Stephanie: Deconversion of an MK

Atheism, Deconstruction, Deconversion, Hell Anxiety, Humanism, Missionary, Podcast, Secular Grace, secular grief
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This week’s guest is Stephanie, a Deconversion Anonymous group member. Stephanie grew up in the Assemblies of God church as a Missionary Kid. Her younger years held all the trappings of white American evangelicalism, from conservative Christian school curricula to a paralyzing fear of going to hell forever.

“The ‘hell belief’? It’s a sticky one.” 

Stephanie’s beliefs, however, had been set on precarious foundations: Christians are good and everyone else is bad; the Bible is true and inerrant; the Earth may look old, but it is only thousands of years old. Stephanie made friends outside the church as a young adult, and these new relationships plus great documentaries and books cracked open the bedrocks of her faith. 

It’s been a long time since she deconverted, and she is living a life she loves by loving others without reservation. This is true secular grace, Humanism 2.0.


“I have always felt strong emotions when I was participating in any of these very charismatic services, a lot of crying, a lot of emotion, but I’m not one of those people who really felt like I was talking to God, that He was talking to me. I was wishing desperately to feel that, [though]…”

“I had a very severe fear of hell.”

“I was jealous of the Baptists because they had the thing called ‘eternal salvation,’ that once you were saved you were always saved.”

“The ‘hell belief’? It’s a sticky one.” 

“You can’t raise a kid in one culture and then drop them off in another and that be okay…You can’t do that to a child.” 

“If you don’t hold to the [inerrancy of the Bible] very strongly, you can hold onto your Christian beliefs much longer.” 

“If you are raised that the Bible is inerrant—We stand on it firmly!—and then you [hear] all this evidence that it’s just not inerrant…then it all just kinda tumbles in on itself.”

It’s over. I don’t believe. I don’t believe any of it. It was just a quiet moment inside my head with no fanfare, no tears, no nothing…”

“I can hold out that there’s a possibility that some sort of entity out there may or may not have sparked everything, but I don’t see any evidence for it, and I’m not wasting mental energy on it.”

And then last fall, I finally managed to get a position as a nurse scientist where I helped design studies help other nurses put studies together, help them look for evidence, help them critically evaluate the evidence. I love my job. I can think of nothing better than I could do.


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“Waves” track written and produced by Makaih Beats


NOTE: This transcript is AI produced ( 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. 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 patrons on Melissa and Susan, thank you so much for supporting the podcast. I also want to thank my existing patrons Joseph John, Ruby Sharon, Joel, Lars Ray, Rob, Peter Tracy, Jimmy, Jason and Nathan. Thank you to all my Patrons for supporting the podcast. If you too would like to have an ad free experience of the podcast you can become a patron at atheist. If you are doubting or deconstructing, you don't have to do it alone. Please join our private Facebook group deconversion anonymous. You can find it at Special thanks to Mike T for editing today's show. On today's show, my guest today is Stephanie. Stephanie is a missionary kid she grew up in Brazil. At 18 She was dropped off back in the United States where she experienced a lot of culture shock. Stephanie admits that she was not very much of a Christian humanist. Her deconstruction and deconversion began with simple things like nature shows and science shows. Stephanie was a nurse for many years she went on to become a nurse scientist where she does research and supports her nursing staff. And today she is very much a humanist and concerned about secular grace and caring for people. Here is Stephanie to tell her story. Stephanie, welcome to the graceful atheist podcast.

Stephanie  2:10  
Yes, thank you for having me.

David Ames  2:12  
Stephanie, I appreciate that. You. You reached out to me. I think you had heard me on the I was a teenage fundamentalist podcast and I told a bit of my story. And it sounds like it touched a chord for you. And you reached out.

Stephanie  2:25  
Yes. And at that point, I started listening to your very first podcasts and it. I mean, I listened to a lot of podcasts. And I listened to a lot of nonbeliever podcasts, and this one has just really aligned best with my way of looking at things.

David Ames  2:47  
That's awesome. Thank you. Yeah. I cringed a little bit when people start with the first ones. The first ones were ROVs

Stephanie  2:55  
were but hey, I've gotten I've been kind of kept. Whenever I have spare time I catch up on them. And I'm up to I'm up to like about a year ago, I can see like enormous progress. But heart was always there. And that's what kept me coming back and listening.

David Ames  3:14  
Well, thank thank you for saying that. I do feel that that the core idea of secular grace, the core ideas of caring for each other. And through this process, not having people go through it alone was there from the get go, whether we executed well on it or not. So we're not here to talk about the podcasts. We're here to talk about us. As we as we always do want to hear about your faith tradition, when you were growing up.

Stephanie  3:39  
My faith tradition growing up was a sin was Assemblies of God, just very, very always in the Assemblies of God. My mother literally went into labor as they were heading out the door to go to church where my dad was pastoring

David Ames  3:56  
Okay, okay, so you were a PK as well? Yes,

Stephanie  3:59  
I was, uh, yeah, I was a PK. But I don't have memories of that. Because we left. My father felt a, you know, call to the ministry. And when I was about two and a half years old, my parents moved our family to Brazil. They were Assemblies of God, missionaries there. I'm gonna try to think it's 3040 years, something like that. Oh, okay. Yeah, it was I want to say it was probably 40 years because hey, I was two years old. When it started. My middle brother was already with us. My youngest brother was born in a hospital in the Amazon region of Brazil. So that was a challenge. My parents, we live for a short time in the Amazonian region, but the vast majority of their the time that I grew up was in the southern Part of Brazil which is very urbanized, big city, certainly was not technologically up to the US and had lots of poverty. But it was a very modern city. And in fact, it was probably more of a big it was much bigger city than I've ever lived in and even till now. So it was big city living when people think that you're out in the jungle.

David Ames  5:23  
No, no was that the experience of like the, forgive me if I get the term wrong, but the favelas like the very shanty kind of housing

Stephanie  5:32  
was favelas were just all over? Yeah, it just wherever there was land that nobody was protecting, a shantytown would set up. And that was part of life, if there were floods, the favelas were getting washed away. And I didn't really even understand that. And I also, even though my parents in the US lived a very meager lifestyle. I mean, missionary work doesn't pay well, in Brazil, because of the way that just what you can buy. With more with less money. We were considered upper middle class, we were we were way wealthier in Brazil than we were in the US making the same amount of money. And therefore we had a lot of luxuries that we didn't have in the US. We had a maid who worked like, I don't know, 50 hours a week, and we paid her better than any of the other maids. But we still didn't pay her a lot. Yeah. And she lived in one of the shanty towns close to our house. That was generally kind of how it was those were the folks who wanted to come work for us. So my faith tradition was assemblies to God, we were. We were braised Assemblies of God, I had a salvation experience when I was six. for what that's worth, yeah,

David Ames  6:57  
okay. Yeah, deep sinner at that time. Yeah.

Stephanie  7:03  
I knew that it was very important. My parents who made it very clear that this was important, but they are really wonderful people, they really, were never going to be like, on my case, to do all the things that needed to be done. They really thought that it needed to be something that you wanted to do. So I give them great credit for that. As I grew up in Okay, so the missionary thing works different with different denominations. The one that we were with you were generally in your country of ministry for four years, and then back in the US for one year to visit all the churches touch base, tell them what you're doing and pass out those pledge cards. Yeah. Which was a lot times the child's duty, the children's pledge cards and stamped nicely at the front,

David Ames  7:53  
just to jump in here. I don't think most people understand that. People who haven't done missionary work themselves that missionaries have to raise their entire salary themselves. And so it's like a politician, you have to, you have to raise your own money in order to go to the country. And that can be super challenging.

Stephanie  8:13  
Well, that's for some of the missionaries, not those lazy Baptists. I say this very tongue in cheek, but the Baptist some and I don't know which set of Baptists because there's so many flavors, but in general, they have like a missionary fund that everyone contributes to and then I mean, it sounds really communist, I think, yeah. So yeah, but the Assemblies of God made you raise your funds individually, and you could not go back to the field if you had not hit your goals, and made your budget, which is wise. Because plenty of other people that are at the Assemblies of God mission is very well run. It's a very organized, we got to see lots of bad from other missionaries with a bigger denominations. And that's it's a really well organized mission organization. But we would come back to the US we tended to live in the southeast

it was around, oh, when was it? 1112 years old, that I had a big praying through at the Michigan School of missions that we would go to holy hill of Springfield, Missouri, and I received the baptism in the Holy Ghost with speaking in tongues. I wasn't even going to say anything to my parents, but my brother's ratted me out. I just it was a very personal thing. And our parents just were very respectful that yes, we had nightly devotions we do I had intense religious instruction from them, they they did all these things, but they did not push these items. I never had pressure from them to do any of these things.

David Ames  10:13  
And just a real quick question was did that feel real internally to you that felt like,

Stephanie  10:18  
I always have experienced strong emotions in when I was participating in any of these very charismatic services, a lot of crying, a lot of emotion. But I don't I'm not one of those people who really felt like I was talking to God. He was talking to me, I was reaching desperately to feel that and I believed other people were feeling it. I believe that what they they felt something I couldn't. I couldn't tell you that it was something for me. But I also knew I really needed to do this. My parents particular belief was that you needed to be saved. Baptism in the Holy Spirit and water were optional, but very, very good options. Very strongly recommended options.

David Ames  11:12  
Yes, for the listener, who may not have grown up in the Assemblies of God, like it really is. You're kind of a second class citizen. If you if you don't speak in tongues. Yeah,

Stephanie  11:22  
yeah. I mean, they need to at least Yeah, you need to, as far as like, the experience of glossolalia. As I came to find out it is later. I don't believe I was making it up. But I do believe that it was a psychological reaction, a kind of group. Think type thing. Because I never experienced some people do experience it when they're not in groups. I did not. That was not my normal prayer. preteen, I wasn't good at that. I tried to follow a lot of routines of developing my spiritual life, my my relationship with Christ, I was very good at doing all the things I needed to do. I would read the scriptures, I would pray on a very regular basis, even when I didn't want to, because I knew I needed to, because I had a severe fear of hell. Okay, theory severe fear of hell. And as you know, with the Assemblies of God, they, I was jealous of the Baptist because they had that thing called eternal salvation. That once you saved you were always saved. I came to find out that that's a little bit nuanced man to understand. But I, you know, there was, there were people that were getting rededicated to Christ all the time, because they had fallen away. And you know, what, if the rapture happened, they were getting left. And so anytime my mind would be wandering, and I wasn't really good with my relationship with Christ, I would be terrified. I would cry to God to please save me. Forgive me for my sins. Yeah. I literally used to have a thing as I'm sitting on a plane taking off, because you, some people do have existential moments then. And I'm like, Okay, no, this is a good time to make sure I'm good with God. Salvation back, just in case, we're not good god checking in, forgive me my sins in case we go down.

David Ames  13:27  
It really does. Like, with hindsight, you realize that it is fear based, that it's driven by fear. And that's not really a great way to live.

Stephanie  13:38  
No. And so I started struggling with really severe anxiety in my middle teens. I believe it was somewhat prompted by the thought that I was finishing my coursework pretty early, which was in the accelerated Christian education system, which is a whole different topic that I can't even get into. But, yeah, it's on par with Abeka. If that's all you're very, very conservative Christian curriculum with extremely slanted Christian nationalist views, didn't know that that was a thing. But yes, it was there. And I was going to leave my parents and I was going to have to go back to the US because it wasn't really a thing that you stayed in the country with your parents.

I really relied on them to feel okay with God. And I was starting to have a lot of doubts. And I have really struggled to try to think what started these doubts. When did they start because they did? Definitely, were not always with me. I was a very solid believer as a child as a young teen. And I did actually hear somebody speaking on your podcast. stuff about the ancient Oh Akkadian gods or something. And one of them was L and I'm like, oh, you know what? When I was in my mid teens, I was a vigorous book reader. I was reading a James Michener book. Yes, I loved those things. Called the source and it was about you know, if you know, James Mitchell, he does vast historic fiction covering decades, if not centuries, and this book covered the the beginnings of even I think it had like prehistoric humans, like non human human creatures. And it covered like the first people who started to realize religion and one tribe meeting another tribe, and the one tribe believed in this spiritual B, they call it L. And how this woman brought the belief of God and I kind of wonder if that didn't start to make me think like, wait. Yeah, yeah. I don't know I now looking back, because the time was pretty coincidental that it would have been around that time that that would have been the probably the first time I would have ever encountered any kind of literature that would have caused any doubt because I was very sheltered. I read only the things that I was doing. And James Michener is good, you know, all these books. So I wonder if that had something to

David Ames  16:32  
do with it. So I read all kinds of secular stuff. So I read a lot of fantasy novels and science fiction novels. It It amazes me now in hindsight how almost all of that genre, or those genres have elements of critique of religion, that I was somehow I have this deep in the bubble, I was I was somehow able to say, well, that's not that's not what I've my relationship with God. And I was able to just push it off to the side and ignore. And you know, now with hindsight, it's like, wow, that was just a major theme and all of that literature.

Stephanie  17:04  
Yes, I need to get into some of those. Because yes, it is. And I became very good at eventually locking down those bad thoughts. Because it led to pathological paralyzing anxiety. I could not, couldn't function. I couldn't go to school. I couldn't do anything except cry. I mean, it was really like at night when things would quiet and the thoughts would crowd in. And I was most terrified of going to hell, because if you don't believe in God, you're going to hell, the hell belief. It's a it's a sticky one. Yeah, it doesn't. You know, and I, there was a lot of me that believed I should believe in God. But I was struggling, I wouldn't say I lost my belief in God. At that time, I was just wracked with doubts, right? Yeah. And that kind of persisted. Until I was probably 16, my youngest brother had a very bad health scare. He had a rice syndrome. And he was he was bad off. And I saw my parents really struggling with that. I mean, they, they were, I mean, as you might imagine, they're in a foreign country, and their child is having a severe health crisis. And so he did pull through that, and I'm just like, I, I gotta get my stuff together. I can't, I can't. And I know that my anxiety and psychological condition was distressing my parents intensely. And they were thinking about having to leave Brazil and not come back until I was fixed or whatever. And I did share with my mother that I was having doubts about God. And she took it pretty well, because it wasn't like I said, I don't write. Anyway, we, I just decided, You know what? I'm done with the doubts, I believe, and any thoughts that rise up in your head. I've never been good at meditation, but it's almost like what they tell you about meditation about like, kill that thought. That blocked focus, kill that thought focus. I was able to do that. For a long time. I was able to pull through that and graduate from high school and then yes, then my parents left me and they left me in the US as an 18 year old who was really probably not ready for that. But

David Ames  19:42  
can I ask it what you know? If you grew up in your teen years in Brazil, was their culture shock coming back to the US?

Stephanie  19:50  
Ah, that is probably the one thing that I do. I am a little bit upset with my parents because they thought All the other missionary I don't think they realized how big of a deal that is. You can't raise a child in one culture and expect to drop them off in another culture and be okay. Yeah, it's, it's, uh, I mean, now with all that I know about, you know, development, child development, mental development, the contact I have with, with psychology that's just that you can't do that to a child. Not on it not expect big problems. But I pulled through it. I did have to go live with my aunt. Oh, yes. So I tried to attend the southeastern Assemblies of God college. I think it's a university now. But whatever, that last year.

David Ames  20:45  
That sounds familiar. Yeah. And then now my university no longer exists.

Stephanie  20:51  
That lasted a whole two weeks before I started having panic attacks. And just needed to go somewhere where I had support and I landed with my favorite aunt. And I mean that completely my mother sister who took me in and took an extra child and to take care of, and I lived in a closet in her her kids play room. And that was that was good. That was good. I had support. I had someone who loved me and could just provide a it was still extremely hard. It was extremely hard. I was trying to go to college, I was somewhat succeeding. I was poor. I was very faithful in a local Assemblies of God church. I was, in fact, I drew incredible strength from that. I I heard somebody talking recently, and they're like, and man, I was at the church to three times a week and I'm like, slacker. God. That's not enough. Sunday, twice on Sunday. And then Tuesday, youth service, then Wednesday prayer service. And then hopefully, there's a Friday get together small groups. So that was my level of need that could I you know, I don't I didn't know what I was doing. But I was seeking that community support to cure rounded. And it helped. It helped me It helped me have a community that I needed. I had lost all my other community.

David Ames  22:29  
Exactly. You're literally alone. You know, I know your aunt supporting you. But yeah, you have no community. And so obviously would reach out for for that. And there it is on a plate.

Stephanie  22:39  
Yeah, there it is on a plate. And you know, they were good people. And I had a lot of social capital as a missionary kid. Okay. That was worth a lot. I mean, missionary kids aren't known as screw ups. They're known as like, really good kids. And I was I was a really good kid. And I was well accepted. There. But that was I remember one time my car broke down. I was in the middle of nowhere, not anything bad. And I had the phone number for the pastor of this church. And I called him at 11 o'clock at night, and he came and picked me up and took home and ask zero questions, then, I mean, that's that I had support. I had support. I was attending college, I felt like I might want to do nursing, because that was a degree that I could get in a couple of years, and I had an interest in medicine.

Nursing turned out to be a really good fit for me. I got my associate degree there, you can enter nursing with an associate degree. I worked at the local hospital. I did well in that as time passed. So now I'm in my early 20s, I started looking back I probably had more community developing with my work friends, and I started pulling away from church. Also because night shift work does not Yeah, Night Shift and weekend work does not always match well with the with the hospital job. So I wasn't out of the church, but I was I was not attending four or five times a week. I was maybe going to Sundays a week, a month, two Sundays a month, which is terrible by my previous standards.

David Ames  24:39  
Yeah. And you're not getting that reinforcement. So we talk a lot about the need for that reinforcement for it to work.

Stephanie  24:47  
Absolutely because I feel like I had one of the slowest deconstructions ever, okay. And I would not say that I was having any knew doubts about God at this point I still was I was very firm in my belief and I was not readdressing them. I got a little bit adventurous felt like I might want to date or whatever. took up travel nurse jobs and wound up in Texas and found a man and married him. I know that's a lot. happened like that. Yeah. Okay. And almost that fast. And yet, we're still married 20, almost 25 years.

David Ames  25:31  
Congratulations. Yeah, let's go. Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie  25:36  
So when I came to when I met the husband, Patrick, I was I convinced myself that he was a good Christian who had struggled with his faith in the past. And I completely do not put any fault on him for miscommunicating that you hear what you want to hear? Yeah, I heard he went to a Christian university. I heard he wanted to be a missionary when he was young. I heard he led all these different ministries with his parents. I heard that he had some doubts after his father died. But you know, he worked through them. And he spoke Christianese.

David Ames  26:17  
It was, yeah.

Stephanie  26:19  
It wasn't until we had been married, I think two solid years that he said, No, I am really not sure there is a God. And that that devastated me. But I, I was just convinced that he was a Christian. Now we weren't churchgoers. We had looked at churches, we had tried different churches. He grew up Church of Christ, they're not really into the super charismatic stuff. And so we would try different places. We really liked the Liturgy of the Presbyterian churches, that was nice, but nothing, never. We just never hit with a place. And so we're just kind of out of church. And he also decided to get a degree in nursing. And we we know that you get paid and paid best when you work nights and weekends. That did not match well with going to church.

David Ames  27:20  
And you do what you have to do, right? Yeah.

Stephanie  27:22  
I mean, yes, it did pay well, and we weren't that dedicated to. I was still very much believing I was a Christian. I would still every few months have the panic moments of God, I'm so sorry for my sins, please. Re up my salvation. Please. i It wasn't really until I went back to school when I was pretty much 40 years old to get my bachelor's degree, and they required a whole bunch of liberal arts degree or liberal arts courses, including a world religions course. Which is astounding when you start doing that. But as a preamble to that I had read a book just for my own entertainment. The Infidel by il en Hirsi Ali. That's her. And she gives an excellent account. I know that she you know, today has some issues that whatever her book was very good for me. Yeah, yeah, he gave a very detailed account of how she became a very dedicated, fundamentalist Muslim, and her personal journey, becoming close to God Allah and it was identical to what we Christians are supposed to do and very confusing to me. It really planted a deep seed. I don't think I came out of that. But I came out of that book with like, wait a minute, I need to look at some things you can't develop a close relationship with the wrong god. Not possible. That's something something some part of this equation is wrong. And I don't know maybe, you know, maybe we're worshipping the same God. But then how is she doing it wrong the whole time. And yet she's developing this close personal relationship with the right God I took there was too many questions. Yeah. And I that bat put a severe blow on my faith but it also been a long time so I wasn't that close to the church. So this wasn't so like personally traumatizing okay, because I had the distance at this point to be okay with it. I was in a safe place. My husband was not a believer.

David Ames  30:00  
All right, you had rooms in question further if you needed to.

Stephanie  30:03  
Right, so and so then I take the world religions course. And I'm just like, Okay, everybody, the big thing that I got out of that is no, no, no, the Buddhists really aren't trying to be evil, that people who have their elder based worships, they're really trying to do all the same good things that Christians are trying to do. You mean, we're all just trying to be good. I don't understand this, because it was pretty inherent in my religious education that all these other people are just demonic and evil. And they they want to do bad. In Brazil, there's a strong spiritist movement, which is a it's a religion that has risen from the tribal religions of Africa along with some kind of 19th century spiritualist beliefs. And you know, what I come to find out later, they're really just trying to get close to their ancestors in a series of gods, but to us, all they did was get together and invite demons to possess them. And it's just a whole different perspective that No, no, we're all just trying to get to be good.

And then I had to take ethics, okay, which was a whole review of different philosophies so that you could understand where ethics arose. And it was just shocking that all these ancient Greeks were thinking about such serious things. And I have never, I've never been introduced to that in my AC e curriculum for are not going to talk about anything outside of the Bible, or people who specifically addressed the Bible. So it was it was mind blowing to, to have that thought about what is good. And I'm like, but good is God. Yeah, yeah. And it's like, no, no, but why is God good? Is he is good. Is God good? Because he has to comply with some good ethic that existed prior to him overs God, good, because what he says is good is good. And that was a mind blowing thought. I mean, literally felt my brain kind of exploded inside my head. I'm not joking. I had a physical sensation,

David Ames  32:47  
I believe here. Yeah, that is, that's quite a quite a moment.

Stephanie  32:51  
And at this point, I've kind of abandoned the God of the Bible. And I'm just holding on to some deistic belief of some sort, not not even like a liberal, I had a super quick, liberal Christianity phase like it didn't it didn't materialize to anything. And then my husband starts playing Bart Ehrman videos, and that that's probably what did in all the God of the Bible, because, you know, it's one thing if you get raised in a church with pretty easygoing views on the internet and the inerrancy of the Bible, if you don't hold to that very strongly, then you can hold on to your Christian beliefs much longer, in my opinion. I agree. Yeah. If you are raised that the Bible is an error, we still don't stand on it firmly. And then you provide all this evidence that will but it's just not.

David Ames  33:53  
It's demonstrably not. Yes. It's,

Stephanie  33:55  
it's not even like up to for debate with anybody who's done any kind of minimal study. Well, then it just kind of all tumbles in on itself. Because I, I built my belief on the inerrancy of the Bible, and that it was accurate and historically accurate. So that that was a big thing. But I still wasn't like really sure about all the evolution stuff and all the age of the Earth things. And there are a few more documentaries and one boring documentary about the layers of silt in the ocean that just clearly demonstrate the age of the Earth and the progression of creatures that get deposited and I'm like, Okay, now it's over. I don't believe I don't believe any of it. And it was just a quiet moment inside my head with no fanfare, no tears, no nothing. Just don't get out. No, none of that. None of that. I mean, I can hold out the possibility of there being some sort of entity out there that may or may not have sparked everything, but I don't see any evidence for it. And I'm not wasting mental energy on it. It's not important to me, I don't. And I don't I had, so I was probably around 42 Or three. In fact, I just found a Facebook look back post from 2012, where I had just passed my ethics exam. Okay. And that was like, Okay, that was right at the beginning of the end. And within about a year, it was over. And it was all over. I had no more. No more supernatural beliefs. I I had finished by 2013, I had finished my bachelor's in nursing. I fell in love with research. Love it. That's apparently a weird thing for nursing, I felt compelled and encouraged by my wonderful husband to pursue a PhD in nursing so that I could do research. Yeah, that was a long, hard battle. If you get a legitimate PhD, in Obi Wan. It's it. It's hard. Anyway, I defended back in 2019. And then last fall, I finally managed to get a position as a nurse scientists where I helped design studies help other nurses put studies together, help them look for evidence, help them critically evaluate the evidence, I love my job, I can think of nothing better than I could do.

I will bring up the I got to change bosses when I come to the new job. And she has been an amazing boss. Heavily demonstrated by the fact that right after I got hired on I got a call. So September, I started the new job. November I get a call from my our text from my sister in law who lives in the town where my parents live and saying your dad's taken a turn for the worse. Dad had been suffering with vascular dementia for two or three years, not very long. Apparently, it's a very rapidly progressing form of dementia, which I had witnessed. And it was so fast for what I have been able to see as a nurse over the years. So I got a call, he's taken a turn for the worse his hospice nurses worried that it may be today. And I'm like, Okay, I'm coming. And I booked my plane ticket, right there. And then I notified my manager who said, Go, Go be with your family. Don't worry about it. Do not worry about it. She was amazing. That's not the attitude that most bedside nurses get exposed to. They're like who's going to cover your shift?

David Ames  38:10  
Right, right.

Stephanie  38:13  
I recognized how valuable that was. And I arrived on a Tuesday and that had rallied just a little bit. But he wasn't really able to speak. And I knew that he was close. He had been kind of sick for two weeks. But he can't be as debilitated as he was in come through. Even like I think he had a mild viral something and it triggered one more stroke, because he would have strokes off and on. And then he just couldn't. He couldn't swallow and he was struggling to breathe. Anyway, I spent. So I arrived Tuesday and Friday afternoon, I saw very serious signs. Before I get there, I still am not out to my family directly. I have I have shared with my middle brother that I consider myself closest with him. That I mean, we share my husband and I shared that we went to like American Atheist convention. I think we didn't have to come out and say, Hey, we don't believe in God. I think that was pretty clear. You know, and me participating and talking about the things we were there doing. But I never revealed any of that to my parents. And I don't want to hurt them. Yeah, I don't want to hurt them. And my father by the time I was kind of really realizing my lack of belief. He was already suffering from dementia and I just don't know how much I don't want his just couldn't burden him.

David Ames  39:55  
It's definitely I don't know how much of my story you know as well but I have this Same experience, I lost my mom about a year after my deconversion. And I was unable to tell her there just wasn't the right moment. It didn't happen. You know, I sense that it would have done more harm than good for her. Right? And when you actually care about the other person and sometimes unburdening yourself isn't the right move. And like, there's nothing to feel guilty about. There's what I'm saying. So,

Stephanie  40:23  
no, I don't feel guilty, I feel like I did the right thing. I feel like I do have that strong. I did, as time passed after my end of my Christianity, I don't even know if I would call it a deconversion. It was a very slow death. I do have a personal ethic. And I do identify as a humanist. Not only that, but I don't think that I was a Christian humanist, I don't think I was a good humanist. My beliefs were very driven by extreme right wing politics, I was very judgmental, I was very black and white, I did not accept Shades of Grey, I wasn't that nice of a person, I don't think I have moderated that and tried to look at people as individuals who have their quirks and bumps, and are still people who need help. So as I, so I did start identifying as humanist, we actually, I think I am currently a member of American Humanist Association, we went to a few meetings in our area, didn't really bond with the folks there, they were a bit older than us. And then the pandemic hit, of course, so that kind of, I don't think we've gone back since then.

Wanted to navigate this time with my family in a caring way. I mean, who does it but I was trying to be very balanced between accepting all their needs to be very Christian and very event, evangelical during this, my father's dying process. And knowing that there's, there's no need to even get into this. And part of that is going to be me participating in some of these things. So as I'm sitting there, helping mom educating her on what I'm seeing as the dying process, I, you know, would give different advice on nursing care, she'd derive great comfort from me being there and having some enhanced knowledge. As the last moments approached, I saw signs of impending death. And I I gathered the family and said, I think this is it. I think he's, I think he's at the very end. So right now, just talk to him. I mean, they had been doing so all along. Sure. I said, you know, whatever, whatever you think would make him happy do that. And my aunt and Mother start seeing singing old gospel classics, and, you know, in nice harmony, which they were two little PK, so they tell you that and we're all joining in, there's prayers going up, but there's mostly just singing and telling stories. And they, you know, don't you think dad's going to be thrilled to go up and hug Cassie? who passed away two or three years? Isn't that wonderful? He always loved her and I'm just participating in the Congress. I'm not what why am I gonna like rain on this parade this? I don't have anything. I'm going to go Yes. Like, He'll be so happy. Not because I'm trying to be deceitful because I'm trying to comply, provide comfort and be in the moment with everybody. And it truly even though it was very sad. I truly don't believe my father was suffering any. And I truly believe that. That's the way I would want to

David Ames  44:23  
go. I surrounded by your loved ones. Absolutely. Yeah.

Stephanie  44:27  
And I told them that I said it when it's my time to go. I want to be surrounded by all my family who loves me the most singing to me telling me what great stories. Yeah, there are really good deaths, but they're better deaths. And I think he had a pretty good one.

David Ames  44:47  
And I think you played a major role in that. Like, you know, just being there comforting mom, you know, having some real practical advice. Yeah. First of all, I'm very, very sorry for your loss. I know and how devastating that is. I know that you mentioned Off mic that you just heard the episode where I talked about my my father in law and I had with not as intensely attached because it was a father in law. I loved him dearly, but But obviously, I don't want to compare in that way. But like having the sense of being there for the family, allowing them to express their faith in the way that they did. And just being supportive, like physically helping us where I could that kind of thing. And, like you say, Man, that is, you want to be surrounded by the people that you love when you're when your time?

Stephanie  45:36  
No, that's we have not found out how to make death optional at this point. And so I'm very pragmatic. When and if it's my time to go, I want it to be as free of pain as possible. Don't be surrounded by my family love, and you may, yeah, yeah. And we had excellent hospice care. They this this one hospice nurse, he was kind of hilarious. Well, he was a Yankee. So first of all, and he had a tough, crunchy outer layer. But when it was time, he was the most supportive person possible. And he would speak to my mother at the appropriate level, very frank, honest, but on a layman's terms, and when I told him my experience in nursing, he spoke to me in very precise medical terms. And we collaborated very thoroughly on his end of life care on dosing him with morphine and him giving me some safe parameters to raise his dose or hold off or whatever. And whatever decision we made. We were supported. And so I couldn't ask for more from the hospice staff. They were amazing. But I really felt that I was able to be a support to them. And I mean, they said that, and then that goes further, because I actually my husband, one, he's had multiple previous careers, and one of them was a funeral director. I know a little bit about the funeral business, and the psychology of funerals. And you know, the important thing is that funerals are about the people that are here.

David Ames  47:33  

Stephanie  47:34  
Yes. They say that in a completely Christian environment. Yeah, yeah. Because that's who's paying their bills. And so I recognize that as mom plan, dad's funeral, this funeral is for her, right. And it's going to make her happy to do what she believes he would have liked. But it's for her. It's for her, and it's for my brothers. And it's for me, and my dad loved him some old fashioned hymns and church camp songs. And so we came up with a list of songs. And they planned that his service would be truly a celebration of life, with mostly concentrated on singing, all his favorite songs. And they tried, they called one of the older men who hadn't been up in pulpit doing music ministry, and forever, because he would do it very old fashioned. They, they called all the old choir members, because this church is trying to modernize and they've gotten rid of the choir. So I mean, I don't care. Yeah. Anyway, they did all the multipart singing, and I got up in there, and I sang all those songs. I think that's participated. Because to me, that was my way of paying tribute to my family. And I hope that they don't misinterpret that I have actually thought a lot. When my father started showing signs that he was going to deteriorate in a matter of a couple of years rather than decades. I kind of started thinking, if I don't ever think I would come out to my father and tell him that I believe in your God. I can see that happening with my mother for many reasons. She's, she's very, very fundamentalist and her beliefs, but they actually raised us, telling us that we were always allowed to ask questions. And we were always allowed to respectfully address anything that we wanted to and I'm sorry, but I listened to that. And that's where I wound up was questioning everything. But I could see myself talking to her about this one day it wouldn't be right away. Sure. She's grieving me But if it ever came up, I would be comfortable sharing that with her. I think it would break her heart. So I'm probably not going to be the one who goes there. But if it gets brought up to her, that's okay. Anyway, I, I think that the process of my father dying was much easier for me to navigate than it would have been otherwise, because I chose to take a hand and being his caregiver. And that may have been a defense mechanism. I don't know. But it felt natural. And it was appreciated.

David Ames  50:50  
Well, and I think a couple of things, the participating, then physically participating, it's why why ritual is still important, right, right, is a part of the grieving process. And so being a part of that the before, the, during the after, is a part of that grieving process. And, and I think one of the great ironies of deconversion is that we actually get to grieve, we don't have to say to ourselves, well, they're in a different place, and better, right, we can just mourn the loss of that person and celebrate their life. And, and there's something much healthier about that as a grieving process than then pretending that they're still still with us somehow.

Stephanie  51:30  
I mean, I feel that is such a huge difference. Because it changes the way that my husband and I relate to each other, we choose to do things that make us happy. And we don't like, back when I was a, I was a non humanist Christian, I would just decide to be mad and not talk to him for a while. And now I look at that and go, that is a week of our tiny little time and a half together, that has been just, I just decided not to take it. That's stupid. You know, and not that I'm not going to be mad if I need to be, I'm going to deal with it. Because that is just stupid. We only get a blip of life. The ones who live to be 90 years old, we only get a blip of light. And I want to, I want to fully experience that. And because I do feel committed to humanist principles. Part of that is my nursing profession. I want to pass joy to as many people one of the big things I do in my job now is sitting down with nurses who want to fight want to look at doing a research study or want to look at doing an evidence based practice project. They're terrified of the process. And a, I understand. Yeah, I used to be there and be come sit with me, and I'm gonna, I'm gonna take this beer out. If it's the only thing I do today, I want to take the fear of this away from you. Because I've got you, and you can do this.

David Ames  53:22  
That's amazing. Like, I think, you know, mentoring, especially in your expertise is such a valuable thing. You're passing on knowledge you're supporting and enabling their success, and then what they do that affects people's lives literally physically. So that's a profound piece of work you're doing.

Stephanie  53:42  
Yeah, I had some fears. When I was leaving the bedside nursing job. I worked in the NICU. That's very gratifying. We, I've worked with the majority of the babies I worked with were on their way to recovery. And it was a very gratifying work. And you do get at you know, you can get into a whole debate about altruism. Is there any true altruism, I kind of don't believe there's true altruism, I think we all do good things, even if it's to make ourselves feel good. And that's probably why I did a lot of the things in nursing that I did is it's so gratifying and instant reward. And I'm worried about moving into a role like this. I'm moving away from the bedside and I'm not going to be sitting there making the babies happy again. Am I going to because I know that that's important to my ego, to my you know, that Freudian type of ego and I have been so rewarded. Working in this role. I get that interpersonal reward from working with the nurses and working with other people in the departments but I I truly see that and I see the fear melt away. I mean, I've had a lady in here Monday, that was like almost paralyzed. But she had a project she really felt strongly about, like, Tell me more. Oh, this is cool.

David Ames  55:16  
That's awesome. Yeah, that's fantastic.

Stephanie  55:19  
That that is very rewarding to me. I look forward to a long career doing this, but hasn't been made. So

David Ames  55:27  
well. Definitely you have the my vote for humanist of the year I think that got some incredible work that you're doing. I loved your story. I think the element of just the evidence piling up and just being willing to accept that even down to you know, a documentary about the sediment, right, like just being able to let that absorb and get past the protections and is so profound, and I think many many people are going to hear their themselves in your story. So thank you so much for telling your story on the podcast.

Stephanie  56:00  
Well, thank you for having me.

David Ames  56:07  
final thoughts on the episode. Stephanie found this podcast by hearing me on sister podcast, I was a teenage fundamentalist. What all of us have in common is the Assemblies of God and a Pentecostal background. What makes me slightly different is that I didn't grow up with that. I became a Christian in my teenage years, and thus avoided some of the things that Stephanie describes in this episode. That real honest fear of hell, and hell, anxiety and that lingering in her words, she says, The hell belief is a sticky one, that was a struggle for her to get over. I really love Stephanie story that a nature show talking about silt layers, and the obvious implications for the age of the Earth, began her deconstruction. Stephanie clearly has a scientific mind. She loved doing nursing, but then continued on in her education, getting a PhD and becoming a nurse scientist, where she supports other nurses. That inquisitive mind, I think, was always working and maybe doubting her story is not unfamiliar that she was doubling down and forcing herself to believe and ignoring her doubts through most of her life. I love her description of her deconversion she says it's over. I don't believe I don't believe any of it. It was just a quiet moment inside my head with no fanfare, no tears, no nothing. It can be that simple. I'm so glad that now Stephanie has the freedom to love people that prior to her deconversion she was more judgmental. And that's all part of being within the bubble of Christianity. Stephanie's heart comes through here in this interview that she actually really cares about people going into the nursing profession and and now as a nurse scientists supporting nurses, you can hear how much she cares about people. And I am so glad that the concepts of secular grace and humanism are now meaningful for Stephanie, as she can embrace the people around her and love them without hesitation. I want to thank Stephanie for being on the podcast for being so honest and vulnerable for telling her story. Thank you so much, Stephanie, for being on the podcast. The secular great start of the week is the freedom to love people. We say this all the time. But one of the great ironies of deconversion and deconstruction is being released from the feeling of obligation or the perception of obligation to be judgemental to hold some imagined moral line, such that we held people at bay, we held people away from us, and we mark them as others, all the while as Christian saying that we loved people, and that God loved him. This side of deconversion, you begin to recognize how judgmental we have been, we have to have a bit of grace with ourselves as well and not to beat ourselves up about that. But the exciting part is then the ability to just embrace the humanity and others. And ultimately, I think this is what humanism is, this is what the acknowledgment of human rights is, is the Express statement that all human beings have value, that we assert it so that we recognize that everyone is worthy of love and respect and acceptance. And we don't need to play mental gymnastics to say that we hate the sin but love the sinner. We can just love people and people are complicated, but that's okay. This is the core idea of secular grace that we embrace. As our humanity so that we can embrace the humanity and others and that we can truly love them. We've got some wonderful interviews coming up. Up next is our Lean interviewing cat. After that, I interviewed Joanna Johnson, who's written a book called silenced in Eden, and many more lined up after that. 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 Mackay beads. Do you want to get in touch with me to be a guest on the show? Email me at graceful for blog posts, quotes, recommendations and full episode transcripts head over to graceful This graceful atheist podcast a part of the atheists United studios Podcast Network

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