ANA: Where did the idea of God Talks to An Agnostic come from?

DON: Well, I've always had some concerns with religion and how religion has played out in the black community, especially how religion has often been used as a weapon in the Black community. It was used to justify slavery, it's gone into Black and Brown countries to and decimated cultures and stripped Black and Brown folks have their own religions and kind of replaced [that with] Western religion. And on a more personal level, how it has impacted my family in ways that I think, Well, I mean, it's impacted a lot of families in in ways that have cost both monetarily and time and energy and that kind of thing.

ANA: Were you raised in a particularly strict religious tradition?

DON: Southern Black Baptist. Yes, indeed.

ANA: Whereabouts?

DON: St. Louis. I grew up in St. Louis County.

ANA: So how strict was your family's connection to their religion?

DON: I wouldn't call it strict but we were definitely - followed the religion. My family followed the religion very closely and many of my family members still do. Most do.

ANA: So I'm assuming by listening to the audio play, and you voicing the main character that a lot of this is kind of like your own internal monologue? Is that is that true? Or is it kind of like it's more of an exploration into, like, a thought?

DON: We'll go with B. Personally Yes, I have always questioned religion and I've had problems with the way it has played out, like I said earlier. But a lot of it is fictionalized in that it pushes the point I think more than I ever have in real life. And I think that character has a much tighter grip on his stance as an agnostic. I don't think I personally put as much energy into it as this person does, "The Agnostic" does.

ANA: When you listen to all these episodes of God Talks To An Agnostic, it's so intimate. Like, it's either just us speaking or it's you having these one on one conversations, like a phone call with your sister or in bed with somebody. And then in those conversations, you talk about these big themes and ideas. Could you explain who these characters are and kind of how they relate to the bigger themes

DON: And the reason that it’s written like this there, it's two-fold. One is that if you have a bunch of characters, you have to kind of explain all the different characters or the audience has to guess who's speaking at what time. So, keeping it intimate between one, two or three characters, I think helps allow the audience to get into the conversation without wondering who is speaking. So I wanted to have that comfort and comfort level and ease for the audience. And the other piece is that the characters are connected to “The Agnostic” all in different ways. So his sister who is his twin, she is kind of the yin of his yang. So they're kind of two parts of a whole. The ways in which they interact with each other are, I think, as close as siblings can get. She is staunchly religious and has followed religion throughout her life. And he has strayed away from that tight connection with religion. So the conversations that they have, they can have, you know, opposite ends of the spectrum, and still keep that sibling connection there, that allows them to really go hard at each other. But always know that at the end of the day, like Addy says, they hug it out. And it's all good.

Obviously, the connection with his mother, she wants the best for him, she wants him to to find his way she wants him to, to be successful, she also wants his soul to be saved, you know. You want salvation for him. And you know, she has that kind of mother's concern. And in that, they can address, I think, bigger life issues. How one pursues one's life, how one pursues one's love, or runs away, as she suggests he does. And his brother having had worldly experiences or experiences away from the church, and finding his way back to the church, I think affords conversations about people's path to and from religion. I don't know if we've been introduced to the girlfriend yet. But she is she comes from a very spiritual place. And, you know, he says that he's neither religious nor spiritual. He's very concrete one and one is too. And she's very much not that. So one of the things that I learned way back when I first started writing is that in order to create drama, you want to have people who have as far opposing opinions or opposing ideas as possible, and bring them together. And in doing that, you're going to get these big conversations, you're going to be able to get at these intimate points, but also, you're going to get be able to get at the macro and the micro.

ANA: Yeah, I can hear that in the and the nuances and kind of like the gray areas and the overlapping parts definitely because not one truth is ever totally the truth.

DON: Exactly. Exactly. And, and he, you know, struggling with this is is new to him, which is also I think, a key part of it, because he was very sure, although he didn't fully acknowledge it, but he is very sure that his way of thinking and seeing the world was the right way, because it was that concrete A plus B equals C. But now he's he's been put in a position where he has to question everything that he has known and understood throughout his adult life.

ANA: Well, you know, it's, so it's a that brings up this idea, though, of like, examining our religions and interrogating them and was part of your purpose of writing this like to bring up certain conversations that you think aren't being had?

DON: It is intentionally provocative. Absolutely. I think we should very much examine religion and how it has played out in people's personal lives, in their communities in the world in general. You know, how can these religious institutions be so incredibly wealthy, and have so many people who are following them be poverty stricken? I won't call out any religions by name. But, you know, one of the richest countries in the world is built around a religion and their followers all around the world who are living in poverty. So many people who form religions are extremely wealthy. There's a reference in the play: you know, I remember all the preachers that I knew drove really nice cars or cars that indicated status. Why is that? You know? Why should the people who are at the head of the church be better off than those who are following? I don't think that was the idea of Christ. I don't think that's what, how Christ saw the world or lived his life. You know?

ANA: Yeah. Don Mays, thank you so much for talking with us today.

DON: Thank you Ana, I appreciate you having me on.

You can hear new episodes of God Talks To An Agnostic from The Wilbury Theatre Group Sundays at 3pm on The Public’s Radio. Or find them the day after airing at The Wilbury Theatre's website.