Daniel Kelly: When Belief Dies

Atheism, Autonomy, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Hell Anxiety, LGBTQ+, Podcast, Podcasters, Purity Culture, Unequally yoked
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My guest this week is Daniel Kelly, the new co-host of When Belief Dies. Daniel began as a Charismatic Christian, moved to an Orthodox Christian church and eventually was at a Bible church that preached through every verse in the bible.

Daniel was a dedicated Christian working in a Christian non-profit helping those with disabilities. His mother had MS when he grew up so he was focused on helping his family through difficult times and did not always get to be a kid.

I believed I had to be perfect and I had to be helpful to everyone in order to be valuable.

Daniel’s feminism and belief in the humanity of the LGBTQ community, led to moral objections to some of the harder Biblical passages that do not uphold the humanity and full autonomy of everyone. His serious investigations into theology and the Bible were some of the early seeds that led to deconversion.

The grief Daniel experienced leaving the faith and the loss were profound. He lost his faith, his community, the health of his relationship and on top of that the pandemic hit. He was isolated and alone. He experienced “Hell Anxiety” and worried he was a “vessel of wrath.” The first year after deconversion was one of the most difficult of his life.

He made it through and today he is the co-host of the When Belief Dies podcast. He is building healthy relationships and restoring family relations. He is experiencing the freedom to love people unconditionally.


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Sam and Daniel interview me

Daniel and I interview Sam

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NOTE: This transcript is AI produced (otter.ai) and likely has many mistakes. It is provided as rough guide to the audio conversation.

David Ames  0:11  
This is the graceful atheist podcast. Welcome welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Please rate and review the podcast on pod chaser.com or the Apple podcast store and subscribe wherever you are listening. Also, please consider voting and nominating the podcast on the podcast awards.com spirituality and religion category. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's episode. onto today's show. My guest today is Daniel Kelly. Daniel is the new co host of when belief dies with Sam Davis. Daniel and Sam interviewed me on an episode a few weeks back and Daniel and I interviewed Sam that went on when belief dies a few weeks ago as well. Daniel has recently appeared on the when belief dies podcast as the ongoing co host. I got the opportunity to interview Daniel and hear his story firsthand here. And it is an amazing story. Daniel began as a more of a charismatic Protestant, he went to an orthodox church for a while, he really got serious about theology and studying. And some of those seeds lead to future doubt. Daniel also expresses the incredible grief and loss of the deconversion processes. This occurred for him shortly before the beginning of the pandemic, and the experience of the loss of community was profound and difficult. And it just reminds us to tell you that you don't have to go through this alone. If you need to talk to someone immediately recovering from religion.org has a chat hotline and you can talk to someone right now. Secular therapy.org also has a list of secular therapists that we highly recommend. But now here's my conversation with Daniel Kelly.

Daniel Kelly, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Daniel Kelly  2:30  
Thanks very much, David, looking forward to chatting to you again.

David Ames  2:33  
Yes, absolutely. So we're gonna acknowledge here that the timing is interesting, you are a host of when belief dies with Sam. And you actually were on when you and I interviewed Sam, and that aired on when belief dies. But you are just now i'll probably as people are listening to this coming on as the CO hosts for that podcast. So the timing is just a little different based on the delay that you guys have had. But I'm really excited to have you here today to hear your story. So as much of your story as we can tell. And then at the kind of near the end there. We'll we'll talk more about your work on the podcasts. So let's begin with what was your faith tradition growing up? What was that? Like? Were you a really serious Christian?

Daniel Kelly  3:19  
Yeah, so I grew up in a Christian household. And it was a far more charismatic, you know, gifts of the Spirit kind of church that I grew up in. And, you know, obviously, as a kid, that's all I knew, sort of went along with it. But as I sort of entered into my teenage years, I found this magical thing called theology. And I absolutely loved it. You know, I had a copy of Wayne Grudem, systematic theology, and I'd worked my way through the entirety of it. And, and I found that the church that I grew up in, I became more skeptical of the cultural Christianity. And I, I started to question, well, you know, is this true? Or is this just what people want to be true? And I found in theology like, okay, no, no, I'm actually accessing the truth. That's, that's sort of how I viewed it. And I went around to a bunch of different churches in the end in the local area. And I really struggled. It felt like they all sort of had this culture of Christianity. But you know, having these these theological conversations that I was reading about in all my, my textbooks just wasn't going on. And I really struggled with that. So, curiously, I ended up at an Eastern Orthodox Church.

David Ames  4:52  

Daniel Kelly  4:54  
I can't wait, which, you know, was tiny because it's, it's it's Scotland. This is not a The images that you didn't expect much orthodoxy around, but I fell in love with it. You know, obviously, there was just such a different type of worship. But it felt older, it felt ancient. And alongside that, you know, they introduced me to a lot of the, the early church fathers, people like basil couristan Athanasius, these sort of people and, you know, discovered the work of Augustine as well. Okay, who, as I was engaged with Reformed theology was a key part of so you know, that there's some really great teaching there as well. So I absolutely loved, absolutely loved the place and yeah, but eventually I moved out of Scotland, I went to work for a Christian charity down in England, in Yorkshire. and rent a bit there, I had the same struggle finding a church, you know, I couldn't find an Orthodox Church with the same sort of culture. You know, there were very other few Christians who would had any knowledge, real knowledge of Orthodoxy, nevermind, Orthodox themselves. You know, I wasn't fully orthodox myself, I wasn't fully part of that church. But I kind of, I would have said, I had the heart of an orthodox while the mind of a reformed Christian and okay, you know, this was my Christian project to find what what was the true Christianity at the very core of it, because the Orthodox claim to hold on to the original Christianity, the reformers were trying to bring it back to the original Christianity. So I want you to get at that sort of eternal truth.

David Ames  6:45  
Now, and you're telling my story, theology being an important part, I often say that Jesus, the Jesus of the, the Gospels, one my heart, you know, I've come for the sick and not the Well, that was like, I'm there Right? At but it was the ology, and specifically systematic theology and college for me that was like that one my mind. And like, I think I've remained a Christian, for much longer than I would have had not had that theological background, and it kind of gave you the playground the, to work with that to have a kind of an never ending puzzle to work with and engage with the intellect. And in some way, the question that I have for you is, I think it's relatively unique, relatively rare, let's just say, to go from a more Protestant to beginning to look at an Orthodox Church. What were the differences? And was was that striking to you? In some way I am, where I'm getting at is, I think many people remain myopic in their own cultural Christianity to use your term and don't, and then they can be shocked when they go, even to the church down the street. Right. So what was that experience? Like?

Daniel Kelly  8:03  
Yeah, I mean, I guess the curiosity too, called First and foremost, and just, I guess, because it was outside of my culture, all I could get out of it was the more things that I could understand and things that I could intellectually engage with. But also, there's the sort of the, like, because the liturgy is that they use an orthodoxy is so old. Yeah. And you're surrounded in that room with all the different icons of these, you know, Heroes of Christian faith. There's, there's almost a timelessness to it. And it's, it's closer to, you know, I can't get along with meditation now, which is weird, because in that Orthodox liturgy, it almost feels like a meditative state. And the, you know, to describe it emotionally, it's sort of like the walls fall away, and you're there with the Church throughout, not just throughout the whole world, but throughout all time. And that sort of connects you into that wider story, which I guess because I was on that intellectual journey, trying to uncover sort of more historical intellectual Christianity, that sort of experience alongside it sort of coincided with that. So yeah, it was kind of foreign and I just asked so many questions, which, obviously, they were more than happy to, like, ya know, why do you kiss icons, and, and all these sort of things. But, you know, at the core of, of, particularly that church, there was sort of a strong core of teaching theology and understanding the truth and holding fast to the truth that has been inherited throughout the generations. And I was more of that side of things that I really enjoyed going along and engaging with time again again.

David Ames  10:17  
So one more thing that I relate to, and I'll try to get you back to where where I interrupted you. I talked a lot about when I was at Bible college, you know, we would have our dining commons would be open 24 hours a day, and you'd literally be in there at four in the morning having some deep theological conversation. And when I got out of college, the hardest thing for me the most difficult thing was that people did not want to have four hour conversations at three in the morning. And ironically, coming full circle, a lot of the work I'm doing today is people want to have these deep conversations, right, and and when we find each other, that's really exciting. And so I definitely feel like you're a kindred spirit, if I can use that term. In that in that regard. And then secondly, to get us back to where I interrupted you, you were talking about moving and trying to recapture lightning in a bottle and that I relate to that as well, like when you are forced to go to a different church, even within your own denomination, you don't always find the same feel that you're looking for, you have a sense of what you want to be there. And when it's not there, it's can be disorienting.

Daniel Kelly  11:34  
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I very quickly sort of came to this recognition that denominations, men, virtually nothing, every single individual church had kind of its own culture. And, and it was very few, that actually really, I felt captured that, right, that desire for truth, over and above what was comfortable. And, you know, part of the culture. And you know, when I was when I was in Bradford, it took a couple of years. And eventually I went along to a church where they taught the entire Bible from, I mean, the entire Bible, like literally, their sermons for this week, we're reading chapters one and two. Next week, we'll read chapters three and four, right? Not a single verse was missed, you know, The Good, the Bad, and the ugly. And this was what I struggled with so much, you know, working at a Christian charity, where you're surrounded by all these different types of Christians. And, you know, the Philo theologian me with, every single time someone says, For I know, the plans I have for you, plans for you to prosper. It's, oh, it made me so angry. I mean, I laugh No, because obviously, my interpretation was just as much of a reading into that passage, you know, saying it's a promise of price does, as there's is no, you know, there is a, a funny arrogance that I know, viewed by for myself with that I had then. But you know, it the way that people used the Bible more like a scrapbook, where you took out your favorite passages, and just held to that, rather than, no, actually, that's, this, this book engages with the hardest and darkest themes of life. And, and we should be engaging in embracing of that. So I eventually found the church and it was, you know, a far more conservative, fundamentalist church, then I was used to, you know, as much as I was quite a strong Christian, I was also quite lefty, in my politics, and I'd grown up with a feminist ideology, you know, as as the standard. And so going along to church were some of the I'm I'm then having to challenge myself as well, you know, when they started to teach about complementarianism. And all of a sudden, I'm like, I'm not comfortable with this. Yeah. But at the same time, the challenge came back. Well, while I was trying to escape cultural Christianity, you know, am I just dismissing what the Bible actually says, in favor of the culture that I grew up in? And so eventually, you know, I tried to convince myself of that, and various other things along the way.

David Ames  14:39  
Interesting. In some ways, it's your moral intuition that is getting in the way, right. You have a sense of the equity for women in particular, and when that is getting challenged, you're having this moral reaction to that and having in your words to kind of overcome that.

Daniel Kelly  14:59  
Yeah, absolutely. and you divide. I remained part of that church for six years, you know, I learned a lot there, you know, they were really intensive with the teaching of sort of biblical theology and sort of reading the entire book I, you know, I felt like I learned a lot. But yeah, there was always that discomfort. And well, I felt like I could really get along with and except the people in my church, sometimes the, the wider community when we went along to conferences, because the other thing was, obviously I, I always struggled with LGBT issues as well. And, you know, going along to a conference where I'm being told, oh, you should support this legal campaign to against gay marriage, you know, it was always this really uncomfortable like me, because, you know, I didn't have this disgust response to sexuality, about, you know, the vast majority of people have been attracted to be women. There were exceptions. And I just went, but you know, I was, I was a very good Christian boy, and I repressed everything. I was just one more thing on the pile, and, you know, it. But at the same time, this, I could see the disgust response coming out of people. And that's was driving their theology rather than, for me, it was a reluctant. Well, God has said this, and I can't question that. It's, it's clear, right? And we have to submit to God, but it was this very reluctant. So yeah, these these sort of, to moral issues around, you know,

David Ames  16:55  
human beings, as human

Daniel Kelly  16:57  
beings. It's so much easier though. I don't have to hold this conundrum in my head. Yeah. So So these, these really came out quite strong. So what happened is, I got a job offer down in London, and it was a great opportunity. And obviously, London had many, many churches, most of which were considered good ones, within our circles, and so you know, where you could get good teaching. And so yeah, so mid down there. And I saw obviously, stepping back into a secular workplace, having been in this Christian community where I worked at a Christian workplace, and went to church. And, you know, by this point, 95 to 99% of my social circle was Christian.

David Ames  17:57  
Right. Okay.

Daniel Kelly  17:59  
You know, it was actually really quite hard to break out of it. A lot of the time. And literally, I'm, I'm in the office the first week, and it will, it would have been actually, three years ago, almost to the day. No, because, of course, very first, you know, one of the first things that happens as I'm meeting some people, and they give me this rainbow iced cupcake

David Ames  18:23  
for a price. Okay?

Daniel Kelly  18:26  
And I'm just stood there holding this cupcake going, Oh, crap, what do I do? Can I eat the cupcake? If this cupcake, am I betraying my Christian values? Am I betraying their values? Like, and, you know, I kind of had an intellectual answer to this. And obviously, I was not someone who's shouting this from the streets, and I had very clear, gay marriage should be legal, you know, God's law is something separate, and, you know, all this sort of thing. But still the idea that, actually no, I'm, I'm now actually working alongside and engaging with people on a regular basis, who are homosexual, gay, bi, trans, you know, and I want to engage with them. And I want to, you know, I started to really go, how am I going to explain this, if it if it ever needs to come up? And how am I gonna talk about this? And also, because I'd taken a job where I was managing policy, and sort of the development of of debt advice. I, I knew that a lot of my policies really impacted women. And I was reading an amazing book by women called Caroline criado Perez, called Invisible women talking about the biases that are built into sis stones and places by men, because we just assume, well, how we live our lives. It's how people live their lives. And so therefore, women are sort of missed out.

David Ames  20:14  
It's, it's built into medicine and technology and in almost every facet of our lives. Yeah.

Daniel Kelly  20:21  
Yeah. I, I love this book. And obviously for me, this was a massive challenge. And it was, it was that that that made me go. I'm also uncomfortable when I read passages in the Bible, where I could come up with an apologetic, you know, I could I could use every hermeneutic trick in the book. Well, you know, and, but more and more, I started to read the Bible a bit more with the anthropological lens, you know, and there were some other dates, which we'll get to, but the passages where I was reading, where was it an easier and more sensible position, or made more sense, that actually the passages that related to women, were coming from men with that perspective, versus coming from a god with the omniscient expected perspective, right. And obviously, you know, if there are some truly horrendous passages in the Bible in relation to this, and, you know, there's those passages like numbers five, where I could provide an apologetic for it, I could just about squeeze it out so that I couldn't hold to that passage and try and argue that not only could I answer it, but I could show how it was a good thing. In terms of purity, and the importance of Jesus's genealogy and things like that. But at the same time, why what if I was wrong? If I was wrong, then I was holding on to passages and declaring them as good and perfect when actually, they're saying something that that's deeply problematic.

David Ames  22:22  
Could you refresh me? Numbers five, I'm sorry, I don't have an off the top of my head.

Daniel Kelly  22:29  
Yeah, no worries. So numbers five is a tricky passage, where, effectively if a woman is suspected of sleeping with a man who is not her husband, then she would be brought in front of a priest who would take some holy water and some dust from the tabernacle, mix it together and force it to her to drink. And if apparently, according to the verse, if she's not set forth, the man should be fine. And she will be, she will go on to give birth. If, however, she has slept with another man, then she will be cursed. And the description of the curse is that her womb will swell, and her thigh will fall away. And when you take that sort of a theological reading of that text, you can sort of say, well, first of all, this is really important, genealogies are absolutely vital to the Israelites, and we're going to rely on those genealogies by the time we get to Jesus. And, you know, it's, uh, they're about to enter into the holy land. And it's not just any water or any dirt, this is holy substances. And so what we see here is God is in complete control. And it's as the purity and the holiness of his presence touches this awful depravity.

David Ames  24:01  
And, again, I don't know off the top of my head, probably not a lot of mention of the man who was involved in this scenario. No, no.

Daniel Kelly  24:14  
Whereas obviously, if you read it from an anthropological perspective, her womb will swell after she's supposedly just had sex with another man. But if she's innocent, she will go on to give birth, you know, probably doesn't take much to read in between the lines here. And that's problematic on a number of levels because obviously, this is not by her consent, she is brought to the priest by her husband. So the thing is, is you can try and push that apologetic, but the question for me is, but what if I'm wrong, but if I'm wrong, this isn't something people are acting out Obviously, I don't, I don't think any Christians are trying to find the tabernacle to write fulfill this, but it's still part of that moral framework of this. This is what God commands, this is the importance of purity. Even that word now sends a bit of a shiver down my spine, knowing how it's been used, especially in the context, particularly of sex and women. But, yeah, that that question really loomed large and became just more and more problematic.

David Ames  25:43  
You know, we'll just acknowledge here, the obvious fact that throughout Christian history, women have borne the brunt of being blamed for men's failures. In other words, they are treated as the Jezebel, they're treated as the temptress when it's ultimately the, the men within that culture that have been the problem. And, and even to today, they're complementarianism of today. The problem is, it's not acknowledging that the men are the problem. And I would, you know, would have included my previous self in this as well, of just, you know, a buying into that culture at any level.

Daniel Kelly  26:21  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I guess, like, I guess I had, like, these were things that were really niggling away at me. And they were way more problematic, because I felt like, Okay, I actually have to talk to people. And if this ever comes up, how am I going to respond, but at the same time, there was also more, the more boring and technical stuff that just was weighing on top of me, because, you know, I, I kind of always had this really funny relationship with Genesis that I just could not get my head around. And obviously, there's, this is a classic, you know, Christian problem, in terms of what genre is, is Genesis, because, you know, when I read it, you know, there were there were clearly elements of poetry in here. And my main argument was always, this is teaching theological truth like that is its core purpose, rather than, yeah, if you were there with your eyes, this is precisely what you would see. At the same time, there was always this question of, well, how did the New Testament off authors then look back at the Old Testament? And how did they read it? And I kind of got myself into this, a bit of a loop in terms of, you know, I want it to read the Bible for truth. And that meant understanding the author's intent and what, what they meant by it in their time and place. And so now, trying to figure out well, actually, it seems like both Jesus or Paul reference Adam, as a real human, and even some of Paul's theological arguments, are based on Adam being a real man. It seems to really struggle. And obviously, to a certain extent, while you know, the ancient readers of these texts were not scientists, they don't think in the way that we think now, at the same time, when they see this big, long list of people and how long they lived, they believe that that's how long they lived. That was kind of the 10. And it's, to a certain extent, I was struggling to figure out how do I match up this special revelation of God and how he's revealed himself through the Bible, verses? Well, what we observe in the world. And then Paul did something weird in the book, in this letter to the Galatians, where he says, Oh, the promise was made to Abraham. And it said to your offspring, singular, rather than plural, except that doesn't. It just doesn't. I tried to read a number of apologetics on on this and trying to figure out how to understand it. But you know, effectively Paul is taking this promise that was made to Abraham and showing how it relates to Jesus. And to, like, I didn't have a problem with the theological points he was making, but he was, he was stretching this passage and changing it to fit what he wanted it to see. As opposed to the clear reading that the author of Genesis had, you know, you know, even like Abraham is his name was originally Abraham, which meant father, and then Abraham father of many, and his offspring will date number this Stars. So Paul's assertion here that the singular rather than plural actually cuts against the entire narrative that was there, right by the original author. And so it all came to a head when, you know, I was reading one day, First Timothy, chapter two in it, it was another passage about women submitting to their husbands. And it were more around teaching in the church, sorry. And so women were not to teach in the church, because Adam was created first than Eve, which, you know, was this doctrine of created order, and it was quite common use by complementarians, and was kind of the thing that I'd accepted. But then he goes further and says, Oh, and Eve was deceived. But Adam wasn't. And once again, and you know, when I read the original story in Genesis, it's like, it's not really there. Yes, she is deceived, but I don't say with her, and then he eats the fruit. And if if she's deceived, well, then at least she she was just mistaken. Adam was just in pure rebellion, like, surely that's the bigger problem here like, yes, yeah. And then he goes on, oh, well, but she'll be saved through childbirth. What do you mean by that poll? I don't know that you've just thrown that in there with very little clarity, and how am I meant to take this passage? And go, Yes, this is good. This is helpful. Or do I take this passage as well, actually, you know, he's, he's a male, and he's living in a patriarchal society. And this is their interpretation. And even, you know, doing some reading around, you know, well, are women more easily deceived? Or is there any literature to support such a position? And the answer that, that I found, sort of reading through a few studies was quite effectively, a kind of yes, in that women are more likely to be victims of deception. But that's because they're more likely to have people try and deceive them. Because of us this morning, you've easily deceived. It's a vicious circle.

David Ames  32:26  
Yeah. So it's a self perpetuating cycle. Yeah, exactly.

Daniel Kelly  32:29  
But not because of anything intrinsic to that. It's, it's, it's society actually creating its own message. So. And that was just like the pinch point where both this technical concern of I can't make sense of this, and how it was then being used to create this narrative, which, yeah, despite constantly trying to tell myself, well, I can't judge God. The more and more I was considering it, and also, I, I read this obscure philosopher called zero, you call who was also a theist and a Christian and had sort of thought about different ways of morality. Ultimately, my moral contact I still had responsibility for, and to me that the cost of being a Christian, as a cisgendered, heterosexual, white male, was virtually nothing like it was it, you know, I probably will look back now and say, Actually, there were a few things, I missed out on problems and huge, but in comparison to the cost that it demands of others, it was too great. And, you know, for me, I was worried that one day I would become a father. And, you know, if I had a daughter, what would I teach her? If she came home one day and said, I don't think I'm a girl, or right, I'm attracted to girls, which even tell me these things. How much damage could I do? And I think the best image of I've found for this is like before I could flip a coin and if, if God existed, great, I win. If he didn't find a rot in the ground, no, no harm, no foul. And it looked a lot more like I was just a roulette table, putting it all on one number. And they weren't even my chips that I was playing with.

David Ames  34:50  
Wow, that is an amazing analogy. I want to respond to a number of those things. I don't want to take away from any of it but like, you know, I have daughters. In what through my deconversion, kind of prior to them becoming young women, so like, you know, I feel like I was able to get around that and really embrace them for whatever they chose, but definitely had the same concerns of when I was in the faith, you know, like, my daughters were whole, complete autonomous human beings, and I was gonna fight for them. And there was no way I was gonna diminish who or what they could become. So I definitely feel that

the other thing I want to touch on, and I don't know if I've, if I've mentioned this yet on Mike, but I recently have done like a Bible study, my wife and some friends. And it's interesting because it is going through the Old Testament. And it was reminding me of some of my Bible college training. So you have these two ideas, you use the word hermeneutics, which is how we interpret things. But the other word that is really important is exegesis, which has nothing to do with Jesus and said, Gee, and there, it just means interpreting the text, as the original author meant, and as the original readers and hearers would have understood it to mean. And then a third concept that is either very heavily implied or sometimes overt is this idea that you read the Old Testament in light of Jesus. And as I'm sitting here, you know, as an atheist, with my family, it was kind of this epiphany moment, like, wait a minute, you can't do both of those things. You can't do exegesis correctly, and do and read it in light of Jesus. And so what you highlighted earlier, and I want to compliment you, first of all, for being one of the most detailed person, people. That is very specific, Daniel. But what you highlighted was not only our propensity to read into the text, our current culture, but Paul's tendency to read his culture into the Old Testament text. And that is the thing that where we where we get, we break down. And my simple example of this is when I had mer Simka, on who's an Orthodox Jewish person. He pointed out that Isaiah 5553, rather, it has not only nothing to do with Jesus, it has nothing to do with the Messiah, as you know, so that just to give you perspective on the original hearers, didn't hear, Oh, this is talking about the Messiah, that now as an atheist, it's easy. This is a human document. These, as you've said, multiple times, every one who is an author of a biblical text is writing a theological document, they are making theological points, they are making a theological points within the culture that they are living in and on, you know, this side of faith that it's so much easier to just accept it, as it is. I recognize it for all of its flaws and some of the wisdom that's there as well, and, and then not be obligated to accept every word of it as literal truth.

Daniel Kelly  38:12  
Yeah, I think obviously, like, just because I'm saying this is not a divine book doesn't mean that you have to strip away its humanity as well. You know, you've read through Ecclesiastes, and you're just thinking, were you friends with John pulsar? I mean, you're just having this existential breakdown. And if you just at the very end, it's gone. Well, you know, life must be absurd, you know, we could have just had the early existential is, but instead, it finishes or therefore sort of gods, but you know, actually,

David Ames  38:48  
which many people believe is tacked on?

Daniel Kelly  38:52  
Yeah, it's brilliant. I think, you know, you can see some real humanity in it. And I think when you do appreciate it as such, and I think this is sort of, you know, I guess, you know, sort of stuff that was gonna touch on but, you know, obviously, coming out of Christianity, I just wanted to destroy it all. And to a certain extent, I believe this, you know, it's a lot of my learning, since I guess I've, I've actually come to appreciate more of, you know, this is a human story, and it's created by humans. And for that, I can just appreciate that. It's going to have all the characteristics of humanity. In all its brightest and, and darkest points along the way.

David Ames  39:44  
Yeah. To drive this point home just a little further, you know, in the last 10 years, just the last 10 years, we have gone through dramatic cultural changes with the acceptance of LGBT marriage. trans people are having a racial reckoning of the systemic racism within Western cultures in particular. And, you know, so that even in my lifetime, you know, I can read something from the 90s and think, oh, man, that's problematic. So, no wonder you're reading a document that's 2000, you know, 3000 years old, it's going to be problematic. And if we don't just accept it, that this is these are human beings who are flawed there in their context and their setting, that is just always going to be a terribly frustrating process. And then if you add on top of that, trying to interpret it as literal and authoritative truth, that's where things go deeply, deeply wrong.

Daniel Kelly  40:45  
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

David Ames  40:56  
You've hinted here that, you know, you have kind of this, this Reckoning and you kind of want to burn it all down, which I think is, first of all, a very natural response. I think that is, I think everyone goes through that for at least a certain amount of time. But what were those first few months, that first year, what was that like for you?

Daniel Kelly  41:18  
Yeah, it was, it was scary. It was great. Scary. You know, it was not even. I can't remember exactly when, but not long after that. I was just the in the house. And my wife turned to me, as she quite often would. She was reading first Timothy chapter two. And she was wondering what Paul meant by a when she'll be saved through childbirth. And it was this weird coincidence, but I was just caught in the headlights of it. And I all I said was, I don't know, I moved on, because it was truthful. But I, I didn't know what else to say. And I was scared. I was scared of what would happen if I said much more. And, you know, I was still going to church every Sunday for a good few months, probably about six months, in the end. But when you when I kind of made that shift from a dating Christian to a doting atheist, you see so much more. When you observe from the outside, and you see in, because in my, in my job, I was having to learn a lot of behavioral science things as well. You can see it in the songs, you can see these little nudges towards submit submit. Yeah, Jesus is the only answer. So if you leave, you're gonna be in trouble. Yeah. In in the sermons and, you know, this will satisfy you for a bit, but you'll need to keep coming back. It's yeah, you just see so much more

David Ames  43:12  
that you cannot unhear the manipulation. Yeah,

Daniel Kelly  43:15  
yeah. And it got harder and harder. And obviously, I was, I was just feeling like a fraud. Because I still had all the knowledge. It's like the skill set hadn't just disappeared to be able to read a passage and bring to light various historical facts, and it's different interpretations away stuff up. So I could still do stuff. And yet at the same time, I was going to believe it. But I don't, you know, this, this had been my entire life. And, you know, I'd only just moved, I had not long moved to London, this is probably a good year, after I'd moved down, this is going on and I'm I don't know what, what exists outside of that community, but I just couldn't do it anymore. And I eventually started to tell people and obviously, you know, I felt a lot of people responded with pity, mostly. Obviously, there were, there was suspicion as well. I got a dozen books just sent to be without any notice no one that wants, like, no one was really willing to have a sit down conversation with me. And, you know, especially because I done quite a lot of reading. I knew that. And, you know, I kind of had my arguments as to why I don't think this is either right or healthy. Right. You know, I was afraid of speaking. And, you know, for me atheists were Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. They were the smug, snarky Oxford men.

David Ames  45:08  

Daniel Kelly  45:11  
He were just mean. And I didn't want to be that they were still my friends. There were still people I wanted to connect with. But at the same time, you know, and also looking back, I projected a lot of anger. Because, you know, I was angry with who I was, as a Christian, I was angry with the way I dated, I was angry with the fact that I'd laid aside my moral intuitions under this, oh, well, I can't question God's I need to accept the truth I need to, uh, not really, I felt engaged with these things properly. Like, why had they not asked these questions sooner? These weren't passages that I hadn't read before I knew them. But Why hadn't I asked these questions in these ways? And also, you know, if someone had turned to me and said, I'm no longer a Christian, you know, my response, technically, as a Calvinist was, well, actually, that kind of means you probably weren't a Christian in the first. Yes, I know, I'm so sad there is this walking, talking contradiction to my former beliefs, and, you know, or, you know, something else has gone wrong. And so, of course, I am angry at myself. So I'm angry at other Christians. And I also feel that there was some rejection. I mean, I went for a walk with a close friend of mine, somebody was really close with and who I had talked a lot through my Christian journey, you know, they were originally a Christian, but they were this very liberal, free flowing, God is just love, kind of Christian. And I had taken them and turn them into this former evangelical Christian. When I tell them, you know, I'm bombarded with, you know, well, what have you been reading? Who Who have you been speaking to? How? How could you come to believe something so evil and arrogant? Wow. And, you know, when when they said that to me, I wasn't surprised. I wasn't shocked. I, I wasn't angry with them. I was angry at myself, because I heard like, behind those terms, I knew the thinking that was there. And I was hearing back. Things I had to create. I had indoctrinated, and I pray, I hated it. And those words haunted me for for a long time.

David Ames  47:55  
Man, Daniel, I can't tell you how well you are expressing this idea. I think that there the guilt that we feel for what our former selves have said and done. And you know, and you have the kind of the literal experience of having a friend kind of mirror that back to you. That's pretty intense. That's a pretty intense experience, I think, I think part of this deconversion process, or post deconversion or however you want to say it is forgiving yourself. You know, like, a few episodes back, I talked about, you know, you did the best you could with the information that you had. That was your understanding at the time. And all of us have said terrible, terrible things that we wish we had back. Right. When we were living within that bubble.

Daniel Kelly  48:48  
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, it took me a long time to get through that and also to get through, you know, how I then responded to all this, because, you know, a few months later, I I wasn't connected into the church, you know, unfortunately, my wife and I separated. You know, we, yeah, it just went through an incredibly dark time. I felt so completely isolated. Because most of the social interaction I was getting was at work, which kept me busy, but after a while and going through, yeah, just a really difficult place. I recognized actually, I'm, I'm really struggling here. I need. I need a new community. I need people around me who are going to support me because I didn't. I didn't know who my friends and family I could truly trust because they were all Christian. I felt they were all You're going to judge me. And some of that was true, some of that wasn't. But that's how I really felt in that time. So I had to go out, I had to go out of the house, so I needed to engage with people, I need to breathe the same air as them.

David Ames  50:19  
On this foreshadowing

Daniel Kelly  50:21  
was March 2020. Wow, yeah. Yeah, perfect timing, of course, as as prime minister, Boris Johnson comes out and says, You will stay at home, you will save lives, protect the NHS COVID is here, don't go anywhere. And, yeah, it the isolation definitely came at the worst possible time. And they got a lot worse. And, you know, it's, it's hard and weird to describe what I went through at that time, because I just really wasn't healthy. And in all this, as much as I have my reasons, you know, I was fairly confident that I had left my faith for, for good reasons. At the same time, I still had my moments of doubt. And, you know, those moments of panic, and I'm fear of being wrong, especially when, you know, as someone who was a Calvinist, it is kind of weird, because you look back, and then if we contextualize everything, you know, either I was mistaken the entire time. Or actually, I'm forsaken. Like, the every, every prayer that I made, every time that I felt like I was relying on God, and you know, he was the one person I could trust. I mean, what was he doing? Was he just laughing at me? Was he was the second by me, like, what, what was that? If I'm wrong, you know, why am I left in this situation? And then, you know, I, if you've ever talked to me about hell, as a Christian, I would have given you a very long talk about how Dante's Inferno is not canon. Be very careful about what we think about this topic. But at the same time, obviously, there is there is a motif, and there are passages like and, you know, especially for me, you know, the second John, it talks about people who would be deceivers, and they would speak against Jesus and, and I didn't want to be one of those people. That even though I did, because I was so angry, and but I didn't know what to do. Because if I open my mouth, I would be guilty. And you've got passages and revelation of a wine press, where you know, that people are, are thrown in, and Jesus tramples them to death until the blood runs for 200 miles. You've got Romans nine, where it talks about vessels of wrath. And this was, this was like the passage that really just was constantly in my mind, because it, it talks about people being prepared for destruction being set up so that and the kicker for that was the vessels of wrath were prepared for destruction, so that God's glory might be known to his first vessels of mercy. And, you know, for me, in those moments of panic in those moments where I'd got things wrong, you know, it would feel like, okay, this is what God created before. God created me so that I would have this moment, I would start to speak out and tear it, my friends and family so that in the final day, he would have this long list of things that goes, see, you're, you're nothing but that's their sort of wrath and I'm going to crush you to the cheers and adoration of your friends and family.

David Ames  54:42  
That's dark down. Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Kelly  54:46  
And I knew this wasn't rational. And I think that that was the that was the thing that really got to me because I'm usually this calm and collected, rational kind of person like these Yeah, these horrible fears were, were something else. And you know, there were things that I try and tell myself, it's like, well, you're not, you're not scared of Allah, you're not scared of these other gods with other forms of hell, why? This is the indoctrination, and you just need to work past this. But at the same time, obviously, and I was aware of that also, it was no coincidence that a lot of this is happening with the isolation. And with that, cutting off of off people, and this, this disconnect from, you know, the huge social circle that I had. And I couldn't even I felt like I couldn't even turn to my youth work colleagues or or some of the few non Christian friends that I have. Because if I then had to say, Well, I believe this, they've got sorry, you believed what?

David Ames  56:15  
Can I just acknowledge the, the incredible amount of loss that you're experienced. So those of us who have believed before we are losing the intimacy of a God, who knows that every hair on our heads, we lose that we lose, as you mentioned, 95% of your social circle was were Christian. So you lose, you lose that that was the end of a marriage. So that's got to be devastating. And then on top of all of that, the pandemic is happening. I mean, I just You're breaking my heart down, you're like, I feel for you how I know what it's like to go through parts of that. And you were having all of that at one time. That is absolutely incredible.

Daniel Kelly  57:02  
It was bad timing. Certainly. You know, I, I did. I did find my way through it, though. And I guess I and even through the darkest times, there was always something I was always driving myself for, as I knew there was a way through, and I could kind of find that way. I wish I'd gone for therapy at that time. I really should have. That was, that was a mistake. Because yeah, I was on the edge. And in a really unhealthy and unnatural for me, state coming out of it. But you know, a couple of things that start to help. So, you know, because for me, for some reason, in my head, there was still this idea that people don't lose their faith. Or the people that did didn't act. Like even though I had lost my faith, it still felt like I must be the only person that's true. And then I just thought, I wonder if like, I went onto YouTube. And I think I just typed in former Christian. And I started watching videos, I remember coming across a guy called drew in his channel, genetically modified skeptic, a great atheist activist. And I remember seeing his videos, hearing a bit about his story, seeing him critique other atheists for the same things that I was like, Yeah, that's what I don't like about it. And sort of demonstrating a bit more of a actually as atheists, you can have empathy, as well as intellectual rigor. And I'm like, yes. Okay. Yes, that's, that's, that's it. And a various bunch of other people, including, you know, going on to Facebook one day, and a friend of mine, Sam, put up that he was going to be on unbelievable. And I thought, oh, Sam, that's cool. I wonder what atheists you'll be debating because I've just been watching some of those episodes. Until he put up another post that was recommending Alex O'Connor's video and I was like, hang on a bit, Sam. I did a bit more looking. And I came across his blog and his podcasts, and we had worked at the same Christian charity. And basically, it's gone our separate ways. When I moved down to London. It's it's funny looking back at his texts, then we're just texting back. I'll be praying for you as you move into iron and all these things. That's hysterical. I know all of a sudden, it's like, I know someone who has gone through this like, Yeah, and so I reached out to salmon. Obviously, we started talking again. And, you know, obviously a couple of months later, that's when we then actually said, Hey, do you fancy joining me on when belief dies? When obviously, I've moved past quite a lot of this. So yeah, so that was, that was great. And also, obviously, Sam introduced me to your podcast and hearing other people sort of engaged with the real, the real loss that does come with, you know, I don't mind using the phrase losing your faith, because it is a loss in some way. I would, I would wish atheism on everyone. Yeah. The journey? I mean, yeah. On the one, you know, that's sort of a paradox. But yeah, I find that incredibly helpful. But also, I think, what was what was really important for me was just before lockdown, I think it must be in the weekend, or just two weeks, weekends before my dad has come down to London see me? Because, you know, he just really wanted to talk. And obviously, you know, I was so nervous, coming up to this. And my dad just reassured me that, you know, they still loved me, though, the, this wasn't going to change that. And as much as they'd said that when I first told them, there was still a lot of doubt, that actually that was true. But he said, I've just got one question. Do you think I'm stupid for believing in God? And it's kind of funny, because of all the questions like, it seems weird that it wasn't a question about me, but just sort of insecurity about this. It kind of took all the pressure off of

David Ames  1:02:03  
Yeah, like, that's an easy one to answer. Yeah, no.

Daniel Kelly  1:02:07  
I don't think I was stupid for 20 years, and then suddenly got intelligent. That's not how I think this works. Right. Exactly. Yeah. But I was able to talk about everything with them, and actually just really recognize No, I was, I was still loved by them. I was not a failure. As a son. Yeah. And yeah, eventually went forward for some therapy, to work some things through. Because obviously, like, I was so aware, that sort of this, this journey I'd been on that was, was more than it should have been. A, I knew it was irrational, there was something that all of this was was really setting off. In me, there's real insecurity. And, you know, even when my dad came down to visit, you know, he had said to me, you know, his, his, his main worry was that him and my mom had been bad parents, and that they hadn't done the right thing. And obviously, you know, my instant response was to reassure them and say, No, you guys were loving parents, I know you did your best. But at the same time, you know, my mom had multiple sclerosis. As I was growing up, my dad used to work Saturdays, and all the other days of the week, basically, because we had to keep a roof over our head, we eventually had to lose our house. That's why I work in debt advice, because I actually know the journey of Song of what it's like to grow up in a house that's actually really burdened with debt and to go through that journey. But he would work Saturdays, so the only day we have together as a family was once a Sunday. And that was the one time we be able to spend together. And also just recognizing that, you know, a lot of the behaviors and patterns that I had about myself had grown during that time when I had to be super independence. And when I needed to that sort of comfort, actually, my faith had provided that to me as a such a young child. You know, I and it reinforced some unhelpful things as well. You know, I believed I had to be perfect and I had to be helpful to everyone in order to be valuable. And of course, you know, my faith men, you know, yeah, you you, you have to suppress the desires of the flesh, you need to serve people. And in the end, you'll you'll hear from God Well done my good and faithful servants, you know,

David Ames  1:04:57  
all you have to do is be superhuman, and it's, it's okay. Yeah, absolutely.

Daniel Kelly  1:05:01  
And, you know, I think, sort of working through that journey sort of realizing that, you know, and this wasn't overnight, but through a long process, so of recognizing, you know, as a, as a little kid, I, I could not comprehend my mom's multiple sclerosis, I can understand that, I couldn't understand really, why my dad had to work so many hours, or why my brother needed extra support, you know. So when I couldn't get sort of the support that I did need, uh, you know, it was sort of this message of, I had created this narrative for myself, Oh, it must be because I'm ugly and broken. You know, I'm a vessel of wrath. And when I could really connect with the kids that had gone through that and reconcile some of that stuff, all of a sudden, this fear of judgment, this fear of, from Gods sort of, came into context of actually just been taking these destructive narratives that I've lived with my entire life and my faith, it's provided some cover to some things, it depends, some things that sort of provided half answers to, and all of a sudden, it was all just coming up, and I just had to work through it. And I needed to take the time to understand myself a lot more. And thankfully, I had plenty of time for that. Thanks. Thanks to COVID.

David Ames  1:06:45  
I think as we wrap up, I think it's really something very deeply important that you just described, and that is, when you are giving out to someone else, and you recognize someone who has been in the place that you've been, and you feel empathy and compassion, and you can then recognize that you are deserving of empathy and compassion and, and attention when you were a kid as well. So So for me, it's drug and alcohol and the family and being the family hero, it sounds like for you, you know, the, you know, a serious illness and the need for your dad to work all the time. But regardless, in the long run, you aren't getting the attention that you needed and deserved. And when you see that in someone else, yeah, that that light bulb goes off. And it's like, oh, you know, they did the best they could. It's not there's not an attack against your parents in any way. But you can also acknowledge that you deserve that you needed that. And it wasn't there.

Daniel Kelly  1:07:49  
Yeah, absolutely. And that was the thing like, hearing, hearing that from my dad, I know, sort of their recognition of that. And they wanted better as well. It was it was they were doing the best they could and I'd always wanted to support that message. But recognizing that and recognizing just okay, yeah, I need to change the way I think about myself, because, yeah, I've carried that along the entire time. And the faith was my coping mechanism. So when that was stripped away, you know, looking back, it's like, I can see why I fell apart just so much during that time.

David Ames  1:08:31  
Wow, Daniel, I cannot tell you what a powerful story this is, your story is going to really impact some people out there the hell anxiety that, in your words, you know, thinking of oneself as a vessel of destruction, I think is very, very common. And it's an area that can take years for people to overcome as they deconstruct and D convert. So I thank you so much for the vulnerability that you've shown and the depth of your story. I'd love the detail. That's been it has been wonderful having you on

Daniel Kelly  1:09:08  
Grant. Thanks very much for having me.

David Ames  1:09:17  
Final thoughts on the episode. Daniel has an amazing story to tell. And he tells it so very well. I really appreciate Daniel telling his story here. One of the ironies of deconversion is that it's very often that a person has a moral feeling of the wrongness of what Christianity teaches, and that that is one of the precipitating events that leads to deconversion. And in this case, Daniel having an understanding of feminism and the autonomy and wholeness of women and LGBTQ community members, as he was going all the way through the Bible that that was one of the As triggers for him, The irony being that Christianity tries to claim whole ownership of morality, and suggest that non believers don't have any moral framework. And this is just demonstrably untrue. The other thing I thought was really fascinating is talking about Paul's interpretation of the Old Testament, and the recognition that this is not a new phenomenon. There is no way to approach the Bible without interpreting it. So everyone has an interpretation of the Bible, including Paul himself. And that realization can be really freeing, in that you aren't rejecting some deities, word off the mountain, you're rejecting someone's interpretation of the claim that that comes from some deity. And as I recently said, on another podcast, whether or not there is an objective morality, and that's a whole other conversation, you should be terrified of anyone who tells you that they know what it is, and you should do what they say. Bottom line, that is the most dangerous thing has ever happened in history as any one group or any one person who says, They know what's right, and you need to do what they say. Daniel also expressed this idea of the guilt that we feel about the way we used to talk to people the things we might have said the things we might have done, he recognized when he told his friend that he had he converted. And his friend saw that as arrogance. What was brilliant about Daniel is he recognized that he would have done the same, that's the humility that we need to get to. And that's the secular grace, we need to get to that we would have done the same. So how we handle the conservative believers in our lives, needs to be with grace. And that is really, really hard, and it is unfair, but that is the way it is. And then Daniels experience of so much loss, all at the same time. Going through deconversion, losing the community, he said 95% of his social group were Christians having marital difficulties right then probably because of the process of deconversion. And then all on top of that 2020 hits, and we're all isolated. So I just grieve for Daniel, and I'm so thankful that he has made it through. It is a difficult process. I'm not gonna lie to you, it can be very lonely. Part of the reason we do this podcast is to say that you are not alone. And as I mentioned at the top of the podcast, if you need immediate assistance, recovering from religion.org, has an online chat, I believe you can even get on the phone there. Reach out to them, somebody can talk to you right right now, as well as secular therapy project.org, which has a number of secular therapists who you could talk to you you can talk through this process with someone so you do not have to go through this alone. I want to thank Daniel for being on the podcast for sharing his story with such vulnerability and how articulate he was going into specific verses in numbers add Second Timothy at the specific reasons why he had to reach some intellectual honesty. Thank you, Daniel, for being on the show. Remember, you can catch Daniel on the when belief dies podcast with Sam Davis. He is an excellent co host. You can hear he and I interviewing Sam on the Wimba leaf dies podcast from a few weeks ago. And you can hear Sam and Daniel interviewing me on this podcast a few weeks ago as well. So I will put links into the show notes for all of these things. So you can hear more from Daniel. For the secular Grace Thought of the Week, I want to give a shout out to Tris Ramon, they wrote an article about self grace, after having read some of my work about secular grace. And this ties into what Daniel talked about as well, having felt gullible, how could I have believed these things feeling guilty? How could I have said these things. And it's just really important to recognize that the first person you need to forgive is yourself. I've realized how trite this is this sounds so sacrimoni Sweet, and I appreciate that. But the reality is, that's true. You cannot continue to beat yourself up for previous versions of yourself, the mistakes that you may have made, you can make amends if that's helpful, and you can forgive yourself and you can move on and grow as a human being. So the secular Grace Thought of the Week is to have self grace. I have a bunch of interviews lined up in the very near future. But due to scheduling issues, there is a possibility that we may go to an every other week for a while. I'll see what I can do. We'll see if I get things lined up properly and we'll try to continue that once a week. But one of the things I said to myself when I began this podcast is that I wouldn't beat myself up if I couldn't live up to once a week, which is really challenging, right? That's a lot of work. So we're going to do our best Mike and I and I've got again several interviews scheduled and we will try our best to get those out to you as fast as possible. Until then, my name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings.

Time for the footnotes. The beat is called waves for MCI beats, links will be in the show notes. If you'd like to support the podcast, you can promote it on your social media. You can subscribe to it in your favorite podcast application, and you can rate and review it on pod chaser.com. You can also support the podcast by clicking on the affiliate links for books on brisket atheists.com. If you have podcast production experience and you would like to participate, podcast, please get in touch with me. Have you gone through a faith transition? And do you need to tell your story? Reach out? If you are a creator, or work in the deconstruction deconversion or secular humanism spaces and would like to be on the podcast? Just ask. If you'd like to financially support the podcast there's links in the show notes. To find me you can google graceful atheist. You can google deconversion you can google secular race. You can send me an email graceful atheist@gmail.com or you can check out the website graceful atheists.com My name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings

this has been the graceful atheist podcast

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

2 thoughts on “Daniel Kelly: When Belief Dies

  1. I can relate so much with what has been talked about here. As a child my parents were missionaries and I always had an intense love for God and loved him with all my heart. When my beliefs started to evaporate it felt like I was throwing away everything that I loved. All but one of my friends at the time more or less rejected me but more than that, I felt like I was rejecting myself, because my faith was my identity. It would have been so easy to just go along and walk the walk and talk the talk, and keep my friends. But I just couldn’t do it.

    Those transitioning years were hard. And telling my parents was even harder, because it felt like I was slapping them in the face and telling them I thought everything they had taught me was useless–which isn’t what I was saying, but it felt like it.

    I only just recently started blogging again, which is something I have been avoiding because all my followers (all 5 of them) are christian and know me personally. And now it feels like I’m going through it all again, they’re telling me I was never a real christian in the first place, or my rejection of God was because I had a desire to partake in sinful pleasures of the flesh. (Which is not true because all my life I have been celibate, probably because I don’t know how to love anyone with the intensity that I loved my God.) And it still hurts, because I understand why they are saying what they are saying, and what’s worse it that I probably would have said the same things.

    I agree with Daniel, I wouldn’t wish the journey on anyone. I was lucky though, because my family still loves me, and we can still talk.

    Liked by 1 person

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