s the only one that can do that and Buddha didn’t do it and this one didn’t do it. But forget all these historical figures. Who cares if any of them did it!

You have to do it. You have to re, uh, be renewed, the renewal of your mind, be transformed by the renewal of your mind. You have to do that. I understand that if having an extreme devotion towards Jesus, that’s sort of the bhakti path, the heart path, if that devotion converts you, that’s great. I get hung up on, if Jesus did it and he’s the only one that did it, you have to believe he did it. And then there’s all these millions and billions of people that didn’t do that and they’re all screwed. That’s just, I’m out. I’m out there. It’s the exclusion thing. 

It’s also the atonement. Atonement theory or atonement theology is just really very, very hard for me to wrap my mind around it. If Richard Rohr was here, he’d tell us about 1054 and the, I believe it was Constantinople and when atonement theory like got voted in as the thing, but I don’t go that way. I go this way. To me, all of Christ and all of Christianity, all of the gospel is in Jesus’s closer, which is the prodigal son. And I tried this on stage one time. I told the story of the prodigal son. And I go, if you, “You’ll notice that there’s no Jesus character in the prodigal son. Historians agree that the most authentic teaching of Jesus like, not added by a scribe, not mucked with in any way, is the prodigal son. This is the cream of the crop. This is the big story. And in that story, there’s no Jesus as we know him character, other than he is the son.” 

And that’s, that’s hard for people to understand because the story starts where obviously we’re not in a kingdom. It’s often told as a king, which is fine. It’s a kingdom. Guy asks for his inheritance, he gets, he squanders it, he leaves, he leaves the kingdom, he leaves perfect oneness, leaves union with his father, which by the way, we all did, to enter into this, to have this play, this dance, and then we squander it, that’s our life, sex, work, and alcohol, and working with the pigs. Which as a Jewish person is basically saying, that’s the lowest of the low, he’s filthy, he’s naked, he’s afraid, he’s broke, he thinks he’s gonna die. 

This is the part I tried on stage, because I was like, “and you all know the story from here, Jesus comes along, finds the guy with the pigs, and says, ‘Look, I’ll walk you back to your father, and I know your father, and he’s gonna need someone to be tortured and murdered for what you did. For this nonsense that you did.’ Because we all know he’s an unreasonable tyrant. He’s a Genghis Khan style tyrant, and someone’s gonna have to bleed. Heads must roll. But I’ll go with you, and we’ll go in there together, and we’ll plead, I’ll plead your case to this man, to this maniac. And I’ll say, I know you want to murder your son, but instead murder me. And then he does, he murders Jesus, and then the son gets to come home.”

And of course, if you’re a Christian, you know that’s, that’s funny, that’s ridiculous. But that’s what so many of us think needs to happen, but if you look at the story, he just remembers he’s his father’s son. That’s all that happens. He thinks he’s filth, and then he remembers, wait, my father is a king. My father, I’m his son. I’ll go home and he’ll make me a servant. Maybe he’ll have pity on me, and he’ll, and he’ll let me have a servant’s quarters. And of course he goes back, throws a party, fattened calf, sacred robe, here’s a ring, here’s new sandals, you’re in. And the father says, you were always with me, and everything I have is yours. 

That sounds like God to me, and that is not the God we want. We want a God that hates what we hate, loves what we love. This God, the God that I believe in, the Christ that I believe in, is like the sun. It shines. Or as Jesus said, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Remember, we’re in a tepid area. Rain is a good thing. We want the rain. So it shines on the good and the bad. We don’t even like it. It’s irrational. It’s grotesque. 

It’s also evident in the story of the three men that get hired by the wealthy landowner to work in the fields, and they all work different hours. One of them works eight hours, one of them works four hours, one of them works two hours, and they all get paid the same.

God’s love is so big and irrational that it’s actually offensive to us. And we actually have to get honest and go like, we don’t even really like it. We would prefer winners and losers and champions and scoundrels, but it’s not, it’s, it’s, it’s, it just, water can’t help, but get you wet. And God can’t help but love you, and that to me is the gospel, but when you say I’m a Christian, you mean I’ve been washed in the blood, and you’re in trouble, but I’m okay, and my tribe is okay, and my people are okay, and I’m like, uh, uh, that’s why I’m not a Christian. I’m a prodigal son Christian. I’m a, “all you have to do is remember.” That’s the gospel to me. 

Pete Enns: And, and the elder brother, you know, the elder, I mean, that’s my favorite parable. I think it’s most people’s favorite parable. 

Pete Holmes: It’s the closer! 

Pete Enns: And I love it because in my understanding, I mean, this just augments what you’re saying, Pete, but when the lost son, you know, the, who wasted his inheritance, he comes back—I don’t think he’s terribly repentant at all. I think he’s just like, I’m hungry. 

Pete Holmes: There’s no apology in it. I know. 

Pete Enns: I’m going to, I’m going to have this great speech and you know, one of my favorite lines in all the Gospels is “And when he was still far off, his father saw him and came running to him.” 

Pete Holmes: That’s so good.

Pete Enns: Right? And he got his half-assed speech out, like part of it, and the father said, I don’t really care about that. Let’s just go have a party. You know, I don’t want to hear the, it’s just good that you’re here. And, you know, who do these figures represent in this parable? I mean, people argue about that, but I, I do think that the father is representing God.

And I think the prodigal son is representing all of us. And I know, I mean, Jared, we have a background at Westminster Seminary, but there was a person there, he used to preach on this a lot, um, Ed Clowney. But he said, you know, Jesus is the true elder brother who doesn’t hold it against him, who also wants to come in. He would have been with the father, you know, having the party and stuff like that.

But instead we have this vision of a different kind of religiosity, where it’s like you said, we just want the lines drawn clearly, and he’s done wrong, and he’s out, and why are you doing this, and I’m so faithful, and you start having this bickering, because we can’t handle the grace. We can’t handle the goodness and the mercy.

Pete Holmes: That’s what I’m trying to, exactly. It’s an unbearable transrational level of love and yes and understanding. And when you really start to unpack it, I would add to the story, the father doesn’t even know what the son was doing. The son left perfect oneness, the home, the union with his father, and had this adventure. The son comes back and starts saying, I did all these things. It’s almost like, that was a dream. You were always with me and everything I have is yours. I think that’s what’s going on here. Meaning, I don’t think God forgives you. I think God, God’s mercy is so intense, it doesn’t even acknowledge that you ever separated from him. It was a dance, it was a play, it was an experiment. It was a big what if. What if perfect oneness could split? What if perfect oneness could separate and go off and have adventures with pigs and swine, or whatever it is. There’s not a lot of details of what the son does to like, but it’s our lives.

And we’re over here beating ourselves up, going, I did this, I did that. But it’s sort of good news, bad news. God’s mercy is so great, I would say, because perfect oneness, infinity can’t know the finite. So this is where it gets a little bit cold and a little bit tricky. It doesn’t know, it doesn’t know! How can, how can perfect oneness really know separation? I would say it can’t. It’s just, it just is love. And when you return to it, the idea that it is “over there”, you know, an undetermined amount of distance away, and God is just another separate form, but it’s the, it’s the coach at the volleyball game, you realize, oh my God. It was always here and everything it had was mine.

And when you die, you don’t go out there, you go into what you always and already were. And you laugh. You go backstage and take your mask off and recognize that it was all wind and we were just different sailboats, but it was all wind or, or it was all waves and it was the same ocean and we’re going around beating ourselves up, being like “I was a naughty wave.” And it’s like, what? The ocean doesn’t even know waves in the way that we know things. The ocean just oceans. And God just loves. So it’s not forgiveness like “I’ll wipe away this debt or I’ll kill this person instead of you.” It’s almost like, I don’t know what you’re talking about in the same way that the father in the story goes, like, what are you talking about? 

Pete Enns: It’s the legal metaphor of grace, like, there’s a debt that must be paid, and I’m going to pay it this way. Somebody, I need a pound of flesh from somewhere, and I think that’s what happens when people get a hold of all this stuff, including myself. You know, it’s just, we like the categories. We have to live in a certain way, but to be reminded that there’s something above and beyond maybe that way of thinking, which I think the good theologians remind us of that all the time. 

Jared Byas: Well, sometimes it’s hard too, because you mentioned it just what, right when you just said Pete, like you’re a part of it too, is I feel like in a lot, for a lot of us growing up in certain traditions, we’ve been conditioned to think of this, the Christian system, as being built on exclusivity to the point that, it’s almost not compelling. If I don’t have hell, and Christianity is not unique in some special way to get me out of hell, it’s almost like, well then what’s the point? I mean, I feel like we get that feedback all the time.

Pete Enns: Oh all the time, yeah.

Jared Byas: It’s like, wait, wait, wait. But then everything falls flat if there’s no hell. 

Pete Enns: “If hell’s not real, then what’s all this for?”

Jared Byas: What’s all this for? What’s the point?

Pete Holmes: I completely agree. And it was Trungpa Rinpoche who said “Enlightenment is the ego’s final disappointment.” That’s what I’m trying to convey here, is it’s so—this isn’t—God is important. That’s what I would say. God is good. That’s what I would say. And when we say we have to behave a certain way. And I’m all for faking it till you make it, being kind without some grand understanding or lived-in experience of your union with God. That’s great. You gotta do that. That’s cleaning up. 

And then waking up is when you start behaving and treating people a certain way because you recognize that it’s all God’s dream. We’re all thoughts in the mind of God. Why would I be cruel to myself, you know? It’s the monk at the boxing match saying, why are you hitting yourself? What are you doing? And then you start forgiving other people because you recognize that that’s how you learn that you’re forgiven. And you start loving other people because you realize you’re loved. And it all sort of folds in on itself. And then it becomes a gleeful little play or a dance or something musical or, or gentle, but it’s not what we want it to be, which is like, you know, getting promoted or, you know…I’m not fully cooked, I’ll watch someone be mean to someone on a podcast. And for weeks I’ll fantasize about how the person who was treated badly could have won and humiliated the host. [Pete Enns laughs] 

You know what I’m saying? Like I’m still caught up in that. And that’s why I’m trying to talk about this. Like I want heads to roll too. And I think that’s part of the work as well is, is going like, I want a scary God. I’m resisting love. I’m actually afraid of love. Love is actually offensive to me. It’s offensive. How can it love like the elder son and the prodigal son story? How can it love this guy? He left, he was gone. Sorry. Water is wet. Really sorry. [All chuckling] [Ad break]

Jared Byas: Can I ask a question that I’ve been haunted by in this conversation over the last couple of years and I try to ask as many people as I can, and that is: how in your mind does questions of justice—and I think I’m wrestling constantly between this contemplative world of the oneness and the love and the justice side of it. In terms of we have our contemplative side. We have our activist side. There is something worth fighting for and protecting the innocent or the marginalized or the oppressed. And how do you, in your very walking around, very practical life, Pete, sort of manage these two visions for, for how we show up in the world. 

Pete Holmes: Yeah. I, this is, uh, Rupert Spira is a great teacher of mine and, and he’s the one that said, “this is God’s dream.” The second part of that is, “and it’s our job to make it as nice a dream as possible.” And that, and that’s what he said when he was seven years old. And I think you could say, you know, I I’ve, I’ve known people that have had experiences where they’re like, they’re just psychedelic experiences where they say, well, what about all the, all the suffering and the message they get is like, this is fine. Like what this is ultimately will always and ever be fine because it’s outside of time and it’s already done. It is complete. It’s done. Then we have our, let’s lower the plane a little bit and talk about how do we act from the implications of this understanding? Like, if you start to see oneness, then you will be kind for a different, [chuckling] for a different reason, you know what I’m saying?

So, social action, change, and justice, this understanding sounds like maybe we would just go off into the woods, but we can start fighting, you know, it’s like Jesus said, what you do for the least of these, you do for me. I think that’s true. What, what I do for others, I’m doing for myself. And, and when I give that…giving is receiving is another way to understand it. So that generosity and that urge for change and reform is doing it for yourself, making sure God has the nicest dream God can have. 

Pete Enns: Now, it’s what you were just saying, Pete, it triggers something. I hope this is coherent, but—like ego resists that unified way of thinking of reality. 

Pete Holmes: Because ego doesn’t get to come. Completely agree.

Pete Enns: Exactly. And, and the thing is that in a manner of speaking, ego is, I mean, I think what Jared, what you might’ve been getting at is, even just the existence of all the crap, you know, what we’re talking about unity and the contemplation. It’s nice, but in the real world, it’s really different, but it’s the ego that drives that.

And I don’t mean that as a throwaway line. I think it’s a very complex thing that I’m saying right now that I don’t understand myself. But you know, the more I get to know myself as the years go by, the more I say, yeah, I think I get that now, you know? Because it’s the centering of ourselves, our own unreflected desires, you know, and jealousies, you know, come up very quickly and that’s, uh, you know, Gerard talks about that and, and how jealousy fuels things and, um, I don’t know, I don’t mean to babble, but I just, I, I just see a lot of things firing here for me and, in some of the things you’re talking about.

Pete Holmes: Well, you know, the ego is a lot of things. It’s separation, you know, it’s, it’s really a belief in “I’m over here, you’re over there” and, you know, relatively speaking, there is a reality to that. There’s a relative reality to that. And there’s, I also like Rupert’s, uh, Rupert Spira’s definition of the ego is the ego doesn’t seek or resist, the ego is seeking and resisting. So you take separation, you take seeking, you take resisting. You get a lot of strife, you get a lot of conflict and I’m, you know, this is one of those things that I’m taking my teacher’s words for it. Because, and that goes into antiquity and modern day teachers. It’s like, the more you can recognize your own true nature, the better that is for everybody because the ripples of that and that, I don’t want to say that example, but it’s contagious.

It’s, I always think about Jesus, it’s like, he drew a crowd, and I don’t think it was just the healing. I think the healing is sort of like, Ramana Maharshi had this great line about healing, it’s like, I give people what they want, so they’ll want what I give. And what he’s giving isn’t, isn’t as flashy as healing. His giving is, is a mirror to recognizing your true nature. And this kind of goes back to what God is, ultimately, and how close it is, and how intimate it is, and how seductive it is, and, and lovely and gorgeous and exciting it is. And it couldn’t be closer. Like I already said, it’s looking out your eyes right now.

Every time I say “I” I’m talking about awareness. I’m talking, and that’s, that goes back to the burning bush. I’m sure I said this the first time I was on. God said, “I am that I am.” I am amness. I am being. And you are being. And there’s a real disservice, I think, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one,” right? And we thought he meant “I, Jesus, and the Father, God, somewhere else” are one. And there’s something really exciting and invitational and alive and juicy and sweet about recognizing that Jesus’s “I,” that awareness, is the same awareness that all three of us are hearing right now and listening with and looking with and touching with and feeling and thinking with. And that I is an impersonal, only “I” there is, and the Father, which is that, are one, is the universe, are one. 

And that becomes so much more, I remember I asked Rob Bell, I go, “if Jesus came back what do you think he would say?” And Rob said, “Jesus would say, ‘what are you doing still talking about me?’” And I thought that was really an interesting, I had never heard anyone say that. You think he’s going to wag his finger and tell us what we’re all doing wrong. He’s like, get on with it! That was modeled—figure out that you and the father are one, get with the program! I just feel like so much of this has been co-opted by this idea that we’re going to die and they’re going to scan our brains for the correct beliefs.

Even as I’m talking to you now, I’m like, okay, here’s Pete’s beliefs. Also, who cares? Like what got you there? In this moment, in this moment, are we feeling that spacious, loving connection and a detachment from all of that seeking and separation and aversion that just mucks up the works? Can we be spacious and clear and free and in love and as love in this moment? And it doesn’t matter if you scan your brain and go, well, this is a non dualist, uh, Christ, he likes the prodigal son and, and he does believe that, uh, Jesus forgave him or whatever it is. Who cares? It’s not going to be your beliefs. Your beliefs become like a tool that unlocks something that in the Christian tradition we call conversion or, or being renewed or being born again.

But a lot of other traditions have, have language for this as well, and that’s what we should be looking for. And the, and the further on I go, the more I see that some of these beliefs kind of fall away, and I have to have dinner with, with a fundamentalist Christian before I start recognizing, oh, this is why I’m not a Christian. Oh, it’s this, it’s this, it’s this. But I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about my beliefs as much as I’m trying to dissolve into naked awareness, because that naked awareness isn’t just peaceful. It is peace. It is joy. It’s non-circumstantial love. And you can spend your time there now! You can retreat, as we’re talking, now! Away from our thoughts and our separate selves into that space that is already, you could say, in heaven.

You could say it’s already there. And how do I clean up my antenna to get that frequency coming in a little bit more clearly? There’s a line in my book where I go, “There’s nothing you can do to increase or decrease the infinite love of God, but there are things you can do to increase or decrease your awareness of that love” and I think that was right. I think that that resonates with me as I’m like, it’s always there, but if you want something to do, if we want to bring some juice back to the game without bringing hell into it, in fact, you can keep your hell. You can say there is a hell and a lot of people are in it right now! And there’s a heaven too. And a lot of people are in it right now. It’s something that we can nudge ourselves back to. And going back to the prodigal son, Remember that dad’s not mad. Remember you are his son. That’s it. It’s just a moment of, what am I doing? I forgot. I got lost in the content of experience. So much so that I forgot that the ground of being is, to say it a third time, looking out my eyes. It is…In fact, my body and my mind are a phenomenon that are appearing in the spacious field of awareness. It’s all the spacious field of awareness that I ultimately am.

When I say “I”, I mean awareness, and I’m appearing in awareness, and I’m being observed by awareness. And it’s all, it’s all right here. It’s hard to talk about. Rupert Spira will take you there. Read Being Aware of Being Aware, read one chapter of it, and you’ll, you’ll hear someone far more eloquent than me walk you through the steps. But I spend most of my time trying to just remember that I’m already home. 

Jared Byas: As you’re talking, it reminds me quite a bit of a, of a few different threads that are being pulled. But one, I just keep coming back to this, you know, it’s, it’s famous and almost trite at this point, but Kierkegaard’s phrase, the truth is subjectivity. And I think it’s, it’s so hard for people to recognize what that’s about, which is embodiment. It’s about moving away from a checklist of, of beliefs in a sense to practicing these things that, and as we practice, we realize we have these layers of things that are holding us back. The ego, whatever that is, beliefs, but it’s, it moves us beyond the idea of beliefs to practicing these things.

And I appreciate, you know, Pete, you even saying, like, it’s one thing to talk about this and we can use all these big words to get at it, but it’s hard—in some ways it’s hard to talk about because it’s not a thing that we can talk about. It’s a thing that we have to embody and we have to practice and be a part of.

Pete Enns: Talking gets in the way. 

Jared Byas: Right. Yeah. Yeah. 

Pete Holmes: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, you know again—

Pete Enns: So let’s keep talking. Let’s keep talking. 

Pete Holmes: Let’s keep talking about how talking gets in the way [laughs heartily alongside Pete and Jared]—But he has this great thing that that leads to less talking, but he goes, you know, when you’re stoking a fire, when you’re trying to get a fire going—which is what what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get in touch with our light. You know, you use a stick to poke at the fire and that stick is your method and at the end when the fire is burning bright, you throw that stick in. That’s the last step. And that’s sort of the, there’s a, there’s a holy loneliness to it. It’s not a bad loneliness, but it’s like you realize that all of these concepts, all of these avatars, these images don’t go to the top of the mountain with you. You go, and, and you know, you get to the very close to the top and Jesus goes “just go around that bend” and you realize that the only thing that is there was what was always there the whole time, but it’s without separation.

So all of that teaching kind of goes away. There’s, there’s a mourning to that. It doesn’t get to come along. But I do think how we think about God really makes a difference. I’m working on this joke. You guys were talking about how you’ve run into some resistance when you, when you get rid of hell. And I’ve been trying to work on that on stage. And I talk about, I say, if you don’t believe in God, that makes perfect sense to me. What makes no sense to me is believing in God, this singular, perfect essence of reality, and thinking that that essence of reality is mad at you. That perfect, like, most people would agree, like, if you were to describe the attributes of God, you’d say he’s perfect.

But he’s also mad if you don’t believe in him. Or mad if you say fuck. And then I go, you mean like your boss at Applebee’s? Mad that you said the F word? Like, have a god that’s better than your boss at Applebee’s! And then I go, take something worse. You know saying a cuss word isn’t—nobody thinks that that’s that big of an offense. Take something worse: you cheat on your partner. Okay, that’s a bad thing. I’ve been cheated on, it sucks. So we can agree that’s a bad thing. But then if you do cheat on your partner, and your partner’s very mad at you, and everybody’s mad at you, your whole world blows up. But you have that one friend, this ride or die friend, Larry. And you go out and you have a couple drinks, or whatever you eat, you get some chicken wings, and you sit down with Larry, and you unpack it.

You say, I feel terrible, why did I do this thing? I always do this. And you talk for hours. And you start to unpack that in your childhood, love got all convoluted. And your parents had boundarylessness. And, and, and eventually as a child, you learned that love was actually a dangerous thing. And to survive, you needed to distance yourself. And that model got sort of perverted and clouded and you start to realize why you’re an anxious avoidant person and why you tend to blow things up before they can get too serious, because getting too serious is death to you. And Larry listens and Larry forgives you, but God can’t? And I go, I shouldn’t have to say this, but have a God that’s better than Larry! Have a God that’s better than Larry! I can forgive—how much more then, could God forgive! And that’s hard to say. 

That doesn’t say…that’s a lack of imagination. That’s a lack of creativity. As Father Greg Boyle says: Wrong God. Wrong God. So I think those things matter. The way we frame it and the way we commune with it changes our rate of conversion. [Laughing] I almost sound like a marketing call.

Pete Enns: And with that, I think we’re sort of coming to the end here where we began. And I think I’m not just trying to wow you here, Pete and compliment you unnecessarily. But I do think it’s part of that prophetic role of thinking about things differently. And, you know, just with enthusiasm to lay out a vision of reality and certainly give me a lot to think about, as you always do. So this is sort of part B, Jared. We did part A. We’re going to have to do a part C at some point, don’t you think? 

Jared Byas: Yeah, for sure. 

Pete Enns: Absolutely, yeah, so. 

Pete Holmes: Oh, I love talking to you guys. And I love, I don’t get as many opportunities to talk about this stuff with people who know as much as you guys do. So I’m always happy to be here. 

Pete Enns: All right, Pete. Well, thanks for taking the time to join us. We had a lot of fun. 

Pete Holmes: Oh, yeah. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

[Music interlude signals start of Quiet Time segment]

Jared Byas: And now for Quiet Time. 

Pete Enns: With Pete and Jared. 

Well, one thing that Pete said, uh, enlightenment is the ego’s final disappointment. And, you know, Pete used language of things like awareness, you know, and, and stillness. And I just, what strikes me is that the Christian tradition is very much a part of this, we just don’t hear about it very often because we’re in the West and we think in terms of, you know, the very things that Pete is talking against, you know, the separation, like “we’re right and you’re wrong” kind of thing.

And, you know, recently, I just, uh, for a number of reasons, I’ve been rereading Martin Laird’s book, uh, Into the Silent Land. There too, he talks about things there that really echo things that Pete said here, and I’m just sort of seeing connections about, you know, “the ego is the very act of seeking and resisting.” When your awareness is not thinking about the fact that you’re aware. Right? Cause that, that’s the, that’s the mind taking over again and it disrupts the utter simplicity of awareness and silence where you’re just basking in the awareness. You’re not even, you’re not analyzing it, I guess. It’s not coming out right.

And there is a part of the Christian tradition going back, you know, to the, you know, early medieval period that—they got that already, you know? 

Jared Byas: Right.

Pete Enns: Like I said, most of us have lost that because we’re not taught to think that way. 

Jared Byas: Right, it’s not a modern invention. 

Pete Enns: No, it’s not. It’s not a modern invention by people who are trying to disrupt Christianity, but they’re on, let’s say, spiritual journeys of, of true meaning, and they’re trying to access things and to access them from other religions.

Well, people do that all the time, you know? And the modern Catholic contemplative movement, which I’m not an expert in this, but Thomas Keating, you know, he’s, this happened in the seventies and he caught wind of how people were getting a lot of solace through contemplative meditation in Buddhist traditions.

And he’s saying, well, this is part of our tradition too, but it’s just been buried. So he did a lot to revive that in the, you know, the next 50 years before he died. So anyway, I just, Pete talks about Christ and believing in Christ without being, you know, a Christian. And I, I get that. And it’s just to me, it’s another connecting point, not to justify Christianity or anything like that, but just to observe that Christianity is not this thing that separates. You know, I don’t think it is anyway. And I, I really resonate with him when he talks about, is the God multiverse just angry with you? And, “I need to collect a bunch of you and torture you forever because you’ve offended my, you know, my, my judicial courtly sovereign will and you’ve gone against it and you’re a sinner” and that’s, is that where this ends? I mean, have a better God than Larry. [Laughs]

Jared Byas: Yeah. Right. I thought that was really good. But how does this work for you kind of as you’ve been thinking through—I feel like you, um, have been on a journey more, like you said, you’re reading this Laird book, you know, Thomas Keating, as you kind of work through the contemplative stuff, would you articulate kind of where you are in similar ways around how you think about God?

Pete Enns: Yeah, I mean, my understanding of what I mean when I say God is, is like a wonderful experiment almost, you know? And I don’t mind saying that because, I mean, I think that’s an honest thing to say. And in the biblical tradition, and in the Christian tradition, what we have, and I say this positively: we have metaphorical language for talking about these things, and we have to. We use language. And the ego has its place. We analyze things, we think about things, but when it becomes the only thing, that’s, I think, when we, um, don’t have peace, we don’t have joy. We’re always arguing, you know? 

And for me, the, the, the measure is always, how do I feel about that criticism I just got on social media? Right? Do I have to be right at this point? 

Jared Byas: Yeah. 

Pete Enns: Or can I just let it go? Because at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter. And I can tell where I am in my internal state by how I react to some of these things. 

Jared Byas: Mm-Hmm.

Pete Enns: I’m getting better folks, by the way. ’cause I’m really, really trying. But, um, yeah.

Jared Byas: So, so if people wanna help you in your spiritual journey, they can argue with you on Facebook. Is that what you’re trying to say? 

Pete Enns: It gives me a lot of practice to, to not do the thing that I really want to do, which is be right. [Jared laughs heartily] You know, because I am, I am right usually. But yeah.

Jared Byas: Yeah, it’s, it’s real hard to let the ego go when you actually are right most of the time. 

Pete Enns: I know. Think about it. 

Jared Byas: That’s real tricky.

Pete Enns: I know. I hear you. Most everyone says that to me. I don’t know. Maybe, uh, maybe I should stop. But you know, I think in terms of like my own spiritual, and I don’t mind the word journey, it’s hackneyed. People use it, overuse it, I think. But it is a journey. It’s, it’s, it’s a trek. And how I’m perfectly happy not knowing and to be reminded that I don’t really know, but what I can do is I can live and I can try to—and this is where I respect the contemplative tradition a lot—seek an awareness of, again, the metaphor, God that is the very ground of all reality and is in everything and everywhere. And then, I mean, for me, then I want to weave the Christian story and to bring into the conversation with that.

And you have moments in the biblical tradition, but you certainly have more than just moments in the theological tradition of the church. You know, people like, when it’s like, it’s the first century, is Jesus coming back anytime soon? And they’re focused on this Jewish apocalypticism. But as time went on, it’s like, well, how do we live? You know? And now the Bible, it’s like, well, part of it is just from my own spiritual sustenance. Like, how do I live? How do we even think about the nature of reality? And I just—conversations we just had with Pete, it just always reminds me of that sort of thing and how impoverished, how, how much I have to play catch up because I’ve been impoverished on my own thinking.

And I don’t blame anybody. It’s just, it’s just the world that I’m a part of. So, I don’t know. You solve this, Jared. I can’t. It’s just too much for my head. 

Jared Byas: Well, I think the only thing I would, I would add for myself is, and I appreciate that we’re bringing two sides of the same coin to these conversations. Because this isn’t the first time I feel like—when we talk about contemplative things and talk about mystery and we talk about oneness, I feel like there is a more Eastern flavor to it than there’s a Western flavor to it and maybe that’s oversimplifying, not to create a binary here. But, I think I just, I don’t resonate as much to that way of talking.

But I think, I guess for me, it’s, it’s almost like an encouragement to say, if, if that doesn’t sit right with you, like, you don’t even have an understanding of what it means when Pete talks about oneness—

Pete Enns: Pete Holmes.

Jared Byas: When Pete Holmes talks about oneness. Like you’re like, you know, like, I don’t know what that means. I don’t know how to think about that. Because I think that’s a very abstract and hard concept for people to wrap their minds around. I just think, I didn’t go at this way of thinking from abandoning the like logic A plus B equals C of the West to go on a spiritual trek to India and sit with some gurus and figure this out. That wasn’t my journey of like meditation and mindfulness.

But I think I came to a similar place. And so I think I just want to always make sure and carve out room for people who are like, “Well, I don’t know how to do that. It’s never felt right and it doesn’t make sense to me.” I think there’s still a way that you basically end up in the same place. But you maybe go on a different journey.

And that for me, the journey to like follow the path of science, follow the path of philosophy in the West, and you’ll probably, if you go long enough, it kind of circles back around. And so I think for me, that’s the only thing. Is I like these conversations because I feel like we’re talking about the same thing, but I think I would just talk about it with different language.

Pete Enns: And you know, languages are contextual, concepts are contextual, and we’re just people. And you know, what if there really is something to incarnational theology? What if like, it’s all good, right? Wherever we are you don’t have to, I mean, for some people it would help to pick up and move to, you know, a mountain someplace in, in, in, you know, some—

Jared Byas: For some people, some people in my life where it’s like, it’s a revelation, right? All of a sudden it’s the language that they’ve been looking for forever. It’s like, well, I didn’t feel at home in this Western Christian tradition. 

Pete Enns: And that’s great. 

Jared Byas: And I found this and it’s like, now it makes sense. But for other people that’s not maybe the case. 

Pete Enns: There are other ways of getting at it and there isn’t just one path to take, I guess that’s what you’re saying.

Jared Byas: We have, we have really, really slid down that slippery slope. I think that’s the first time in eight years you used the metaphor of many paths to the same God. This is the very thing that my pastor warned me about when I was seven years old and here we are. [Pete laughs]

Pete Enns: Yeah, well C.S. Lewis said it too, so that’s all there is to that. Okay, folks? He also smoked cigarettes. I don’t. Anyway. 

Jared Byas: [Laughing] We’re gonna throw C. S. Lewis under the bus as much as we can. 

Pete Enns: And he was an Episcopalian [Jared laughs] who apparently missed the passing of the peace because he’s too much of an introvert. But anyway, that’s a whole other subject. 

Jared Byas: Oh, wow. Interesting. 

Pete Enns: I totally resonate with it.

Jared Byas: Okay. All right. Well, thanks, folks, for joining us on this, uh, episode of Faith for Normal People, where we’re gonna explore things like this.

Pete Enns: Like faith for normal people. 

[Outro music plays]

Jared Byas: Well, thanks to everyone who supports the show. If you wanna support what we do, there are three ways you can do it. One, if you just wanna give a little money, go to

Pete Enns: And if you wanna support us and want a community, classes, and other great resources, go to 

Jared Byas: And lastly, it always goes a long way if you just wanted to rate the podcast, leave a review, and tell others about our show. In addition, you can let us know what you thought about the episode by emailing us at

Outro: You’ve just made it through another episode of Faith for Normal People! Don’t forget you can catch our other show, The Bible for Normal People, in the same feed wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Hodge, Steven Henning, Wesley Duckworth, Savannah Locke, Tessa Stultz, Danny Wong, Natalie Weyand, Lauren O’Connell, Jared Cazel, Jessica Shao, and Naiomi Gonzalez.

[Outro music ends]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.