Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.
Meditations 3.10 (Hays)
One of the hardest things about deconverting is coming to terms with the fact that there’s so much time already spent: time spent doing what now seems like a complete waste; time spent not doing the things that seem to actually make up a life. So frustrating. Such a waste. Why did purity culture have to happen when I had youth and energy? Why did I spend that youth and energy building up hangups and trauma around sex? Why don’t I know how to have friends?
It’s like Plato’s allegory of the cave was somehow tangled up with that urban legend about waking up after a party, missing a kidney. Or does that metaphor only work for me?
And it’s harder the later in life you deconvert.
One of the most helpful things I’ve found is to accept that the past is gone. Nothing I can do about it, nothing I can do to get it back.
Easier said than done.
First, why is it helpful? If I know I can’t do anything about the past, I can shift my focus on the present moment. The present moment is something I can do something about. Sure, I can learn from the past, but when it comes to making choices, what matters is the here and now.
Even better, if I accept the past as unchangeable, I can be kind to myself, cutting myself some slack for the road ahead.
A thought experiment to take away: What if you were dropped into your current situation? What if you were unceremoniously plopped into the body, memories, life, history, and family of someone else in this situation? What if you knew it wasn’t your life? What would you do? Would you do anything differently? Would you feel differently about the past? How?
PS – I asked one of these new AI programs for a suggested title for this post. My favorite: “From Kidney Theft to Puritan Lessons: Surviving Unappreciated Time.” …success?
This week’s guest is Rachel Hunt. Rachel is both the Support Group Director and an Ambassador for Recovering From Religion.
From her RFR bio, “Rachel is a motorcycle-riding ballroom dance teacher from rural Texas. Married with two adult children, Rachel has a strong interest in psychology, philosophy, and communication, in addition to the creative arts and home improvement. She was raised in Christian Science but drifted off as a teenager. She explored Scientology, Law of Attraction, and a variety of Protestant churches before settling comfortably into atheism.”
Rachel shares her personal story and how Recovering from Religion is serving people all over the world.
“It is because people in religious communities are taught to suppress them [doubts] or hide them. Everybody around you could be doubting but you will never know it because they are afraid to show it to you.”
“What I find, the more I do this, is that people just need someone to listen and not judge and not tell them they’re wrong.”
“The more I learned about science and evidence and developed my critical thinking skills, the more I realized: This just doesn’t make sense.”
“[Religious people] will sell you the snake oil to what ails you. They know what people want and need, and they’ll just promise it. They have absolutely no evidence that they can provide it, but that doesn’t stop them from promising whatever you want.”
“A church shouldn’t be the only place you can go where people are nice to you.”
“Critical thinking is a just thing that people lack, even in general society. But religious organizations…[they] really consider faith and childlike gullibility to be virtues…”
“[At Recovering from Religion,] our job is to meet you where you are and to help you get to where you want to go…”
“Changing the way you think doesn’t automatically change the way you feel.”
“Refusing to have boundaries and refusing to respect that your body needs…autonomy. It’s almost like taking the doors off of your house and telling yourself that it’s your responsibility to let anybody who wants to, to walk through and take whatever they want. It’s damaging.”
“As bad as all these issues are, just having someone to talk to—who understands and may have experienced something similar—is so healing. So soothing.”
“You can self-gaslight.”
“The reasons to believe are so ephemeral. They’re all social and behavioral.”
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 United studios Podcast Network. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Thank you to all my patrons on patreon.com. If you too would like to have an ad free version of the podcast become a patron at any level at patreon.com/graceful atheist. Please consider joining the deconversion anonymous Facebook group where we are trying to provide a safe place to land to doubt to question and be supported. You can find that at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, Rachel is both the support group director and an ambassador for recovering from religion. Rachel's bio says she's a motorcycle riding ballroom dance teacher from rural Texas. Married with two adult children Rachel has a strong interest in psychology, philosophy and communication. In addition to her creative arts and home improvement, she was raised in Christian Science but drifted off as a teenager, she explored Scientology law of attraction and a variety of Protestant churches before settling comfortably into atheism. We get to hear Rachel's personal story, we get to hear about the beginnings of recovering from religion, the beginnings of the secular therapy project. And I will note here that recovering from religion provides a 24 hour hotline you can call eight four, I doubt it. That is 844368 to 848. Or you can make a web call on their website at recovering from religion.org. If you're in the middle of a crisis of deconstruction, doubt deconversion give them a call reach out they can support you. Here is Rachel hunts to tell her story. Rachel hunts Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Rachel Hunt 2:13
Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
David Ames 2:15
Yeah, thank you for reaching out. You are the Support Group Director for recovering from religion. And I think that you all are doing just amazing work. I'd like you to just introduce us briefly about what recovering from religion is and a little bit about yourself. And then we're gonna jump into your personal story thereafter.
Rachel Hunt 2:34
Absolutely. Recovering from religion is a nonprofit organization that our mission statement is really simple. We're here to provide hope, healing and support to individuals struggling from issues of doubt and non belief or from religious harm. So we basically have a range of programs that are designed to just give people someone to turn to when they don't know what to do. Man,
David Ames 3:00
I know, I've talked to so many people who talk about how lonely this is. And it really can be. Yeah, it's great that you all are there. We'll dig into lots more in more depth here in a bit about what you all are doing. But I want to hear just briefly about your story like, like, did you have a religious background? And did you go through a deconstruction or deconversion process?
Rachel Hunt 3:23
I did for me, it was kind of slow. I remember having doubts when I was very little. In fact, one of my earliest memories about religion was being in Sunday school when I was maybe seven or eight. And I just kind of piped up and said, Hey, this idea just popped into my head. Why? How do we know there's a God? The the look that I got from the Sunday School teacher told me all I needed to know that that is not the place that you find those answers. You're not supposed to ask that kind of stuff in church. And, you know, from then on, I would I would kind of be, you know, I tried to do what they told me to do. And I tried to understand and the older I got, and the more I learned, the more I realized it just didn't make any sense. My background is a little bit different from some of the others that you hear because I was raised in Christian Science, okay, which isn't unusual religion. Most people if they've heard of Christian Science at all, they have heard of some of the more extreme stories where maybe people, you know, had severe health issues and their community or their family did not take them to the appropriate resources. And they, you know, had some sort of very dramatics into that story. And I never witnessed anything like that. In my church, most family, most families had at least one or two family members that were not members of Christian Science, and they would just sort of insist that, you know, if you have a broken bone, you go to the hospital, the only things that really made us different from my peers were that we did not get vaccinated at a time when almost everybody else did and evacs was not a thing. This was in the 70s and So, you know, it was really it wasn't a big deal because there was herd immunity. So we never got sick because everyone around us was vaccinated that didn't cause this problem. And then also, my mom gave me a religious exemption to biology class in high school. Okay? You even now, to this day, sometimes I'm like, why don't I know the difference between a phylum and a family? And I go, Oh, yeah, cuz I didn't take biology.
David Ames 5:28
Interesting. Very, very interesting. Yeah.
Rachel Hunt 5:31
The weird thing about Christian Science is that it was it was founded by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy. And she was she fancied yourself an intellectual. She was part of the new thought movement of the turn of the century around the end of the 18th century. 1800s, beginning of 1900s. And, you know, people like Norman Vincent Peale, and Wallace Wattles, she was she was part of that group where they all decided that you can just control the universe with your brain, right? And she derived her, you know, inspiration from the Bible. She wrote another book called Science and Health with key to the Scriptures. And it's all about healing, basically, right? But it wasn't like that charismatic healing that you see, like with Evangelicals today, it was more like, oh, just pray and read your Bible and hear these passages from science and health and read those and you'll feel better, you just have to change your thinking so that you can see the world the way God sees it. And while pain and suffering will disappear, no. And of course, it works a little for minors,
David Ames 6:34
right? Yeah. Yeah, the placebo effect is a thing. Yeah.
Rachel Hunt 6:38
Yeah, it does. So you know, but the more I learned about science, and just, you know, evidence and develop my critical thinking skills, the more I realized, this just doesn't make sense. So I stopped going to church, as soon as my mom, let me, but that didn't solve all my problems. Life is still hard. And there are still many, many people that will tell you with great confidence that they have the answers and that they don't have any stress and worry, because they have God in their life, including many people that I admire greatly. Yeah. So you know, my mother is still very religious. And she's just one of the most serene people I've ever met. But I just couldn't buy into it. So I kept looking for other things. Like New. You know, what people do that. I tried other churches, I tried Scientology. That was an adventure. Again, I did not encounter any the really extreme stuff, but it's, you know, it's different. It's kind of, they present themselves as kind of an alternative to psychology. And so I looked into it, I'm like, well, maybe this will help me feel better. You know, I'll try that. Moc just didn't work. So, you know, I moved on, I tried law of attraction. I did. I was really all into that for a while till I realized it was clearly confirmation bias. Yes, yeah. It took me a while to figure that out. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and, and after a while, I discovered the atheist community, and I go, Oh, that's me.
David Ames 8:06
interested? Yeah. You know, I think you've tapped into something there of just the, you know, as human beings, we, I mean, you know, the existentialist that's all they were writing about us, you know, we have this Melis that we can't identify, you know, and, and there are various religious organizations that are just ready to weave out the answer for that. And you know, you don't feel quite comfortable, we know why I'm here. Oh,
Rachel Hunt 8:29
absolutely, they will, they will sell you the snake oil to what ails you, you know, they know what people want and need, and they'll just promise it, you know, they have absolutely no evidence that they can provide it that doesn't, you know, that didn't stop them from just promising whatever you want to do that, you know, draws a lot of people in,
David Ames 8:48
for sure. And then just the love bombing concept of, you know, people who are lonely and then all of a sudden, here's, you know, 20 people who are saying that they love you, and they, they bring you up a potluck mate. And for some people that may be the first time they've experienced that, and it's manipulative in a way it is.
Rachel Hunt 9:05
And it's, it's really fun in our society, that people have to go to a church to get something like that. Church shouldn't be the only place you can go where people are nice to you. And unfortunately, it's short lived, right? I've never walked into a church where people weren't super nice and welcoming. But then, you know, after a while, it starts to become apparent that that love is conditional. You eventually have to profess that you believe what they believe. And you have to behave the way they want you behave and dress the way they want you to dress and do all the things they asked you to do, otherwise, you are no longer part of their organization. And it's it's really sad when people discover that after they've invested a lot of emotion into it,
David Ames 9:46
you know, something that I've been trying to articulate recently is is that there's such a community or or social aspect and you know, that beliefs kind of are tied to the social group, and even your description of being in Sunday school and having a Yeah, you know, an unorthodox thought, as a child, you would recognize, oh, that's out of bounds. You know, I'm not allowed to say that. And so those kinds of things are socially enforced. So even if you're new to the, the spiritual religious community, you learn very quickly what you can and cannot say what's allowed. What's not?
Rachel Hunt 10:16
Oh, absolutely. They don't even have to say it out loud. Just the look on someone's face, or even just a silence and the fact that no one agrees with you. I mean, that's really very powerful. And, you know, I was a young child, and I picked up on that. And, you know, it's not subtle, you know?
David Ames 10:39
One last personal question. Did I see in your bio, that you focus on philosophy a bit,
Rachel Hunt 10:44
I enjoy philosophy, I have a few philosophy classes in college, I didn't finish college, so I didn't, you know, major in philosophy or anything that I like it. And I did, I remember having a class, my first philosophy class 101, I was 18 years old. And it's so funny how, to me it was so obvious. We're there to study ideas, were there to study what people thought and why they thought it and what we think of it now and, and people just could not wrap their brains around it people raising their hands going. But Aristotle can't be right, because that's not what it says in the Bible. Yeah, it was so strange to me that people were absolutely incapable of understanding that we were just exploring ideas, and there can be more than one thought about the same subject and was insane. To me.
David Ames 11:31
It's interesting, we might circle back to this, one of the things that I think is an issue that as a secular, a more pluralistic society that we need to, to worry about, and I think this is not new, right? This is all a philosophy kind of deals with this is that as we become more secular people can be susceptible to variations on on, you know, these, as you said, snake oil kinds of things. And I think a philosophy of religion, as a kind of a base part of education would be very important that we recognize, we learn what other people have thought in the past what other people have said in the past, as almost an inoculation against what someone might say in the future, that kind of thing. You're
Rachel Hunt 12:11
absolutely right. I've noticed that. You know, on the Helpline at recovering from religion, we get a lot of people calling for a lot of reasons. But one of the things that is I've noticed lately that really bothers me is young people, maybe 1314 years old, they go online, they find some Christians screaming about how the world is about to come to the end, and you must get Jesus or you're gonna burn in hell forever. And these kids, maybe were never religious, they weren't raised with these ideas. But they are terrified. And they're contacting us going, is it true? Is it real? What Why are they saying this? And they get, you know, they get just as traumatized as anybody that was, you know, suffered from some sort of abuse because they're so scared, and they have no defense against it. It doesn't even occur to them that someone maybe just made it up. Yeah, no.
David Ames 12:57
And I realize we're a bit far afield here. But also, I just think it's relevant for our moment in history with the disinformation misinformation, even non religious aspects of that.
Rachel Hunt 13:08
Critical thinking is a big thing that people lack, just in general in society, but But religion, a lot of religious organizations, particularly the high control ones, really de emphasize education. They almost villainize it, they consider faith and childlike gullibility to be a virtue, you know, obedience. These are all things that you want from someone they want to control. And when you teach people that it is wrong to lean on your own understanding, it is wrong to seek out external sources of validation, then people just absolutely do not develop their critical thinking skills. So many of our clients who, you know, come to us, you know, just trying to figure out how to live their lives without religion. They'll ask us for resources on developing a critical thinking because they just don't know how to decide what's true. They have never done it before.
David Ames 14:01
And then I'm sure that you've seen in your support groups, something that I've seen, it's the, that people come out of this and they they doubt themselves, that takes a long time for them to trust their own kind of internal communication. And, you know, they've been taught all their lives that you're wrong, you know, you're Yeah,
Rachel Hunt 14:19
yeah. Yes, yes, that you're sinful and broken and that you are nothing without God, you're nothing without this community. You can't possibly accomplish anything on your own. You're, you're not capable of understanding things by yourself, we hit you have to be told what to believe. These are, it gets even more than that. It's not just that you're not capable of doing things but that you are fundamentally unworthy of love. You have to earn your place in the world. And that's incredibly damaging. You know, religion isn't the only place people absorb that message. Obviously, capitalism tends to do the same thing. You know, you're not worth anything unless you can contribute to it. You know, some somebody's pocketbook or, you know, you know any, anybody that's been the victim of any sort of abuse gets that same message that they're unworthy and unlovable and it's a horrible way to have to live. It's just a horrible feeling.
David Ames 15:15
I don't know how much you know about the podcast, but I started it with a few ideas. And you know, almost immediately, what I found was it was just kind of a landing place for people to talk about the trauma they have experienced, which wasn't my personal experience, it surprised me. It's something that I learned in the process.
My understanding that is that recovering from religion started with Dr. Darrel Ray, because he was seeing these kinds of trauma responses from people, and that that just barely existed as a thing. I want to talk just a little bit about what recovering from religion does, how people can access it, and then really want to get to the specifics of what you're doing with your support groups.
Rachel Hunt 16:01
Okay, great. Yeah. It's a great story, how recovering from religion developed, Dr. Darrel Ray was an organizational psychologist, he'd written a couple of books about teamwork, and I actually have him on my shelf here. And then he wrote a book called Sex and God. And he wrote another book called The God virus actually can't remember what order he wrote those and but, but he got a lot of emails from people who had suffered religious harm and wanted to talk to him about it. And so he said, I think there's a need for people to, you know, receive some sort of, you know, support for this. So he, he, I believe it was about 13 years ago, he just created an event for people to come and talk to him and an IOP, he say, just invited some people and said, Hey, you want to come talk about religious trauma. And he got 11 People at the first meeting, this is in I think it was in Kansas City. And so from then on, that's how the support groups got started. It's actually the oldest program of recovering from religion is the support group program. Yeah, so from then on, I mean, then he created this nonprofit and and now we've got the helpline, and we've got an online community, and we've got a podcast, and we've got a YouTube channel and a blog. And, you know, it's a huge, pretty big organization, and now we're worldwide, you know, but it's, it's funny how you don't even realize how much you need something like that until it exists. And then you go, Oh, my gosh, where's this? Ben? Yeah, exactly. So many people that we've spoken to who deconversion, before recovering from religion existed, you know, really say that they wish it had been around for them, because it's can be very lonely trying to do this by yourself.
David Ames 17:46
Exactly. And I do want to just mention really quick, you mentioned the hotline, I don't remember the number off the top of my head, I'm sure you do. Maybe give that out to people. Yeah. So you know, listener, you know, if you find yourself in in need, you need somebody to talk to in the immediate, there are someone on the other end of that phone line, who can talk to you. And I think that's super valuable work that you guys are doing there?
Rachel Hunt 18:06
Absolutely. We do try to man that helpline, 24/7 obviously, that we're all staffed by volunteers, that 100% volunteer organization. So sometimes you may try to call and no one answers, but please just keep trying, because we do have a lot of people that want to help you.
David Ames 18:24
So the support groups begin with Dr. Ray, just having a few people at an IHOP Oh, that sounds amazing. I constantly I said that all the time of like, you know, if people want to do something in this space, you know, just set something up on meetup.com. And people will show up. I think that's really that's really interesting. Yeah, talk to me about how that has developed and what the support groups look like these days.
Rachel Hunt 18:45
Well, I haven't been around for the whole thing. So I can't tell you all the details of how we got from point A to point B. But I can tell you that during COVID, the support demand for support groups and a willingness to or an ability to volunteer really exploded. So we had, we have each of our support groups this numbered. So we have 6870 support groups. Now I should have looked that up before I talk to you, I think we have 70. But many of those have gone inactive because the people who were volunteering during the pandemic had to go back to work. And so some of those have gone inactive. But we do still pay for all of those meetup groups. So if there is a meetup in your town, you will find it by going to meetup.com. And even if we the group itself is inactive, there will be links to a lot of our virtual support groups.
So when I took over the support group program in March of 2021, yeah, I guess that's what I want. No, it was March of this year, March of 2022. Sorry. There were a lot of inactive support groups, and there was demand for some specialty support groups. I guess I should mention that, you know, most of those support groups did go online, they were all originally in person, they all went online during the pandemic, and now, we only have five that have gone back to in person, okay, so there might be an in person group near you, there might not be. But more and more of our support group leaders are considering going back to in person. So that is not out of the range of possibility, you know, that will happen. And of course, you know, we can provide more support groups, if we have more volunteers, that's the bottleneck. So, if you are interested in volunteering, go to recovering from religion.org/volunteer. And there's a thing on there that tells you what it's all about. And we go through an interview process and a training process, and there's lots of support, and we definitely need you if you are willing and able to do that.
David Ames 20:54
Yeah, for sure. We will, we will make a big deal about this. I constantly have people asking, you know, how can they, again, do something without never really knowing what answer this definitely sounds like a practical aspect that that they could they could do?
Rachel Hunt 21:08
It is and we we have a nice community within our volunteer group too. And, you know, that can be really powerful. I remember, you know, I've tried volunteering for a few different types of organizations, you know, and I even did local politics, and oh, my gosh, that is so frustrating. I can't. With politics, you just can't even imagine. Politics and politics, it's just me and personal. And just like nothing ever gets done so bad. So, you know, I just bounced around looking for things. And when I discovered recovering from religion, and I looked into the volunteer training, the community is just so I mean, you know, we talked about love bombing, it's not love bombing, they're just nice. And they're just fun and funny, and they really need you and appreciate you. And there's a there's so much flexibility in how you can volunteer, there are lots of different ways you can do it. And you can kind of create your own schedule and do what's comfortable for you. And if something comes up and you can't do it anymore, it's no big deal. And, you know, it just gives you people to talk to you about things that you care about that care about the same things. And anyway, I just really enjoy it. I stopped going on Facebook, and now I'm just I talk to my volunteers all the time.
David Ames 22:30
Yeah. I hear you definitely we, we've started a community as well. And like that has provided a lot of what I was missing personally. Yeah.
What are some of the things that people come to recovering from religion with and or discuss in the in the support groups? Like, what are the kinds of ways this presents itself to people?
Rachel Hunt 23:01
That's a great question. A lot of times when people first come to us, either in a support group or on the helpline, they're just, they're just lost and upset. And they're almost to the point of not even being coherent. You know, they're just like, I don't know what to do. I be so confused. There's pressure on all sides. I don't you know, I don't know if I should tell people if I should not tell people, I don't know what I believe, I don't know what to call myself. I don't know, you know, how to live my life. It can be really disorienting. But, you know, once we start talking to them, we're normally able to break down their issues into some some fairly clear and common challenges. You know, one of the challenges is, if you're beginning to doubt, do you tell the people around you who seem to so strongly believed you tell them that you're doubting? You know, sometimes it's as easy as, hey, I'm not sure how I feel about that. And you can have a discussion with someone because they're open minded. Sometimes it's absolutely unacceptable to question at all and you know, that, just as we were saying, you know, if that were your community, or family or churches, you know, that and you have to sort of do your study and secret because you can't, you're not allowed to tell anybody that you're even considering doubting. So there's, you know, what to do about your relationships is a big deal. There's How do I figure out what to call myself? Am I an agnostic and my spiritual but not religious? And like Christian, but not evangelical? Am I, you know, am I an atheist? Those labels, we don't think they matter that much. We want you to, you know, whatever you believe is what matters. And we want to help you figure out, you know, help you sort through your mind and your thoughts so that you can figure out what you believe we're not here to tell you what to think. But we can offer you some definitions like you know, what do people usually mean when they say they're agnostic? What do people usually mean when they're say say they're atheists, but really, the labels are not that important. The secular community is pretty open
David Ames 24:59
on that. notes, I know that you all are going to try to make it very clear that you are not in the business of D converting people that, you know, if you're a believer and you're questioning, you can still come to recovering from religion, express those doubts, and nobody is going to try to convince you to change your mind. Right?
Rachel Hunt 25:15
Absolutely, thank you for saying that it is true that most of the volunteers are formerly religious, no longer religious, a lot of us are atheists, but, but we are training is very clear on that. On that point, our job is to meet you where you are, and to help you get where you want to go. And sometimes what people want is just to feel better about the fact that they doubt a little bit, but they don't want to leave their community, they don't want to leave their church, they're not really changing their beliefs, they just want to, they just want someone to tell them that they're not crazy for having questions. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, sometimes people come out of a very extreme religious group, and they still want to be religious, they just need a church that's going to be more welcoming for them and not so controlling, we can help with that, you know, we can send you someplace, that's not going to be so difficult, you know, occasionally we get people that, you know, are offended that we exist at all, you know, don't like the idea that somebody might possibly need to recover from religion, and, you know, but, but most most of those people don't Don't cause a problem. Another really big issue that people have is mental health issues. A lot of times, religious organizations try to fix you through prayer, they, they, they try to, you know, they like to believe that God can cure anything, and that if you are not cured, yet, it's because you didn't have enough faith, or they want to send you to a religious counselor who's going to tell you to pray, and you need more Jesus in your life. And that's why you're bipolar, you know, they, you know, they don't diagnose you, and they don't really treat you. And that can be a problem. And another big thing that can last for years, sometimes if it's not properly addressed is fear of hell, or, or Armageddon or fear of dying. These are things that people are taught in religion, this is real, and then it's going to happen and, and when your brain has grown around those fears, it's very, it doesn't just go away, because you change your beliefs, you know, changing the way you think doesn't automatically change the way you feel.
David Ames 27:21
I throw rapture and anxiety in there as well. People have legitimate anxiety about that. Yeah,
Rachel Hunt 27:27
absolutely. Rapture is another thing that we get sometimes people that were not even religious before, you know, seeing something online and getting scared, you know, was the rapture happening? Well, you know, it hasn't. Yeah, we know, they've been wrong every time so far. So what do you get? That? Yeah, yeah, those are really common, we get a lot of issues with people who are in the LGBTQ plus community. And, you know, they really wanted to be, you know, good Christians, or, you know, good Muslims, or, you know, whatever religion they were raised, and they, they want to comply with what their community wants from them, but they're just simply not capable. And it was so harmful to them, when they are constantly told that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. And that the only way that they can be accepted is to just change who they are. And they, you know, that's really difficult and harmful. And a lot of times that'll be the pathway out of religion for people's well.
David Ames 28:27
I imagine beyond just LGBTQ is just purity culture in general that we've got. Oh, yeah. I think this is the thing that I was surprised. You know, I'm Gen X. And I've just got a ton of millennials who are just suffering from that 90s era, kiss dating goodbye purity culture. And it just really hurt people.
Rachel Hunt 28:46
Yeah, it's so bad. It's so bad. I mean, there are people who, you know, did everything they were supposed to do, they did everything they were told, and then they get into a marriage that is, you know, they love their spouse, but they just cannot figure out the sex thing. They just it's so consumed with shame. And they just don't know how to make it work. And it's terrifying for them. And if you happen to discover that you need something different sexually than what your partner needs, nobody wants to help you, you know, and especially if you're, I mean, I don't know, maybe it's, it looks different from the male perspective. But what we hear a lot, particularly in our women's group is that is that women are just taught to please the man, it's just your job. And your pleasure is secondary, if at all. Sometimes the idea of women enjoying sex is, you know, bad, like if you enjoyed it's bad. You know, you're only supposed to do it to please your partner and and you are required and expected to do whatever he wants. Whether you like it or not. That's just your job.
David Ames 29:47
Yeah, that's so ripe for abuse there. Yeah,
Rachel Hunt 29:51
absolutely. Absolutely. And even if your partner isn't abusive, it's you're almost abusing yourself by refusing to advocate for yourself You know, refusing to have boundaries and refusing to respect that your body needs some sort of autonomy. You know, it's just incredible. It's almost like, it's almost like just taking the doors off of your house and telling yourself that it's your responsibility to let anybody who wants to just walk through and take whatever they want. You know, it's, it's just damaging.
David Ames 30:22
Yeah, that's a painfully accurate analogy.
Rachel Hunt 30:24
Yeah, it's, it's really, it's bad. The good news is that as bad as all these issues are just having someone to talk to who understands who may have experienced something similar, is so healing, and so soothing, and, and so helpful for people.
David Ames 30:43
Yes, absolutely. Yeah. It's so it's such a lonely experience, you think you're the only one and no one else could possibly have had these kinds of doubts before.
Rachel Hunt 30:53
It's true. And it's because the people, because people in religious communities are taught to suppress them or hide them. And so everybody around you could be doubting, but you'll never know, because they're afraid to show it to you, you know. But I was, what I started to say is that I remember as a new volunteer was really nervous that I wasn't going to be good enough for what people needed, that I wasn't going to be able to, you know, answer their questions or find resources for them, or I just wasn't going to be what they needed. But what I find the more I do this is what people need is to someone to listen, and not judge not tell them, they're wrong. And a lot of times, it's even, it's even better if you don't try to fix it, you know, because jumping to solutions too quickly, doesn't give people time to express themselves. And sometimes when people join our organization, as volunteers, they are a little overwhelmed, because there is kind of a lot of training. And it can seem like a lot to learn. And sometimes people feel like maybe they're not adequate to the task. But all the training is really just there to teach you to set aside, all your need to help and your need to be something and you're need to have all the answers. And just let people tell you their story.
David Ames 32:07
You're telling my story. So like, I started the podcast, because I needed to tell my story. And I was on steep hill occurs, voices of deconversion early on. And it was such a cathartic experience. I was like, I want to provide that for other people. And like, just being able to talk through even verbalize, maybe for the first time to another human being is just super cathartic. That's what you guys are providing, it helps
Rachel Hunt 32:35
so much just to get it out of your head and out into the world. You know, yeah. And of course, some of the other things that we're trying to do as volunteers is to ask specific kinds of questions, just to help people sort through what they're thinking and what they're feeling. And it just helps you sort of get your get all the chaos that's going on in your head sort of more organized so that you can kind of break it down and go, Okay, you know, these are the things that are bothering me, these things are more important or more urgent, and those are the things that I can attack first. And, you know, these are my options, and I can, you know, figure out what's best for me, you know, again, we don't, we don't have to tell you what to do. Because you know what to do, really, usually, we just have to, you know, help you get it all organized so that you can look at it, and think clearly and calmly and you know, then you can make your own choices
David Ames 33:36
I think you said earlier just the you know that you're not crazy that you're not, you know, alone in this. It's all that cognitive dissonance that you're experiencing while you're trying to keep these competing ideas, your own doubt and the orthodoxy of your faith tradition together. And you know, it's falling apart, you can feel that it's falling apart. And just have someone come alongside and say, Yeah, that's that's normal. Is that really a powerful thing?
Rachel Hunt 34:01
It really is, you know, gaslighting is a thing. And you can self gaslight too, you know, you know, when people when you're taught that, you know, there's only one way to believe there's only one way to think there's only one way to feel there's only one way to look, there's only one way to behave. And you start to feel like you don't fit in that box anymore. You can really, you know, this is why people feel like they're going crazy, because they think but I've always been taught that this thing that I feel doesn't exist, or I've always been taught that if I do A, B, C and D, that x will disappear and it's not working, you know, and we we delude ourselves into thinking that what we were taught is real and what we believe and think and our own experiences are not real. You know, it really can drive you crazy. It's bad.
David Ames 34:51
And I definitely have come to the to the point of view that that doubt in in most circumstances is a pretty good thing. It's kind of your brain telling you to do And the truth, right? Like, you know, there is risk. But questioning, ultimately is a good thing. You know, either you're going to be more convinced of your faith, or you're going to learn something new in either of those is good in the long run.
Rachel Hunt 35:13
Yeah, yeah. Well, lots of people have changed their beliefs, or sometimes deepen their beliefs by looking critically at what they were taught. And, you know, there's an old joke that if you want to make an atheist just gets give somebody the Bible to read? Yes. No, it doesn't have an effect on everyone. Obviously, there were plenty of people that are very well educated in the Bible that are still very strong Christians. But there are a lot of people that I've spoken to who started reading the Bible and started studying, you know, whatever religion that is really deeply because they wanted to get closer to God, they wanted to be better, you know, they wanted to understand better, and they were very committed to their faith. And the more they studied them more, they realized that there's just not much there that the reasons to believe are so ephemeral. They're all social and behavioral. Really. Yeah, I don't know if you saw this recent video essay by Drew of genetically modified, modified skeptic, he was talking about belief, behavior and belonging, and how the belief meaning the intellectual part is the smallest part, that's what kind of gets tacked on the top of it. But the belonging the behavior, the things that really are what faith is,
David Ames 36:35
yeah, yeah, no, I totally agree. Yeah, it's another statement of the community aspect of belief that, that social aspect of it, yeah, absolutely.
Rachel Hunt 36:43
And that's not even counting some of the really coercive, shunning and, you know, strong behavioral requirements that some of the very high control groups have, even if you're in a, you know, relatively benign religion, that community aspect, and that sort of peer pressure is pretty strong.
David Ames 37:10
I wanted to point out that not only does recovering from religion, have the immediate needs settled with the hotline and the support groups, but you also are like kind of the source of the secular therapy project, which is something that we mentioned on this podcast probably every other week, that, you know, if somebody needs a therapist, and as we've already stated, not someone who's going to just tell you to pray more that they can find a therapist through the secular therapy project.
Rachel Hunt 37:36
Absolutely. Yeah, secular therapy.org. It is a database. This is another organization, we call it a sibling organization to recovering from religion. It was also started by Dr. Darrel Ray, and we've worked pretty closely with them. But it's just a database of vetted, licensed trained, secular therapists who are committed to not using any non evidence based treatment methods. So they're not going to hand you a crystal, they're not going to talk to you about your chakras, they're not going to tell you to go home and read your Bible. You know, they're, they're going to use actual treatments that will help you with whatever your mental health challenge is. And quite a few of them, they're not required to know about religious trauma syndrome, but quite a lot of them are familiar. So if you have religious trauma, looking for a therapist through the secular therapy program, Project is a pretty good idea. And that the service is free, you know, putting the client together with the therapist, that service is free. Everything that recovering from religion, and the secular therapy Project does is free to the client. We don't charge for any of our services. But of course, the therapists themselves have to make a living and they have private practices, and they charge whatever they charge. One of the most common questions we get with regards to the secular therapy project was how much do they charge? And do they take insurance? Well, it depends on the specific therapist, and we can't we don't have control over that. You just have to contact them and and see what we can do it. I mean, I wish we could just offer free therapy to everybody. Everybody needs it. And yeah. When it snows, and you know, especially in the United States, most people do not have access to get therapy, if at all, and it's a big problem. But, but we do our best with peer support. And this might be a good time to talk a little bit about peer support. Yes. You know, the, the support groups that we do and the helpline, you know, these could be considered mental health services, but we're not trained. None of we're all just volunteers we have training but it's in pure support reflective listening and, and things like that. We're obviously not qualified to diagnose or treat mental illness in any way. But we can do a few things that you just wish your best friend would do. You know, or you know, when you sit down with your spouse and you want to talk about your day and then they jump in and want to solve that for you. Like, we don't do that we will listen, we'll ask you questions that will help you sort through it yourself will, you know, and we can also point you to resources. We have a vast database of all kinds of articles and videos and books and podcasts like yours, that that can answer questions and just give people a sense of what's out there other than what they've been exposed to. And these are very carefully curated. So they're, they're not going to be triggering. For the most part, I mean, obviously, depends on what triggers you, but it's not gonna, it's not going to be a critical thinking book that you pick up and go, Oh, look, a critical thinking book for kids. And halfway through, you realize this is a Christian book, they're telling you to think critically, unless it conflicts with the Bible. So those resources, don't make it into our database, you won't get it. Yeah. Anyway, so yeah, we we, we just keep adding things so that we can help people more and more, we have an online community, which is so private as to be almost secret, okay, you cannot, you can't reach it through our website, there's no link that you can follow. The only way that you can join this community is to talk to a volunteer like myself, or go to the helpline, and ask to be added in, they will ask for your email address, and then they will send you an invitation and you can't invite your friends, they have to go through us as well. And that just helps us keep it safe. For our clients that are at their most fragile, they need to have people to talk to and they need to know that some troll isn't going to pop in and start telling them they're gonna go to hell. And they need to know that they're not going to have some scammer, start asking them for their address, and you know, soliciting them for money and things like that. This is a very, very safe, supportive environment, we use the platform Slack. So it's like a social media, we have channels for different different topics and things like that. But it's a really good place to go if you need to have people to talk to you on an ongoing basis. Okay.
David Ames 42:05
Very cool. Rachel, are there any other topic that I haven't asked about that? You would definitely wanted to get across?
Rachel Hunt 42:12
Cali, we have so much. We talk too much about support groups. I don't know if you want to talk about that in more detail. Sometimes people want to know exactly what happens when they join a support group. Sure, let's do that. Yeah, so the way that works is you can go to meetup.com. And look for recovering from religion support groups in your area. And there'll be links to lots of different things in there. Most since most of the support groups are virtual, you can join any support group that suits your schedule, it doesn't have to be near you. And we have some that are specifically online that aren't even on meetup. I mean, they are on meetup, but there's not a meetup page because they're not centered in in a place like our women's group and like our LGBTQIA plus group. So we have so many that they really, there's one almost every day, if you look at the calendar, there's a support group somewhere in the world almost every day, most of them are centered in the United States, we do have one in Europe. And oh, this is something I wanted to say we're trying really hard to reactivate an inactive group in the UK. And we're having trouble finding a volunteer who's able to take over that group. So if you live there, or know someone who lives there, and is interested in training and support group, we would really love to have somebody from the UK, so we can reactivate that group. And we have several in Oceania. So we've got two in Australia and one in New Zealand. And we have one and Mexico, Mexico City as well. So we're national and one in Canada. So we're International, but you know, we're kind of growing out from the United States. We're working on it. But what happens when you join is you it's you'll go into a Zoom meeting, and you do not have to have your camera on if you want to, you do not have to give your real name. We'd like you to give some sort of a name. But it doesn't have to be your real name. You don't have to speak but you will be invited to usually we just do a few brief announcements about what the rules are, which is basically no proselytizing, no disrespect. And then each person is invited to briefly tell their story kind of like what I did at the beginning of this podcast about your religious background and what brings you to the group. And then we have open discussion about just whatever what people want to talk about. And it gets very emotional sometimes there. There are usually at least a couple of people that have had some very, very dramatic and traumatic experiences and it can be kind of gut wrenching, but it is so healing for people to realize that they're not alone. The other thing that's really funny is that a lot of times people feel like no one can understand them unless they came from that exact religious brat background. You know, like, Oh, but I come from this very specific small family culture. Oh, they come From this very obscure, you know, off shoot of Hinduism or something. And it's true that there's going to be some things about your specific group that are different from everybody else's. But those core feelings of needing to be heard. And having been taught that there's something wrong with you and feeling like you're not allowed to be honest with the people around you. And feeling like every your every thought and move is controlled. Those things are pretty universal, that can happen in any high control group has that. And even if the person you're talking to doesn't know anything at all about your religion, they can understand your feelings.
David Ames 45:38
For sure. I think that is a commonality that people hear their stories in a diverse range of experiences that include different faith traditions that include somebody from different gender from a different race, you know, what have you like, just hearing the human experience of this is super, super valuable?
Rachel Hunt 45:55
Absolutely. I mean, Orthodox Judaism, and you know, Amish and Muslim and Orthodox Catholic and evangelical like these, they all have the same core experience of being told who they're supposed to be. And that's really tough thing to get out of, it's hard.
David Ames 46:25
Well, I think you guys are doing amazing work, Rachel, hunch, the Support Group Director for recovering from religion. I want to give you just one more opportunity to tell people how they can reach your support groups and and the site itself?
Rachel Hunt 46:38
Absolutely, yes, the easiest way is to go to recovering from religion.org. Our main webpage has links to everything we talked about today. And if you're interested in joining support group, that main webpage does have a link to the map, the meetup map where you can kind of see what's near you. And it also has a link to the calendar where you can just see which groups are meeting at a time that's convenient for you. It also has the all the phone numbers that you can reach from anywhere in the world. And it has the chat line. So if you just want to chat into someone, it kind of looks like it's sort of a Tech Support Chat. But it's our helpline and you just chat in and there'll be someone that can talk to you about whatever's on your mind.
David Ames 47:22
That is awesome. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.
Rachel Hunt 47:24
Thank you. Oh, it was a blast. Thank you so much.
David Ames 47:33
Final thoughts on the episode. If you are having the dark night of the soul, if you are having a crisis of faith, and you need someone to talk to immediately, please reach out to recovering from religion, they have a phone number 84 I doubt it that is in the United States 844-368-2848. Or you can go to their website recovering from religion.org and have a web call with them. There are other numbers for other countries as well. And the main thing I want to point out here is that they are not going to try to D convert you. They are there just to listen. So if you need someone to talk to and someone to listen, reach out immediately. I love this conversation with Rachel, she is absolutely amazing, you can tell that she's in the right spot, helping to direct the support groups at recovering from religion. Rachel's personal story is really interesting, going from Christian Science to dabbling in Scientology, the law of attraction, various other things that I would put in the category of Woo, and eventually landing and realizing she was an atheist and that these were her people. I also really appreciate the volunteerism of recovering from religion and what Rachel specifically is doing gathering people who, like us, like you listener have been through this process. You can volunteer for recovering from religion and be on that crisis hotline. And my favorite quote of the conversation is Rachel saying it is often because the people in religious communities are taught to suppress their doubts or hide them. Everybody around you could be doubting, but you will still never know because they are afraid to show it to you. And then she said, what I find the more I do this is that what people need is just someone to listen and not judge and not tell them that they are wrong. That's all it takes to be a listening ear to help out. Please consider volunteering, as well as the recovering from religion.org site you can check out secular therapy.org. Secular therapy has the list of secular therapists that you can go to if you're having these kinds of doubts and you need professional care. I want to thank Rachel for being on the podcast for telling her personal story with honesty and integrity and inspiring us to do something to volunteer to be a part of helping people recover from religion. Thank you, Rachel. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about volunteering. I get asked often, what can I do in the secular community and I often give you ideas about how you can support the podcast. But Rachel has given us an even better idea. You can volunteer and be a part of recovering from religion. You can be the receiver of people's stories, you can be the person who listens and does not judge and does not tell them that they are wrong. As Rachel pointed out, recovering from religion is not about D converting people, it's not about convincing them that their religion is wrong. It is about just hearing the person story and what is working and what is not working for them. Rachael pointed out that she needs a volunteer in the UK to lead some groups. I know we have a number of UK listeners, if you are interested at all, you can reach out directly to Rachel or you can reach out to me and I will get you in touch with her. And more than that, I think the idea of just doing what Darrel Ray did start something, put it on meetup.com and see who shows up and just listen to people. I think this is acting out secular Grace if we can actually provide that safe place to land for people, a safe place for people to express their doubts to express their worries to not be judged. That is making an impact on the world. This is secular grace. Next week, we have our Lean interviewing Brian, the week after that we have community member Taylor Yoder after that, Stephanie b and so on. I will be conducting my interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht coming up here pretty quick and that episode will be out in early March. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beads. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful firstname.lastname@example.org for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Say you’ve realized you no longer believe, gone through some of the typical stages of deconversion, and are ready to move on with your life, when, Whammo! You’re blindsided by some old feeling from your previous life.
“Why do I still fear Hell?” “Why am I still afraid of being Left Behind?” “Why do I still feel guilty when I stay home from church?” “Why do I still feel guilt around sex? I’m a grown-up, for crying out loud.”
This is one of the hardest things I’ve found day-to-day about being deconverted. I don’t believe any more, but my body doesn’t seem to have got the message.
There’s a lot I can say on this topic, but number one is this:
It takes time.
It takes time to deprogram what took decades to program in the first place. It takes time to get used to who you are today and who you are becoming. It takes time to figure out how to navigate a world where you don’t have a book (or a publishing industry, church, etc.) telling you how to think. It takes time to find new art, new music, new friends, new habits, and new…everything.
I don’t say these things to be overwhelming, though I know from experience it can be. For now, I hope you can be patient with yourself. Be kind. You’ve been through a lot, and it’ll take time.
It’s been several years since I realized I no longer believed, and I can tell you: it gets better. There’s a wide, wonderful world of truly incredible people, experiences, places, ideas. This whole world is now open to you.
This week’s guests are Brian and Troy of the podcast, I was a Teenage Fundamentalist. They interviewed David at the end of 2022, and now it’s our turn to hear from them.
Brian and Troy “used to be loyal Christians megachurch leaders. They’re not anymore.” Their parallel stories are fascinating, as we are given a glimpse into their past lives and the Pentecostal movement in Australia.
Today, Brian and Troy’s “honest and often hilarious podcast peeks behind the curtain at the weird, the worrying and the sometimes traumatic world of Evangelicals and Pentecostals.” This is a great episode that you won’t want to miss!
“I say, ‘I started to deconvert,’ but I think I had started to deconvert the day I joined…because as you’re studying, as you’re looking into it all, you come across these issues, these contradictions…”
“I would say I felt accepted [in the church]. I would say it was absolutely conditional…on me behaving and conforming. But I was happy to do that at the time as long as that meant connection.”
“Bit by bit, I just started to think, This just isn’t actually true. But I didn’t want to come out and say it.”
“When you’ve been in Christianity for so long. When you’ve operated in such a confined environment…[and then] you open the floodgates and start to use some of your brainpower, sometimes it can become a scary place for people.”
“Anyone can tell their story. There’s such a power in human connection. There’s such a power in sense-making and story-making in our lives.”
“Pentecostalism is a very small slice in Australia, but it’s a very influential slice of Christianity.”
“I would bet there are more ex-Pentecostals than there are Pentecostals.”
“[In] most of the progressive groups, most of these progressive denotations, there are very few converts. It’s mostly refugees from conservative theology who…end up there.”
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. It's part of the atheist United studios podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. I want to thank my latest patron Ruby, thank you so much for supporting the podcast. You too can have an ad free experience of the podcast by becoming a patron at any level at patreon.com/graceful atheist. You don't have to go through the deconstruction and deconversion process alone, please consider joining the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, which includes various Hangouts, book clubs, discussion groups, you can find that at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. A quick shout out to my sibling podcasts on the atheist United studios Podcast Network, amusing Jews beyond atheism, and the humanist experience. Please check out those podcasts you can find them on the atheist United website at atheist united.org. Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. My guests today are Troy and Brian of the I was a teenage fundamentalist podcast. Troy and Brian have done some amazing work, you can hear the experience of having had faith and having experienced the downside and coming through on the other side. They both deconstructed at different times. But they've remained friends. And after they found each other after deconversion they decided to make a podcast and talk about it. They are from Australia as you will immediately recognize and the Assemblies of God was the faith tradition that they were both a part of at one time or another. Try and Brian have created a community much like our own the deconversion anonymous group for this podcast. They have the I was a teenage fundamentalist group on Facebook as well. Please check out their podcast, I was a teenage fundamentalist. There will be links in the show notes. Here are Troy and Brian to tell their stories. Brian, Troy, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Thank you. It's awesome to awesome to be here with her chat that we have with you late last year. So it's great to reciprocate and come on your podcast. So thank you.
Yeah, it's fun.
David Ames 2:43
Yeah, you guys are part of a really popular podcast called I was a teenage fundamentalist. And I think you're very authentic, the the fundamentalist experience that you guys had, I think really comes through, then your experience. On the other side. We're kind of a sister cousin podcast to one another. And I think this is a really great crossover.
We've watched your podcast for a little while. And when I say watch, I mean watching what you've been doing, but also, you know, listening and stuff. So yeah, it's really cool to be to be connecting with you because I just feel there's such a synergy. And what you're trying to achieve is very much with what in line with what we're trying to achieve to so thanks for having us on, David.
David Ames 3:21
Yeah, absolutely. And I love to give the opportunity to, you know, cross pollinate our communities, because I think our communities can benefit from listening to each other's podcasts. Yeah, absolutely.
Well, quite often cities have like sister cities don't those. So that's right, let's let's have a sister podcast. There you go. Graceful? Yeah, here we go. With forging new ground, this is what we do.
David Ames 3:43
That's right. What is very typical on my podcast is to begin with people's stories of their faith experience. So if we can, we're going to do like 10 or 15 minutes each on your personal stories of what your religious faith is like, and maybe a bit about your deconversion story. And just because of the ordering that's on my screen, I'm gonna have Troy go first.
Yeah, cool. Well, I was converted to Christianity through school. I was brought up in a family where we were told that we were Christians, but we didn't even go to church on you know, Easter and Christmas. And that kind of thing. I know that my mother had bought us all a Children's Bible. But Australia is very, it's a very secular nation and a lot of ways or at least post Christian in a lot of ways. And so whilst we wore the label, it didn't really matter. Even at Christmas time, Christmas was more about Santa than it was about anything else. But my mother had a friend that had been involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. And I used to listen to my mother and her friend tell stories about being involved in this and not so much my mother's stories but her reaction to her friend being involved in this so I'd heard about speaking in tongues and healing and these kinds into things. And so I was quite open to the idea of this. And when a Christian band came through my school telling us all about Jesus made a bit of a kerfuffle in, do you say that in the US kerfuffle? Is that a word that you use? Do you? Okay, cool. So yeah, made a bit of a kerfuffle in my school and some kids got converted. And then through a Fallout, I also, you know, ended up giving my life to Christ, as we say, and then I joined a Pentecostal group, which turned out to be quite an extreme cult, very similar to what's called the United Pentecostal church in the US. So we had to speak in tongues to be saved, we didn't fellowship with any other churches. And I was involved with them quite heavily, till about 17. And at that age, I'd started to realize that this was not how I wanted to live, because my family had never joined. And so I still had this, this measuring stick at home that I could say, This is what acceptance looks like, this is what love looks like. And so I ended up having myself kicked out and please go back and have a listen to my, my podcast stories about that. I don't want to bore you too much. But I had myself kicked out, I worked out how to how to do that. And then, as I was leaving, they were like, Oh, by the way, you probably damned to hell. And I was like, ah, and that didn't quite sit so well with me. So I went started doing, you know, clubbing and partying and all the things that you would do at sort of 17 until I came to a point in my life where I didn't like where I was, where I'd landed, I didn't like where this lifestyle had sort of taken me even though I was still quite young. And I had a friend of mine who had by this stage joined in Assemblies of God church, which is where this original group that I was a part of, had had come from. And so I went along with him and, you know, got a good dose of guilt and also saw the idea of, you know, the things that I've done over the last few years could be forgiven. And as I said, I wasn't really happy with the way I'd sort of journeyed and the way I sort of become. And so I recommended my life to Christ and, you know, join the ARG basically. And long story short, ended up Bible college, finishing Bible college, involved in church plants, involved in a series of different churches left the EOG became involved in in Baptist, the Australian Baptist union, later in the Australian Churches of Christ. And then my, my marriage really hit the rocks. And I started to D convert. It's funny, because it's even saying that now I say, I started to D convert. No, I think I started to do convert the day I joined. Really, yeah. And because as you're studying, as you're looking into it all, you come across these, these issues, you come across these contradictions. But the other thing was what Josie MC skimming, who was one of the guests on our podcast, I don't know if you've heard from her yet, but she She's wonderful. She's a clinical clinical social worker who specializes in religious trauma. And she said to us, there's these sites of injury. You know, there's these incidents that happen that just build up over time. And I think that's what happened to me, David, I think the sites of injury built up the inconsistencies of the religion. My study was probably the worst thing I could have done for my for my faith, because I took it seriously and studied the Bible and studied theology and looked at the contradictions and yeah, long story short, I d converted in about 2004 Stop church in about 1999 D converted in about 2004. Back in the day, where it was, there was no such thing as deconstruction. I mean, that was, you know, that was Jacques Derrida talking about art and things, you know, let alone religion. But yeah, then found my way into the hole. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, that that kind of stuff and the infidels website and there was a back in the day, there was a bulletin board online called walk away, which was for ex fundamentalist. I don't know if it still exists anymore. But it was a very isolating experience. And I'd headed overseas just to sort of leave everything behind. And yeah, you know, here I am. Now, I, as I said, I really came to a point of deconversion 2004. So we're nearly coming up on 20 years, but I'm still unpacking it. David, still, to this day, I'm unpacking things and, you know, stepping into in and out of therapy at times to talk about some of this stuff. But yeah, that's my story.
David Ames 9:40
I really liked that idea of sites of injury, that that's really evocative. We say sometimes that it's, it's not one thing, it's 1000 things so that's an interesting way to express that. Yeah. So I mean, I relate to so much of that and I will recommend to my listeners when Troy says go listen to his his story. He literally did get him stuff kicked out intentionally. So you gotta go listen to that story. It's really good
all right, Brian, let's hear it. Let's hear about your story.
Well, my story was I grew up in a home where spirituality was there, but certainly not church, certainly not Jesus or God. And I tell this in my story on the podcast as well around. We grew up having seances as a family that yeah, that would that was, we'd like to we'd like to connect with the dead cousins. So that was, I guess, my experience spirituality in it would also we'd speak about the afterlife would speak about reincarnation, I was always fascinated by those sorts of things growing up, and I had this book called unexplained mysteries, and it was all of those sort of things about, you know, portals and, or it was rubbish. But it was it was fascinating. And that was probably the thing that primed me for my Christian experience, which didn't start till I was 17. I hadn't really been involved in a church at all, or well, not really, I haven't hadn't at all, most of my siblings, I've got a, I've got seven siblings, and most of them grew up with some sort of, you know, nominal Catholics sort of connection to the church, they'd be pulled along on the occasional Sunday. But the next sister, my next sister up in me in the level, she was never exposed to it either. And neither was I. But when I was probably, I reckon 14 or 15, one of my brothers became a Christian. And it was one of those conversion stories, you know, he was a, he was a fan of drugs. And, you know, everyone saw him convert, and the drug use stopped, and very much like you spoke to us about your mom's conversion story. It was a very similar thing so bad. He used to evangelize the hell out of us. And he lived in another state in Australia, and he would ring and we would have to hang up on him. Like he was just so fearful. We're all going to die and go to hell. Yeah. So I just I thought it was bullshit. I thought that there's, you know, it's all rubbish. But anyway, when I was 17, I decided to go and visit him he lived in, in Queensland in Australia, and he was a surfer. So it didn't serve community. It's the sort of place you you'd go for a holiday. So I went up there and I got converted to this bullshit. I went up actually, with all these providers that if I stayed with them, they weren't allowed to speak about God or Jesus. They weren't allowed to have a Bible around. And if they had a Bible, it could be in their bedroom only. I was just a prat. But they stuck to that, you know, to their own credit. And it was me through seeing the contrast on of how that brother had been. And by this time, another brother had become a Christian and another sister had become a Christian. It was just like, it was spreading this revival in our family brother. So I gave it a shot, I became a Christian, and I was 17, you know, did the thing. Then I came back to to Melbourne, where I live in Australia. And back back then. I didn't have any connection with church. So I had to seek something out. It was pre internet. This is 1991. I was having no wasn't it was 1989, actually. And so I was just basically going around and seeing where these churches were. It was a church called Christian city, which was a large Pentecostal church. I found one connected with it just kept dropping in and out till I was about 19 and then connected with Pentecostalism through an independent church, and really felt part of it. I think it was, it was the connection that was the community. It was the ability to be able to, I would say I felt accepted, it was absolutely conditional. There was no doubt. It was conditional on me. Behaving and conforming a bit. I was happy to do that at the time, as long as that meant connection. But then I ended up at nao G church where Troy and I met and when I was I don't know, I was maybe 19 By that time, and that was my Pentecostal experience was very, very short really it was three and a half four years. I had a devolution very similar to Troy's be then left that that experience. You know I was the same I went to Bible college was on that trajectory to become a pastor. saw that as a career path, you can be a career Christian, why not? Why not get paid for it? So I tried all that. But then I ended up halfway through Bible college thinking, I just can't survive on this money, like, I'd become engaged around that time. And I thought, I'm just gonna go back to work. I'll come back to Bible college later. But I've just got to go work a while, and I never went back to Bible college. But I did stay connected with the church. The Toronto Blessing started to happen around that time. And for me, I just that repulsed me, I just I call bullshit on it. So that actually caused me to have a bit of a fallout with at that time, I was in leadership in youth leadership in the ARG church. And the pastor there, I just said to him, I can't stay, I think it's rubbish. And I left went to a Baptist church, so a bit more moderate. You know, obviously, they weren't Christians, because there was no Toronto Blessing happening there. So I felt I felt again, connected, but drifted and then ended up at a church of Christ. So Troy and I, even though at this time, we were hanging out a little bit, we it was just the same journey out. And it was more moderate, more moderate, more moderate. I was involved in churches of Christ, I lived into state for about 11 years. And that's where I ended up connecting with church of Christ, and then came back to Melbourne, where I then went to the church of Christ here. And really, it was quite progressive. And there was a lot of experimenting with church, there was a lot of there was meditation sessions. There was, hey, let's not have any preaching this week, let's all just hang out in groups and talk about shit that happened this week. And you know, how we can connect as community.
No wonder you fell away. They stopped what was what worked? Brother?
That's, that's exactly right. And, you know, and my, my university training as a social worker. So, you know, social justice is incredibly important to me. And so at this time, you know, it's it was really connecting with the Social Justice Mission of the churches of Christ, I was involved in a few different offshoots of social justice groups. And I think it was just bit by bit, things started to fall away in literal resurrection. Look, seriously, that she didn't happen, you know, personal relationship with God, really? How does he have a personal relationship with 7 billion people if everyone converted? That doesn't work. I'm just putting, when I'm praying, it's just going out in the ether. So bit by bit, I just started to think, I don't think that this is actually true, but I didn't want to come out and say it, there's a lot of fear sitting behind it. So I was married. At that time, I'd met my now ex wife, in church in the Pentecostal church. So but we'd both sort of journeyed out and probably started to Deacon for to some degree, we'd had children. The kids were involved in church, but probably not at the degree where others thought that they should be. So things were falling away, but then, probably 12, B 12, ish, maybe even 13 years ago, my marriage broke down. And it was at the point where my marriage broke down, that I walked away, because it gave me an out. There was your habit, we were habitually going to church. I hadn't had really, I don't think any real belief for quite a while. And so it gave me the ability to cut that but I was still very afraid at the time to go. I actually don't think I believe the Jesus story. I don't I really don't think that there's a literal heaven or hell, I don't and that took me a while on it's probably even a 10 year deconversion journey. Post that 13 years of completely leaving the church and and I'm still deconstructing and still trying to work it out. And so you know, what do you do when you do that, will you and and when you're close mates, you start a podcast. That's right.
David Ames 20:01
So I think it's fascinating that both of you, it seems like an inflection point was the end of a relationship. And, you know, kind of a theory that I kick around a lot is the the idea that faith is very much a community sustained thing. And that, for example, during 2020, when we were doing lock downs, I theorized that, you know, I bet a lot of people are going to deconstruct during this time, because they're out of the context of church. So Brian, you said you, you were habitually going to church. And so the second, you're not doing that, that that kind of sustaining force of that faith goes away? And I think for many people, that gives them a little bit of space to then think, you know, is this something I really believe or not? And without someone right over their shoulder saying, of course you believe, of course you do.
Yeah, absolutely. And particularly in Australia, we're not a Christian nation. You know, we weren't found, it's not like the states where, you know, God is everywhere. So he there, you don't walk out the front door and bump into something or someone else that's going to keep you in that bubble. And I definitely the bubble sustained me for a long time. And it was just the fact that my social connections, my community connections, were all within that church bubble. And you're right, as soon as I left that, I didn't, I didn't fear not believing necessarily, anymore, I might not have come out and said it. But I didn't have that fear. Whereas a lot of even though I was at a very progressive Churches of Christ, it was still fear based. It was still if you stopped believing if you had that formula that was there was there for a reason. And that kept you within the salvation bubble. And if you leave it, well, you know, your risky, so
David Ames 21:49
yeah, and it also sounds like that having a brother who really believed it, who if you take health seriously, that's actually the correct response. Right? If this is real, you had better be on everybody's cased, to convert, because they're going to hell. And so I think I sometimes say that it's not that Christians take things too seriously. It's that they don't take them seriously enough, like, what it actually says what the actual core of Christianity is, is deadly. And, you know, if you take that seriously, there's a certain reaction that would be appropriate to that.
So it was a strange time to live. And we, we often talk about this on the podcast, Troy and I have very different responses to our Christian and Christianity. I wasn't into evangelizing, I wasn't even into sharing my faith with people. And in hindsight, I'm not quite sure that I had a depth of belief. Even back then, I was just going through the steps, I was connecting with community, I was feeling like I belonged, that I was accepted. So I kept, I kept taking that stuff along. I mean, don't get me wrong, I was very sincere, in my belief, but I'm not sure about the depth of it. And I think that's why it was probably easy for me to walk away in the end, because I don't think I'd ever truly, because I always struggled with this, you know, that attitude of the other. You know, that other person out there, they're not saved, or someone so you know, we should treat them differently, because they're not a Christian, that they haven't said these 15 words that make them a Christian, you know, it, I just always struggled with that I struggled with that sense of the other and that you had to rescue them because I didn't necessarily see what they were involved with, is dangerous, or need rescuing from so I was bad Christian, really trying to say,
David Ames 23:47
when you see the humanity of out atheists, or out LGBTQ people, and you just realize actually, they're really good parents. They're really good people. Like, you know, I'd kind of like to be like, it's hard to hate that that person.
Troy, what I want to hear is, you guys were friends at one point in time, and you've kind of gone on your journeys in parallel tracks, how aware of each other were you as you were going through this moderation and deconstruction process?
Well, when we were in the Assemblies of God, towards the end of my time, Brian had sort of grown up in the ranks or grown up into the ranks of the youth group and I had gone away to be a youth pastor of another church. So when I came back, because that didn't quite work out when I came back, you know, talk about this, you know, away from the, from the supporting community. When I came back, I felt like they had changed. The whole church had changed, but actually it was probably more me that you know, that my experience had changed me and I disconnected from from that community. median, and that communities norms. And so I started to challenge what was going on in that church, but from a Christian perspective, and that didn't land that didn't land at all. And so I, you know, ended up out of my ass, as we say, in Australia and really looking for, you know, a better version of Christianity, and Brian was was still quite embedded in that still quite enmeshed in that. And then, uh, only a few months later, I think he started to sort of go, you know, which we heard in his story started to say, Oh, this doesn't quite add up for me. And so we connected again, quite quickly, because we had grown up in a similar part of town, we had very similar socio economic backgrounds, we enjoyed the same music, you know, this is before church. And then I think we we connected on that, because we hadn't been raised in the church, we had a genuine friendship, I think is a good way to put it. And so when I, when I had journeyed away, when as often happens, as you know, with people that leave, you know, the religion, they reconnect with people who have also left and you know, reforge relationships, and that's when you find out who your real friends were, and who were just who were just church acquaintances. So yeah, I think as soon as that happened, we reconnected in the, what we call the Baptist hostel space, because it was still Pentecostal ish, but it was also not. And but but then I think when I finally walked away from religion, Brian was still in it. And I think we, we stayed in touch, we sent emails to each other, I was living overseas. But then when I eventually came back from overseas, which was about 12 years later, by that stage, Brian's marriage had broken down, and we were in a place where we could reconnect his friends and his religion. I don't think you quite walked away yet, Brian, I think you were still holding on to it in name only. But I was happy that he's saying I'm an atheist, I think this is all bullshit. And that wasn't an issue. And so we, you know, continued on as friends and then we, we maintained our friendship, as unchurched as non believers, we both, you know, re partnered with non-believing women and had kids and all the things that you do. And during the COVID, lockdown, because Melbourne, where we live is one of the most lockdown cities in the world, least one of the most, one of the biggest cities. Although now with what's going on with China, that may not be true, but at least up to that point, it was. And I was listening to a lot of deconstruction podcasts and listening to a lot of these and I say, young people, because compared to me, they were and they were beginning this journey. And they were sort of moving into sort of this progressive space and, and I realized that some of the fear was still there. So I reached out to Brian, I said, Hey, I want to join this conversation, and no one's going to have me on the liturgist podcast or any other kind of things. So let's do our own with it with a uniquely Australian voice. And so and so we did, and you know, here we are, as you as you heard, in our in our episode, nearly two years later. And and we're still going and like you were never going to run out of content, I think the only time will probably stop this is when we've had enough because exactly where he is going to continue to be told and and as you said to us in the episode, when you came on our podcast was this is not new. And people have walked this road hold denominations have walked this road, you know, where they have become liberal and, and then become, you know, secular humanists. And we look at them and go, how could we ever become like that? And yet, here we are, in that exact space, you know, so yeah, so that was our journey.
David Ames 28:39
And then we also talked a bit off, I think Off mic about how doing this work benefits us as well, that there's a, you know, an aspect of this is our outlet, that kind of thing.
So Brian, I want to hear what the focus of the podcast was like what you Troy mentioned, uniquely Australian voice, what were you guys trying to accomplish? And what is the background to the podcast?
I think we set out to tell our stories and tell you know, you know, our podcast starts with and we sort of cringe when we look back at our first couple of episodes, just to you know, obviously your craft you grow into it. But we start out telling our stories and how we actually became involved. So it's a bit of a deeper dive into that than the the blurb that we just gave at the start here. But you get the sense of who we are, where we came from. But then we started talking about our experience and some of calling out some of the absurdities, calling out most definitely our experience of cognitive dissonance, you know, there's a lot of things that we toed the line I knew that, you know, it just didn't make sense. But you did it because you did it for Jesus. So it notes that sort of rubbish, but we just started to dive into, you know, talking a lot about our experiences. But then, very, very quickly, I think like you You described in the episode with us, you start to think about, well, this could be others, who do we start to have a conversation with about their experience? So we'd bring people in, and we'd start to talk about, hey, what was your experience? How did you go through this, this space? How did you navigate it. And then people started connecting, we started an online community, where people come together to process and to talk about the stuff that is happening for them in their lives. And quite often, it's pegged to an episode. So we'll drop an episode and, and people will go Oh, when, you know, so and so said that, you know, I really connected with it, but I just don't know how to work through this. And you'll have a bunch of people who will jump in, really help each other, try and navigate what they're going through, try and make sense of it. As you know, when you've been in Christianity for so long, you've operated within such a confined environment, that where you can process things that when the floodgates are open, and you can actually start to use some of your your brain power. Sometimes it can become a scary place for people. So we've we've done that with the podcast, it's been storytelling, it's been a lot of our storytelling of our experiences, it's been guests coming in. Sometimes it's been a therapeutic bent, where we bring someone in who's an expert in a particular area, but Josie mix gaming that we spoke about. And, you know, that religious trauma, we're recovering from religion. With Darrel Ray, you know, we've we've had all of those sorts of people come in as well to talk about their experience. But I think the story connection is a big thing. The stents making is a big thing for people being able to know that they're, they're not alone. And we want to continue that. And it's become far more popular than we thought it would become. A lot more people have connected with it than we ever thought. And I think it's it's the beauty of the current environment where you can anyone can have a voice, and it's something in the church where unless you're actually anointed to have a voice, then you don't get one. But yeah, yeah. So now anyone can tell this story. And I think there's such a power in human connection as a power and sense making and, and story making of our lives. And that's, I think that's where we are.
David Ames 32:57
It definitely that what comes across is the honesty and the vulnerability. And, you know, as we've said a few times, you know, I think that is really a powerful thing, people come along, and they can say, I'm not alone, these people have experienced this as well. And it comes from that willingness to kind of, for lack of a better term, bear your soul a bit. And I think that's that human connection. That's super powerful.
I want to ask a question, and I want to give you the opportunity to tell me to eff off if this is too personal, but I noticed that you guys began with a level of anonymity of just your first initials. And at some point, you began to use your first names. Talk me through that, what were you trying to accomplish there? And why are you a little more open these days?
Yeah, when we first started, I was afraid because we were going to be bagging out Hillsong and bagging out Australian Assemblies of God now called the Australian Christian churches. I was a bit worried about us getting sued. years before I was involved in a group called the revival centers and years before in the 90s. When I was what we called, you know, deprogramming isn't it funny the way it's gone from deprogramming to deconversion to deconstruct Yeah. But I was involved in, in, I guess, bringing down this revival centers movement, and we were threatened with legal action a number of times. So I wasn't sure how far this was going to go. I didn't think we were going to go quite as as blatant as I did in the sort of counter revival center days. But nevertheless, let's set up for that. The other thing too, is we both have professional lives, and we didn't know how this was going to be received in that space as well. And both of those have proven to be not true. Both of them have proven to be positive. So we have just recently started well, not just recently at the end of last year, we started using our first names, and then recently when we have been promoted We've even used our last names in some of the things that we've done as well. So it was it was sort of an opening up, it was a testing of the waters and to see what's going to happen, because you know, Hillsong, for example, is quite litigious. And they do try and shut people down. But we've sort of made the decision as well that we won't come out with any sort of accusations, etc, that aren't firsthand, or that aren't already on the public record. And in that sense, I don't think we're going to be sued anytime soon. But yeah, that that was where we were coming from, and that has come at a cost. Like I've had my ex wife contact me and being very concerned about what I've got to say, podcasts, things like that. So you know, that does come at a cost. But I think we've pretty much weathered that storm, I don't think anything's going to happen anytime soon.
David Ames 35:50
I definitely went through a similar process, I wanted to protect my family, you know, you're doing this on the internet, then, you know, who knows, and growing a bit more comfortable, maybe even naively. So we'll see. We'll see if that ever turns out to have been a bad decision. But I understand that impetus delight. I want to have my voice out there, but I'm not quite ready to be fully known.
The next topic I want to get to is, you know, we clearly have similar backgrounds, both in kind of Pentecostalism, charismatic, and the general and specifically Assemblies of God. What I don't know as as clear to us listeners is how big a deal Hillsong is in Australia. So I'd like to talk about the experience of you guys call it the great big A OG for samples of God, but Pentecostalism in general, and Hillsong, specifically within Australia.
Yeah, look, I think Pentecostalism within Australia is quite a small thing. Like it's a Yeah, it's a fairly small slice. However, it's a very influential slice of Christianity. And some of that has been through Hillsong. And its success, particularly with its music, you know, hit the the Australian area, the area charts, it's hit billboard, over in the stage, you know, I mean, it's been hugely, hugely successful. So I think that has been part of his exposure and influence here. But we also recently, until about a year ago, had a Pentecostal Prime Minister, who was part of the Australian Christian churches, and he very much bought his his beliefs into the way that he governed Australia, he connected and you know, he had been to Hillsong. He denied he'd been to Hillsong. But someone shared photos of him with Brian Houston, the then senior global pastor at Hillsong. That was a very strange denial. He, you know, he tried to get Brian Houston into a meeting with Trump when Trump was your president. So you know, he definitely tried to leverage it. So I think Pentecostalism got an exposure through that. But Hillsong it's been a huge thing. I mean, we had a Royal Commission into Institutional sexual abuse. So it looked at a different institution such as churches, homes, you know, the the environment that people had been in, in foster environments or whatever. And Hillsong came to the fore through that as well because Brian Houston, the the global senior pastor, as he likes to call himself of Hillsong, his father had sexually abused children in New Zealand, which is the country that Houstons came from, and that had been covered up covered up by Brian Houston. Of so it was, he's actually been charged with covering that up is looking at a prison term. And he also has been thrown out as pastor of appeal sung in Hillsong, I know has gone crazy over in the states to in New York, and, and also LA and, you know, it's been the Church of the stars with Justin Bieber and, and many other artists becoming involved with them. And with the practice involved as well. Christopher proud of something like that. And there's quite a few Hollywood stars involved. And
David Ames 39:35
the music too, I think, I mean, I think non Pentecostal churches that are evangelical like will do lots of Hillsong music as well. So it's been it's had a huge, huge influence from that perspective.
Yeah, it has. It's been massive. And I think that was the watershed moment when they first started hitting the charts here. And you know, it's a massive church. I mean, it meets in a stadium. It's your typical type of mega church, and it's in the media Like we actually have journalists here who their focus is Hillsong. So, someone in Hillsong farts and they report on it, you know, it's quite nuts. But I don't know what you'd say Troy about any further about that. I mean, we weren't necessarily connected with Hillsong it's it hills, some came out of the Australian Christian churches or that ARG. And we were, I guess the church were involved with at the time was definitely fit the bill of a mega church, it was probably bigger than Hillsong at the time, before Hillsong really broke. But Hillsong was sort of an offshoot, it was something to solve we've been involved with. Okay.
I think I think the thing to note, though, is that there's a, there's a revolving door with Australian Pentecostal churches, even though they may be small numbers, there's a lot of people go through them. And come out the other side, I would dare say that there's more X Pentecostals than there are Pentecostal. So our story is not unique. So in that sense, I think there is also an influence. Most people in Australia would know someone who's been involved in a in a mega church or in a Pentecostal church, even though they don't have the numbers they don't have the political clout that you see in the US.
David Ames 41:17
Yeah, I think in the US, probably someone will correct me the minute I say this, but I would say the Southern Baptist Convention has kind of as a single entity has the kind of the biggest influence in the US. But you know, Assemblies of God is still widespread throughout the US as well. I've had people ask me this question, I'm gonna ask you guys this question. Had you been a part of a more progressive tradition a more? And actually, I want to get to this concept of the difference between liberalism and progressive, but I just mean, less theologically conservative, do you think you would have had the same deconstruction experience?
I think the answer to that, for me is, the question is really moved to because I was recruited via a Pentecostal cult, I had no experience of, of Christianity in any sort of meaningful way. I journeyed out of Pentecostalism into more moderate eventually to becoming a sort of progressive, but it was always a journey out. So I think the the attraction of community, the attraction of forgiveness, the attraction of it, a meaning and a purpose. I remember in Bible college once a pastor said to us, he said that the problem with liberal churches is he said, they don't convert anyone that don't bring anybody in. And he said, as a matter of fact, they are what did he call them a a parasite on the true church. And and I think there's some truth to that without the vitriol. I think there's some truth to that, that most of these progressive groups, most of these progressive denominations, there's very few converts. It's mostly refugees from conservative theology that sort of ended up there. So, so no, I don't think I don't think that I would have even possibly been recruited into that sort of church. But ultimately, when I did journey out of Pentecostalism, or out of fundamentalism out of evangelicalism into something more progressive, I made a conscious decision. It's like, well, what, what's here, nothing. There's nothing here that I need, I can be a good person I can be, you know, a humanist, I can be a giver of my time and energy and effort and money to charities, etc. If I want to do good, I don't need fairytales. I don't need, you know, mythology. So, so I don't think I would have ever been drawn into that kind of church in the first place. David,
David Ames 43:42
that would probably be similar to my answer. But I still want to hear Brian's as well.
Now very similar. I came into the bright lights and the band of a Pentecostal church and, you know, the really cool acceptance and, you know, I got a, I became a Christian in a surf community. So it was very cool. You know, it's a bunch of very cool people, their ex hippies, you know, I think that connected me into it, there was a bit of a reality in what they were doing. End up, it was a performance. And I connected to that performance, I journeyed out, as we heard before the same route as Troy through the Baptist hostel through the more progressive Churches of Christ. So even when I tried to make sense of what I will try to make sense of what I believed, it still didn't work, like I was always going, I was on a trajectory to journey out and the day that I do need in,
David Ames 44:36
you've said that a couple of times, it reminds me of a quote from BART Campolo that somebody asked him, you know, when did you start to doubt? And he said, about 15 minutes after I started to believe, and, and I think there's some deep honesty there, right. Like lots of people would jump on that and say, See, you didn't really have any faith, but I think there's just honesty in that statement and the way that you're expressing it as well.
David, can I just footnote I think that's exactly where I got that. Comment from I think it came from BART Campolo that the day I joined was the day I started to leave. So yeah, footnote there.
David Ames 45:06
Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Trash I heard you working through and we're gonna get to the source of this, but in a minute but a difference between liberal versus progressive Christian, I wonder if you would expound on that. And what you were trying to capture in describing that difference?
Yeah, I look, it could just be semantics, it could just be a matter of terminology. But back in the day, to be a liberal Christian was worse than being a non Christian. You know, because you didn't believe in the basic tenants of the Christian faith. You didn't believe in the basic Creed's? Why are you even calling yourself a Christian? You know, it's a wolf in sheep's clothing would have been the way that we would have used it. And I think that term became for most conservatives. For most evangelicals. It was a term that you never wanted to wear. And you never wanted to believe that you were ever going to become a liberal, or a liberal Christian. And so I think what happened is that as that term became more and more pejorative, people just came up with new terms, you know, and we see that all the time, we see that in political correctness, we see that in the even we talked about it before from deprogram to deconversion. to deconstruct, it all seems to become a little less offensive, and then it'll come full circle, and people will start using it again, I think it's the same kind of thing with that term. So people adopted this word progressive. And I think, you know, you know, John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, all these poster boys for liberalism would be quite happy to wear the modern label of progressives. And I think a lot of progressive Christians would be wearing that label. It's very happy to read those books, if they really got in and had a look at what those people were saying, because as you said before, Nothing is new. Right? This is this is all the same. And so the journey into liberalism, the journey into progressivism, it's the same thing. So ultimately, that was the long way of saying I think it's basically the same, but there are cultural reasons why we've abandoned that term.
David Ames 47:15
And then I think what led to that discussion is you had a couple of people on and we're going to talk about one of them in depth here. But yeah, Brian McLaren on and Philip Yancey. Brian McLaren, I think would give himself the moniker of progressive Christian. Yancey might not, Yancey might still think of himself as a evangelical. The reason I bring up Philip Yancey in particular is that he had a profound impact on me during my Christianity that Jesus I never knew hit me right at that time, when I was a youth pastor, feeling very isolated and alone. It expanded Christianity for me in a way that probably made it drag on a little bit longer for me. But he was kind of the intellectual outlet for a Christian who is a bit of a skeptic, a little bit of doubts, that kind of thing. And so I have a soft spot in my heart for him. Well, you guys got the opportunity to interview him on this side of deconstruction. deconversion. And it was quite an experience for you. So I'd like you to talk about why you had him on what what it was like having him on. And then you guys had to process it after it was done as well.
Yeah. I think it was the same for us. And Troy even spoke to Philip in the episode, and saying the the profound influence that he had on him was to a point where he actually got a tattoo of the word grace in Chinese. So it was, you know, I think that what's so amazing about grace, that book that he wrote, for me, was one of the most impactful books that I ever read as a Christian. And I think it was because I read at that time, where I was just going, I was bought in through this whole forgiveness and grace story. I'm not feeling it. Like I'm actually feeling judgment. And I'm feeling an incredibly constrained environment. So I was questioning that. The book was, yeah, it was powerful. And but he also dropped another book, which is his memoirs where the light fell. And it was reading, reading that, that I actually felt a deeper connection to him because he was incredibly vulnerable in that book. He told the stories of growing up he tall, he told the warts and all of the church. So having him on was, we were fanboying. Both of us were absolutely fanboying. And the conversation was, it was great. It was deep. It was authentic. But he very much still does identify as an evangelical. He's disappointed with where evangelicalism has gone in the States. And you know, he's vocal about that. But he's still deeply evangelical and believes in the roots of it, and he's still very much a Christian. He still believes in The tenants of Christianity we were really clear before we got him on. And we were having conversations with him saying, we are not Christians, we do not believe anymore. And he said, Great. These are the sorts of people I want to connect with you guys. These are the you know, I would his words he said to us with I would hope that the Expand Jellicle community would connect with my new book. That's that's who I want to reach there to I want to read my story. So it was a it was an interesting episode because you can't dislike Philip Yancey, he's the one he might be touting beliefs that we don't any longer believe but He's genuinely doing that and genuinely engaging. However, cognitive dissonance all the way through the conversation. But you couldn't not like him. But then when we dropped that episode, it was a real polarization I think with with our listener community, which is their Facebook community of people going oh my god, I loved Philip, what a great conversation and others going What the fuck? Why did you talk to him? You know, he's still deeply in it. And and people really wrestled with the content there because we we also you know, we did connect with him I think during the interview and for us that was a real unsettling after it like we spoke after him when our goal wasn't that amazing. And then listen back to the episode and went, What the fuck? What what happened there? We're, we're under a spell. But we had to so we dropped that episode. And then next week, the next week, we dropped a debriefing episode and a deconstruction of that episode and what was happening for us. It was full on but like, if you haven't listened to the episodes, which it sounds like you have like, we really tried to process it and we're going what went on here. Troy, what are your thoughts around it?
Well, yeah, it's, it's, it's even hard. Now thinking about it and thinking how much we did fanboy him. We were just all over him. You know, we just it was like, Oh, we got Philip Yancey. Because there was a part of us that was you know, all of a sudden we were 20 something again, and we were interviewing Philip Yancey. For God's sake. It was it was really, really cool. But that said I was afraid he was going to see us as a mission field. I'm sure he did on some level, but I was afraid he was gonna come on and, and you know, high and mighty but he didn't and his book is really, really good. I mean, his book, you could read that as a as a non believer and just think this is, this is amazing. As I've said before, it's a combination of To Kill a Mockingbird, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It's, it's just wonderful. It's a really, really good book. I think he it still comes through that at the end. There is crazy religious mother, there's crazy atheist brother and there's middle road Evangelical, Philip Yancey kind of thing. And I think that that implicit that this is the right path. And I don't know necessarily that that's that's the case, even for his own family. But yeah, it it challenged us to say what do you do with evangelicals who aren't Trump supporters who aren't politically motivated to, you know, tear democracy down, and yet are good people and are doing good things and, you know, intellectually addressing the inconsistencies of their faith. And that's when I thought, I think it comes down to labels again, and this is what I said. I think he's a liberal. I think he's a progressive, maybe not theologically, but socially. And even politically, he's quite progressive. And I think that's where the rubber hits the road. It's what people are doing, not what they, you know, sort of believe in, in their own private world.
I think that I think that's the cognitive dissonance bit like he's, he's definitely is talking the words of Christianity and evangelicalism, but he seems to be living the life of the progressive. And I can't remember in the episode if we put it to him, of where he he sees himself out. I can't remember any of that. But we'll have to go back and have a listen to
you. I think he did. Because we asked him, you know, what about the term evangelical? And he said, Well, maybe one day I'll have to stop using that term if it continues to go the way that it's going. So you know, he's aware, but but it is its labels, its its badges.
David Ames 54:39
If I could be so bold as to talk about a way to process that. There's a leader whose name is escaping me other than his first name James of the St. Louis Ethical Society. He made a statement once on on Twitter that he probably has already forgotten but it's stuck with me. Basically, that everything is secular. Everything is a human endeavor, and And that religion is included in that. And so what we do when we're religious is still secular still humans trying to figure out the world to connect with each other. And, you know, I think Yancey is well within within that in the sense that, you know, he has a religious humanist and he cares about people and he's expressing that. And so just the same way that you know, meeting atheists or or LGBTQ people, when we were within our faith shook that you meet Nancy and it's kind of the opposite of it. It's just because it's, this is a good human being you're talking to and so that's what you're connecting with is it would be my interpretation of the of the experience.
I think so. And I think also, you know, hearing what you were saying about your experience of Philip Yancey and also our experience of Philip Yancey is he's doing a good thing. He's actually helping fundamentalists be less fundamentalist. And as I said, if we hadn't gotten his book from the Christian bookshop, we probably would have said, This is too liberal, but they did a bait and switch. You know, we went into the fundamentalist bookshop bought a fundamentalist book, and we're impacted with humanist ideas. Oh, my God. And and it did push. both Brian and I, and from what I'm hearing from you as well, it did push us in the in a good direction. So. So kudos to him, you know, kudos to him. Yeah.
David Ames 56:21
And I think you guys said that he probably wouldn't like to hear that, but that he was a part of your deconstruction. Quick, I don't want this to turn into a fanboy session about Philip Yancey. But quick sidenote, when I went to buy the Jesus, I never knew, very, very conservative Christian bookstore, and I got just glaring looks. As I was buying the book from the bookseller, it was understood that, you know, he was definitely more liberal. And there's something different about him, even at the time.
One of the things that I wanted to ask him, which I didn't get to ask him was that Marcus Borg wrote a book called meeting Jesus again for the first time, which sounds a lot like the Jesus I never knew. And I wondered if Philip Yancey hadn't read that book, and thought, I want to bring an evangelical version, because it comes back to the person of Jesus, you know, aside of, aside from all the religious stuff that we've gone through, and all the doctrines, etc, let's come back and look at this, this person of Jesus and and meet him again for the first time or the Jesus that I never knew. And and I would really like to know if Marcus Borg had actually impacted Philip Yancey, or if he would even admit that because Marcus Boggs book was first, I haven't actually
David Ames 57:37
read that. So you know, maybe someday, if I'm interested. I'll do that.
As we wrap up, guys, I want to focus back on your podcast and the community that you're building, how can people find the community and maybe just talk a little bit about what is going on in the community that you guys are building?
Sure, well, the podcast is available on all the good platforms. And as Brian likes to say, some of the bad ones too. Yes. We have, obviously where, you know, we're on social media, we're on Instagram, we had to be pushed onto Instagram, because we're both in our 50s. We didn't, didn't know about the Instagram. We are now on Instagram, we're on Twitter, we'll see how long that lasts. We're on Facebook as well, we have that Facebook community. You know, and look, we have communities of people that are you know, volunteering behind the scenes to help us out. People can connect with us in the in the different social media platforms, because we do tend to respond, we read pretty much everything. Matter of fact, there's time to have to say I've got to I've got to put this down for a while it could become an obsession. But we try to make it meaningful, and we try to make ourselves available to people. I think the fact that we have this uniquely Australian voice makes us different. And I think some of our American audience, sometimes grab their pearls, you know what I mean by that they're like, they just say that. And that's that's very Australian. And I think that's unique. And some people have actually said to us from from foreign audiences, it's nice to hear you guys saying stuff that we would never dare dare say in our own accent. And that makes it kind of distant yet the same in the same moment. So, you know, we welcome people from around the world, but it's uniquely Australian in our experiences. But as you've said, David, and we've said to you, it's still the same shit different bucket. Yeah.
And I think it's the great thing about living in a nation that was founded for convicts is that we were just a reverent, it's in our DNA. We, we definitely dwell in that irreverent place. But I look, I think that the Facebook community is definitely a place where people connect most. As I think I said before, it's about 800 people within that community as we speak, the podcast has gone mental, in compared to our expectations, you know, nominated for an Australian best podcast award for current affairs. By the time this goes to air, we'll know whether we got the gong. But it's, you know, it's just amazing to, to actually think that people are connecting with two ordinary blokes living in Australia.
And if we do when I think we need to stand up the front and say, we just want to thank God for his podcast, because if it wasn't for God, the podcast wouldn't exist.
If it wasn't for a God that doesn't exist, wouldn't exist.
David Ames 1:00:45
I think that is the ultimate Mic drop. And Troy and Brian, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thanks. Thank you.
Final thoughts on the episode. You might notice I'm a little subdued, my voice is a bit subdued. I have not been feeling very well. I'm feeling a little better now. But if my voice is different than that is why I really love what Troy and Brian are doing with our podcast and particularly with their community. It is so much like this podcast, it's a it's amazing. You can hear in the interview, the realness that comes through in their stories. They both had experience in the Assemblies of God, and we're around the influence of Hillsong, if not directly at Hillsong. And then I thought it was interesting that during their deconstruction they called themselves Baptist hostels that they were going to a theologically Baptist church, but that had charismatic leanings. Troy's story of getting himself kicked out so that he can have sex is well worth it. You've gotta go listen to that episode, for sure. I've really appreciated Brian's discussion in this interview about the influence of his brother, his brother becoming a evangelical Christian and him going to visit assuring them that he was not going to be converted, and he got converted. So there is the acknowledgement of the power of religion and the message and love bombing and all of those things. I really appreciated Troy and Brian's humor, they're Australian humor. They're distinctly Australian voices, they say. I think that humor is a fantastic way to overcome what can be seen as tragedy. And they are doing that. Well. I've obviously related to both Troy and Brian, because of reading many of Philippians C's books, it was really interesting to dive in and talk about their experience interviewing him and the misgivings that they had after interviewing Philippians. See, that is a fine line that I walk constantly of who should be on the podcast, who should we platform, it is not always obvious what is going to work and what isn't. You can find I was a teenage fundamentalist on all the podcast platforms. They also have a YouTube channel called I was a teenage fundamentalist. They also have a Facebook group that is associated with their Facebook page. So check that out. I will have links in the show notes, I will also have their link tree that has links to all kinds of their content. I want to thank Troy and Brian for being on the podcast for being so honest. As we said, This really feels like a sister podcast, so many similarities. Definitely check them out. Thank you for sharing your stories. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is about acceptance, accepting yourself accepting others. I keep finding people in my life who when they finally realize that I accept them for who they are entirely without reservations without misgivings completely open up and and I get to see that person for who they really are and they stop hiding. Then that lesson is definitely true for myself, when I have had the opportunity to really tell my story to someone to really tell where I'm at where my heart aches are. That has been a profound and cathartic experience. And actually mean this in many areas beyond just religion. But what we're doing here on the podcast is giving a platform for people to tell their story. And telling your story is profound is cathartic. And becoming a part of a community where people express their acceptance of you is life changing. I want to encourage you all to do three things. One and to accept yourself for who you are. And not to beat yourself up and brace your humanity. You don't need to be something else or someone else you can be yourself. And that is not only enough, that is fantastic to try to show secular grace for other people that they need that much acceptance as well, and be the person who is safe for others to come to and tell their story and be vulnerable. And three, if you haven't yet told your story on this podcast and you have had a faith transition of one kind or another, I'd love to have you on. And I'd also love you to become a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook community to experience that acceptance in the group reached out to me at graceful email@example.com the Facebook group is at facebook.com/groups/deconversion Next week, I have Rachel hunt from recovering from religion. That was an amazing conversation. I can't wait to share that with you. I've got a number of community members lined up and a couple of interviews done. I still have Jennifer Michael help coming up. The interview will be later this month, and that episode will come out in early March. Her new book is The Wonder paradox and it is fantastic. Go check that out. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beads. If you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful firstname.lastname@example.org for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast be part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
The edge—the brink, the threshold, the end. The edge is where you may, with one false step, plummet to your death. The edge is where uncertainty lies, and that’s terrifying.
When we get to the edge of nearly anything, our limbic system kicks in and screams, “You’re about to die. Stop! Turn back!” We want to run away. And if staying alive is our highest objective, perhaps we should. But is there not more to life than simply surviving?
If I leave christianity, where will I go?
If I keep asking these questions, who will be there to answer them?
If I no longer have faith, what will I have?
The thing is: you don’t know. Everything about standing at the edge is uncertain. But, if you’re honest with yourself, wasn’t life uncertain back living inside the fences?
Still too much outside your control. Now, at least, you can acknowledge that truth and move forward. Do it.
Do it, scared.
Do it, full of doubt.
Do it, seeking help along the way.
But do it, move forward toward the edge. Let yourself be pushed and then fly. You may be pleasantly surprised at the trip.
This week’s guest is Evan Clark. Evan is the Executive Director of Atheists United. Evan grew up in a partially religious home, but at six years old, the idea of a god didn’t make sense to him.
He attended a Christian liberal arts college and was able to start its first atheist group. Since then, he’s gone on to create many humanist communities.
In this episode, Evan explains why atheist spaces in the US differ from spaces in other more progressive countries, why community is not the only thing people need, and he shares some of Atheists United’s upcoming projects.
“‘Why do you need an atheist community?’ It’s not about atheism; it’s about atheists. Atheists are people, and people need community.”
“In the US, we don’t fix homelessness with our government. We don’t fix hunger with our government. We don’t provide healthcare to all of our citizens, and so what is the most powerful, most well-funded institution, outside of government, that then steps up?…religion.”
“There’s something unique about the humanist perspective that we can offer the world.”
“To be a ‘Philosophy Bro’ is abnormal. To sit and ponder literally everything while things burn around me? That is a privilege upon a privilege.”
“There’s so much more value from what I can do…getting atheists together and doing good work and providing transformational spaces for them; rather than being the one who fixes bad ideas of other people.”
“You stay in an organization, and you become active in an organization…when it transforms you, when it’s something that helps you grow as a human being.”
“Humanism starts from the idea that magic isn’t real. It’s a naturalist world…God and gods aren’t things that matter to our universe. We are these small little homo sapiens on a small planet, in a small galaxy, in an unbelievably massive universe.”
“The story of the universe and the idea that you can solve problems…and understand your place in [your community] and figure out moral and ethical problems. I think that’s more beautiful [than religion] because it’ll always improve based on new evidence and experience.”
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. It's part of the atheists United studios podcast. Welcome, welcome. Welcome to the graceful atheist podcast. My name is David, and I am trying to be the graceful atheist. Welcome back. As you heard in the new intro, the podcast is now a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. As we begin the new year, I want to remind you that we have the deconversion anonymous Facebook group at facebook.com/groups/deconversion. Please consider joining and become a part of the community. I want to thank all the patrons on patreon.com Thank you so much for supporting the podcast. Thank you to Sharon Joel, Lars Ray, Rob, Peter, Tracy, Jimmy and Jason. Your support is much appreciated. If you would like an ad free experience of the podcast, become a patron at any level at patreon.com/graceful atheist. You will also get the podcast early ish on most weeks. You'll get it a few hours early on occasion. You'll get it a couple of days early. Hang on until the end for the final thoughts section. I'll talk a bit more about some of the plans for 2023 including what the community will be doing. As always special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show. My guest today is Evan Clark. Evans bio says he is a humanist entrepreneur, a political consultant and a public speaker with over 14 years experience tinkering with secular communities. In 2019, Evan was hired as atheists United's first executive director, atheists United's mission statement is our mission is to build thriving atheist communities empower people to express their secular values and promote separation of government and religion. But much more than that, Evan is a secular Grace kind of humanist and you're going to hear that in the interview. Evan reached out to me in the fall of 2022, and asked if the graceful atheist podcast was interested in becoming a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. And I am very excited to say that as of you hearing this, we are now a part of that podcast network and I am excited about my sibling podcasts, and the work that Evan myself and the sibling podcasts will do together over the next and following years. Here is Evan Clark to tell his story.
Evan Clark, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.
Evan Clark 2:51
Thanks for having me,
David Ames 2:52
Evan, you're currently the Executive Director of atheists united and I'd love your bio on on the site. It says evidence a humanist entrepreneur, political consultant and public speaker with over 14 years experience tinkering with secular communities. So my first question to you is did you start at 12?
Evan Clark 3:10
No, no, no. Oh, man, I'm glad I still look that young. No, I started in college. I attended California Lutheran University and I started their atheist club. Okay, I cold emailed the Secular Student Alliance and immediately got a group started by the end of my freshman year, and it was wild. It's a really unique experience starting a Secular Student Alliance. There's only maybe three or 400 of us in the world that have done that before. And then of those, I'm one of like, 10, that did it at a religious University. So we had kind of a unique experience. And I will say Cal Lutheran is not your Bible thumping. Liberty University or Azusa Pacific or something. It is. It is a open liberal arts college. And we had a really great experience. But yeah, I think it is a unique experience being in a religious space. I mean, most of us are in a religious culture, and we deal with religious politics, but then having your college environment have prayers in weird places, and pastors that are on the payroll in a church that, you know, they they closed down classes for an hour each day so people can go, Oh, wow. But luckily, it wasn't forced. So we there were plenty of secular students on campus. And we we built a really unique community. And that was my first that's what really kind of got me excited about this whole thing. I remember our last our last meeting in college I the last one for me, after three years, four years running this group, I challenged everyone like Do you think there's a need for spaces like this after college? And I had already made up my mind by then, but I was trying to see, you know, where everyone was at and what they thought of it. And yeah, I mean, to really think that 1011 years later that I could get paid to be an atheist organizer is just mind blowing dreams do come Um, true for privileged white guy.
David Ames 5:04
I think we're gonna circle back to some of your like, you know, your growing up years. But I want to talk really quick about Cal Lutheran. So my understanding is that you also became student body president there. Yeah, that's right. How does that work and atheists that at a Christian university? Yeah.
Evan Clark 5:17
So I mean, it's funny to think back. We were celebrating its 50th year as a university when I was student body president. And I imagine there were probably at least one or two other non theists. But yeah, but there's a difference between being a public non theist, right, like we know, we've had many elected officials in Congress that are non theists, but they won't allow themselves to be that publicly, on all surveys, they identify as Jewish or Christian or Muslim. And I think that's what's unique. So I was the first out public atheist in that position. And yeah, honestly, it really wasn't that big a deal. When I ran for student body president, it was more controversial that I was running against a former roommate than it was that I was running, you know, as a leader of the Secular Student Group. Yeah. So while I do know, some people it probably frustrated or gave them a bad taste in their mouth. And I do know, the like, local press decided to run with it here and there. Overall, the campus was very supportive and never really thought twice. And I remember by the time I was getting out of college, the university was bragging about our secular student group as another form of diversity on campus. Look, we have these atheists, then look at religious diversity. And I do think that helps kickstart kind of an interfaith era for Cal Lutheran, and they've been really active with interfaith work ever since. And I like to think that we helped nudge that along.
David Ames 6:48
That's awesome. That's actually I think, a positive impact. We say sometimes that there are better and worse versions of religion, and one that's more ecumenical is definitely better. And so it sounds like you had that kind of impact on the university.
Evan Clark 7:02
Yeah, yeah, I think, I don't know. It's, it's really interesting, building a secular space, and then thinking about how that relates to the rest of the community and culture that you exist in. So, you know, atheists United was founded in 1982, over separation of church and state case in LA. It was a contentious existence, and to be an open atheists in 1982 was kind of a, you know, extremely intense experience. You're talking about maybe losing your job or having to confront family if it's public suddenly. And yeah, Cal Lutheran in 2012. Not as intense is 1982. Atheist organizing. But what I will say is, yeah, it brought the conservative Christians out a little bit more, it brought the other clubs that did interfaith work, a little bit more vocal, and it gave them I think, space for that. What was unique about our group as we explored religion, most secular student groups look like philosophy clubs, actually, it's because they recruit mostly from the philosophy clubs. That's why they looked at why there's a self selection bias there. Were at Cal Lutheran, we decided, because we are identifying publicly as non theists in an explicitly at least a name theistic space, we need to know what we don't believe if we're going to claim that publicly and organize around that. And so what we did is we did anthropological exploration of religion, we went to churches and synagogues and mosques and pagan rituals and Mormon temples. And we, we engaged, we sat through their ceremonies, and we got a crash course in experiential religious studies. I learned so much more through my club than I did through even the religion classes that I took. Because we had first hand experience. And yeah, I'll never forget how much we learned and how much empathy I built and how many patterns I noticed about religion, because we weren't afraid of it, we, you know, openly engaged it,
David Ames 9:08
man. You know, that's incredible. Because one of the things that I think concerns me is, my point of view is very specifically having had belief, and then going through a deconversion process and being on the other side, some of my criticisms of the atheist community of you know, maybe the last 1520 years is kind of that hostility towards religious people. And I think that comes from a lack of understanding. There's no point of recognition of the humanity of what it is like to have believed and I think just taking a comparative religion class alone, but even going as far as you did to actually sit in on other religious ceremonies is like super valuable. And I think it also not just from the empathy point of view, but it also inoculates you event, right? Right. I think people can be susceptible to you know, if they have a particularly difficult moment in their lives, the love bombing effect of some religions and having an exposure to that could actually be an inoculation.
Evan Clark 10:10
Yes, and it's such a complex topic talking about how people came to their non theism. So I there as a community organizer who grew up secular, which we can talk about in a second, and I went, I grew up in Massachusetts, I went to Catholic school in first grade and immediately said, this isn't working for me. Okay, all these. They start with stories of Genesis, and I was picking those apart one by one. Yeah, yeah. Nuns hated me. I was a little brat. I was asking questions about how Adam and Eve had two boys and populated the world. And like, I didn't even know what sex was. But I was like, giving them questions that made them have to, like, think or engage that topic. And so they just wouldn't. And that frustrated me more. And so yeah, I decided this God thing isn't working for me in first grade. I didn't find a word like atheist until sixth grade, super flipping through a dictionary, you know, trying to not read in one of my classes or something. And yeah, I found this word atheist. And I go, there's a word for me. I thought it was such a powerful like an identity moment. And then I started using it and realize not everyone liked the word.
David Ames 11:18
Yeah. Had some connotations. Little baggage. Yeah.
Can I ask real quick? Yeah. Was your family religious then? And did they? How did they respond to that?
Evan Clark 11:36
Yeah, it was more, I'll call it a I'll call it split religious. My dad grew up, like secular San Diego household. My mom grew up in more of Roman Catholic Massachusetts household. So when we I was born in California, but at the age of two, we moved to Massachusetts. And so I think my mom just had this idea that if you can, if you have the money, you raise your kids in a nice Catholic private school. Yeah. Um, and that's why I went to the Catholic school that I did. But yeah, when it immediately wasn't working out, and we happen to be in the one town in America where the public school is better than the private school. I was able to transition to the public school. And though my mom tried to get us to go to church, and again, this is Catholic, Roman Catholic at that style of church. My dad didn't like he would do it for my mom, but it wasn't something he ever cared about. He clearly didn't believe in he chose to watch football on Sundays, rather than go to church half the time. And so very quickly, I wanted to go I want to watch football with Dad, I don't want to go to church I hate I hate this ritual. It's boring. It's, they make me sit and CCD, and it's all bullshit. Like I immediately just fought back so hard. Yeah. And my mom finally made a deal with me. She said, If you finish first communion, I'll let you decide if you ever want to go to church again. So I said, Sign me up. Let's do it. Awesome. I'm gonna win this. Yeah. And yeah, that's exactly what happened. I did it a year late, because I had complained so hard the year before about leaving the church. And yeah, I finished the first communion, I got my dumb little wafer, and I never went to church again, not till college, actually. And so I actually feel bad because I was so religiously uneducated, from when at that like fourth, fifth grade experience up until college, like I didn't know the difference between a Catholic and a Christian until I suddenly was in college and decided there should be a space for atheists. And then everybody wanted to talk about their religious traditions, and like, you know, Lutheran and Methodist and all these things I'd never heard before. I have to now really engage. Yeah, so it's, it's been a fascinating journey. But, you know, I identify more with the people who grew up without religion, I just have a little bit of more cultural baggage than those that grew up with atheist parents.
David Ames 13:55
Right, right. Right. Okay. Yeah. And then Evan, I think something that you and I share is, and I think you're doing it better than I am, but is, is obsession with community. So from my perspective, it's that, you know, religion provides a really built in community and the platform for friendships and relationships and building a sense of belonging, and that on this side of deconversion, that that is much harder to facilitate in a secular environment. And yet, human beings need that. And so like I'm just obsessed with ways that we can bring each other together in a secular environment and you are out there on the front line doing that kind of thing. Why is community important to you? Like how did that be? Oh,
Evan Clark 14:39
yeah. Yeah, well, you're gonna have to get me to stop talking to you. Once you get me wound up. It doesn't it doesn't stop but my my poor girlfriend's heard my rants on these 1000 times. But also to finish the last point. People come at their non theism from so many different perspectives where I come at it from more of I grew up most secular with a little bit of religious baggage you know if if you are traumatized by religion if you have sexual shame or if you spent 10s of 1000s of dollars, on superstitious things, if you have guilt still that is riddling, that is destroying your life then I understand why people have really intense negative responses to religion. And the institutional political side is we we see clear obvious dangers we see, you know, our our queer friends, we see our people with reproductive organs that are not like mine being legislated. We see immigration law, even being connected to religion, like we see oppression that people can draw direct lines to, and if they care about justice and social justice in those means, and they can suddenly see this as either a tool or an inspiration for those. Yeah, to me, it's an obvious, rational way that they got to that conclusion, even if I think some of their arguments might be broken, that lead to bad conclusions, like I don't think, like religion, for me is often more of a tool and a space than it is the actual oppression. You know, the reason people come to belief is that always inspired by the ideas they have, or did they already have those ideas, and then they used religious belief arguments to justify those and I think when you get more nuanced, and the deeper you study, philosophy, rational thought community organizing, I'm much more humbled about people. I just don't think we're the rational brained overmatched people think we are you know, like, I think we're very flawed and we're very biased and yeah, I just don't think the judgment of religious people or religious institutions, which can is one of the like hardest things to define in social science, sure. But yes, what is religion? Right, like, do we count? football stadiums, as you know, next to churches or phrases sorority or religion or is a Buddhist non theist organization or religion? Like these are really complicated questions that social scientists debate to this day.
Moving to the community question, and away from the first one, we desperately need community, but it's going to look different for everyone. So if we start from just the research perspective, if I wasn't to make more personal arguments, research shows that when you participate, I should back up, the way the research was done is more fascinating. They actually found a discrepancy between atheists and theists, when they looked at quality of life, reported levels of happiness, life expectancy, how much you volunteer and how much you donate to charity. But when you dive into the study, and I should say the discrepancy was bad for the non theistic. But yeah, they live longer, they gave more or they reported higher levels of happiness, right? Like, it's just like, Wow, geez, I guess I'm supposed to be religious, if I want to live a good life. Yeah. But when you dive into the research, it has nothing to do with intensity of belief. So it didn't matter that you believe 10 times harder and God than someone lower on the spectrum, with the correlation and causation seem to be more attached to your participation in religious community. So basically, the more you went to a congregational model, the more you participated in pro social behavior, the more pro social benefits you got, you know, which, which matches suddenly, with all of the other social science research that says, When you hang out with people, you have less depression when you you know, when you volunteer more you like, feel happier, and you give more to charity. And so it's really cool when you look at research in that sense, that what I do as an atheist organizer, even if I took the non theism part out if I completely removed atheism and any mention of humanism and all of these recovering from religion thing even if I removed all of that and all we did was get together at a bar and like party once a month, I would be doing a social good that could be improving how much you volunteer how much you donate, how long you live, how happy you are, like, community in and of itself is a proven social good, and that is because we are hardwired social animals and we just this is this is a fact we like can't ignore it. And it exists in different ways for different people, like people are finding online community in ways today that just wasn't possible 25 years ago, we have you know, hybrid communities we have, you know, a lot of structural designs to our society like third places that no longer exist that make it harder for us to actually do this work. But yeah, I will always be an advocate for community because you know, for getting All of the other bigger political and philosophical arguments I could make. And they could make you a good person or society better place. Like I really just think at the end of the day like we improve people's lives by getting them together in community. And in a religious dominated society, where when they leave religion, there are often zero options for you to hang out with other people that share your values on Sunday, people that might visit you in the hospital, if you're sick people that you trust to help you raise your children, people that might be your dating network or your job network, like, we leave that to religion in our society. And beyond that, it turns into political organizing, and it turns into, you know, financial access, and it turns into all of these other forms of power. So yeah, this is why, you know, I get asked sometimes by atheists, like, why do you need an atheist community and like, it's not about atheism, it's about atheists. Atheists are people and people need community and people have needs, and they have goals and aspirations and cares, and that you can build a community around atheism gets really boring really quick.
David Ames 21:09
Absolutely. And I mean, you've basically described the impetus for for this podcast is, you know, like, pick whatever term right humanism, what have you, we talked about secular grace, but like, it's acknowledging the humanity of, of each of us and our need for connection with each other. And that that doesn't go away when you walk away from religion.
Evan Clark 21:31
And this is an evolution that's happening, you know, when I think about the secular movement, or the atheist movement, these are phrases you'll hear thrown around by organizers like me a lot, you need to consider that there's different types of movements that are happening simultaneously. So one is a political movement, where we are hiring lawyers and lobbyists, and we're building these institutions in DC that can represent us. And we're fighting cultural stigma and political stigma. And we are have some goals that we as atheist have all come around together for like separation of church and state, or I don't know, taxing churches or whatever it might be. We have a few aligned things that we in large masses have built political power for. But we also seem to have some cultural things we've organized around as well, we are trying to figure out how to build institutions that frankly, look a lot like classic religions. Yeah, and you see a way CES and Sunday Assembly and ethical culture society that have come up over the past 100 years that are building these spaces where secular people can have congregational models of gathering where we can maybe still sing together or or maybe, you know, checking in on each other if we're sick or builds, you know, food networks, in case anybody gets behind or loses a job. Like when I look at Norway, and I see a very secular country, and I see a Humanist Movement that doesn't talk about politics the way we do in the US and isn't building atheist organizations the way we do in the US. I've thought a lot about where the differences were, they looked at us and they go, why on earth would you need an atheist organization, we're gonna go play with some humanist models, we'll come up with like a, a youth coming of age ceremony, but like, that's all we need. And the deeper thing I've noticed is most of this comes back to politics in the US, we don't fix homelessness with our government, we don't fix hunger with our government, we don't provide health care to all of our citizens. And so what is the most powerful, most well funded institution outside of government that then steps up in those spaces and right now, in the United States today, that's religion. We just don't have giant secular NGOs that are in most hospitals and who provide most homeless care and provide food distributions like this is almost all being organized in religious spaces, which furthers religious privilege and gives religious power. Right, if I was to think like a religious authoritarian, the first thing you would do is try to claim government power, which we're seeing we this is the classic modern Christian nationalist religious right. But if you can't get that the second best you can do is limit government power, and and completely control all social and institutional spaces beyond that. And that's why, you know, creating secular education, creating public schools was probably one of the biggest secular achievement in world history for most countries. Yeah. Like, I don't think we stop and appreciate enough sometimes the secular public school movement and what that meant for separating religion and government. Right, and why religious institutions that are authoritarian all want private schools to take back over and they want to end public funding of education right now apply that to churches now apply that to food now apply that to housing, right? They get to preserve power in that way. And so, you know, yeah, we provide community with atheists united, but we also get to challenge that religious power by also doing our own food distribution by also getting involved in local advocacy by showing up at a bunch of events that we've never shown up for, for the past, you know, however old this country is now. So anyways, it's it's really interesting, there's so many dynamics for how you can come at it. And like you have a political movement with some very clear political goals, you can have a social movement that, you know, maybe has your media figures that are constantly in a cultural debate over theistic ideas. But then we also have, like, local power questions that are both cultural and political, that I think local institutions can solve and support, you know, and it's not just are we providing food for people, which is amazing, but it's how are we educating the youth that are going to take over our society? How are we building rituals that are not shamed base, but aspirational and critical and thought provoking and pluralistic? That's what's to me exciting about the potential of humanist communities and atheists, we're not, we don't have to just be reactionary. There's something unique about a secular perspective that we can offer the world. I think
David Ames 26:11
you just said the magic word there to that pluralism, I think some people can be afraid of the word secularism, and yet, we are not trying to enforce unbelief. You know, on everyone else, it's just to make room for freedom of religion and freedom from religion. And that that actually has, as you've just eloquently enumerated massively positive impacts on society, including things like public education, and some
Evan Clark 26:37
bros on the internet do want that, right. Like, I've actually started to use the phrase atheist supremacy that I think they're actually arguing for, they really believe that other people are broken, and they need to fix them with atheism. They, they they literally look at them as less than during the pandemic, there was some disgusting comments by a lot of atheists online, that I noticed on Twitter and Facebook around like, Well, Lisa killing off lots of Christians. And I just discussed it by comments like that. Because yeah, sure, if there's a Christian pastor who is getting on the errors, and saying, the vaccines are crap, ignore the science, you shouldn't do all of that. I think they are in positions of power, and they have more responsibility, and I care a lot less about if if they as hypocrites get hurt by that. But most religious people are followers, they are part of a community, they don't have the time to go think about vaccine efficacy, they don't have time. You know, they're in a crap economy with kids and a full life and trying to maintain friendships and keep out of depression during a closed society. And then the person you trust, trust most in the world tells you this is an unsafe vaccine, and you shouldn't go get them and then you get sick because of that, like, Are you a victim? Or did you bring that upon yourself? And I think a lot of atheists because we come to atheism through such individual means and because so much of our language comes from often libertarian Western, like culture. We treat everyone with this, like you are the only one that can answer any question and you have to use rationality and by rationality. I mean, like the Jefferson debate in the street with everyone, you know, philosophy, which doesn't recognize that that's not how most humans think that is not how we actually come to conclusions. In most cases, I can see very emotional journey for most people to have religion or to lose religion, as much as it is a rational decision. And rationality is informed by emotions, but that's a longer rant.
David Ames 28:55
Again, Evan, I can't agree with you strongly enough. This is literally a conversation that's been going around our community because of I think genetically modified skeptic recently did a post about apologetics and counter apologetics are, are useful, which I tend to agree with. And there was a bunch of pushback from lots of people. And the point is that it's you know, it's the very, it's the philosophy people that you were just talking about, right? I love philosophy. It's like you know, it definitely affects me, but I don't represent everyone Yeah, I
Evan Clark 29:25
can hang with philosophers as much as anyone and I love it and I love deep questions and I'm one of the few people that will spend hours and hours and hours in those discussions compared to my girlfriend for instance, because zero patients for them she's just like, does it impact my life? If it does, how does it hurt or not? And I want the side that improves doesn't hurt right? Like she there's no debating abortion access with her right there. The philosophy around that as a waste of her time she has finished with the debate and it is emotionally painful to continue to have and I think that's a wreck. cognition of how humans function right? Like, right to be a philosophy bro is abnormal it to sit and say I can ponder literally everything while things burn around me like that is a privilege on a privilege. And so anyways, what I do think, though is we need to recognize that there is some supremacist thought that comes from other places, right? White supremacy exists regardless of religion, we have other forms of supremacy, gender supremacy we have, we also have religious supremacy and some people I think, learn the wrong lessons, they still hold on to some cultural ideas that religion, mostly conservative religion has propagated, which is that, you know, you have to be right, and that you need to fix other people with the truth. And no, that's, that's not actually true. What we need is a society that functions well and prompts people up and helps them get through their lives. Right. And what I find when I look around right now is I see a lot of churches and synagogues and mosques and temples that are doing way more work than we are, when it comes to justice work when it comes to fighting climate change when it comes to science education, like literally the thing we speak most about. Yeah, I've met progressive churches talk more about science than I wouldn't say talk more about we talk a lot. Maybe organized more about, like, science based policy in some cases. And if I look at that, and I also look over here, and I see Richard Spencer, who's an open atheist organizing the Charlottesville rally with frickin Nazis. And I go, Well, should I stand with an atheist? Because they're an atheist? Or should I stand with these people who agree with 99.9%? On like, values, questions, and it's, it's obvious, it's so I've never met an atheist who were like, Yeah, let's go hang out with the Nazis. Right? which defeats the argument that belief is the most important thing. It just destroys that idea. It is actions, it has values it is what we organize around it is our humanity, not our beliefs. And when we recognize that, yeah, belief impacts that belief isn't completely meaningless, right? Like, philosophy is good, so that we keep growing as a species. But that's, that's a feature of a secular ideology. When you let go of Magical Thinking, then appeals to tradition is a logical fallacy. Well, what's the opposite of that? That means progress, we have to challenge our ideas, right? They have to use methods like scientific method for them to be more true. And we will, over time come to better conclusions, and and philosophies, one of the tools in that toolkit. But yeah, when that's all it is, and suddenly it allows you to hold what I would consider a supremacist belief over someone else. Like, I actually think you're more harmful than helpful. And we don't do that in my community.
David Ames 32:56
I actually love that that verbiage. You know, recognizing the shared values, you may know my story that my wife is still a believer. And I talk a lot about with her, you know, that the shared values that we have that that that's what our marriage can can stand on.
Evan Clark 33:11
People don't know this, there's actually a staffer for American atheists who is a Christian. Wow, okay. It's completely possible. You know, I have a one of my best friends from college, he joined my Secular Student Group, he was an agnostic at the time, he went to Europe for study abroad, he came back and he's like, I need to, I need to take you out to lunch. I got something to tell you. And I'm like, Oh, cool. He's gonna come out as gay or something. Yeah, I got pregnant. I have no idea what's gonna happen here. Yeah. And he's like, so the only book I took with me was the Koran and I'm a Muslim now. Oh, that's a cool. Coming to my Secular Student Group. He became the vice president of my student group in college and like, I still hang out with him to this day, I couldn't imagine, like losing that friendship over. You happen to go to a mosque, not an atheist group with your time. You know, he does more good work than most atheists. I know. Like, that's what Bond's us. Yeah, we disagree on a few things. Oh, boy. Sure. You know, like, it gets awkward when I talk about like, how he's going to teach his kids about religion, but that's part of society. I don't know, I'm okay with that. I'd rather have that conversation, then find out he's a Nazi. What happens to be an atheist or is like thinking it's okay, that Trump wants to end the Constitution. Like that's way more problematic to me
David Ames 34:29
to kind of wrap this up. I often say that, again, this concept of secular Grace if you want to be good to people, and you justify that in a theistic way, and I want to be good to people, and I justify that in a humanistic way. Let's just go good. Be good to people, right? Like, we should be allies in that work, even though we disagree with each other's justifications.
Evan Clark 34:50
And this can be hard like the I came into the atheist movement during the new Atheism era, like I ate up a lot of the talking points. around like beliefs leads to action. It's taken me a lot to try to deconstruct that and look at people more as a bunch of monkeys and shoes trying to figure out how to live lives. But, yeah, I think I think there are some interesting questions here that could be explored more, I'm probably going to leave them to more philosophers and thought leaders than community organizers like me, but, you know, to some extent, belief obviously matters a little like, we know, it does impact actions a bit. We do know, it's attached to identity, it's attached to politics, it's attached to how you organize. So I don't want to be completely flippant about that, like, I do think, you know, the way I'm attacking Nazi ideas, like I think right need to be challenged beliefs have consequences. Yeah. But, you know, I just don't think they're as strong as people often talk about in atheists spaces, I really just don't think it's like I, you know, believe in insert, Evan Jellicle, like, interpretation of the Bible. And that means, like, I beat up gay people, like, we don't actually find those correlations. We do find the community organizations and institutions that organize around, like, oppressing gay people, like happen to be using religion as a tool, and there's some correlations there. But, um, but I don't know where the limits are on that. Because yeah, I think if you're talking to your toaster and your toasters telling you I need to go shoot up a school, like, we clearly care about that belief and want to intervene in our society. But yeah, like the local pastor that helps out with our atheist programs in LA here, like, he calls himself a Christian atheist, and I still don't know what that means. Yes, you know, do I need to try to challenge that and fix that, or, you know, when I was dating a lot, after college, and I would go on a date with somebody who believed in astrology, and I like 99 out of 100 times, that's like, it just means they believe in ghosts, like, it's very similar to like an impact or life zero, they like find movies a little bit more interesting if they believe in ghosts, but it always scares me a little bit. Because if you're willing to believe that some bullshit about the stars can impact like who your identity is, then couldn't it impact you thinking vaccines are bad, or something like, I worry about that. But I don't have good solutions around it. And I find, given our short time in the earth, given our limited resources giving, given the community I'm working on, and what we're prioritizing, there's so much more value I can do from a efficacy stance of getting atheists together and doing good work, and providing transformational spaces for them, rather than being the one that fixes bad ideas of other people. But, but I won't, I won't completely shut down the people that do that, like I do think education is important. It's just education rarely changes the world as much as mobilizing does.
David Ames 38:17
So I want to key off of something that you just said there too. And this can sound religious, but providing the platform for good works, as it were, or however you define do define that, you know, giving people the opportunity to, you know, use what they are good at in their hobbies or what have you in some kind of way that impacts the community in a positive way. And I know that like you guys recently have done a project, atheist street pirates where you were cleaning out, like proselytizing signs and things of that nature. And you had a religious people along with you also doing that if you want to talk about that for a minute.
Evan Clark 38:53
Yeah, so that programs called atheists, street pirates, we founded it. During the pandemic, we noticed a lot of illegal religious propaganda. Most cities probably have this and you just kind of forget that it's there. After a while, but maybe a highway overpass somebody put up a sign that said Ask Jesus for mercy or some random telephone pole by Library says, you know, Jesus is coming. Yeah, there's there's a bunch of random propaganda like that that essentially furthers Christian privilege. And normalizes this idea that everything is a Christian space, but they're often on public land, they're on, you know, highways, they're on bridges, they're on telephone poles. Well, that's illegal. That's, that's the shared land that has to be a secular space. They definitely didn't get permission from the city to put those up. But what we find is cities don't have the time and resources to always take those down. And so we started just by mapping them, we created this Google map and we started, you know, seeing how big the phenomenon was. And then one of them that was there for a while we decided, Okay, we're gonna go at like two in the morning and see if we can take this down. hopefully doesn't fall on the highway. Of course, it's la the highway doesn't slow down at two in the bazillion cars out there. And yeah, this kind of kicked off this really odd program that we get a ton of press for where we yeah, we directly map and take down these illegal religious propaganda and it's inspired, even religious people who believe in separation of church and state who believe that for this to be a pluralistic space, you have to also have freedom from religion. You know, freedom, freedom of religion is completely meaning I'm sure a million guests have said this. But it's completely meaningless without your ability to say no to any one religion that approaches you. So yeah, well, I have a I have a local pastor, I met at a local Pride event, and he came out with us. He loved it. He took one of the signs to his congregation and preached that that week about our program. Yeah, at the atheist street pirates were doing. So yeah, we've we've done some really cool things in that sense. And I think what you're getting at, though, as a question is, like, should we institutionalize? Should we build these things that should be there for 50 or 100 or 500 years? And this is the question I always think about, what are we building? And why and what is the like, long term goal of this? Because yeah, in some sense, most atheist organizations are reactionary, that God exists, they exist. They came into existence in the past 50 years. And it's because of the rise of the Religious Right. You know, if the country just turned into Norway, we'd be looking around, like, why on earth? Do you need an atheist community where you talk about atheism, and Christianity and blah, blah, blah, right? You will notice that if you go to Portugal, you go to Denmark, you go to Norway, like they just don't exist. Like, it's actually hard to find atheist communities, the way we have in the US, US we have one or two or three made, you know, atheist communities, for every major city, or hundreds and hundreds of groups you can join. And a lot of that politics, right, it's just obvious we have a religious political movement. And the first and most important group that they will oppress is the non religious, we are the canary in the coal mine for secular government, and for a pluralistic society. In some ways, this is my frustration with our religious allies, including the Satanic Temple and, you know, even Unitarian Universalist is because they think of religious pluralism in only a religious contexts. And they can't recognize that most atheists want to also be non religious, even if we join communities, the language is really important to us, the identity is really important to us. And the government interaction is really important to us. So yeah, it's really cool that the satanists can also give a prayer. But like, what about a group that doesn't pray? Right, that that is that is important. And like, we need to look at a future where most of us don't pray, it doesn't matter. Like now you're forcing us to come up with a prayer to be equal. That is not welcoming. That is not our idea of a secular government. And yeah, it's better than just one religion having access at least we have a seat at the table, the let us do something. But yeah, I like to call it one is the classic secular argument of like a pure secular state, where religion has zero power in religion. And then the other is like a secular light where all religions get equal power. Right. But what happens then is the religions with the most resources and the most organizing, they're the ones that get more time. You know, if I have to compete with the Evangelicals over who gets prayers at city council, like, I see the next 50 years, they're gonna add organizers. Yeah, yeah, not for lack of trying, but like, they just have so much more money. And so many more people that hang out in congregational models that Yeah, could take me 4050 years to like, match that. So that's my concern and why I really think like the secular government argument matters. This is why we don't put up our own signs with the atheists street pirates all the time. Why don't you just go put up atheist signs. I'm like, Well, I don't want to get into a religious arms race. Yeah.
David Ames 44:10
You're gonna lose. But that's so telling of it. I mean, that's, that is so important. That exact statement that you are not putting up. You shouldn't believe science. You should become an atheist. You're just you're just saying, Hey, this is a secular space and so there should not be proselytizing here.
Evan Clark 44:27
Yeah. And I think that's a really, you know, I posted recently on Instagram I did this video I observed some guys proselytizing they walked up to guys, old guys walked up to a young guy with his Kid in a Park. I have a minivan and I sometimes like work in the back of it random places around LA. So I observed this whole thing right up close. And they just immediately started talking to him about Jesus and you need to oh man, and you know, everyone's broken and Jesus is the only way to get saved. Can we pray for you? And like I just watched this like 25 minute interaction in the pork It was like trying to run around and like that was trapped. And I put up a video about how like atheist groups don't proselytize. Right. And I got a lot of pushback on that, both from atheists who some think we should, some from people who have experienced atheists who have pushed themselves into the lives to talk about belief. And yeah, I'm just I think it's really important that if we care about a pluralistic society, which is a place where all have equal access and all or treat each other equally, it doesn't mean I believe that they're right. I, you know, when I do interfaith work, the one thing we agree on is that we all disagree. I love interface work, because yeah, it's literally like, I can walk up to a Muslim and I go, like, I think you're nuts. And they look at me and they go, I think you're nuts. And I go, cool. Should we plant that tree now? And yeah. Like, that's okay. That's cool. That's a society. That's a functioning society. Yeah, we could debate that in our spare time. But proselytizing, to me my personal definition of it is going out of your way, and pushing yourself into other people's lives. You know, I've never ever ever met an atheist organizer who wants to go door to door to talk about atheism. Yeah, I will buy ads on Facebook to promote an event we're doing I will, you know, follow the laws and rules around like promoting ourselves, but I don't think we should have special privilege and access to your life, unconventionally, right, I respect your freedom to say no, and we will present our ideas in some places, but somebody responsibility to convince you. And, you know, again, if, if everyone was Nazis, you know, maybe that's what I would be doing, I'd be like, I want you to not be a Nazi. And we have that in different forms today. But I don't know, I think there's so much more work that needs to be done for the millions, literally millions of atheists, agnostics, humanists and other non religious identities in the US, who don't even have community right now. Right, don't even know that there's spaces they can gather, and you can meet other people like you. And you can raise kids in those spaces free of any dogma at any time, that cares about critical thinking the way you do, people that might be able to visit you in the hospital, if you get sick, or help you out. If you lose your job like, that is so much more valuable in most people's day to day life than your, you know, obvious argument, they could have Googled about the problem of evil. So I don't know. That's where my time and energy is these days. And I'm encouraged that there's a lot more people doing it, and there's a lot more resources for it. But we're so underfunded. I mean, like I ever drive by like a Methodist Church, and you're like, Oh, God, 200 year old building, I wonder what it would be like to do our work in something like that. And then you think about the budget, they probably have, you know, they probably spend more on upkeep of that building than like every atheist group in California put together, right. You know, let alone the pastor salary, the youth pastor, the Secretary, the contractors, the marketing budget, you know, they probably spend more on print materials than I have for 16 programs.
David Ames 48:26
Atheists United is about and I'll just do your mission statement here. Our mission is to build thriving atheist communities, empower people to express their secular values, and promote separation of government and religion. The reason you and I are talking is that you have also started a podcast network and the aggressive atheist is going to become a part of that. So I want to talk about a little bit what that idea is what you're trying to accomplish there. And we've talked about the existing podcast there humanist experience, nomadic humanists, and the beyond atheism, guys that interviewed recently.
Evan Clark 48:58
Awesome, ya know, I'm so excited that you're joining the network and that there's growth in this type of content. When I look around atheist media these days, I see a lot of I'll call it Christian talk radio for atheists. Yeah. You know, like, and it's not inherently bad. Like, again, I think there's a lot of people craving that content. If if I was just coming out of an evangelical tradition, and I need the language for some of these ideas I have if I need to, like, I'm thinking through a problem about God's existence, or whatever my pastor or priest told me about this topic, like, yeah, listening to some of these, these people who talk about those ideas is actually radically valuable. But there's a lot of questions that come after a secular identity as established that I really want to help promote the content creators that are working in that space. You know, I launched a podcast in 2015. And we traveled the country and we created the whole thing from scratch. Should we didn't have podcast backgrounds. And it was a beautiful experience. But what I quickly learned is, you know, creating contents one thing, getting anyone to listen to it is another. It's really hard to have a successful podcast. No matter how brilliant you are, or how beautiful your content is, you need access to an audience. And so the idea that I've been sitting on for years and finally was able to do this past year was let's take a bunch of awesome underfunded ragtag content creators, you know, atheist content creators who just need a little help. Let's throw them in a network together. And they can promote each other and share each other's audience because their shared values and identity here and the questions some of these shows, are asking overlap with other shows that are coming at them from different angles. And that's been the beauty so far. And we started with the beyond atheism, guys, which you had on your show a few weeks ago, who, who really asked my favorite question, which is Now what's cool, you're an atheist, like, Kay, you can go many different directions. Now, you know, how? What does that tell you about how to handle artificial intelligence taking our jobs? Or how does it handle raising a kid? Like, those are real questions like atheists? Yes. For me, who's been an atheist for 2030 years now? Like, I'm, frankly, bored by the atheism question, like, I haven't heard anything new in 25 years in that in that space. Exactly. Yeah. The interesting, juicy questions are like, how do you raise a kid ethically, like, oh, there's so much unknown in that space, and so much we need to learn and practice and figure out how do you? How do you ethically engage our economy? How do you build communities ethically, right, as a community organizer? Do I go fully egalitarian, like a lot of our socialist roots? Or do we use some of the hierarchies that exist in other organizations like churches? You know, do I, as the leader of the community get on stage and talk about our beliefs and values? Or do I avoid being the face in the center of it? And we kind of use a more equitable model like these are their ethical questions or organizing questions that are super juicy and fun? And I don't have you know, we're not going to find a perfect answer to anytime soon. Yeah. Yeah. So we have podcasts that explore that, or in some cases, we're finding, like in the Spanish speaking world, there aren't even shows that address the questions around theism and atheism, you know, like, the alternative. So we, you know, I wasn't expecting to do this, but we might be bringing on a show that goes at the arguments of God, but for our Spanish speaking audience, interesting. Okay. Yeah, underserved spaces. We have a Jewish humanist podcast launching next week called amusing Jews, like so a secular Jewish perspective, like so secular, they barely ever talk about religion. They're mostly just, you know, talking to Hollywood writers about the shows they work on and their hobbies and Festivus is nice. So anyway, it's like this has been the idea. But what's been really, really, really fascinating is trying to just figure out what programs we should do as a community organization. So most atheist groups, if you were to, you know, go pick a city, Houston, or New York or Miami or something and go to their local atheist group and local humanist group. Usually they have a speaker event, right, we do some type of educational program, they have a service program, usually some type of giving back to their local community. And if you're lucky, maybe like a recovering from religion subgroup that supports people with religious trauma. But one of the struggles you find when you talk to most organizers is people will check them out. Like atheism is still a controversial idea. There's lots of new people identifying as atheists, so people will explore it, but they don't always stay. Right. We don't have a 2000 year tradition of like space you want to hang out in or have rituals that you know, like, make you feel good, like, like, Thanksgiving turkey or something. So how do we build spaces like that? And what is actually the goal of spaces like that? And one of the things I've learned recently, weirdly by reading church planning books, which I never thought, you know, I took this job and there's there's nobody that's had a job like this before me, so I have no one to like, I have no mentors to go ask for advice. You know, atheist community organizers, like a new job title in this world. There's like four of me in the world.
David Ames 54:26
I know. Yeah. Not that many people do.
Evan Clark 54:29
And one of the things I found in this, this book recently was about you know, it's about how to turn around failing churches and he talked a lot about how people think they come for belonging, right like you want to find other people like you who share your identity and you just want to like be among them. And that's nice and that's true a lot of people do want belonging that's language we all all use. Every religious and non religious community I know uses this language. But I find that's not why they stay, you know, like I find belonging in a political Oregon. zation, but I won't go to every event. You, you stay in an organization and you become active in an organization, you start donating to that community when it transforms you, when it's something that helps you grow as a human being. And this has been the most transformational idea for me, as an organizer, which is like we need to not just represent people, we need to help people. You know, I'm suddenly looking at things like recovering from religion, not as just a space people can belong together. But as like, truly trauma care. I'm looking at, you know, we added a Smart Recovery Program, which is a secular addiction recovery program, for any type of addiction. It's usually people who like really hated the higher power language in AAA, they want something that's more based on science, smart recovery is the place you should go or at least start. And yeah, like, we are literally helping people's lives. You know, if I can help you with addiction, yeah, of course, this is the community, you're gonna give your time and your money and raise your kids and the rest of your life. And that helped us launch a new program called atheist adventures. And we last year, we went to Death Valley and looked at the stars with an astronomer. And we were asking the question of like, how do we recreate religious experience in a secular sense, right? Like we know, we experience all we know, we feel meaning in certain moments. Well, you know, a lot of us it's been in nature and feeling small or large, based on the context of the experience, right? That's what most religious experiences are, right? Like the reason you walk into a giant chapel in Europe, and you just feel amazing is because you feel so small, suddenly, it's designed for you to feel small, right? And you have a weird moment in your brain where everything kind of fires Well, yeah, you can feel that in Death Valley on a moonless night with an astronomer doing a star talk
David Ames 56:51
real quick, I have to tell this story, because as an atheist, I happen to be in London. And I went to St. Paul's Cathedral. Yeah. And I had that exact experience of just, you know, recognizing that. Oh, you know, it was it was the architecture, and the, the, you know, the brilliance of the stories, and yeah, and the the beauty of it, and the light filtering through the stained glass. And like, you know, the there was an experience, there were some legitimate experience as a, you know, straight up atheist, and let you know, we can definitely have, especially in nature, I think is a great way to experience that the experience of awe, and it'd be an entirely secular experience.
Evan Clark 57:29
Yeah, Alain de bitone wrote a whole book on this about how we should be using architecture from a secular perspective to create memory and awe and like, celebrate secularism. And I completely agree. But yeah, what does that mean in different contexts? And how do we communally do that is, I think a really interesting question. Like we haven't figured out there are very few secular rituals that you'll find in most groups around the world. We have, you know, there's been different attempts there are, Norway has a coming of age ceremony that they do for like all 16 year olds, and they spend a year working on like, community service projects and kind of blueprints, and then they talk about it, and then the community recognize them as adults. And that's common, most religions have some form of coming of age ritual. But if you ask most atheist communities in the US, like, we'll get there like I can, I totally imagine that if we are committed to community, the way we're building, we're going to have some types of rituals that represent those. But yeah, what they look like might be different. And because we have no holy books, and we don't need to stick to a tradition, just because it's been tradition, it will look different in different places. But yeah, most most, organizers and scholars in the space talk a lot about birth, death, marriage, coming of age as like four of the biggest rituals we just have in our society. And we have secular versions of them. In most places, you know, I know not in Iran always but like, you can go to Vegas and get married. That's pretty secular experience nine times out of 10. Um, but yeah, like actually thinking about if we want to create our own unique cultural ritual or, or culture, right, like, Can atheist communities do culture making? I'm of the opinion yes. Like we didn't I've been looking through the history of atheists United since I took this job and I found that we did an arts festival 25 years ago in LA right like what is secular and atheist arts and you know, it is whatever we gather around it is not because some old dudes in Europe decided this is the only book that is true it's it's because we through basically a democratic process like decided this is our ritual and we can find value in it or we can let go of it and to me, that's beautiful. Like that's what informs humanism for me like humanism which I No, We're departing a little bit from atheism. But I think there's so tied and 90% of atheists wind up humanists in the US at least.
David Ames 1:00:06
And that's this podcast it is about, humanism
Evan Clark 1:00:10
Yeah. Humanism, starts from the idea that like magic isn't real, right? That it is a naturalist world that God and Gods aren't, aren't things that matter to our universe. And so we are these small little homosapiens on a small planet in a small galaxy in an unbelievably massive universe, right? Yeah. Okay, well, now we want to understand the world around us. How would we do that? Oh, well, we'd probably come up with some method to test our ideas and things like science suddenly become tools that we use for understanding the natural world, which is why science is so popular in human spaces. If we could find a better way to come to answers in science, we would use that, but it's the best method we've come up with yet. Well, you know, how do we think about morals and ethics? And answer these questions while using tools like science and recognizing that with no gods, and no magic, right? Like, we're the only ones that can solve the problems that matter to us. And we have to create or feel the meaning in those things, right? We can start thinking about moral responsibility, we can think about our interaction with everyone around us and somebody might go, Hey, but like, I'm a libertarian, I think I can go off into the woods and not impact anyone else. And it doesn't matter. Well, science, and the natural world tells us that we're all interconnected, right? Like the air I breathe is the air you breathe, right? The history of the universe all moved through time to where like, I'm made of the same Stardust that you're made of. And because there are interactions between those things, like why isn't there more responsibility between those right? Like, I live in an ecosystem, I don't live in a video game where I can exist separate from you. And with that knowledge that I live in an ecosystem, this is my one and only life. And we're using tools like compassion and reason to understand our place and how to be good in it. That's how we figure these things out. Right? Like, I think it's, it's so obvious and beautiful and exciting when we think about it that way. But, you know, we don't always get the narrative, you know, you you lose theism. And maybe you're biased by the idea that I must have come from something or that I must have a church that gives me the answers, but the story of the universe and the idea that you can solve problems, or you and your community can solve problems and understand your place in it and figure out how to solve moral and ethical problems. Like, I think that's as beautiful, if not more beautiful, and I would argue more beautiful. I personally would argue more beautiful, because it will always improve based on new evidence and new experience, we will we won't just accept an answer, because it's been the answer before, if we can find a new way to improve upon it, we have to
David Ames 1:03:00
man, I think that's got to be where we wrap because that was very well said. Like, it's amazing to meet you in that there are are very few of us, right? There aren't that many people who care about these things in the way that you've just expressed, right? And that's what we're trying to communicate here on this podcast. I want to thank you for being on the podcast. I want to also give you an opportunity to tell people how they can participate with atheists united, how can they find you? How can they interact?
Evan Clark 1:03:28
Yeah, so atheist, united, we're based in Los Angeles, but we consider ourselves a California nonprofit. We have chapters in San Luis Obispo and Santa Clarita. And I would encourage people to become members, especially if you're in California. That's an ongoing monthly supporter of our organization. donation is always helpful. I'm a nonprofit, I have to ask. But you can follow us on social media. We are on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and probably going to move to Tik Tok soon you can find us on YouTube. Yeah, it's It's wild. We didn't even have time to get into this but like the growing spectrum of atheist experiences, right, like a third generation atheist family has a kid in LA and that kid goes to USC and only has atheist friends and then works at Netflix with other atheists like them trying to find community is so night and day different than third generation Evan Jellicle comes out as gay and atheist and Kentucky, rural Kentucky and like finding a community that's atheist is life or death for them, right? Yeah. And yet, Intel we have more atheist spaces they have to share community where one is desperate to talk about religion and its harm and how they interact with it where one is like, I don't understand why anyone talks about religion. Yeah, and right now they share spaces in LA. We have we're one of those unique cities where we have like people who came here from all over. We have religions like Scientology and Jehovah's witness that are a lot stronger here than other cities. And we also have like one of the most secular, you know, generations and multi generations here, and they're all trying to find community at the same time, and we're all trying to figure out, you know, yeah, we can politically organized together. But what is gathering look like? What does a party look like? What does care look like? So yeah, that's why supporting atheists United is so cool and critical is that we are incubating a lot of the programs that we hope other groups around the country will eventually take off with. We happen to be big, we happen to be really active. We're throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall right now. And if something works, we're going to share it around the country around the world and hope more people do it.
David Ames 1:05:40
Excellent. Fantastic. Well, we will have links in the show notes, of course, but I want to thank you, Evan, for being on the podcast.
Evan Clark 1:05:46
Thank you for having me.
David Ames 1:05:53
Final thoughts on the episode? Well, it's hard to overstate how good it is to find other people in the secular world who also have a secular Grace focus. Obviously, Evan wouldn't use that term per se, but the things that he does is secular Grace boots on the ground humanism, touching people's lives. I highly recommend that you listen to Evans original podcast that is the first podcast within the atheist United studios, podcast network called humanist experience. He did that with Serato, Blaine, Surat, like lived on the streets of LA with the homeless, trying to find practical ways of helping people. I couldn't think of a better description of what secular grace is, boots on the ground, blood, sweat and tears, humanism. That is the kind of humanism that Evan Clark and atheists United represents. As you can imagine, this is why I said yes. When Evan asked for this podcast to become a part of the Podcast Network. Evans work is really important. It is humane, it is loving. It is on the right side of history. And I'm just excited to be a tiny part of this. I'd like to mention the other sibling podcasts that are a part of the atheist United studios Podcast Network. You've already heard from Nathan Alexander and Troy tub heiress of the Beyond atheism podcast. I interviewed them back in November. I just mentioned the humanist experience that is with Evan Clark and Sarah Blaine. Very well worth your time to listen to it is kind of an NPR style, very highly produced beautiful podcast. And then the most recent podcast to join the network. Besides mine is the amusing Jews who Evan talked about in this interview. I know that Evan is working hard to bring other podcasts online. I anticipate having guest exchanges with those podcasts. And I'm looking forward to all the exciting things that we will do together in the next year. I want to thank Evan for being on the podcast for living secular Grace without knowing what that word is, for exemplifying it for us giving us a practical example to try to follow. Thank you, Evan, for being on the podcast and for inviting us to be a part of the podcast network. The secular Grace Thought of the Week is what obviously follows out of the conversation with Evan and that is about secular community, and how desperately we as human beings need that. It was incredibly insightful what Evan talked about that. The secular community has to hit this entire spectrum of people from people who have been abused and suffered at the hands of the church to people who are third generation atheists who have no experience with what faith feels like. And so the more communities that we have, the more opportunity there is to fill the niches or the specific needs of the people. I cannot say enough how important Arline's work as a community manager has been and will continue to be. I'm in continual gratitude for our LNS work. For those of you who have been a part of the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, you know how important Arline's work is. I want you to be asking yourself how you can participate in the community how you can lead in the community. Do you want to lead a group on a particular topic? Do you want to lead a book club? Anything that brings people together is vitally important. In 2023, as we watch COVID in the rearview mirror, I'm really interested in in person connectivity. If you'd be willing to host something in your local area and there are two or three or four other people in the area. That is the next step for us. And I'm very interested in seeing that happen. Another thing happening in 2023. We're going to have more blog posts from multiple people including Jimmy who's a part of the the deconversion anonymous Facebook group, Arline herself. If you are interested in writing on the topic of secular grace or deconversion, or related secular topics, I'd be willing to have you on the blog as well. If you are interested in doing social media outreach, or the YouTube channel or any other myriad of ways that you could participate, please get in touch with me graceful email@example.com or reach out to Arline on Facebook. Coming up we have next week I was a teenage fundamentalists. Troy and Brian interviewed me and I interviewed them back in November. My episode on their podcast aired in late November. And I will be releasing my interview of Brian and Troy next show look forward to that. That is a great conversation. I love those guys. They are also a sibling podcast, whether or not they're a part of this podcast network. After that, I have Rachel Hunt of the recovering from Religion Foundation. And man, that's an amazing conversation. Absolutely loved Rachel. I've got a bunch of community members coming up who I will be doing interviews for but the thing I'm super excited about. I will be interviewing Jennifer Michael Hecht, who I have quoted 1000 times from her book doubt. Her new book is called The Wonder paradox. And it is about how poetry can impact our lives. And if you're thinking to yourself, Man, I'm not into poetry. trust me this is it's bigger than that. It is about the all that we experience as human beings from a very secular perspective agenda for Michael Hecht is amazing. Can't wait for that interview and can't wait to share that with you. That'll be in early March. Until then, my name is David and I am trying to be the graceful atheist join me and be graceful human beings. The beat is called waves by MCI beats that you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show. Email me at graceful firstname.lastname@example.org for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful atheists.com This graceful atheist podcast part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network
Transcribed by https://otter.ai